Film Noir Friday: Nightfall

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 NIGHTFALL starring Aldo Ray, Brian Keith and Anne Bancroft.

TCM says:

As James Vanning furtively roams the street of Los Angeles, a man stops him and asks for a light. Afterward, Jim wanders into a bar and meets Marie Gardner when she asks him to lend her five dollars because she misplaced her wallet. After she shows him her driver’s license and promises to send the money to him the next morning, he hands her a five dollar bill and invites her to dinner. Meanwhile, the man in the street, an insurance investigator named Ben Fraser who has been trailing Jim for three months in hopes of retrieving $350,000 Jim allegedly stole from a bank, returns home and confides to his wife Laura that he thinks Jim may be innocent.

One Hundred Forty Dollars a Day, Part 2

Craig Coley, who managed a Carl’s restaurant in Van Nuys, was taken into custody within hours of the murders.  He was the logical suspect. Rhonda ended their two-year relationship and Craig was said to have taken it hard. Did his broken-heart morph into a murderous rage? Could he have raped and murdered the woman he said he loved and then strangled to death the boy he treated like a son?

His friends and family didn’t believe the Vietnam vet was capable of such brutality. He’d never been in trouble with the law – in fact, his father was retired from the Los Angeles Police Department.  Craig grew up with respect for the law, and his subsequent military career set those early values in concrete.

Craig Coley and his parents

No matter what accusations the detectives made during their interrogation, they could not shift Craig – he was adamant that he was innocent. The law disagreed.

Craig was bound over for trial. The crime was Simi’s first double homicide, and Deputy D.A. William Maxwell announced that he would seek the death penalty.

The trial began on February 9, 1979.

The most compelling evidence against Craig were the statements of two of Rhonda’s neighbors. The man downstairs from Rhonda, Glen Watkins, a bus driver, told investigators that he heard noises in her apartment at 4:30 a.m.  He later amended his statement and said that he heard the noises at 5:30 a.m.  A woman who lived in the building reported seeing Craig’s truck drive away from the scene.

Compounding the case against Craig were a bloody towel and t-shirt detectives found in his apartment. He also had minor cuts and abrasions on his body. Criminalists found semen on Rhonda’s sheets, but this was several years before the discovery of DNA, so there was no way to rule Craig out as the donor.

The defense challenged the prosecution’s case at every turn.  They summoned their own experts and called many of Craig’s family members and friends to testify to his character. They even put Craig on the stand – a risky move – but the defense team believed in their client.

The defense called the Simi Valley Police Department incompetent for not pursuing other suspects in the case: Jim Ireton, a friend of Rhonda’s; Robert Bower, a cousin, and Watkins, a bus driver, who lived in the apartment below Rhonda’s. Why, the defense demanded, weren’t other suspects subjected to the same intense questioning Craig had endured?

The trial lasted four weeks.  The defense planted enough reasonable doubt in the jurors’ minds to cause a mistrial. The final tally was 10 to 2 in favor of conviction.

The district attorney vowed to refile.

The second trial revealed a surprising advocate for Craig, the Simi Valley Mirror. Not everyone in Simi was thrilled by the Mirror’s support. A city council member said, “It’s embarrassing and upsetting to me and many people, but the local papers seem to have lost some of their cool in this case.  As a result, plenty of people are upset.”

The Mirror’s publisher, James A. Whitehead, published an editorial with the headline, “Coley Truly Appears to be Wrong Man.”  In the editorial, Whitehead compared Craig’s trial to the infamous trial of Sam Sheppard in Cleveland two decades earlier.  Sam Sheppard, a surgeon, was convicted of killing his wife in their home in 1954.

Whitehead said, “The Mirror is firmly convinced that Glen Watkins (the bus driver) should be arrested as he is definitely a suspect of committing murder in the first degree.” 

Watkins testified for the prosecution, and the Mirror went after him; “Frustration prevailed as Glen Watkins left the Superior Court Room after he practically confessed to killing Rhonda and Donnie Wicht in their Buyers Street apartment last November 11, 1978.

The Simi Enterprise interpreted Watkins’ testimony in a different way: “During cross-examination, (Public Defender Don) Griffin asked Watkins if he committed the crimes and Watkins denied any involvement.” 

Hardly surprising that he would the murders if he was guilty. But then the same thing could be said of Craig Coley.

