Film Noir Friday: Poodle Springs [1998]

poodle springs

Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Tonight’s feature is POODLE SPRINGS starring James Caan and Dina Meyer.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Television movie based on the novel by Robert Parker, from the final Philip Marlowe story begun by Raymond Chandler. Hard-boiled detective Philip Marlowe is 15 years past his prime, as cynical as ever, but also a newlywed. Moving to the small desert town of Poodle Springs after marrying Laura, the daughter of billionaire P.J. Parker, Marlowe becomes immersed in deadly intrigue surrounding the murder of another investigator. When he uncovers a scheme to move the state border of Nevada, which may involve his father-in-law, the world-weary private eye from the 1940s encounters a ’60s web of greed, lust and murder. With a talent for attracting trouble, Marlowe finds it in the form of murder, bigamy, gambling, pornography and double identity.

Marion Linden’s Life of Crime, Conclusion

Marion Linden morphed from a Ohio high school football star in 1932, to a failed felon with a death wish in Nebraska in 1936. His plan to die in a hail of police bullets in Omaha, thereby easing his parent’s Depression era monetary woes, went south faster than a freight train to Georgia. Marion was given a break, three years probation, and didn’t do any prison time for his dangerous and idiotic behavior.

Marion wasn’t supposed to leave Nebraska, but that didn’t stop him. He married 18-year-old Arlene Fagor in Denver, Colorado, on December 5, 1936. Marriage can be a maturing experience for some, but evidently not for Marion. His good behavior and his marriage lasted all of two months before ending in gun fire. Marion shot Arlene in the heart when he learned that she had been unfaithful to him while he searched for work in Texas. Found guilty of voluntary manslaughter, Marion was sentenced to from seven to eight years in a Colorado prison.

linden headline2By now may be wondering what Marion’s criminal behavior in Ohio, Nebraska, and Colorado has got to do with Los Angeles. Simple. Like many others before him, following his release from prison the ex-con moved to Los Angeles–land of bright blue skies, sunny beaches and, in Marion’s case, third chances. Prison may have mellowed him, and perhaps it did–for a while.  From 1940 to 1957 if he committed any crimes they weren’t serious enough to get his name into the newspapers. Unfortunately, Marion proved to be incapable of keeping his life on track.

On Sunday, March 17, 1957, St. Patrick’s Day, Leo Wise, a 34-year-old LAPD officer from  University Division, was on his evening rounds when he responded to the shouts of a bartender at a bar at Pico and Figueroa. Wise arrived to find an extremely intoxicated man creating a disturbance. Wise pulled the man onto the sidewalk outside the bar and patted him down, but didn’t find a weapon. Officer Wise said, “I don’t want to see you on the street anymore. Go home.” The patrolman then walked off in one direction and the drunk lurched off in another. After watching Officer Wise depart, the man returned to his spot in front of the bar.

When Officer Wise returned later in the evening he found the man where he’d left him. Wise said, “I thought I told you to go home.”  He patted the man down and once again he didn’t find a weapon.  Because the man hadn’t complied with his suggestion to go home and sleep it off, Officer Wise had no other option but to arrest the scofflaw.

Wise walked over to the police call box to request transportation for the man’s trip to the drunk tank–he never saw the pistol.  The man shot twice, hitting Wise in the neck and side. The wounded officer fell to the sidewalk but he managed pull out his service revolver. He got off two shots before the man jumped into a car and drove away.

A small crowd gathered around the fallen officer to render aid. Wise waved them off and gasped, “Take the number of those plates and call the police!”  Officer Wise died of his wounds.

Mexican national Luis Alatorre was driving by the bar with three companions. He witnessed the shooting and didn’t hesitate to drive after the suspect.  Alatorre and his friends flagged down motorcycle officers, Charles Sturtevant and Lloyd Nelson, who continued the pursuit. They stopped the man at Alvarado and 11th.  Alatorre and his companions, who had followed in the motor officers’ wake, pulled up and shouted, “Be careful, he has a gun. He just shot a policeman.” The man yelled at the officers, “you took me, but I got one …  I would like to shoot some more, just like I did the last copper. I’ll bet he is dead.”  The suspect spat in the face of the officer who was handcuffing him.

