Corpus Delicti: Epilogue

Ewing Scott was released from prison in 1974, still vehemently denying that he had murdered his wife Evelyn in 1955.

Over the years he had told anyone who would listen than he had been wrongly convicted. By 1980 he was living on Social Security in a downtown Los Angeles hotel. Better accommodations than a prison cell — but not nearly as plush as the Beverly Hills mansion he shared with Evelyn.

Ewing leaves prison.

In 1983, Diane Wagner, a Burbank writer who spent five years as a part-time reporter in the New York Times Los Angeles bureau, began researching the Ewing case. She wanted to write a book about the landmark case.

Diane successfully located Ewing, who didn’t mind talking to an attractive young woman in the least, and asked him all the tough questions. She got the standard Ewing responses.  He told her that he had gone out for tooth powder on May 16, 1955 and when he returned, Evelyn was gone.

Diane interviewed Ewing several times but never got past the wall of denial, until August 5, 1984.  Ewing phoned and said that he wanted to see her one more time because he had something important to tell her.

Expecting nothing, but hoping for the best, Diane went to see Ewing. She brought her tape recorder with her, and she asked Ewing to state his full name and acknowledge that he was being recorded. Once the formalities were concluded, Ewing began to speak: “Well, I arrived in Las Vegas about dusk…” Then, to Diane’s amazement, Ewing confessed to killing Evelyn.

Ewing said that on May 16, 1955, he entered Evelyn’s bedroom with the mallet in his hand. Evelyn looked up and said: “But I haven’t done anything.”  Ewing told Diane, “I hit her in the head with a mallet, a hard rubber mallet. Just once. On the head, right on top.”

Ewing told Diane that he wrapped Evelyn’s naked body in a tarp and loaded it into the trunk of a 1940 Ford and drove into the desert six miles east of the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. He dumped the body into a sandy grave and then drove over it numerous times to cover his tire tracks.

The murder, digging the grave, and the drive to Vegas had taken a toll on Ewing. He “went to sleep in the car for awhile. Then I drove back to Los Angeles.”

Ewing expressed no remorse for the murder. In fact he bragged to Diane that he was smarter than the police and prosecutors because they never found his wife’s body. His arrogance defies comprehension. If he was so smart then how the hell did he end up in prison for two decades? Ewing also told Diane that Evelyn “deserved to die…she was a terrible person.” And once again he claimed that Evelyn had attempted to poison him. A claim that J. Miller Leavy, the prosecutor in the case, dismissed as completely ludicrous.

Had Ewing finally told the truth, or was the confession another lie like the hundreds he had told over the course of his life?

J. Miller Leavy believed Ewing told the truth when he said he killed Evelyn. But Leavy didn’t believe Ewing had hit Evelyn just once with a mallet, and he wasn’t convinced that Ewing had buried the body in the desert and not reduced it to ashes in the backyard incinerator.

Evelyn and Ewing Scott at the Queen Mary. [Photo found at the LA Daily Mirror blog]

There were several neighbors who recall seeing Ewing tending to a fire at the incinerator on that night in May, and they further remembered the awful stench produced by the smoke. Thirty years after the deed it hardly mattered how he had killed her or disposed of her remains. All that was important was that Ewing had fessed up to the crime.

But nothing was ever simple with Ewing.

About three months after Diane got Ewing’s confession on tape, Tom Towers, a reporter for the Herald Examiner, dropped in on Ewing who was bedridden in a Silver Lake convalescent hospital.

When Tom asked Ewing about Diane he said that she was his third wife and that they had honeymooned in South America.

Ewing also said that he hadn’t seen Diane’s book, “Corpus Delicti” but said that “the publisher is in trouble” for printing it. Tom Towers read to Ewing from the book and Ewing suddenly stopped him and demanded “What do you want?”

Tom wanted to know what had prompted Ewing to acknowledge the murder after three decades of protesting his innocence. Ewing said: “Acknowledge it? I’d be a damn fool to acknowledge it–they never found the body.”

On August 17, 1987, ninety-one year-old Ewing Scott died at the Skyline Convalescent Hospital in Silverlake. He was destitute and alone. His body was taken to the Los Angeles County Morgue where it lay unclaimed for more than a week after his death.

Ewing’s cremains are buried in a mass grave with the other unclaimed dead in Los Angeles County at Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights.

Evelyn’s remains have never been found.

Happy Birthday Aggie Underwood & Deranged L.A. Crimes!

Aggie hoists a brew c. 1920s.

Aggie hoists a brew c. 1920s.

