Hollywood Cliff Murder, Conclusion

Illinois native Pearl Wessel moved to Los Angeles for the first time in 1928.  Whatever dreams brought her here died with her on April 2, 1940 at the bottom of a 60 foot cliff in the Hollywood hills.

trail of death_hollywood cliff murder

LAPD arrested two men for Pearl’s death,  Lesley Al Williams and Alberni Roggers. Neither of them would admit to knowing Pearl, let alone having anything to do with her death.  The problem for Lesley was that a witness had taken down the license plate number of the car that drove away after Pearl went over the cliff–and the number matched the car registered to Lesley.A description of Pearl went out to local eateries and bars in an effort to find out where, and with whom, she had spent her time on the day of her death. William J. Moran, a bartender in a place at 608 S. Western Avenue said he was sure Pearl had been drinking in his bar with two men. He didn’t know the men, but felt he could identify them. LAPD detectives gave William the opportunity to be a stand-up citizen by inviting him to attend a line-up in which the two suspects would participate.hollywood cliff murder headline4

William identified Leslie by his voice. William had recalled that when of the one of the men at the bar was asked about places he had worked he had mentioned Sacramento. Each of the men in the lineup was asked to say “Sacramento”. When Leslie was instructed to repeat the word Moran looked at the detectives and said, “That’s one of the men. I’m dead sure of it.” William wasn’t so sure about the second man, Alberni Roggers. Another witness, Alfred Dobriener, thought he recognized Leslie, but wasn’t willing to go on the record and identify him. All he would say is that, “He (Alberni) looks more like the man than any in the line-up.”

Once he had been identified by two witnesses, Leslie copped to having been with Pearl, but he still wouldn’t admit to responsibility for her death. He did, however, name the man who was actually with him. It wasn’t Alberni, it was a 32 year-old married salesman named Brydon Stockdale. Leslie’s statement was enough for police to issue a State-wide broadcast for his arrest. It didn’t take long for Brydon to be found. About two hours after the initial broadcast, he was taken into custody in Redlands by San Bernardino County Sheriff E.L. Shay. According to Shay, Brydon had been arrested as he stepped off a bus.

LAPD Detective Lieutenants Fred Trosper and Emmett Jones left for Redlands immediately to return the suspect to Los Angeles for questioning.

Only Alberni was given good news. Because it was determined that he had had nothing to do with the crime he was kicked loose from the County Jail.

While Brydon was en route to Los Angeles, Lesley’s tongue loosened. He finally admitted that he and Brydon had been bar hopping with Pearl before they drove to Franklin Avenue. He steadfastly maintained that he had not pushed Pearl to her death. Leslie said that Pearl ran from the car and fell over the cliff. Of course his statement begs the question, why did Pearl feel she had to run?

hollywood cliff murder headline3At the Coroner’s inquest Dr. Frank R. Webb, autopsy surgeon, testified that Pearl had died of a skull fracture and that her blood alcohol level was .22, enough for her to be intoxicated.

Brydon took the stand and gave his account of the night Pearl died. He said that he had met Leslie, whom he had known prior to that night, and Pearl, in a bar on S. Western. When he and Leslfey decided to leave, Pearl accompanied them.

Brydon said he took the wheel of Lesley’s car, “I got in the driver’s seat because I didn’t think Williams was in a condition to drive. He directed me to drive to a place he knew where Miss Wessel could get something to eat. We ended up at the end of Franklin Avenue. When I got out of the car and saw where we were, I told Williams the situation was no good. I left the car again and when I returned Williams and the woman were in the back seat.”

“They were having a drunken argument about something and the door, facing the embankment, was open. I told them we were going to get out of there. Then the girl leaped out and started stumbling toward what I thought was a trail. Williams started to drive away. I protested, saying we ought not to leave the woman there. He drove off anyway.” Brydon stepped down from the witness stand and his wife Mildred walked over to him and wrapped her arms around him–then the two of them burst into tears.

Lesley refused to testify.

Brydon and his wife embrace.

Brydon and his wife embrace.

Lesley stood trial alone for Pearl’s murder. On June 19, 1940 the jury deadlocked 10 to 2 in favor of acquittal and was discharged.

It was reported that Lesley would be retried, but he never was.

So, what really did happen on Franklin that night?

Why was Pearl drinking in a bar on her own? It wasn’t typical behavior for a woman at that time.  I get the impression that Pearl may have been lonely. Is that why she left the bar with two strangers?

