Hollywood Cliff Murder, Part 1

On April 2, 1940, Paul Cote was in his home on the 8700 block of Hollywood Blvd when a young man knocked on the front door. The young man was frantic. He pointed to a spot across the street where a body lay crumpled on the pavement. “Call an ambulance!  A young woman’s been hurt.”  Then the young man disappeared. Cole dialed the operator to summon emergency services and the police.  The woman was taken to Hollywood Receiving Hospital where Dr. G.E. Christian pronounced her dead. She had perished from a skull fracture, broken neck and other injuries. The dead woman was identified as Pearl Wessel.
pearl wesselClose on the heels of the first man’s visit to Cote’s home another young man, twenty year-old Alfred Dobriener of 1625 Sunset Plaza Drive, came to Cote’s door. He said that he’d been hiking in the hills above Franklin Avenue when he noticed an old car parked in an open space at the end of that street. From his vantage point, Alfred saw a man in the front seat and a man and a blond woman struggling in the back seat.

Alfred said, “The woman’s head kept bobbing in and out of the car as if she were being struck in the face.  Soon the man (from the backseat) shoved her from the car and she fell on the ground. The man, who was tall and dark, got out of the front seat and picked her up.  While she was still struggling, he dragged her to the edge of the bluff and shoved her over.  She did not scream.  The men got in the car and left.”

Alfred thought quickly and took down the license plate number of the car–and that is when he ran over to Cote’s house to get help. The police kept the name of the car’s registered owner to themselves until they could locate him and bring him in for questioning.

A third witness came forward. He said that he had seen a woman running down Franklin prior to Pearl’s fall. Was it Pearl?

suspects_hollywood cliff murderDetective Lieutenant S.R. Lopez of the the LAPD said that Pearl had either gone to the end of the bus line and hiked up Franklin to take in the view alone, or she had ridden up in the car with the two men to the top of the hill.  By virtue of its seclusion and spectacular views the spot was a local lover’s lane. But why would Pearl have gone there with two men?”

By the next day police had pieced together a little more of Pearl’s life.  She lived at 694 S. Hobart Blvd. where she roomed with Mrs. P.A. Boyle.  Mrs. Boyle provided detectives with some personal information about Pearl. She said, “Miss Wessel had an income from some property near St. Louis, Missouri and sometimes she took special secretarial jobs (in Los Angeles). She has been happy visiting Southern California.”

Pearl had been dividing her time between Los Angeles and St. Louis since 1928. Sh had gone to St. Louis to celebrate the New Year and then returned to Los Angeles shortly afterward and resumed her work as a stenographer.

On April 4th, police had two men in custody for questioning in Pearl’s death; Lesley Al Williams and Alberni Roggers. Lesley, a self-proclaimed “mixologist” was the registered owner of the car and he was arrested at his home at 815 W. Sixth Street and booked on suspicion of murder.

Lesley’s wife Daisy, from whom he appeared to be estranged, spoke to police from her home at 727 S. Olive Street. She told the police that Lesley was chummy with another bartender named Alberni Roggers. The police busted him at his home at 833 W. Ninth Street.

Lesley and Alberni both denied having any connection with Pearl. At the death scene Police Chemist Ray Pinker found scuff marks consistent with the witnesses statements that Pearl had been dragged from the parked car before going over the cliff. Tire marks discovered at the scene matched the tires on Lesley’s car.

Ray Pinker, Police Chemist c. 1935 Photo courtesy LAPL

Ray Pinker, Police Chemist c. 1935
Photo courtesy LAPL

The evidence against the two men, particularly Lesley, was damning. Still, it was possible that police had arrested the wrong men. What if the witness had transposed or mistaken a number on the license plate of the car?

NEXT TIME: Another suspect is identified as the investigation into Pearl’s murder continues.

The Burton Gang’s Last Job, Part 2

For two weeks Sheriff’s deputies surveilled the four key members of the Burton gang: Edward Burton; J.W. Gilkye, Louis Reese, aka “Big Dick” or “Lefty Louie”; and Kenneth Fleenor. The surveillance paid dividends. Deputies learned that the gang was planning one last job before leaving for Chicago. They were going to rob the cashier at the Union Ice Company at 650 South Alameda Street.

The Burton gang had pulled a number of jobs in Los Angeles and local law enforcement had had enough. Sheriff Traeger put Chief of Criminal Investigation A. L. Manning in charge of catching the bandits in the act.

deputies_burton gangAt 6 p.m. on August 10, 1922, deputies, armed with sawed-off shotguns, surrounded the ice company building. They stayed in the shadows waiting for the Burton gang to show up. It was a long wait. At 9:30 p.m. a car parked on the west side of Alameda. Several men exited the vehicle and climbed between the cars of a slow moving freight train. They approached the factory office.