Aggie Underwood was born on December 17, 1902 and Deranged L.A. Crimes was born on December 17, 2012, so there’s a lot to celebrate today. We have so many candles on our birthday cake it will take a gale force wind to blow them all out.

It was Aggie’s career as a Los Angeles journalist that inspired me to begin this blog; and my admiration for Aggie and her accomplishments has grown in the years since I first became aware of her.

Aggie at a crime scene in 1946.

Aggie at a crime scene in 1946.

Aggie’s career began in late 1926 when she took a job as a temporary switchboard operator at the Daily Record. She had never intended to work outside of her home, but she was motivated by her desire for a pair of silk stockings. When her husband Harry told her they couldn’t afford the stockings, Aggie got huffy and said she’d buy them herself. It was an empty threat — until a close friend called out of the blue and asked her if she would be interested in a temporary job at the Daily Record. Aggie jumped at the chance. Christmas was coming and the Underwood family could use a few extra dollars, and Aggie would get her silk stockings.

In her 1949 autobiography, Newspaperwoman, Aggie described her first impression of the Record’s newsroom as a “weird wonderland”. She was initially intimidated by the men in shirtsleeves shouting, cursing and banging away on typewriters, but it didn’t take long before intimidation became exhilaration. Much to her surprise she had fallen in love with the newspaper business. At the end of her first year at her “temporary” job she realized that she wanted to be a reporter. From that moment forward Aggie pursued her goal with passion and commitment.

Aggie at her desk after becoming City Editor at the Evening Herald & Express.

Aggie at her desk after becoming City Editor at the Evening Herald & Express. Note the baseball bat — she used it to shoo away pesky Hollywood press agents.

During a time when most female journalists were assigned to report on women’s club activities and fashion trends, Aggie covered the most important crime stories of the day. She attended actress Thelma Todd’s autopsy in December 1935 and was the only Los Angeles reporter to score a byline in the Black Dahlia case in January 1947. Aggie’s career may have started on a whim, but it lasted over 40 years.

Look closely and you can see Aggie's byline.

Look closely and you can see Aggie’s byline under “Night In a Motel”.

Over the past five years I’ve corresponded with many of you and I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some of you in person. Your support and encouragement mean a lot to me, and whether you are new to the blog or have been following Deranged L.A. Crimes from the beginning I want to thank you sincerely for your readership.

There will be many more stories in 2018, and a few appearances too. Look for me in shows on the Investigation Discovery Network (I’ve been interviewed for Deadly Women, Deadly Affairs, Evil Twins, Evil Kin and several others.) I recently appeared in a show on the infamous Cecil Hotel (Horror at the Cecil Hotel).  The Cecil has the dubious distinction of having been home to two serial killers!

I have appeared in a few podcasts — Hollywood & Crime and Gangland Wire to name two.

Whether it is on television, in the blog or some other medium I’m looking forward to telling more crime tales in 2018.

Happy Holidays!

Thank you again for your support.

Joan

Roofie Romeos, Part 1

In 2013 I appeared in an episode of Investigation Discovery Channel’s show EVIL TWINS to discuss George and Stefan Spitzer. The brothers were tried and convicted of sexual assault in the late 1990s.

Prior to my appearance the producers provided me with research on the case.  The notes were thorough but, even so, I wanted to dig into the case on my own. It’s something I always do when I’m going to be interviewed for a crime show.  Maybe the production company researchers had missed something, or I’d discover a detail that would add to my overall understanding of the case.

spitzer twins photo

The first thing I wanted to know was if the Spitzers were still in prison so I searched the State of California Inmate Locator. I was shocked to discover that George Spitzer had been released in 2009. He was considered a high risk offender and the only record I found stated “The registrant may have subsequently relocated.” Then I searched the California Sex Offender Registry. He wasn’t there. George was in the wind.  With his history I was convinced that he presented a threat to women.

Over the past four years I’ve thought about the Spitzer twins and the hell they put several women through. I searched off and on but couldn’t find any information regarding George’s whereabouts; until today.

Before we get to the Spitzer twins in the 2010s, let’s look into their past.

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George and Stefan Spitzer (aka Gino and Julian, respectively) were born in 1956, in Bucharest, Romania, the sons of holocaust survivors. During World War II, the Spitzer parents hid from the Nazis in Bucharest. The twins’ grandparents died in Nazi gas chambers.

The twins lived in Bucharest behind the Iron Curtain until the early 1970s when they fled to Israel and Greece.  In 1975, their mother died of cancer. After her death, their father moved the family to Toronto, Canada where he worked as an accountant.