Even though Brydon claimed to be entirely innocent, and was subsequently freed, he was driving that night. Why did he drive to the lover’s lane on Franklin?  Did he know it was there, or was he simply following Lesley’s directions?  And when the car pulled into the dark and lonely spot, did Pearl and Lesley have an argument? Did she get out of the car in high dudgeon and run not knowing she was headed for a 60 foot cliff?

Or were the events more sinister? Did one, or both, of the men intend to assault Pearl? Did Pearl realize she was in danger and panic?  And did one or both of them push her over the cliff?

In this case, as in so many, we are left with many more questions than answers.  We’ll never know what transpired between Pearl, Lesley and Brydon, so it is difficult to determine whether or not justice was served. No matter how events played out that April night, the result was a tragedy for Pearl.

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.

Justice Times Two, Part 2

A Coroner’s jury found Gray McNeer responsible for the murder of his wife, Betty.  The gun used in the murder and attempted suicide was a weapon Gray had stolen from Harry Harris, a friend of his.  Harris, a harbor guard, discovered his gun and some shells were missing after Gray’s visit the night prior to the shooting.  When detectives showed Harris the weapon, he identified it as his own.

Gray wasn’t able to appear at any hearings because he was in serious condition. On August 6th his attorney, S.S. Hahn, announced that Gray would appear in court that morning. The defendant was in bad shape as a result of the gunshot wound to his head. He was blind in one eye, deaf in one ear,  partially paralyzed and he still had a bullet lodged in his brain. Despite the gravity of his injuries, Gray appeared for his preliminary hearing before Municipal Judge Galbreth, just as S.S. Hahn said he would. The defendant’s head was swathed in bandages and he was in a wheel chair, but at least he’d made it.

mcneer and motherGray’s mother, Lola, remained at her son’s bed side and on August 24th it was reported that she had given her official consent for an operation to remove the bullet from his brain.  It isn’t clear why a man in his 30s would need his mother’s consent, but it may have been that he was in no condition to give it himself.  S.S. Hahn told the court that in his present condition Gray was in imminent danger of death and that, even if he survived, he might be become “an imbecile.”  The operation was given odds of 100 to 1 that it would succeed; but it was Gray’s only hope.

S.S. Hahn requested a continuance of the trial so that Gray could undergo the potentially lethal surgery.  The request was granted. But would any of the local surgeons be willing to undertake such a delicate procedure?  The answer was no.  Specialists at General Hospital declined to perform the surgery even though they agreed that Gray was doomed without it.  The same group of surgeons put Gray’s odds at less that 1000 to 1 for survival.

Of course S.S. Hahn had a lot to say about the doctors’ refusal: “His mother wants that chance to be taken.  She wants to save her son and we are going to operate if it takes a court order to do it.”  The attorney found four brain specialists who were willing to volunteer for the surgery, but General Hospital balked.  Hahn said: “They tell us that nonresident physicians are not permitted to operate at the General Hospital and since the patient is charged with murder he cannot be removed from there.  Well, we will see what the courts have to say about that, too.” Judge Schmidt responded with a court order which permitted the outside physicians to perform the surgery on Gray’s brain.

Surgery was scheduled for September 8, 1934, but after he took a turn for the better the operation was put on hold indefinitely. Ten days later, Gray appeared in court once again. He was still bandaged and in a wheel chair. He entered a not guilty plea and he still publicly contended that Betty had shot him first and then killed herself.

McNeer and Hahn were in court on October 25th for opening statements. Gray was a pathetic sight. Would the jury be swayed in his favor even if they believed his misery was self-inflicted?  Hahn outlined his case for the jury.  He said that he was going to prove:

  • That Mrs. McNeer on three previous occasions had threatened to end her own life.
  • That several nights before the shooting, Mrs. McNeer went to the home of Harry B. Harris, special officer, at 1030 Hyperion Avenue, and sought to borrow his gun.
  • That the day before the shooting Mrs. McNeer called again at Harris’s home and remained there alone for some time.

Court adjourned when Gray collapsed and had to be returned to the County Jail Hospital.

