End of Watch: Nathan Oscar Longfellow — Thanksgiving Day, 1923

There is no such thing as a routine day in law enforcement. On Thanksgiving Day, 1923, a City of San Fernando motor officer, Nathan Oscar Longfellow, rode out to the scene of a reported riot on the 1300 block of Celis Drive.

NYPD motor officer on his motorcycle c. 1920

One hundred people filled the street, none of them too stuffed with turkey and pie to celebrate the holiday. There was no riot. The large gathering was peaceful except for one man, Francisco Casade, 45, a laborer who was drunk, loud, and creating a disturbance.

Longfellow rolled up on his motorcycle prepared to quell a riot. He found one unruly drunk.

Nathan Oscar Longfellow

Before a crowd of witnesses, Longfellow placed Casade under arrest for disturbing the peace and placed him in the sidecar of his motorcycle.  As the motorcycle pulled away Casade attempted to escape.

Witnesses watched as Longfellow tried to restrain his prisoner.  Casade produced an automatic pistol he had concealed under his vest. He fired three times. Longfellow dropped to the pavement.

The crowd, enraged by the shooting, fought Casade to the ground and held him until other officers arrived.

An ambulance transported Longfellow to the San Fernando Hospital where he died a few days later. The officer was a 21-year-old former clerk who had had joined the San Fernando Police Department 13-months earlier.

Fearing that citizens in the neighborhood would storm the local jail and lynch him, police took Casade to the Los Angeles County Jail and held him without bond.

The county grand jury heard testimony from J.W. Thompson, Chief of Police in San Fernando, Deputy Sheriff Charles Catlin, who investigated the case, and Mrs. G. Strathern, a witness to the shooting. The statements were enough indict Casade for Longfellow’s murder.

On January 11, 1924, the jury in the Francisco Casade trial informed Judge Reeve that they could not reach a verdict. The judge ordered them sequestered until the morning of the 12th. Maybe all the jury needed was an overnight incentive.

The jurors tried, but they squared off: six for hanging and six for life imprisonment. A conference between the District Attorney’s office and the judge resulted in a continuance until January 14.

Judge Reeve had no choice but to dismiss the jury after the foreman told him that six of the jurors held out for hanging and would not budge. They ordered a second trial to begin on January 18.

Casade’s public defender tried to use his client’s intoxication as a mitigating circumstance. He failed to convince his recalcitrant client to plead guilty and avoid the death penalty. Casade rolled the dice.

After two hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of guilty for first degree murder. They sentenced Casade to hang.

Appeals are automatic in a death penalty case, and Casade’s snaked its way through the system to the State Supreme Court.  In September 1924 the court upheld the sentence.

Holidays proved unlucky for Casade. He killed officer Longfellow on Thanksgiving Day 1923 and hanged for the crime on Valentine’s Day 1925.

On this day when we give thanks, let’s honor those people who have paid the ultimate price to keep us and those we love safe: law enforcement, firefighters, members of the military. They deserve our respect and support.

Nathan Oscar Longellow

In memory of Nathan Oscar Longfellow, a young man who never got the chance to fulfill his dreams, the following poem by an unknown author.

“Policeman’s Prayer

When I start my tour of duty God,
Wherever crime may be,
as I walk the darkened streets alone,
Let me be close to thee.

Please give me understanding with both the young and old.
Let me listen with attention until their story’s told.
Let me never make a judgment in a rash or callous way,
but let me hold my patience let each man have his say.

Lord if some dark and dreary night,
I must give my life,
Lord, with your everlasting love
protect my children and my wife.

November 1969: The Scientology Murders

On Saturday, November 22, 1969, a man living in the Pico Union district found the mutilated bodies of Doreen Gaul, 19, and James Sharp, 15 in an alley between Arapahoe Street and Magnolia Avenue, south of 11th Street.

Doreen was naked except for a string of multicolored beads—hippie beads—de rigueur for teenage girls in 1969. James wore a corduroy jacket, striped T-shirt and black Levis—the uniform of teenage boys.

Someone stabbed Doreen and James between 50 and 60 times each.  Seventeen of the stab wounds inflicted on Doreen were near her heart. She was raped. Their right eyes were cut out. The overkill recalled the brutality in the Tate/La Bianca murders in August, but police uncovered no link between Doreen and James and the other victims.

