Elizabeth Short was in Los Angeles on December 5, 1946. She left for San Diego on December 8. She had fewer than 6 weeks to live.
Sheriff’s investigators first believed someone kidnapped Marina. They, and her parents, waited for a ransom demand. The wait ended almost as soon as it began with the discovery of Marina’s body in the heavy brush down a 30-foot embankment in the 8800 block of Mulholland.
Sheriff’s homicide investigator, Lieutenant Norman Hamilton, told reporters they could not tell if her killer threw or carried Marina down the slope. Marina still wore the brown capris, white turtleneck sweater and a brown coat with fur cuffs that she wore when she left John Hornburg’s house for her mother’s home.
There were no obvious signs sexual assault. An autopsy, conducted by coroner Thomas Noguchi, determined Marina’s cause of death as exsanguination and found no evidence of rape. The small amount of cash in Marina’s wallet seemed to rule out robbery as the cause of her abduction and murder.
Her car, left in her mother’s driveway, had the emergency brake pulled up. Investigators said that it took great strength to get the brake into that position and it was doubtful that Marina could have done it on her own.
Lt. Hamilton speculated that her killer (s) abducted Marina and intended to rape her, but she resisted. According to Hamilton, In recent weeks Eloise’s neighborhood, located three blocks below Sunset Boulevard, was the scene of several recent rapes.
The autopsy revealed that Marina’s killer (s), cut her throat, severing her left carotid artery, and stabbed her multiple times in the chest. She suffered two black eyes inflicted by a fist and someone beat her with a “small blunt object.” She bled to death. Despite no physical evidence of forcible rape, detectives felt Marina’s death was an attempted sex crime.
Her parents and 350 others mourned the pretty coed at her funeral. Marina converted to Catholicism in 1966 and they held a requiem Mass for her in the Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Beverly Hills. Father Acton, who knew Marina in life, said, “We wonder about a society, the products of which can be a large in our midst and capable of such heinous crimes. There you have the perfect formula for bitterness, resentment, hatred, perhaps despair. This we must guard against.”
Sheriff’s Lieutenant Harold White joined in the hunt for Marina’s killer (s). He said, “We’re tying very hard. But we have turned up nothing that is even remotely interesting. There are all kinds of things to check out, but there’s nothing conclusive.”
White told reporters they assigned six homicide investigators to the case full-time and 20 deputies were also working the case. Despite their best efforts, Marina’s case went cold.
NEXT TIME: Is Marina’s murder connected to a Jane Doe case, and is Charles Manson involved?
Two years passed with police no closer to a solution for the murder of Elizabeth Short. The 1949 Los Angeles Grand Jury intended to hold LAPD’s feet to the fire for failing to solve the Dahlia case and several other unsolved homicides and disappearances of women throughout the 1940s.
On September 6, 1949 the jury’s foreman, Harry Lawson, told reporters that a meeting of the jury’s administrative committee was scheduled for September 8. First on the committee’s agenda were the unsolved homicides. Lawson said:
“There is every possibility that we will summon before the jury officers involved in the investigation of these murders. We find it odd that there are on the books of the Los Angeles Police Deportment many unsolved crimes of this type.”
The Grand Jury further concluded:
“Because of the nature of these murder and sex crimes women and children are constantly placed in jeopardy and are not safe from attack.”
The jury criticized law enforcement:
“Something is radically wrong with the present system for apprehending the guilty, the alarming increase in the number of unsolved murders and other major crimes reflects ineffectiveness in law enforcement agencies and the courts and that should not be tolerated.”
I would argue that the jury and law enforcement had not yet adapted to changes in the post-war world. Cops were unaccustomed to stranger murders; and I believe several of the women whose cases they were investigating were killed or taken by either a complete stranger or a recent acquaintance.
Then, as now, when a woman is killed, the person responsible is usually her husband, boyfriend or another man in her life.
It is my contention that it wasn’t corruption within law enforcement agencies that prevented them from solving the crimes. The police were doing solid detective work, but their investigative methods hadn’t caught up with the times. There were men walking the streets of Los Angeles who were severely damaged by their war experiences–how many of them were capable of murder?
LAPD detectives were diligent in their investigation into Short’s slaying. They took over 2700 reports. There were over 300 named suspects. Fifty were arrested and subsequently released. There were nineteen confessions–none of which panned out.