Inside the office were E.R. Rathman, the night cashier and E.C. Bailey, one of the company’s drivers. Rathman was sitting at an adding machine and Bailey was asleep in a chair a few feet away. Also inside the office, in a side room, were more armed deputies.

One of the crooks stayed outside the building as a lookout. The other three men, all of them wearing white handkerchiefs over their faces, entered the office and pointed revolvers at Rathman. One of the gunmen said: “Stick up your hands.” Rathman did as he was told. With a pistol shoved up against the back of Rathman’s neck, he was commanded to “Get into that corner!” With his hands up, Rathman moved toward the corner. Another of the masked men looked at Rathman and said: “We don’t want to hurt you.” Was the gunman telling the truth? Rathman didn’t want to find out. When he was told to lie on his face on the floor he did so without complaint.

One of the armed men began to rifle the cash drawer and pulled out about $2,000 (approximately $30k in today’s dollars) in cash. It was then that four deputies, wielding sawed-off shotguns, rushed into the office and shouted for the bandits to put up their hands.

Burton, firing as he ran, made a beeline toward the exit He didn’t make it. One shot took out an eye and one side of his face was ripped away. He fell to the floor. He was alive–but just barely.

Louis Reese went out in a hail of gun fire. He ran toward the deputies who continued to fire. Hit multiple times, Louis reeled out of the door and onto the sidewalk where he collapsed and died.

Burton was transported to the County Hospital. Surgeons who examined the wounded bandit said that he was so grievously wounded that he could not live.hold up headline

Detectives examined the contents of Burton’s pockets for information that might lead them to other gang members. Burton had two one-way tickets to Chicago where he planned to resume his place in the city’s criminal underworld.  The cops were also interested in learning if Burton was in contact with any of his fellow gangsters. In particular, they hoped to find out if he knew anything about “Terrible” Tommy O’Connor.

terrible tommy crop

Terrible Tommy O’Connor

Rumor had it that Burton was tight with O’Connor, and O’Connor recently escaped from Chicago’s jail just days before he was scheduled to hang for the murder of a policeman. If Burton knew anything about O’Connor’s whereabouts the information accompanied him into the afterlife. Curiously, O’Connor was never recaptured and his date with the hangman remained on the books until the gallows were dismantled in the 1970s.

burton gang_gilkye mug_cropJ.C. Gilkye, the surviving member of the gang, gave Chief Investigator Manning an earful about the activities of the group. Gilkye said that not all of the gang’s attempted crimes were successful. Far from it. But even with the failures, they had done pretty well in Los Angeles — until their final job. Had the Burton gang been completely wiped out as law enforcement hoped? If they could locate Burton’s sweetheart maybe they’d know for sure.

NEXT TIME: The end of the Burton gang?

The Burton Gang’s Last Job, Part 1

Photo is not of this case, but typical of the time. Courtesy of LAPL.

Photo is not of this case, but typical of the time. Courtesy of LAPL.

On the evening of July 19, 1922, motorcycle Officer Chester L.. Bandle clocked a coupe speeding through the intersection at Ninth and Hill Streets at a reckless forty miles an hour. He gave chase. The driver pulled over at Seventh and Hill and Officer Bandle walked over to hand the speeder a ticket, but he never got the chance. The driver, aiming a revolver, leaned out of the car and shot Officer Bandle in the right shoulder–then he sped off abandoning the car several blocks away. The car  was  taken to Central Police Station and Officer Bandle was taken to White Memorial Hospital in fair condition, but expected to survive.

The abandoned car was found a few blocks from where the motor officer had been wounded, and a search of the vehicle yielded a few bits of potentially useful information. Charles Mullen, 4124 Washington Street, Fresno, was the registered owner. Was the car stolen? Was the shooter and the owner of the car the same person?   It was up to Sheriff’s investigators to find out.

Detectives learned that Charles Mullen was one of many aliases used by twenty-seven year-old Edward Burton of Chicago.  Burton was well-known to Chicago cops having begun his life of crime there as a teenager. Under one of his aliases, Louis Miller, he was implicated, but never charged, in he 1919 gangland murder of fellow Windy City street thug, Jimmy Cherin.

burton gang_smith and burton

Evelyn Smith and Edward Burton

Like many crooks before him Burton decided to head west, at least for a while. Burton didn’t travel to Los Angeles alone, he brought his girl, Evelyn Smith, and his gang with him. It didn’t take long for the gang to come to the attention of local law enforcement, and for six months cops tried unsuccessfully to catch the gang in the act.