As children the twins were like one person; nothing separated them. As they got older their distinctive personalities began to develop. George was more aggressive and usually called the shots. Stefan wasn’t as sharp as his brother.  He was immature and had impulse control problems.

Even though Stefan was a dim bulb the girls liked him better.  George was competitive and jealous of Stefan’s status as a chick-magnet.

The twins came to Los Angeles on vacation. They fell in love with the glamour of the big city—Palm trees, swimming pools, beautiful women.  By the early 1980s they’d moved to Hollywood to become actors. They networked, auditioned and took jobs driving scenery around. They were attractive enough, but they couldn’t act. They had portfolios made and tried modeling but that didn’t work out either.

George and Stefan got a minor show business break when Liberace hired them as valets.  The twins would later say that they were fired when they spurned the flamboyant showman’s sexual advances. I’m inclined to disbelieve anything the Spitzers have ever said.

After the acting gigs didn’t materialize and Liberace let them go, the brothers decided to switch gears and become film producers. They attempted to raise money for a porn project but earned a reputation as being quick to anger, and out of touch with reality. When they did get a nibble from a potential backer they always blew it with their irresponsible behavior.

They actually made a porn film—but it stayed under everyone’s radar. The bottom line was that George and Stefan were show business failures.

The switched gears again.  They became car salesmen.

George and Stefan lived in a series of small apartments, first on the edge of Beverly Hills, then in West Hollywood, then in Marina del Rey, not far from the waterfront. They saw lots of beautiful women, but felt that the prettiest of them exceeded their grasp—unless they pretended to be something they weren’t—accomplished and successful.

They used pseudonyms when they tried to pick up women. George introduced himself to potential dates as Gino, supposedly the son of a Mafia godfather. Stefan called himself Julian, a martial artist who’d trained film star Jean-Claude Van Dam.  To add international flair to their pick-up attempts they feigned Italian or French nationality and they creatively represented themselves as movie producers, pilots and psychologists

George and Stefan enjoyed using their nearly identical looks to fool women. They would change places in the middle of sex. They called it the “Spitzer switch.” But even though the twins shared the same facial features, and precisely the same chain of chromosomes in their DNA, careful observers could tell them apart—especially with their clothes off.  Stefan was an inch shorter and 15 pounds heavier than George and had more body hair.

From the moment the twins arrived in California they had lied and deceived most of the women they met. Sure, their behavior was smarmy but they exhibited more ominous character flaws than self-aggrandizement.  There were signs that George and Stefan were not the sort of guys who would accept no for an answer from any woman

NEXT TIME: The Spitzer twins cross a line.

Happy Birthday to Aggie Underwood and Deranged L.A. Crimes

aggie_scene-landon-murder-1946_lasd-photo_crop

Aggie at a crime scene in the 1940s.

Aggie Underwood was born on December 17, 1902 and Deranged L.A. Crimes was born on December 17, 2016, so there’s a lot to celebrate today. We have so many candles on our birthday cake it will take a gale force wind to blow them all out.

It was Aggie’s career as a Los Angeles journalist that inspired me to begin this blog.  She began her career as a temporary switchboard operator at the Daily Record in late 1926.. In her 1949 autobiography, Newspaperwoman, she described the Record’s newsroom as a “weird wonderland” and promptly fell in love with the newspaper business. It didn’t take her long to realize that she wanted to be a reporter and she pursued her goal with passion and commitment.

During a time when most female journalists were assigned to report on women’s club activities and other social events, Aggie covered most, if not all, of the most important crime stories of the day. She attended Thelma Todd’s autopsy in December 1935 and was the only Los Angeles reporter to score a byline in the Black Dahlia case in January 1947.

Like Aggie, I’ve become obsessed with the villains and victims in Los Angeles. The stories touch me as often as they frighten and repulse me. I want to understand why people do the things they do, and sometimes I feel like I get close. I don’t expect to ever completely answer that question–but the quest is a rewarding one.

Whether you are new to the blog or have been following Deranged L.A. Crimes for a while, I want to thank you sincerely for your readership.

There will be many more stories in 2017 and a few appearances too. I will keep you posted.

Joan

Bloodbath at Bob’s Big Boy, Conclusion

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Photo of crime scene courtesy of LAPL. This Bob’s restaurant has since been demolished.

Tami Rogoway’s failure to identify Franklin Freeman as one of the Bob’s Big Boy shooters the first time around was a boon for his defense attorney, Madelynn Kopple. A rumor circulated that Rogoway’s failure may have been the result of undue pressure applied to her by Kopple.  In any case, Kopple mounted a vigorous defense. But despite the rumors no verifiable evidence was found to prove that she had applied undue pressure on Rogoway and the witness did finally ID Freeman as one of the killers.

