30 More Years of Crime in L.A.

When I  began this blog in December 2012, I arbitrarily chose to examine crime in Los Angeles during the years from 1900 to 1970.  Now, however, I think it is time to expand the purview to include the decades of 1970, 1980 and 1990 to encompass all of the last century. In terms of crime in the City of Angels, the last three decades of the 20th Century are enormously interesting.

The 1970s have been called one of the most violent decades in U.S. history. Homicide rates climbed at an alarming rate and people felt increasingly vulnerable.

dirtyharry

Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry

Hollywood contributed to popular culture, and helped fuel the debate on crime and punishment, with a slew of vigilante films like Dirty Harry and Death Wish. The films  showed bad guys being blown away by impressively large weapons.  It was cathartic, but not terribly realistic.

It was during the ’70s that the bogeyman got a new name when FBI Investigator Robert Ressler coined the term “serial killer”.

In 1978 convicted rapist and registered sex offender, Rodney Alcala, appeared on the Dating Game. Why wasn’t he more thoroughly vetted by the show’s producers? I have no idea. Even more astounding than his appearance was the fact that he won! The bachelorette who selected Rodney ultimately declined to go out with him–she found him “creepy”. He’s currently on California’s death row and is believed to have committed as many as 50 murders.

ramirez_108a

Richard Ramirez aka the Night Stalker, flashes a pentagram on his palm.

Some people joined cults where they banded together with like-minded folks for spiritual comfort and to retreat from the scary world-at-large. But there is not always safety in numbers, and evil can assume many guises. In 1978, over 900 members of the People’s Temple died in a mass suicide commanded by their leader, Jim Jones. The group was living in Guyana when they drank cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. The People’s Temple may have been founded in Indiana, but like so many other cults before them they established a presence in L.A.

Jim Jones of the People's Temple

Jim Jones of the People’s Temple

A crack cocaine epidemic swept the country in the early 1980s.  It decimated communities and cost many people their lives. Crack  was inexpensive, easily accessible, and even more addictive than regular cocaine.

The 1980s gave rise to a “satanic panic” which resulted in some of most bizarre prosecutions we’ve seen in this country since the Salem Witch Trials in the 1690s. The McMartin Preschool abuse trial was the most costly ($15 million) ever in the U.S. and resulted, rightfully I believe, in no convictions.

Surprisingly, there was a decline in crime during the 1990s, and it has been attributed to a variety of factors including: increased incarceration; increased numbers of police, growth in income; decreased unemployment, decreased alcohol consumption, and even the unleading of gasoline (due to the Clean Air Act). Despite the decline, there was still enough murder and mayhem to make us uneasy.

oj-simpson-murdeHere in L.A. there was the murder trial of O.J. Simpson, the so-called Trial of the Century. If you remove fame, wealth, and race and reduce the crime to its basic elements you end up with nothing more than a tragic domestic homicide–the type of crime which is altogether too common everywhere–yet the case continues to fascinate.

Heidi Fleiss, the Hollywood Madam, made news in 1993. At her pandering trial actor Charlie Sheen divulged that he had spent in excess of $53,000 for services rendered by Heidi’s girls.

Please join me as I explore the entirety of 20th Century crime in Los Angeles.

Joan

 

 

 

Justice Denied, Part 3

Jury selection in the trial of 41-year-old Santa Monica physician Dr. George Dazey for the 1935 slaying his actress-wife Doris began in early February 1940. Guilty or innocent, George Dazey did one thing right–he hired Jerry Geisler to defend him in court.

“Get Me Geisler” (pronounced Geese-lar) was a cry that went up routinely in Hollywood circles. Over the course of his half-century of practicing law Geisler defended Errol Flynn, Robert Mitchum, Charlie Chaplin, Lili St. Cyr and many, many  others.

attorney-jerry-geisler-with-client-everett

Jerry Geisler w/Robert Mitchum

Geisler’s practice wasn’t limited to Hollywood luminaries; he also defended Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel as well as the odious Dr. George Hodel (for incest). Hodel is well-known for having been a suspect in the 1947 murder of Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia.

During the voir dire Deputy District Attorney Hugh McIssac questioned potential jurors on their attitude toward circumstantial evidence and capital punishment. The case against George was entirely circumstantial–which isn’t to say weak; after all, most cases are won on circumstantial evidence. Jerry Geisler’s questions to the possible jurors were very different; he wanted to know:

“If it is brought out here that the deceased might have ended her own life, would you be willing to take that into consideration in the matter of reasonable doubt as applied to this defendant?”

The final jury was composed of three women and nine men. The proceedings hit a snag when on the day after empanelment one of the jurors became too ill to attend the trial. The alternate jurors had not yet been sworn in which led to a legal dispute over when a trial actually begins. Is it when the jury is sworn; when the first witness is called; or when the first witness opens testimony? Opposing counsel agreed to stipulate that the sick juror, Mr. Gieschen, should be discharged and that selection of a jury should continue on the basis of an incomplete panel.

Unconcerned by the minor legal hiccup, Dr. Dazey spent his time working on a crossword puzzle.dazey crossword

George Dazey’s trial opened with a very unusual situation.  George Merritt, a major witness in the case, admitted to being a personal friend of both the defendant and Deputy District Attorney McIssac.  When Merritt took the stand he testified that Dr. Dazey had called him to the death scene shortly after he claimed to have discovered his wife dead on the garage floor.  But his testimony didn’t go as the prosecution had believed it would–Merritt was suddenly unable to recall the doctor making damaging, self-incriminating, statements.