Following the autopsy, the coroner concluded that Doreen was a recent arrival in Los Angeles because her lungs were smog free. The coroner was right, Doreen came to Los Angeles from Albany, New York a few months earlier to study Scientology. James was also a recent arrival to Los Angeles. He traveled west from Crestview, a St. Louis, Missouri suburb.  He came to study Scientology, too. In fact, their study of Scientology was the only thing linking them.

DOREEN GAUL

Scientology, founded in 1950 by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, was attractive to Baby Boomers, teenagers in the 1960s, who sought spiritual guidance in non-traditional religions, communes, and radical political ideologies.

In Los Angeles Scientology provided communal living arrangements in a few of the old mansions in Pico Union and near MacArthur Park. Doreen lived at 1032 S. Bonnie Brae Street and James lived less than a quarter of a mile away at 921 S. Bonnie Brae Street. On the evening of the murders Doreen left “Thetan Manor” to meet with James who was going to “audit” her.

For those of you unfamiliar with the basic tenets of Scientology, Thetan is “an immortal spiritual being; the human soul.”  An audit is conducted by a Scientology minister or minister-in training using an electropsychometer (E-Meter) to locate and confront areas of spiritual upset.  For Scientologists the E-Meter is a religious artifact used as a spiritual guide.

E-Meters are more sophisticated today than they were in 1969 when they were nothing more than a galvanometer with two tin cans attached—not unlike many quack devices marketed before and since to the gullible.

The Federal Drug Administration stepped in when L. Ron Hubbard made unsubstantiated claims about the E-Meter’s medical capabilities.  

In a Court of Appeals decision, still in effect today, every E-meter must bear a warning that states, “The E-Meter is not medically or scientifically useful for the diagnosis, treatment or prevention of any disease. It is not medically or scientifically capable of improving the health or bodily functions of anyone.”

The mainstream press characterized Scientology as a “cult” and a “mystical, quasi-scientific organization.” The organization cooperated with the Los Angeles Police Department at first, but dragged their feet when asked to provide a comprehensive membership list.  LAPD Det. Lt. Earl A. Deemer wanted to explore any possible connection between the murders of Doreen and James and a Jane Doe slaying from several months before. The marked similarities in the three murders struck Deemer as more than a coincidence. He described the crimes to reporters: “All three victims were stabbed, and their wounds appeared to be the work of a ‘fanatic’.  None of the three was slain where the bodies were found. The Jane Doe of the previous killing wore hippie-like attire which resembled that in which Miss Gaul had been seen and which is favored by many young females in the organization [Scientology].”

Deemer wanted to talk to Hubbard personally about the membership list, but the Scientology leader was adrift at sea, literally. He was on his private yacht to avoid a hefty tax bill that awaited him on land.

L. RON HUBBARD

On behalf of Scientology Rev. Natalie Fisher, resident agent of the organization quartered at 2773 W. Temple Street stated, “This organization has no facts or information regarding the circumstances of the crime, but we are doing everything in our power to assist law enforcement agencies to see that justice is done.”

The families of the young victims were devastated by their loss. James’ father was a prosperous salesman and he permitted James to leave high school to study Scientology in Los Angeles.

Doreen’s friends said that following her graduation from a parochial high school in the spring of 1968, she became a devotee of Scientology. Her switch from Roman Catholicism surprised her friends, but not her father. He described Doreen as a “. . . good kid, but an emotional kid.  She was always looking for green grass and rainbows.”

The investigation into the random slayings continued but police never located the place where Doreen and James were murdered.  Solving a crime without locating the place where it happened is challenging.  Police never solved the infamous Black Dahlia case in 1947 either.  The victim in that case, 22-year-old Elizabeth Short, was murdered in a place they never found and her dismembered body was dumped in a weedy vacant lot in Leimert Park.

Police stated that there was no clear connection between the slayings of Doreen and James and 11 unsolved murders (including the five Tate murders) committed in the county since January 1969.