Clearly a pit bull in defense of her client, Kopple went so far as to write letters to the Los Angeles police and prosecutors charging that they were aware of Freeman’s innocence and that they were “allowing the actual killer to remain free.” Her action triggered a gag order. Undeterred,  Kopple supplied the name of the man she thought should take Freeman’s place at trial: Thomas Carver, 29. It isn’t clear from the LA Times coverage why Kopple accused Carver. If he had any connection with the other defendants it wasn’t mentioned. Yet, at Kopple’s insistence, Carver was brought in for a lineup at the Sheriff’s Department. The gag order prevented details of the lineup from being reported in detail by the press, but the outcome spoke volumes. Carter was returned to his West LA home and was never charged.

The contretemps over Kopple’s letters was far from over though. Superior Court Judge James M. Ideman dismissed her as Freeman’s attorney for what he considered her over-the-top behavior. However Freeman refused to accept another attorney in Koppel’s place so an appeal was filed and she was reinstated.

None of the defense attorneys were keen to have their clients tried together; so, motions to sever were submitted, and accepted.  The three defendants would be tried individually.

Leslie Abramson

Leslie Abramson

First up was Ricky Sanders. There was a mountain of evidence against him and even legendary defense attorney Leslie Abramson found it an uphill battle. A search of his home turned up a sawed-off shotgun similar to the weapon used in murders–as well as two spent shell cases the same size as those used by the second gunman. Cops also found coins in wrappers of the type used at Bob’s.

At every opportunity the prosecutor,  Harvey Giss, reminded the jurors of the carnage in the restaurant—and the continuing pain felt by the loved ones of the dead in the days and months since.

Cesario Luna never regained consciousness and died of his wounds six months after the attack. Jurors learned that he wasn’t even supposed to be in the restaurant that night. He came in on his day off to fill in for a worker who was a no-show. His son, Ismael, a dishwasher, miraculously escaped injury but whatever relief he felt was marred by the devastating loss of  his father. Michael Malloy, the night manager, lost his right eye. Evelyn Jackson, a waitress who pleaded with the gunmen for her life after the shooting began, was shot in the head and suffered severe brain damage. Dionne Irvin, waitress, had her arm shattered by a shotgun blast. Rogoway, waitress, who initially failed to identify Freeman, was partially paralyzed with 150 shotgun pellets in her body, three of them lodged in her spinal column.

On August 20, 1982 the jury found Sanders guilty of four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with a deadly weapon, five counts of robbery, two counts of attempted robbery and one count of conspiracy to commit robbery.

The jury that found Sanders guilty for his part in the December 14, 1980 massacre sentenced him to die.

With her boyfriend sentenced to death Carletha Stewart decided, on the very day she was to go to trial, to plead guilty and avoid the same fate. She copped to all of the crimes she was charged with: four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with a deadly weapon, six counts of robbery and one count of conspiracy to commit robbery. She admitted to driving the getaway car. Taking everything into consideration she got a good deal, 25 years to life.freeman pic2

The last to stand trial was Franklin Freeman.

In his opening statement at Freeman’s trial in August 1983, Deputy District Attorney Harvey Giss told jurors that they could expect Carletha Stewart to tell them the same story she had told him.  That her cousin had taken part in planning the robbery at Bob’s but backed out when a third conspirator said that he might have to kill everyone in the restaurant.  Giss planned to discredit Stewart and prove that Freeman had gone through with the robbery and murders. Carletha threw him a curve when she refused to testify. Giss wasn’t broken up about her decision since, as far as he was concerned, she was going to perjure herself.  The prosecution’s case went forward without difficulty.

Further, Giss told the jury that he would present  testimony from the manager of a Taco Bell in Santa Monica that was robbed by two gunmen just hours following the slaughter at Bob’s. The manager identified Freeman and quoted his accomplice as saying: “We are going to jail for 30 years for what we just did, so we don’t care about you.” Then the man identified as Freeman said, “Put him in the freezer; put him in the refrigerator and plug him.”

The manager would likely have died if he hadn’t escaped by batting the gun out of the robber’s hand, grabbing it, emptying the shells out of it and then diving through a plate glass window.

The trial lasted four months and the jury deliberated for one week. On December 22, 1983, four days past the third anniversary of the crime, Franklin Freeman Jr. was convicted of four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with a deadly weapon, six counts of robbery, and one count of conspiracy. He was also found guilty of attempting to rob the Santa Monica Taco Bell and guilty of assaulting the manger with a deadly weapon.