The Deputy D.A. was not pleased:

“Didn’t you tell me at a lunch we had together within recent months that Dr. Dazey kept repeating, ‘Why did I do it?  Why did I do it?'”

Merritt said he wasn’t certain.

Peeved with his recalcitrant witness McIssac continued:

“Didn’t you tell me that although Dr. Dazey appeared hysterical and incoherent that  you and your friends decided that he was putting on an act?”

Merritt said no.

McIssac told the court that he was taken by surprise. He had every reason to believe that Merritt would testify at the trial the same way in which he’d testified to the grand jury several weeks earlier. At the grand jury hearing he was asked if Dr. Dazey had blurted out, “Why did I do it?” and Merritt had responded: “It might have sound like that.”

Part of the problem faced by the prosecution was that Doris’ death had occurred four years earlier and witnesses are notoriously unreliable even moments after a crime has occurred.

Jerry Giesler made sure to mention that even the police officers who had originally been called out to the scene had to refer to reports they had made at the time of the incident.

After the first day or two of testimony I’d have called the contest between the prosecution and defense a draw. Geisler had made a point about the dim memories of the witnesses, but the prosecution scored a point in refuting the notion that Doris had been suicidal with the testimony of Joe E. Burns, a Frigidaire repairman.

Burns had been called to the Dazey’s home on the day prior to Doris’ death to repair their fridge. He had to return the next day to make further adjustments and he testified that on both occasions Doris seemed to be in a good frame of mind and perfectly lucid when they spoke. That testimony would make it more difficult for Geisler to sell the defense theory that Doris was unstable and suicidal.

Winifred Hart

Winifred Hart during the silent era.

The most flamboyant of the witnesses to testify was a former neighbor the Dazey’s, Mrs. Wiinifred Westover Hart, the ex-wife of silent film cowboy superstar, William S. Hart.

Winifred was an actress during the silent era, which is how she met her ex-husband. Her first screen appearance was a small role in D.W. Griffith’s 1916 film, Intolerance, but her movie career was over by 1930.

The ex-Mrs. Hart arrived at the murder trial wearing dark glasses and holding a magazine up to shield her face. Her first comment upon taking the witness stand was that she was nervous.

On the night of October 3, 1935 Mrs. Hart said she heard screams coming from the direction of the Dazey home. Deputy District Attorney McIssac asked her:

“Did you tell anyone about hearing these screams after you learned of Mrs. Dazey’s death the next day?”

Mrs. Hart said:

“Oh, I told everybody, I was so upset!”

McIssac asked her if she had received any threats and she answered that she had, but she didn’t recognize the voice over the telephone. There was no way to corroborate her testimony about the threatening calls and on top of that it was difficult for the jury to take her seriously because she was so theatrical. According to the L.A. Times the former silent film actress had a flair for the histrionic.

When it was Jerry Geisler’s turn to question Mrs. Hart he opened with:

“Now don’t get nervous at me.”

Mrs. Hart went on to testify that in the late afternoon of October 3, 1935 she and her mother, Mrs. Sophie Westover, had been listening to the radio when they heard screaming and crying. Hart testified:

“It sounded like a boy being teased—boys used to play in a vacant lot next to us–and after a while I got up and shut the window and turned up the radio.”

Hart knew what time they heard the ruckus because she and her mom were listening to a scheduled program featuring Rudy Vallee.

Winifred Hart c. 1940s

Winifred Hart c. 1940s

Another witness, Douglas O’Neal, 17, lived near the Dazey’s home and he testified that had seen Dr. Dazey’s car parked by the Dazey residence hours before the doctor said he’d arrived home to find his wife dead.

Jerry Geisler established that the boy couldn’t be certain it was Dr. Dazey’s car because he hadn’t seen the license plate numbers and the car was a popular make and model.

Mildred Guard, sister of the dead woman, testified that she’d visited her sister many times while she was married to Dr. Dazey. She recalled one occasion, a short time prior to the birth of the couple’s child, when there was some rather disturbing breakfast table conversation:

“George [Dr. Dazey] was talking and he said, ‘If the baby looks like_____’ and here he mentioned the name of a certain man–I’ll kill both Doris and the baby.”

Prosecutor McIassac asked Mildred how Doris had replied. Mildred said that her sister had admonished George, asking him not to talk like that.mildred guard.jpg

The mystery man was referred to in court only by his first name, which was Carl. During questioning by Jerry Gisler, Mildred testified that she knew that her sister had been going out with Carl up to the time she began dating Dr. Dazey. When asked if Doris had quit seeing Carl after starting a relationship with George, Mildred admitted that she had no idea.

Geisler said:

“Well, you know the baby didn’t look anything like Carl?”

To which Mildred replied that the baby didn’t bear the slightest resemblance to Carl. Mildred’s testimony concluded with her description of an incident that had occurred on a night when she was staying at the Dazey home.  She said she heard Doris scream then call out her name:

“I went to her room and she was partly sitting up in bed and had a frightened look on her face.  The doctor was standing about three feet from the bed, fully dressed and apparently sober.  He looked very mean.  His hands were clenched, his face was purple and he was grating his teeth.  She had a look of terror on her face.”