The two teenagers traveled to Los Angeles seeking spiritual enlightenment, why did they end up brutalized and discarded in an alley? Were Doreen and James the victims of a serial killer?  Did a member or members of the Manson family kill them as some suspect?  Fifty years later we have no answers, and we may never get them, the case remains unsolved.

Deadly Women

For the past 10 years or so I’ve appeared in episodes of the Investigation Discovery true crime series, DEADLY WOMEN.

The season, which is the show’s 13th, begins tomorrow night, August 22 [check your local listings for details]. Look for me in the following episodes — the name in bold type is the case I’m covering.

They are all unhinged.

Episode 3
A FAMILY TRAGEDY
Aurea Vazquez Rijos
Pamela Lee Worms
Helen Levina

8/22/2019


Episode 6
VOW TO KILL
Featuring:
Jane Leslie Carpenter
Emma LeDoux
Lindy Williams
9/19/19




Episode 7
FATAL FIXATION
Featuring:
Shanna Golyar
Marie Arthur
Lucy Cruz
9/26/19




DITCHED & DESPERATE
Featuring:
Melanie Eam
Amy Hill
Kathryn Preston
10/10/19



LOVELESS
Featuring:
Lisa Segotta
Jacqueline Crymble
Shelly Arndt
10/24/19



Summer of ’69: August 12th — Rosemary & Leno LaBianca

The big story in Los Angeles on August 12, 1969 was the release of nineteen-year-old William Garretson, the caretaker at the Cielo Drive estate where five people and the unborn son of Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski murdered a few days before.

William Garretson (center)

William was the only survivor of the slaughter which made him suspect number one. Police arrested William at the point of a shotgun and grilled him for hours. He agreed to take a polygraph test and passed.  Inspector Harold Yarnell said: “There is not sufficient evidence to hold Garretson.  There is no reason to suspect him.”

Wearing a deer-in-the-headlights expression, William’s attorney, Barry Tarlow, escorted him through the lobby of LAPD’s administration building. The nineteen-year-old, who appeared on the verge of tears, declined to answer any of the barrage of questions called out to him by eager news reporters.  He let his lawyer do the talking.

Tarlow told reporters his client said goodnight to Steven Parent at 11:30 p.m. Friday, then went back inside the guesthouse to listen to his stereo.  He wasn’t aware of anything until LAPD officers kicked in his door and took him away on Saturday morning.

William shared an address with Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski, but they lived on different planets.  Sharon and Roman were in the movie industry; they were among the “beautiful people.” Roman’s big break came in June 1968 with the release of “Rosemary’s Baby.”  His career as an A-list director was underway.

Still a teenager, William wasn’t sure what he wanted out of life. He spoke to his mother of an interest in acting, but his aspiration was as common as a cold and easier to catch when living in L.A. Thousands of young people flock to the city seeking stardom – they have been coming here since the 1910s.  Far from hanging out with the beautiful people, William had more in common with “Hollywood Blvd drifters, hitchhikers, and drugstore cowboys,” many of whom he brought home with him when they needed a place to crash.

Police wanted to speak to members of both groups – killers defy social strata. William offered names of people he knew, but he didn’t believe any of them capable of the murders.

William’s release featured prominently on the front page of the Los Angeles Times, but there was another intriguing and disturbing story on page 3.  The double murder in Los Feliz of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca.

Leno, 44, and Rosemary, 37, were stabbed to death Sunday in their home at 3301 Waverly Drive. The killing of the couple was similar in many to ways to the murders of Sharon Tate and her friends on Saturday.  Police Sergeant Bryce Houchin said, “There is a similarity in the slayings. But whether it’s the same suspect or a copycat, we just don’t know.”

Sgt. Houchin appeared open to the idea that the murders could be connected, but in their official statements LAPD wouldn’t go that far.

On August 12, 1969, reporter Bruce Russell wrote:

Whispers that a psychotic killer was after wealthy resident of isolated homes in the Hollywood hills continued after the murder of Miss Tate and the four others was followed a day later by that of a rich supermarket owner and his wife in a plush home 12 miles away.

IN BOTH SETS of slayings the word “Pig” was smeared in blood at the murder scene, hoods covered the heads of males slain and women had cords around their throats.