In 1949 the DA’s office issued a report on the investigation into Short’s murder. In part the report stated:
“[she] knew at least fifty men at the time of her death and at least 25 men had been seen with her within the 60 day period preceding her death. She was not a prostitute. She has been confused with a Los Angeles prostitute by the same name…She was known as a teaser of men. She would ride with them, chisel a place to sleep, clothes or money, but she would then refuse to have sexual intercourse by telling them that she was a virgin or that she was engaged or married. There were three known men who did have sexual intercourse with her and according to them she got no pleasure out of this act. According to the autopsy surgeon her sex organs indicated female trouble. She was known to have disliked queer women very much as well as prostitutes. She was never known to be a narcotic addict.”
Their good intentions didn’t get the grand jury any concrete answers to the unsolved homicides or mysterious disappearances.
The jury was sidetracked by the continuing saga of local gangster Mickey Cohen and other issues which demanded their attention. In the end they passed the baton to the 1950 grand jury–which also found itself sidetracked by other issues.
Despite the efforts of the grand jury, and law enforcement, the homicides or disappearances of the following women remain unsolved to this day: Elizabeth Short, Jeanne French, Rosenda Mondragon, Laura Trelstad, Gladys Kern, Louise Springer, Mimi Boomhower, and Jean Spangler–and this is not a complete list.
What happened to the women who disappeared? It is unlikely that we will ever know. It is also unlikely that the identify of the killer(s) will ever be discovered. People will always speculate about the cases, and every few years a book about the Black Dahlia slaying will emerge claiming to have solved the decades long cold case. None of the books I’ve read so far has seemed entirely credible to me.
I find it impossible to accept theories that rely on elaborate conspiracies perpetrated by everyone from a newspaper mogul to a local gangster, to an allegedly evil genius doctor. A primary reason for my disbelief is simply that most people are incapable of keeping a secret. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Three (people) can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” Eventually, someone talks.
I have my own theory about the Black Dahlia and the other unsolved homicides of women that horrified Angelenos during the 1940s, and I offered my opinion during an episode of the Hollywood & Crime podcast. Their first season dealt extensively with the Black Dahlia case and several of the other unsolved homicides. In the episode entitled Cold Cases, Jim Clemente, former FBI profiler and producer of the TV show Criminal Minds, and I discussed the murders, and we came to very different conclusions. You can find the series on iTunes, Stitcher, etc.
NOTE: This concludes my series of Black Dahlia posts for now. I invite you to stay with me as I unearth more of L.A.’s most deranged crimes.
A couple of weeks following the one year anniversary of the slaying of Elizabeth Short, LAPD detectives thought they’d finally caught a break in the case when twenty-three-year-old Charles E. Lynch telephoned the homicide squad and asked to be arrested for the murder.
Lynch was arrested and brought to the Central Jail for interrogation. The young transient was questioned at length by Detective Lieutenants Harry Hansen and Finis A. Brown who had been assigned to the case since the beginning. Dr. J. Paul DeRiver, police psychiatrist, accompanied Hansen and Brown to Lynch’s interview.
It didn’t take long for the seasoned detectives and the shrink to conclude that Lynch was lying to them; and when he was challenged on the details of his confession Lynch promptly repudiated it.
Of course the detectives wanted to know what had motivated Lynch to confess to the gruesome murder in the first place, and that’s when he told them that the idea came to him after he read a newspaper “one year anniversary” account of the crime.
The newspaper account of the Black Dahlia case may have initially motivated Lynch to confess, but his real inspiration came from a Benzedrine inhaler. He told Hansen, Brown and DeRiver that he bought an inhaler, tore off the wrapper, ate the contents and washed them down with a glass of water–it was then, Lynch said, that he decided to confess.
NEXT TIME: Conclusion of the Black Dahlia case.
For an interesting article on the influence of Benzedrine (aka Bennies) on American culture go to this article in THE ATLANTIC.
More on Benzedrine here.
Dozens of men were interviewed as possible suspects in the murder of Elizabeth Short. None of the interviews panned out. A seemingly endless stream of false confessors appeared at various police stations around town; guys like Max Handler, a film bit player, who was the 25th man to claim he had murdered the Black Dahlia.
During a lie detector test Handler admitted his confession was false. Why would an innocent man confess? In Handler’s case it was to escape from the 400 tiny men with violins who were chasing him. In the photo he looks to have been on a lobotomizing bender. He subsequently cleaned up, changed his name to Mack Chandler and appeared as a detective in the 1953 noir film, Crime Wave.
