Learning to Fly, Part 1

 “If you remember the ’60s, you really weren’t there.”  Charlie Fleischer, comedian

The United States officially banned LSD in 1967.  The government, media and parents all over the country relied on fear-based tactics to keep kids off drugs. It didn’t work.

Attempts to terrify young people into abstinence is nothing new. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) held that there was no such thing as “moderate drinking”.  A small tipple always led to “an uncontrollable appetite” for more. They used the same approach regarding tobacco. Temperance Helps for Primary Teachers, offered a catchy verse meant to keep young men from smoking:

Say No! to tobacco, that poisonous weed.

Say no! to all evils, they can only lead

To shame and to sorrow, Oh, shun them, my boy,

For wisdom’s fair pathway of peace and of joy

(Preese 1901)

Does the “Just Say No” message sound familiar? If you grew up in the 1980s, you’ll recall First Lady Nancy Reagan’s anti-drug campaign.

Well-intentioned doggerel was replaced by  film.  Watch how a cowboy’s experiment with marijuana turns him into a killer.

In the 1930s film, The Cocaine Fiends (a remake of The Pace That Kills) the ham-fisted anti-drug message is very clear.  Small-town girls, beware.  Big city men will get you hooked on coke and lead you down a bad road.

Thirty years didn’t change the sledgehammer approach to anti-drug messages for young people. The 1960s saw its share of propaganda.  Drug users found the propaganda laughable.

Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) was criminalized in the U.S. by the government with the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. The act prohibits the manufacture, distribution, and possession of LSD without a license from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

If the possibility of a felony conviction didn’t deter people, maybe the stories circulated about LSD would scare them straight. A gruesome tale, the legend of the microwaved/baked baby made the rounds for a long time.  There are variations, but the gist of it is this:

The parents of a newborn leave their child with a sixteen-year-old hippie-chick babysitter. They go to a party. A few hours later the mother phones home to make sure all is well.  The girl reassures her that everything is great. She tells her “the turkey’s in the oven.”  The mom hangs up, looks at her husband and says, “The turkey is in the oven?  We didn’t have a turkey!”  They go home. Maybe there is something wrong with the sitter.

When the couple arrives home the babysitter, high on acid, is sitting in a chair freaking out.  The baby? The sitter, believing the baby was a turkey, popped the kid in the oven.

A film about LSD, produced and directed by the San Mateo Union High School District, came out in 1967. Ostensibly narrated by LSD himself, the film depicted screaming mental breakdowns and a variety of deadly accidents that could befall a person on acid.

The film carefully curates its message. Most of the horror stories associated with LSD use are apocryphal.  LSD doesn’t cause death from chemical toxicity, but deaths caused by behavioral toxicity are documented.

You’ve heard this one before—a young woman drops acid and, believing she can fly, jumps from a window to her death.

Here is the true story that launched the myth.

On Halloween, 1948, a fifth child, a girl, was born to radio personality Art Linkletter and his wife Lois.  The couple named the baby Diane. Her godfather was Walt Disney.

Art worked hard for everything he had. He was born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada on July 17, 1912.   Abandoned as an infant, Art was adopted and raised by a preacher and his wife, Fulton and Mary Linkletter.

Art passed his adopted family’s teachings along to his own children and raised his family in a traditional environment.  The kids were healthy and happy.  For a peek into the Linkletter family dynamic, check out this commercial Art and his three daughters made for Kellogg’s Corn Flakes

Diane’s life was untroubled until her teenage years. Like most teens, she tested boundaries and struggled to find herself.  Diane’s path to adulthood was complicated when she eloped at age 17 with  Grant Conroy (seven years her senior). Diane thought she was pregnant, and Grant offered to “do the right thing.” When she discovered she was not pregnant, her parents had the marriage annulled.  Diane and Grant never even lived together.

Diane moved into Shoreham Towers, a luxury building in West Hollywood.  The building’s residents were older than Diane, so she made friends closer to her age in the neighborhood.  One of Diane’s new friends was Ed Durston who lived with a roommate in a building across from hers.

On Friday evening, October 3, 1969, Diane went out with a friend, Robert Reitman, to a show at the Griffith Observatory.  Robert dropped Diane off at her apartment about midnight and she joined a street party on her block.