Shortly after the wounding of Officer Bandle, Sheriff Traeger received a hot tip about where the gang was holed up and he and LAPD Chief Oaks formulated a plan.

An early morning joint raid was conducted by Sheriff Traeger and Chief Oaks at two locations. Swarms of deputies and patrolmen arrived at the bungalow in the rear of 1234 West 39th Street and at a rooming house at 533 1/2 South Spring Street. Under the direction of the Sheriff and the Chief of Police, Detective Capt. Home, Capt. Murray, Detective Sgts. Jarvis, Neece, Longuevan and Davis, and Deputy Sheriffs Sweezy and Allen took part in the raid. Arrested on suspicion of robbery were : Edward Burton; J.W. Gilkye; K.B. Fleenor; B.C. Beaucanan, and his wife; William R. Ryan; F.J. Ryan and his wife; and Evelyn Smith. Also at the bungalow was a burglary kit and a stash of weapons including three shotguns, two rifles, and half a dozen revolvers–a good indication that the gang was up to no good. burton gang_arsenal

The recent hold-up of E.E. Hamil and E.C. Harrison, collectors for the Puente Oil Company, netted the bandits $3875 (equivalent to over $56k in current dollars). Hamil and Harrison attended a line-up to see if they could identify any of the suspects as the man who had robbed them. They pointed at Edward Burton.

burton gang_burglar kitBurton was released on $10,000 [equivalent to $145k in current dollars] bail while Sheriff’s investigators continued to dig into his life and the lives of his companions. No one was surprised to find that Burton was a career criminal with numerous aliases–among them, Charles Mullen. Burton/Mullen fit the description of the man who had shot Motor Officer Bandle; and the car found near the scene of the shooting was registered to Mullen. An unlikely coincidence.

Evidence against the gang was mounting. They started to talk about hopping the next train east. Burton agreed that things were getting too hot for them in Los Angeles, but he said before they bid adieu to blue skies, ocean breezes and palm trees, they needed to pull just one more job.

NEXT TIME: Shootout at Union Ice Company.

Justice Times Two, Part 1

Los Angeles has been home to some of the wiliest and most wicked criminals in the world.  And where there are criminals there are attorneys to defend them.  I’ll leave it to you to decide which group is worse.

Among the defense attorneys who practiced in the city, one of the most fascinating was Samuel Simpson Hahn.  Known as S.S. Hahn, which makes him sound like a luxury liner, Hahn was born Schrul Widelman on September 18, 1888 in Ternova, Besarubia, Russia.  He is believed to have arrived in the U.S. on June 30, 1906 and changed his name to Samuel Needleman.  Contrary to the persistent belief that xenophobic immigration agents arbitrarily changed the names of newcomers many people opted to change their surnames to adapt to their new lives in America.  In any case, by 1912 the newly minted Samuel Needleman had moved to Los Angeles and had changed his name one last time. He became Samuel Simpson Hahn.  That moniker stuck with him for the rest of his life.

S.S. Hahn with a witness in Aimee Semple McPherson's trial. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

S.S. Hahn with a witness in Aimee Semple McPherson’s trial. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

On July 22, 1915, having passed his exam, Samuel Hahn was admitted to the California State Bar and for the next four decades he defended some of the most notorious criminals in the city.  Hahn’s client list reads like a Who’s Who of local crime.  Among those who sought his services were serial killer Louise Peete and naughty evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson.

Hahn didn’t limit his practice to felons. Following WWII there was a sharp uptick in divorces.  Starry-eyed couples who married in the heat of passion during wartime found themselves dreading the prospect of thousands of dreary days in each other’s company. In 1945, LIFE Magazine featured Hahn in an article on divorce mills.   Interestingly, he appears to have met his second wife, Mary Monroe, when she came to him to dissolve her marriage.

HAHN_MARY MONROE

I intend to write more about S.S. Hahn in the coming months.  I find his career worthy of multiple posts.  He was disbarred as a young attorney in the 1910s, possibly for suborning perjury, but appears to have won an appeal to restore his license. His death by drowning in a backyard swimming pool in 1957 was ruled a suicide, but it was highly suspicious. I’ll get to more of Hahn’s life later—I think you’ll find it compelling.

Today I’m going to cover a 1934 case from the Hahn files in which he defended a man accused of murdering his wife.