Daniel S. Voorhies, a 33 year old army vet, also confessed to killing Short. He said he had an affair with her in L.A. There were a couple of problems with his story. The first was that he didn’t know how to spell her last name and, second, at the time he claimed and Short were having a torrid affair Beth was a very young teenager living on the east coast.
The local landscape was littered with crumpled up false confessions given by every sad drunk and deranged publicity seeker–and most of the confessors were men; but not all of them.
A gal named Minnie Sepulveda stepped up and said that she killed the Black Dahlia. She lied.
Mrs. Marie Grieme said she had heard a Chicago woman confess to the Black Dahlia murder. Her story was a dead end.
Even though none of the women who confessed were guilty, the cops began to think it wasn’t out of the question that Short’s slayer was female. After all, L.A. had had its share of female killers.
The Herald-Express ran side-by-side photos of three infamous homicidal women who were busted in L.A. Louise Peete (one of only four women ever to have been executed by the State of California) was a serial killer. She was busted for murder in the 1920s, did eighteen years, and following her release from prison committed yet another murder for which she paid with her life.
Winnie Ruth Judd committed two murders in Arizona. She was busted in L.A. when a trunk containing the dismembered remains of Hedvig Samuelson and Anne Le Roi got ripe and leaked bodily fluids in the baggage claim section of a local train station.
In 1922, Clara Phillips (aka “Tiger Girl”) murdered Alberta Meadows, the woman she suspected was a rival for her husband’s affections. She struck Meadows repeatedly with a hammer and, for the coup de grâce, she rolled a 50 lb. boulder on top of the corpse.
So, the notion that a woman could be Short’s killer wasn’t far-fetched at all. The Herald-Express featured a series of columns written by psychologist Alice La Vere. La Vere previously profiled Short’s killer as a young man without a criminal record, but she was very open to the idea of a female killer. She abruptly shifted gears from identifying a young man as the slayer to “…a sinister Lucrezia Borgia — a butcher woman whose crime dwarfs any in the modern crime annals — are shadowed over the mutilated body of 22-year-old Elizabeth Short.”
Obviously La Vere was an expert for hire, and if the Herald-Express editors asked her to write a convincing profile of the killer as a mutant alien from Mars, she’d likely have done it. Still, she made some compelling comments in her column for the newspaper.
“Murders leave behind them a trail of fingerprints, bits of skin and hair. The slayer of “The Black Dahlia” left the most tell-tale clue of all–the murder pattern of a degenerate, vicious feminine mind.”
Even more interesting was La Vere’s exhortation to the cops to look for an older woman. She said:
“Police investigators should look for a woman older than ‘The Black Dahlia’. This woman who either inspired the crime or actually committed the ghastly, unspeakable, outrage, need not be a woman of great strength. Extreme emotion or high mental tension in men and women give great, superhuman strength.”
If you compare Alice La Vere’s profile of the possible killer to a profile created by John E. Douglas, who is retired from the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU)– La Vere’s seventy+ year old profile holds up well.
What I find interesting about La Vere’s profile of a female perpetrator, is she said that the woman would be older than Short. In recent years an older woman became an integral part of a theory about the crime.
It is a theory put forward by writer and researcher, Larry Harnisch. Larry wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times on the fiftieth anniversary of Short’s death. Subsequently, he has done more digging into the case and unearthed an important connection between the body dump site near 39th and Norton, and two medical doctors. One of the doctors, Walter Alonzo Bayley, had lived in a house just one block south of the place where Elizabeth Short’s body had been discovered. At the time of the murder he was estranged from his wife who still occupied the home. Bayley left his wife for his mistress, Alexandra Partyka, also a medical doctor. Partyka emigrated to the U.S. and wasn’t licensed to practice medicine, but she did assist Bayley in his practice.
Following Bayley’s death in January 1948, Partyka and Dr. Bayley’s wife, Ruth, fought over control of his estate. Mrs. Bayley claimed that Partyka was blackmailing the late doctor with secrets about his medical practice that could have ruined him.
There is also a link between Bayley’s family and Short’s. In 1945 one of Dr. Bayley’s adopted daughters, Barbara Lindgren, was a witness to the marriage of Beth’s sister, Virginia Short, to Adrian West at a church in Inglewood, California, near Los Angeles.
Larry discussed Dr. Bayley in James Ellroy’s 2001 “Feast of Death”. [Note: Be forewarned that there are photos of Elizabeth Short in the morgue.]