Freeman convictedFreeman sat impassively as the verdict was read, and while a young woman screaming “no” and “you liar” attempted to lunge through the short swinging gate that separates spectators from trial participants. Two bailiffs subdued her and she was removed from the courtroom. Whether she was a relative, girlfriend, or just a trial groupie wasn’t revealed.

During the penalty phase the jury was unable to reach a decision about Freeman’s punishment and announced that they were hopelessly deadlocked.

Because of the deadlock the prosecution and defense were compelled to present their evidence to a second jury tasked with determining Freeman’s sentence. Nearly one year following his conviction Freeman was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Freeman showed no emotion when his sentence was pronounced but Madelynn Kopple burst into tears.

freeman sparedWhen asked by reporters why Freeman’s life had been spared, the jury’s forewoman said that they had some doubts regarding the extent of his involvement in the murders and so decided against sending him to the gas chamber.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

Ricky Sanders — is still on death row.  On May 26, 2010, he filed an appeal in the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit over the denial of his habeas petition in Federal District Court. I don’t know the outcome of his appeal, but it was very likely denied. If and when California resumes executions he is certainly at the top of the list.

Franklin Freeman Jr. —  is in prison serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

Carletha Stewart — a petition circulated by a friend of hers a few years ago advocated for her release, but as far as I can tell she is still incarcerated.

Madelynn Koppel — according to  the California Bar Association she continues to practice law.

Leslie Abramson — is best known for her defense of Erik and Lyle Menendez for the 1989 shotgun murder of their parents in Beverly Hills.

Harvey Giss — eventually left the DA’s office and went on to become a superior court judge.  He retired in July 2014.

I don’t know what became of the survivors of the tragedy. I sincerely hope that they were able to find some measure of peace and, those who were physically and emotionally able, went on to lead happy lives.

Bloodbath at Bob’s Big Boy, Part 2

Chief Daryl Gates at a press conference.

Chief Daryl Gates at a press conference.

At a press conference on December 23, 1980 at Parker Center, Daryl Gates, Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, announced that three suspects in the gruesome massacre at the Bob’s Big Boy restaurant on La Cienega near Sawyer Street, in which three people were killed, were in custody and would be charged with first degree murder. The suspects were identified as: Franklin Freeman, 22, Ricky Sanders, 25, and Carletha Stewart, 19. [Stewart and Freeman were cousins, Stewart was Sanders’ girlfriend.] Gates said that Stewart was a former employee of the restaurant but did not say how long she had been employed or when she had left.

Forbidden by law to disclose the criminal records of the suspects prior to their being charged, Chief Gates said that the alleged gunmen had police records and one of them had a record of “serious violations–real hard-time stuff.” Stewart had no criminal record and wasn’t in the restaurant during the murders; however, she was thought to have been the getaway driver.

The suspects spent Christmas Eve in court where they were formally charged with murder, robbery, assault with a deadly weapon and conspiracy. Each of them was eligible for the death penalty if convicted; and all of them entered a plea of not guilty.

Once they’d been charged, Sanders’ criminal record was made public. He had been released from custody on March 12, 1979 after serving almost a year in Soledad and Tehachapi for a residential burglary in Orange Count.  Not exactly “hard-time stuff”, but certainly incarceration in a California State Prison counts as serious.

As far as hard-time goes, Freeman’s younger brother, Anthony, 19, stood a chance of doing a major stretch in prison for a murder he had allegedly committed. He was awaiting a retrial for the strangulation murder of seventy-two year-old Rosa Robinson. She had been strangled with a vacuum cleaner cord on August 8, 1979. She was the mother of Inglewood Municipal Court Judge Roosevelt Robinson. Anthony’s first trial deadlocked 11-to-1 in favor of conviction. It was possible that the Freeman brothers would serve prison time, if not in the same facility, then at least simultaneously. [Anthony was sentenced to life at his second trial.]

One of the revelations during the preliminary hearing in April 1981 was that the robbery was not committed on a whim, it had been planned. According to an acquaintance of Stewart’s, Andre Gilcrest, 21, about two weeks prior to the actual robbery Stewart told him that some of her friends were going to rob the Bob’s restaurant that night. Gilcrest, who was held in protective custody, said that after Stewart told him about the plan they drove to the restaurant and drank coffee until closing waiting for the shit to hit the fan. The robbery didn’t occur that night because, as Stewart later learned, the manager, thinking that the would-be robbers were customers who hadn’t made it before closing time wouldn’t open the door for them.

sanders_freeman pic

One of the victims who testified at the preliminary hearing, during which all three of the defendants were present, was Rhonda Robinson. She took the stand and almost immediately began to tremble. When she became incoherent a recess was called so she could collect herself. When the DA asked her why she was so frightened she said: “Because I know that’s the guy [motioning to Freeman] over there who did it.” She was one of the lucky ones in that she was not physically harmed during the shootings, but she was psychologically damaged. She said she had nightmares and wasn’t able to return to work. She was consulting a psychiatrist for her ongoing emotional trauma.