On Saturday morning, Dick Shephard looked out his bay window and watched in horror as a woman fell from the window of a sixth-floor apartment at the Shoreham Towers. She screamed, then hit the sidewalk with a sickening thud.

NEXT TIME:  A life ends and a myth begins.

Film Noir Friday–On Saturday Night. Half A Sinner [1940]

Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Tonight’s feature is HALF A SINNER, based on a story by Dalton Trumbo.  The message is carpe diem, and who can argue with that?  It’s all fluff, no substance–I’ve heard it described as screwball noir. The film stars Heather Angel and John King.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Ignoring the advice of her crochety old grandmother, straightlaced schoolteacher Anne Gladden decides to discard her glasses, buy a new outfit and relish one day of freedom doing exactly as she pleases. Things don’t work out exactly as she has planned, however, when, to avoid the unwelcome advances of a gangster, Anne jumps into a parked limousine and speeds away. Unknown to Anne, the car is stolen and a dead body is stashed in the back seat.

 

Death of a Co-ed, Conclusion

In October 1969 Susan Atkins, aka Sadie Mae Glutz, was booked on the Gary Hinman murder, moved to Sybil Brand Institute (SBI) the women’s jail for Los Angeles County, and assigned to Dorm 8000. She created a stir. She had that ridiculous alias and insisted on being called Crazy Sadie.  If she hadn’t given it to herself, she would have earned the nickname—the other inmates thought she had a screw loose. She seemed happy to be in jail and would sometimes sing or start go-go dancing. Odd behavior in lock-up.

In the bunk opposite Susan’s was Ronnie Howard. Ronnie was in her early mid 30s. She was awaiting trial for forging a prescription.

Also, in the dorm was Virginia Graham. Virginia was about the same age as Ronnie and she was in for a parole violation.

Ronnie and Virginia had a history. They’d known each other for several years and worked as call girls together. They had more than that in common. Ronnie married Virginia’s ex-husband.

Virginia and Susan worked as runners, that means they carried messages for jail authorities. When they weren’t busy, they would sit and chat. In the evenings Susan would confide in Ronnie.

One day in early November, Virginia asked Susan how she ended up in the slammer. Common at the time would have been drugs, prostitution or bookmaking – that’s why Virginia’s jaw dropped when Susan admitted she was in for first degree murder.

Virginia thought Susan was wholesome looking, like a “babysitter” she said. She couldn’t reconcile the babysitter with the crime she said she committed.

Susan was bitter about her co-defendant, Bobby Beausoleil. She figured him for a rat. He wasn’t, but she didn’t know that. The squealer was another Manson Family member, Kitty Lutesinger.  Kitty, jealous and vengeful, was the real rodent. Family girls vied with each other for Bobby’s affections.  Nicknamed “Cupid,” Bobby was the bait Manson used to lure teenage runaway girls into the Family.  Charlie was charismatic, but the guy was a troll. Not heinous, just not in Bobby’s league.

Virginia and Ronnie were accustomed to being locked up with women who committed non-violent crimes.  Crazy Sadie’s attitude toward murder, even the murder of a woman 8 ½ months pregnant, was an anathema to them.

The jailbirds were torn, to snitch, or not to snitch.  It is an easy choice for anyone who hasn’t spent time behind bars but, for two regular guests of the County, it was a conundrum. They realized the new generation of female criminals, represented by Crazy Sadie, committed acts of extreme violence as callously as their male counterparts, and it scared them into talking to the authorities.

Sheriff’s deputies ran a “pipe” chase on Atkins’ cell.  What is a pipe chase? If you are a plumber, you know.  For everyone else, a pipe chase is a vertical space enclosed by a chase, or false wall, for the purpose of hiding pipes—which makes it perfect for hiding a tape recorder and a deputy wearing headphones.

Before you get in a twist about Atkin’s right to privacy, she gave that up as soon as she got to lock-up. If she insisted on running her mouth, every word she uttered was fair game and could later be used against her.  Bad news for Sadie.  Great news for the law.

With Family members in custody, the case against them for the Tate/LaBianca slayings, and the murder of Gary Hinman, came together. The viciousness of the murders caused cops to speculate. If the Family could commit those crimes, what about the 30 unsolved murders in California in 1968?  Seven of the murders occurred in Los Angeles County.

