Film Noir Friday: Slightly Honorable [1939]

 

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 SLIGHTLY HONORABLE starring Pat O’Brien, Edward Arnold, Broderick Crawford and Ruth Terry. This film was directed by Tay Garnet who, seven years later, would direct THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE.  Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Attorney John Webb is fighting the corruption of a political ring led by Vincent Cushing, a newspaper publisher who has become very wealthy through graft. Webb’s only ally is his law partner, Russ Sampson. While at the state capitol to enlist the aid of Senator Scott, the two meet Alma Brehmer, Cushing’s mistress and a law client of Webb’s. Alma invites them to a party that Cushing is giving at Pete Godeana’s nightclub that night, and Webb accepts. At the club, Webb is impressed by dancer Ann Seymour’s performance in the floor show until he learns that she is only eighteen. Minutes later, he hears Ann scream and sees Godeana slapping the girl. Webb punches Godeana and takes Ann from the club.

 

Film Noir Friday: The Benson Murder Case [1930]

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 BENSON MURDER CASE starring William Powell as Philo Vance.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Anthony Benson, wealthy stockbroker, to escape the threats and pleas of numerous friends he sold out in the market crash, motors to his hunting lodge near New York, accompanied by Harry Gray, a Broadway gambler and one of those he sold out. Benson is followed by three others who have threatened to kill him: Adolph Mohler, whose forged check Benson holds; Mrs. Paula Banning, a widow, in love with Mohler, whose assets have been wiped out; and Fanny Del Roy, a Broadway actress, who claims that the pearls held in lieu of Mohler’s check were stolen from her. During a visit by District Attorney Markham and amateur detective Philo Vance, Benson is murdered

 

Film Noir Friday on Sunday Evening: The Kiss Before the Mirror [1933]

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 Kiss Before the Mirror starring Gloria Stuart (you may recall her as Rose, the old woman in the movie TITANIC), Nancy Carroll, Paul Lukas. Frank Morgan and Walter Pidgeon.

This pre-code mystery was directed by James Whale. Some of his other films include Frankenstein, The Old Dark House and The Invisible Man.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Paul Held, a noted attorney in Vienna, defends his best friend, Walter Bernsdorf, who is on trial for the murder of his wife Lucy. After hearing Walter’s impassioned description of Lucy’s infidelity and the events leading up to the murder, Paul returns home to his wife Maria. While she puts on her make-up in front of her vanity mirror, Paul recognizes a similarity to the events Walter had described in court, and notices that his wife appears to pay special attention to her make-up for reasons unconnected with her love for him. Paul kisses Maria, and she angrily repulses him, claiming he has ruined her make-up; then she casually goes out. Like Walter before him, Paul follows her and watches as she meets clandestinely with her lover.

Film Noir Friday: Shadow of the Thin Man [1941]

shadow-of-the-thin-man-half-sheet-a-small

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. Today’s feature is SHADOW OF THE THIN MAN starring Myrna Loy, William Powell, Donna Reed, Barry Nelson and Asta (his real name was Skippy).

Imagine my delight when I found this on YouTube today.  The person(s) providing the film say they couldn’t find a copyright for it.  I believe they may be mistaken — so watch this immediately!  The Thin Man series always makes me smile, and this particular entry in the series is one I absolutely adore (especially Myrna’s hat!)

If you miss this showing for any reason you’ll be pleased to know that TCM is showing it on December 31st.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

In San Francisco, former private detective Nick Charles enjoys a peaceful retirement with his attractive wife Nora, their young son Nick, Jr., and their wire-haired terrier, Asta. One afternoon, when Nick and Nora go to the races, they learn from Nick’s old friend, Lieutenant Abrams, that a jockey named Gomez has just been fatally shot. In the jockey room, Nick’s police and reporter friends think that he is on the case, but he insists that his detective days are over, even when one of the jockeys piques his curiosity by saying that Gomez was killed because he refused to throw a race.

Happy Birthday Aggie Underwood & Deranged L.A. Crimes!

Aggie hoists a brew c. 1920s.

Aggie hoists a brew c. 1920s.

Aggie Underwood was born on December 17, 1902 and Deranged L.A. Crimes was born on December 17, 2012, so there’s a lot to celebrate today. We have so many candles on our birthday cake it will take a gale force wind to blow them all out.

It was Aggie’s career as a Los Angeles journalist that inspired me to begin this blog; and my admiration for Aggie and her accomplishments has grown in the years since I first became aware of her.

