The Society Bootlegger Murder — Conclusion

Blanche Remington — Earle Remington’s sister.

Blanche Remington and her attorney Samuel H. French paid the District Attorney’s office a visit on April 28, 1923.  Blanche was terrified.  She told District Attorney Thomas Woolwine and Deputy District Attorney Asa Keyes that she was being shadowed by as many as four persons. She had first noticed her stalkers trailing her in an automobile immediately following Earle’s murder. Since then she could feel strange eyes on her no matter where she was.

During her meeting with Woolwine and Keyes, Blanche revealed what she knew of her brother’s finances in the few years prior to his death. According to Blanche, she had lent Earle money for various enterprises for many years.  Unfortunately, Blanche was familiar with Earle’s legal business dealings, but knew nothing about his bootlegging side line.  Woolwine told reporters, “Miss Remington arranged the conference through her attorney.  She believed that she might be able to help us in our investigation, but she has told me nothing that can be used in apprehending Remington’s slayer.”

Was Woolwine telling the truth about Blanche’s ignorance of her brother’s bootlegging scheme?  Or was he equivocating in the hope that it would prevent her from being targeted by people who might fear her disclosures?  Reporters turned up at Blanche’s home at 1365 ½ West Twentieth Street in attempt to get more information, but the frightened woman refused to divulge any details.

Three weeks following Blanche’s meeting with the District Attorney, prohibition agents and the Long Beach Police raided a major bootlegging outfit.  Eight men were arrested, two of whom were millionaires thanks to the Eighteenth Amendment.  The raid resulted in the seizure of 160 cases of whiskey, two trucks, four automobiles and a Japanese fishing launch. The authorities thought they could make a connection between the bootleggers and Earle’s murder.  Earle had allegedly conducted business with Claude V. Dudrey, one of the men being held on charges stemming from the raid.  Claude didn’t deny his association with Earle.  He admitted under questioning that he had attempted to get the lease on a building Earle was preparing to vacate.  He also admitted to having sold seven cases of booze to Earle.  But he adamantly denied any involvement in the murder.

There were reports of high-jacking, shootings and even piracy on the high seas linked to several members of the bootlegging ring but there was nothing to suggest that any of the men had been involved in Earle’s murder.

On April 30, 1923, after months of frustration and dead ends, the Los Angeles Times reported that a young woman, who remained nameless in the report, came forward with a story that everyone hoped would resolve the case. Unfortunately, the woman had not approached police with her tale. She had allegedly confessed to local defense attorney S.S. Hahn.  Hahn merely played the messenger. He met with Assistant District Attorney Asa Keyes and repeated what he had been told.

According to Hahn, the woman (whom Hahn described as an attractive 28-year-old brunette) said she and Earle had been lovers for more than eighteen months, but his interest in her began to wane.  She tried unsuccessfully to hold on to him. The woman told Hahn: “I loved Remington and expected him to marry me.  I first began to share his love more than a year and a half ago.  I had been married.  I knew he was married, but he promised that he would obtain a divorce and marry me.  For a year we were happy. He and I lived together for a time at the beach at Venice.  Then gradually his love seemed to cool.  He missed his appointments with me and I say less and Less of him.”

There was more:

“At first I suspected and then I knew that there were other women in his life.  It became more and more difficult for me to see him and finally I realized that he was out of my life.  I wanted to talk to him, but was unable to meet him.  Time after time I sought an interview with him at his office without success.  Then, on the day of the shooting I trailed him.  I saw him meet the other woman.  I followed them.  They had dinner together in a restaurant.  I waited outside while they dined and followed them to the Athletic Club (Los Angeles Athletic Club), where I lost track of them.  That day I carried with me a bottle of acid with which I planned to forever disfigure both of them.  After losing trace of them I got in touch with a man I knew I could trust and asked him to help me.  He brought another man with him.  With them I drove to the Remington home and waited for Earle.  I wanted to talk with him.”

According to the mystery woman she never got the chance to talk to Earle again.  She said she waited in the car for her two men friends to bring Earle to her.  She saw Earle drive up and then there was a scuffle. The evening quiet was shattered by two gunshots and the woman’s screams.