More officers arrived and one of them said, “Let me have him for a while and I will fix him.” The arresting officer replied that the suspect  “is under arrest and in my custody, so leave him alone.” The suspect said: “Thank you, buddy, for stopping these $#!%&* from beating me up. I’ll beat this in court. You are a good guy.”

linden booked photoLieutenant Gebhart took the suspect to Homicide Division. As they drove, the suspect said:  “I hope you have me for murder. I shot that #@$%&*cop and I intended to kill him. If I had an opportunity I would kill all of you. … I tried to shoot him in the heart. … I shot him with a .32 and I didn’t think it would do that much damage, but I hoped it would.”

The suspect was taken to LAPD’s Homicide Division where he was identified as Marion Linden. Lieutenant Gebhart, and several other officers later testified that Linden, even though he was handcuffed, had kicked and spat at officers and knocked furniture about. Lieutenant Gebhart heard Marion say that three years earlier he had been “framed” by two policemen on a charge of interfering with an officer.  He insisted that the officers had perjured themselves . He was convicted of the charges and during his 90 days in jail he made up his mind that he was going to kill a cop.

Marion bragged that: “it took the jury eight hours of deliberation on a misdemeanor charge to convict me …I’m very tough to beat.”  He also said that he had beaten one other murder rap and he would beat the charges against him for the murder of Leo Wise.

Marion was wrong. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

Two years later, on July 30, 1959, Lt. Governor Glenn M. Anderson granted Marion a clemency hearing. The hearing came just in time. Marion was scheduled to go to the gas chamber in about a week. Governor Brown told reporters he wouldn’t interfere in the case, and left for a junket in Puerto Rico.

Marion’s execution was delayed while he acted in Pro Per and filed his own appeals. A few minor errors were corrected in the trial record but, apart from that, nothing substantive was changed. Marion’s death penalty stood.

On January 1, 1960, a fist fight broke out on death row. Marion and several other inmates, including the infamous “Red Light Bandit”, Caryl Chessman, got into an argument in their exercise area as they were about to watch the Rose Bowl game on TV. The fight ended when one of the combatants smashed the television on the floor and guards came in to separate the inmates. The fray was likely instigated by Chessman, but each of the other men saw an opportunity to mix it up and jumped in. They had nothing to lose.linden executed

Marion’s early life had showed promise, but somewhere along the line he lost his way. He became a violent and bitter man intent on murder. On July 12, 1961 forty-three year-old Marion James Linden paid for his life of crime in California’s gas chamber.

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.

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Helen as a young woman. Photo courtesy LAPL.

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

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

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

Movie extras c. 1930s.  Photo courtesy LAPL.

Movie extras c. 1930s. Photo courtesy LAPL.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

lysol_ad2

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Norconian.  Image courtesy LAPL.

The Norconian. Image courtesy LAPL.

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

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

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

NEXT TIME: The Death of Love, Part 2

References: 

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

Happy Birthday to Aggie Underwood and Deranged L.A. Crimes

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Aggie at a crime scene in the 1940s.

Aggie Underwood was born on December 17, 1902 and Deranged L.A. Crimes was born on December 17, 2016, so there’s a lot to celebrate today. We have so many candles on our birthday cake it will take a gale force wind to blow them all out.

It was Aggie’s career as a Los Angeles journalist that inspired me to begin this blog.  She began her career as a temporary switchboard operator at the Daily Record in late 1926.. In her 1949 autobiography, Newspaperwoman, she described the Record’s newsroom as a “weird wonderland” and promptly fell in love with the newspaper business. It didn’t take her long to realize that she wanted to be a reporter and she pursued her goal with passion and commitment.

During a time when most female journalists were assigned to report on women’s club activities and other social events, Aggie covered most, if not all, of the most important crime stories of the day. She attended Thelma Todd’s autopsy in December 1935 and was the only Los Angeles reporter to score a byline in the Black Dahlia case in January 1947.

Like Aggie, I’ve become obsessed with the villains and victims in Los Angeles. The stories touch me as often as they frighten and repulse me. I want to understand why people do the things they do, and sometimes I feel like I get close. I don’t expect to ever completely answer that question–but the quest is a rewarding one.

Whether you are new to the blog or have been following Deranged L.A. Crimes for a while, I want to thank you sincerely for your readership.

There will be many more stories in 2017 and a few appearances too. I will keep you posted.