It is clear that a woman could have murdered Elizabeth Short; but could the woman have been Dr. Bayley’s mistress, Alexandra Partyka? The chances are that we’ll never know–or at least not until Larry Harnisch finishes his book on the case.
NEXT TIME: Another confession, and another murder.
In his 1991 autobiography, “Reporters”: Memoirs of a Young Newspaperman, Will Fowler recalled one of his colleagues, Baker Conrad, noticed a telegram among Elizabeth Short’s effects. The Examiner’s editor, Jim Richardson, dispatched Fowler to the address on the telegram, 8010 Mountain View Avenue in South Gate.
When Fowler arrived at the bungalow court he was greeted by, “A strikingly beautiful red-haired young woman.” Fowler did not claim to be a cop, but he let the woman, Harriet Manley, believe he was law enforcement.
During her conversation with Fowler, Harriet said Red phoned her from San Francisco after seeing his name in the newspapers in connection with Elizabeth Short’s murder. Red tried to reassure Harriet that he’d had nothing to do with the slaying and told her that he “loved her more than any man ever loved his wife.”
January 19th, 10:00 p.m.–LAPD sergeants, J.W. Wass and Sam Flowers, staked out the home of Red’s employer in Eagle Rock where the wanted man was expected to arrive. When Red pulled up in his sedan the officers approached him with their guns drawn. An Examiner photographer was there to capture the arrest. Red looks like a deer in the headlights as Sgt. Flowers handcuffs him.
Aggie Underwood interviewed Red early in the morning of January 20th at LAPD’s Hollenbeck station. She recalled the interview in her 1949 autobiography Newspaperwoman:
“You look as if you’ve been on a drunk,” I said in sizing up the suspect. I was ready to talk sympathetically about hangovers. That approach won’t work always, but Red looked like a guy reporters might meet at a bar and find a congenial drinking companion, possible criminal or not.
“This is worse than any I’ve ever been on,” he replied. Perry Fowler, the photographer assigned to the case with me, caught the cue we had used repeatedly in softening subjects and stepped forward with a cigarette, which Manley took gratefully.
“Look, fella,” I continued as he inhaled. “You’re in one hell of a spot. You’re in a jam and it’s no secret. If you’re as innocent as you say you are, tell the whole story; and if you haven’t anything to hide, people can’t help knowing you’re telling the truth. That way, you’ll get it over with all at once and it won’t be kicking around to cause you more trouble.”
Red didn’t need any further encouragement to unburden himself to Aggie. He told her how he’d initially picked Elizabeth up on a San Diego street corner. How they had spent an “erotically uneventful” night in a motel and how he had eventually dropped her off at the Biltmore Hotel on January 9th.
Red finished his tale with: “I’ll never pick up another dame as long as I live.”
Aggie believed Red was innocent, and shared her gut feelings with the police. Red was forthcoming in his interview and Aggie knew right away he wasn’t a killer. Red was just a frightened man with goofy ideas about love tests.
If there was one thing Aggie detested, it was a sob sister. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a sob sister is a female journalist who writes overly sentimental copy. That sort of journalism was never Aggie’s thing. She said: “A sob sister could have wept with and over Manley, interpolating, editorial gushes to prove what a big bleeding heart beat in her breast. To hell with that. I’d rather have a fistful—an armload—of good solid facts.”
It was the armload of facts that made Aggie’s interview with Red Manley so compelling. In fact her city editor, who normally cautioned her to keep her copy short, let the entire interview run without a ton of photos.
Why, then, in the midst of covering of the murder was Aggie unceremoniously yanked off the story? Without any warning or explanation Aggie found herself benched. The city editor pulled her off the story and let her cool her heels in the newsroom without a thing to do.
Aggie spent a couple of miserable days at her desk bored out of her mind. Then she got pissed-off enough to fight back. She didn’t get huffy or raise her voice. She brought in an embroidery project. Other newsroom denizens snickered. Another newswomen, Caroline Walker, said: “What do you think of that? Here’s the best reporter on the Herald, on the biggest day of one of the best stories in years—sitting in the office doing fancy work!”
The next day Aggie was reassigned to the story—only to be pulled off a second time. What the hell was going on?
NEXT TIME: Does Aggie get off the bench?
About 12:20 p.m. on January 9, 1947, Elizabeth Short and Robert “Red” Manley left the motel where they spent the night.