From the murder scene the woman said she was driven by the killers to her aunt’s home where she lived for the first few weeks following the murder.  The woman confessed details of Earle’s murder to her aunt.  She didn’t share details of the murder with her friends, but everyone she knew shielded and aided her.  But, if S.S. Hahn was to be believed, the woman was so conscience stricken that she was ultimately compelled to seek the attorney’s counsel.

S.S. Hahn told reporters, “The woman came to me as a client and said she was wanted for the slaying of Earle Remington.  She said she would disclose the details of the murder if the District Attorney’s office would assure her she would be allowed liberty on bail pending the trial.  She was nervous, hysterical and exhausted.”

The D.A. wasn’t prepared to make the deal and S.S. Hahn refused to name his client if they couldn’t reach an agreement.

The Remington case stalled again in early May.  LAPD Captain Home said, “we are no nearer a solution of the mystery than we were two months ago.”

Two months turned into two years, then twenty. It has now been nearly 95 years since Earle was murdered in the driveway of his home.  Yet, there was a brief glimmer of hope when a WWI veteran, Lawrence Aber, confessed. His reason?  He said he was angry at Earle for selling liquor to veterans. It didn’t take long for the police to realize that Aber had lied. He wasn’t being malicious, he suffered from severe mental issues and he was in a hospital at the time of the slaying.

For several years following her husband’s death, Peggy Remington suffered a series of tragedies. She lost three brothers to various ailments including paralysis and Bright’s Disease.  And most of her money vanished due to “sharp practices of asserted friends.”  She was undeterred.  “It means I am going to work; I am going to be hostess of a country club at Rye, N.Y.” She smiled at reporters and said, “Oh, I’ll get along.”

Despite the dozens of suspects identified early in the investigation, detectives never got the break they needed to catch the killer(s).

It is always hard for me to reconcile myself to the fact that someone got away with murder.  In this case there were so many suspects it was dizzying.

So, I’m curious.  Who do you think murdered Earle?  Bootleggers?  Former business partners? An ex-lover?  Feel free to weigh in.

 

 

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

The Society Bootlegger Murder, Part 3

liquor stashAimee Torriani’s self-proclaimed psychic abilities were underwhelming. She put forward the same theory that Earle’s brother-in-law had suggested — that the killer was a veteran of the world war. According to Aimee the mystery vet’s motive was simple, he respected Peggy Remington for her work with veterans and felt her husband was doing her dirt with his constant string of affairs.

Aimee also offered her opinion on the Remington’s relationship. “Peggy and Earle loved each other with a love which was so possessive that it was destructive.” Aimee went on to say, “I was surprised when Earle told me, more than two weeks ago when I met him downtown by chance, that an estrangement might occur. I have been away from Los Angeles a lot and have only seem him infrequently since I cam here to enter pictures almost three years ago.” Aimee had known Earle since she was a child, but she said, “I never knew Mrs. Remington well. She used to ask a number of my girl friends to assist her in giving benefit affairs for disabled war veterans, but I never was able to take part in any of the functions arranged by her.”

When she was asked about the parties Earle attended in the company of women other than his wife, Aimee said, “I have never been on any parties with Earle.” And she reiterated that Earle was “…never more than a big brother to me.”

The investigation into Earle’s murder became more complicated with every interview. Far from shining a psychic light on the slaying, Aimee had succeeded only in casting more doubt on the widow.

Chief of Police L.D. Oakes contacted Oakland authorities for information regarding the August 13, 1922 murder of “Deacon” Edward M. Shouse, a Bay Area bootleg king. Shouse may have been slain in retaliation for dropping a dime on a rival. Shouse had allegedly tipped off government officials to a landing at Monterey of a large cargo of illegal whiskey, and as a result someone was out a lot of money. Maybe the unknown someone was angry enough to kill. They tried, but Oakland PD and LAPD couldn’t make a connection between the deaths of the two bootleggers.

The strain of the her husband’s murder and subsequent investigation were so stressful that Peggy collapsed and was ordered to bed by her doctor.