The following day Gray was in court moaning, groaning and muttering incoherently. He yelled out: “You wouldn’t treat a yellow dog like you are treating me; why don’t somebody give me something?”  Following a few more outbursts, Judge Burnell addressed Gray: “You will have to keep quiet; this sort of thing will not be allowed at all, Mr. McNeer.  Thi sort of theatricalism has got to stop right now, and you might as well know it.”  Then the judge turned to Hahn and said: “Can’t you do something with your client, Mr. Hahn?”

mcneer and mother at trialHahn objected to the Judge’s admonition and there was a short recess.  Once back in the courtroom, Judge Burnell spoke to the jury:  “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I am making this statement to you at the suggestion and with the consent of counsel for both sides, the People and the defendant.  You, of course, could not help but observe the fact yesterday afternoon that the defendant was making more or loess noise, talking and groaning, and the Court made some remarks about ceasing the theatricals, or something of that sort.  That, of course, is something that you haven’t any business to pay any attention to, and I want you to entirely disregard it.  The defendant is here   on trial for one specific offense, and all the jury have any right to consider whatever is the evidence in the case and nothing else.  I know you will appreciate that and be able to do that, but for your information, in view of the apparent condition of the defendant, I am trying now to get hold of Dr. Blank, the jail physician, to come down here and tell us whether he thinks from his examination of the defendant there is any reason why the case should not continue. In other words, whether or not the defendant is in a condition physically and mentally that will preclude going ahead with the trial.  Until we hear from Dr. Blank, we will go ahead, and if there is any demonstration on the part of the defendant, you will disregard it.  You are not here to try anything except the facts in this case.”

Dr. Blank examined Gray and ascertained that he was in more pain than he had been in previously and that he was on sedatives continuously.  The doctor feared that Gray’s sanity was being affected and advised the judge to suspend the proceedings until a determination could be made.

The judge did exactly what Dr. Blank had advised him to do, and the trial was continued to October 29, 1934 at 10:00 a.m.  Gray’s sanity would be decided then based on an examination conducted by Drs. Benjamin Blank, Victor Parkin and Paul Bowers.

NEXT TIME: Will Gray McNeer’s trial continue

Marion Linden’s Life of Crime, Part 1

In March 1932 the Elyria, Ohio Chronicle Telegram sang the praises of an Avon High School sophomore for scoring ten field goals, bringing his team to its eleventh straight win for the season. The young man had his whole life ahead of him.

Fast forward to Omaha, Nebraska, April 1936. Marion James Linden, former high school grid iron star from Ohio, was living up to the speed he showed in scoring ten field goals. Unfortunately, the 23-year-old was speeding towards a life of crime. Marion was busted for stealing two automobiles, kidnapping three men and staging a holdup in only 45 minutes. Quite an accomplishment.

News-UT-OG_ST_EX.1936_04_03_LINDEN_headlineWhy was Marion on a crime spree? He told reporters: “I wanted to commit self-destruction in such a way my insurance policy would not be invalidated through the suicide clause.” Suicide by cop would have been his parents the princely sum of $1200 (equivalent to $20,814.77 in current USD). No doubt the cash would have helped his family weather the Depression. Marion entered a guilty plea, but a few days later he reappeared in court and changed his plea to innocent. He was placed on probation for 2 years.

By early February 1937, Marion was living in Denver, Colorado. By mid-February he was in jail on a murder charge. Marion shot Arlene, his 18-year-old bride of two months, in the heart.NEWS-NE-EV_ST_JO.1937_02_22_LINDEN_headline

Marion believed that while he was in Texas trying to find employment as an oil field worker, Arlene was in Denver having an affair. When Marion returned from Texas he immediately went to the home of his in-laws, the Cochrans, where Arlene was staying. He told Detective Captain James E. Childers that he pleaded with Arlene to give up her lover, and when she refused he shot her. But there may have been more to Marion’s motive than jealousy. Capt. Childers quoted Marion as saying that a divorce would have revealed a violation of his Nebraska probation agreement and he would have been compelled to return there to serve out the three year sentence for his mini-crime spree in April 1936.

News-CO-GR_DA_TR.1937_04_24_LINDEN_headlineMarion was convicted of voluntary manslaughter. Judge Henry A. Hicks pronounced sentence–from seven to eight years in the state penitentiary. Lewis D. Mowry, Marion’s attorney, said that the his client had no plans to appeal, nor would he seek a new trial.

After serving only three years of his sentence, Marion was released in 1940. At that point he falls off the radar. Did Marion go straight? As an ex-con he may have found it difficult to get a fresh start, but If he committed any further crimes they weren’t newsworthy.

Marion resurfaced in Los Angeles in 1957 where he would once again be the topic of news stories.

Next time:Marion’s story concludes.