Joan

A Thanksgiving Eve Date with the Gas Chamber – Repost

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!  I’m sure it will be better than Allen Ditson’s–unless you’re seated next to your least favorite relative at the dinner table.

The following is a repost from 2015.

PART 1

November 20,1962. Thanksgiving was two days away, but 41-year-old Allen Ditson wasn’t looking forward to it. He wouldn’t spend the day gnawing on a turkey drumstick or fighting with a cousin to claim the last slice of pumpkin pie. In fact Allen wouldn’t have the classic holiday dinner at all, unless he requested it for his last meal. If Governor Brown didn’t commute his death sentence, like he had done for Allen’s pal Carlos Cisneros, he would be executed in San Quentin’s gas chamber on Thanksgiving Eve.

*  *  *

DITSON_HEADLINE1In 1959 Allen owned a small jewelry and watch repair shop at 7715 Hollywood Way in the San Fernando Valley. The former Kansas farm boy was the father of two, a WWII veteran and former pilot who had spent five years in uniform before being honorably discharged. When he was mustered out of the service he took courses in watch and jewelry repair then opened his own business. He worked long hours and he continued to take classes related to his trade. The time he spent away from home was hard on his marriage; so hard in fact that he and his wife separated. Even though they no longer lived together he saw his children “at least twice a week” and contributed to their support. His mother-in-law said “he’s been good to all of us.”

On the surface Allen’s life appeared completely normal, but it wasn’t. The seemingly average businessman had a secret, he was the mastermind of a gang of violent armed robbers. Under his direction the gang of about 15 men had netted an estimated $150,000 (equivalent to approximately $1.2 in current dollars) between January and October of 1959.

Like most gang leaders Allen had a lieutenant, his name was Carlos Gonzales Cisneros. According to court records Carlos lost his mother to tuberculosis and spent most of his infancy and childhood in foundling homes. He left school in 1950 when he was 17. He married, had four kids and worked at Lockheed as a sheet metal worker. He was 24-years-old and working the swing shift as a sheet metal worker at Lockheed when he met Allen. Allen was already running a gang and he slowly brought Carlos in. He began by telling the young man that “it would be nice to see him driving a Cadillac.” Eventually Carolos owned two Cadillacs.

Allen used skills he’d learned in the military to operate the gang. He was adamant that each member carry out his “assignment” with precision. If things went sideways and a gang member was busted he was to keep his mouth shut. Allen would see to it that he was provided with an attorney. Allen also made it clear that the penalty for being a “squealer” or a blackmailer was death.

During September and October 1959 a series of robberies were committed by Allen and Carlos and several gang members: Robert Ward, Keith Slaten, and Eugene and Norman Bridgeford.. During a robbery in October Robert “Bob” Ward failed his assignment. He was supposed to securely bind the store owners. He tied the man tightly, but the woman was able to free herself. Once freed the man grabbed his rifle and began shooting at the fleeing robbers. As they ran Eugene pitched the stolen cash box into some shrubs in an alley. Later that night Eugene and Carlos returned to retrieve the cash box and were busted on the spot. About a week later they made bail. During a meeting with Allen, Carlos and Eugene were informed that Bob was demanding money in exchange for keeping quiet about the gang.

On November 6, 1959, Allen told Eugene that he had “decided that tonight would be the best night to get rid of Bob Ward” because he was “through being blackmailed by a no-good-son-of-a-bitch like him.” Allen had already paid Bob $100 but had no intention of giving him one dime more. Allen came up with a plan to “…get rid of him.” Allen stayed at the store and let Carlos and Eugene implement his plan to take care of Bob.

Carlos and Eugene drove to a liquor store to pick up a couple of pints of booze. They knew that Bob was a heavy drinker and thought that he would be “more amiable” with a few shots of booze in him. Then they went to the house Bob shared with fellow gang member Keith Slaten. Carlos parked the Cadillac on the street in front of the house. Keith had seen them pull up and went out to greet them.  Keith and Bob thought they were going to pull another robbery. The men piled into Keith’s Ford. Keith was behind the wheel, Bob was in the passenger seat, and Eugene and Carlos sat in the back. They spent about 45 minutes drinking. Carlos picked up a hammer from the floor of Keith’s car and brought it down on the back of Bob’s head. Bob fell against Keith and screamed: “Keith, help me. They are trying to kill me.” Keith had his own life to worry about and gave Bob a shove so he’d be an easier target for Carlos–then he ran into the house. Carlos called him back and said, “just take it easy and it’ll be all right.”

