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.

 

Film Noir Friday: Ocean’s Eleven [1960]

Oceans_11

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 OCEAN’S ELEVEN a caper film starring Rat Pack members: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and auxiliary member Angie Dickinson.  Enjoy the film!

TCM says:

In Beverly Hills, around Christmastime, excitable racketeer Spyros Acebos is waiting to hear from former sergeant Danny Ocean, who led the heroic 82nd Airborne unit of paratroopers during World War II. Acebos hopes that Danny will reassemble his highly trained commando unit to participate in a heist that will make them millionaires. Danny and a fellow paratrooper, Jimmy Foster, have worked out a detailed plan for putting Acebos’ idea into action that requires carefully timed, military precision. However, they are avoiding Acebos’ calls until they locate their former comrades and convince them to participate. After searching Phoenix, San Francisco and other cities where the men have scattered, Danny reunites his ten colleagues at Acebos’ home to outline his plan, which is to simultaneously rob five Las Vegas casinos: the Sands, Flamingo, Sahara, Riviera and Desert Inn–on New Year’s Eve at midnight.

APRIL 27, 2016 NOTE:  Unfortunately, the YouTube link for this film has been removed–likely due to copyright issues.

30 More Years of Crime in L.A.

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

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

dirtyharry

Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry

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

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

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

ramirez_108a

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

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

Jim Jones of the People's Temple

Jim Jones of the People’s Temple

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joan

 

 

 

A Thanksgiving Eve Date with the Gas Chamber, Conclusion

DITSON_WARDAfter 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.

A Thanksgiving Eve Date with the Gas Chamber

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.

NEXT TIME: Which will it be for Allen Ditson? A turkey dinner with more to come, or the gas chamber?

A Cell of One’s Own, Conclusion

isa_confessionThe fight between Isa Lang and Edith Eufala Norwood over an avocado sandwich ended in death. Isa had grabbed a gun from her former landlady’s closet and shot her in the back of the head. Eufala died instantly.

Isa was indicted for the slaying and ordered to stand trial on March 7, 1935 in Judge Doran’s court. She entered a a double plea of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity; which seemed reasonable given her stated motive for the murder.

The 46-year-old former school teacher took the stand in her defense and told the jury of nine men and three woman how “Everything went black.” after she and Eufala exchanged angry words. Isa said that the quarrel escalated quickly because: “Mrs. Norwood grabbed the sandwich out of my hands and she called me names. As she ran into the kitchen with the plate I made with my own bread I ran to a closet and got the pistol.”

Aside from the harsh words, Isa’s rage was triggered because she claimed that she had used her own bread to make lunch. She didn’t reveal the source of the avocados. Isa testified that she didn’t recall pulling the trigger, but admitted that she must have done it.

Jurors learned that the two women had been friends for the several years during which Isa had been living in Eufala’s home. But their friendship ended when Isa was told to move out.

Following their deliberations the jury returned a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree and set Isa’s punishment at life in prison. The defendant addressed the jury telling them that she was “willing to accept any punishment the law requires.”isa_convicted

The verdict and sentence ended the first phase of Isa’s trial–next the jury would have to decide if she was insane when she committed the murder.

Three alienists (psychiatrists) testified that while Isa was undoubtedly eccentric whe was not legally insane when she shot Eufala. Isa’s defense team offered their own witnesses in an effort to prove that she was not mentally responsible for the shooting. It took the jury five minutes to arrive at a decision–Isa was sane–she would serve life in the State Prison for Women at Tehachapi.

There were few high profile female killers, especially during the 1930s, who weren’t interviewed by Aggie Underwood. Aggie started working as a reporter for the Evening Herald & Express in January 1935 and, as you can see from the photo she scored an interview with Isa.

Isa Lang, convicted of murder, with reporter Agness  Underwood, Los Angeles, 1935 resize

Aggie Underwood, notebook in hand, interviews Isa Lang. [Photo courtesy of USC]

There were no further newspaper of reports on Isa until November 1976 when the Los Angeles Times did a piece on her. Isa had been a prisoner longer than any other woman in California–but that wasn’t her only claim to fame.

