Too Many Cooks, Conclusion

Their failure to solve the June 22, 1947 murder of Bugsy Siegel still rankled members of the Beverly Hills Police Department.  None of them wanted to suffer the frustration of another high profile cold case.  They were committed to solving Katie Hayden’s murder and they weren’t above asking for help. Many of the smaller Los Angeles county police departments, like Beverly Hills, were unaccustomed to conducting murder investigations so they enlisted the aid of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department homicide bureau.

Rutherford Leon Bennett (R) and Nathaniel Smith (L). Photo courtesy of LAPL.

Despite his protestations of innocence, Rutherford Leon Bennett was a promising suspect. The Hayden’s had recently dismissed Rutherford as their cook when he failed to perform to their expectations. He said he phoned Samuel Hayden for a reference, but his call could have been interpreted as an attempt to extort money from his former boss for his firing.  Rutherford was arrested and booked on suspicion of murder. His roommate, Nathaniel Smith, was taken into custody but released after an intense interrogation proved that he had no part in the crime.

Rutherford submitted to a lie detector test. He passed, but that wasn’t enough to satisfy the police. There are people who can defeat a polygraph – maybe Rutherford was one of them. Police weren’t about to kick him loose unless or until they had a better suspect.

Margaret and Rutherford. Photo courtesy LAPL.

Peggy King, Rutherford’s replacement as the Hayden’s cook, was an obvious suspect because she was the only person in the house when Katie was murdered. But where was her motive?  She had only been in the Hayden’s employ for three days.

Police learned that Peggy was also known as (Mrs.) Margaret Moore.  Margaret was a relative newcomer to Los Angeles. She left her home in Houston, Texas in 1954 following a separation from her husband.  Her father, Samuel Johnson, was a prominent figure in Houston’s Baptist church community. Nothing in Margaret’s background marked her as someone capable of hacking her employer to death with a hatchet.   Still, police were obliged to subject her to the same scrutiny they gave Rutherford.

Detective Sergeant Ray Hopkinson of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s homicide bureau assisted in the investigation. He said that one of Margaret’s male friends, with whom she had recently quarreled, had been located and was able to account for his whereabouts. One more suspect eliminated.

The police weren’t entirely satisfied with Margaret’s description of events.  Since there was no one who could confirm or deny her story the police had to find another way to get at the truth. In her closet they found the dress that Margaret was wearing the day of the murder. It was spattered with what appeared to be blood. Even if the blood was Katie’s, it didn’t necessarily mean that Margaret was a killer.

Margaret’s alibi, that she had been vacuuming in another part of the house while Katie was being butchered, didn’t hold together when police realized that the killer would have had to pass Margaret to get to Katie.

Margaret had a date with the polygraph machine on February 11, 1955.  Investigators hoped that the polygraph, the ultimate truth or dare device in a murder investigation, would reveal Margaret’s lies — if she was telling any.  The former cook was questioned for over 90 minutes. The examiner concluded that Margaret was being deceptive in her answers.

Detectives used Margaret’s lies against her.  It didn’t take long for her to break down and confess. But why had she done it?

Margaret. Photo courtesy LAPL.

According to Margaret the murder was the result of a heated argument she had with Katie about how to bone a roast. Katie was supervising Margaret in the kitchen and lost patience with her. In a fit of pique Katie snatched the small ax Margaret was using out of her hands and attempted to give her a demonstration.

“I had gotten the ax to cut the bone in the roast.  During the argument Mrs. Hayden took the ax from me and tried to show me how to do it.”  Margaret said.

“She (Katie) continued arguing with me and then I took the ax from her and struck her on the head.  She didn’t fall after I struck her once and then I struck her again and again.  I don’t know how many times I struck her after that. . .”

Margaret may have lost count of the blows it took to shatter Katie’s skull, but Dr. Newbarr, who conducted Katie’s autopsy, said that the sharp end of the ax had been used to inflict 20 to 30 cuts to her head and face.  Then the butt end of the ax was used to fracture her lower left jaw and her upper left collarbone.

The vicious attack sent Katie to the kitchen floor in a bloody heap.  “I stood over her for more than 10 minutes,” Margaret said.  “I was dazed.”

She wasn’t too dazed to formulate a plan to escape detection. As Katie lay dying in a widening pool of blood, Margaret went upstairs and ransacked her employer’s room.  “I opened all the drawers in the dressers and scattered clothing about the floor to make it appear that someone had broken in the house,” she told detectives.

While Margaret was yanking out dresser drawers and throwing clothing around Katie’s room, the telephone rang.  The caller was one of Katie’s daughters, Rose Furstman.  Margaret answered the phone and told her that someone had come in and killed her mother.  Then she hung up.  Rose lived at 1041 Hilts Avenue in West Los Angeles, barely two miles away from her parents’ home.  It must have been an agonizing drive over to her parent’s home.

Margaret used the few minutes before Rose arrived to wipe her bloody hands clean with a dust rag.  She tossed the rag and the ax into the kitchen sink, then she began to scream.

Margaret’s unholy wailing drew the attention of the half a dozen landscapers that were in the Hayden’s backyard installing a sprinkler system. When they got to the kitchen they found Margaret standing near Katie’s body. There was blood everywhere.

Margaret’s explanation for the murder was that her nerves were on edge because her common-law husband of two years had left her. Margaret’s two-year relationship was nothing compared to the 49 years that Samuel and Katie had spent together. The couple would have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in August.

Margaret comforted by her brother, Milton Johnson. Photo courtesy LAPL.

Roy King, the man Margaret called husband, showed up at the Beverly Hills Jail to comfort her. Her brother, Milton Johnson, also came to the jail to show support.

With Margaret’s confession in hand the cops breathed a sigh of relief. Their part was done. Now it was up to the courts to decide her fate.