Shortly before midnight on Wednesday, June 27, 1934, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Kilborane of 4919 Bemis Street were driving on a lonely stretch of dirt road between the Southern Pacific tracks and the Los Angeles River. They were about 200 feet West of the intersection of San Fernando Road and Colorado Boulevard when they noticed a car.  It isn’t clear what caught the attention of the couple but they decided to investigate.  They found a woman sitting upright and dead on the passenger side. Seated next to her behind the steering wheel was a man.  He was severely wounded and semi-conscious. Both had suffered gunshot wounds to the head.

betty mcneerPolice identified the victims as Gray (Grey) Everett McNeer and his estranged wife, Beatrice (Betty) Helene Harker McNeer. While fighting for his life in the General Hospital Gray managed a brief statement in which he laid the blame for the shootings on his dead wife. Unfortunately for Gray the physical evidence suggested a far different scenario.

There were a couple of major problems with Gray’s statement.  First, Betty had been shot three times in the head and second, she was right handed. Even a contortionist would have found it difficult to shoot herself on the left side of her head if she was right handed. Besides, if Betty was the shooter why would she leave her intended victim moaning and alive?  Wouldn’t she have made certain he was dead before she turned the gun on herself—three times? Detectives were convinced Gray was a killer and placed him in the prison ward of the hospital—not that he was capable of taking it on the lam.  Doctors weren’t convinced that he would make it through the night.

gray mcneerWith Gray in the hospital, Detective Lieutenants Sanderson and Hill of the police department began their investigation into the backgrounds of the McNeers.

At 33 years of age Gray already had an extensive criminal record.  The 1930 Federal Census lists Gray as an inmate in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary where he was a machine operator in the pants factory. He was in prison for his part in the robbery of a paper company in Oklahoma City.  If his life since his release from prison was any indication of his future plans he had no intention of going straight, ever.  At the time of the shooting Gray was wanted for questioning in a recent string of robberies in Los Angeles.

Betty was 29 when she died and she had been married and divorced twice before she tangled with Gray.  She was 19 when she married a wealthy Altadena inventor, E.P. Pottinger. They divorced after two years and Betty wed Arthur Nollau who owned a knitting mill at 1409 West Washington Boulevard.  The marriage to Nollau also lasted roughly two years.  Twenty-four months seemed to be limit of Betty’s attention span for marriage.  In the days prior to her death she had filed for divorce from Gray to whom, you guessed it, she had been married for approximately two years.

Gray’s condition appeared to be improving; which meant that the ex-con would likely be indicted for  his wife’s murder.  In that case he would require the services of an attorney.

NEXT TIME:  Justice Times Two continues.

 

1901

The Death of Love, Part 2

Helen and Harry Love eloped to Mexico and married on May 3, 1936. Harry, at 46, was a “retired capitalist” and during the midst of the Great Depression that was quite an accomplishment. He gave Helen everything she could have wanted except his time–which is what she desired most. Harry was a mama’s boy and had, in is nearly five decades on the planet, not managed to clip the umbilical cord that continued to tether him to his meddlesome mother, Cora.

merry-xmas-sweetheartNot only had Harry refused to acknowledge Helen as his wife, he never even claimed her as his girlfriend. On the few occasions that Helen and Cora met, Cora was condescending and competitive to an uncomfortable degree. On Christmas Eve, Helen showed Cora the card Harry had given her which bore the salutation “Sweetheart”. Cora was offended by the card and immediately sneered at Helen, telling her that the card SHE had received from Harry was much prettier.

Many parents are reluctant to accept their child’s choice of a partner, but Cora seemed determined to keep Harry to herself. Had Cora always been so demanding of Harry’s time and attention? Perhaps Cora felt lost after her husband Charles passed away in 1923. She may have transferred her attention to her son. We can only speculate. We do know that Harry and Cora had taken a couple of cruises and frequently went out together for drives. Harry often stayed the night at Cora’s home rather than go to Helen and the apartment he maintained, allegedly for the two of them.

During the months that they had been married, Harry had pressured Helen into terminating a pregnancy and, following the “illegal operation”, Harry had sent Helen to New York to recover from the procedure that had nearly cost her her life.

The fabulous Norconian c, 1920s/1930s.

The fabulous Norconian c, 1920s/1930s.

The final straw for Helen came on New Year’s Eve. Harry had promised to take her out to the Norconian Supreme Resort in Riverside for what would certainly have been a night to remember. Helen had bought a gown, which she foolishly showed to Cora. Had Helen baited Cora with the gown?

Typical women's evening wear 1936.

Typical women’s evening wear c. 1936.

If Helen was playing a game of one upsmanship, she lost big time. Had Cora then applied pressure to Harry, or had he reneged on his promise to Helen of his own accord? It didn’t matter. Either way Helen was to facing a miserable New Year’s Eve, dressed to the nines with nowhere to go. Cora and Harry were going to dinner in Santa Monica at the Del Mar Hotel. Helen wasn’t even invited to tag along as a third wheel.

