The Death of Love, Part 2

Helen and Harry Love eloped to Mexico and married on May 3, 1936. Harry, at 46, was a “retired capitalist” and during the midst of the Great Depression that was quite an accomplishment. He gave Helen everything she could have wanted except his time–which is what she desired most. Harry was a mama’s boy and had, in is nearly five decades on the planet, not managed to clip the umbilical cord that continued to tether him to his meddlesome mother, Cora.

merry-xmas-sweetheartNot only had Harry refused to acknowledge Helen as his wife, he never even claimed her as his girlfriend. On the few occasions that Helen and Cora met, Cora was condescending and competitive to an uncomfortable degree. On Christmas Eve, Helen showed Cora the card Harry had given her which bore the salutation “Sweetheart”. Cora was offended by the card and immediately sneered at Helen, telling her that the card SHE had received from Harry was much prettier.

Many parents are reluctant to accept their child’s choice of a partner, but Cora seemed determined to keep Harry to herself. Had Cora always been so demanding of Harry’s time and attention? Perhaps Cora felt lost after her husband Charles passed away in 1923. She may have transferred her attention to her son. We can only speculate. We do know that Harry and Cora had taken a couple of cruises and frequently went out together for drives. Harry often stayed the night at Cora’s home rather than go to Helen and the apartment he maintained, allegedly for the two of them.

During the months that they had been married, Harry had pressured Helen into terminating a pregnancy and, following the “illegal operation”, Harry had sent Helen to New York to recover from the procedure that had nearly cost her her life.

The fabulous Norconian c, 1920s/1930s.

The fabulous Norconian c, 1920s/1930s.

The final straw for Helen came on New Year’s Eve. Harry had promised to take her out to the Norconian Supreme Resort in Riverside for what would certainly have been a night to remember. Helen had bought a gown, which she foolishly showed to Cora. Had Helen baited Cora with the gown?

Typical women's evening wear 1936.

Typical women’s evening wear c. 1936.

If Helen was playing a game of one upsmanship, she lost big time. Had Cora then applied pressure to Harry, or had he reneged on his promise to Helen of his own accord? It didn’t matter. Either way Helen was to facing a miserable New Year’s Eve, dressed to the nines with nowhere to go. Cora and Harry were going to dinner in Santa Monica at the Del Mar Hotel. Helen wasn’t even invited to tag along as a third wheel.

After spending hours brooding over the indignity of being kept away from a celebration that she felt should have included her, Helen snapped. She took the pistol that Harry kept in the glove compartment of his car and put it in her handbag. Then, after ruminating for a while longer, she called a taxi and went out to confront Cora and Harry at the Del Mar.

1930s dame with gun.

1930s dame with gun.

Hurt, angry, and fed up with being Harry’s secret bride, Helen walked into the lobby of the Del Mar. When she asked the clerk if the Love party had arrived, she was told they had not. She said she would wait. A short time later Harry came from the dining room. He must have been there all along. Had he instructed the clerk to try to turn Helen away if she turned up, and then been thwarted when she declared her intention to stay?

Harry walked over to Helen and she said “Hello, darling.” Harry asked Helen what she was doing there; she said had planned to spend New Year’s Eve with him and she had meant it. They quarreled and Helen turned on her heel and strode into the dining room where she walked up to Cora who was seated at a table for two. Cora turned white and snapped at Helen, “This is no place for you. You are not invited! See me tomorrow.” Helen said, “Tomorrow will be too late.” Helen headed for the exit of the hotel with Harry next to her. “Have you a gun?” he asked. Helen replied, “You’re a big man. Why should you be afraid of a gun?” But he was afraid. So much so that he started to scream and run. He only managed to reach the steps of the club before Helen drew the pistol and fired.

Typical men's evening wear in 1936.

Delineator Magazine’s men’s guide to correct formal evening wear, January 1936.