Aggie at a crime scene in 1946.

Aggie at a crime scene in 1946.

Aggie’s career began in late 1926 when she took a job as a temporary switchboard operator at the Daily Record. She had never intended to work outside of her home, but she was motivated by her desire for a pair of silk stockings. When her husband Harry told her they couldn’t afford the stockings, Aggie got huffy and said she’d buy them herself. It was an empty threat — until a close friend called out of the blue and asked her if she would be interested in a temporary job at the Daily Record. Aggie jumped at the chance. Christmas was coming and the Underwood family could use a few extra dollars, and Aggie would get her silk stockings.

In her 1949 autobiography, Newspaperwoman, Aggie described her first impression of the Record’s newsroom as a “weird wonderland”. She was initially intimidated by the men in shirtsleeves shouting, cursing and banging away on typewriters, but it didn’t take long before intimidation became exhilaration. Much to her surprise she had fallen in love with the newspaper business. At the end of her first year at her “temporary” job she realized that she wanted to be a reporter. From that moment forward Aggie pursued her goal with passion and commitment.

Aggie at her desk after becoming City Editor at the Evening Herald & Express.

Aggie at her desk after becoming City Editor at the Evening Herald & Express. Note the baseball bat — she used it to shoo away pesky Hollywood press agents.

During a time when most female journalists were assigned to report on women’s club activities and fashion trends, Aggie covered the most important crime stories of the day. She attended actress Thelma Todd’s autopsy in December 1935 and was the only Los Angeles reporter to score a byline in the Black Dahlia case in January 1947. Aggie’s career may have started on a whim, but it lasted over 40 years.

Look closely and you can see Aggie's byline.

Look closely and you can see Aggie’s byline under “Night In a Motel”.

Over the past five years I’ve corresponded with many of you and I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some of you in person. Your support and encouragement mean a lot to me, and whether you are new to the blog or have been following Deranged L.A. Crimes from the beginning I want to thank you sincerely for your readership.

There will be many more stories in 2018, and a few appearances too. Look for me in shows on the Investigation Discovery Network (I’ve been interviewed for Deadly Women, Deadly Affairs, Evil Twins, Evil Kin and several others.) I recently appeared in a show on the infamous Cecil Hotel (Horror at the Cecil Hotel).  The Cecil has the dubious distinction of having been home to two serial killers!

I have appeared in a few podcasts — Hollywood & Crime and Gangland Wire to name two.

Whether it is on television, in the blog or some other medium I’m looking forward to telling more crime tales in 2018.

Happy Holidays!

Thank you again for your support.

Joan

Politics Is A Dirty Business

Politics in Los Angeles has long been a dirty and corrupt business. This was never truer than during the 1930s.

I found this wonderful cartoon in an issue of the Evening Herald & Express. Any citizen of Los Angeles who was paying attention would have known exactly who all the players were. I didn’t understand several of the references and so I thought it might be fun to try to decipher them.

Here is the cartoon, and below that is my key to understanding just what in the hell the cartoonist was talking about.

1932 corruption cartoon_resize

On the second floor of the Payoff Villa Apartments one of the gamblers says: “Guy, send Eddie in.” The gambler was referring to Guy McAfee. McAfee, like thousands of others, had moved from the midwest to Los Angeles years before seeking his fortune. He didn’t find it as a firefighter, which he worked at for a while. But things began to look up for him when he joined the LAPD. His career trajectory ultimately landed him in the position of head of the vice squad. Oh, delicious irony! While serving as the head of the vice squad, McAfee owned brothels and gambling dens.

Guy McAfee and his wife, June in 1939.

Guy McAfee and his wife, June in 1939.

In the late 1930s, when it appeared that LA might become less tolerant of vice (the possible crackdown was a momentary hiccup in the ongoing criminal enterprise that the city had become), McAfee moved to Las Vegas, Nevada. Bugsy Siegel gets the credit, or blame depending on your view, for establishing the desert gaming mecca, but it was men like Guy McAfee and his associate Milton B. “Farmer” Page who really kicked things off in the sleepy little cow town. McAfee was the co-founder of the Pioneer Club and was the President of the Golden Nugget until his death in 1960.

The “Eddie” referred to in the cartoon bubble was Eddie Nealis, a local bookmaker. Eddie’s name along with his fellow vice kings: Guy McAfee, Farmer Page, Tudor Scherer, Jack Dragna and Johnny Roselli, came up in the Los Angele County 1937 Grand Jury investigation into vice. Most of those named fled the city for Vegas in 1938.