Dr. Dazey allegedly told Mildred he was “only fooling” and asked her to leave the room.  Doris never explained the incident to Mildred.

As George Dazey’s trial entered its second week the prosecutors offered their version of Doris’ death–they contended that the doctor had incapacitated his wife in some way then carried her body into their garage and placed her head near the car’s exhaust pipe. In fact Doris’ face was so near to the exhaust pipes that she received burns which the prosecution declared would have been highly improbably if she had committed suicide as had been suggested by George’s defense team.

spectators dazey trial

Unidentified women queued up to watch the trial of Dr. George Dazey.

Everyone who came to the courtroom on February 13, 1940 was there to hear the testimony of Dr. Dazey’s former nurse, and occasional “social companion”, Miss Frances Hansbury.  Frances had testified at the grand jury hearing that George had confessed to her that he had murdered Doris.

If the jury believed Frances it could be all over for George Dazey–he might dance into eternity at the end of a hangman’s noose.

NEXT TIME:  The trial and verdict.

Thank you, Deranged Readers!

flappergun

Dear Deranged Readers:

When I began this blog in mid-December 2012 I had no expectations regarding how many people I might reach. Truthfully I was just compelled to do something I love, which to share twisted tales from L.A.’s deeply disturbed past.

The month of August was a personal best for the blog with over 26,000 visitors, most of whom had visited before! In the months since the blog began it has logged over 124,000 visitors — not just random hits. I know how busy everyone is, and I’m touched that so many of you find time for Deranged L.A. Crimes.

I take this endeavor seriously and I make every effort to keep the stories interesting and the facts straight.  I want you to know that I will always respond respectfully to your comments, even on those occasions when we may agree to disagree.

Again, my heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you for your support.

Now let the bad behavior continue.

Best,

Joan

Dead Woman Walking: Elizabeth Ann “Ma” Duncan, Part 2

olga_picOlga Duncan accompanied Luis Moya out to the car where she expected to find her husband Frank in a drunken stupor. She thought she saw him stretched out on the backseat of the beat-up Chevy so she reached in to awaken him, and then everything went black.

Luis Moya bashed Olga Duncan over the head hard enough to knock her out, and Gus Baldanado dragged her into the back seat of the car — but she was a fighter with a compelling reason to live, she was pregnant. Whenever she regained consciousness and began to scream and struggle Ma’s hjired killers beat her until she passed out.

On the way out of town Luis and Gus realized that the 1948 Chevrolet they’d rented from a friend for $25 wasn’t up to a trip to Tijuana as they had originally planned. They headed south on Highway 101 and drove a little over ten miles to Carpinteria, then went another few miles to Casitas Pass Road. Gus recalled using the road to get to a winery near Ojai. By the time that they stopped they were almost seven miles into Ventura County — it was quiet, dark and deserted.

'58 Chev full line mag adLuis and Gus dragged pregnant Olga out of the car and down a small embankment. They couldn’t shoot her because they’d broken the gun over her head during one of the beatings they’d given her. Instead, they took turns strangling her until Baldanado, who had been an Army medic, decided that she was dead.

The men were so pathetically inept that they had neglected to bring shovels, so they dug a shallow gave in the soft silt near a drainage ditch with their bare hands; then they buried Olga and her unborn daughter. Olga was still wearing the wedding ring that Frank had given her.

Baldanado was as lousy a medic as he was a hit man because Olga hadn’t been dead when they covered her body with dirt. The beatings hadn’t killed Olga, and neither had the attempted strangulation. She had suffocated to death. Olga had been unconscious but alive when Luis and Gus had buried her.

Olga was discovered missing by a friend and colleague of hers, Adeline Curry, chief surgical nurse at St. Francis Hospital. She went to Olga’s apartment after the young nurse had failed to show up for an important operation. Curry was alarmed when she found the door to the apartment ajar. All the lights were on and the bed covers had been turned back, but the bed had not been slept in.  Olga was gone.

Olga’s landlady, who refused to be identified by name for fear of retribution, said she had met Mrs. Elizabeth Duncan on one occasion when she’d come by looking for Olga. The landlady said that Elizabeth was raving and declared that she would kill Olga if it was the last thing she ever did. Then Elizabeth told that landlady that her son and Olga weren’t married at all, that they were living in sin. When the landlady challenged her, Elizabeth snapped: “All you have to do is check with Ventura. The marriage has been annulled.” The landlady told police and reporters that Olga was deathly afraid of her mother-in-law and  she frequently moved to stay one step ahead of her.

Upon being notified of her disappearance Olga’s father, Elias Kupczyk, turned over to Santa Barbara police letters he’d received from his missing daughter telling of Elizabeth’s constant death threats. Elias was soon on his way from Canada to Santa Barbara to aid in the investigation.young wife missing

The fraudulent annulment was discovered when attorney Hal Hammons unwittingly drew up the papers for Elizabeth and a mysterious man named Ralph. Hammons had rushed the annulment through the same day as a courtesy because Elizabeth was Frank’s mother. When Hammons phoned Frank later and asked if he had represented him in annulment proceedings, Duncan told him absolutely not. Hammons contacted a Ventura District Attorney Investigator, Clarence Henderson, who began to check out the information he’d been given.fake annulment

The D.A.’s investigation revealed that the annulment was a fraud perpetrated by Elizabeth Ann Duncan. Ma was promptly arrested on charges of bribing a witness to influence testimony, falsifying a legal paper, forgery with intent to defraud and aiding and abetting a “Ralph Roe” in making false statements under oath.

gus_luisWhile Ma Duncan was facing charges related to the fraud two men, Augustine Baldanado and Luis Moya, were arrested . Police refused to say if the men were part of the inquiry into Olga’s disappearance.