Among the unsolved cases in Los Angeles was Marina Habe’s murder and the murder of Jane Doe #59, stabbed 157 times.  Both crimes involved a knife. Family members were familiar with knives. Most carried one—and knew how to use it.

Prior to her bone-headed decision to pull back from being the key witness for the prosecution, Susan over shared with anyone who would lend her an ear to garner favor. She revealed to a TV news team the approximate location of bloody clothing discarded following the Tate murders. The crew found three black t-shirts, one white t-shirt and three pairs of black jeans worn by the killers. Also found was the long barreled .22 caliber gun used to kill three of the victims.

The Tate/La Bianca murders were getting close to a slam-dunk for the prosecution. Would it be an overreach to pin some unsolved on the Family?  Vincent Bugliosi didn’t think so.

On November 5, 1969, police responded to a call at 28 Clubhouse Avenue where they found the body of John “Zero” Haught, a Navy veteran, lying on a mattress, gun and holster nearby, and a single gunshot wound to his right temple.

John “Zero” Haught

Madaline Joan Cottage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The people at the scene told police that Zero shot himself playing Russian roulette. Madaline Joan Cottage, said she was lying next to him in bed when he noticed the gun. It contained one round. He spun the cylinder, put the gun to his temple and fired. If you aren’t familiar with Madaline, the Family nicknamed her Little Patty, sometimes Crazy Patty. She was the only eyewitness.  Strange, isn’t it, that when later dusted for prints the weapon came back clean.

Police interviewed others in the house. Among them Family members Bruce Davis, Sue Bartell and Catherine Gilles. Each told the same story.

During an interview of Leslie Van Houten at SBI later in the month, Sgt. Mike McGann told her about Zero’s death. He told her Bruce Davis was there, too. She asked if Bruce was playing the game.

McGann: “No, he wasn’t.”

Leslie Van Houten: “Zero was playing Russian roulette all by himself?”

McGann: “Kind of odd, isn’t it?”

Leslie Van Houten: “Yeah, it’s odd.”

Zero’s death occurred a month before Manson became front-page news. In the weeks prior to his final arrest, Manson was increasingly paranoid. He worried that someone, like Zero, would rat him out. Did Mason order Zero’s murder to tie up loose ends? We’ll never know.  The case is still on the books as a suicide.

Vincent Bugliosi followed up rumors that Jane Doe #59 was a regular at Spahn Ranch and that she answered the phone at 28 Clubhouse on the day of Zero’s death. The rumors were never substantiated.

Jane Doe #59 was unidentified for 46 years until June 2015 when a friend of her family recognized her on a government run missing and unidentified persons site in the U.S. Jane Doe #59 had a name, it was Reet Jurvetson.

Jane Doe #59 morgue photo

Her identification answered some of her family’s questions. The biggest one remains to this day, who killed her, and why?

Was Reet ever connected to the Family.  When asked about her, Charles Manson said no. But is that good enough?

Manson further denied knowing anything about murdered co-ed, Marina Habe.

Marina and Reet were found within yards of each other, months apart, off of Mulholland Drive—six miles from where Sharon Tate was slaughtered.

 

Coincidences occur. By some estimates thirty serial killers hunted human prey in Los Angeles during that time.

Could Marina and Reet have been victims of a serial killer?

Maybe someday we will learn the truth.

NOTE:  Thanks to friend, Scott Michaels at Dearly Departed, for his interview of Virginia Graham. It’s quite remarkable.

Death of a Co-ed, Part 3

Sheriff’s detectives couldn’t catch a break. Marina’s case went cold.

In August 1969, the news that five (*see NOTE below) victims were slaughtered at the Cielo Drive home of actress Sharon Tate and her husband, director Roman Polanski shook Angelenos worse than a 9-point earthquake. The brutal, some thought ritualistic, slayings of Tate, Abigail Folger, Voytek Frykowski, Jay Sebring, and Stephen Parent terrified everyone. Rumors that the murders were drug-related caused a panic among Hollywood celebrities.  It wasn’t only the glitterati who felt their lives were in danger, average citizen flocked to gun shops and dog kennels seeking to protect themselves against an unknown evil.

Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski

People over 40 saw every long hair as a potential mass killer, and even hippies were paranoid of one another. The murders drove a stake through the heart of the Summer of Love. Was it only two years ago that baby boomers believed they could change the course of the world with beads and flowers?

The level of fear in the city ratcheted up several notches when Los Feliz residents Rosemary and Leno LaBianca were murdered. Eerie similarities between the Tate and LaBianca slayings gave the cops cause to believe they could be linked.

Who committed the cruel murders? Charles Manson, an ex-con conversant with the basic tenets of Scientology and an avid student of Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” had a gift for convincing rootless teenagers to follow him. He lured them  into the desert. He painted mind pictures of free love and great dope. Had he convinced his followers to murder for him?

Charles Manson

As investigators scrutinized the “Savage Mystic Cult” who lived in squalor in the desert, they considered the possibility that the Manson Family committed over seven murders.

What about Marina Habe? Someone stabbed the teenager to death. The killer, or killers, used a knife to butcher several of the victims at Cielo drive.  Another link?

The unsolved homicide of a young woman, Jane Doe #59, whose body was found close to where Marina was found might the Family’s grisly handiwork.

On November 16, 1969, a teenager who was bird watching on Mulholland Drive discovered Jane Doe’s remains. The young man was gazing through binoculars, checking out the various species of birds that populated the area, when his eyes came to rest on the nude body of a woman.

Police arrived at the scene. The victim was young.  She was pretty despite the 157 stab wounds to her neck and upper body.  Defensive wounds on her hands and arms meant she fought hard for her life. She was dead about two days.  Overkill suggested to detectives that the murder was personal. A spurned lover might be capable of such rage; or the killer could be a madman.

Los Angeles Police Department detectives investigated the murder of Jane Doe #59, with the same zeal as their counterparts in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department had done in Marina’s case. Both agencies hit a wall.

NEXT TIME: Who killed Marina Habe and Jane Doe #59?

*NOTE: Thanks to Cheryl, a reader who reminded me of a very important fact. There were six victims on Cielo Drive. We should remember Sharon’s and Roman’s son, Paul Richard Polanski.

Film Noir Friday: Somewhere in the Night [1946]

Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open! Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Tonight’s feature is SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT, 1946, starring Lloyd Nolan and Richard Conte.

TCM says:

A U.S. Marine recovering from a combat injury in a Navy hospital in Hawaii suffers from undiagnosed amnesia, and while others call him George Taylor, he has no memory of that man. Upon recovery from his wounds, George is transferred to the hospital at Camp Pendleton, California, and is eventually discharged, even though he still has no memory. He returns to his old civilian address at the Martin Hotel in Los Angeles, but no one recognizes him there. At Union Station, he exchanges a bag check he found in his sea bag for a briefcase, which contains a gun and a three-year-old letter to a man named George stating that $5,000 has been deposited for him in a bank account by Larry Cravat.

Amnesia, guns, and money!

Enjoy the movie!

 

Death of a Coed, Part 2

Sheriff’s investigators first believed someone kidnapped Marina. They, and her parents, waited for a ransom demand.  The wait ended almost as soon as it began with the discovery of Marina’s body in the heavy brush down a 30-foot embankment in the 8800 block of Mulholland.

Associated Press index card for Marina Habe

Sheriff’s homicide investigator, Lieutenant Norman Hamilton, told reporters they could not tell if her killer threw or carried Marina down the slope.  Marina still wore the brown capris, white turtleneck sweater and a brown coat with fur cuffs that she wore when she left John Hornburg’s house for her mother’s home.

There were no obvious signs sexual assault.  An autopsy, conducted by coroner Thomas Noguchi, determined Marina’s cause of death as exsanguination and found no evidence of rape. The small amount of cash in Marina’s wallet seemed to rule out robbery as the cause of her abduction and murder.

Her car, left in her mother’s driveway, had the emergency brake pulled up.  Investigators said that it took great strength to get the brake into that position and it was doubtful that Marina could have done it on her own.

Lt. Hamilton speculated that her killer (s) abducted Marina and intended to rape her, but she resisted.  According to Hamilton,  In recent weeks Eloise’s neighborhood, located  three blocks below Sunset Boulevard, was the scene of several recent rapes.

