Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction: The Real L.A. Noir


I’m pleased to announce that I will be the featured speaker at the May 7th meeting of the Los Angeles chapter of Sisters in Crime!  I’m looking forward to it and I hope that you will come out to the beautiful South Pasadena Library for the presentation.  If you are not familiar with Sisters in Crime, I suggest that you consider joining. The membership is comprised of mystery and true crime writers as well as librarians, booksellers, readers–anyone who loves the genre (men are welcome to join too!)

For details regarding the location of the meeting visit the Sisters in Crime website.

 squiggleJoan Renner—“Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction: The Real L.A. Noir”

Los Angeles has inspired writers of crime fiction since the Golden Age in the 1930s.  The reason is simple, the City of Angels has been home to the most depraved killers and deranged crimes ever recorded. In her presentation, “Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction: The Real L. A. Noir”, writer and social historian, Joan Renner, will introduce you to a few of L.A.’s grittiest true tales and most fascinating real life characters, and offer tips on how to research them.

Joan Renner is a social historian and writer specializing crime. She’s been an invited speaker at the California Association of Criminalists, and has appeared in over 20 episodes of numerous Investigation Channel programs including Deadly Women. Her blog, Deranged L.A. Crimes, tells true tales of murder and mayhem from the 20th Century.

 

Film Noir Friday: Wicked Woman [1954]

wicked woman

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 WICKED WOMAN (aka FREE AND EASY) starring Beverly Michaels and Richard Egan. The film has been described as “Eisenhower era sleaze” and “delicious trash”.  I leave it to you to decide.

TCM says:

After a Trailways bus delivers voluptuous blonde Billie Nash to a small town, she checks into a rooming house. Her rooming house neighbor is Charlie Borg, who runs a tailor’s shop next door and offers her a meal. The next day, Billie gets a job as a waitress, at $6.00 a night plus tips, at a bar run by Dora Bannister and her husband Matt. Needing new clothes, Billie cons twenty dollars out of the lecherous Charlie by promising to date him. Billie discovers that Dora is a secret drinker and decides to go after Matt. She is even more determined when Gus, the cook, tells her that Matt used to work for Dora’s drunken father, who owned the bar, and that Matt saved the business. Later, when Matt and Billie are alone after the bar closes, she seduces him.

Marion Linden’s Life of Crime, Conclusion

Marion Linden morphed from a Ohio high school football star in 1932, to a failed felon with a death wish in Nebraska in 1936. His plan to die in a hail of police bullets in Omaha, thereby easing his parent’s Depression era monetary woes, went south faster than a freight train to Georgia. Marion was given a break, three years probation, and didn’t do any prison time for his dangerous and idiotic behavior.

Marion wasn’t supposed to leave Nebraska, but that didn’t stop him. He married 18-year-old Arlene Fagor in Denver, Colorado, on December 5, 1936. Marriage can be a maturing experience for some, but evidently not for Marion. His good behavior and his marriage lasted all of two months before ending in gun fire. Marion shot Arlene in the heart when he learned that she had been unfaithful to him while he searched for work in Texas. Found guilty of voluntary manslaughter, Marion was sentenced to from seven to eight years in a Colorado prison.

linden headline2By now may be wondering what Marion’s criminal behavior in Ohio, Nebraska, and Colorado has got to do with Los Angeles. Simple. Like many others before him, following his release from prison the ex-con moved to Los Angeles–land of bright blue skies, sunny beaches and, in Marion’s case, third chances. Prison may have mellowed him, and perhaps it did–for a while.  From 1940 to 1957 if he committed any crimes they weren’t serious enough to get his name into the newspapers. Unfortunately, Marion proved to be incapable of keeping his life on track.

On Sunday, March 17, 1957, St. Patrick’s Day, Leo Wise, a 34-year-old LAPD officer from  University Division, was on his evening rounds when he responded to the shouts of a bartender at a bar at Pico and Figueroa. Wise arrived to find an extremely intoxicated man creating a disturbance. Wise pulled the man onto the sidewalk outside the bar and patted him down, but didn’t find a weapon. Officer Wise said, “I don’t want to see you on the street anymore. Go home.” The patrolman then walked off in one direction and the drunk lurched off in another. After watching Officer Wise depart, the man returned to his spot in front of the bar.

When Officer Wise returned later in the evening he found the man where he’d left him. Wise said, “I thought I told you to go home.”  He patted the man down and once again he didn’t find a weapon.  Because the man hadn’t complied with his suggestion to go home and sleep it off, Officer Wise had no other option but to arrest the scofflaw.