Harry fell on the steps, but he got back up and ran down the sidewalk still screaming for help. Helen ran after him firing until she was out of bullets. Later Helen claimed she had no recollection of where Harry fell. Harry was carried back into the Del Mar and placed on a couch. Helen sat next to him and watched him die. “I couldn’t believe it was true. It seemed like something you see on the screen. I kept thinking of it as a motion picture death.” Helen later said.

But Harry’s death wasn’t a movie–it was real enough to get Helen arrested for murder.

NEXT TIME: Helen goes on trial as The Death of Love continues.

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.

In the Line of Duty, Conclusion

adams-and-john-lawOn October 24, 1946, Tony Adams limped into Judge Leroy Dawson’s courtroom and was formally charged with the murder of California Highway Patrolman Steve Sodel. He was also indicted for grand theft of the Chevy sedan which belonged to Jeanne Trude. Adams was manacled to Lieutenant John Law of the sheriff’s department, presumably to prevent him from making another escape attempt. Adams’ attorney, William E. Turner, waived reading of the complaint and Judge Dawson set a hearing date.

Adams, an occasional artist’s model, had at least one person in his corner. Beverly Lounsbury, 23, ex-cashier at a Sunset Strip night club that was one of Adams’ regular night spots. Lounsbury visited Adams in the County Jail on the morning of his arraignment. She said that Adams had broken a date with her for the night before Sodel’s murder. Lounsbury told Lieutenant Law, “I feel sorry for him and wanted to tell him so. He told me you fellows didn’t believe him when he said he threw the gun away but he swore he was telling the truth.”adams-cuffed

A jury of nine women and three men was selected to determine Adams’ fate. Attorney William Turner must have worked hard to get nine women on the jury. There was no doubt that Adams was a handsome guy, referred to in the newspapers at the Playboy Killer. Perhaps, if he was lucky, the women jurors could be swayed by the defendant’s good looks. Adams was going to need all the luck he could get. He had drawn Judge Charles W. Fricke.  The judge was a former prosecutor with a reputation for being a tough on lawbreakers. For their part, the prosecutors John Barnes and Fred Henderson didn’t care what Adams looked like, they made it clear that they intended to seek the gas chamber for the alleged cop killer.jeanne-louise-smith

Beverly Lounsbury found a seat in spectator section of Fricke’s courtroom. She told reporters “I’m not sure myself that Tony is guilty of the crime they charge him with. He needs a friend and I’m going to stick by him.”

One of the prosecution witnesses was a former girlfriend of Adams’, Jeanne Louise Smith. The car hop testified that she and Adams had dated briefly while she was separated from her husband. On the evening of September 14, Adams had shown up at her workplace to show her something. “He called me to the rear of the drive-in stand and showed me this gun. I asked him what he was doing with it, but he didn’t answer. He merely stood there, holding the gun in one hand and jingling a bunch of cartridges in his other hand.” Unfamiliar with guns, Smith was shown several different types of firearms but she was unable to say whether Adams had shown her a revolver or another type of gun.

Frances Sodel, the slain officer’s widow, took the stand and, wiping away tears, she identified a photo of her husband and articles of clothing which were discovered in the shallow grave with Steve Sodel’s bullet riddled body.

Frederic D. Newbarr had performed the autopsy on Sodel and he testified that the officer had been shot in the chest five times.

Jack Singleton identified Adams as the man who had stopped him and asked for help in extricating his car from sand alongside the road. Singleton said he had a feeling that the car was hot, so when he saw Officer Sodel he flagged him down and reported his suspicions. Sodel took off after the black sedan.

In his testimony service station operator John Rose said “I heard sounds of automobiles traveling at a high rate of speed and then a black Chevrolet zoomed east on Jefferson closely followed by a California Highway Patrol car. Neither car made the boulevard stop and I think they were going about 65 or 70 miles an hour. I knew the Highway patrol car was Sodel’s because I had seen it many times before.” Rose said he watched both cars disappear from view, then he went back to work.