The Black Dahlia: Conclusion

Two years passed with police no closer to a solution for the murder of Elizabeth Short. The 1949 Los Angeles Grand Jury intended to hold LAPD’s feet to the fire for failing to solve the Dahlia case and several other unsolved homicides and disappearances of women.

dahlia_herald_3_the black dahliaOn September 6, 1949 the jury’s foreman, Harry Lawson, told reporters that a meeting of the jury’s administrative committee was scheduled for September 8. First on the -committee’s agenda — the unsolved homicides. Lawson said: “There is every possibility that we will summon before the jury officers involved in the investigation of these murders. We find it odd that there are on the books of the Los Angeles Police Deportment many unsolved crimes of this type.”

The Grand Jury further concluded that: “Because of the nature of these murder and sex crimes women and children are constantly placed in jeopardy and are not safe from attack.” They also decided that something is “radically wrong with the present system for apprehending the guilty, the alarming increase in the number of unsolved murders and other major crimes reflects ineffectiveness in law enforcement agencies and the courts and that should not be tolerated.” jeanne and frank pic

I would argue that the jury and law enforcement had not yet adapted to changes in the post-war world. Cops were unaccustomed to stranger murders; and I believe several of the women whose cases they had been investigating were killed or taken by either a complete stranger or a recent acquaintance Then, as now, when a woman is murdered her killer is usually her husband, boyfriend or another man in her life. It is my contention that it wasn’t corruption within law enforcement agencies that prevented them from solving crimes “of this type”. The police were doing solid detective work but their investigative methods hadn’t caught up with the times. There were men walking the streets of Los Angeles who had been severely damaged by their war experiences–how many of them were capable of murder?

 Murder Car -- this is the auto in which the body of Mrs. Louise Springer was found slain.  The car was parked at 136 W. 38th St.  The discover has touched off the widest man hunt since the slaying of the Black Dahlia.

Murder Car — this is the auto in which the body of Mrs. Louise Springer was found slain. The car was parked at 136 W. 38th St. The discovery touched off the widest man hunt since the slaying of the Black Dahlia.

LAPD detectives did their due diligence in Short’s slaying. There were more than 2700 reports taken on the case. There were over 300 named suspects. Fifty had been arrested and subsequently released. There had been nineteen confessions–none of which panned out.

In 1949 the DA’s office issued a report on the investigation into Short’s murder. In part the report stated: “[she] knew at least fifty men at the time of her death and at least 25 men had been seen with her within the 60 day period preceding her death. She was not a prostitute. She has been confused with a Los Angeles prostitute by the same name…She was known as a teaser of men. She would ride with them, chisel a place to sleep, clothes or money, but she would then refuse to have sexual intercourse by telling them that she was a virgin or that she was engaged or married. There were three known men who did have sexual intercourse with her and according to them she got no pleasure out of this act. According to the autopsy surgeon her sex organs indicated female trouble. She was known to have disliked queer women very much as well as prostitutes. She was never known to be a narcotic addict.”

Jean Spangler [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Jean Spangler [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Good intentions didn’t get the grand jury any concrete answers to the unsolved homicides or disappearances.. The jury was sidetracked by the continuing saga of local gangster Mickey Cohen and other issues which demanded their attention. In the end they passed the baton to the 1950 grand jury. But they, too, were sidetracked by other issues.

Despite the efforts of the grand jury, the homicides or disappearances of the following women remain unsolved to this day: Elizabeth Short, Jeanne French, Rosenda Mondragon, Laura Trelstad, Gladys Kern, Louise Springer, Mimi Boomhower, and Jean Spangler.

NOTE: This concludes my Black Dahlia posts for 2017. I invite you to stay with me as I unearth more of L.A.’s most deranged crimes.

The Black Dahlia: Confessions of a Benzedrine Eater

charles_lynchA couple of weeks following the one year anniversary of the slaying of Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia, LAPD detectives were still trying to solve the case that would eventually become L.A.’s most infamous unsolved homicide.

Cops thought maybe they’d finally caught a break in the case when twenty-three year old Charles E. Lynch telephoned the homicide squad asking that they come and arrest him for Short’s slaying.

Lynch was arrested and brought to the Central Jail to be interrogated.  The young transient was questioned at length by Det. Lts. Harry Hansen and Finis A. Brown, the two detectives who had been assigned to the case since January 15, 1947 when Short’s body was found in a Leimert Park vacant lot.  Dr. J. Paul DeRiver, police psychiatrist, accompanied Hansen and Brown to the questioning of their new suspect.

It didn’t take long for the seasoned detectives and the shrink to conclude that Lynch was lying to them; and when he was challenged on the details of his confession Lynch promptly repudiated it.