In the interim Bob had managed to get out of the car and was leaning against a tree when Carlos found him and beat him down to the ground. Carlos backed his car into the driveway and after delivering a few more blows to Bob’s head put him in the trunk of the car. Carlos and Eugene drove off and Keith followed them in the Ford. Carlos had driven about half a mile before Bob regained consciousness and started pleading from his confinement in the trunk to be released. He said he thought his eye had come out of its socket. Carlos told him to be quiet and then turned up the car radio so he wouldn’t be able to hear Bob call his name.

Now thoroughly rattled Carlos misjudged a turn, struck the curb with the front wheel of the car and blew a tire. He spotted a pay phone, gave Eugene some change and told him to call Allen and ask him to bring a spare tire and a heavy duty jack (after all it was a Cadillac with a man in the trunk). About an hour later Allen arrived with a friend of his, Leonard York. They changed the tire and then Carlos, with Bob still in the trunk, took off for the jewelry store. Eugene and Leonard rode with Allen back to the store. When they arrived they could hear unintelligible noises coming from the trunk of the Cadillac. Allen said they’d have to get rid of Bob before the neighbors heard him and called the cops. Eugene took Leonard home and then begged off the rest of the evening saying he was sick.

Allen took a .38 revolver from the store and he and Carlos drove Bob out to the Newhall Pass. Allen opened the trunk and ordered Bob to get out. Unaided, the seriously injured man got out and stood on his feet. He asked for a cigarette. Allen shot him in the chest. He fell, got up, and ran toward Carlos. As they rolled over an embankment Allen shot Bob in the back paralyzing him. Allen walked down the incline to see if Bob was finally dead. He wasn’t. He said, “Give me another one.” Allen knelt down beside him, pressed the .38 to his head and killed him.

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PART 2

After shooting Bob Ward to death with a .38, Allen Ditson had to figure out what to do with the body. At least Carlos Cisneros was there to help him. Carlos began to dig a grave with his bare hands until Allen brought him a butcher knife from the car. Once the grave was ready Allen said that they would have to dismember Bob to prevent identification if someone should discover his remains. Using the butcher knife they removed Bob’s head and each arm at the elbow. They buried the remains and then tossed the head and arms into the truck of the car and drove back Allen’s store.

While Allen and Carlos were coping with the dead body, Keith Slaten turned up at the house of his friend Martha Hughes. He told her that he’d been in a fight and wanted to clean up his car. He was covered with blood and shaking like a leaf and Martha told him she didn’t believe he’d been in a fight.  He blurted out: “Well, God damn. All right, so we killed him.” Allen couldn’t keep his mouth shut either. The day after Bob’s murder he told Eugene Bridgeford everything that had happened after he pleaded illness and left.

What happened to Bob’s head and arms? Allen and Carlos took them to the home of Christine Longbrake a few days after the murder. Christine was an acquaintance of Allen’s and a couple of weeks before the crime she’d been in Allen’s shop and he’d told her that “there was someone they had to get rid of” because the man was trying to blackmail him.  Allen asked to use her garage as a place to get rid of the guy but she thought he was kidding. When Allen and Carlos turned up with two boxes Christine knew she couldn’t refuse any request they made. She stayed upstairs while the boxes were taken to the cellar. Allen knocked Bob’s teeth out with a hammer then placed what was left of him in the hole and then poured in a bottle of acid.  When the men came back upstairs Christine smiled nervously and said: “Is it somebody I know?” They smiled back and Allen said that she wouldn’t know him. Then he and Carlos drove out to Hansen Dam and tossed Bob’s teeth and dental plate into a gravel pit.DITSON_PIC

Christine hadn’t seen the last of Allen and Carlos. Not more than a few days after they’d buried the boxes in her cellar Carlos stopped by and told her everything. He even told her what was in the boxes underneath her house. Her nerves weren’t soothed when he told her that he could never kill a woman. In fact she was so unnerved that she told Allen she was going to move “…because I couldn’t stand living in this house …” Allen told her that if it bothered her so much he’d pay her rent if she’d just hang on a bit longer.