Jeanne Trude and Elyse Pearl Brown

Jeanne Trude and Elyse Pearl Brown

Jeanne Trude told the court how Adams had introduced himself to her and a girlfriend, movie extra, Elyse Pearl Brown, at the Jococo Club. She said Adams accompanied them to Dave’s Blue Room on the Sunset Strip where, “Miss Brown and myself ordered dinner at Dave’s but Tony just asked for a cup of coffee. He said he was suffering from malaria. Then he excused himself and left. I didn’t see him again, but when I went to get my car I discovered it was gone. I saw it again two weeks later and instead of being gray it was painted black–and not very well, at that.”

The hat-check girl/former cashier and reputed girl friend of the defendant testified that he had visited her a couple of days prior to the slaying. He had a gun, a handful of cartridges and an electric razor he claimed he had won in a poker game the previous night. Adams wanted her to hold the gun for him but she refused. He then told her to “keep quiet about the whole thing.”

One of Adams’ neighbors, Gordon Briggs, testified that he had seen him wearing a paint stained work shirt late in the afternoon of September 17. When Briggs asked about the stains Adams told him,  “I’ve been helping a friend fix some pipes.”

Adams’ explanation for the paint was refuted by Police Chemist Ray Pinker. Pinker said he took samples of paint from the stolen car and matched them to the paint on Adams’ work shirt. They were identical. Pinker had also examined the undercarriage of the stolen car for evidence and had found weeds similar to those found near Sodel’s shallow grave.

Adams’ defense opened their case with two alibi witnesses. The first was Armand Martinez who worked at a cafe at 219 N. Vermont Avenue. He told jurors that Adams couldn’t have committed the murder because he was in the cafe lunching with a beautiful blonde at the time of the crime.

Next on the witness stand was Alvin Faith, a bartender. At 3 p.m. on the day of Sodel’s disappearance he said that Adams was in his bar. “Adams had a nosebleed. So I got him some ice and told him to go back to the restroom.”

Fletcher Herndon, an employee of the Studio Club at 3668 Beverly Boulevard, said that Adams was a frequent customer and had been in at about 11 p.m. on September 17 and asked whether a woman named Selznick had been in looking for him. Selznick?! At the mention of the name name Adams grimaced at Herndon and began to shake his head vigorously back and forth. Herndon didn’t get the message fast enough. He said it was his understanding that the woman was married to a “movie man”. Is it possible that Irene Mayer Selznick, wife of producer David O. Selznick, was seeing pretty boy Tony Adams? In Hollywood, anything is possible.

Adams’ attorneys decided to put their client on the stand to testify in his own defense. Under direct examination by William Turner, Adams denied being Sodel’s killer. Once Turner had finished Prosecutor John Barnes grilled Adams in a blistering cross-examination.roosevelt_sodel

The only thing Adams would admit to was that he had accompanied Jeanne Trude from the Jococo Club to Dave’s Blue Room. He claimed that he left the table when he realized he didn’t have funds sufficient to pay for dinner. Rather than face the embarrassment, he left.  In the parking lot Adams claimed he met a “Mr. Cudahy”–a guy he knew from one of the bars in town–and they’d driven downtown looking for women to pick up.

According to Adams, the mysterious Mr. Cudahy told him he as leaving for New York the next evening and offered Adams a ride. They arranged to meet the next day. Adams said they drove to Las Vegas, but he discovered Cudahy was carrying a box filled with guns. Adams said he “ditched” Cudahy and went on to New York by bus. He told the court “The first time I knew I was wanted for any crime was when I heard it over the radio on a murder program. When my name was mentioned you could have knocked me through the floor.”

Adams claimed the statements he’d made to New York City detectives, in which he had copped to stealing Jean Trude’s car and getting rid of two guns the day following Sodel’s murder, had been made under duress. Adams said he was questioned continuously by a group of at least 6 detectives. One of them, he said, kept slamming a blackjack on the table and  telling Adams that he was a candidate for Harts Field  (a local pauper’s cemetery in).

In closing arguments the prosecutors wove together all of the circumstantial evidence that linked the defendant to the murder. They made a compelling case.