There was talk of an insanity plea, so Dr. Marcus Crahan, County Jail psychiatrist, examined Margaret. After questioning her for 45 minutes Crahan said: “She is normal mentally.”

Margaret in tears. Photo courtesy LAPL.

With the confession and Dr. Crahan’s report against her, Margaret appeared before Judge Stanley Mosk and withdrew her earlier plea of innocent by reason of insanity and waived her right to a jury trial.  It was a smart move, she likely would have fared much worse with a jury than she did with Judge Mosk.  He heard the case without a jury and found Margaret guilty of second degree murder and sentenced to a term of from five years to life in state prison.

The Society Bootlegger Murder — Conclusion

Blanche Remington — Earle Remington’s sister.

Blanche Remington and her attorney Samuel H. French paid the District Attorney’s office a visit on April 28, 1923.  Blanche was terrified.  She told District Attorney Thomas Woolwine and Deputy District Attorney Asa Keyes that she was being shadowed by as many as four persons. She had first noticed her stalkers trailing her in an automobile immediately following Earle’s murder. Since then she could feel strange eyes on her no matter where she was.

During her meeting with Woolwine and Keyes, Blanche revealed what she knew of her brother’s finances in the few years prior to his death. According to Blanche, she had lent Earle money for various enterprises for many years.  Unfortunately, Blanche was familiar with Earle’s legal business dealings, but knew nothing about his bootlegging side line.  Woolwine told reporters, “Miss Remington arranged the conference through her attorney.  She believed that she might be able to help us in our investigation, but she has told me nothing that can be used in apprehending Remington’s slayer.”

Was Woolwine telling the truth about Blanche’s ignorance of her brother’s bootlegging scheme?  Or was he equivocating in the hope that it would prevent her from being targeted by people who might fear her disclosures?  Reporters turned up at Blanche’s home at 1365 ½ West Twentieth Street in attempt to get more information, but the frightened woman refused to divulge any details.

Three weeks following Blanche’s meeting with the District Attorney, prohibition agents and the Long Beach Police raided a major bootlegging outfit.  Eight men were arrested, two of whom were millionaires thanks to the Eighteenth Amendment.  The raid resulted in the seizure of 160 cases of whiskey, two trucks, four automobiles and a Japanese fishing launch. The authorities thought they could make a connection between the bootleggers and Earle’s murder.  Earle had allegedly conducted business with Claude V. Dudrey, one of the men being held on charges stemming from the raid.  Claude didn’t deny his association with Earle.  He admitted under questioning that he had attempted to get the lease on a building Earle was preparing to vacate.  He also admitted to having sold seven cases of booze to Earle.  But he adamantly denied any involvement in the murder.

There were reports of high-jacking, shootings and even piracy on the high seas linked to several members of the bootlegging ring but there was nothing to suggest that any of the men had been involved in Earle’s murder.

On April 30, 1923, after months of frustration and dead ends, the Los Angeles Times reported that a young woman, who remained nameless in the report, came forward with a story that everyone hoped would resolve the case. Unfortunately, the woman had not approached police with her tale. She had allegedly confessed to local defense attorney S.S. Hahn.  Hahn merely played the messenger. He met with Assistant District Attorney Asa Keyes and repeated what he had been told.

According to Hahn, the woman (whom Hahn described as an attractive 28-year-old brunette) said she and Earle had been lovers for more than eighteen months, but his interest in her began to wane.  She tried unsuccessfully to hold on to him. The woman told Hahn: “I loved Remington and expected him to marry me.  I first began to share his love more than a year and a half ago.  I had been married.  I knew he was married, but he promised that he would obtain a divorce and marry me.  For a year we were happy. He and I lived together for a time at the beach at Venice.  Then gradually his love seemed to cool.  He missed his appointments with me and I say less and Less of him.”

There was more:

“At first I suspected and then I knew that there were other women in his life.  It became more and more difficult for me to see him and finally I realized that he was out of my life.  I wanted to talk to him, but was unable to meet him.  Time after time I sought an interview with him at his office without success.  Then, on the day of the shooting I trailed him.  I saw him meet the other woman.  I followed them.  They had dinner together in a restaurant.  I waited outside while they dined and followed them to the Athletic Club (Los Angeles Athletic Club), where I lost track of them.  That day I carried with me a bottle of acid with which I planned to forever disfigure both of them.  After losing trace of them I got in touch with a man I knew I could trust and asked him to help me.  He brought another man with him.  With them I drove to the Remington home and waited for Earle.  I wanted to talk with him.”

According to the mystery woman she never got the chance to talk to Earle again.  She said she waited in the car for her two men friends to bring Earle to her.  She saw Earle drive up and then there was a scuffle. The evening quiet was shattered by two gunshots and the woman’s screams.

From the murder scene the woman said she was driven by the killers to her aunt’s home where she lived for the first few weeks following the murder.  The woman confessed details of Earle’s murder to her aunt.  She didn’t share details of the murder with her friends, but everyone she knew shielded and aided her.  But, if S.S. Hahn was to be believed, the woman was so conscience stricken that she was ultimately compelled to seek the attorney’s counsel.

S.S. Hahn told reporters, “The woman came to me as a client and said she was wanted for the slaying of Earle Remington.  She said she would disclose the details of the murder if the District Attorney’s office would assure her she would be allowed liberty on bail pending the trial.  She was nervous, hysterical and exhausted.”

The D.A. wasn’t prepared to make the deal and S.S. Hahn refused to name his client if they couldn’t reach an agreement.

The Remington case stalled again in early May.  LAPD Captain Home said, “we are no nearer a solution of the mystery than we were two months ago.”

Two months turned into two years, then twenty. It has now been nearly 95 years since Earle was murdered in the driveway of his home.  Yet, there was a brief glimmer of hope when a WWI veteran, Lawrence Aber, confessed. His reason?  He said he was angry at Earle for selling liquor to veterans. It didn’t take long for the police to realize that Aber had lied. He wasn’t being malicious, he suffered from severe mental issues and he was in a hospital at the time of the slaying.