A bit longer turned out to be several months. In June 1960 Allen asked George Longbrake, Christine’s brother-in-law, if he would dig up the two arms and head under the house. George agreed and Allen bought him some aluminum foil so he could wrap up the bits of Bob that remained. Then, since it seemed the entire Longbrake family was involved anyway, Allen asked Wynston Longbrake, Christine’s husband, if he’d “help bury something.” Allen, Carlos, and Wynston drove from L.A. on Highway 99 to a place about 14 miles from Castaic Junction. He turned off the highway for about 100 yards. Carlos waited in the car while the other two carried the macabre foil wrapped packages out of sight, then dug a post-hole and buried them.

DITSON_CARLOSBecause Allen and Carlos were incapable of keeping quiet about what they’d done it was only a matter of time before the law caught up with them. The remaining gang members began to fear Allen more than they did the cops. On June 17, 1960 Keith Slaten went to the police and a few days later Eugene Bridgeford did the same. The statements were enough for the police to get a warrant to examine Carlos’ Cadillac–they found traces of human blood in the trunk. One day later the police conducted a similar examination of Keith’s Ford and found human blood on the upholstery. On June 28, “sometime after 1:00 p.m.” Allen and Carlos were taken into custody.

Allen maintained his innocence, but Carlos appeared to be genuinely remorseful and he wanted to talk. In his 1959 book, The Compulsion to Confess, Theodore Reik said “There is … an impulse growing more and more intense suddenly to cry out his secret in the street before all people, or in milder cases, to confide it at least to one person, to free himself from the terrible burden. The work of confession is thus that emotional process in which the social and psychological significance of the crime becomes preconscious and in which all powers that resist the compulsion to confess are conquered.”DITSON_HEADLINE1

Allen’s protestations of innocence didn’t sway the jury of five men and seven women.  He was found guilty and sentenced to death. Carlos was also found guilty in Bob’s murder and sentenced to death. In early November 1962, with their executions imminent, Governor Brown presided over a clemency hearing. Carlos’ remorse saved him. His sentence was commuted to life.

Allen never admitted his guilt to the police, but he did confess to nearly everyone else he knew. On November 21, 1962, without requesting a special holiday meal, Allen kept his Thanksgiving Eve date with the gas chamber.

Film Noir Friday–on Sunday: Dr. Strangelove [1962]

dr-strangelove

Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open! Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Tonight’s feature is DR. STRANGELOVE.  Okay, I admit I’m stretching the definition of film noir here. But seriously, is there anything darker than nukes?  Brilliant performances and deft direction make this film a masterpiece.  If you have never seen this film before, prepare to be amazed. I’ve seen this film a multitude of times and I never tire of it.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Crazed by the belief that the Communists are planning to conquer the free world by poisoning the water supply with fluoride, Gen. Jack D. Ripper, commanding officer of the U. S. Air Force base at Burpelson, unleashes a B-52 atomic bomb attack on Russia. Ripper prevents the countermanding of his orders through a secret code and makes himself inaccessible by sealing off the base. When President Muffley learns of the unauthorized mission, he summons his council to the War Room in the Pentagon and invites Russian Ambassador de Sadesky. Despite the hysterical advice of Gen. “Buck” Turgidson, who advocates limited nuclear war, the President orders U. S. land forces, under the command of Army Col. “Bat” Guano, to attack Burpelson.

Shame on You, Conclusion

Spade & Ella Mae

Spade & Ella Mae in happier times

The Cooley’s marriage was unraveling; Spade had filed for a divorce from Ella Mae. Spade then phoned his violinist, Anita Aros, and proposed to her. She thought for sure he was joking so she accepted. Several days later Spade called her again and this time he forced his daughter Melody to tell Anita that she wanted her for a mother.

In the few weeks since Spade had filed for divorce he had continued to torment and abuse his wife both physically and emotionally. He forced her to telephone people in their circle of friends and confess that she was having an affair. Spade even forced her to confess her infidelity to Melody. The fear and degradation Ella Mae endured was horrendous, not to mention the damage Spade was doing to their son and daughter by referring to their mother as a ‘whore’ and ‘slut’. Ella Mae wanted desperately to escape her husband’s abuse but no one could, or would, help her.

On April 3, 1961 Spade visited a business partner, Jarrold Enfield. He said he had written proof of his wife’s philandering and waived a supposed confession around. Enfield thought that he recognized Ella Mae’s handwriting, but he knew that if she had written it the purported confession had been coerced. He said to Spade: ‘Yes, it’s Ella Mae’s handwriting, Spade, but I know how you got it.’ Unconcerned Spade replied, ‘what difference does it make as long as it is true.’