Police have showed that the two bloodbaths were unconnected. They said the more recent murders of a grocery chain owner Leno La Bianca, 44, and his wife Rosemary, 37, were those of a psychotic cashing in on the publicity of the so-called Tate murders.

But fear-stricken Hollywood residents rushed to buy guns yesterday for self-protection.

Hollywood glitterati panicked.  They ripped the names and numbers of their drug dealers out of their little black books and waited for the killer’s arrest so life could return to normal.

No one, except some Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department homicide investigators, gave a thought to the gruesome killing that pre-dated the August rampage, the murder of Gary Hinman.

Summer of ’69: August 9th — Murder on Cielo Drive

It was a few minutes into August 9, 1969, and Mrs. Seymour Kott of 10170 Cielo Drive heard a series of claps. She couldn’t identify the source or location of the noise and so she went back to sleep.

Winifred Chapman, maid for director Roman Polanski and his wife actress Sharon Tate, arrived at their home at the far end of Cielo Drive at 8:30 a.m. to begin work. The quiet street is a cul-de-sac between Beverly Glen and Benedict Canyon. Birds chirping, a dog barking or the occasional coyote call are about the only sounds you hear; but there was an unnatural quality to the stillness that morning.

Winifred Chapman

Winifred saw a white two-door Rambler sedan in the driveway.  She didn’t recognize the car and approached it with caution.  She saw a young man behind the wheel slumped over toward the passenger seat. There was blood on his shirt and his left arm.

As she continued toward the sprawling home she found the body of Voytek Frykowski on the front lawn.

Under a fir tree, about 20 yards away, she found Abigail Folger’s bloody body.

The horror followed Winifred into the living room.  Sharon Tate, 8 ½ months pregnant and dressed in her bra and bikini bottom, had a bloody nylon cord wrapped around her neck. The cord looped around a beam in the ceiling.   Someone tied the other end of the cord around Jay Sebring’s neck and placed a black hood on his head.

Terrified, Winifred ran to a neighbor’s home for help.  Fifteen-year-old Jim Asim was preparing to leave when she stopped him screaming, “there’s bodies and blood all over the place!”

Victims being transported to morgue

Asim, a member of Law Enforcement Troop 800 of the Boy Scouts, called the police.  Moments later six LAPD black and whites roared up Cielo Drive to its end where there is a wire gate outside the Polanski residence.  Guns drawn; the officers entered the property. They heard a dog howling behind a guest house and a man’s voice shouted for it to be quiet.

Wire gate outside Polanski residence.

In the guest house, nineteen-year-old William Etson Garretson looked up to see his doorway crowded with police. They had shotguns trained on him.  He was still half asleep, dressed only in pin-striped bell-bottoms.  He did not understand why the cops were there.

After several hours of questioning, they took Garretson into custody and arrested him on suspicion of murder. As the only living person on the premises he was the obvious suspect.  Yet there was no physical evidence tying him to the deaths.

Police in Garretson’s hometown of Lancaster, Ohio, told LAPD investigators the kid had committed one offense of little consequence.  He received a two-year suspended jail sentence in 1967 for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.  Mary Garretson, his 42-year-old mother, told police her son left home in October 1968 “without saying goodbye but had written saying he hoped to return home soon.”

William Garretson (center)

Garretson was a quiet kid and lacked the personality to take control of five adults and viciously murder them.

Garretson didn’t even work for the Polanski’s and had only a vague notion of who they were.  He lived in the guest house and kept to himself.  The property owner, Rudy Altabelli employed him as a caretaker

In Europe when he received the news of the slayings, Altabelli offered no reason for the murders.

Someone cut the telephone lines into the home, which suggested a plan. There was no weapon at the scene except for pieces of a pistol grip.

Telephone line

It was 1969, so it was no surprise that all the victims wore “hippie type” clothes – their mode of dress was enough for the police to search for drugs. They found none.  As far investigators could tell nothing appeared to be missing – which ruled out robbery as a motive.

They found evidence of a struggle and wondered; why had not one of the five victims escaped the carnage?

As LAPD detectives followed scant leads to dead-ends, talk on the street was of the upcoming Aquarian Exposition in White Lake, New York. Many people from L.A. planned to make the trek. Billed as three days of peace and music, the festival promised to be amazing. The younger generation had a chip on its shoulder and something to prove. Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. Fuck Nixon. Fuck the War. Life is beautiful, man.