For several years following her husband’s death, Peggy Remington suffered a series of tragedies. She lost three brothers to various ailments including paralysis and Bright’s Disease.  And most of her money vanished due to “sharp practices of asserted friends.”  She was undeterred.  “It means I am going to work; I am going to be hostess of a country club at Rye, N.Y.” She smiled at reporters and said, “Oh, I’ll get along.”

Despite the dozens of suspects identified early in the investigation, detectives never got the break they needed to catch the killer(s).

It is always hard for me to reconcile myself to the fact that someone got away with murder.  In this case there were so many suspects it was dizzying.

So, I’m curious.  Who do you think murdered Earle?  Bootleggers?  Former business partners? An ex-lover?  Feel free to weigh in.

 

 

Film Noir Friday: The Miami Story [1954]

miami story poster

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 MIAMI STORY starring Barry Sullivan, Luther Adler, John Baer and Adele Jergens.

Before the main feature I’ve added a special short subject, courtesy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Please don’t try these shooting stunts at home!

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

In post-World War II America, a rise in gangster activity prompts the formation of an investigative committee by the U.S. Senate, forcing many criminals to flee to the safety of the tourist-filled and ineffectually policed Miami. When two Cuban gangsters are gunned down upon arrival at Miami’s airport by gangster boss Tony Brill’s right-hand man, Ted Delacorte, and police chief Martin Belman is unable to secure an indictment, journalist Charles Earnshaw summons several prominent Miami businessmen for assistance. The men are dubious about stopping Brill’s ruthless criminal machine, until attorney Frank Alton suggests a plan.

 

 

The Burton Gang’s Last Job, Conclusion

Not long after the bloody shootout between the Burton gang and Sheriff’s deputies at the Union Ice Company, in which all of the bandits except J.W. Gilkye were killed, deputies found Edward Burton’s girlfriend. Investigators located the young woman in a room at the Superior Hotel. She was taken into custody under her alias, Mary Dayke, but quickly revealed her given name, Evelyn Smith.

burton gang_gilkye mug_crop

Smith, like Burton, was from Chicago. Questioned by Chief of Criminal Investigation, A.L. Manning and Deputy Sheriff Chester Allen, Smith said that she had no idea what Burton was up to or why he had left Chicago for Los Angeles. “I know nothing of Burton’s crimes. I did not realize he was leading a life of crime until he was arrested in the raid. Even then I did not believe he was the man who shot the motor officer.

Smith continued: “I came out from Chicago last May to join Burton. Be he soon lost interest in me. He told me I was not the kind of a girl to stick with him. Last Tuesday afternoon, only a few hours before he was killed, he accused me of being too inquisitive. He said I asked too many questions, told me to mind my own business. And then he beat me severely.”

Sheriff’s investigators asked Smith about the two one-way train tickets to Chicago that were found in Burton’s coat pocket, but again she claimed to know nothing. Evidently, Burton had a new woman in his life; a blonde with bobbed hair who had accompanied the bandit gang on a number of robberies. Smith said Burton planned to “ditch” her for his new squeeze and leave Smith in Los Angeles to fend for herself.

burton gang_evelyn smith_chester allen

Sheriff’s deputies conducted raids at several locations in an attempt to round up other members of the gang. The lawmen came up empty. The gunsels, aware that the deputies wielded sawed-off shotguns and were prepared to do battle, had fled the city for parts east.

Only J.W. Gilkye, the lone bandit to survive, was left to answer for the crimes he and his fellow thugs had perpetrated. Gilkye survived only because he had dropped his weapon and refused to fight when deputies drew down on him at the ice company.

During questioning, Gilkye said: “You got enough on me without me telling you more.” And then he proceeded to tell Chief Deputy Manning a lot more.  Like many crooks Gilkye loved the sound of his own voice and couldn’t resist crowing about his criminal accomplishments and playing the tough guy. “I may get hooked for a long time up the road, but I ain’t through yet. We were double-crossed, we were, by one of our own gang. But I’ll get him if it takes all my life. He double-crossed us and caused three of my best pals to get killed. But they were nervy–had the goods.”  The “goods” can’t do much for you when you’re dead.

Gilkye wasn’t as nervy as his pals had been, so he lived to tell the tale.  He was tried and convicted for his part in the ice company job, but before he left Los Angeles County Jail for San Quentin, he nearly made good on his promise to get even with the man who had dropped a dime on the gang.

The snitch was Roy Melendez. Melendez and Gilkye encountered each other in the County Jail where, according to witnesses, Gilkye “roared like an infuriated animal” when Melendez was placed in lock-up. Gilkye would have murdered Melendez with his bare hands if jail attendants hadn’t intervened.

Melendez may have met a bad end even though Gilkye wasn’t able to lay another finger on him. When Melendez failed to appear in court on a bum check charge an unnamed official opined: “Either Melendez has been killed or they have made it so hot for him he is afraid to show up.” A bench warrant was issued for Melendez, but he was nowhere to be found.

Members of the Sheriff’s Department breathed a sigh of relief. The Burton gang’s brief reign in Los Angeles was over.