At 4 p.m. Melody phoned her parent’s ranch and asked if she and her brother Donnell could spend the night with a neighbor, Mrs. McWhorter. Spade gave his permission. Melody was relieved–she was terrified of her father and didn’t want to go home.

At 6 p.m. Ella Mae phoned Melody at the McWhorter’s and asked her to come home so she could explain to her ‘what this was all about.’ Presumably she meant the constant violence in the Cooley home. Melody was reluctant to go home at first, but she agreed to do so as long as McWhorter would drop her off and return for her after 20 minutes.

Spade was on the phone to a friend when Melody arrived. She overheard him say, ‘…don’t call the police.’ Melody asked if the police were coming and Spade said they would be there soon. Then he said, ‘Come here, I want you to see your mother.’

spade dramaThey went into the master bedroom but Ella Mae was not there.

Melody noticed bloodstained sheets on the bed and blood spatter on the walls. Spade went into the bathroom and said, ‘Get up, Ella Mae, Melody is here.’ When Ella Mae didn’t move or make a sound, Spade dragged her nude, bloody, body out of the shower by the hair. He banged her head twice on the floor.

He then gave Melody three minutes to get her mother up and moving or he would kill them both. He started the countdown but Melody couldn’t do it. Clutching a rifle her father came back into the room and forced the girl to sit in a chair. He said, ‘All right, Melody, you are going to watch me kill her.’

As the horrified 14-year-old looked on, her father stomped her mother in the abdomen with his boot. He knelt down next to the victim and said, ‘We’ll just see if you’re dead.’ He called her a slut, then touched the nipples of both her breasts with his cigarette. Ella Mae was dead within 20 minutes.

Melody tried to run, but her father grabbed her. He took her into the living room, made her sit on his lap, kissed her passionately and touched her breast. He told her he was going to turn all his love over to her and Donnell, Jr., as their mother had ‘crushed him.’

The phone rang and Spade got up to answer it. While was distracted, Melody saw Mrs. McWhorter approaching the house. She was able to escape.

The Sheriff’s arrived to assess the violent and bloody scene. The body of the deceased told a tale of torture and abuse. Court documents later described the scene in detail: ‘The victim’s body was covered with multiple bruises and abrasions; her left eye was blackened, her nose bruised, her lips bruised and split, there were cracks on the chin, injuries to her neck, shoulder, chest, hip, arms, wrist, legs; there was an abrasion on the right side of the right breast; the nipple was blackened and discolored and partially separated from the breast. Deep bruising of the muscles of the neck, a break in the hyoid bone and a break in the thyroid cartilage in front of the victim’s windpipe indicated that she was strangled. A clump of hair forcibly removed from her head was found near the foot of the bed. There was bloody material in the victim’s vaginal and rectal orifices and splits in both the vaginal and anal-rectal mucous membrane. A broom was found in the bedroom which contained a uniform deposit of mucus substance with some blood extending 5 or 6 inches down the handle. Four fragments of blond bloody hair were embedded in the fibers of the broom handle, and this hair resembled the victims.’

cooley cuffsSpade was arrested for Ella Mae’s murder but the inquest was delayed when he suffered a heart attack. He was transferred from from the jail to a hospital. During his hospitalization his attorney attempted to minimize his client’s role in Ella Mae’s death with statements like, ‘He says he didn’t realize she was hurt so bad. That’s why her stayed with her rubbing her hands in hope that she would respond.’ It beggars belief to think that anyone would buy the story that Spade didn’t realize the severity of his wife’s injuries.

His attorney scrambled to come up with a credible defense–insanity. But the plea went down in flames when four psychiatrists pronounced him sane.The stress brought on another heart attack, which he survived.