Ma appeared in court represented by her dutiful son, Frank — in fact the two walked in together hand-in-hand. Frank successfully won Elizabeth a reduction in bail from $50,000 to $5,000. He argued that the Santa Barbara and Ventura County authorities needed to “put up or shut up” with their insinuations that his mother had anything to do with the mysterious disappearance of his wife.

Ventura D.A. Ray Gustafson attempted to block the bail reduction. He told the court:

“Things reaching my ears indicate there may be a homicide change in this case. Mrs. Duncan obviously had some concern about Mr. Duncan’s wife and did things that were not normal unless she had an intense dislike for her.”

Ma refused to comment on any phase of the case on the advice of her attorney/son.frank defender

Frank was either a complete idiot, delusional or, more likely, in denial regarding his mother’s involvement in Olga’s disappearance. He told reporters that he believed his wife to be alive. He went on to say:

“Truly that is my hope. At one time she threatened to cause me some unpleasant publicity but this would seem to be going to the extreme.”

Reporters asked Frank if he’d go back to live with his wife if she returned, he said: “I sure would.” Frank was also asked if his mother had been unhappy with his marriage to Olga or had tried to break it up; he replied: “Let’s say she hindered its development.”

How did Frank feel about Ma’s possible involvement in Olga’s disappearance? He stated that he didn’t believe for a minute that Ma had any guilty knowledge:

“Since that time (of Olga’s disappearance) and before she was taken into custody I cross-examined her closely about Olga’s disappearance. She said she knew nothing about it. I know her and she would not lie. I’m quite certain that she had nothing to do with it.”

Frank had no insight into why Elizabeth had taken the drastic measure of faking an annulment, and he refused to make any comment.

On December 19, 1958, Mrs. Elizabeth Ann “Ma” Duncan was formally accused of hiring Augustine Baldonado and Luis Moya, for $3000, to murder her daughter-in-law.

R.W. Cooley

R.W. Cooley [Photo from Santa Barbara Police Department.]

The cops had kept a tight lid on their investigation of Olga’s kidnapping when finally, on December 21, 1958, they went public with an appeal to help them find the missing bride’s body. Santa Barbara Police Chief R.W. Cooley said that the information he had about the alleged murder and disposal of the body was based on information obtained in questioning friends of the suspects. Cooley said:

“The body was disposed of early on the morning of November 18, probably between the hours of 12:30 a.m. and 5 a.m. It was placed beside or under a pipe. This pipe may have been loose, and was near a post. The automobile used to transport the body, and probably parked nearby while the body was disposed of, was a 1948 faded, dirty beige four door Chevrolet. It had blue primer spots on the hood.”

Chief Cooley figured the 5 a.m. cut-off time based on statements of witnesses that it was dark when Baldanado and Moya returned to Santa Barbara. The two were overheard to say that they had “finished Mrs. Duncan’s job.”

NEXT TIME: Frank Duncan goes missing. Olga Duncan’s body is discovered. Elizabeth Duncan, Luis Moya and Gus Baldanado are indicted for the murder of the young bride and mother-to-be.

Aggie and The Fox, Part Four: The Fox Must Hang!

scientific_evidenceOn December 26, 1927 on a train taking him from Pendleton, Oregon to Los Angeles William Edward Hickman confessed to the senseless slaughter of twelve year old school girl, Marion Parker. He told District Attorney Keyes, Chief of Detectives Cline, and Chief of Police Davis that “I am ready to talk. I want to tell the whole story.” The cops said later that Hickman seemed to enjoy recounting details of the kidnapping, murder, and dismemberment.

Hickman admitted that he’d had no accomplice. He said that his motive for the kidnapping was to get $1500 to go to college, he claimed he wanted to go to bible school. And his motive for killing Marion? Hickman said : “I was afraid she would make a noise.” He had murdered her the day following the kidnapping.

The story Hickman told was beyond comprehension.  He said that he had killed Marion by strangling her with a towel. He had knotted it around her throat and pulled it tightly for two minutes before she became unconscious. Once Marion was out, Hickman took his pocket knife and cut a hole in her throat to draw blood. He took her to the bathtub and drained her body of blood.

He cut each arm off at the elbow, and her legs at the knees. Her put her limbs in a cabinet. He removed Marion’s clothing and cut through her body at the waist. At some point during the mutilations he realized that he would lose the ransom he’d demanded if he wasn’t able to produce the kidnapped girl when he arrived at the rendezvous with her father. He wrapped the exposed ends of her arms and waist with paper. He combed her hair, powdered her face and then with a needle and thread he sewed open her eyelids. He wanted to give Perry Parker the illusion that his little girl was still alive.

Local newspapers became obsessed with youthful perpetrators — Hickman was only nineteen. The Record (where Aggie Underwood was watching the case against The Fox unfold) published a photo of Hickman alongside one of Riichard Loeb under the headline: “Why Youths Commit Most Brutal Murders”.