The autopsy revealed that Marina’s killer (s), cut her throat, severing her left carotid artery, and stabbed her multiple times in the chest.  She suffered two black eyes inflicted by a fist and someone beat her with a “small blunt object.” She bled to death.  Despite no physical evidence of forcible rape, detectives felt Marina’s death was an attempted sex crime.

Her parents and 350 others mourned the pretty coed at her funeral. Marina converted to Catholicism in 1966 and they held a requiem Mass for her in the Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Beverly Hills.  Father Acton, who knew Marina in life, said, “We wonder about a society, the products of which can be a large in our midst and capable of such heinous crimes.  There you have the perfect formula for bitterness, resentment, hatred, perhaps despair.  This we must guard against.”

Church of the Good Shepherd, Beverly Hills

Sheriff’s Lieutenant Harold White joined in the hunt for Marina’s killer (s).  He said, “We’re tying very hard. But we have turned up nothing that is even remotely interesting.  There are all kinds of things to check out, but there’s nothing conclusive.”

White told reporters they assigned six homicide investigators to the case full-time and 20 deputies were also working the case.  Despite their best efforts, Marina’s case went cold.

NEXT TIME: Is Marina’s murder connected to a Jane Doe case, and is Charles Manson involved?

Death of a Coed, Part 1

Nineteen-sixty-eight was one of the must tumultuous years of the 20th Century. Globally, it began  with the Tet Offensive. Tet is the beginning of the lunar new year and the most important date on the Vietnamese calendar. It was then that the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong launched surprise attacks on cities throughout South Vietnam. It was a turning point in the Vietnam War, which dragged on for another several years. Student and labor protests during May in Paris and throughout France during the month of May tore the country apart.

In the U.S. hopes for the future died on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel on April 4th in Memphis and in the Ambassador Hotel pantry in Los Angeles on June 6th with the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.

New Year’s Eve 1968 began the countdown to a better year, at least that is what everyone hoped.

Mulholland Drive, the 21-mile long, mostly two-lane road that follows the ridgeline of the eastern Santa Monica Mountains and the Hollywood Hills, is a scenic route that offers breathtaking views of the San Fernando Valley to the north and Hollywood and beyond to the south.  There is scant foot traffic along the road, too many blind curves and a narrow footpath make it tricky to navigate. But the views are spectacular, so on New Year’s Day a couple from Playa del Rey decided it was too nice to stay in their car.

It was 2 pm, and the couple walked along a fire road off Mulholland where they discovered a woman’s handbag.  The bag contained a small amount of cash.  The couple turned the purse over to the police.

Marina Habe  (Credit: LAPD)

Police tentatively identified the bag as belonging to Marina Elizabeth Habe. Seventeen-year-old Marina had disappeared from the driveway of her mother’s West Hollywood home at 8962 Cynthia Street about 3:00 am on Monday, December 30, 1968. The young woman was home for Christmas vacation from the University of Hawaii where she was a freshman studying to be an artist.

Marina’s father and mother were divorced when she was a child. Her father, the author Hans Habe, was living in Zurich, Switzerland. As soon as he got word of Marina’s disappearance he hopped a plane for Los Angeles.

Hans Habe, (Békessy János) 13.08.1968. Ascona (Photo by Karoly Forgacs/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

Eloise Hardt, Marina’s mother, was an actress whose most recent film GAMES, starred Simone Signoret, James Caan and Katharine Ross.

Eloise Hardt. Columbia Pictures promo shot c. 1941

Marina was last seen by John Hornburg, 22, her date on Sunday night. John was a longtime friend of the Habe’s. John and Marina joined two other couples, Dennie Boses, 25, Wendy Kleiner, 18, Norman Elder, 22, and Laurie Kramer, 18, for an evening at  the Troubadour where comedian Larry Hankin was performing.

Troubadour c. 1957 (Photo courtesy DWP)

According to John, he and Marina, and the other two couples, left the Troubadour at 11:30 pm. John drove Marina to his home at 13326 Sunset Blvd, Brentwood, where she parked her car.  Marina changed out of her date outfit into brown capris and a white turtleneck sweater.  The two hung out for a few hours and Marina left for her mother’s home at 3:15 am.