Spade continued to insist that Ella Mae hand been unfaithful. And if she was? How could cheating justify the brutality of the attack that took her life–or any of the many previous beatings she had suffered?

cooley beating deathMelody’s testimony at her father’s trial brought on another heart attack. The trial was recessed while Spade recovered. When the trial resumed the defense asserted that Ella Mae had died as the result fall, not a beating. It was ludicrous. Even more ridiculous was Spade’s testimony that he didn’t beat his wife, ‘I did not beat my wife to death, believe me, I did not beat my wife. Without her I am nothing…I worshiped my wife…’

For someone who worshiped his wife, Spade showed no qualms about trashing her memory at every opportunity. He testified that Ella Mae had confessed to an affair with two men in a motel room. According to Spade ‘She said she was going to join them in the 100 member free love cult they were forming.’ Not content to to sully the memory of his dead wife, Spade accused Melody of lying.melody at trial

The jury evidently found Melody to be a more credible witness than Spade. He was found guilty of first degree murder. The judge seemed to believe that Spade was capable of rehabilitation and sentenced him to life in prison. Personally, I think he got way luckier than he deserved.

EPILOGUE

Spade was on a temporary 72-hour parole in November 1969–looking forward to a full parole in February 1970–when he was invited to perform at a benefit for the Alameda County Deputy Sheriffs Association. He had just brought down the house with one of his violin performances and the audience of 2800 gave him a standing ovation. Life was looking good. He thanked the deputies for ‘the chance to be free for a while.’ He was only 59, maybe he could reignite his career, after all he had a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Who knows, he might even marry again. But in a twist of fate he never got the chance. He went backstage to talk to friends and collapsed. He was pronounced dead at Highland Hospital.

Shame On You, Part 2

spade shameSpade Cooley, the self-proclaimed ‘King of Western Swing’, had a series of hits throughout the 1940s and into the late 1950s. In June 1948 he began to host a variety show on KTLA-TV which broadcast from the Santa Monica Pier Ballroom. The show was popular enough (approximately 75% of L.A. viewers tuned in on Saturday nights) to attract A-list guests like Frank Sinatra, Dinah Shore, and Frankie Laine.

spadecooleyKTLAIt isn’t clear when Spade started to physically abuse Ella Mae, but by the late 1940s the abuse was so rooted in their relationship that he didn’t even attempt to hide it from the rest of the world. On a trip to Catalina Island  Spade smacked Ella Mae in front of several guests. He forced her to kneel before them and apologize for doing something that had pissed him off. Why didn’t anyone intervene? It may have been shock–perhaps the witnesses were immobilized–or it may have been that in those days nobody thought it was their place to interfere in another couple’s relationship no matter what they saw.

The Catalina trip was just one instance of Spade’s abuse. Ella Mae once jumped from the car in which she was riding with her husband when he started to choke her. Nearly everyone in their circle of family and friends had witnessed Spade’s abuse of Ella Mae. Their daughter, Melody, had seen her father ‘slap around’ her mother on many occasions and threaten to kill her. A nurse in the Cooley’s employee had to club Spade with a eucalyptus log to stop him from beating Ella Mae.

Like many abusers Spade blamed his brutal behavior on Ella Mae. In the mantra familiar to many domestic thugs he repeated ‘look what you made me do’ until he likely believed it himself. It is possible he wasn’t entirely wrong about Ella’s infidelity. She allegedly confessed to a friend that she’d had an affair with cowboy star Roy Rogers in the early 1950s. But infidelity, even if real, is no excuse for beating a partner. Increased mistrust and escalating domestic violence characterized the Cooley’s marriage for years before it finally ended in 1961.

Early in 1961 Ella Mae was hospitalized; ostensibly for stress. During her stay she confided to her doctor that she was in fear of Spade. She said she’d suffered numerous beatings over the years and was terrified that he would kill her. From her hospital bed she retained a woman attorney to represent her in divorce proceedings. Spade took the news as could be expected. He blew up, and threatened to kill Ella Mae and their children if she dared to leave him.

Spade telephoned the hospital and told a nurse that he was coming to visit his wife. When Ella Mae got the message she locked herself in the bathroom and refused to come out until she got an all clear signal from the nurse.

Ella Mae was more frightened that ever. She had every reason to believe Spade’s threats. She put together an exit strategy with her friends Bud Davenport and Luther Jackson. She secretly funneled money to them that they would in turn invest in their own names and subsequently keep in trust for her so she would have some cash once her divorce was final.anita aros

Spade, pretending he knew that she had been having lengthy conversations with Bud and Luther, tricked Ella Mae into confirming it; although she didn’t tell him about the money. Even though he knew Bud and Luther were gay he phoned and threatened both of them with death if they continued to speak with his wife. He was so angry that he turned up at their home and punched Bud on the chin.