Ismael Luna testified through a Spanish language interpreter. He was shocked and bewildered by the violence.  He said: “We were all in a group and they just started shooting.” Luna’s father Cesario, wounded during the shooting, died after languishing for several months in a coma–bringing the death toll to four.

Michael Malloy, night manager at the restaurant, lost his right eye during the gunfire. He appeared in court with a bandage covering half his face.

Orasteen Freeman insisted her son was the victim of mistaken identity. You might expect a mother to defend her son, but in this case there was possibly something to her assertion. One of the survivors of the massacre, Tami Rogoway, had failed to make a positive identification of Freeman. But less than a week later she testified that she was “positive” that he was one of the two men who shot into the freezer that night. She explained her inability to identify him the first time because she had  been too afraid to make eye contact with the defendant; but later when “he turned back once, our eyes caught…and I flashed back to Bob’s Big Boy.”

Madelynn Kopple, Freeman’s attorney, asked Rogoway if she was “willing to bet your life” on identifying Freeman. Rogoway replied: “I have to be willing to sit up here and say what I just said.”

witness changes testimony

Would Rogoway’s initial failure to ID Freeman be enough to plant the seeds of reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors?

NEXT TIME:  The conclusion of the bloodbath at Bob’s Big Boy.

Bloodbath at Bob’s Big Boy, Part 1

bob logoIt was 2:05 a.m. on Sunday, December 14, 1980 and the Bob’s Big Boy restaurant on La Cienega near Sawyer, just north of the Santa Monica Freeway, was closed for the night. There were still eleven people inside, two customers preparing to leave, and nine employees.

Two black men entered the restaurant through the front door. The late comers could have been customers who had not realized the restaurant was closed except that each them was brandishing a sawed-off shotgun, and one of them was armed with a revolver.

All eleven people were herded at gunpoint into the restaurant’s 8×15 foot walk-in freezer and made to lie on the floor. The victims complied with every request. They covered their heads with their hands and waited for the ordeal to end. Then, for no apparent reason, the robbers opened fire. When they were finished the freezer was an abattoir and three people were dead.

The bloodbath at Bob’s ended the fourth highest weekend of murder on record in Los Angeles with a total of 32 people slain. It was an appalling statistic and prompted Lt. Glenn Ackerman of LAPD’s West LA division to say: “What in the name of God kind of monster could have done a thing like this? It’s totally out of the realm of the kind of behavior that civilized people can even contemplate.”

rising tide violence

Citizens were terrified, and no wonder. The week before the Bob’s murders former Beatle John Lennon was assassinated on the street in front of his New York City apartment. It seemed that no matter where you lived, or who you were, you were not safe. The 1980s was one of the most violent decades in the U.S. since the 1860s and the carnage  continued at a record pace until the early 1990s.

LAPD issued a nationwide dragnet for the killers based on the physical descriptions as reported by the victims. The management of Bob’s Big Boy offered a $10,000 reward for information leading their arrest and conviction.luna pic

There were three dead at the scene: David Burrell, 20, customer; Aphrodite (Dita) Agtani, 23, waitress and mother of a 4 month old child. Ahmad Mashuck, 20, employee who died several hours later. In critical condition were diswasher Cesario Luna, 45 and Evelyn Jackson, 23, also an employee. In serious condition were Rami Ellen Rogoway, 17, patron; Dionne Alcia Irvin, 20, and Michael Malloy, 23 both employees. Slightly wounded was Derwin Logan, 19, employee. Uninjured were Rhonda Robinson, 19, and Ismael Luna, 20 (Cesario’s son), both employees. Cesario Luna would linger in a coma for several months before he passed away, bringing the death toll to four.

task force

A special LAPD task force to combat violent crime on the West Side was formed and Deputy Police Chief Daniel Sullivan said: “The idea is to keep people from getting hurt in the first place–instead of just arresting someone after something terrible has happened.” The plan was to use cops as decoys. Sullivan continued: “I want the bad guys to know that the next guy they try to rob on the street is liable to be a police officer…”

A task force was all well and good going forward, but meanwhile the cops had to identify and arrest the people responsible for the massacre at Bob’s.