In the end it is only the opinion of the jury that matters, and they found Craig guilty of the murders. Whitehead said he was in “total shock” over the verdict.

A photo of Craig Coley being arrested by Rick Freeman of the Simi Valley Police Department in 1978 ,

Prosecutor Maxwell didn’t get the death penalty he sought. Craig was sentenced to life in prison without parole.  

 Craig’s conviction should have ended the case. But it didn’t.

NEXT TIME:  Justice delayed?

Serial Killers 101, Introduction

I am in the process of developing a series of online courses exploring various true crime topics.

This Friday evening, May 22, 2020 at 7:00 pm PDT, I am offering a brief introduction to the course, Serial Killers 101.

This is free — all you need to do is to register.

Here is your invitation to join me:

You are invited to a Zoom meeting.
When: May 22, 2020 07:00 PM Pacific Time (US and Canada)

Register in advance for this meeting by copying and pasting the link below into your browser.

https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZIodOmvqTkuH9YJs3QjtaboA3AnswBgMCdE

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

See you on Friday!

Narrating Deranged L.A. Crimes

B.C. — Before Covid, I thought about adding narrated versions of Deranged L.A. Crimes blog posts to the site, but I never got around to it; until now.

For a long time I have dreamed of adding another dimension to the blog. I want to provide a variety of ways to access content. I realize it may not always be convenient to sit down and read an entire post. Maybe there are times when you would like to listen to a Deranged tale.

As an experiment I’ve narrated a recent post, Dear Hattie, Part 1. I’ve posted it here, and I’ll post the audio version of the conclusion to Dear Hattie soon.

What do you think about the idea of audio versions of Deranged tales? Is it something you might enjoy? I’d love your input. If you critique my reading be gentle, I’m definitely not a professional.

With unexpected time on my hands, thanks to the Safer at Home order here in Los Angeles, I’ve turned my attention to all types of content and considered various ways to take my passion for crime in new and challenging directions.

Last year I taught a course, The Dark History of Los Angeles, for a community learning organization. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and would do it again in a heartbeat. The biggest problem with teaching a course in person is enrollment. There are only so many people you can cram into a room. With that in mind, I’ve started to develop a curriculum for a series of crime courses I will teach online.

I’m excited about the challenge of online teaching. Whatever changes occur in the post-pandemic world, online courses seem a safe bet. My debut course is a free mini-course, Serial Killers 101. I will let you know as soon as it becomes available.

Thanks again for supporting Deranged L.A. Crimes. I am grateful for every one of you.

Please stay safe and well.

Dear Hattie, Conclusion

D.C. Kent survived his self-inflicted wounds. The bullet wound in his head was superficial and the gash in his throat healed. With no chance of succumbing to his injuries, D.C. decided to lay the groundwork for his defense.

Too bad D.C. wasn’t an actor or he would have known better than to break character in the middle of a performance. He pretended not to hear when someone spoke to him. He rolled his eyes and did everything but drool. Whenever someone took him by surprise, he dropped the pretense. The deputies in the jail ward at the receiving hospital saw through his act, and so did the trusties.

A clue to D.C.’s state of mind was obvious in his choice of a lawyer. An insane man would not care if he had a lawyer or not. D.C. cared enough to engage the services of one of the best criminal defense attorneys in the country, Earl Rogers.

EARL ROGERS

Earl Rogers, admitted to the California bar in 1897, was an attorney of uncommon skill. He appeared for the defense in seventy-seven murder trials and lost only three.  During one of his most famous cases, “The Case of the Grinning Skull,”  Rogers introduced the victim’s skull into evidence to prove that what looked like a fracture caused by a violent blow from a blunt instrument, delivered by his client, was, in reality, the result of the autopsy surgeon’s carelessness with a scalpel. The jury acquitted Rogers’ client.  

If you think that “The Case of the Grinning Skull” sounds like the title of a Perry Mason novel, you’re not far off.  A decade after Rogers’ death in 1922, author Erle Stanley Gardner resurrected Rogers in the character of Perry Mason.  

ERLE STANLEY GARDNER

Rogers visited D.C. in jail. D.C. was despondent, whiny, and in a state bordering on nervous collapse. He dropped his insanity act and asked Rogers to tell him if he had any chance of an acquittal.  Rogers pulled no punches.  He told D.C. he would have to get a grip on himself or the chances of him walking out of the courtroom a free man were zero to nil.