Of course the detectives wanted to know what had motivated Lynch to confess to the gruesome murder in the first place, and that’s when he told them that the idea came to him after he read a newspaper “one year anniversary” account of the crime.benz_headline

The newspaper account of the Black Dahlia case may have given initially motivated Lynch to confess, but his real inspiration came from a Benzedrine inhaler.  He told Hansen, Brown and DeRiver that he bought an inhaler, tore off the wrapper, ate the contents and washed them down with a glass of water — it was then, Lynch said, that he decided to confess.

NEXT TIME: Conclusion of the Black Dahlia case.

The Black Dahlia: Could A Woman Be The Killer?

00010485_beth_sketch

Sketch of Jane Doe #1 prior to her ID as Elizabeth Short.

Max Handler with Det. Ed Barrett (in hat and glasses). [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Max Handler with Det. Ed Barrett (in hat and glasses). [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Dozens of men had been interviewed as possible suspects in the murder of Elizabeth Short. None of the interviews had panned out. A seemingly endless stream of false confessors appeared at various police stations around town; guys like Max Handler, a film bit player, who was the 25th man to claim he had murdered the Black Dahlia. During a lie detector test he admitted that his confession was false and that he “wanted to get away from a gang of men who have been following me constantly”. In the photo he looks to have been on a lobotomizing bender.

Daniel S. Voorhies, a 33 year old army vet, also confessed to killing Short. He said that he’d had an affair with her in L.A. — the problem with his story was that at the time he claimed that he and Short were having a torrid affair, Beth was a very young teenager living on the east coast.

The local landscape was littered with crumpled up false confessions given by every sad drunk and deranged publicity seeker — and most of the confessors were men; but not all of them.

False confessor, Minnie Sepulveda. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

False confessor, Minnie Sepulveda. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

A gal named Minnie Sepulveda stepped up and said that she had killed the Black Dahlia. She hadn’t.

Mrs. Marie Grieme said that she had heard a Chicago woman confess to the Black Dahlia’ murder. Her story didn’t lead anywhere.

Even though none of the women who had confessed had been guilty, the cops were beginning to think that it wasn’t out of the question that Short’s slayer had been a woman. After all, L.A. had had its share of female killers.

The Herald ran side-by-side photos of three infamous homicidal women who had been busted in L.A., Louise Peete (one of only four women ever to have been executed by the State of California) was a serial killer. She’d been busted for murder in the 1920s, did eighteen years, and following her release from prison committed yet another murder for which she paid with her life.

dahlia_herald_16_women_killersWinnie Ruth Judd committed two murders in Arizona. She was busted in L.A. when a trunk containing the dismembered remains of Hedvig Samuelson and Anne Le Roi began to get a little ripe and leak bodily fluids in the baggage claim section of a local train station.

winnie_ruth_trunks_00021264

Winnie Ruth Judd’s trunks. [Photo courtesy LAPL]

In 1922, Clara Phillips (aka “Tiger Girl”) murdered Alberta Meadows, the woman she suspected was a rival for her husband’s affections. She struck Meadows repeatedly with a hammer and, for the coup de gras, she rolled a 50 lb. boulder on top of the corpse.

Body of Alberta Meadows -- victim of Clara Phillips' wrath. [Photo courtesy of UCLA]

Body of Alberta Meadows — victim of Clara Phillips’ wrath. [Photo courtesy of UCLA]

So, the notion that a woman could be Short’s killer wasn’t far-fetched at all. The Herald had featured a series of columns written by psychologist Alice La Vere. La Vere had previously profiled Short’s killer as a young man without a criminal record, but she was very open to the idea of a female killer. She abruptly shifted gears from identifying a young man as the slayer to “…a sinister Lucrezia Borgia — a butcher woman whose crime dwarfs any in the modern crime annals — are shadowed over the mutilated body of 22-year-old Elizabeth Short.”

Obviously La Vere was an expert for hire, and if the Herald editors had asked her to write a convincing profile of the killer as a mutant alien from Mars, she’d likely have done it. Still, she made some compelling comments in her column for the newspaper.

“Murders leave behind them a trail of fingerprints, bits of skin and hair. The slayer of “The Black Dahlia” left the most tell-tale clue of all–the murder pattern of a degenerate, vicious feminine mind.”