Cathay_Circle_Theater (1)

Carthay Circle Theater c. 1937

On the roof of the Payoff Villa Apartments, you will find a cop named Mac D. Jones. He appears to be shoving a woman in a toga over the edge. Lysistrata is mentioned. Lysistrata was Greek play written by Aristophanes. This reference threw me for a loop. I couldn’t figure out what a cop had to do with the play. But I found out. The play, written in 411 BC, is a comedy in which a woman, Lysistrata, embarks on a mission to end the Peloponnesian War. And how does she plan to do it? Get all of the women of Greece to withhold sex from their husbands and lovers so that they’ll snap to their senses and negotiate peace. It still seems like a solid plan.

Apparently, Officer Mac Jones wasn’t a lover of Greek plays, he raided the show twice while it was on stage at Carthay Circle Theater (the beautiful 1926 building was demolished in 1969–a bad year for many reasons).  The cast filed a suit against Jones in the amount of $226,000 for damages. The judge who heard the case, Superior Court Judge Willis, was evidently no lover of Greek theater either He said that there were two scenes that “as written and acted are sufficient in the mind of the average person to condemn the play as indecent and obscene as hereintofore defined, and there can be found nowhere in the play any redeeming or ameliorating quality of uplift, or lesson, or message of good.” Judge Willis threw out the demand for damages. I happen to love the play for many reasons, one of which is its powerful anti-war stance.

A poster on the exterior wall of the Payoff Villa Apartments exclaims: “Radio fans hear Martin Luther Thomas preach on ‘No Vice, No Crime.'” I was intrigued. Who was Martin Luther Thomas? It turns out that Thomas was one of several local radio preachers who, when he wasn’t railing against the “Underworld”, was the chief investigator for City Prosecutor Johnson.

And the fellow crawling on his hands and knees in the street? He was Wells J. Mosher, confidential secretary to Mayor Porter.

In July 1931 Thomas and Mosher were linked by a so-called “snooping system” they allegedly ran to gather dirt on other city employees–particularly members of the city council. Director Knox of the Bureau of Budget and Efficiency was told to file a report with the Efficiency and Personnel Committee of the City Council. The report was specifically ordered to address whether or not Thomas and Mosher should lose their jobs. One of the councilmen declared that the two men were costing the city money that could be put to better use.

Mayor John Clinton Porter was a teetotaler and a xenophobe. Porter’s promise to clean-up the city’s political system won him the election in 1929, but it didn’t win him any friends on the wrong side of the law. Once sworn in the mayor began receiving death threats. He was the only mayor in LA’s history to be the victim of an attempted assassination.

On February 19, 1932, a federal warehouse worker, Jacob Denzer, who kept watch over confiscated booze, sat in the mayor’s lobby awaiting an audience. The self-proclaimed “messenger of the Lord” had had a vision for a “divine plan of salvation.” When 50 Fullerton Junior High School students, on a tour of City Hall, started to crowd into the lobby Denzer became agitated. He stood up, waved his gun and shouted at the startled students to “Get out of here, all of you.” A city janitor saw the ruckus. He managed to grab the revolver from Denzer’s hand.

Frank L. Shaw

Frank L. Shaw

Porter came through a recall effort and presided over the 1932 Olympic Games. Ever the teetotaler, no alcohol was served at the opening ceremony.

Porter enjoyed being mayor and ran in 1933, only to be defeated by arguably the most corrupt mayor in Los Angeles’ history, Frank L. Shaw (who, by the way, was recalled in 1938).

Justice Times Two, Conclusion

Three alienists, Drs. Benjamin Blank, Victor Parkin and Paul Bowers, were called on to determine Gray McNeer’s sanity. The doctors testified at a sanity hearing on October 29, 1934.  They said that they had examined Gray and found him to be sane. The jury concurred. Gray’s trial for Betty’s murder would resume despite his loud and incoherent courtroom outbursts.

The day following Gray’s sanity hearing, S.S. Hahn announced that his client would take the stand in his own defense.  Putting Gray on the stand was a risky move. If he was incapable of controlling himself at the defense table, how would he fare on the witness stand? On more than one occasion the trial had to be adjourned because Gray became hysterical.  How would Gray, still swathed in bandages and wheelchair bound, comport himself under cross examination?

mcneer takes standGray was scheduled to take the stand on November 2nd but he was too ill to appear in court.  The trial was delayed for a few days until it was decided that if Gray couldn’t come to court, the court would come to him.  The trial resumed at Gray’s bedside in the County Jail Hospital.