D.C. then asked Rogers about the worst-case scenario.  What would happen if a jury convicted him?  Again, Rogers leveled with his client.  He told D.C. he might get from one to ten years in the penitentiary.  D.C. collapsed. D.C.’s next question was about Rogers’ fee. Rogers had had enough of D.C.’s hand wringing and complaining. He said,

“Even if it costs you everything you have; it would be cheaper than going to the penitentiary.”

Rogers urged D.C. to be a man, not a coward. His plea fell on deaf ears.

While D.C. and Rogers talked, a patient was admitted to the hospital.  To treat the patient, someone opened the large medicine cabinet near D.C.’s bed.

D.C. made a move to get up from his cot, but Special Officer Quinn entered the room and D.C. sat back down. As Quinn turned to leave, D.C. got up to follow him. He said he had to use the restroom.

Before anyone could stop him, D.C. sprang to the open medicine case, threw back the doors and grabbed a bottle of carbolic acid. He poured most of the bottle’s contents down his throat. Some of the caustic liquid spilled down his shirt and burned him.

Deputies grabbed D.C. and carried him to the operating room. He frothed at the mouth and writhed in agony, but said nothing.   

A doctor was at D.C.’s side within 5 minutes.  The doctor administered the antidote, but it was too late. Ten minutes later, D.C. died.

Deputies searched the dead man’s cell and found a letter to Hattie.

The letter read:

“Dear, Dear Hattie:  I suppose that sounds queer to you.  This is the longest time in seven years that I have not heard from you.  Now I ask you if possible, to forgive me.  Next, if possible, to assist me in my greatest hour of trouble.”

Unbelievable. D.C. had the unmitigated gall to beg Hattie, the woman he attempted to murder, to assist in his defense.

True to his character, D.C. continued:

“I am suffering the tortures of hell.  I wish you could know one-half of my life in the last thirty days. Now, Hattie, I shall be plain with you and am going to ask you to return kindness for unkindness.”

The letter rambled along in a self-serving fashion to its conclusion, which was a pathetic plea:

“Oh, I beg you, save me, for it is all with you. Think of me in jail, all covered with filth and lice; only beans and bread and treated like a dog.  Save filthy me, I beg of you.  Please tell Mr. Rogers your feelings in the matter.”

D.C. lied about  the conditions in his cell and his treatment.  Everyone who came in contact with him recalled him as, “troublesome, peevish, and fretting constantly because he could not do as he pleased.”

On the date scheduled for D.C.’s arraignment, Justice Morgan dismissed the case because of the “death of the defendant by suicide.”

A former associate of D.C.’s paid to ship the body to Burlingame, Kansas.

In his will, D.C. deeded Hattie his interest in the furniture of the Columbia lodging house.  Small recompense for the agony she endured.

EPILOGUE

Hattie survived her wounds and married. George thrived. He served in World War I. Following the war, he became one of the first motion picture art directors.  In 1924, he married Thelma Schmidt, and Hattie was there.

GEORGE HARRISON WILEY

Late in the afternoon on June 29, 1935, George and veteran cameraman Charles Stumar left the Union Air Terminal in Burbank. They headed to a location near Triunfo where they planned to scout locations for an upcoming Universal Pictures film. 

Stumar brought the plane in for a landing on an improvised field owned by the studio. It was twilight; the field was rough and uneven. Martin Murphy, a production manager for Universal, witnessed the crash. He telephoned the studio to report the accident and to let them know that he believed both occupants of the aircraft to be dead.

Upon hearing the news, Captain Morgan of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s aero detail hopped into his plane to survey the scene. When he arrived he confirmed everyone’s worst fears.

George’s death devastated Hattie.

The 1940 census shows Hattie living in the Manor Hall Rest Home on 1245 South Manhattan Place in Los Angeles. She passed away on October 22, 1951.

Hattie and George are buried in adjoining plots at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale.

Dear Hattie — Part 1

February 15, 1901/ Columbia Boarding House/South Broadway, Los Angeles

Hattie Wiley and her three-year-old son, George, stood in the kitchen and they talked as she fixed his lunch.   