* * *

Late in February 1923, two men from Chicago arrived in Los Angeles. The men weren’t tourists, they were on a mission to assassinate the deputies they held responsible for killing Edward Burton and two members of his gang during the shootout at Union Ice Company. The men made inquiries around town in an attempt to learn as much as they could about their targets. While the hitmen were compiling dossiers on their targets, the targets themselves were conducting their business as usual.  Deputies William Bright, Spike Modie, Chester Allen and Norris Stensland didn’t know they were being hunted.burton gang_gunmen headline

At about 1 a.m. on the morning of March 7, 1923,  William Bright and Spike Moody left Sheriff’s headquarters. They climbed into Moody’s Stutz and headed up Broadway. They turned west on Temple and continued down the dark, deserted street. After traveling a few blocks they eyeballed a sedan with the side curtains pulled down. They wouldn’t have paid the automobile much attention except that it was trailing them too closely for their comfort. Knowing that they had enemies in the underworld Moody and Bright readied their weapons. As they prepared themselves for a possible gunfight, Moody and Bright watched the sedan suddenly swing off into a side street and disappear.

A few blocks later the mysterious sedan lurched out of a side street onto Temple and passed the Stutz at a high rate of speed. Moody and Bright saw the side curtains part and a shotgun appear. A second shotgun appeared from the tonneau, the rear passenger compartment of the sedan, and both unleashed a volley fire at Modie and Bright. The deputies pulled out their revolvers and returned fire. Bright fired through the windshield of the Stutz. Fortunately for the deputies, the would-be assassins aim went high when their sedan hit a pothole.

Stutz c. 1923

Stutz c. 1923

Moody jammed his foot down on the accelerator and gave chase as the sedan drew away. Bright continued to return fire. Bright may have scored a hit. The sedan skidded across the street into a telephone pole. The sedan sagged with one broken wheel. Three men jumped from the car and fled, but not before firing again at the deputies.

Bright and Moody gave chase on foot but the men vanished into the darkness. Returning to the crippled sedan Bright found a hat with a jagged hole through the crown. The wearer had narrowly escaped death. The hat bore the name of a Chicago hatter.

Sheriff’s investigators located the gunmen’s hotel room. They also identified a few of the shooters acquaintances who, under orders from Sheriff Traeger, were kept under surveillance.

Deputies Bright, Moody, Stensland and Allen prepared themselves for the possibility of another attack–but it never came. The Burton gang seems to have departed Los Angeles forever.

This is such a great photo I decided to post it again!

This is such a great photo I decided to post it again!

NOTE:  Once again, I am indebted to Mike Fratantoni. His knowledge of L.A.’s law enforcement and criminal history is encyclopedic.

It can be frustrating to pin down accurate spellings of proper names in these historic tales. Often reporters phoned a story into a rewrite person at the newspaper who phonetically spelled a person’s name. Edward Burton was in some reports, Edwin. Another example, Spike Moody’s surname has appeared as Modie. Judging from the above photo it should be the former spelling.

The Burton Gang’s Last Job, Part 1

Photo is not of this case, but typical of the time. Courtesy of LAPL.

Photo is not of this case, but typical of the time. Courtesy of LAPL.

On the evening of July 19, 1922, motorcycle Officer Chester L.. Bandle clocked a coupe speeding through the intersection at Ninth and Hill Streets at a reckless forty miles an hour. He gave chase. The driver pulled over at Seventh and Hill and Officer Bandle walked over to hand the speeder a ticket, but he never got the chance. The driver, aiming a revolver, leaned out of the car and shot Officer Bandle in the right shoulder–then he sped off abandoning the car several blocks away. The car  was  taken to Central Police Station and Officer Bandle was taken to White Memorial Hospital in fair condition, but expected to survive.

The abandoned car was found a few blocks from where the motor officer had been wounded, and a search of the vehicle yielded a few bits of potentially useful information. Charles Mullen, 4124 Washington Street, Fresno, was the registered owner. Was the car stolen? Was the shooter and the owner of the car the same person?   It was up to Sheriff’s investigators to find out.

Detectives learned that Charles Mullen was one of many aliases used by twenty-seven year-old Edward Burton of Chicago.  Burton was well-known to Chicago cops having begun his life of crime there as a teenager. Under one of his aliases, Louis Miller, he was implicated, but never charged, in he 1919 gangland murder of fellow Windy City street thug, Jimmy Cherin.

burton gang_smith and burton

Evelyn Smith and Edward Burton

Like many crooks before him Burton decided to head west, at least for a while. Burton didn’t travel to Los Angeles alone, he brought his girl, Evelyn Smith, and his gang with him. It didn’t take long for the gang to come to the attention of local law enforcement, and for six months cops tried unsuccessfully to catch the gang in the act.

Shortly after the wounding of Officer Bandle, Sheriff Traeger received a hot tip about where the gang was holed up and he and LAPD Chief Oaks formulated a plan.

An early morning joint raid was conducted by Sheriff Traeger and Chief Oaks at two locations. Swarms of deputies and patrolmen arrived at the bungalow in the rear of 1234 West 39th Street and at a rooming house at 533 1/2 South Spring Street. Under the direction of the Sheriff and the Chief of Police, Detective Capt. Home, Capt. Murray, Detective Sgts. Jarvis, Neece, Longuevan and Davis, and Deputy Sheriffs Sweezy and Allen took part in the raid. Arrested on suspicion of robbery were : Edward Burton; J.W. Gilkye; K.B. Fleenor; B.C. Beaucanan, and his wife; William R. Ryan; F.J. Ryan and his wife; and Evelyn Smith. Also at the bungalow was a burglary kit and a stash of weapons including three shotguns, two rifles, and half a dozen revolvers–a good indication that the gang was up to no good. burton gang_arsenal

The recent hold-up of E.E. Hamil and E.C. Harrison, collectors for the Puente Oil Company, netted the bandits $3875 (equivalent to over $56k in current dollars). Hamil and Harrison attended a line-up to see if they could identify any of the suspects as the man who had robbed them. They pointed at Edward Burton.

burton gang_burglar kitBurton was released on $10,000 [equivalent to $145k in current dollars] bail while Sheriff’s investigators continued to dig into his life and the lives of his companions. No one was surprised to find that Burton was a career criminal with numerous aliases–among them, Charles Mullen. Burton/Mullen fit the description of the man who had shot Motor Officer Bandle; and the car found near the scene of the shooting was registered to Mullen. An unlikely coincidence.