Gray testified that on the night of the Betty’s death he met her at the apartment of a mutual friend, Lucille Herner, and then they drove to an isolated spot in Glendale where they argued. It was in the midst of their argument, Gray said, that Betty pulled out a gun. He said he felt a heavy blow to his head and then didn’t remember a thing until he regain consciousness in the Glendale Police Station. It was there that he was informed that his Betty’s body had been found in the car next to him.mcneer guilty

The remainder of the trial was conducted in the hospital with Dr. Benjamin Blank in constant attendance to monitor Gray’s condition.  The case went to the jury late on November 7th.  At 10 p.m., after hours of deliberation, the jury was sequestered for the night.

On the evening of November 8th the jury returned with their verdict.  They found Gray guilty of second degree murder.  Gray began to babble incoherently, but settled down after a reprimand from the judge. Gray’s mother, Lola, said she had no plan to appeal the verdict.  S.S. Hahn said, “Mrs. McNeer is convinced that her son’s condition is such that the probably will not live to serve his sentence.”  The doctors disagreed.  They believed Gray would recover from the bullet wound.

gray folsomGray was taken to Folsom Prison to begin serving his sentence of from 5 years to life. Gray’s mother said there was no plan to file an appeal.  But plans change.

gray new trial

The bullet in his head was removed by San Quentin physicians, so Gray was in much better shape for his second trial than he had been for the first go ‘round.

In Judge Vicker’s court, Gray’s second trial began with testimony from police chemist Ray Pinker. Pinker testified that powder burns on Betty’s arms indicated that she was directly in front of the gun at the time the fatal shot was fired into her head. The powder burns were not consistent with a suicide.

Gray took the stand on November 21st.  He reiterated the story he had told at his first trial.  Gray said that he and Betty had taken an automobile ride and attempted reconciliation.  When she refused to return to him Gray said he suggested divorce. According to Gray, Betty became angry, pulled out a gun and shot him in the head.  He said even though he was gravely wounded he struggled with Betty for possession of the weapon. He lost the struggle and,that’s when Betty turned the gun on herself.

The trial was going along smoothly until Deputy District Attorney Wildey asked Gray to repeat a conversation he’d had with Betty right before the shooting.  Gray snapped: “I will not repeat it.  It’s all cut and dried. Go ahead and shoot what you have.  I refuse to testify further in this case!” Gray then grabbed his crutch and hobbled away from the witness stand, ignoring the judge’s order to answer the question. That was it for Gray.  He didn’t take the stand again. gray quentin

The case went to the jury of six men and six women who, just as the jury in the first trial, had to be sequestered.

When the jury returned, Gray was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. He’d rolled the dice on a second trial and come up snake eyes. His second sentence was harsher than the first.

In 1958, after 24 years in prison, Gray appealed again on the grounds of double jeopardy. The plea was rejected. Shortly afterwards he sought legal relief via habeas corpus. He wasn’t represented by S.S. Hahn because Hahn had died mysteriously in the swimming pool at his son’s cabin in Castaic. The two public defenders representing Gray were successful and he was ordered returned to Los Angeles for re-sentencing for the crime of second degree murder. I haven’t been able to find out what happened at the re-sentencing hearing.

Gray Everett McNeer died in Sacramento on July 27, 1964.

NOTE:  I’m going to try to find out what happened to Gray. If any of you find anything please let me know!

UPDATE 5/29/2017:  Many thanks to a reader, Katie, for letting me know that Gray McNeer committed suicide in Folsom prison in 1964.  With her information I found the following paragraph from the Long Beach Independent dated July 28, 1964:

mcneer

Justice Times Two, Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEXT TIME: Will Gray McNeer’s trial continue

Justice Times Two, Part 1

Los Angeles has been home to some of the wiliest and most wicked criminals in the world.  And where there are criminals there are attorneys to defend them.  I’ll leave it to you to decide which group is worse.