The Defense Attorneys John Irwin and William Turner weren’t left with much. All they could do was maintain that the State had failed to prove its case. They said that there was no definite link between Adams and the murder of Steve Sodel.

The jurors would have to weigh the evidence and testimony and make up their own minds.

The jury deliberated for four hours before notifying Judge Fricke that they had reached a verdict. Frances Sodel said beside another CHP widow, Mrs. Loren Roosevelt as they waited for the verdict to be read. Adams, dressed in a brown pin-striped suit, sat at the defense table with his head in his hands. Jury foreman Edward A. Mohr handed the decision to the court clerk, who then handed it to Judge Fricke. Adams was found guilty of the murder of Steve Sodel. But rather than the gas chamber the jury recommended life without parole.

Why hadn’t the jury handed Adams, a cold-blooded cop killer, a ticket to California’s gas chamber? Evidently the verdict was a compromise, reached when one of the female jurors declared that she would, “sit in the jury room for six months if if necessary” rather than condemn Adams to death.adams-pic

After hearing the verdict, Adams posed for news photographers and said, “I am satisfied with the jury’s verdict. My attorneys, Richard Erwin and William Turner, have given me a fair shake. I’m very lucky.”

Certainly luckier than Steve Sodel and his family.

Epilogue —  According to records, Tony Adams arrived at San Quentin on February 1, 1947.  Adams’ prison register indicates that he was married with one child. His marital status never came up at trial, although his numerous girlfriends and other female acquaintance did. It is entirely possible that he abandoned his wife and child, likely in New York. One wonders if his wife and child ever knew where he went or what happened to him. Adams didn’t spent much time at San Quentin before being transferred to Folsom Prison on April 17, 1947.  As far as I know he remained there until he was paroled. I haven’t been able to discover the date of his parole, but I sincerely hope his looks were long gone by the time he was released. He had a reputation for using women by trading on his looks.  Several women to whom he owed money came forward to talk to sheriff’s department detectives. I prefer to believe that by the time he left prison he had nothing left to trade. Albert Anthony Adams died in Huntington Beach, California on August 15, 2000.

A bronze memorial plaque honoring Steve Sodel was set in cement at the base of a tree at the Sheriff’s Honor Farm (known as Wayside) in Castaic by Sheriff’s Department American Legion Star Post 309.

Note: Many thanks to my friend, Mike Fratantoni,  for sharing this story with me.

In the Line of Duty, Part 2

sodel_blimpEquipped with binoculars, the observers aboard a Navy blimp piloted by Lt. A. J. Slack skimmed the treetops of Palos Verdes, Playa del Rey, Hollywood Hills and Topanga Canyon searching for any sign of missing CHP Patrolman Steve Sodel.  The terrain yielded nothing.

Detectives attempted to piece together a plausible scenario for Sodel’s disappearance from the scant clues available.  They believed that the officer had the misfortune to meet up with one or more so-called “cop-haters” who then forced him at gunpoint into the Chevy sedan.   Tire impressions found at the scene showed that the sedan had backed up and then “dug out” past the parked CHP prowl car.

sodel_headline2Late on the fourth day of the search a bloodstained sedan, riddled with bullet holes, was found abandoned near Las Vegas, Nevada.  A private plane owned by a member of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Aero Bureau flew members of the CHP and the Sheriff’s department to the scene.

The search of LA’s environs was a bust, but the car in Las Vegas was a treasure trove of useful information.   The car was sitting in a Las Vegas police impound yard when LA detectives and criminalists arrived to examine every inch of it.  The car was stolen, just as they had thought.  There was a bullet hole in the trunk and something that may have been blood was discovered on the front fender.  Tests were needed to determine whether the stains were human and not animal blood.  The vehicle was dusted for prints inside and out.  Paperwork, routinely carried by highway patrolmen, was also found in the car.sodel-death-car

The evidence was flown back to LA and they got a hit on the fingerprints—they belonged to Albert A. (Tony) Adams, a house painter in his mid to late 20s.  They also traced the owner of the stolen car.  It belonged to Jeanne Trude, 10540 Cushdon Avenue, West Los Angeles, and was stolen from the parking lot of a Sunset Strip nightclub early on the morning of Sodel’s disappearance.  Trude said that she and her friend, Elyse Browne, met a man named Tony Adams at a local night club.  When he suggested that they drive to another, they agreed. Once they arrived at the second night spot, Adams excused himself from the table saying he would return in a few minutes.  He never did.  When Trude and her friend went out to get her car, it was gone.