What did Beth and Red talk about during the couple of hours that it took them to drive back to Los Angeles from San Diego? Red noticed some scratches on Beth’s arms and asked her about them. She spun a tale of an “intensely jealous” boyfriend – an Italian “with black hair who lived in San Diego”, and claimed that it was he who scratched her. In truth the scratches were probably made by Beth herself, the result of itchy insect bites. Beth lied to Red a few times more before their day together ended.
Because Red and his wife were having problems, he wondered if they were meant to be together. In the way that only a spouse on the verge of cheating can do, he sold himself on the notion that if he and his wife were meant to be together, then nothing would happen with Beth.
Following their platonic night in a motel room, Red’s marriage was certified as made in heaven–the fates clearly decreed it. But he had a problem; he’d been out of touch with his wife, Harriette, for a couple of days. How would he explain his lack of communication to her? Any guy capable of devising a ridiculous love test could easily come up with an excuse for being incommunicado for a couple of days.
In my mind’s eye I see Beth and Red seated across from each other on the bench seat in his Studebaker, each lost in thought. Beth may have been wondering what she’d do once she hit L.A. Maybe she’d go to friends in Hollywood. If she was lucky someone would have an empty bed for her. Her immediate difficulty was Red. How would she get away from the well meaning guy for whom she felt little or nothing?
Once they arrived in the city, Beth told Red that she needed to check her luggage at the bus depot. He took her there, and Beth was ready to wave good-bye to him and be on her way–but he wouldn’t leave. He told her he couldn’t possibly leave her in that neighborhood on her own. She insisted that she would be fine, but he wouldn’t hear of it.
Beth had a few minutes while she checked her bags to come up with a plan. When they returned to his car she told him that she needed to go to the Biltmore Hotel to wait for her sister. It was another lie. Virginia, the sister she referred to, was in Oakland, hundreds of miles to the north.
Red drove her several blocks back to the Biltmore Hotel. The main lobby was on Olive Street, directly opposite Pershing Square. Beth thanked Red. He had been a gentleman. He’d paid to have taps put on the heels and toes of her pumps, and of course he’d paid for meals and the motel room. She thought that he would drive off and leave her, but once again he said that he didn’t feel comfortable just putting her out of the car.
He parked, and the two of them waited in the Biltmore’s exquisite lobby for quite a while. Finally, Beth managed to out wait Red. He said he had to go. She told him she would be fine and that she expected her sister to arrive at any moment.
Red left her in the Biltmore at approximately 6:30 p.m. Beth watched him go. She gave him a few minutes, and then she exited the hotel and turned right down Olive Street.
Beth may have been headed for the Crown Grill at Eighth and Olive. She’d been there before and perhaps she hoped to bump into someone she knew; after all, she needed a place to stay. Some patrons of the bar later told cops that she’d been there that night, although it could not be verified, and no one saw her leave.
Beth would never be seen alive again.
NEXT TIME: The Black Dahlia: January 15, 1947, A Werewolf on the Loose
Here’s a screen grab of the Crown Grill [thanks to Richard Schave of Esotouric Bus Adventures].
Seventy-two years ago on January 8, 1947, Robert “Red” Manley drove to the home of Elvera and Dorothy French in Pacific Beach, in the San Diego area, to pick up a young woman he’d met about a month earlier. Her name was Elizabeth Short.
Red was a twenty-five year old salesman and occasional saxophone player, with a wife and 4-month-old baby at home. The Manley’s had been married for fifteen months and lived in a bungalow court in one of L.A.’s many suburbs. Red and his wife had had “some misunderstandings” as they adjusted to marriage and parenthood. Perhaps restless and feeling unsure about his decision to marry, Red decided to “make a little test to see if I were still in love with my wife.” The woman Red used to test his love for his wife was twenty-two year old Elizabeth Short.
Dorothy French met Beth on the night of December 9, 1946 at the all-night movie theater, the Aztec, on Fifth Avenue. Dorothy worked as a cashier at the ticket window and she noticed that Beth seemed at loose ends. When her shift ended at 3 a.m., Dorothy offered to take Beth back to the Bayview Terrace Navy housing unit she shared with her mother and a younger brother. Beth was glad to abandon the theater seat for a more comfortable sofa.If the French family thought that Beth would stay a night or two and then move on, they were mistaken. She stayed for a month.
Elvera and Dorothy got tired of Beth couch surfing and contributing nothing to the household. Beth could have at least paid for groceries, she received a money order for $100 from a former boyfriend, Gordon Fickling, yet she spent much of her time compulsively writing letters, many of which she never sent.