George heard someone and turned to see D.C. Kent, Hattie’s former fiancé and co-owner of the boarding house, enter the room. Hattie turned from the stove to face D.C. and they argued about her recent decision to end their relationship, both personal and professional. D.C. brought up a revolver he had concealed in his pocket, leveled it at Hattie. and fired three rounds. George, who stood between the two, escaped injury as the bullets whizzed over his head.

Stunned and bleeding, Hattie screamed and lurched into the hallway dripping blood.  She collapsed on the floor and whispered, “My mother, my mother.”

George followed behind her. He cried, “Mommy, mommy, what is the matter?” She couldn’t respond.

Residents heard the commotion and crowded into the corridor. One chambermaid gathered her wits about her and phoned the police. Then everyone heard a sharp crack. Seconds later, D.C. reeled out of the kitchen, bleeding from his head. The blood ran down his face and soaked his shirt. He started toward his room at the top of the stairs.

Police arrived. The residents weren’t much help; they didn’t know what had happened.

An officer found D.C. in his room, He clutched a straight razor and stood over a washbasin filled with blood. Before the officer could intervene, D.C. brought the blade to his own throat and slashed. He stumbled against a trunk. The room was an abattoir.

Before D.C. could slice his throat a second time, the officer punched him. Dazed, D.C. dropped the razor. The cop grabbed D.C.’s arm and tugged him into the hallway. D.C. glanced over his shoulder at Hattie, who was still on the floor bleeding. George stood near her and wept, he begged his mother not to leave him.

An ambulance transported D.C. to a nearby receiving hospital where a doctor stitched him up. D.C., who had been mute during the ride from the boarding house, suddenly blurted out, “I’m sorry I didn’t succeed.” Then retreated into a silent sulk.

A reporter came to interview D.C, but he would not, or could not, speak.

Hattie went to the California Hospital where a friend of hers, Dr. C.G. Stivers, examined her. The prognosis was grim. She suffered three serious gunshot wounds. Two of them entered her chest, and a third went through the fleshy part of her arm. The bullets that entered her chest deflected into her liver.

While they waited to see if Hattie would live or die, detectives began their investigation.

When he was younger, D.C. was a well-to-do businessman in Burlingame, Kansas. For whatever reason, he turned to alcohol. Once he started drinking he couldn’t stop. At some point, D.C. summoned the strength to vanquish his demons. He pulled himself together and made a fortune in the dry goods business.

Material success didn’t satisfy him. D.C. was restless and told his wife that he was miserable in Kansas. He wanted to move away and start fresh–without her.  He told her to consider herself a widow, and he walked out.

He moved to Oklahoma, and later to Los Angeles where he got into the real estate business and bought the Columbia boarding house with Hattie.

Local newspapers speculated about the couple’s relationship. That they were engaged, or had been, and were living under the same were roof suggested an intimacy that could ruin Hattie’s reputation.

Mr. Harrison, Hattie’s father, took offense at the rumors and tried to set the newshounds straight.  He said,

“My daughter’s character is above reproach as anyone who knows her will agree, and although she and Kent lived in the same house for several months, there was never a whisper of anything improper between them.  They were engaged to be married, but Hattie broke it off. She told me she learned that D.C. was immoral.  She said he had grown repulsive to her, and that she did not love him.  Knowledge of this, coupled with an insane jealousy, undoubtedly prompted him to attempt her murder.”

Mr. Harrison then explained how his daughter knew D.C.

“D.C. was a friend of Wiley, my daughter’s divorced husband, and at various times lived with her and her family, both in Oklahoma and at Tropico, in this State.  About two years ago Hattie rented a ranch from D.C. in Tropico. He boarded with she and her husband, and the latter’s mother.  After Hattie’s divorce she lived for a time in East Los Angeles.  Last April she came to our home at Tonawanda, New York, returning in September to Los Angeles, where she immediately joined D.C. in the purchase of the lease and fittings of the Columbia lodging house.  My wife and I lived at the place with them, and there was never anything improper between them.  D.C. agreed that Hattie should conduct business at the lodging house while he would devote his attention to his real estate business.  He failed to carry out this agreement and spent most of his time at the house. He was insanely jealous of Hattie and would become angry when any other man talked with her.”

As D.C.’s jealousy increased and became more out of control, the Harrison’s sent Hattie to Long Beach for a week. She returned home determined to sever her ties to D.C.