An all-points bulletin went out for Adams.

A search of Adams’s home led by Sheriff’s Detective Captain Gordon Bowers turned up a photo which he showed to Jack Singleton.  Singleton recognized the man as they guy he had helped with his car on September 17th.   What didn’t turn up in the search was the .32 caliber revolver which acquaintances of Adams’s said he often flashed at bars and night spots. adams_pic

Five days after Sodel’s disappearance, a 35 man posse on horseback convened at dawn to conduct a search for the missing man.  Under District Inspector Walter P. Greer of the Highway Patrol the posse was divided into three groups and set out to search the hills near Loyola University for Sodel but, once again, they failed to find him.

On that same day three young boys—Robert Freyling, 9, Robert Irvine, 8, and his younger brother Blair Irvine, 5—were playing near a new subdivision in Baldwin Hills when they found Steve Sodel’s body.  It was partly covered with dirt. His service revolver and handcuffs were missing but his identification papers and uniform were intact.

The autopsy revealed that Sodel’s skull had been fractured—three .32 caliber slugs were lodged in his chest and two other bullets had passed through his body.   At least now there was physical evidence to support the original theory of the crime—that Steve Sodel had been kidnapped and murdered.

Steve Sodel’s brother officers assisted his widow with funeral arrangements.  The rites were scheduled for 2 p.m., Wednesday, September 25, 1946 in Patriotic Hall, with interment in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale.  Star Post No. 309, of which Sodel was Junior Past Commander, officiated.

As Steve Sodel’s family grieved, law enforcement continued their search for Tony Adams.

 NEXT TIME:  A killer is captured.

Bloodbath at Bob’s Big Boy, Conclusion

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Photo of crime scene courtesy of LAPL. This Bob’s restaurant has since been demolished.

Tami Rogoway’s failure to identify Franklin Freeman as one of the Bob’s Big Boy shooters the first time around was a boon for his defense attorney, Madelynn Kopple. A rumor circulated that Rogoway’s failure may have been the result of undue pressure applied to her by Kopple.  In any case, Kopple mounted a vigorous defense. But despite the rumors no verifiable evidence was found to prove that she had applied undue pressure on Rogoway and the witness did finally ID Freeman as one of the killers.

Clearly a pit bull in defense of her client, Kopple went so far as to write letters to the Los Angeles police and prosecutors charging that they were aware of Freeman’s innocence and that they were “allowing the actual killer to remain free.” Her action triggered a gag order. Undeterred,  Kopple supplied the name of the man she thought should take Freeman’s place at trial: Thomas Carver, 29. It isn’t clear from the LA Times coverage why Kopple accused Carver. If he had any connection with the other defendants it wasn’t mentioned. Yet, at Kopple’s insistence, Carver was brought in for a lineup at the Sheriff’s Department. The gag order prevented details of the lineup from being reported in detail by the press, but the outcome spoke volumes. Carter was returned to his West LA home and was never charged.

The contretemps over Kopple’s letters was far from over though. Superior Court Judge James M. Ideman dismissed her as Freeman’s attorney for what he considered her over-the-top behavior. However Freeman refused to accept another attorney in Koppel’s place so an appeal was filed and she was reinstated.

None of the defense attorneys were keen to have their clients tried together; so, motions to sever were submitted, and accepted.  The three defendants would be tried individually.