Even more interesting was La Vere’s exhortation to the cops to look for an older woman. She said:

“Police investigators should look for a woman older than ‘The Black Dahlia’. This woman who either inspired the crime or actually committed the ghastly, unspeakable, outrage, need not be a woman of great strength. Extreme emotion or high mental tension in men and women give great, superhuman strength.”

If you compare Alice La Vere’s profile of the possible killer to a profile created by John E. Douglas, who is retired from the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) — La Vere’s sixty-nine year old profile holds up rather well.

What I find interesting about La Vere’s profile of a female perpetrator is that she said that the woman would be older than Short. In recent years an older woman did become an integral part of a theory about the crime.

It is a theory put forward by researcher, Larry Harnisch. Larry wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times on the fiftieth anniversary of Short’s death. Subsequently, he has done a lot more digging into the case and has unearthed an important connection between the body dump site near 39th and Norton, and two medical doctors. One of the doctors, Walter Alonzo Bayley, had lived in a house just one block south of the place where Elizabeth Short’s body had been discovered. At the time of the murder he was estranged from his wife who still occupied the home. Bayley had left his wife for his mistress, Alexandra Partyka, also a medical doctor. Partyka had emigrated to the U.S. and wasn’t licensed to practice medicine, but she did assist Bayley in his practice.

bayley_partyka2Following Bayley’s death in January 1948, Partyka and Dr. Bayley’s wife, Ruth, fought over control of his estate. Mrs. Bayley claimed that Partyka had been blackmailing the late doctor with secrets about his medical practice that could have ruined him.

There is also a link between Bayley’s family and Short’s. In 1945 Dr. Bayley’s adopted daughters, Barbara Lindgren, was a witness to the marriage of Beth’s sister, Virginia Short, to Adrian West at a church in Inglewood, California, near Los Angeles.

Larry discussed Dr. Bayley in James Ellroy’s 2001 “Feast of Death”. [Note: Be forewarned that there are photos of Elizabeth Short in the morgue.]

It is clear that a woman could have murdered Elizabeth Short; but could the woman have been Dr. Bayley’s mistress, Alexandra Partyka? The chances are that we’ll never know–or at least not until Larry Harnisch finishes his book on the case.

NEXT TIME: Another confession, and another murder.

The Black Dahlia: The Case Goes Cold — Or Does It?

beth_flowerElizabeth Short’s murder dominated the front pages of the Evening Herald & Express for days following the discovery of her body in Leimert Park on January 15, 1947..

But even in a murder case as sensational as that of the Black Dahlia the more time that elapses following the crime the fewer clues there are on which to report. The fact that the case was going cold didn’t dampen the Herald’s enthusiastic coverage one little bit. The paper sought out psychiatrists psychologists, and mystery writers who would attempt, each in his/her own way, to analyze the case and fill column space in the paper as they, and the cops, waited for a break. Decades before the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) was founded the shrinks and writers whose work appeared in the Herald were engaging in speculative profiles of both the victim and her killer.

One of the psychologists tapped by the Herald to contribute her analysis of the victim and slayer was Alice La Vere.  La Vere was introduced as “…one of the nation’s most noted consulting psychologists”. According to the newspaper, Miss La Vere would give to readers: “an analysis of the motives which led to the torture murder of beautiful 22-year-old Elizabeth Short”. La Vere’s analysis seems surprisingly contemporary.

Here is an excerpt from her profile of Short’s personality:

“Some gnawing feeling of inadequacy was eating at the mind of this girl. She needed constant proof to herself that she was important to someone and demonstrates this need by the number of suitors and admirers with which she surrounded herself.”

La Vere went on to describe the killer:

“It is very likely that this is the first time this boy has committed any crime. It is also likely that he may be a maladjusted veteran. The lack of social responsibility experienced by soldiers, their conversational obsession with sex, their nerves keyed to battle pitch — these factors are crime-breeding.” She further stated: “Repression of the sex impulse accompanied by environmental maladjustment is the slayer’s probable background.”

How does La Vere’s profile of Elizabeth Short and her killer compare the analysis by retired FBI profiler John Douglas? Douglas suggested that Beth was “needy” and that her killer would have “spotted her a mile away”. He said that the killer “would have been a lust killer and loved hurting people.”

On the salient points, I’d say that La Vere and Douglas were of like minds regarding Elizabeth Short and her killer — wouldn’t you?craig_rice_Time

At the time of Elizabeth Short’s murder, mystery writer Craig Rice (pseudonym of Georgiana Ann Randolph Walker Craig) was one of the most popular crime writers in the country. In its January 28, 1946 issue,TIME magazine selected Rice for a cover feature on the mystery genre. Sadly, Rice has been largely forgotten by all except the most avid mystery geeks (like me).