She was paroled in 1960 at age 71, and she told the interviewer, Charles Hillinger: “The first five years of freedom I really enjoyed. I had my own little apartment and a beautiful cat named Ginger. But the last four years were sheer hell. I became sick. I had to give up my apartment and go into a nursing home. I shared a room with five other elderly women. They were all senile. They had no idea where they were or what was going on. It was terrible. I was so lonely for all my friends in prison. I wanted to get back to prison in the worst way…”

isa_home in prisonAstonishingly, Isa was able to convince the Department of Correction that by giving up her parole and returning to prison she would be treated more humanely than she had been in the nursing home on the outside. Actually, now that I think about some of the stories I’ve read about nursing homes, maybe her request wasn’t so shocking after all.

Isa spoke with some pride of her years in prison: “I have worked at every job there is for inmates here over the years. The laundry, the kitchen, as a gardener in the yard, in the sewing room making American flags that fly over state buildings. For many years i was secretary for the superintendent. She also told Hillinger: “..I did your kind of work, too. I wrote feature stories and editorials for the Clarion, our prison paper, for 6 1/2 years.”

Isa revealed that she never married during her free years: “I’m glad for it. This is a tragic place for married women. Separated from their husbands. Their children in foster homes.”

As she got older and her health began to fail she was confined to a wheelchair, but inmates brought her gifts of rosebuds from the prison gardens–and staff members brought her flowers from their home gardens as well.

Isa wouldn’t say very much about the 1935 murder. “It was something that could happen to anyone. It was terribly foolish for me to get caught up in the situation that I did. I got stirred up. It certainly wasn’t worth it. I’ve accepted the consequences. Only God and I know what truly happened…”

Isa Lang in her 80s.

Isa Lang in her 80s.

That wasn’t the end of Isa’s story. In August 1982 the Los Angeles Times covered her again. At age 93 (she was the oldest person serving time in the state’s prison system) she was likely going to be paroled–and she wasn’t happy about it. She objected to the presence of reporters at her parole hearing, saying: “I don’t want any publicity. The last time somebody put something in the Los Angeles Times about me years ago, people started picketing for my release and even the governor got into it. I want those do-gooders to mind their own business.”

It wasn’t just reporters she objected to. She became prickly when her victim was described as having been her benefactor. “That woman was not my benefactor. I merely rented a room from her. I killed her because she called me a bastard and a harlot and I want the record straight on that.”

Robert Roos, a member of the parole board, tried to sum up the conundrum: “The questions really isn’t whether Isa Lang is suitable for parole. She is by our criterion no longer a danger to society. The real question is whether parole is suitable for her. I, for one, don’t want to impose a death sentence on this lady by forcing her out of a place she clearly considers home.”

Would Isa be evicted from prison? Yes, indeed. Her attorney, James Gunn, declared himself “flabbergasted” by the parole board’s decision. Even Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Charles Havens agreed: “I’m surprised at what they did. It just doesn’t seem the compassionate thing to do.” But the board decided to follow the letter of the law and using that measure Isa was released.

Columnist Patt Morrison wrote about Isa in May 1983. At age 94, the former lifer was living comfortably with a “very compatible” elderly woman–a fellow vegetarian and Seventh-day Adventist.isa_dies2

Isa Lang passed away in 1983 at age 95.

NOTE:  Again, many thanks to my friend and fellow historian Mike Fratantoni for directing me to this deranged tale.

Film Noir Friday on Saturday: Dragnet [1966]

Harry-Morgan-jack-webbWelcome! 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 DRAGNET 1966, starring Jack Webb and Harry Morgan.

I’ve show this feature before but I thought that since I’m attending the JACK WEBB AWARDS event tonight it would be appropriate to show it again. I’m looking forward to the evening. It will, once again, be hosted by James Ellroy.

Dragnet 1966 is a made-for-TV movie that initiated the return of the Dragnet series to television. It was intended to be the TV pilot of Dragnet 1967 but was not aired as originally planned. It was eventually broadcast in 1969.