One of the unsent letters was to Gordon. In the letter dated December 13, 1946, Beth wrote:
“I do hope you ﬁnd a nice girl to kiss at midnight on new years eve. It would have been wonderful if we belonged to each other now. I’ll never regret coming West to see you. You didn’t take me in your arms and keep me there. However it was nice as long as it lasted.”
The French family had another complaint about their house guest–despite her claims, there was no evidence that Beth ever looked for work. Beth wrote to her mother, Phoebe, that she was working for the Red Cross, or in a VA Hospital, but it was just one of her many lies. Her letters home never revealed her transient lifestyle–nothing about couch surfing, borrowing money to eat, or accepting rides from strange men.
Beth could have found a job if she wanted one. She worked in a delicatessen in Florida as a teenager and at the post exchange (PX) at Camp Cooke (now Vandenberg Air Force Base). Her new acquaintance, Red Manley, arranged with a friend of his to get her a job interview–but she didn’t follow-up.
When Red heard from his friend that Beth hadn’t made it to the job interview, he was worried enough to write to her to find out if she was okay. She said she was fine but didn’t like San Diego, she wanted to return to Los Angeles. She asked Red if he’d help her out, and he agreed.
The drive from San Diego to Los Angeles was Red’s love test. If nothing happened with Beth then he would know that he and his wife were meant to be together. But if he and Beth clicked, he’d have a tough decision to make.
Beth and Red weren’t on the road for long before they stopped at a roadside motel for the night. They went out for dinner and drinks before returning to their room to go to bed. Did Red have butterflies in his stomach? How did he want the love test to turn out?
Red must have known the decision was ultimately Beth’s. They never shared more than a kiss. She spent the night in a chair and he took the bed.
The pair left the motel at about 12:20 p.m. on January 9, 1947 for Los Angeles.
Beth had about one week to live.
Next time: The Black Dahlia–Last Seen
August 29, 1951 — 10:30 p.m.
Scrivner’s Chili Dog Stand
East Olympic and South Atlantic
East Los Angeles
Nina Bice, a 25-year-old divorced mother of three toddlers, was drinking coffee with her fiancee, William Hannah at the Scrivner Chili Dog Stand when William heard a loud crack. He assumed it was kids playing with leftover fireworks from the 4th of July, or a car backfiring. He turned toward Nina and found her slumped over, a bullet behind her right ear. She was dead.
Over the next eight months a mysterious shooter, dubbed the Phantom Gunman by newspapers, shot and wounded four women and a girl in a crime spree that terrified locals.
On April 16, 1952, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies arrested twenty-nine-year-old railroad switchman. He told detectives, “I’m glad it’s over, it’s been bothering me.”
He claimed he didn’t intend to kill Nina. Like a wild west sharpshooter he tried to shoot the coffee cup out of her hands, but he missed. Evan’s pregnant wife Hester went into hiding and filed for divorce. Her father told reporters, “We’re trying to be calm about this. While we’re ashamed, we’re trying to hold our heads high.“ A reported asked if Hester planned to stick by her husband, to which her father replied, “Stick by him? Do you think any reasonable person would?”
With a perverse sense of pride, Evan lead investigators on a tour of his assaults. He told them that after he purchased the .22 rifle he prowled in his car searching for attractive women. He was a coward, inept in social situations, and probably sexually impotent. To gratify his urges, he hid in the shadows and acted out with violence and he found it gave him an erotic charge. Evan masturbated at the scenes of his crimes. He described for investigators how, following an attack, he would circle around in his car and find a vantage point from where he could watch all that his actions had wrought while he pleasured himself.
He led sheriffs to the Pico Rivera phone booth where, on August 27, he shot Lois May Kreutzer, 21, in the back while she was called a doctor for her sick child. She was unaware of the cause of her pain and the seriousness of the wound. She believed a bee stung her, and she walked home.
Thomas took deputies to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd Walter in Norwalk, where he shot through the front window on August 28, the night before he shot Nina.
The bizarre tour took detectives to Downey, where on October 16, Patricia Ellen Bryant, 10, suffered a gunshot to her arm (breaking the bone) as she waited for the school bus. Patricia was reading a book in front of her house when the attack occurred. Her dad was furious and threatened to punch Evan if he ever got close enough.