Captain Home and Detective Sergeant Cline questioned Peggy in her sick bed and this time she was more forthcoming.

Peggy hoped that people would not judge Earle too harshly. She said, “He started (bootlegging) in a frantic effort to recuperate his fortunes. That was a long time ago. I begged him to quit. At first he said it was impossible. Recently, however, he promied he would get out of the terrible business. But—he didn’t.”

According to Peggy, Earle’s personality changed as he became more involved in bootlegging.  And it wasn’t a change for the better. Peggy didn’t like his new friends. “And they were so different. In the mornings they would call at the front door, perhaps. Then a few would seek to gain admittance at the rear door of the house. Trucks would drive up to the house and unload the terrible stuff. An again a truck would be driven into the driveway to take whiskey away. i was compelled to give up entertaining. I couldn’t bear to bring my friends into the house. The odor of liquor was noticeable in every room. It was just one long nightmare.”

Most of the men who turned up at the Remington’s home were strangers to Peggy. She told investigators Home and Cline, “The telephone would ring. They would ask for Earle. A long conversation concerning ‘prices,’ ‘deliveries’ and ‘grades’ would follow. Sometimes Earle would get angry and following the calls say terrible things about the party with whom he had just conversed. I never made it any of my business to ascertain the identity of the party in question. All I wanted was his promise to quit the thing.”

Earle’s new friends did not bring out the best in him. Peggy said that Earle began drinking heavily. She said, “His business affairs were in a chaotic condition and this, combined with the dangers and worries involved in his activities as a bootlegger made him drink.” Earle also became obsessed with money. Peggy felt Earle lost sight of everything in his life but his desire for money.

On the day of his death, Peggy overheard Earle talking on the telephone. He was agitated and so angry that Peggy was convinced if the caller had been in the house there would have been a fist fight. Earle swore at the unknown caller and when he hung up he continued to rage for hours. If Earle had a falling out with a bootlegging partner or rival the situation could have escalated from verbal threats to murder.

Detectives pulled on multiple threads hoping to unravel the tangled case, but it was slow going. A search of Earle’s personal papers revealed the names of scores of people to whom he had sold liquor.

Dr. Wagner, the autopsy surgeon, threw the detectives another curve when he said that an X-ray showed that the second wound in Remington’s heart was not caused by a dagger but was caused by a freak discharge of the shotgun, or by some other weapon that had not been identified.

Detectives were frustrated and tired of running on the hamster wheel that the case had become; but quitting wasn’t an option so they kept digging.

Earle’s will caused police to take another hard look at Peggy.  He hadn’t been destitute as had been thought — his estate was estimated to be in excess of $150K (equivalent to $2.1M in today’s dollars). That kind of money is one hell of an incentive to commit murder.

Peggy may have been a good suspect, but cops were still inclined to believe that Earle had died as a result of a dispute with another bootlegger. That theory gained credibility when, about a week after Earle’s murder, police learned that during the three months prior to his death he had been in fear of his life. Earle had reached out to some of his business associates telling them that he had gotten himself into a jam and might be killed. Unfortunately, Earle was tight-lipped about who wanted him dead.

The prognosis for a solution to Earle’s slaying improved when Earle’s sister paid a visit to the District Attorney to tell him that she was being watched and followed.  Whoever was behind the mystery surveillance could be responsible for Earle’s murder.

Next time: The conclusion of the Society Bootlegger Murder.

 

 

 

The Society Bootlegger Murder, Part 2

Earle Remington

Earle Remington had made a name for himself locally, and nationally, as an aviator and businessman.  On the surface it appeared that he wasn’t the sort of man to get himself murdered. He was more likely to be injured tripping over a Persian rug at one of the exclusive clubs he frequented. But once police investigators began to scratch the surface they found that Earle was leading a double life — one that may have marked him for murder.

Peggy Remington had spoken with attorney Jerry Geisler about two weeks before Earle’s death. She wanted the attorney to represent her in a divorce. Peggy allegedly told Geisler that not only was Earle having an affair, he was selling bootleg booze. A jealous husband or an angry illicit business partner may well have cause to kill.