After spending hours brooding over the indignity of being kept away from a celebration that she felt should have included her, Helen snapped. She took the pistol that Harry kept in the glove compartment of his car and put it in her handbag. Then, after ruminating for a while longer, she called a taxi and went out to confront Cora and Harry at the Del Mar.

1930s dame with gun.

1930s dame with gun.

Hurt, angry, and fed up with being Harry’s secret bride, Helen walked into the lobby of the Del Mar. When she asked the clerk if the Love party had arrived, she was told they had not. She said she would wait. A short time later Harry came from the dining room. He must have been there all along. Had he instructed the clerk to try to turn Helen away if she turned up, and then been thwarted when she declared her intention to stay?

Harry walked over to Helen and she said “Hello, darling.” Harry asked Helen what she was doing there; she said had planned to spend New Year’s Eve with him and she had meant it. They quarreled and Helen turned on her heel and strode into the dining room where she walked up to Cora who was seated at a table for two. Cora turned white and snapped at Helen, “This is no place for you. You are not invited! See me tomorrow.” Helen said, “Tomorrow will be too late.” Helen headed for the exit of the hotel with Harry next to her. “Have you a gun?” he asked. Helen replied, “You’re a big man. Why should you be afraid of a gun?” But he was afraid. So much so that he started to scream and run. He only managed to reach the steps of the club before Helen drew the pistol and fired.

Typical men's evening wear in 1936.

Delineator Magazine’s men’s guide to correct formal evening wear, January 1936.

Harry fell on the steps, but he got back up and ran down the sidewalk still screaming for help. Helen ran after him firing until she was out of bullets. Later Helen claimed she had no recollection of where Harry fell. Harry was carried back into the Del Mar and placed on a couch. Helen sat next to him and watched him die. “I couldn’t believe it was true. It seemed like something you see on the screen. I kept thinking of it as a motion picture death.” Helen later said.

But Harry’s death wasn’t a movie–it was real enough to get Helen arrested for murder.

NEXT TIME: Helen goes on trial as The Death of Love continues.

The Death of Love, Part 1

Helen Wills was born in Kentucky in 1905 to Claudia and George Wills.  George and Claudia divorced around 1920. Claudia reclaimed her maiden name of Durst; and she and her teenage children, sixteen-year-old Richard and fifteen-year-old Helen, lived together in Vanceburg, Kentucky.  All three held jobs to keep the family afloat. Claudia taught music at home.  Richard worked in a button factory as a cutter and Helen worked in a cigar factory.

00105362_helen-young_resize

Helen as a young woman. Photo courtesy LAPL.

Factory work can be soul crushing. I know because I worked in a swim suit factory as a teenager. I began each day punching a time clock. There was a large, empty, bin next to my sewing machine and my job was to fill it by the end of my shift. The noise of the industrial sewing machines was broken occasionally by the screams of a worker who had accidently sewed a finger to the bathing suit she was working on. Based on my experiences,  I wasn’t surprised to find that by the 1930 census Helen and her mother had left Kentucky behind and were living in Los Angeles at 74 South Mariposa Avenue. Helen claimed to be an actress, but it is unclear what she actually did to earn a living.

Being an actress must have sounded glamorous  to a small town girl like Helen, but there were hundreds of girls in Los Angeles whose big dreams had led only to aching feet as they trudged from one cattle call to another, never getting the break that would make them a star. I haven’t found any documentation to suggest that Helen ever appeared in a film or on stage.

Helen didn’t leave her mark on Hollywood, but as it turned out she would eventually take the lead role in a real life and death drama and she would make headlines from L.A. to New York.

Movie extras c. 1930s.  Photo courtesy LAPL.

Movie extras c. 1930s. Photo courtesy LAPL.

Helen met Harry Love in 1929 or 1930 and dated seriously for a year prior to their secret marriage in Ensenada, Mexico on May 3, 1936.

Harry was a successful older man, about fifteen years Helen’s senior, described as tall, medium build with dark hair and brown eyes. He was born in Trinidad, Colorado in 1890, and as a young man he had worked as a shift boss for Montezuma Copper Company in Narcozari de Garcia, Sonora, Mexico and as a car salesman in Morenci, Arizona. He wasn’t a millionaire but he had done well enough to retire in his early 40s — the newspapers referred to him as a retired capitalist.

Helen realized early in their relationship that Harry was a mamma’s boy. At 46 he had never been married and he still lived at home with his mother, Cora. In Helen’s shoes I like to think I would have taken one look at that situation and run for the hills, but that’s me looking at the 1930s through my 21st Century lens. It is easy to make that call from a distance of 80 years.