NEXT TIME: The killers are busted.

The Mad Professor, Conclusion

Tracy Leroy Nute, alleged teenage victim of Professor Max Bernard Franc’s “homosexual rage”, was described by his mother, Judy Nute, as a “sentimental” and “naive” kid with problems. Interviewed in her Kansas home she said that her son had been in trouble with the law, “but nothing that any rowdy teenager wouldn’t have gotten into.”

Tracy’s scrapes with the law may have been minor, but at some point Judy found it impossible to handle him and he spent much of his time in juvenile homes. The homes in which he was placed didn’t work out and he decided, like many unhappy kids, to head for Southern California. His destination was Hollywood where he intended to become an actor. Runaways have been coming  to Hollywood in droves with the same dream since the first studios appeared in the 1910s. But big dreams die hard and fast when the reality of street life sets in–everything is a struggle–food, cigarettes, a place to crash. Tracy, like other teenage transplants before him, was most likely welcomed to town by drug dealers and pimps, not an agent with a movie contract. Tracy’s home state’s motto is Ad Astra per Aspera (To the Stars through Difficulties). He never reached a star, he never had the chance. By the spring of 1987 he was turning tricks, and by summer he was dead.

Max contended that he wasn’t Tracy’s killer and that the murder had been committed by a gay prostitute by the name of Terry Adams. According to Max, Terry had even lived with him for a while in Fresno. Did Terry exist? Sheriff’s investigators never found him; and Max was so terrified of being outed that he’d gone to great lengths to conduct a secret life in Hollywood. Would he have risked everything to bring a lover to Fresno? It is doubtful.

The trial was as interesting as had been anticipated. Rumors circulated that Tracy had attempted to extort money from Max. If true the kid had morphed quickly from a naive Kansas runaway to a street-wise Hollywood blackmailer.

Public Defender, Mark Kaiserman, admitted that Max was a voyeur who suffered from poor judgment. Explicit photos of the victim were found among the hundreds discovered in Max’s apartment. Interestingly, no photos of his alleged lover were found. The attorney unveiled a unique defense which was based primarily on Max’s ineptitude. Kaiserman argued that Max was too “nerdy” and too much of “a klutz” to wield handle a gun, let alone manage a chain saw. Kaiserman reminded jurors that Max had cemented over the entire yard at his Fresno home to avoid using a lawn mower.

nerd headline

Was it a creative defense? Without a doubt. Was it an effective defense? Unfortunately for Max, no. He was found guilty of Tracy’s murder. Fear of exposure, if that was the motive for the slaying, easily explained how Max was able to overcome his nerdiness and commit such an atrocious murder.

The jury accepted the prosecution’s case that characterized the defendant as a man overcome by homosexual rage and rejected the defense argument that Max was too wimpy to have committed the crime. max blows kiss

At his sentencing hearing Max’s sister, Carol Waiters, a psychiatric social worker from Philadelphia, made a plea for leniency on her brother’s behalf. She implored Judge John H. Reid to consider “the whole person” rather than the part of his personality that drove him to murder. On July 28, 1988, Judge Reid sentenced Max to from 25 years to life with the possibility of parole in 17 years.

Max didn’t live long enough to become eligible for parole. He died of a heart attack in Cochran State Prison on September 18, 1997.

The Mad Professor, Part 2

When LAPD received a call about a rented chain saw which had been returned with what appeared to be pieces of human flesh and flecks of blood in the teeth and motor, they turned the information over to the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department. The Sheriffs were investigating the murder of a John Doe whose body parts had been found off the interstate in Santa Clarita and as possibly as far north as Madera County. The victim had yet to be identified but he was thought to have been a young man, likely in his teens, sporting a punk rocker hair cut.

scholar murderOne of the first things that Sheriff’s detectives needed to do was to identify the person who had rented the chain saw. It turned out to be surprisingly easy. The saw had been rented by a Fresno State College professor, Max Bernard Franc, in his own name. Characterized by colleagues as gentle and non-confrontational, Max didn’t seem to be capable of a cross word let alone a grisly dismemberment killing. But the undeniable evidence of the chain saw was sufficient for detectives to book him on suspicion of murder. He was remanded into custody and held without bail.

While efforts were being made to identify the victim, detectives in both Los Angeles and Madera counties searched both of Max’s residences–his house in Fresno and his apartment in West Hollywood. Sergeant Bryan Williams, an L.A. County Sheriff’s investigator, traveled to Fresno to take part in the search. Williams later told reporters that he had found “one of the largest collections of pornographic homosexual films ever seen.” The link between the quiet college professor and the young punk rocker was becoming a cut up doglittle easier to fathom. All indications were that Max had been leading a double life for years.