The Internet Movie Database says:

Sgt. Joe Friday is called back from vacation to work with his partner, Off. Bill Gannon, on a missing persons case. Two amateur female models and a young war widow have vanished, having been last seen with one J. Johnson. In the course of tracking down Johnson and the young ladies, the detectives wind up with two different descriptions of the suspect, one of which closely resembles a dead body found in a vacant lot. But the dead man, later identified as Charles LeBorg of France, proves not to be J. Johnson, when a third young model disappears.

The story is based on the Harvey Glatman case which I covered in a series of posts.

The Devil in Orange County – 2015 Update

Several months ago I promised to provide an update, when I had one, on the results of a letter writing campaign asking California Governor Jerry Brown to overturn the upcoming parole of Arthur Craig Hulse for the 1970 murder of gas station attendant Jerry Wayne Carlin. Craig was also sentenced for his participation in the slaying of Florence Brown, a young wife and mother who had been car-jacked on her way to a PTA meeting.

Below is the follow-up on the story.

murder suspects

In 2013 I wrote a series of posts entitled “The Devil in Orange County” about one of the most notorious cases in the county’s history. My brother and I knew one of the killers, Arthur Craig  Hulse.   Nicknamed “Moose” he had been a visitor to my family’s home on many occasions during the time that he and my brother were in junior high school together.

Just days before Craig was busted, a good friend and I picked him up hitch-hiking. We had heard about the murders, they were headline news. On June 2, 1970 a gas station attendant, Jerry Wayne Carlin, had been beaten to death with a hatchet during a robbery that netted his killers $73, and  the following day a school teacher, Florence Brown, had been stabbed multiple times. Her mutilated remains were discovered two weeks later in a shallow grave off of Ortega Highway. We had no idea that Craig was involved until we heard about his arrest.

I suggest that you read the posts for details about the crimes which resulted in Craig, 16 at the time, being tried as an adult and sentenced to life in prison. When I followed-up on his case nearly two years ago I discovered that he was still incarcerated and had been denied parole for the 13th time in October 2012. He was not supposed to be eligible again for 5 years.

Since I began this blog in December 2012, I’ve written about more than 300 historic crime cases, and I have been surprised at the number of emails that I’ve received from the family members of both victims and perpetrators. One of the most touching emails I have received was from Patricia Kramer, Jerry Wayne Carlin’s widow.  Patricia wrote to me in October 2014 to inform me that Craig’s parole date had not only been moved up a few years, but that he had been granted release.

craig hulse photoPatricia lives out of state and wasn’t notified of the parole hearing in time to make arrangements to attend, so Craig’s request for release went unopposed. We organized a letter writing campaign to ask Governor Brown to overturn the parole because at his previous hearing, about a year before, the board had stated that Hulse still constituted an unreasonable danger to the public. What could have changed in such a short time?

The big change had come with the adoption of Senate Bill 260 “Justice for Juveniles with Adult Prison Sentences” which went into effect on January 1, 2014. The bill requires that the parole board “…review the cases of people who were under the age of 18 at the time of their crime and look at them differently than it does people who were adults.”

As a result of SB 260, Craig was able to request an earlier hearing–and it was at that time that his parole was granted.

There are some very complicated issues surrounding appropriate sentencing and/or treatment of juveniles who commit serious crimes; and there are no easy answers.

California is one of a small handful of states which grants authority to the governor to overturn a parole board’s decision. While in office Governor Brown has disagreed with the board in about 20% of the cases, so there were no assurances that Craig’s parole would be overturned.

A couple of days ago I heard from  Patricia. She told me that she had received word that Governor Brown had denied Craig’s release and that he would be eligible again in early 2015.

Patricia said that she will continue to oppose Craig’s release for as long as she lives.

Here are links to the 4 part series: The Devil in Orange County

The Devil in Orange County

The Devil in Orange County, Part 2

The Devil in Orange County, Part 3

The Devil in Orange County, Part 4