The widow had a couple of compelling motives to murder Earle. His infidelity was one. Another, and perhaps even stronger motive, was life insurance.  Earle had a policy in the amount of $27,500 (equivalent to $300k in current dollars).  Ten thousand dollars were to go to his sister, and the remainder would go to Peggy.  Peggy wouldn’t need to kill Earle herself, she could have hired someone to do it for her.

Peggy Remington

Peggy Remington

Where would a well-to-do society matron find an assassin? Her friends and acquaintances weren’t, like some of Earle’s, to be found on the shady side of the law.

Ironically, it was Peggy’s good works that would have put her in touch with a possible gene pool of killers.  She worked with veterans of WWI, some of whom were not only physically but psychologically damaged. Peggy knew dozens of men who knew how to use a weapon, but would any one of them be unstable enough to go through with a murder-for-hire?

The suggestion that the stab wound in Earle’s chest had been made not by a dagger but by a bayonet or a trench knife lent credibility to the theory that a vet, either on his own or enlisted by Peggy, had done the deed.  Peggy wanted out of the marriage – but how far was she willing to go?

Captain George Home

Captain George Home

Two veteran LAPD officers, Captain George Home and Detective Sergeant Herman Cline, headed the murder investigation. Captain Home had nearly 20 years on the job, and he briefly served as Chief of Police in 1919 and 1920. Detective Cline worked many high-profile cases – most notably he had been involved in the investigation into the mysterious slaying of film director William Desmond Taylor in 1922.

Milster’s was not an uncommon theory. From the end of WWI until the beginning of WWII, many criminal acts were rightly, and wrongly, attributed to veterans. If vets behaved badly it may have been because they suffered from shell-shock, the original term for what, decades later, became known as Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder (PTSD). Milster was satisfied that his sister had nothing to do with Earle’s death — but detectives weren’t so sure. They were convinced that Peggy was withholding information. Despite evidence to the contrary, particularly from her own attorney, Peggy continued to deny knowing anything about Earle’s secret life of infidelity and bootleg booze.

Earle kept a little red book containing the names, addresses and telephone numbers of many women. Detectives hoped that the book would lead them to Earle’s killer. All Peggy would say is that for at least two weeks prior to the murder Earle appeared to be in fear of his life. She told police that he never revealed to her the reasons for his unease.

society bootlegger_3_cropLess than a week into the investigation police discovered that Earle was the victim of extortion — a blackmail scheme run by a man and woman.  The woman had allegedly seduced Earle then told him it would cost him big time for her to keep her mouth shut about their affair.

In 1933 crime novelist and chronicler of Los Angeles noir, Raymond Chandler, published his first piece of crime fiction entitled “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot”.  Chandler was on to something.  Why would blackmailers kill the golden goose? They might kill him if he finally refused to pay.

Evidently, Earle had been hemorrhaging money and when the blackmailers tried to tap him again, he told them they were out of luck. Were they made angry enough to kill?

Police identified the couple, but they weren’t sharing that information with the press.  What they said was that they had heard from informants that the night before the murder the blackmailers were at a party in a cabaret on the outskirts of Chinatown. Earle was there with another man and three women.  The blackmailers hadn’t been seen since. Or had they?  Neighbors of Earle’s saw a couple necking in a coupe near the murder scene.  They also witnessed another coupe, driven by a woman, drive up to the Remington home followed moments later by a touring car in which there were two men.  Both automobiles circled the block several times before disappearing. And nobody seemed to know where the amorous couple had gone. Were Earle’s killers doing reconnaissance before they struck?

As if the case wasn’t complicated enough Aimee Torriani, an actress and acquaintance of the Remingtons, came forward. Aimee told detectives that two weeks before his death she had bumped into Earle at a downtown club.  Aimee said that Earle had confided in her that his marriage to Peggy was in serious trouble. Earle had seemed nervous.

Aimee told police that she had special insight into the Remington’s marriage because not only had she known Earle since she was ten years old, she was a psychic.

NEXT TIME:  Will psychic revelations help the cops solve Earle’s murder?  And is the murder of Oakland society bootlegger, Edward Shouse, connected to Earle’s death?

 

 

 

 

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