Hattie was unaware that while she was in Long Beach. D.C. hired a private investigator to shadow her. The P.I. observed Hattie with a man and they seemed enamored of each other. D.C. was enraged by the news — he decided to seek revenge.

Dr. C.G. Stivers performed a laparotomy on Hattie. A laparotomy is a surgical procedure in which the doctor makes an incision in the abdominal cavity. The doctors opened Hattie up and traced the two bullets lodged in her chest to assess the damage. A lengthy operation to remove the bullets would kill her, so they left well enough alone.

Despite the earlier dire prognosis, Hattie rallied. She regained her strength and doctors felt confident that, barring anything unforeseen, she would live.

While Hattie recovered, D.C. paced the floor of his room in the jail ward of the receiving hospital. His biggest fear now was that he would go to prison for the attempt on Hattie’s life.

He mulled over his options. There wasn’t much he could do – other than feign insanity.  

NEXT TIME: D.C. Kent lawyers up.

Film Noir Friday: The Man Who Cheated Himself [1950]

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 MAN WHO CHEATED HIMSELF [1950] starring Lee J. Cobb, Jane Wyatt, and John Dall.

IMDB says:

A veteran homicide detective who has witnessed his socialite girlfriend kill her husband sees his inexperienced brother assigned to the case.

Enjoy the movie!

The Myth of the Black Dahlia

I was interviewed recently about the Black Dahlia case by Penny Griffiths-Morgan for her Haunted Histories podcast which originates in the U.K. (I have provided a link to the episode below.)  I find it intriguing that a 73-year-old Los Angeles murder mystery has drawn global interest.  What is it about the case that resonates with people even today?

It must be the Hollywood connection.

HOLLYWOOD & VINE c. 1945
THE BROWN DERBY IS IN THE BACKGROUND
Photo courtesy: Water & Power

Almost every contemporary article I have read about the case has described Elizabeth Short as an aspiring actress or starlet, which makes her murder the ultimate Hollywood heartbreak story with a violent twist.

But there are two stories here. One is the myth of the Black Dahlia, a fictional character based on the life of Elizabeth “Beth” Short.

ELIZABETH SHORT

The second story, and the one I believe to be true, is that of a depressed, confused, and needy young woman looking for marriage.

The myth has been repeated so often it is accepted as true, but by mythologizing Beth’s story we have largely ignored the real person at its heart.

We have lost sight of the troubled young woman who came to California to find her father—not to break into the movies.

The tragedy in Beth’s life is not that she didn’t achieve Hollywood stardom, she never sought it. There is no credible evidence that she went out on a cattle call, spoke to an agent, or asked any of her acquaintances, the ones with Hollywood ambitions, to get her an audition.

Beth was looking for what most people her age in the postwar period longed for—marriage and a home. She vigorously pursued the romantic vision of a husband in a uniform with shiny brass buttons and a bungalow with a white picket fence.

Judging by an undated letter she received from Lieutenant Stephen Wolak, she didn’t hesitate to press for marriage.  Wolak’s letter reads in part,

“When you mention marriage in your letter, Beth, I get to wondering.  Infatuation is sometimes mistaken for true love.  I know whereof I speak, because my ardent love soon cools off.”

Wolak’s response to Beth’s letter is a frank assessment of their relationship—which in his estimation was not serious.  You can gauge her desperation from his response.   

How many other men in uniform with whom Beth corresponded received letters with suggestions of marriage? 

A depressed and lonely young woman with daddy issues looking for love by sacrificing her pride isn’t the stuff of novels or movies.

Beth’s tragic life saddens us and makes us uncomfortable; but the myth of the Black Dahlia is an epic tale worthy of a Greek tragedy.

I imagine in the years to come we will continue to hold fast to the myth. It is one hell of a story.

Here is the link to the Haunted Histories podcast.

The Black Dahlia – January 9, 1947

About 12:20 p.m. on January 9, 1947, Elizabeth Short and Robert “Red” Manley left the motel where they had spent the night.

Robert “Red” Manley
LAPL photo

What did Beth and Red talk about during the couple of hours that it took them to drive back to Los Angeles from San Diego? Red noticed some scratches on her arms and asked her about them. She spun a tale of an “intensely jealous” boyfriend – an Italian “with black hair who lived in San Diego”, and claimed that it was he who had scratched her. In truth the scratches were probably made by Beth herself, the result of itchy insect bites. Beth lied to Red a few times more before their day together ended.

