It was after 10 a.m. on January 15, 1947 — Mrs. Betty Bersinger and her three year old daughter Anne were bundled up against the chill of a cold wave that had held L.A. residents in its grip for several days. Mother and daughter were headed south on the west side of Norton when Mrs. Bersinger noticed something pale in the weeds about a foot in from the sidewalk.
At first Bersinger thought she was looking at either a discarded mannequin, or drunk woman, passed out near the sidewalk. Had she been thrown out of a car by a boyfriend? That particular area was known as a lover’s lane. Once Betty got a closer look, she realized she was in a waking nightmare. The bright white shape in the weeds was neither a mannequin, nor a drunk. Bersinger said “I was terribly shocked and scared to death, I grabbed Anne and we walked as fast as we could to the first house that had a telephone.”
Over the years several reportera claimed to have been first on the scene of the murder. One them was reporter Will Fowler. Fowler said he and photographer Felix Paegel of the Los Angeles Examiner were near Crenshaw Boulevard when they heard an announcement on the shortwave radio: “A 390 W, 415 down in an empty lot one block east of Crenshaw between 39th and Coliseum streets…Please investigate…Code Two … (Code Two meant “Drunk Woman,” and a 415 designated “Indecent exposure.”) Fowler couldn’t believe his ears: “…a naked drunk dame passed out in a vacant lot. Right here in the neighborhood too…Let’s see what it’s all about.”
Paegel drove as Fowler watched for the woman. “There she is. It’s a body all right…” Fowler got out of the car and walked up to the body as Paegel pulled his Speed Graphic from the trunk of the car. Fowler called out: “Jesus, Felix, this woman’s cut in half!”
That was Fowler’s story, and he stuck to it through the decades. But was it true?
There is information to suggest that a reporter from the Los Angeles Times was the first. In her autobiography, Newspaperwoman, Aggie Underwood said that she was the first reporter on the scene. After all these years does it really matter who was first
Aggie at the Dahlia body dump site. January 15, 1947.
All those who saw the murdered girl that day were shocked and horrified. Aggie described what she observed in her 1949 autobiography.
“It [the body] had been cut in half through the abdomen, under the ribs. The two sections were ten or twelve inches apart. The arms, bent at right angles at the elbows, were raised about the shoulders. The legs were spread apart. There were bruises and cuts on the forehead and the face, which had been beaten severely. The hair was blood-matted. Front teeth were missing. Both cheeks were slashed from the corners of the lips almost to the ears. The liver hung out of the torso, and the entire lower section of the body had been hacked, gouged, and unprintably desecrated. It showed sadism at its most frenzied.”
The coroner recorded the victim as Jane Doe #1 for 1947.
Two LAPD detectives, Harry Hansen and Finis Brown, took charge of the investigation. During the first twenty-four hours officers pulled in over 150 men for questioning.
The most promising of the early suspects was a twenty-three year old transient, Cecil French. He was busted for molesting women in a downtown bus depot.
Cops were further alarmed when they discovered French had pulled the back seat out of his car. Had he concealed a body there? Police Chemist, Ray Pinker, found no blood or any other physical evidence of a bloody murder in French’s car.
In her initial coverage Aggie referred to the case as the “Werewolf” slaying due to the savagery of the mutilations inflicted on the unknown woman. Aggie’s werewolf tag would identify the case for a few more days until a much better one was discovered–the Black Dahlia.
NEXT TIME: The bisected body of the young woman found in Leimert Park is identified.
Fowler, Will (1991). “Reporters” Memoirs of a Young Newspaperman.
Gilmore, John (2001). Severed: The True Story of the Black Dahlia Murder.
Harnisch, Larry. “A Slaying Cloaked in Mystery and Myths“. Los Angeles Times. January 6, 1997.
Underwood, Agness (1949). Newspaperwoman.
Wagner, Rob Leicester (2000). The Rise and Fall of Los Angeles Newspapers 1920-1962.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here 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.
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.
Olga 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.
Luis 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.
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.
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.
While 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.”
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.
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.
On 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”.
The 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.
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.
On 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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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”.
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!
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.