Harry and Cora were so close that they’d taken at least two cruises together. One was in the 1920s, years before Harry met Helen. But in March 1936 Harry and Cora took a second cruise to Hawaii, aboard the S.S. Chiriqui. What man takes a cruise with his mother just a few months prior to his marriage?

sschiriquifront3_resizeThe truth is that Harry probably never intended to marry Helen. The hasty Mexican nuptials may have been necessitated by Helen’s announcement that she was pregnant. Harry must have had nightmares about how he was going to explain the marriage and child to Cora.  She was barely aware that he was dating, let alone making babies.

After the newlyweds returned home Helen expected, not unreasonably, that Harry would break the news to Cora, but he flatly refused.

Harry kept his new wife in an apartment at 3620 West Fourth Street, less than a half mile from his mother’s house at 457 South Harvard Boulevard. Helen may as well have been on another planet.  Harry didn’t even stay with her every night.

According to Helen, while they were dating Harry threatened to kill her if she ever became pregnant. In the 1930s the most common method of birth control was douching because other less caustic forms were nearly impossible to find.

In 1873 the Comstock Act passed in the United States prohibiting advertisements, information, and distribution of birth control and allowing the postal service to confiscate birth control sold through the mail.  It wasn’t until 1965 that the Supreme Court (in Griswold v. Connecticut) gave married couples the right to use birth control, ruling that it was protected in the Constitution as a right to privacy. However, millions of unmarried women in 26 states were still denied birth control.

Not only was douching extremely unreliable, it was dangerous. The most widely advertised douche was Lysol. That’s right, as early as the 1910s the same stuff used to clean toilets was advertised as a way for women to stay fresh and feminine. Although, frankly, I fail to see the allure of the regular scented Lysol or, worse yet, the pine scented version that eventually hit the market. The notion that my man would be excited by a pine tree is too horrible to contemplate. The subtext in many of the ads was a nod and a wink toward avoiding unwanted pregnancies.

lysol_ad2

One wonders exactly what tragedy is being referred to in this ad.

When Helen gave Harry the news of his impending fatherhood, he reacted predictably and pressured her into having an “illegal operation” (i.e. an abortion). Helen nearly died as a result. In September he sent her to New York for a couple of months to regain her health.

Helen arrived home in time for the holidays and one of the first things that she noticed about the apartment was that Harry had removed their framed marriage license from the wall and put it in a safe deposit box.  At least that’s what he told her.

In spite of their problems Helen was optimistic about her relationship with Harry and she believed that the two of them would spend Christmas alone together. Harry had other plans. He thought it would be swell if he and Helen spent Christmas with his mother – who still had no idea that Harry and Helen were married. Helen was introduced as a friend.

Helen wasn’t thrilled with the plan, but she went along hoping that Harry would finally reveal the truth of their relationship to Cora. It was not to be. Following dinner Harry and Cora bid adieu to Helen and went off together to church to listen to Christmas carols and then go for a drive.

On New Year’s Eve, Helen and Harry had lunch in Chinatown and he promised to take her to the fabulous Norconian Resort Supreme in Riverside that night to usher in 1937.

The Norconian.  Image courtesy LAPL.

The Norconian. Image courtesy LAPL.

As he had many times before, Harry failed to keep his promise. He told Helen that he planned to spend New Year’s Eve with Cora at the Del Mar Club in Santa Monica and that she, Helen, was not invited. Harry did, however, pick Helen up that evening and left her in his car in the parking lot of a building Cora owned at 3020 South Main Street. He gave explicit instructions to the parking attendants that no one but him was to take the car out.

Helen sat in the auto for hours, brooding. Finally an attendant told her she might be more comfortable if she waited inside the building. She agreed, but before she left the car she took the pistol that Harry kept in the glove compartment and stashed it in her handbag.

Frustrated, hurt, and angry Helen took a cab back to the apartment where she stewed for a while longer before she made an important decision. She was tired of living in the shadows and fed up with Harry’s glib promises that inevitably came to naught. She grabbed her bag with the pistol still concealed inside, called a cab, and went to the Del Mar Club for a confrontation with the Loves.

NEXT TIME: The Death of Love, Part 2

References: 

Ancestry
Google Maps
Los Angeles Public Library
Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Evening Herald & Express
Our Bodies Ourselves
Mother Jones
Smithsonian
WGBH Boston
Wikipedia

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

30 More Years of Crime in L.A.

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

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

dirtyharry

Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry

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

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

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

ramirez_108a

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

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

Jim Jones of the People's Temple

Jim Jones of the People’s Temple

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joan

 

 

 

Shootout at the Selma Hotel, Conclusion

shirt clueAccording to the attorneys for Tom Bay and Ed “Red” Carmichael, the red shirt that James “Yakima Jim” Anson died in was going to clear their clients of murder.  The shirt would supposedly show that there had been a terrific battle prior to the shooting, thus clearing Tom and Red of a cold-blooded slaying. Unfortunately,  the shirt had disappeared.