Red and his wife Harriet had been having problems. There were so many adjustments to being married with a child, and Red wondered if they were meant to be together.

In the way that only a spouse on the verge of cheating can do, he justified his interest in Beth in his own mind by considering it a “love test”. If he remained faithful to his wife, despite the temptation of being near a beautiful woman, he would conclude that his marriage was meant to be.

Harriet forgave Red.
LAPL photo

Following a platonic night in a motel room, Red’s marriage was certified as made in heaven. But he had a problem; he’d been out of touch for a couple of days. How would he explain his lack of communication? Any guy capable of devising a ridiculous love test could easily come up with an excuse for being incommunicado for a couple of days.

In my mind’s eye I see Beth and Red seated across from each other on the bench seat in his Studebaker, each lost in thought. Beth may have been wondering what she’d do once she hit L.A.  Maybe she’d go to friends in Hollywood. If she was lucky someone would have an empty bed for her. Her immediate difficulty was Red. How would she get away from the well meaning guy for whom she felt nothing?

Once they arrived in the city, Beth told Red that she needed to check her luggage at the bus depot. He took her there and Beth was ready to wave good-bye to him and be on her way – but he wouldn’t leave. He told her that he couldn’t possibly leave her in that neighborhood on her own. She insisted that she would be fine, but he wouldn’t hear of it.

Beth had a few minutes while she checked her bags to conjure up a plan to ditch Red. When they returned to his car she told him that she needed to go to the Biltmore Hotel to wait for her sister, Virginia. It was a lie. Virginia was in Oakland, hundreds of miles to the north.

Red drove her several blocks back to the Biltmore Hotel.  The main lobby was on Olive Street, directly opposite Pershing Square. Beth thanked Red. He had been a gentleman. He’d paid to have taps put on the heels and toes of her pumps, and of course he’d paid for meals and the motel room. She thought that he would drive off and leave her, but once again he said that he didn’t feel comfortable just putting her out of the car.

He parked, and the two of them waited in the Biltmore’s lobby for a couple of hours. Finally, Red realized he couldn’t wait any longer. He said he had to go. She told him she would be fine and that she expected her sister to arrive at any moment.

Red left her at approximately 6:30 p.m. Beth watched him go – gave him a few minutes, and then she exited the hotel and turned south down Olive Street.

She may have been headed for the Crown Grill at Eighth and Olive.   She’d been there before and perhaps she hoped to bump into someone she knew; after all, she needed a place to stay.

When asked if they’d seen Beth, most of the patrons were reluctant to talk to the police. By day the bar catered to the lunch crowd, lots of men escorting women who were not their wives. By night the clientele was mostly gay men. Because homosexuality was illegal there were only a few places where men could meet.

No one who was will to talk could say for sure that Beth had been in the bar on the 9th — and if she was there, no one saw her leave.

No one would ever see Elizabeth Short alive again.

December 1969

On October 13, a paragraph in the Los Angeles Times’ Southland section covered a raid on a “Hippie Commune” in Death Valley National Park twenty-one miles west of Badwater, CA. The raid, conducted by sheriff’s deputies, national park service rangers and the CHP, turned up several sawed-off shotguns, handguns, rifles, and ammunition.  The raid went off without a hitch which, given the number of weapons found, is a small miracle. 

Fifteen people were arrested. A scruffy little man named Charles Manson was among those taken into custody. A Sheriff’s deputy dragged him out of the 12×16-inch cupboard in which he was hiding.

The raid had nothing to do with the August murder spree which took the lives of seven adults and Sharon Tate’s unborn son. Manson wasn’t yet a suspect. The raid was all about the auto theft ring operated by the family.

While Manson sat in jail on the auto theft charges, did some free members commit murder on his behalf?  Manson’s paranoia about squealers had already resulted in Donald “Shorty” Shea’s murder on August 26.  

SHORTY SHEA

The following five cases have connections to the Manson Family.  Some of the connections are compelling, others are peripheral.

On November 5, John “Zero” Haught was found in his Venice Beach home with a single gunshot wound to his head after losing a game of Russian Roulette. At least that is the story told by witnesses Catherine Gillies, Bruce Davis, Sue Bartell, and Madaline Joan Cottage “Little Patty” – all of them Manson family members.