Deputies accompanied Evan to Pico Rivera where, on November 23, he shot Irma Megrdle in her left thigh while she was gardening in her front yard.
In the city of Garvey, Evan took deputies to the spot where he hid himself when he shot Audrey Murdock in the right side while she was ironing. Even though she was in agony, Audrey left the house to seek help. She was in the hospital for ten days and left with the bullet still her. The doctors could not safely remove the slug.
Evan visited the chili dog stand and took detectives to his hiding place in the nearby alley from where he took the fatal shot. As per his routine, he then drove around the block, staked out a prime vantage point, watched the excitement, and masturbated.
The final stop on Evan’s tour of terror was to the home of his near neighbor Joan Frances Hilles’ home in Los Nietos. Evan recently spent the evening with Joan socializing, drinking beer, and watching TV. Five minutes after he left her, a bullet shattered the living room window and whizzed past Joan’s head.
The Hilles’ considered Evan a hick. On the night of the attempt on her life, Joan let him hang out with her because he brought the beer. Soon after firing the shot, Evan called the Hilles’ home to ask if Joan was okay. His called begged the question, how did he find out about the incident so fast?
Unable to control his curiosity, he did one of the dumbest things a perpetrator can do, he visited the scene and pestered investigators with questions. Detectives suspect the person who attempts to insert him or herself into an investigation. Charles was interested to the point of being obnoxious, and it was his intense interest that lead to his arrest. As soon as investigators turned their attention to Thomas, and he confessed to Nina’s murder and confirmed his identity as the Phantom Sniper.
During Evan’s trial, County Jail physician Dr. Marcus Crahan offered his professional opinion of Charles. He described him as a low-grade moron who was fired from one job because he couldn’t use a cash register. The Post Office let Evan go after he crashed his mail truck in 1948. Crahan told the court that Evan was a subnormal every man–a guy who watched wrestling on TV, drank too much when he fought with his wife, lusted after other women but was too shy to do anything about it, and argued with his in-laws. Crahan’s description fit thousands of men in the early 1950s; however, the crucial difference between Evan and other men was he focused his frustrations in an anti-social direction.
Psychiatrist Dr. Edwin Ewart McNeil examined Evan and declared him sane. The primary reason for his diagnosis made sense. Charles told him his overwhelming emotion before, during, and after the shootings was abject terror.
The jury found Evan guilty of Nina Bice’s murder and sentenced him to die in the gas chamber. The district attorney set aside six charges of attempted murder. Prosecutors were hedging their bets. In the unlikely event Evan slipped through a legal loophole on Nina’s murder, he had multiple charges waiting to be filed.
Death penalty cases are automatically entitled to an appeal. Evan’s appeal revealed a jury made up of other subnormals. The defense attorneys based the appeal on the jurors’ inability to grasp the concept of lying in wait. The jurors actually believed a killer had to be prone on the ground when he fired. The court denied the appeal.
The original Phantom Gunman was on death row, but a copycat popped up in July 1952 when several women were shot and wounded in the San Gabriel.
January 29, 1954. The State of California executed Evan Charles Thomas in the gas chamber at San Quentin for Nina Bice’s murder. His mother, in Akron, Ohio, told the press she blamed the Air Force for her son’s problems. She said, “They teach them how to use a gun, and when they get out and get into trouble, they do nothing to help.”
In a dreadful postscript, in September 1955, Nina Bice’s ex-husband Emory Bice, the father of her three children, was crossing a street in East Los Angeles when he was hit by a hit-and-run driver and killed. He left a young widow, Kathleen, to care for his three kids with Nina, and their two children together.
NOTE: Thanks to Robert Harrison, a Deranged L.A. Crimes reader, who reminded me about this story.
One thing the trial of the Spitzer twins made clear, they were like two perverted peas in a pod. Aside from the horror of the rapes they committed, the litany of creepy behaviors in which the twins engaged are appalling.
The prosecutor sought to demonstrate that the twins “executed a common design or plan to have sex with the same woman.” Part of the prosecution’s case was to show videotapes, not only of the rapes, but of the twins mugging for the camera and referring to themselves as “The World’s Swingingest Lovers.” They failed, at every opportunity, to comprehend that they were not lovers of women, they were rapists.
In one of the most disturbing tapes the twins are naked, and aroused, in each other’s presence. The defense attorney attempted to sell the notion that the 40-year olds were acting “…like 12-year old boys in a locker room.” The prosecutor refuted that characterization and suggested that “these are 40-year old men turning each other on, and the only thing [that is] lacking in this film is the woman to actually penetrate while they are having this sexually provocative act.”