The dream was already dead.

NEXT TIME:  Two more murders.

Death of a Coed, Part 2

Sheriff’s investigators first believed someone kidnapped Marina. They, and her parents, waited for a ransom demand.  The wait ended almost as soon as it began with the discovery of Marina’s body in the heavy brush down a 30-foot embankment in the 8800 block of Mulholland.

Associated Press index card for Marina Habe

Sheriff’s homicide investigator, Lieutenant Norman Hamilton, told reporters they could not tell if her killer threw or carried Marina down the slope.  Marina still wore the brown capris, white turtleneck sweater and a brown coat with fur cuffs that she wore when she left John Hornburg’s house for her mother’s home.

There were no obvious signs sexual assault.  An autopsy, conducted by coroner Thomas Noguchi, determined Marina’s cause of death as exsanguination and found no evidence of rape. The small amount of cash in Marina’s wallet seemed to rule out robbery as the cause of her abduction and murder.

Her car, left in her mother’s driveway, had the emergency brake pulled up.  Investigators said that it took great strength to get the brake into that position and it was doubtful that Marina could have done it on her own.

Lt. Hamilton speculated that her killer (s) abducted Marina and intended to rape her, but she resisted.  According to Hamilton,  In recent weeks Eloise’s neighborhood, located  three blocks below Sunset Boulevard, was the scene of several recent rapes.

The autopsy revealed that Marina’s killer (s), cut her throat, severing her left carotid artery, and stabbed her multiple times in the chest.  She suffered two black eyes inflicted by a fist and someone beat her with a “small blunt object.” She bled to death.  Despite no physical evidence of forcible rape, detectives felt Marina’s death was an attempted sex crime.

Her parents and 350 others mourned the pretty coed at her funeral. Marina converted to Catholicism in 1966 and they held a requiem Mass for her in the Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Beverly Hills.  Father Acton, who knew Marina in life, said, “We wonder about a society, the products of which can be a large in our midst and capable of such heinous crimes.  There you have the perfect formula for bitterness, resentment, hatred, perhaps despair.  This we must guard against.”

Church of the Good Shepherd, Beverly Hills

Sheriff’s Lieutenant Harold White joined in the hunt for Marina’s killer (s).  He said, “We’re tying very hard. But we have turned up nothing that is even remotely interesting.  There are all kinds of things to check out, but there’s nothing conclusive.”

White told reporters they assigned six homicide investigators to the case full-time and 20 deputies were also working the case.  Despite their best efforts, Marina’s case went cold.

NEXT TIME: Is Marina’s murder connected to a Jane Doe case, and is Charles Manson involved?

Death of a Coed, Part 1

Nineteen-sixty-eight was one of the must tumultuous years of the 20th Century. Globally, it began  with the Tet Offensive. Tet is the beginning of the lunar new year and the most important date on the Vietnamese calendar. It was then that the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong launched surprise attacks on cities throughout South Vietnam. It was a turning point in the Vietnam War, which dragged on for another several years. Student and labor protests during May in Paris and throughout France during the month of May tore the country apart.

In the U.S. hopes for the future died on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel on April 4th in Memphis and in the Ambassador Hotel pantry in Los Angeles on June 6th with the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.

New Year’s Eve 1968 began the countdown to a better year, at least that is what everyone hoped.

Mulholland Drive, the 21-mile long, mostly two-lane road that follows the ridgeline of the eastern Santa Monica Mountains and the Hollywood Hills, is a scenic route that offers breathtaking views of the San Fernando Valley to the north and Hollywood and beyond to the south.  There is scant foot traffic along the road, too many blind curves and a narrow footpath make it tricky to navigate. But the views are spectacular, so on New Year’s Day a couple from Playa del Rey decided it was too nice to stay in their car.

It was 2 pm, and the couple walked along a fire road off Mulholland where they discovered a woman’s handbag.  The bag contained a small amount of cash.  The couple turned the purse over to the police.