Among the defense attorneys who practiced in the city, one of the most fascinating was Samuel Simpson Hahn.  Known as S.S. Hahn, which makes him sound like a luxury liner, Hahn was born Schrul Widelman on September 18, 1888 in Ternova, Besarubia, Russia.  He is believed to have arrived in the U.S. on June 30, 1906 and changed his name to Samuel Needleman.  Contrary to the persistent belief that xenophobic immigration agents arbitrarily changed the names of newcomers many people opted to change their surnames to adapt to their new lives in America.  In any case, by 1912 the newly minted Samuel Needleman had moved to Los Angeles and had changed his name one last time. He became Samuel Simpson Hahn.  That moniker stuck with him for the rest of his life.

S.S. Hahn with a witness in Aimee Semple McPherson's trial. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

S.S. Hahn with a witness in Aimee Semple McPherson’s trial. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

On July 22, 1915, having passed his exam, Samuel Hahn was admitted to the California State Bar and for the next four decades he defended some of the most notorious criminals in the city.  Hahn’s client list reads like a Who’s Who of local crime.  Among those who sought his services were serial killer Louise Peete and naughty evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson.

Hahn didn’t limit his practice to felons. Following WWII there was a sharp uptick in divorces.  Starry-eyed couples who married in the heat of passion during wartime found themselves dreading the prospect of thousands of dreary days in each other’s company. In 1945, LIFE Magazine featured Hahn in an article on divorce mills.   Interestingly, he appears to have met his second wife, Mary Monroe, when she came to him to dissolve her marriage.

HAHN_MARY MONROE

I intend to write more about S.S. Hahn in the coming months.  I find his career worthy of multiple posts.  He was disbarred as a young attorney in the 1910s, possibly for suborning perjury, but appears to have won an appeal to restore his license. His death by drowning in a backyard swimming pool in 1957 was ruled a suicide, but it was highly suspicious. I’ll get to more of Hahn’s life later—I think you’ll find it compelling.

Today I’m going to cover a 1934 case from the Hahn files in which he defended a man accused of murdering his wife.

Shortly before midnight on Wednesday, June 27, 1934, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Kilborane of 4919 Bemis Street were driving on a lonely stretch of dirt road between the Southern Pacific tracks and the Los Angeles River. They were about 200 feet West of the intersection of San Fernando Road and Colorado Boulevard when they noticed a car.  It isn’t clear what caught the attention of the couple but they decided to investigate.  They found a woman sitting upright and dead on the passenger side. Seated next to her behind the steering wheel was a man.  He was severely wounded and semi-conscious. Both had suffered gunshot wounds to the head.

betty mcneerPolice identified the victims as Gray (Grey) Everett McNeer and his estranged wife, Beatrice (Betty) Helene Harker McNeer. While fighting for his life in the General Hospital Gray managed a brief statement in which he laid the blame for the shootings on his dead wife. Unfortunately for Gray the physical evidence suggested a far different scenario.

There were a couple of major problems with Gray’s statement.  First, Betty had been shot three times in the head and second, she was right handed. Even a contortionist would have found it difficult to shoot herself on the left side of her head if she was right handed. Besides, if Betty was the shooter why would she leave her intended victim moaning and alive?  Wouldn’t she have made certain he was dead before she turned the gun on herself—three times? Detectives were convinced Gray was a killer and placed him in the prison ward of the hospital—not that he was capable of taking it on the lam.  Doctors weren’t convinced that he would make it through the night.

gray mcneerWith Gray in the hospital, Detective Lieutenants Sanderson and Hill of the police department began their investigation into the backgrounds of the McNeers.

At 33 years of age Gray already had an extensive criminal record.  The 1930 Federal Census lists Gray as an inmate in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary where he was a machine operator in the pants factory. He was in prison for his part in the robbery of a paper company in Oklahoma City.  If his life since his release from prison was any indication of his future plans he had no intention of going straight, ever.  At the time of the shooting Gray was wanted for questioning in a recent string of robberies in Los Angeles.

Betty was 29 when she died and she had been married and divorced twice before she tangled with Gray.  She was 19 when she married a wealthy Altadena inventor, E.P. Pottinger. They divorced after two years and Betty wed Arthur Nollau who owned a knitting mill at 1409 West Washington Boulevard.  The marriage to Nollau also lasted roughly two years.  Twenty-four months seemed to be limit of Betty’s attention span for marriage.  In the days prior to her death she had filed for divorce from Gray to whom, you guessed it, she had been married for approximately two years.

Gray’s condition appeared to be improving; which meant that the ex-con would likely be indicted for  his wife’s murder.  In that case he would require the services of an attorney.

NEXT TIME:  Justice Times Two continues.

 

1901