Wise walked over to the police call box to request transportation for the man’s trip to the drunk tank–he never saw the pistol.  The man shot twice, hitting Wise in the neck and side. The wounded officer fell to the sidewalk but he managed pull out his service revolver. He got off two shots before the man jumped into a car and drove away.

A small crowd gathered around the fallen officer to render aid. Wise waved them off and gasped, “Take the number of those plates and call the police!”  Officer Wise died of his wounds.

Mexican national Luis Alatorre was driving by the bar with three companions. He witnessed the shooting and didn’t hesitate to drive after the suspect.  Alatorre and his friends flagged down motorcycle officers, Charles Sturtevant and Lloyd Nelson, who continued the pursuit. They stopped the man at Alvarado and 11th.  Alatorre and his companions, who had followed in the motor officers’ wake, pulled up and shouted, “Be careful, he has a gun. He just shot a policeman.” The man yelled at the officers, “you took me, but I got one …  I would like to shoot some more, just like I did the last copper. I’ll bet he is dead.”  The suspect spat in the face of the officer who was handcuffing him.

More officers arrived and one of them said, “Let me have him for a while and I will fix him.” The arresting officer replied that the suspect  “is under arrest and in my custody, so leave him alone.” The suspect said: “Thank you, buddy, for stopping these $#!%&* from beating me up. I’ll beat this in court. You are a good guy.”

linden booked photoLieutenant Gebhart took the suspect to Homicide Division. As they drove, the suspect said:  “I hope you have me for murder. I shot that #@$%&*cop and I intended to kill him. If I had an opportunity I would kill all of you. … I tried to shoot him in the heart. … I shot him with a .32 and I didn’t think it would do that much damage, but I hoped it would.”

The suspect was taken to LAPD’s Homicide Division where he was identified as Marion Linden. Lieutenant Gebhart, and several other officers later testified that Linden, even though he was handcuffed, had kicked and spat at officers and knocked furniture about. Lieutenant Gebhart heard Marion say that three years earlier he had been “framed” by two policemen on a charge of interfering with an officer.  He insisted that the officers had perjured themselves . He was convicted of the charges and during his 90 days in jail he made up his mind that he was going to kill a cop.

Marion bragged that: “it took the jury eight hours of deliberation on a misdemeanor charge to convict me …I’m very tough to beat.”  He also said that he had beaten one other murder rap and he would beat the charges against him for the murder of Leo Wise.

Marion was wrong. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

Two years later, on July 30, 1959, Lt. Governor Glenn M. Anderson granted Marion a clemency hearing. The hearing came just in time. Marion was scheduled to go to the gas chamber in about a week. Governor Brown told reporters he wouldn’t interfere in the case, and left for a junket in Puerto Rico.

Marion’s execution was delayed while he acted in Pro Per and filed his own appeals. A few minor errors were corrected in the trial record but, apart from that, nothing substantive was changed. Marion’s death penalty stood.

On January 1, 1960, a fist fight broke out on death row. Marion and several other inmates, including the infamous “Red Light Bandit”, Caryl Chessman, got into an argument in their exercise area as they were about to watch the Rose Bowl game on TV. The fight ended when one of the combatants smashed the television on the floor and guards came in to separate the inmates. The fray was likely instigated by Chessman, but each of the other men saw an opportunity to mix it up and jumped in. They had nothing to lose.linden executed

Marion’s early life had showed promise, but somewhere along the line he lost his way. He became a violent and bitter man intent on murder. On July 12, 1961 forty-three year-old Marion James Linden paid for his life of crime in California’s gas chamber.

Film Noir Friday: Cry Danger [1951]

cry danger 1951

 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 CRY DANGER starring Dick Powell and Rhonda Fleming.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

As he steps out of Los Angeles’ Union Station, ex-convict Rocky Mulloy, fresh from serving five years of a life sentence for robbery and murder, is greeted by Lt. Gus Cobb, the detective responsible for his incarceration. With Gus is Delong, the decorated, disabled Marine who provided Rocky with the alibi that finally freed him. The cynical Gus invites Rocky and Delong for a drink, and at the bar, Delong explains that, because he shipped out the day after the holdup, he was unaware that Rocky, with whom he and some other Marines had been drinking the night before, was in trouble.

Marion Linden’s Life of Crime, Part 1

In March 1932 the Elyria, Ohio Chronicle Telegram sang the praises of an Avon High School sophomore for scoring ten field goals, bringing his team to its eleventh straight win for the season. The young man had his whole life ahead of him.