Marina Habe  (Credit: LAPD)

Police tentatively identified the bag as belonging to Marina Elizabeth Habe. Seventeen-year-old Marina had disappeared from the driveway of her mother’s West Hollywood home at 8962 Cynthia Street about 3:00 am on Monday, December 30, 1968. The young woman was home for Christmas vacation from the University of Hawaii where she was a freshman studying to be an artist.

Marina’s father and mother were divorced when she was a child. Her father, the author Hans Habe, was living in Zurich, Switzerland. As soon as he got word of Marina’s disappearance he hopped a plane for Los Angeles.

Hans Habe, (Békessy János) 13.08.1968. Ascona (Photo by Karoly Forgacs/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

Eloise Hardt, Marina’s mother, was an actress whose most recent film GAMES, starred Simone Signoret, James Caan and Katharine Ross.

Eloise Hardt. Columbia Pictures promo shot c. 1941

Marina was last seen by John Hornburg, 22, her date on Sunday night. John was a longtime friend of the Habe’s. John and Marina joined two other couples, Dennie Boses, 25, Wendy Kleiner, 18, Norman Elder, 22, and Laurie Kramer, 18, for an evening at  the Troubadour where comedian Larry Hankin was performing.

Troubadour c. 1957 (Photo courtesy DWP)

According to John, he and Marina, and the other two couples, left the Troubadour at 11:30 pm. John drove Marina to his home at 13326 Sunset Blvd, Brentwood, where she parked her car.  Marina changed out of her date outfit into brown capris and a white turtleneck sweater.  The two hung out for a few hours and Marina left for her mother’s home at 3:15 am.

Eloise heard loud exhaust blasts in her driveway and got out of bed to see what was going on.  She saw a black car and a man running toward it yelling “Go.”  The man jumped into the car and it sped away. Marina’s car was parked in the driveway, but the girl was gone.

 NEXT TIME: What happened to Marina?

Death of a Latin Lover, Conclusion

From the moment they entered the case, LAPD kept mum about the weapon used to batter Ramon Novarro to death.  However, at trial the prosecution revealed the sad fact that Ramon was beaten with a cane, a memento from one of his films.  It couldn’t have been more personal, nor more poignant.

Deputy District Attorney James Ideman said he intended to show that Paul and Thomas Ferguson tortured Ramon to death while trying to find out where he hid his money. Ideman described how the 69-year-old former film heartthrob was beaten and then taken into a shower and revived so he could be questioned further.

The seven man, five woman jury listened to Ideman’s description of Ramon’s violent end at the hands of the young hustlers who accepted his hospitality, and then left him on his bed with his hands tied behind him, to drown in his own blood.

Photograph caption dated July 28, 1969 reads, “Paul Robert Ferguson confers with attorneys at opening of murder trial. Richard Walton, left, and Dorothy Montoya represented accused at beginning of jury selection.” [Photo & caption courtesy LAPL]

Forever in need of money, Paul telephoned Ramon on the day of the murder and introduced himself as a relative of Ramon’s acquaintance, Larry (Paul’s brother-in-law).  Paul arranged to see Ramon that evening. He arrived with his brother Thomas and following dinner and drinks they demanded money.  Ramon was wealthy, but never kept large sums at home, in fact, that night he had $45 in his wallet.

The prosecution’s case hinged on three points: (1) fingerprints, (2) the fact that it was impossible for Ramon to have written the name “Larry” with his hands tied and (3) Thomas’ telephone call to his girlfriend in Chicago from Ramon’s house.

As far as anyone could tell, the brothers intended to blame each other for Ramon’s murder.  The main points in their strategy were: (1) blame the other brother and (2) mental illness.

Lawyer Cletus Hanifin, right, with murder suspects Tom (left) and Paul Ferguson. Photograph dated September 25, 1969. [Photo & caption courtesy LAPL]

Victor Nichols, a real estate investor and friend of Paul’s, testified that Paul and Thomas came to his Hollywood apartment after midnight on October 31.  They weren’t trick-or-treating, they were in trouble. According to Victor, Paul said: “Vic, I’d like to see you . . . we are in some trouble. Tom hit Ramon . . . Ramon is dead.”