Eloise heard loud exhaust blasts in her driveway and got out of bed to see what was going on.  She saw a black car and a man running toward it yelling “Go.”  The man jumped into the car and it sped away. Marina’s car was parked in the driveway, but the girl was gone.

 NEXT TIME: What happened to Marina?

Film Noir Friday — Saturday Matinee: The Blue Gardenia [1953]

Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open! Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Tonight’s feature is THE BLUE GARDENIA starring Anne Baxter, Richard Conte, Ann Southern, Raymond Burr and George Reeves.  This movie is a limited run, so don’t miss it.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

In Los Angeles, while writing a feature story about telephone operators, columnist Casey Mayo sees calendar girl artist Harry Prebble sketching the operators. In vain, Prebble tries to make a date with one of the women, divorcée Crystal Carpenter, but she leaves with her two roommates and fellow operators, Norah Larkin and Sally Ellis. Prebble then cuts short a phone call from Rose, a woman he has been dating, who is almost hysterical in her need to talk to him. That night, Norah spends her birthday alone and reads a letter from her fiancé, a soldier fighting in Korea. After she reads that he is breaking their engagement, the telephone rings, and still in shock, she answers and agrees to have dinner at the Blue Gardenia Restaurant with Prebble, who thinks he is talking to Crystal.

Death of a Latin Lover, Conclusion

From the moment they entered the case, LAPD kept mum about the weapon used to batter Ramon Novarro to death.  However, at trial the prosecution revealed the sad fact that Ramon was beaten with a cane, a memento from one of his films.  It couldn’t have been more personal, nor more poignant.

Deputy District Attorney James Ideman said he intended to show that Paul and Thomas Ferguson tortured Ramon to death while trying to find out where he hid his money. Ideman described how the 69-year-old former film heartthrob was beaten and then taken into a shower and revived so he could be questioned further.

The seven man, five woman jury listened to Ideman’s description of Ramon’s violent end at the hands of the young hustlers who accepted his hospitality, and then left him on his bed with his hands tied behind him, to drown in his own blood.

Photograph caption dated July 28, 1969 reads, “Paul Robert Ferguson confers with attorneys at opening of murder trial. Richard Walton, left, and Dorothy Montoya represented accused at beginning of jury selection.” [Photo & caption courtesy LAPL]

Forever in need of money, Paul telephoned Ramon on the day of the murder and introduced himself as a relative of Ramon’s acquaintance, Larry (Paul’s brother-in-law).  Paul arranged to see Ramon that evening. He arrived with his brother Thomas and following dinner and drinks they demanded money.  Ramon was wealthy, but never kept large sums at home, in fact, that night he had $45 in his wallet.

The prosecution’s case hinged on three points: (1) fingerprints, (2) the fact that it was impossible for Ramon to have written the name “Larry” with his hands tied and (3) Thomas’ telephone call to his girlfriend in Chicago from Ramon’s house.

As far as anyone could tell, the brothers intended to blame each other for Ramon’s murder.  The main points in their strategy were: (1) blame the other brother and (2) mental illness.

Lawyer Cletus Hanifin, right, with murder suspects Tom (left) and Paul Ferguson. Photograph dated September 25, 1969. [Photo & caption courtesy LAPL]

Victor Nichols, a real estate investor and friend of Paul’s, testified that Paul and Thomas came to his Hollywood apartment after midnight on October 31.  They weren’t trick-or-treating, they were in trouble. According to Victor, Paul said: “Vic, I’d like to see you . . . we are in some trouble. Tom hit Ramon . . . Ramon is dead.”

Victor gave Paul a cup of coffee to sober him up as Tom slept on the sofa.  Victor’s guests made him nervous. He didn’t want to be involved in a murder.  After Paul finished his coffee, Victor suggested he awaken Tom and leave.  When Victor asked, “How could you do such a thing?”  Thomas replied: “I hit him several times very hard and he is dead.”

Victor gave them $8 for cab fare and sent them on their way.

