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

Film Noir Friday — Saturday Matinee: No Man’s Woman [1955]

no_man_s_woman

Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Today’s feature is NO MAN’S WOMAN starring Marie Windsor, John Archer, Patric Knowles and Nancy Gates.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

In Beverly Hills, California, gold digger Carolyn Grant has been estranged from husband Harlow Grant for two years. When Harlow falls in love with Louise Nelson, Carolyn refuses to grant him a divorce, unless he gives her a large percentage of his chemical company plus $300,000. Knowing that Harlow does not have that much, she suggests that he sell his father Philip’s half of the company, which Philip spent his life building. Harlow is unsuccessful in talking Carolyn into a reasonable settlement.

Film Noir Friday: The Miami Story [1954]

miami story poster

Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Tonight’s feature is THE MIAMI STORY starring Barry Sullivan, Luther Adler, John Baer and Adele Jergens.

Before the main feature I’ve added a special short subject, courtesy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Please don’t try these shooting stunts at home!

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

In post-World War II America, a rise in gangster activity prompts the formation of an investigative committee by the U.S. Senate, forcing many criminals to flee to the safety of the tourist-filled and ineffectually policed Miami. When two Cuban gangsters are gunned down upon arrival at Miami’s airport by gangster boss Tony Brill’s right-hand man, Ted Delacorte, and police chief Martin Belman is unable to secure an indictment, journalist Charles Earnshaw summons several prominent Miami businessmen for assistance. The men are dubious about stopping Brill’s ruthless criminal machine, until attorney Frank Alton suggests a plan.

 

 

Film Noir Friday, on Saturday: Wiretapper [1955]

wiretapper_1955

Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Tonight’s feature is WIRETAPPER starring Bill Williams and Georgia Lee.

Mark Twain succinctly summed up my love of true crime with this wonderful quote: “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t.”  This film is based on a true story with an ending that could only happen in real life.  Jim Vaus was associated with Los Angeles mobster Mickey Cohen, but his life took many unexpected turns–which explains why you see Reverend Billy Graham in the poster.  If you are interested in learning more about Jim Vaus you may want to read MY FATHER WAS A GANGSTER by Will Vaus — it’s available on Kindle!

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

During World War II, Jim Vaus, an army electronics specialist, is serving a prison sentence for having stolen equipment from the army. Because Jim has arranged for released prisoners to mail letters he has written to his girl friend, Alice, Alice thinks that he is still on active duty. When the war ends, the prison chaplain informs Jim that the President has reviewed his, and others’ cases, and that he is to be released. The chaplain, aware of Jim’s letters to Alice, strongly advises him to tell her about his past. However, when Jim returns to Los Angeles, he buys a captain’s uniform and some medals, then goes to visit Alice, her mother and younger sister Helen and lies that he has just finished active service.

 

Film Noir Friday: City That Never Sleeps [1953]

city that never sleeps

Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Tonight’s feature is CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS starring Gig Young and Mala Powers.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Chicago cop Johnny Kelly, dissatisfied with his job and marriage, would like to run away with his stripper girlfriend Angel Face, but keeps getting cold feet. During one crowded night, Angel Face decides she’s had enough vacillation, and crooked lawyer Biddel has an illegal mission for Johnny that could put him in a financial position to act. But other, conflicting schemes are also in progress…

Film Noir Friday: Borderline [1950]

 borderline 1950Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Tonight’s feature is BORDERLINE starring Claire Trevor, Fred MacMurray and Raymond Burr.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Los Angeles policewoman Madeleine Haley is assigned by the police department to uncover evidence against narcotics smuggler Pete Richie. Disguised as a blowzy chorus girl named Gladys La Rue, Madeleine gets a job in a Mexican nightclub frequented by Richie. During the show, she unsuccessfully tries to attract his attention. Later, she makes a play for Deusik, one of Richie’s men. After he gets drunk, she helps him back to his room and when he passes out, searches the place. While she is searching the bedroom, Richie enters. She is able to convince him that she was just “freshening up,” and he asks her to stay.

Film Noir Friday: The Lineup [1958]

lineup_ver2_xlg

Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Tonight’s feature is THE LINEUP starring Eli Wallach, Robert Keith, and Warner Anderson.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

After a cruise ship docks in San Francisco, a porter snatches one of the passenger’s suitcases and tosses it into a waiting cab, which then speeds away. When the cab driver accidentally runs over a police officer and then crashes into a barricade, Lt. Ben Guthrie and Inspector Al Quine of the San Francisco Police Department are called in to investigate.

Film Noir Friday–On Saturday! Shield For Murder [1954]

 

SHIELD FOR MURDER

Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Tonight’s feature is SHIELD FOR MURDER starring (and co-directed by) Edmond O’Brien.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Police detective Barney Nolan accosts a bookmaker, takes him into an alley and shoots him. Barney then robs the body of $25,000, removes the silencer from his gun, shouts a warning and fires two shots into the air to make it appear that he has shot a fleeing suspect. Barney is unaware the entire episode has been witnessed by a man in an adjacent building.