The Fresno Bee reported that Max had claimed that the chain saw was bloody because he had run over a dog and then used the saw to cut up the carcass. What? Who in the hell does that? According to Officer George Collier of the LAPD, when he first heard Max’s explanation he was skeptical; but when he was asked if he thought it was unusual for someone to report cutting up a dog with a chain saw he replied: “It’s not the normal type of thing a person would do, but Hollywood’s a bizarre place.” When the dead dog story failed to sway the police Max did what many people accused of murder do–he blamed someone else.

franc_photoMax told Sheriff’s investigator Steve Lee that the still unidentified victim had been killed by a male prostitute, Terry Adams, in self-defense. The cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head and allegedly Terry and the victim had argued over a debt. He described Terry as a white male in his 30s, about 5’10”, 160 pounds with shoulder length blond hair. Detectives were just as doubtful about Terry’s existence as they had been about the dead dog. L.A. County Deputy D.A. Sterling Norris said: “At this time we are still of the opinion that there was not a second man, but we’re still investigating.”

Max in high school.  Class of 1947

Max in high school. Class of 1947

While Max sat in jail and attempted to talk his way out of the murder charge, investigators  succeeded in identifying the victim as an 18-year-old wannabe actor from Kansas City, Tracy Leroy Nute. The D.A.’s office was going forward with the case against Max offering “homosexual rage” as the motive and, citing the “depraved nature of the killing” ,they were seeking the death penalty for Max.

Before you dismiss homosexual rage entirely, note that it is defined in the Urban Dictionary as: “A temper tantrum observed in homosexual men who exhibit behavior of a female coupled with the strength of a man. Such deadly pairing is particularly worrisome given that crimes, such as assault and/or murder committed in a gay rage usually reveal a gory and violent confrontation above normal levels (i.e. excessive bruising, multiple gunshot or stabbing wounds.)

It was a nifty prosecution theory that managed to stereotype both women and gay males.

The trial was going to be very interesting.

NEXT TIME: The conclusion of Max’s story.

The Mad Professor, Part 1

On Tuesday, August 25, 1987, the head and torso of a male, probably in his late teens with a punk-rock style haircut, were found by a Madera County rancher. The body parts were discovered off a rural highway about 20 miles north of Fresno. The young man had a gunshot wound to the head and had been dead about two days. From marks on the bones and the tearing of the flesh it it appeared that the killer may have used a chain saw to dismember the body.

On Thursday, August 27, body parts wrapped in a bed sheet were found near the Golden State Freeway at McBean Parkway in Valencia. The mutilations appeared to have been made with a chain saw. Sergeant John Andrews of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said: “The way the remains were hacked, it appears to be the work of the same person.” No driver’s license or any other means of identifying the young man were discovered with the remains. Investigators weren’t yet sure if the body parts belonged to one or more victims.

Sheriff’s investigators started working the case, but there wasn’t much to go on until the LAPD received a phone call regarding a bloody chain saw. Sheriff’s investigators confiscated the saw–and it would lead them to the most unlikely killer imaginable.

* * *

UntitledFifty-year-old Max Bernard Franc was a tenured professor of public administration at the California State University at Fresno. The unmarried Wisconsin native had earned his Ph.D. at New York University. He’d joined the Fresno faculty in 1969. His colleagues knew him as quiet and scholarly, so you can imagine their shock when he was arrested in Hollywood for the murder and dismemberment of the young man whose body parts had been found scattered along highways between Los Angeles and Fresno.

David Provost, professor and former chair of Max’s department described him this way: “He’s a very low-key kind of individual. When I was chairman of the department, he was one who was always seeking compromise when faculty disputes arose he was. . . a very gentle type of individual.”

One of Max’s colleagues, who declined to be named, said: “I saw him about 10 days ago on campus. He had finished his summer school course and was upbeat, friendly, chatty. He looked as positive and as constructive as I had seen him in years. Nothing seemed amiss. None of this fits the psychology of the person I know. . . He’s not the kind to blow up.” Echoing David Provost’s comments he said: “He’s more the kind who tries to avoid a sticky situation.

Max had recently received a grant to study the budgets and staffing of various cities around the state, a study that had put him in touch with several public officials, including Los Angeles County sheriff’s administrators, and he was just about to begin a semester long sabbatical.

If he was the killer, what had made the mild-mannered professor snap? And what was a fairly conservative man doing in the company of a teenage punk-rocker?

NEXT TIME:  Max Franc’s secret life.