Evidence against the gang was mounting. They started to talk about hopping the next train east. Burton agreed that things were getting too hot for them in Los Angeles, but he said before they bid adieu to blue skies, ocean breezes and palm trees, they needed to pull just one more job.

NEXT TIME: Shootout at Union Ice Company.

Ode to Joy

joy1Incorporated in 1913, San Marino is a quiet, residential only, enclave catering to people with money; lots of money.  It is unthinkable, not to mention in poor taste, for a resident to die of unnatural causes.  But on December 31, 1949 the body of 39 year-old socialite, and well-known party girl, Joy McLaughlin was found in the lush bedroom of her San Marino rental home—with a gunshot wound to her chest. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department sent detectives Herman Leaf and Garner Brown to investigate.

When Brown and Leaf arrived at McLaughlin’s Spanish-style bungalow at 2002 Oakdale Street they found the attractive blonde artfully sprawled on a blood spattered Oriental rug in her bedroom next to her lace canopied bed.  If they hadn’t known better the detectives may have thought that they were looking at a scene from a film noir.  The deceased was wearing a maroon off-the-shoulder blouse, blue skirt and black peep-toed pumps. Her jewelry consisted of a simple gold bracelet and gold earrings. A .38 revolver lay near her right hand.joy2

As the detectives scanned the frilly bedroom for clues they noticed a framed pastel portrait of McLaughlin. The portrait appeared to be from the 1930s. In the portrait McLaughlin had long blonde hair, kohl rimmed eyes and vaguely resembled actress Mary Astor, if she had been a blonde. The glass in the portrait had been broken by a bullet.  The shattered glass was another film noir touch in the real-life death scene.

What had Joy’s life been like in the years since the portrait was completed? And why had she died? In order to better understand Joy’s death, detectives would have to answer that question by examining her past.

joy lost loveAccording to some records, Joy was born Denver Joy McLaughlin on September 22, 1910 or 1911 in Memphis, Texas. By the 1930 census, Joy was living with her widowed mother, Daisy, and her sisters May, Dorothy, Novella, Ysleta and Thelma in a home on Larrabee Street in Hollywood.  Joy was 19 at the time of the census and was in a relationship with automobile (Cadillac and LaSalle) and radio (KHJ) magnate, Don Lee. The older man, who had been married and divorced twice, had been seeing Joy since she was sixteen.

Joy believed she and Don would eventually marry, but he met another age inappropriate woman, twenty-four year-old Geraldine May Jeffers Timmons, and dropped Joy like a burning coal.  Don and Geraldine dated for only a few months before being married in Agua Caliente, Mexico.

Disappointed and angry, Joy filed a breach of promise lawsuit, aka a “heart balm” suit  in 1933 against her former lover in the amount of $500,000. To put it in perspective, $500,000 then is equivalent to $9 million dollars today. That kind of money would go a long way to soothe a broken heart.  Following a brief court battle Joy walked away with $11,500. Not exactly what she hoped for, but not chump change – it had the same buying power as $210k has today.  That amount of money could go a long way during the Great Depression.joy sues for balm

For the next several years, Joy traveled.  She sailed through the Panama Canal, she visited Hawaii, and she spent time at the resort in Agua Caliente, Baja California, Mexico.  She even found time to marry a man named Robert Stark; but the marriage ended in divorce.

At some point during years before her death, Joy met an oil millionaire, John A. Smith. John was married but when asked about it he said: “I’m not working at it.” During their investigation of Joy’s death Sheriff’s Department detectives discovered that John had been with Joy in the hours prior to her death.

Had John killed her?  Not according to his testimony at the Coroner’s inquest.  John described an evening of drinking (Joy’s blood alcohol registered .021 at her autopsy) and dancing.  The couple, accompanied by Fern Graves, a friend of Joy’s, partied at the Jonathan Club and the Zebra Room of the Town House.

John said: “Joy wanted to dance.  She called the orchestra leader over and arranged for some music.  I bought the orchestra a drink. We danced and drank until the bar closed.”  At 2 a.m. Joy, Fern and John accepted the invitation of bar acquaintance named George to have a nightcap in his room at the Biltmore Hotel.  The party continued until 8 a.m. Joy was incensed when John john sobssuggested they call it a night. She bolted from George’s hotel room, and John had to retrieve her.

Joy and John finally made it back to her home.  Between sobs, John testified that Joy tended to become melancholy, and occasionally belligerent, when she drank.  He followed Joy into her bedroom where she began to undress.  He said that she turned to him and said: “You can get out.”  John said that he knew better than to cross Joy when she was in a mood so he left the house. As he got to his car he thought he heard a gunshot. “I ran back into the house.  Joy was sitting on the floor…”

John started to fall apart on the stand and it took him several moments to regain control and continue his testimony. “She (Joy) was sitting at the foot of the bed, sort of half sprawled and leaning against the bed.  I saw the whole scene in an instant.  Her hand was out and a gun was lying not over three feet from her body. I grabbed it.” fern mclaughlin

“I said, ‘My God, what have you done!”  Joy was beyond answering.  John picked up the weapon and it went off. It scared him half to death. Joy didn’t make a sound. When John tried to lift her he felt blood ooze through his left hand.  “I listened for life.  In my judgment, she was dead.”

John panicked. He left without calling a doctor because he believed Joy was dead. He then drove through a thick fog to the Wilmington home of two of Joy’s sisters, Thelma and Ysleta.  When they opened the door, they found John wringing his hands and crying.

mclaughlin sistersWhen Joy’s sister Ysleta was called to testify at the inquest she revealed that it was she who had given Joy the weapon that killed her. Joy was described as a person who felt things keenly; sensitive and sympathetic to other people’s problems.