Fast forward to Omaha, Nebraska, April 1936. Marion James Linden, former high school grid iron star from Ohio, was living up to the speed he showed in scoring ten field goals. Unfortunately, the 23-year-old was speeding towards a life of crime. Marion was busted for stealing two automobiles, kidnapping three men and staging a holdup in only 45 minutes. Quite an accomplishment.

News-UT-OG_ST_EX.1936_04_03_LINDEN_headlineWhy was Marion on a crime spree? He told reporters: “I wanted to commit self-destruction in such a way my insurance policy would not be invalidated through the suicide clause.” Suicide by cop would have been his parents the princely sum of $1200 (equivalent to $20,814.77 in current USD). No doubt the cash would have helped his family weather the Depression. Marion entered a guilty plea, but a few days later he reappeared in court and changed his plea to innocent. He was placed on probation for 2 years.

By early February 1937, Marion was living in Denver, Colorado. By mid-February he was in jail on a murder charge. Marion shot Arlene, his 18-year-old bride of two months, in the heart.NEWS-NE-EV_ST_JO.1937_02_22_LINDEN_headline

Marion believed that while he was in Texas trying to find employment as an oil field worker, Arlene was in Denver having an affair. When Marion returned from Texas he immediately went to the home of his in-laws, the Cochrans, where Arlene was staying. He told Detective Captain James E. Childers that he pleaded with Arlene to give up her lover, and when she refused he shot her. But there may have been more to Marion’s motive than jealousy. Capt. Childers quoted Marion as saying that a divorce would have revealed a violation of his Nebraska probation agreement and he would have been compelled to return there to serve out the three year sentence for his mini-crime spree in April 1936.

News-CO-GR_DA_TR.1937_04_24_LINDEN_headlineMarion was convicted of voluntary manslaughter. Judge Henry A. Hicks pronounced sentence–from seven to eight years in the state penitentiary. Lewis D. Mowry, Marion’s attorney, said that the his client had no plans to appeal, nor would he seek a new trial.

After serving only three years of his sentence, Marion was released in 1940. At that point he falls off the radar. Did Marion go straight? As an ex-con he may have found it difficult to get a fresh start, but If he committed any further crimes they weren’t newsworthy.

Marion resurfaced in Los Angeles in 1957 where he would once again be the topic of news stories.

Next time:Marion’s story concludes.

Film Noir Friday: They Made Me A Fugitive [1948]

they made me a fugitive_criminal

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 THEY MADE ME A FUGITIVE (aka THEY MADE ME A CRIMINAL) starring Sally Gray and Trevor Howard.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Narcy, the mastermind of a black market operation run out of the Valhalla Undertakers in London, informs his confederates, Soapy, Bert, Curley, Aggy and Jim, that Clem Morgan, a former soldier, will join their organization. Later, Narcy meets Clem at a bar and is immediately attracted to Clem’s girl friend, Ellen. The following day, when Clem arrives at Valhalla, he is stunned to find Ellen in Narcy’s office. Then, when Clem discovers drugs mixed in a shipment of nylons, he tries to renege on his arrangement with Narcy, who explains that this was a one-time favor for another criminal. Privately, Clem tells Ellen that he intends to pull out after the next job. That night, Narcy, who distrusts Clem, frames him with Soapy’s help, for the hit-and-run murder of a policeman, and Clem is sentenced to fifteen years in prison.

The Black Dahlia: Conclusion

Two years passed with police no closer to a solution for the murder of Elizabeth Short. The 1949 Los Angeles Grand Jury intended to hold LAPD’s feet to the fire for failing to solve the Dahlia case and several other unsolved homicides and disappearances of women.

dahlia_herald_3_the black dahliaOn September 6, 1949 the jury’s foreman, Harry Lawson, told reporters that a meeting of the jury’s administrative committee was scheduled for September 8. First on the -committee’s agenda — the unsolved homicides. Lawson said: “There is every possibility that we will summon before the jury officers involved in the investigation of these murders. We find it odd that there are on the books of the Los Angeles Police Deportment many unsolved crimes of this type.”

The Grand Jury further concluded that: “Because of the nature of these murder and sex crimes women and children are constantly placed in jeopardy and are not safe from attack.” They also decided that something is “radically wrong with the present system for apprehending the guilty, the alarming increase in the number of unsolved murders and other major crimes reflects ineffectiveness in law enforcement agencies and the courts and that should not be tolerated.” jeanne and frank pic

I would argue that the jury and law enforcement had not yet adapted to changes in the post-war world. Cops were unaccustomed to stranger murders; and I believe several of the women whose cases they had been investigating were killed or taken by either a complete stranger or a recent acquaintance Then, as now, when a woman is murdered her killer is usually her husband, boyfriend or another man in her life. It is my contention that it wasn’t corruption within law enforcement agencies that prevented them from solving crimes “of this type”. The police were doing solid detective work but their investigative methods hadn’t caught up with the times. There were men walking the streets of Los Angeles who had been severely damaged by their war experiences–how many of them were capable of murder?