Craig Rice was invited by the Herald to give her take on the Black Dahlia case in late January 1947. Rice described Elizabeth Short in this way:

“A black dahlia is what expert gardeners call ‘an impossibility’ of nature. Perhaps that is why lovely, tragic Elizabeth Short was tortured, murdered and mutilated Because such a crime could happen only in the half-world in which she lived. A world of–shadows.”

NEXT TIME: Did a woman kill the Black Dahlia?

 

The Black Dahlia: Aggie Gets Off the Bench

Prior to being benched by her city editor, Aggie had made some headway in her coverage of Elizabeth Short’s murder. She had interviewed Robert “Red” Manley, the first suspect in the case, and had concluded that he was innocent. Her interview had earned her a by-line. As far as I know she was the only Los Angeles reporter to get a by-line in the case.

dahlia_herald_14_aggie_bylineIn her 1949 autobiography, Newspaperwoman, Aggie said that she came across Elizabeth’s nickname when she was checking in with Ray Giese, a LAPD homicide detective-lieutenant. According to Aggie, Giese said: “This is something you might like, Agness. I’ve found out they called her the ‘Black Dahlia’ around that drug store where she hung out down in Long Beach.”

Like it? Aggie loved it. Los Angeles, in particular the Hearst newspapers, seemed to have a penchant for naming homicide cases after flowers. Over the years orchids, roses, and gardenias would feature in many grim headlines.

Aggie longed to be back in the field chasing leads and sniffing out suspects, but she was officially off the case for the second time. After a few days of sitting at her desk working on an embroidery project, to the amusement of her co-workers and the dismay of her supervisors, an announcement was made that Aggie’s new assignment would be the city desk. She was flabbergasted. She had just become one of the first women in the United States to hold a city editorship on a major metropolitan daily!

Aggie at a crime scene (not the Dahlia) c. 1940s.

Aggie at a crime scene (not the Dahlia) c. 1940s.

Why had Aggie been removed from the Black Dahlia case in the first place? There are those who believe that there was a cover-up and that Aggie was getting too close to a solution to Short’s murder, so someone with enough juice had her promoted to keep her out of the way. That doesn’t make sense to me, as city editor she directed the activities of all the reporters working the case, and she wasn’t the sort of person who could have been bought. Nevertheless, the timing of Aggie’s promotion remains an intriguing part Dahlia lore.

With Aggie back in the thick of things, the Herald continued to follow every lead. Sadly, the victim of a homicide is often re-victimized by the press. Murder victims lose their right to privacy; all of their secrets are revealed, and in an effort to fill column space while multiple leads were being tracked, the Herald looked to psychiatrists, Elizabeth’s acquaintances, and even mystery writers, to speculate on the case, which they did with creative abandon.

The psychiatrist whose expert opinion was sought by the Herald was Dr. Paul De River, LAPD’s very own shrink. He wrote a series of articles for the paper in which he attempted to analyze the mind of the killer. De River wrote that the killer was a sadist and suggested that: “during the killing episode, he had an opportunity to pump up affect from two sources — from his own sense of power and in overcoming the resistance of another. He was the master and the victim was the slave”.

Dr. De River

Dr. De River

In one of his most chilling statements, De River hinted at necrophilia—he  said: “It must also be remembered that sadists of this type have a super-abundance of curiosity and are liable to spend much time with their victims after the spark of life has flickered and died”.

People who had only a fleeting acquaintance with Elizabeth (who frequently called herself Betty or Beth) were interviewed by reporters  and they weighed in on everything from her hopes and dreams to her love life. Beth was, by turns, described as “a man-crazy delinquent”, and a girl with “childlike charm and beauty”. The interviews yielded nothing of value in the hunt for Beth’s killer.

The cops weren’t having any better luck.

 NEXT TIME: The Black Dahlia case goes cold. Or does it?

The Black Dahlia: Robert “Red” Manley

In his 1991 autobiography, “Reporters”: Memoirs of a Young Newspaperman, Will Fowler recalled that one of his colleagues, Baker Conrad, had noticed a telegram among Elizabeth Short’s effects.  The Examiner’s editor, Jim Richardson, dispatched Fowler to the address on the telegram, 8010 Mountain View Avenue in South Gate.

When Fowler arrived at the bungalow court he was greeted by “A strikingly beautiful red-haired young woman.”  Fowler may not have actually said he was a cop, but he let the woman, Harriet Manley, believe he was law enforcement.