After hearing from all the witnesses the Coroner’s Jury determined that it was Joy who had fired the .38 into her chest, one inch from her breast.

There appeared to be no single event that had caused Joy to take her own life. Perhaps her suicide was the culmination of a life that had never gone quite how Joy dreamed it would.

NOTE: Many thanks to Mike Fratantoni — one of my favorite historians.

Roofie Romeos, Part 3

Media coverage on date rape drugs was sparse in the early 1990s.  There was one high profile story involving Rophynol in March 1994; and that was the near fatal overdose of Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain. He had combined roofies and champagne in what appeared to have been an accidental O.D.  Tragically Cobain was found dead, apparently by his own hand, a month later.

Kurt Cobain

Kurt Cobain

News coverage on roofies continued sporadically until 1996 when it exploded. The potential for the drug to be used in date rape was a hot topic for women’s magazines and magazines geared toward teenage girls. Oprah Winfrey was one of many TV talk show hosts who covered the dangers of date rape drugs. Discussion of the the drugs wasn’t confined to talk shows; scripted shows like Beverly Hills 90210 and South Park also weighed in.   Women were warned never to leave a drink unattended and to avoid punch bowls at parties.

It may have been the heightened awareness of the existence of date rape drugs that brought the law to the Spitzer’s front door in mid-1996.

On July 9, 1996, 36-year-old flight attendant Kimberly B had a few days off between flights. She was with friends at a sidewalk café in Marina del Rey when she met Stefan and George Spitzer.

George, who introduced himself as Gino, struck up a conversation with Kimberly in the parking lot of the café.  He asked her if she was interested in having an authentic Italian dinner with an authentic Italian.  Kimberly was intrigued because she was planning a trip to Italy.  Maybe the guy could offer insider tips on where to stay and what to see. They exchanged phone numbers.

Kimberly heard from George later that day and they arranged to meet at a local Starbuck’s at 8:00 p.m.  The couple went to Jake and Annie’s restaurant where George ordered a bottle of wine and proceeded to regale his date with increasingly unbelievable tales—like how the movie “The Godfather” was based on his dad. Then he told her he had a Ph.D. in psychology and, among his other amazing accomplishments, he was Raquel Welch’s personal trainer.

RoofiedSymptomsInfographicKimberly easily saw through George’s lies, and it didn’t take long before she had had enough. She knew that there would not be a second date and took immediate steps to put the excruciating evening to an end. She told George she had to be home by 11:00 p.m. to relieve the babysitter who was watching her 6-year-old daughter.  And then she watched the clock.

The kitchen at Jake and Annie’s restaurant was closing so the pair went a couple of blocks over to the World Café where they had dinner and wine. Kimberly had one glass.  Following dinner Kimberly reminded George that she had to be home by 11.  At 10:00 she excused herself to go to the ladies’ room.  She was waiting in line when George came up to her and asked her how long she would be—she was away for about 10 minutes before returning to the table.  She was relieved that her date with the tedious blowhard would soon be over.  With any luck at all she would be home by 10:30.

Kimberly awakened at 5:45 a.m. the next morning and couldn’t get her bearings. The room was spinning. She tried to shake the cobwebs out of her head. She looked around expecting to be in her own bedroom, but she was naked and in bed with George. What the hell had happened?  She remembered nothing after the restaurant.  Dazed and moving in slow motion Kimberly quietly dressed and left the  apartment.  It was a miracle she made it home without incident.

She  ran into George later that day and asked him point blank if they’d had sex.  He denied it. She didn’t believe him.

Kimberly went to the  Los Angeles County Sheriff’s  Marina del Rey substation.  She told deputies that she was certain that a creep who called himself Gino Sorrelle had slipped Rohypnol into her wine glass during dinner the previous night and she wanted to file a complaint. She was taken to a nearby hospital for a rape kit. Semen was found in Kimberly’s vagina and rectum.

Sheriff’s investigators secured a warrant to search the Spitzer’s apartment and they uncovered over 20 videotapes. The tapes showed 12 different women, who appeared to be under the influence, being raped. The rapist wasn’t immediately identified. Dealing with identical twins presents law enforcement with unique problems. The investigators also found 20 boxes of Rohypnol. Is there any legitimate reason for private citizens to have that much Rophynol on hand?

George was arrested on August 7, 1996 and Stefan was arrested a few weeks later. Each of them was held on $2 million bail.

The circus was about to begin.

NEXT TIME: Would the twins finally be held accountable?

The Love Poisoner, Conclusion

richard-testifiesOn May 2, 1953, fragments of love letters written by Joyce Hayden to Richard LaForce, during the previous summer when Joyce and her husband Robert were in Alaska, were read aloud in court. Richard had been telling the truth about the existence of the letters.

Did Joyce’s husband Robert know anything about her affection for his friend? On the witness stand Robert admitted that he was aware that Joyce had developed deep feelings for Richard and that that he had “turned-the-other-cheek”. Although  a more apt phrase in this case might be turn-a-blind-eye. Joyce said that she wrote the letters (26 in all–and most of them at least 20 pages long) in an effort to cheer Richard up and “to keep him from committing suicide.” Joyce vociferously denied Richard’s claim that there was an 80% chance that he was the father of her unborn child. When Richard’s statement to that effect was read in court Joyce responded, “Hearing that read in court from his confession didn’t surprise me–or Robert either. We’d read it before. Richard is like that, always imaging things. He’s making all that up.” But was he? He hadn’t lied about the letters.