 Murder Car -- this is the auto in which the body of Mrs. Louise Springer was found slain.  The car was parked at 136 W. 38th St.  The discover has touched off the widest man hunt since the slaying of the Black Dahlia.

Murder Car — this is the auto in which the body of Mrs. Louise Springer was found slain. The car was parked at 136 W. 38th St. The discovery touched off the widest man hunt since the slaying of the Black Dahlia.

LAPD detectives did their due diligence in Short’s slaying. There were more than 2700 reports taken on the case. There were over 300 named suspects. Fifty had been arrested and subsequently released. There had been nineteen confessions–none of which panned out.

In 1949 the DA’s office issued a report on the investigation into Short’s murder. In part the report stated: “[she] knew at least fifty men at the time of her death and at least 25 men had been seen with her within the 60 day period preceding her death. She was not a prostitute. She has been confused with a Los Angeles prostitute by the same name…She was known as a teaser of men. She would ride with them, chisel a place to sleep, clothes or money, but she would then refuse to have sexual intercourse by telling them that she was a virgin or that she was engaged or married. There were three known men who did have sexual intercourse with her and according to them she got no pleasure out of this act. According to the autopsy surgeon her sex organs indicated female trouble. She was known to have disliked queer women very much as well as prostitutes. She was never known to be a narcotic addict.”

Jean Spangler [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Jean Spangler [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Good intentions didn’t get the grand jury any concrete answers to the unsolved homicides or disappearances.. The jury was sidetracked by the continuing saga of local gangster Mickey Cohen and other issues which demanded their attention. In the end they passed the baton to the 1950 grand jury. But they, too, were sidetracked by other issues.

Despite the efforts of the grand jury, the homicides or disappearances of the following women remain unsolved to this day: Elizabeth Short, Jeanne French, Rosenda Mondragon, Laura Trelstad, Gladys Kern, Louise Springer, Mimi Boomhower, and Jean Spangler.

NOTE: This concludes my Black Dahlia posts for 2017. I invite you to stay with me as I unearth more of L.A.’s most deranged crimes.

Film Noir Friday: Apology for Murder [1945]

apologyformurder

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 APOLOGY FOR MURDER starring Ann Savage, Hugh Beaumont, Russell Hicks and Charles D. Brown.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Reporter Kenny Blake (Hugh Beaumont) falls in love with scheming Toni Kirkland (Ann Savage) not knowing that she is married to a man years older than she. By the time he finds out, he is so under her spell that he murders her husband which is what Toni had planned all along. City editor McKee (Charles D. Brown), Kenny’s boss and best friend, begins to pursue the tangled threads of the crime relentlessly and gradually closes the net on Kenny. The latter is mortally wounded by Toni, who has deserted him for another man.

The Black Dahlia: Confessions of a Benzedrine Eater

charles_lynchA couple of weeks following the one year anniversary of the slaying of Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia, LAPD detectives were still trying to solve the case that would eventually become L.A.’s most infamous unsolved homicide.

Cops thought maybe they’d finally caught a break in the case when twenty-three year old Charles E. Lynch telephoned the homicide squad asking that they come and arrest him for Short’s slaying.

Lynch was arrested and brought to the Central Jail to be interrogated.  The young transient was questioned at length by Det. Lts. Harry Hansen and Finis A. Brown, the two detectives who had been assigned to the case since January 15, 1947 when Short’s body was found in a Leimert Park vacant lot.  Dr. J. Paul DeRiver, police psychiatrist, accompanied Hansen and Brown to the questioning of their new suspect.

It didn’t take long for the seasoned detectives and the shrink to conclude that Lynch was lying to them; and when he was challenged on the details of his confession Lynch promptly repudiated it.

Of course the detectives wanted to know what had motivated Lynch to confess to the gruesome murder in the first place, and that’s when he told them that the idea came to him after he read a newspaper “one year anniversary” account of the crime.benz_headline

The newspaper account of the Black Dahlia case may have given initially motivated Lynch to confess, but his real inspiration came from a Benzedrine inhaler.  He told Hansen, Brown and DeRiver that he bought an inhaler, tore off the wrapper, ate the contents and washed them down with a glass of water — it was then, Lynch said, that he decided to confess.

NEXT TIME: Conclusion of the Black Dahlia case.