Hickman1-2The photos of Hickman and Loeb compared their features in an attempt to reveal the outward signs of a homicidal youth.  The two young men look nothing alike to me, but that didn’t keep The Record from stating that their “sheik-like hair cuts with side burns, prominent foreheads, deep-set yes, straight and regular noses, and full lips with similar chins” were signs of a killer.  In particular the eyebrows of the young men were described as “one being straighter and lower placed than the other” which, said The Record, was known as a “stigmata of moral degeneracy”!

Richard Loeb was one of a pair of teenage wanna be Nietzschean supermen (his accomplice was Nathan Leopold) who, in 1924, kidnapped and murdered fourteen year old Robert “Bobby” Franks in Chicago. People around the country were horrified that two young men, both of whom came from wealthy families, could commit murder based on their belief that they were superior beings and, as Leopold had written to Loeb: “…exempted from the ordinary laws which govern men.”

The teenagers must have been shocked to discover that they were not exempted from ordinary laws.  In fact,  the two killers would have paid for the crime with their lives if not for their attorney Clarence Darrow. Darrow’s only mandate was to save them from execution, and in that he was successful.

While Hickman was being tried for Marion Parker’s murder, he was also being investigated for a series of pharmacy robberies, one of which had ended in the cold-blooded killing of druggist Ivy Thoms on December 24, 1926. Sixteen year old Welby Hunt was eventually identified as Hickman’s accomplice and he promptly confessed to his part in the fatal drugstore robbery. His confession saved him from hanging. Nothing would save The Fox.

Welby Hunt and William Hickman [Photo is courtesy of LAPL.]

Welby Hunt and William Hickman [Photo is courtesy of LAPL.]

Hickman didn’t have the same advantages as Leopold and Loeb, and he wasn’t represented by Clarence Darrow. He was, according to the district attorney, “…certain to hang”. Hickman was one of the first in the state to try the newly established plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, but the jury didn’t buy it. They knew he was evil, but that wasn’t the same thing as being insane.

On February 14, 1928 The Record put out an extra edition with the headline ‘Fox to Hang on April 27″. Hickman and Hunt were each found guilty for the robbery/homicide and each was given a life sentence. The robbery/homicide trial and the inevitable appeals on his death sentence for Marion Parker’s murder delayed Hickman’s date with the hangman, but only for a few months.

HICMAN_HANGSOn October 19, 1928 at San Quentin, William Edward Hickman was taken to the gallows where he fainted as the black hood was placed over his head. According to reports his body sagged and fell sideways  He was unconscious when the hangman raised his hand and three men with poised knives behind a screen on the gallows platform drew the blades simultaneously across three strings. One of the strings released the trap and Hickman slipped through. It took fifteen minutes for him to die. There was a dispute over whether his shortened plunge caused his neck to break, or if he had strangled to death — as Marion Parker had done less than a year before.

Aggie and the Fox, Part Three: The Capture and the Confession

The news of the kidnapping and brutal mutilation murder of twelve year old school girl, Marion Parker, had shocked Los Angeles residents more than any crime in recent memory.

Everyone in the city was following the hunt for Hickman. Aggie Underwood watched the case unfold from the special vantage point of the newsroom at the Los Angeles Daily Record. She read the copy as it was transformed into the headlines that kept Angelenos on the pins and needles awaiting word of Hickman’s capture.

00027382_hickman

William Edward Hickman [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

The citizens’ outrage manifested itself in the near lynching of a young man who had the misfortune of resembling William Edward Hickman. Other Hickman-look-a-likes were tracked, taunted, and threatened all over the city. More than 7,000 police officers, augmented by 12,000 members of the American Legion, and cops from neighboring cities were out hunting the killer.

Because Hickman’s photo was on the front page of every newspaper from L.A. to San Francisco and beyond, cops were beginning to get a picture of him not only as Marion Parker’s killer, but as a bandit.  People were coming forward who were able to I.D. Hickman as a drugstore robber; and it seemed that when he hadn’t  been sticking up pharmacies he had been cashing bad checks.

Reporters were digging into every corner of Hickman’s life, including the inevitable interviews with neighbors, who described him as a “mild boy”, and his mother who predictably sobbed and referred to him as a “good, clean boy”.

Eva HIckman, mother of "The Fox".

Eva HIckman, mother of “The Fox”. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Mrs. Hickman’s good, clean boy had managed to elude the law from Los Angeles all the way up to Pendleton, Oregon where, on December 22, 1927, he was captured following a car chase on the Columbia River Highway.

Aggie was in the newsroom when the wire came in reporting the capture of William Edward Hickman.  In her excitement she decided to phone her husband with the headline that everyone in Los Angeles was waiting for. Aggie’s friend and mentor Gertrude Price overheard the conversation, and when Aggie was finished Gertrude took her aside and told her that she must never tell anyone, even a family member, about a story until it appeared in print.  At first Aggie was crushed, she’d never have done anything to disappoint Price.  It didn’t take Aggie long to realize that Price wasn’t upset, angry, or disappointed, she was teaching her a fundamental lesson about the newspaper business. It was a lesson that Aggie would never forget.

Hickman's hands.

Hickman’s hands. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

It took Hickman only a few minutes in captivity to begin to shift the blame for Marion Parker’s atrocious murder onto the shoulders of an accomplice he named as Andrew Cramer. He began to weave a story that absolved him from everything that had happened to Marion except for the initial kidnapping.