Victor gave Paul a cup of coffee to sober him up as Tom slept on the sofa.  Victor’s guests made him nervous. He didn’t want to be involved in a murder.  After Paul finished his coffee, Victor suggested he awaken Tom and leave.  When Victor asked, “How could you do such a thing?”  Thomas replied: “I hit him several times very hard and he is dead.”

Victor gave them $8 for cab fare and sent them on their way.

Paul took the stand and gave his version of the night of the murder.  He said he went into Ramon’s bedroom and found him lying on the floor. He was covered in blood and his hands were tied behind him.  “I touched him on the shoulder.  He felt starchy . . . tight, like paper . . . “, said Paul.

From his chair at the defense table, Thomas starred daggers at his brother and shook his head as if he couldn’t believe the lies coming out of Paul’s mouth.

Paul claimed he wanted to phone the police, but Thomas vetoed the plan and suggested they stage a robbery. His attorney asked Paul why he would go along with Thomas’ plan, he answered, “Stupidness.”

Paul’s attorney asserted his client had no reason to kill Ramon because he thought the actor was a “nice guy”, and because Ramon said he might become a “superstar”.  Paul said, “He (Novarro) said I could be a young Burt Lancaster or another Clint Eastwood.”

By the time Ramon met the  Fergusons, Paul already had a minor career in the seedier side of show business.  He was a nude model, and may have appeared in porno films.  Ramon knew nothing about Paul’s career, but perhaps he saw a reflection of himself in the good looking younger man.

Paul Ferguson

The trial continued with the brothers blaming each other for the murder. Paul insisted he slept during the crime because he downed a fifth of vodka, some beer and tequila. Until Thomas awakened him and said, “This guy is dead” he was oblivious to Ramon’s screams and cries for help.  How did Paul take the news of Ramon’s death? He said he was “just plain sad.”  Thomas’ attorney asked Paul, “Why were you sad if you didn’t do it?”

Ramon in the tub.

“I was just sad because Ramon was dead . . . I had just had two weeks of bad luck and now I was thrown into this thing . . . I wanted to know why everything was happening,” Paul responded.

What was the bad luck plaguing Paul? His job sucked and his wife left him.  Small problems compared to a man’s life. Paul admitted under oath that he considered suicide rather than face trial, but he rejected the idea.  Asked why, Paul said, “I want to live.”

Neither Paul nor Thomas would admit to the murder, each blamed the other. There was some evidence to suggest Thomas was pressured by Paul and his mother to take the blame and he gave it a half-hearted try. As a juvenile he could not be sentenced to death.

On Wednesday, September 17, 1969, Paul and Thomas Ferguson faced the jury.  If the plan was to save Paul from the gas chamber, it worked. Paul and Thomas received life sentences for first degree murder.

Prison agreed with Paul. Maybe it provided the structured environment he lacked on the outside. He was on the prison’s radio station and found his voice through creative writing.  In 1975, he won a P.E.N. award for a short story, “Dream No Dreams.”

Thomas’ incarceration did not go well.  He was constantly in trouble and spent much of his time in solitary for attempted escapes and other infractions of prison rules.  It is easy to get drugs in prison, and Thomas got strung out on coke and glue.

Paul and Thomas never saw or spoke to each other again after they were released in 1976.

Parole wasn’t the start of a new life for either brother. Thomas was busted for rape in 1987. He spent four years in prison.  When he did not register as a sex offender he was busted again. On March 6, 2005, Thomas went to a Motel 6 and cut his throat. He didn’t leave a note.

By 2012, Paul was once again in prison. This time it was for rape. Unless he wins an appeal, he can look forward to 60 years in a Missouri prison.

 

Death of a Latin Lover, Part 3

Ramon Novarro’s funeral. [Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library]

LAPD Detective Lauritzen played it cagey with the press when they asked for details regarding the arrests of Paul and Thomas Ferguson. He said only that they had “physical evidence” of the brothers’ involvement in Ramon’s murder. The reporters interpreted Lauritzen’s comments to mean they found fingerprints at the crime scene. The County Grand Jury indicted the Fergusons and they arraigned the brothers in a Van Nuys courtroom.