Whether or not the jurors would hear the contents of the letters was up to Superior Judge Mildred L. Lillie. One important question that had to be answered about the letters was whether they were actually in Joyce’s handwriting. Had Richard forged or tampered with them? Joyce was sworn in and handed a bundle of letters. She gave them a cursory look and then said that she didn’t think all of them were in her own handwriting. “I’d have to read them all,” she said. “There’s been all kinds of stuff added,” although she finally conceded that “basically” she had authored them. Judge Lillie instructed Joyce to go through the letters and delete whatever was not in her handwriting. Then Judge Lillie allowed the letters to be entered into evidence. Maybe the letters would reveal the truth about Joyce and Richard’s relationship.

mother-talks-to-laforce

On June 3, 1952, Joyce wrote to Richard telling him that she had received two letters that had been delayed by a storm. She said the had gone off by herself to read them. “Anyway, I got to sit down–all by myself–in the “Garden” (we know nothing will grow before we leave) and read them–which made me very happy.” She continued: “The only time I can really be alone is when it’s nice so I can go outside and at nite after everyone leaves and Robert is asleep. And then I am not only alone but lonely. Richard, don’t worry about if I’ll be interested at least a little bit–I am interested very much in everything you write and do, so make it a problem to write me, just write exactly like you have been and tell me anything or everything you think, do or feel and I’ll be very happy. OK?”

court-sceneJoyce asked Richard to take the time to sit down and write her a long letter. She wanted to know how he would have planned his life if he had been able to do anything he wanted from grammar school on.”

many-faces-of-joyce-picOn June 6, Joyce wrote: “What I said about all the hours we spent–I didn’t mean wasted. I just was thinking how nice a few of those hours would seem now and it seems like there is so much to be said that could have but really I guess it’s like you say, there are better ways of saying things than words. That’s what is lacking because we can use all the ‘words’ we want now — and nothing else! But I do remember, too, surely you expected me to. And it makes me very happy, but I can’t keep from thinking–then what!”

In one of her letters Joyce talked about marriage: “You ask if I would have accepted to marry you–yes, I would and it seems, Richard, that our dreams are very similar.” Joyce signed most of her letters “All My Love.”

curious-eyesBut was Joyce really in love with Richard? She described her loneliness to him in numerous letters. She may have been seeking the attention she felt her husband wasn’t giving her. No matter how sophisticated the situation may have seemed, it is important to remember that each of the principal players was only 19-years-old. The extreme emotional highs and lows of teenagers is well documented and there is no reason to believe Robert, Joyce or Richard was immune.

Joyce’s denial of ever loving Richard must have stung him. A Los Angeles Times reporter observed the defendant lower his head when he heard the love of his life testify that once she and Robert arrived home from Alaska her feelings for Richard changed: “He hung around too much and he was very moody. I was a little tired of him,” she said.

During the middle of the trial a note from Joyce to Richard written prior to the 1952 Alaska trip surfaced, and it shed some light on the relationship. Joyce and Robert had been married for only a year when Richard confessed his love for Joyce in a letter. Joyce confessed that she loved both Robert and Richard, but she felt that she was better suited to Robert. She said: “Richard, you and I–I feel are really genuine friends and I feel will always be, even now, but it it’s horrible to ruin a beautiful friendship.”  She encouraged him to find someone who would make him happy.

serious-momentWhat would the jury of eight women and four men make of the case? Was Richard’s testimony that he and Joyce had been intimate credible?  And what about the inference that it was Joyce, and not Richard, who had tried to poison Robert?

The jury failed to reach a verdict after the first four hours of deliberation. They returned to the jury room where they finally decided Richard’s fate.

Richard LaForce was acquitted of attempted murder, but found guilty of mingling poison with beverages with intent to harm Robert Hayden.

When she heard the news, Joyce said: “We are going to try to forget we ever knew Richard.”

EPILOGUE: Whenever possible I try to find out what happened to the people involved in a criminal case–and this one is no exception. Joyce and Robert’s teenage marriage survived for nearly twenty years before they divorced in 1970. Joyce may have remarried, but I don’t know if Robert did. I’ve been unable to find evidence that Richard LaForce ever married. Interestingly, it appears that for years Richard lived less than 100 miles from his former love. Was that coincidence, or by design? Richard died in 1992 and, as you can see,  his headstone offers no clues to his marital status or family life.

laforce-headstone

The Love Poisoner, Part 2

Joyce found Richard peering into her refrigerator and he seemed startled when she spoke to him. She couldn’t tell what, if anything, he was doing, but she wasn’t particularly alarmed. Richard visited Joyce and Robert so often that it wasn’t surprising to find him searching the fridge for a snack.

The refrigerator incident took on a more ominous aspect when Joyce and Robert began to notice a “funny taste” in the water and milk they kept in the refrigerator. Then they recalled how ill Robert had become after he and Joyce had paid a visit to Richard at the Caltech campus. They didn’t want to think the worst of Richard, but it was getting harder to believe the best.

joyce_robert_picJoyce and Robert went to the L.A. County Sheriff’s substation and told the deputies of their suspicions. They even brought a bottle of milk with them that they were afraid may have been tainted. Sure enough, an examination of the contents of the milk bottle proved that it had been tampered with. On February 6, 1953, Sergeant Bert Wood and Detective A.S. Martin sent the Haydens out for the evening and then waited in the dark outside the Hayden home to see if Richard LaForce would turn up. He did.

The door to Joyce and Robert’s home was routinely left unlocked (hey, it was Downey in 1953 and people did that in those days). The two cops watched Richard let himself in and then waited for him to come out. Sergeant. Wood and Detective Martin stopped Richard as he exited the Hayden home and found two half-pint bottles of arsenic trioxide in his possession–enough poison, said one investigator, “to kill off a whole town.”