Hickman said: “Marion and I were like brother and sister.  She liked me but she did not like Cramer, and she said she would like to stay with me all the time.”  He went on to say that he had been gentle with Marion and had even taken her to see a movie on the night before she was killed.

As long as he was in a confessing frame of mind, Hickman admitted to several of the drugstore robberies that he’d been suspected of committing. He claimed to have had an accomplice for those crimes as well.

Hickman smiles as he reads a transcript describing Marion's murder.

Hickman smiles as he reads a transcript describing Marion’s murder.  [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Cops had to follow up on Hickman’s assertion that his accomplice, Cramer, had been the one to murder and mutilate Marion Parker. What they discovered was that there really was a Cramer, three of them actually — and it was Kramer, with a “K”.  The Kramer in question had an unbreakable alibi; he’d been in jail since mid-August. The other two Kramer brothers were also exonerated, which left no one but William Edward Hickman as the sole perpetrator of the unspeakable child murder.

Prior to being returned to Los Angeles, Hickman was examined by Dr. W. D. McNary, superintendent of the Eastern Oregon Asylum for the Insane. Dr. McNary said that Hickman’s mind “…seemed clear. He told a straight, coherent story and never was at a loss for words. There was nothing about him to indicate insanity. He did not differ a bit from hundreds of thousands of other young men”.

Hickman revealed to Dr. McNary that “…he does not like girls, that he is deeply religious and that his ambition was to become a minister. Several times he made mention of God and in discussing his capture took the attitude that since God willed it, that it had to be.”

While awaiting extradition from Oregon to California, Hickman attempted suicide by strangling himself with a handkerchief. He was subdued by a guard. When the first try failed, he immediately tried again to end his life, this time by diving heard first from his bunk to the concrete floor – he was caught around the waist by one of the guards.

Hickman and his captors, Chief Davis, Chief of Detectives Cline, and District Attorney Keyes, all of Los Angeles, were soon to be headed south on Southern Pacific train No. 16.

Hickman would be finally be held to answer for his crimes.

 NEXT TIME: JUSTICE PREVAILS.

Aggie and the Fox, Part Two:The Hunt is On!

Mariion, Mrs. Parker, Marjorie. [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Mariion, Mrs. Parker, Marjorie. [Photo courtesy LAPL]

On December 15, 1927, twelve year old school girl Marion Parker was unwittingly handed over to a monster by the school registrar at Mt. Vernon Junior High School. Her abductor had come to the school that day and said that Perry Parker, the girl’s father, had been seriously injured in an automobile accident and was calling for his youngest daughter.  But Marion was a twin – which girl was the man talking about? Both Marion and her sister Marjorie were at school that day.

It was determined that Marion would be brought to the office for the simple reason that she was in class and Marjorie was on an errand on the school grounds, and so she was not immediately available. Marjorie was returning to the school office just as Marion was getting into a car with a dark haired stranger. Marjorie watched her sister and the man drive away.

Parker family home.

Parker family home.  [Photo is courtesy of LAPL]

The Parker family waited in agony for Marion’s return, or at the very least for a communication from her kidnapper. They didn’t have long to wait. The day following Marion’s abduction the first of four ransom letters was received. The kidnapper demanded $1500 in cash for the girl’s release with the threat of death if the demand was not met. The first of the ransom notes was signed “George Fox”, the last of them were signed “The Fox”.

On the morning of December 17, 1927, Perry Parker received a telegram reiterating the earlier demand for $1500 in exchange for his daughter’s life. That evening Parker took a call from the kidnapper.  The man instructed Parker to drive to the corner of Fifth Street and Manhattan Place in Los Angeles, and told him not to inform the cops or Marion would die. The plan was for Parker to sit in his car and wait for the kidnapper to pull up next to him and show him that Marion was alive. The kidnapper would then collect the ransom money and drop Marion off a block down the street.

Photo is courtesy of LAPL.

Instructions from “The Fox”.  Photo is courtesy of LAPL.

Parker followed the kidnapper’s instructions to the letter. He waited briefly at the designated meeting place for a few minutes before a Chrysler coupe pulled up beside him. He looked over and caught a glimpse of Marion sitting in the front seat. Parker sensed that something was wrong with the girl — maybe she was bound or drugged. Nothing could have prepared Mr. Parker for the reality.

The driver of the Chrysler had a white handkerchief over his face and pointed a large caliber weapon at Parker. The man said: “You know what I’m here for.  Here’s your child. She’s asleep. Give me the money and follow instructions.”  Parker did as he was told. He was too close to getting his little girl back to make any move that would spook the man with the gun. The money was exchanged and Parker followed the coupe to 432 South Manhattan Place. The passenger door of the car opened and Marion was pushed out onto the lawn.  Parker tried to get the license number of the car, but the kidnapper had bent the plate so that only a few numbers were visible.

The Chrysler roared off and Parker ran over to Marion. He felt a few moments of relief, his girl was going to go home with him and everything would be as it was. Except when Parker got to Marion and took her in his arms he saw that not only was she dead, but she had been savagely mutilated. His screams made an unholy sound that reverberated throughout the neighborhood. Someone phoned the police.