The jurors were also treated to scenes from the twins’ porno movie, “Kisses From Romania—its one and only public showing. The jury gave it twelve thumbs down. The movie is shot documentary style and consists of a series of scenes in which “Julian” a rich American film producer, is in Bucharest looking for the most beautiful Romanian woman to make a movie. Julian manages to entice several women and the scene cuts to a dirty sofa bed where Julian quizzes the women about their sexual fantasies. One woman says that she has fantasized about lesbian sex. Another says she enjoys romantic sex and wants to do it in a boat. Another says she has tried anal sex. Each woman, after a bribe, is invited to undress slowly. There is a lukewarm sex scene that has nothing to do with the previously mentioned fantasies.
The film was reviewed by a Romanian porn aficionado. He said that the women were not erotic, although they conveyed “hunger and poverty.” If you’re curious, here is an edited clip from the film in which there is no nudity.
Another of the tapes showed Stefan sodomizing a woman with a foreign object, attempting oral copulation, and committing rape. Stefan said the women on those tapes were not drugged and that he and George had only made the videotape for their own “private amusement.”
The twins admitted that some of the videos were made without consent, but claimed that they only engaged in consensual sex. “They were all having a good time,” Stefan said.
The twins seemed confident that the rape charges would not be proved. Date-rape cases are difficult to prosecute. The great majority of date rapes go unreported. There is often scant physical evidence to work with. Unless the woman goes immediately to a hospital, she may not be able to demonstrate that a rape took place. In such cases it is nearly always a struggle getting victims to come forward—they are often confused and ashamed.
In the case against the Spitzers, twelve women came forward to testify. They had not consented to sex and they certainly had not been having a good time. George and Stefan’s victims came from all walks of life. Among those who came forward was a flight attendant, a college student, a woman who worked in a mall and a lawyer. The 16 known victims were probably just the tip of the iceberg. There is no way to know the number of Spitzer victims who never came forward.
The twins’ 79-year old father testified on their behalf, but it wasn’t enough. Neither was the defense case which sought to portray the twins in a “boys will be boys” light. The jury could see that the defendants hadn’t been engaged in youthful hi-jinx, they were grown men and they were rapists.
The jury deliberated for little more than a day. As the jurors filed into the courtroom to deliver the verdict, five of the Spitzer twins’ victims sat in the front row and held hands. The jury found George and Stefan guilty.
Before sentencing, the twins addressed the judge, saying that none of the videotapes showed a woman being drugged and that none of the so-called victims had produced a positive drug test.
The Judge didn’t care. He saw no signs of compassion or remorse, and women simply were not safe when the Spitzer twins were free. George was sentenced to 60 years in prison and Stefan to 37 years. Their sentences were later reduced on appeal.
As they were being sentenced, the twins shook their heads in sync with one another. Then Stefan looked at George, but George didn’t look back.
Prosecutor Mary Hanlon Stone warned women: “Never let a stranger buy you a drink.”
And here’s a rule of thumb: If you suspect you’ve been drugged and/or a victim of date-rape, pee in a cup right away.
I said at the beginning of this series of posts I discovered that the twins had been released from prison. I couldn’t find them in the California Sex Offender Registry—they seemed to have vanished. Of course they hadn’t vanished at all—because they were citizens of Canada they were returned there after serving their sentences.
In August 2014 the citizens of Outremont, a borough outside Montreal proper, were alarmed to discover that for five years a man with a violent criminal past was living in their midst. The man was fifty-eight year-old George Spitzer. He had been living in the area since his expulsion from the U.S. in 2009. By Canadian law, authorities should have imposed a peace bond, an “810” order on George. The 810 is made when, according to legal analyst Philip Schneider, “…you have reasonable grounds to believe there is a potential danger to the public.” Stefan Spitzer was living with conditions imposed on him—why not George? It seemed that the reason for the snafu was down to an administrative error between the U.S. and Canadian officials.
Anyone familiar with the Spitzer’s history won’t be shocked to learn that George was arrested in 2013 for defrauding a Montreal woman of $100,000. At least he wasn’t raping anyone.
Stefan was arrested by Montreal Police, shortly after George, for breaching an unspecified condition of his release.
I have tried to find current news regarding the Spitzer twins but so far have been unsuccessful. If there are any Canadian readers who know the status of the twins please, please let me know.