Richard quickly admitted that he had put some of the arsenic into a water bottle in the fridge. When asked if he was trying to kill both Joyce and Robert, Richard said no–he knew that Robert was the only one to drink from that bottle. He also confessed to poisoning Robert’s soft drink at Caltech and said that he had tried at least five times over several weeks to bump off Robert. On one occasion he had poured cyanide into the water bottle. Why had he been tried to poison his friend? He said: “I have always wanted Joyce for my wife and I felt that if my plan to poison Bob was successful, I would have a chance with her.” He continued: “I’ve never been out with any other girl–she’s the only one I loved.” Richard said he had chosen poison to kill Robert “Because of its convenience.” He was able to acquire the poisons at school. He admitted that “It could have been done in a more perfect way, but I got to the point where I had to do something.”richard-indicted-headline-pic3

What made Richard think that he had a chance with Joyce at all? According to Richard he had visited Joyce many times in her home during times when Robert was away. He told investigators that he and Joyce had taken long car rides and walks. During their time together Richard said he and Joyce “talked a lot about love and marriage.”

On February 10, 1953, the Los Angeles County Grand Jury indicted Richard on two counts of poisoning with intent to kill.  Each count carried a possible sentence of from 10 years to life in prison. Joyce and Robert told reporters that they bore their former friend no ill will for his  attempts to poison Robert. They felt sorry for him.

richard-indicted-headline-pic2Richard was examined by psychiatrists Dr. Frederick J. Hacker and Dr. John A. Mitchell. The doctors said they found indications of “a beginning thinking disorder in the direction schizophrenia.” According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness “schizophrenia can occur at any age, the average age of onset tends to be in the late teens to the early 20s for men.” Was Richard schizophrenic? The doctors didn’t offer a firm diagnosis and, despite their concerns, they declared that Richard was sane at the time of the poisonings and was sane enough to stand trial. Interestingly, Dr. Hacker said that Richard told him he “wanted to take suspicion of poisoning attempts from Joyce.” Was Richard falling on his sword to protect his lady love, or was his statement a calculated move to shift blame to Joyce? Was there any truth to the statement?

By the time his trial began in late April 1953, Richard had claimed that he and Joyce had been conducting a love affair.  In fact, he figured that her unborn child had an 80% chance of being his and not Robert’s. How Robert arrived at the 80% calculation isn’t clear but that hardly mattered. His possible paternity of Joyce’s child was a bombshell.  In, 1953 when DNA tests were decades in the future, a blood test could rule a person in or out but that was it.

Joyce vehemently denied that she was romantically involved with Richard. But rumors began to surface that Richard had kept over a dozen love letters written to him by Joyce while she and Robert were in Alaska.  If the love letters actually existed they could turn the whole case inside-out.

NEXT TIME:  The love poisoner case takes a few more twists and turns before coming to an end.

The Love Poisoner, Part 1

Current thinking about the teenage brain is that it’s a work in progress. Intellectually teens can be a match for adults, but emotionally it is a much different story. A teenager’s moods are the emotional equivalent of a world class chanteuse’s five octave range. Teenagers are mercurial, capricious, fickle and unstable — potentially deadly traits when mixed with a love triangle involving nineteen-year-olds.juviebrain

Downey residents Richard LaForce, Joyce Salvage, and Robert Hayden had been friends since middle school. During the war years, while they were growing up, the aircraft industry established deep roots in the town and had an enormous impact on the area. The postwar years saw the three friends enter high school and the town’s close ties to the aircraft industry likely resulted in the establishment of an aviation club at Downey High School–Joyce and Robert were both members. Surrounded by engineers and aircraft workers may have inspired Richard’s keen interest in science. With his high IQ (estimated to be in the neighborhood of 150) he hoped to pursue physics in college.

salvage_hayden_laforce_crop

Robert Hayden (4th from the left, top row), Richard LaForce (far right, top row), Joyce Salvage (5th from the left, middle row).

Physics wasn’t the only thing Richard hoped to pursue into adulthood. He had loved Joyce since they were sixth graders and he hoped that one day they would marry. Was Richard surprised when on May 12, 1951, at age 17, Joyce and Robert married? If he was shocked or hurt he kept his feelings to himself. At least the marriage didn’t end his friendship with the couple. Richard was a frequent guest in the Hayden’s home at 8558 Firestone Boulevard and he was still able to spend a lot of time with Joyce.

joyce-salvage-1950-aviation-club_crop

Aviation Club, Downey High School [1950]

The day after Joyce and Robert’s first wedding anniversary, and the day before they were scheduled to depart for a couple of months in Alaska visiting Robert’s older brother George and his sister-in-law, Charlotte, Richard took Joyce to a movie ostensibly at Robert’s request. Joyce and Richard were out together until 4 o’clock in the morning. Suspicious behavior for a married woman, but not so odd for a teenage girl. However the evening was complicated by Richard’s admission in a note, just days before, that he loved her. He didn’t plan to act on his declaration of love, he doubted that Joyce reciprocated his feelings, but during their evening out he got the impression that Joyce loved him too. There wasn’t enough time to talk about the possible change in their relationship before Joyce and Robert left for Alaska.

Richard and Joyce corresponded regularly, some would say obsessively, during her absence. Robert was well aware of the exchange of letters between the friends but seemed unconcerned about them. When Joyce and Robert returned in late 1952 the three friends had quickly reestablished their former routine of spending at least two or three evenings together every week. Because the trio knew each other so well, both Joyce and Robert noticed that Richard appeared to be distracted and he seemed to be depressed, but since he hadn’t confided the reasons for his melancholy in either of them they could only stand by and wait.

A week after Christmas, 1952, Richard invited Joyce and Robert to the Caltech campus, where he was a physics major, for a visit. While there he suggested that they stop for Cokes at a nearby refreshment stand. Robert couldn’t finish his drink. He became violently ill and vomited. He recovered quickly and was able to resume his ministerial studies at Whittier College. He and Joyce thought no more about the incident.

In late January, during one of his visits, Joyce found Richard at the refrigerator. He seemed unnerved when she asked him what he was doing. Why?

NEXT TIME: The teenage triangle turns poisonous.