 

Film Noir Friday–Saturday Matinee: Private Hell 36 [1954]

private_hell_thirty_six

Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Today’s feature is PRIVATE HELL 36 starring Ida Lupino, Steve Cochran, Howard Duff, Dean Jagger and Dorothy Malone.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Two LA detectives get in over their heads when they get involved with a nightclub singer who holds the key to the missing loot from a New York elevator robbery. Once they find the money, they are tempted to keep it and betrayal and corruption come to run the order of things.

Justice Times Two, Conclusion

Three alienists, Drs. Benjamin Blank, Victor Parkin and Paul Bowers, were called on to determine Gray McNeer’s sanity. The doctors testified at a sanity hearing on October 29, 1934.  They said that they had examined Gray and found him to be sane. The jury concurred. Gray’s trial for Betty’s murder would resume despite his loud and incoherent courtroom outbursts.

The day following Gray’s sanity hearing, S.S. Hahn announced that his client would take the stand in his own defense.  Putting Gray on the stand was a risky move. If he was incapable of controlling himself at the defense table, how would he fare on the witness stand? On more than one occasion the trial had to be adjourned because Gray became hysterical.  How would Gray, still swathed in bandages and wheelchair bound, comport himself under cross examination?

mcneer takes standGray was scheduled to take the stand on November 2nd but he was too ill to appear in court.  The trial was delayed for a few days until it was decided that if Gray couldn’t come to court, the court would come to him.  The trial resumed at Gray’s bedside in the County Jail Hospital.

Gray testified that on the night of the Betty’s death he met her at the apartment of a mutual friend, Lucille Herner, and then they drove to an isolated spot in Glendale where they argued. It was in the midst of their argument, Gray said, that Betty pulled out a gun. He said he felt a heavy blow to his head and then didn’t remember a thing until he regain consciousness in the Glendale Police Station. It was there that he was informed that his Betty’s body had been found in the car next to him.mcneer guilty

The remainder of the trial was conducted in the hospital with Dr. Benjamin Blank in constant attendance to monitor Gray’s condition.  The case went to the jury late on November 7th.  At 10 p.m., after hours of deliberation, the jury was sequestered for the night.

On the evening of November 8th the jury returned with their verdict.  They found Gray guilty of second degree murder.  Gray began to babble incoherently, but settled down after a reprimand from the judge. Gray’s mother, Lola, said she had no plan to appeal the verdict.  S.S. Hahn said, “Mrs. McNeer is convinced that her son’s condition is such that the probably will not live to serve his sentence.”  The doctors disagreed.  They believed Gray would recover from the bullet wound.

gray folsomGray was taken to Folsom Prison to begin serving his sentence of from 5 years to life. Gray’s mother said there was no plan to file an appeal.  But plans change.

gray new trial

The bullet in his head was removed by San Quentin physicians, so Gray was in much better shape for his second trial than he had been for the first go ‘round.

In Judge Vicker’s court, Gray’s second trial began with testimony from police chemist Ray Pinker. Pinker testified that powder burns on Betty’s arms indicated that she was directly in front of the gun at the time the fatal shot was fired into her head. The powder burns were not consistent with a suicide.

Gray took the stand on November 21st.  He reiterated the story he had told at his first trial.  Gray said that he and Betty had taken an automobile ride and attempted reconciliation.  When she refused to return to him Gray said he suggested divorce. According to Gray, Betty became angry, pulled out a gun and shot him in the head.  He said even though he was gravely wounded he struggled with Betty for possession of the weapon. He lost the struggle and,that’s when Betty turned the gun on herself.

The trial was going along smoothly until Deputy District Attorney Wildey asked Gray to repeat a conversation he’d had with Betty right before the shooting.  Gray snapped: “I will not repeat it.  It’s all cut and dried. Go ahead and shoot what you have.  I refuse to testify further in this case!” Gray then grabbed his crutch and hobbled away from the witness stand, ignoring the judge’s order to answer the question. That was it for Gray.  He didn’t take the stand again. gray quentin

The case went to the jury of six men and six women who, just as the jury in the first trial, had to be sequestered.

When the jury returned, Gray was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. He’d rolled the dice on a second trial and come up snake eyes. His second sentence was harsher than the first.

In 1958, after 24 years in prison, Gray appealed again on the grounds of double jeopardy. The plea was rejected. Shortly afterwards he sought legal relief via habeas corpus. He wasn’t represented by S.S. Hahn because Hahn had died mysteriously in the swimming pool at his son’s cabin in Castaic. The two public defenders representing Gray were successful and he was ordered returned to Los Angeles for re-sentencing for the crime of second degree murder. I haven’t been able to find out what happened at the re-sentencing hearing.

Gray Everett McNeer died in Sacramento on July 27, 1964.

NOTE:  I’m going to try to find out what happened to Gray. If any of you find anything please let me know!

UPDATE 5/29/2017:  Many thanks to a reader, Katie, for letting me know that Gray McNeer committed suicide in Folsom prison in 1964.  With her information I found the following paragraph from the Long Beach Independent dated July 28, 1964:

mcneer