Robert "Red" Manley with his wife Harriette. [LAPL Photo]

Robert “Red” Manley with his wife Harriette. [LAPL Photo]

During her conversation with Fowler, Harriet said that Red had phoned her from San Francisco after seeing his name in the newspapers in connection with Elizabeth Short’s murder.  Red tried to reassure Harriet that he’d had nothing to do with the slaying and told her that he “loved her more than any man ever loved his wife.”

At about 10:00 pm on January 19th a couple of LAPD sergeants, J.W. Wass and Sam Flowers, were staking out the home of Red’s employer in Eagle Rock where the wanted man was expected to arrive shortly.  When Red pulled up in his sedan the officers approached him with their guns drawn. An Examiner photographer was there to capture the arrest.  Red looks like a deer in the headlights as Sgt. Flowers handcuffs him.

Robert "Red" Manley busted in Eagle Rock. Photo courtesy LAPL.

Robert “Red” Manley busted in Eagle Rock. Photo courtesy LAPL.

Aggie Underwood interviewed Red early in the morning of January 20th at LAPD’s Hollenbeck station. She recalled the interview in her 1949 autobiography Newspaperwoman:

“You look as if you’ve been on a drunk,” I said in sizing up the suspect. I was ready to talk sympathetically about hangovers.  That approach won’t work always, but Red looked like a guy reporters might meet at a bar and find a congenial drinking companion, possible criminal or not.

“This is worse than any I’ve ever been on,” he replied.  Perry Fowler, the photographer assigned to the case with me, caught the cue we had used repeatedly in softening subjects and stepped forward with a cigarette, which Manley took gratefully.

“Look, fella,” I continued as he inhaled.  “You’re in one hell of a spot.  You’re in a jam and it’s no secret.  If you’re as innocent as you say you are, tell the whole storey; and if you haven’t anything to hide, people can’t help knowing you’re telling the truth.  That way, you’ll get it over with all at once and it won’t be kicking around to cause you more trouble.”

Red didn’t need any further encouragement to unburden himself to Aggie. He told her how he’d initially picked Elizabeth up on a San Diego street corner. How they had spent an “erotically uneventful” night in a motel and how he had eventually dropped her off at the Biltmore Hotel on January 9th.

Red finished his tale with: “I’ll never pick up another dame as long as I live.”

Robert Manley in high school c. 1940.  Photo from Ancestry.

Robert Manley in high school c. 1940. Photo from Ancestry.

Aggie believed Red was innocent, and shared her gut feelings with the police. Red had been forthcoming in his interview and Aggie knew right away that he wasn’t a killer. Red was just a frightened man with goofy ideas about love tests.

If there was one thing that Aggie detested it was a sob sister.  For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a sob sister is a female journalist who writes overly sentimental copy. That sort of journalism was never Aggie’s thing. She said: “A sob sister could have wept with and over Manley, interpolating, editorial gushes to prove what a big bleeding heart beat in her breast.  To hell with that.  I’d rather have a fistful—an armload—of good solid facts.”

Aggie at her desk c. 1949.  Photo courtesy LAPL. [Yes, that it a baseball bat on her desk. Aggie had a way of dealing with overzealous Hollywood agents.

Aggie at her desk c. 1949. Photo courtesy LAPL. [Yes, that’s a baseball bat on her desk. Aggie had a way of dealing with over zealous Hollywood press agents.]

It was the armload of facts that made Aggie’s interview with Red Manley so compelling. In fact her city editor, who normally cautioned her to keep her copy short, let the entire interview run without a ton of photos. He knew a good interview when he read one.

Why, then, in the midst of covering of the murder was Aggie unceremoniously yanked off the story?  Without any warning or explanation Aggie suddenly found herself benched.  The city editor had pulled her off the story and let her cool her heels in the newsroom without a thing to do.

Aggie spent a couple of miserable days at her desk bored out of her mind. Then she got pissed-off enough to fight back. She didn’t get huffy or raise her voice. She brought in an embroidery project.  Shortly the other newsroom denizens were snickering. One of the other newswomen, Caroline Walker, said: “What do you think of that?  Here’s the best reporter on the Herald, on the biggest day of one of the best stories in years—sitting in the office doing fancy work!”

The next day Aggie was reassigned to the story—only to be pulled off a second time.  What the hell was going on?

NEXT TIME: Aggie gets a big surprise as the investigation into Elizabeth Short’s murder continues.