Marion Parker’s body was wrapped in towels. Her legs and arms had been hacked off and she had been disemboweled, the cavity stuffed with rags. A wire was wrapped tightly around her neck and then drawn up and wrapped around her forehead. Her eyelids had been sewn open so that she would appear alive when Perry saw her from a car length away.

Bundles of Marion’s body parts had been scattered around town. A woman who lived about a block away from where Marion had been dumped discovered a suitcase that contained blood soaked papers and a spool of thread. The thread was a match for that used to sew Marion’s eyelids open.

A reward of $1,000 was offered, but contributions from people all over the city brought the final total to $50,000 (over $600k in current U.S. dollars).

Artifacts from Marion Parker case are on display at L.A. Police Museum.

Artifacts from Marion Parker case are on display at L.A. Police Museum.

The first break in the case came when the towels that had been wrapped around Marion’s torso were identified as coming from the Bellevue Arms Apartments. A man named Donald Evans, who matched the description of the kidnapper, had rented a room in the building.  Evans was soon discovered to be an alias used by nineteen year old William Edward Hickman. Hickman had been a messenger at the same bank where Perry Parker worked, but lost his job after pleading guilty to forgery. He had had the audacity to return to the bank later and ask for his old job back, but Parker showed him the door. Parker also refused to supply a reference for Hickman when he applied for a job with another company.   The cops were beginning to glimpse a motive.

When the police arrived at the Bellevue Arms to search the apartment they discovered that Hickman had fled; but they picked up a couple of solid bits of evidence. A piece of a Brazil nut was found in a trash can in Hickman’s apartment, and it fit perfectly with another piece that had been found in the pocket of  Marion’s dress. The Chrysler coupe had been discovered and prints from the car matched prints on the ransom notes.  At least that’s what they thought; the prints on the car were later discovered to belong to someone other than Hickman

William Edward Hickman [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

William Edward Hickman [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Fingerprints or not, the rest of the evidence was compelling enough to formally charge William Edward Hickman with the murder of Marion Parker.

Life was getting scary for men who had the misfortune to resemble Hickman. One poor fellow was arrested five times before he was given a “get out of jail free” letter from the police.  Another man who resembled Hickman was chased down and surrounded by a mob at Sixth and Hill streets in downtown Los Angeles. The police arrived just in time to save the man from being strung up on a light pole.

The real Hickman had left town the day after collecting the ransom from Parker. He’d carjacked a 1928 Hudson sedan on Hollywood Blvd, taken $15 from the driver, and headed north.

The hunt for “The Fox” was on.

NEXT TIME, THE CAPTURE AND THE CONFESSION.

Aggie and the Fox

Marion Parker

Marion Parker [LAPL photo]

It had taken less than two years for Aggie Underwood to work her way up from switchboard operator at the Los Angeles Daily Record, to part-time assistant for one of the paper’s columnists, Gertrude Price (who wrote the Cynthia Grey column).

On December 15, 1927, just a couple of days away from Aggie’s twenty-fifth birthday, she was working in the newsroom when reporters learned that twelve year old Marion Parker, the daughter of Perry Parker a prominent banker, had been abducted from her school.  Marion’s twin sister Marjorie had not been taken.

The kidnapper had arrived at Mount Vernon Junior High School where the twins were students and gone directly to the office of Mary Holt, the school’s registrar.  The young man told her that Perry Parker had been seriously injured in an automobile accident and was calling for his youngest daughter. Times were different then. Holt never even asked the man for his identification, nor did she ask him what he meant by youngest daughter since Marion and Marjorie were twins and presumably separated in age by mere minutes.

Any moment of doubt that Mary Holt may have had before releasing Marion into the custody of a maniac (who didn’t look maniacal at all) was overcome when the man insisted that he was an employee at Parker’s bank. When she was questioned later, Holt said the man had seemed sincere. He had been quick to suggest that if Holt doubted his word, she should phone the bank. If only she had.

Mt. Vernon Junior High School

Mt. Vernon Junior High School [LAPL photo]

Instead of phoning the bank for verification of the stranger’s story, Holt dispatched an office assistant to fetch Marion from class. The children were in the midst of a Christmas party when the assistant delivered the news of Perry Parker’s accident.  Marion didn’t hesitate; she accompanied the assistant to the registrar’s office where she was led away by the stranger.

Witnesses would later recall that the man helped Marion into his coupe and “…patted her reassuringly on the shoulder”. As Marion’s friends watched the coupe drive away they had no idea that they were witnessing a kidnapping, or that the abduction would result in one of the most heinous murders in the city’s history.

Once it had been determined that Marion had been kidnapped, terror and helplessness replaced calm and security in the Parker family home. They could not name a single enemy. The Parkers were prepared to meet any ransom demand, they simply longed for word that Marion was unharmed.

parkerheadline

LAPD, the LA County Sheriff, and the District Attorney’s office put all available men into the search for Marion. At that time it was the largest single manhunt in the city’s history. The scope of the search would not be eclipsed until 1947 when LAPD conducted a massive search for the killer of twenty-two year old Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia.

NEXT TIME, THE HUNT FOR THE FOX.

Aggie and the Aviatrix

Aggie arrived at the Herald-Express city room before 7 am on a mid-January morning in 1935. Lewis S. Young, the assistant city editor, assigned the new reporter a desk, locker and an old Underwood No. 5 typewriter.  In her autobiography, Newspaperwoman, Aggie said: “I didn’t foresee that the typewriter and I were to become friends on hundreds of hot stories and were not to be parted until I was ordered to the city desk twelve years later”.