On August 26, 1925 a telegram originating from Shosone, Idaho cleared up the mystery of the red shirt. It wasn’t lost and the cops hadn’t concealed it, it had accompanied Yakima’s body to Idaho where it was burned.

Tom and Red’s preliminary hearing lasted for several weeks. At the end of it only Tom was held to answer for Yakima’s murder. Justice Russell released Red, apparently believing the man’s story that he’d been out of the room when the fatal shot was fired. Even though Red had left Yakima’s room for a short time he seemed to know that Tom had produced a revolver, faced Yakima, and said: “Now I’ve got you just where I want you.” He said he heard a scuffle and then a shot. He ran back into the room in time to see Tom escape out the hotel window.jury baffled

As a Hollywood cowboy Tom spent much less time on a horse than he did with a cocktail glass in his hand. His wife Pearl testified that whenever he came home drunk, which was often, he would attempt to crawl under a chiffonier that was only six inches from the floor.  On the day that Yakima was shot Tom came home and again tried to hide under the furniture. Pearl intervened, and then she listened as he told her a garbled tale of Yakima’s shooting. Pearl said: “He told me there had been a shooting and that Anson was badly hurt, but I got the impression he had shot himself. Tom didn’t say anything about having shot him and didn’t seem to know who had.”

Tom Bay c. 1931

Tom Bay c. 1931

When Tom took the stand in Judge Kectch’s court he offered his version of Yakima’s death. He readily admitted that he’d been drinking, but he claimed there were several other men in the  hotel room–which didn’t square with Red’s account. Tom said that Yakima had drawn the gun and started waving it around. It was during a struggle for possession of the weapon that it discharged. Yakima staggered back against the wall and slowly slid into a sitting position on the floor. According to Tom, Red came back into the room (he’d been in the bathroom) and told the wounded man to “snap out of it” and “the cops might come because that gun went off.” Rather than wait for the cops, or check to see if Yakima was okay,  Tom crawled through an open window and dropped to the sidewalk–leaving Red to face the music. Red picked up the revolver, realized it was his, and headed for the door. He didn’t even get out of the hotel before the cops took him into custody. Tom was picked up later.

tom freedThroughout the trial Tom maintained that he didn’t know that Yakima had been shot when he fled from the room. For me that stretches the bounds of credibility, but evidently the jury bought the story because following twenty hours of deliberation they acquitted him. Dozens of men in high-heeled boots, holding ten-gallon hats, and grinning swarmed Tom and slapped him on the back in congratulations.

There are several unanswered questions in this case. Who brought Red’s gun to the room, and why? It seems likely that Tom had somehow managed to get his hands on the weapon and, in his inebriated condition, thought he’d scare an apology out of Yakima for making rude comments about Pearl. Did the gun go off accidentally as Tom insisted or was he drunk enough to pull the trigger in anger?tragedy

We’ll never know for sure and all that matters is the jury’s decision. However if you believe, as I do, that Tom was at the least guilty of involuntary manslaughter then you’ll be interested to know how he fared following his acquittal.

In May 1931, Pearl sued Tom for divorce. She said that she had sold her piano and car to pay for his attorneys; however, he was not only ungrateful, he treated her badly. He was physically and emotionally abusive and he cheated on her over and over. Pearl had discovered love letters and overheard Tom talking to another woman on the phone in a tone of voice that went beyond friendly. To buttress her case Pearl produced a handful of letters written by a woman living in Deadwood, South Dakota. They were torrid enough to have courtroom spectators on the edge of their seats. Pearl won her divorce. Tom continued his film career. He appeared, mostly uncredited,  either as a stunt double or as a heavy in popular horse operas into the early 1930s.

Mary Frances Miller

On October 11, 1933, actress Mary Frances Miles received a telephone call from her friend Alta Lessert. Alta said she and her live-in lover, cowboy actor Tom Bay, had been fighting. Alta may have been looking for moral support or a referee–in any case Mary went to help. She arrived at Alta and Tom’s house at 602 North Lincoln Boulevard, Burbank and tried to keep the peace. She thought she had succeeded in getting the combative couple to calm down–she saw them embrace and kiss–but moments later she heard a gunshot.

Alta ran from the living room to the bedroom.  Alta was standing with a gun in her hand  Tom’s back was to her and he had his hands raised above his head. Alta fired another shot and Tom fell to the floor.