On March 21, 1961, before Ella Mae could file her own suit, Spade filed for divorce–ironically charging extreme cruelty. He told reporters: ‘Ella Mae has moved out and I’m heartsick, but there isn’t a chance of a reconciliation.’ He sought custody of the kids, Melody, 13, and Donnell, 11. He then telephoned the violinist in his band, Anita Aros, and proposed marriage to her. She accepted, but thought he was kidding.  He wasn’t.

NEXT TIME:  The Cooley’s marriage ends in violence.

Shame on You, Part 1

Donnell Cooley was born in Oklahoma on December 17, 1910 to Emma and John Cooley. The family was dirt poor and by 1920 they had moved to Oregon in pursuit of a better life.  John worked in a saw mill so the family still lived from hand-to-mouth. They were fortunate in one way, John had inherited his family’s musical abilities and was a decent fiddle player.  He passed  along his passion and talent to his son, in fact by the time he was 8-years-old Donnell was performing professionally with his father at local square dances.

Spade Cooley

Spade Cooley

Following in the footsteps of many musicians before him, Donnell moved to Los Angeles in 1930. He worked as an actor–he was Roy Rogers’ stand-in; and toured as a singer with the Riders of the Purple Sage. He also picked up the nickname Spade, thanks to his prowess as a poker player. He may not have known it them but, lucky in poker, unlucky in love.

In 1942 Spade took over as the leader of Jimmy Wakely’s group, the house band at the Venice Pier Ballroom. The band was large and often had multiple singers, one of whom was Tex Williams. The band was extremely popular and pulled in huge crowds every weekend. When Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys moved West, Cooley found himself with some serious competition. He’d had a disagreement with the Ballroom’s promoter, Burt “Foreman” Phillips, and was fired. Prior to his departure from the Ballroom, Cooley demanded a ‘Battle of the Bands’ to be held over two weekends. Never known to be shy or retiring Spade announced,  in advance of the battle, that he was the winner. Then he coined the term the ‘King of Western Swing.’ It would be used ever after to describe both Cooley and the musical style.bob wills

He was still married to his first wife, Anne when, in 1942, he met Ella Mae Evans. Bobby Bennett, Spade’s band manager, declared that “She had no voice,” but Cooley was smitten with the petite blonde, who was 13 years his junior, and hired her anyway. The pair married in November 1945, just a couple of months following his divorce from Anne.

Over the next couple of years Spade became even a bigger star. He’d had a hit with “Shame on You” in 1945 and six more chart toppers followed in succession.

Ella Mae’s singing career ended when she became pregnant. She gave birth to their first child, Melody, in 1946.

Spade & Ella Mae

Spade & Ella Mae

Wearing a cowboy hat instead of a crown, Spade took the appellation of King seriously and he ruled Ella Mae with a iron first. Not long after the marriage, and shortly before Melody’s birth, Ella Mae found her husband with another woman in their home. She packed her bags and told him he could find her at her sister’s. Spade told her that if she ever left him he would find her and kill her. Ella Mae believed him and stayed.

Spade had always had a bad temper. He’d run through musicians and singers by the dozen and those he didn’t fire often left of their own accord because they couldn’t deal with the boss. Spade was a heavy drinker; but drunk or sober he was capable of throwing a world class tantrum. Could he kill?

NEXT TIME: Spade’s career peaks and his marriage hits bottom.

Film Noir Friday: The Naked Kiss [1964]

NakedKiss_WB

Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open! Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Tonight’s feature is THE NAKED KISS  directed by Sam Fuller who also directed such gems as: Pick-Up on South Street, The Crimson Kimono, and Underworld U.S.A.  The film stars Constance Towers, Anthony Eisley, and Michael Dante.  You’ll never forget the opening scene! Enjoy the film!

TCM says:

Kelly, a prostitute, leaves town after a fight with her procurer and takes the money he owes her. She comes to the small town of Grantville, where her first customer is Griff, the police chief, who advises her to avoid arrest by going to work for Candy’s bordello across the state line. Instead, Kelly remains in town and takes a job as nurse’s aid at a hospital, where she soon establishes a close rapport with the children in her ward. Griff discovers that she is still in town, and although he does not believe that she desires to reform, he reluctantly agrees to give her a chance.