Aloha, Amelia Earhart!

Aloha, Amelia Earhart!

Lewis Young handed Aggie her first assignment; interview Amelia Earhart.

Earhart had just successfully completed a solo flight from Honolulu to Oakland and had returned to Los Angeles where she had a home in North Hollywood.

 

Earhart wasn’t in when Aggie arrived, and her household was being uncooperative.  Aggie wasn’t about to give up, especially on her first assignment.  She staked out Earhart’s home for over seven hours, occasionally she walked a few blocks to a grocery store to grab a bag of cookies and use the pay phone.  When Earhart finally turned up, Aggie was able to convince her, and her mother, to pose for photographs and submit to an interview.  Earhart wasn’t immediately forthcoming during the interview; but through her questions Aggie managed to discover something that Earhart had not previously disclosed – that she had abandoned her plan to fly to Washington, D.C.  The aviatrix also accurately predicted passenger flights from Los Angeles to Hawaii!

Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart

The photographs and interview were a coup, and Aggie’s bosses at the Herald were pleased.  But she wasn’t happy. During those seven hours in front of Earhart’s home, she had suffered pangs of doubt. She’d spent years learning her craft and establishing her reputation at the Record, and she felt like she was starting over.  About a week after the Earhart interview Aggie decided she wanted to return to the Record, even under its new ownership. She had enjoyed the diversity of her duties at the Record, and she wasn’t sure that she’d ever feel at home at the Herald.

Aggie placed a call to Les Adams, managing editor of the Record, but her friend at the switchboard, Alice Gross, wouldn’t put it through.  Alice told Aggie: “You don’t want to come back here. Things are in an awful fix here, Agness.  I’m not going to let you talk to Les.”  And she didn’t.  Aggie would have to stay put.

Aggie decided to express her discontent to Arthur “Cappy” Marek, the city editor who had hired her.  Marek reassured her, saying: “things will work out all right; just wait and see”. Cappy convinced Aggie to give the Herald another chance.  It was a decision that would challenge and reward her for the next thirty-three years.

Aggie and the Double Murder — Part Two

Aggie’s epiphany to interview David Clark’s parents, following his arrest for the murders of Herbert Spencer and Charles Crawford, was a brilliant blend of feminine intuition and a reporter’s gut instinct. None of her male counterparts had thought of the family angle, and so while Aggie was scoring a front page exclusive the other reporters were busy rushing down blind alleys.

David Clark's gun. Weapon allegedly used to murder Herbert Spencer and Charles Crawford

David Clark’s gun. Weapon allegedly used to murder Herbert Spencer and Charles Crawford [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive.]

The front page exclusive with Clark’s parents led Aggie to yet another great interview — this one with Herbert Spencer’s widow. A friend of Aggie’s who knew the Spencers arranged the interview.  Aggie was nervous; she was still an inexperienced cub reporter.  She may have lacked experience, but she was also smart and determined. She made a point of reviewing everything that had been reported about the case and poked around to find holes in the coverage. Once she’d mastered the facts, she compiled a list of questions which she took with her to the interview.

Aggie admitted to Mrs. Spencer that she was a cub reporter, and her honesty paid off. Herbert Spencer had been a reporter and a city editor for many years and his widow wouldn’t have been deceived if Aggie had tried to masquerade as a seasoned newshound.

Mrs. Spencer answered Aggie’s questions about Herbert’s background; all the while Aggie was leading up to the hardball questions she knew she’d have to ask to get an interview worth the printer’s ink.

The murders of Spencer and Crawford had revealed to Angelenos some of the corruption in the city’s government. Aggie had no choice but to grill the widow Spencer about Herbert’s possible involvement in bribery, extortion, and shakedowns. Mrs. Spencer defended her husband’s reputation in no uncertain terms. She had loved him and believed in him. She was convinced that he’d had no part in the Combination’s illegal activities.

When Aggie returned to the newsroom she was nervous about writing up the story, but Rod Brink, the city editor, told her to “just write the facts as you’ve told them to me”.

Aggie’s interview with Mrs. Spencer resulted in quotes that made the story resonate with readers who were eager to get the inside scoop.

The widow told Aggie: “I was a newspaperman’s wife for fourteen years, and I loved it.  He’d call and say: ‘I’ll be home late, dear, just had a peach of a murder’.  I never, never thought that his death would turn out to be a peach of a murder”.

Despite her grief Mrs. Spencer expressed sympathy for the shooter’s mother!  The resulting headline was: “Sorry for Dave’s Mother,’ Says Herb Spencer’s Widow”.

Aggie had scored another two-line, eight-column banner at the top of page one!  There was a photo of Mrs. Spencer over the story, with Aggie’s by-line.

Gertrude Price, Aggie’s mentor, was thrilled with the two exclusive interviews that Aggie had scored in what was then the biggest story in L.A.  Price told Aggie: “The best reporters in town, with all their contacts, weren’t able to get that story. It’s an important story, and you got it. You got it exclusively.”

It wouldn’t be the last time that Aggie scooped the competition. It was an auspicious beginning to a stellar career.

NEXT TIME…WRAP-UP OF THE CRAWFORD-SPENCER MURDERS