Mary ran from the house to phone the police. On her way to get help she passed the bedroom window. She looked in and saw Alta hold the muzzle of the gun against her breast and fired twice. She collapsed on the floor beside the dead cowboy. lessert_mailbox

Tom died at the scene, a bullet through his heart. Alta’s ribs deflected the bullets and she survived to stand trial for his murder. She claimed self-defense. Tom had been violent with her before and the day he died he had been drinking heavily and threatened to kill her. She had grabbed the gun before he could reach it and fired. Several character witnesses testified on Alta’s behalf–most of them were cowboy actors: Buck Bucko, Roy Bucko, Jack Castle, and Jack Padjan. The men said Tom was a known troublemaker.

The jury deadlocked 6 to 6. The D.A. wanted to re-try Alta, but Judge Fricke dismissed the murder charge saying that he didn’t believe a conviction was possible.

Just as Tom had done nine years earlier, Alta walked out of court a free woman.

Shootout at the Selma Hotel-Part 2

Movie cowboy James (Yakima Jim) Anson was shot to death at the Selma Hotel in Hollywood on August 9, 1925; and the shooter was either Tom Bay or Edward (Red) Carmichael. Because each of the suspects was pointing his finger at the other, no one was sure which of the men had actually pulled the trigger.

SELMA SHOOTOUT1On August 11, 1925 the Coroner’s Jury heard testimony from a number of witnesses. Among them was LAPD Detective Lieutenant Clark who stated that following his arrest Bay told him: “I was passing the Selma Yotel and Yakima Jim called me up. I went into his room and found him there with a gun in his lap. I saw two or three fellows there. I asked Yakima, ‘What’s the trouble?’ and Yakima said, ‘You know what’s the trouble.’ I saw he was shot and thought I was being framed on, so I got out.” The scenario was at odds with Carmichael’s version which had he and Bay visiting Yakima’s room together–no one else was there when they arrived. According to Carmichael he had stepped out of the room for a moment leaving Bay and Yakima alone. He was certain he’d heard Yakima say. “Put down the gun.” Carmichael returned to the room when he heard a shot and saw Bay climbing out of the hotel window. Yakima was still alive and there was a gun on the floor. Carmichael recognized it as his own weapon. He didn’t know how it had come to be there so he picked it up and was about to leave the room when police arrived. The cops were conveniently next door at the Hollywood Station.SELMA SHOOTOUT2

E.D. Musselman, another cinema cowpoke and a roomer in Bay’s home, testified that Bay arrived home at 4 p.m. on the day of the shooting and he was completely soused. Musselman said Bay was so drunk he was barely able to talk and muttered something unintelligible about Yakima Jim being hurt.

An intriguing piece of the puzzle was supplied by A.J. Antela, a Hollywood jail trusty, who testified that he found $340 in bills on the ground beneath Anson’s window. The money was important was because Bay complained of losing $440 in denominations matching the found money, so it lent credibility to Carmichael’s version of events. The inquest panel never heard the theory that the shooting was tied to Bay’s failed attempt to borrow money from Yakima; nor did they hear that Yakima had allegedly said some nasty things about Bay’s wife.

bay wife picIn his testimony Detective Lieutenant Clark stated that Yakima Jim revealed that he had been shot by “Tom Bay with Red Carmichael’s gun.” Generally a dying declaration is given a lot of weight, and this one was pretty damned clear, yet the jury couldn’t reach a conclusion. They returned with a open verdict–meaning they couldn’t affix blame to either Bay or Carmichael and settled for accusing “some party or parties unknown.”

A couple of days following the inquest Bay and Carmichael were in front of Judge Russell for arraignment. The Coroner’s jury was unable to name the shooter so it was going to be up to a judge and/or jury to try to figure it out.

The defendants’ attorneys, Phillips and Kendall, excoriated the cops for failing to produce the ragged, bloody shirt worn by Yakima when he was shot to death. The defense contended that the shirt would show that Yakima was shot during a struggle–not murdered in cold blood. Attorney Kendall shouted at the prosecution: “You have brought everything connected with the case into court, but you didn’t bring the shirt. Why? I’ll tell you why. Because it shows evidence of a terrific struggle having taken place before Jim was killed, evidence that will exonerate these defendants of the charge of murder.”

The judge postponed the hearing to give everyone an opportunity to deal with the mystery of the missing shirt. Bay and Carmichael were handcuffed to each other to be returned to lock-up. As they were being led from the courtroom Bay’s sobbing wife rushed to his side begging that cops: “Handcuff me to him and take me to jail.” The officers declined.

Was evidence that might clear Bay and Carmichael being deliberately withheld? The hunt for the red shirt was on.

NEXT TIME: Sorting out the shooter. The red shirt mystery solved.