JOHN “ZERO” HAUGHT

Each witness was interviewed separately and recounted Zero’s death. Investigators thought the accounts sounded rehearsed. They were suspicious, but couldn’t prove a thing.

When Leslie Van Houten learned of Zero’s death, she made it clear she didn’t buy the Russian Roulette story.  She was incredulous that he was playing the deadly game by himself as the witnesses stated. An anonymous man told a newspaper reporter he was there when the shooting occurred, and that one girl had pulled the trigger.  The man was never identified and the death is officially a suicide.

On November 7, an early morning walker discovered the mutilated bodies of teenagers Doreen Gaul and James Sharp. The victims were stabbed so many times that police thought they were shot gunned to death. The overkill was like the Tate/La Bianca murders and there is a Manson/Scientology/The Process (a cult) connection. But without proof the murders remain unsolved.

REET JURVETSON “JANE DOE 59”

Reet Jurvetson, known for over 40 years as Jane Doe 59, was another victim of random violence in 1969. Years after her death Manson was asked about Reet.  He said he didn’t know her and knew nothing about her murder. Was he telling the truth?

December 1, 1969, Joel Pugh, estranged husband of Sandra Good, was found dead in a London hotel room.  His wrists and throat were cut. No suicide note was found. Was it a coincidence that Bruce Davis was in the UK at the time of Pugh’s death?

JOEL PUGH

In recent years, the LAPD has said that as many as a dozen murders may be linked to Manson and the family. While decades of dust gather on the open case files, at least the Tate/La Bianca murders are solved.

We can thank now-deceased Susan Atkins for busting the case wide open. The hippie girl who looked like a babysitter to her Sybil Brand Institute cellmates told them some horrific stories that they, at first, figured were bullshit. But after Susan described in gruesome detail Sharon Tate’s last moments, without showing remorse, the inmates went to the jail authorities to turn her in.

If not for Susan, the perpetrators of the August murders may not have been identified for many more months.

On December 1, 1969, LAPD’s Chief Edward Davis held a press conference.

Standing behind 15 microphones, Chief Davis announced the official end of the case.

“I am Edward Davis, chief of police of the City of Los Angeles. Today warrants have been issued for the arrest of three individuals in connection with the murders of Sharon Tate Polanski, Abigail Anne Folger, Voytek Frykowski, Steven Earl Parent and Thomas John Sebring.”

He explained that the same people were also involved in the murders of Leno and Rosemary La Bianca. 

“The development of information from the two separate investigations, the Tate and La Bianca cases, led detectives to the conclusion that the crimes in both cases were committed by the same group of people.  At one time two lieutenants and 17 men were working on only the Tate case.  The Tate investigators interviewed 625 people, some four and five times each.”

Chief Davis referred to a break in the case that occurred two weeks prior to the warrants. He didn’t mention her by name, but he meant Susan Atkins.

Also not mentioned by name was the first victim of the summer murder spree, Gary Hinman. Chief Davis referred only to the “Topanga Canyon murder case.”

GARY HINMAN

Chief Davis wrapped up the press conference as a late arrival, Mayor Sam Yorty, took the stage.

“Sorry, I got here so late,” said the mayor. “The city government and the Police Department are very grateful to the news media for the cooperation we have had . . . many people could have damaged our case if they hadn’t been so cooperative . . .”

The round-up of the Family members implicated in the murders was underway. The case against them was solid enough to bring to the grand jury.

December 5, 1969, Susan Atkins testified before the Los Angeles grand jury. Prosecutors got first degree murder indictments against Manson, Watson, Krenwinkel, Van Houten and Kasabian.

December 21, 1969, Leslie Van Houten talked to cops about her possible cooperation. One week later she recorded a confession with attorneys, but decided against cooperating with prosecutors.

TEX WATSON

By Christmas 1969, Manson and his co-defendants, Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten were in jail facing capital murder charges.

SUSAN ATKINS, PATRICIA KRENWINKEL, LESLIE VAN HOUTEN

With Manson and his band of murderous nomads behind bars, Angelenos breathed a sigh of relief. The ‘60s ended on a miserable note. They thought the ‘70s would be better. They were wrong.

During the 1970s the risk of homicide increased six-fold from the 1950s, and by the early 1980s the term serial killer began to turn up in mainstream media reports.

New monsters stalked the streets of Los Angeles.

The real carnage was just beginning.