Attorney Cletus Hanifin (second from left) confers with murder suspect Paul Ferguson (left) while another attorney talks with Ferguson’s brother and fellow suspect Thomas (second from right). [Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library]

Busted in early November, the brothers awaited trail in county lockup. Early in December new drama in the case erupted with a report that Paul attempted to gouge out his own eyes.  At first he told jailers other inmates attacked him, but they proved he injured himself. If he hoped to eradicate the vision Ramon’s murder from his memory, he should have plunged a knife into his heart. The general feeling was that Paul’s self-inflicted injuries were an attempt to garner sympathy.

The police found more than fingerprints at Ramon’s home. While Paul beat Ramon in another room, Thomas was on the telephone with his girlfriend of six months, Brenda Lee Metcalf. Brenda flew out to Los Angeles on the county’s dime to testify before the Grand Jury. She was a wealth of information about the night of the murder.

She testified that Thomas told her he and Paul were at Ramon’s house because the actor was going to get him into the movies—then he said no, it was Paul who Ramon was going to get into pictures. While he chain-smoked cigarettes and drank beer, Thomas told Brenda, “… he knew there was $5,000 somewhere in the house behind a picture.” Thomas and Paul had plans for Ramon’s money. Brenda said, “They would tie him up to find out where the money was.”  Brenda told Thomas not to get into trouble.  Brenda said, “He said no matter what happened, he wasn’t going to have nothing to do with it because he didn’t want to get in any trouble.”  The screams she heard in the background sound like trouble to her.  “He (Thomas) said he (Paul) was just probably trying to scare him or hit him with something.”

As the phone called neared an end, Thomas said, “Well, I better go now because I’m going to see what’s happening. . . I don’t want Paul to hurt Ramon.”

Another woman surfaced in the case, Paul’s estranged wife, Mary.  Mary identified the mysterious “Larry” – the name scrawled several places at the murder scene.  Larry was Paul’s brother-in-law, the person Paul blamed for his problems with Mary. Paul’s attempt to frame his brother-in-law was amateur hour, but then nothing about the crime was a stroke of genius.

Brenda received one last telephone call from Tom during his stay in Los Angeles. He telephoned her on November 2.  He said, “Well you know about Novarro.  He is dead.  When I bent down over him I saw he was dead and that if we have enough money, we’ll fly back.  Otherwise, we will have to hitchhike back.  Before they could leave Los Angeles County, they were in police custody.

On August 5, 1969, four days before the murders of Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger, Voytek Frykowski and Steven Parent at Tate’s rented home on Cielo Drive, Paul and Thomas were on trial for Ramon’s murder.

The jury of seven men and five women heard Deputy District Attorney James Ideman outline the State’s case in his opening statement. He said he would prove that the brothers tortured Ramon to death on October 30 while trying to discover a hidden cache of money.

Paul and Thomas did not differ from any of the other idiot criminals who murdered people they believed kept large amounts of cash at home.

Defendants Jack Santo (left), Emmett Perkins (center) and Barbara Graham (right) in court for the murder of Mabel Monohan.  [Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library]

On March 9, 1953, in Burbank, California, Barbara Graham, Emmett Perkins, Jack Santo, John True and Baxter Shorter invaded the home of Mabel Monohan, a widow. The gang believed she kept a large amount of cash in a safe for her former son-in-law, a professional gambler and local mob affiliate,  Tutor Scherer. The gang walked away with nothing but a ticket to the “green room” (San Quentin’s gas chamber).

Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, two ex-cons, made the same mistake in 1959 in Holcomb, Kansas.  They believed a cellmate when he told them one of his former employers, a farmer named Herb Clutter, was rich and kept his money in a home safe.  It was a tall tale, told by an idiot, to two other morons who believed it. Hickock and Smith executed Herb, his wife Bonnie Mae, and the couple’s two teenage children, Kenyon and Nancy. The killers walked away with fifty dollars in cash, a pair of binoculars and a transistor radio.  Hickock and Smith went to the gallows on April 14, 1965 on the grounds of Leavenworth prison.

Truman Capote with his bestseller, In Cold Blood. [Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library]

Truman Capote turned the sordid murders into a brilliant narrative in the mostly true account of the case, In Cold Blood.

Paul and Thomas made the same mistake as their predecessors, but would they pay the same price?

NEXT TIME: Paul and Thomas Ferguson pay for Ramon’s murder.