Paul took the stand and gave his version of the night of the murder.  He said he went into Ramon’s bedroom and found him lying on the floor. He was covered in blood and his hands were tied behind him.  “I touched him on the shoulder.  He felt starchy . . . tight, like paper . . . “, said Paul.

From his chair at the defense table, Thomas starred daggers at his brother and shook his head as if he couldn’t believe the lies coming out of Paul’s mouth.

Paul claimed he wanted to phone the police, but Thomas vetoed the plan and suggested they stage a robbery. His attorney asked Paul why he would go along with Thomas’ plan, he answered, “Stupidness.”

Paul’s attorney asserted his client had no reason to kill Ramon because he thought the actor was a “nice guy”, and because Ramon said he might become a “superstar”.  Paul said, “He (Novarro) said I could be a young Burt Lancaster or another Clint Eastwood.”

By the time Ramon met the  Fergusons, Paul already had a minor career in the seedier side of show business.  He was a nude model, and may have appeared in porno films.  Ramon knew nothing about Paul’s career, but perhaps he saw a reflection of himself in the good looking younger man.

Paul Ferguson

The trial continued with the brothers blaming each other for the murder. Paul insisted he slept during the crime because he downed a fifth of vodka, some beer and tequila. Until Thomas awakened him and said, “This guy is dead” he was oblivious to Ramon’s screams and cries for help.  How did Paul take the news of Ramon’s death? He said he was “just plain sad.”  Thomas’ attorney asked Paul, “Why were you sad if you didn’t do it?”

Ramon in the tub.

“I was just sad because Ramon was dead . . . I had just had two weeks of bad luck and now I was thrown into this thing . . . I wanted to know why everything was happening,” Paul responded.

What was the bad luck plaguing Paul? His job sucked and his wife left him.  Small problems compared to a man’s life. Paul admitted under oath that he considered suicide rather than face trial, but he rejected the idea.  Asked why, Paul said, “I want to live.”

Neither Paul nor Thomas would admit to the murder, each blamed the other. There was some evidence to suggest Thomas was pressured by Paul and his mother to take the blame and he gave it a half-hearted try. As a juvenile he could not be sentenced to death.

On Wednesday, September 17, 1969, Paul and Thomas Ferguson faced the jury.  If the plan was to save Paul from the gas chamber, it worked. Paul and Thomas received life sentences for first degree murder.

Prison agreed with Paul. Maybe it provided the structured environment he lacked on the outside. He was on the prison’s radio station and found his voice through creative writing.  In 1975, he won a P.E.N. award for a short story, “Dream No Dreams.”

Thomas’ incarceration did not go well.  He was constantly in trouble and spent much of his time in solitary for attempted escapes and other infractions of prison rules.  It is easy to get drugs in prison, and Thomas got strung out on coke and glue.

Paul and Thomas never saw or spoke to each other again after they were released in 1976.

Parole wasn’t the start of a new life for either brother. Thomas was busted for rape in 1987. He spent four years in prison.  When he did not register as a sex offender he was busted again. On March 6, 2005, Thomas went to a Motel 6 and cut his throat. He didn’t leave a note.

By 2012, Paul was once again in prison. This time it was for rape. Unless he wins an appeal, he can look forward to 60 years in a Missouri prison.

 

Film Noir Friday–Saturday Matinee: Race Street [1948]

race-street

Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open! Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Tonight’s feature is RACE STREET.  It stars George Raft, William Bendix, and Marilyn Maxwell. Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

When San Francisco bookmaker Hal Towers confides in his boss, racketeer Dan Gannin, that a syndicate is trying to force him to pay protection money, Dan reminds him about their recent pledge to get out of the gambling racket. Although Dan offers his best friend a chance to invest in his new, legitimate nightclub, Hal insists on fighting the syndicate. Dan cautions Hal, who is lame, to be careful, but before the night is over, Dan and another childhood friend, police detective Barney Runson, find the bookie lying dead at the bottom of his apartment stairs. Concerned for his friend’s safety, Barney warns Dan not to seek vengeance on Hal’s killers, but allow the law to pursue justice. Dan’s associates, however, expect him to retaliate for Hal’s murder, and Dan obeys the rules of gangster protocol by not revealing anything about the case to Barney. When Dan goes home that night, he is greeted by two well-dressed men who present themselves as “insurance salesmen.”