Leslie Abramson

Leslie Abramson

First up was Ricky Sanders. There was a mountain of evidence against him and even legendary defense attorney Leslie Abramson found it an uphill battle. A search of his home turned up a sawed-off shotgun similar to the weapon used in murders–as well as two spent shell cases the same size as those used by the second gunman. Cops also found coins in wrappers of the type used at Bob’s.

At every opportunity the prosecutor,  Harvey Giss, reminded the jurors of the carnage in the restaurant—and the continuing pain felt by the loved ones of the dead in the days and months since.

Cesario Luna never regained consciousness and died of his wounds six months after the attack. Jurors learned that he wasn’t even supposed to be in the restaurant that night. He came in on his day off to fill in for a worker who was a no-show. His son, Ismael, a dishwasher, miraculously escaped injury but whatever relief he felt was marred by the devastating loss of  his father. Michael Malloy, the night manager, lost his right eye. Evelyn Jackson, a waitress who pleaded with the gunmen for her life after the shooting began, was shot in the head and suffered severe brain damage. Dionne Irvin, waitress, had her arm shattered by a shotgun blast. Rogoway, waitress, who initially failed to identify Freeman, was partially paralyzed with 150 shotgun pellets in her body, three of them lodged in her spinal column.

On August 20, 1982 the jury found Sanders guilty of four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with a deadly weapon, five counts of robbery, two counts of attempted robbery and one count of conspiracy to commit robbery.

The jury that found Sanders guilty for his part in the December 14, 1980 massacre sentenced him to die.

With her boyfriend sentenced to death Carletha Stewart decided, on the very day she was to go to trial, to plead guilty and avoid the same fate. She copped to all of the crimes she was charged with: four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with a deadly weapon, six counts of robbery and one count of conspiracy to commit robbery. She admitted to driving the getaway car. Taking everything into consideration she got a good deal, 25 years to life.freeman pic2

The last to stand trial was Franklin Freeman.

In his opening statement at Freeman’s trial in August 1983, Deputy District Attorney Harvey Giss told jurors that they could expect Carletha Stewart to tell them the same story she had told him.  That her cousin had taken part in planning the robbery at Bob’s but backed out when a third conspirator said that he might have to kill everyone in the restaurant.  Giss planned to discredit Stewart and prove that Freeman had gone through with the robbery and murders. Carletha threw him a curve when she refused to testify. Giss wasn’t broken up about her decision since, as far as he was concerned, she was going to perjure herself.  The prosecution’s case went forward without difficulty.

Further, Giss told the jury that he would present  testimony from the manager of a Taco Bell in Santa Monica that was robbed by two gunmen just hours following the slaughter at Bob’s. The manager identified Freeman and quoted his accomplice as saying: “We are going to jail for 30 years for what we just did, so we don’t care about you.” Then the man identified as Freeman said, “Put him in the freezer; put him in the refrigerator and plug him.”

The manager would likely have died if he hadn’t escaped by batting the gun out of the robber’s hand, grabbing it, emptying the shells out of it and then diving through a plate glass window.

The trial lasted four months and the jury deliberated for one week. On December 22, 1983, four days past the third anniversary of the crime, Franklin Freeman Jr. was convicted of four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with a deadly weapon, six counts of robbery, and one count of conspiracy. He was also found guilty of attempting to rob the Santa Monica Taco Bell and guilty of assaulting the manger with a deadly weapon.

Freeman convictedFreeman sat impassively as the verdict was read, and while a young woman screaming “no” and “you liar” attempted to lunge through the short swinging gate that separates spectators from trial participants. Two bailiffs subdued her and she was removed from the courtroom. Whether she was a relative, girlfriend, or just a trial groupie wasn’t revealed.

During the penalty phase the jury was unable to reach a decision about Freeman’s punishment and announced that they were hopelessly deadlocked.

Because of the deadlock the prosecution and defense were compelled to present their evidence to a second jury tasked with determining Freeman’s sentence. Nearly one year following his conviction Freeman was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Freeman showed no emotion when his sentence was pronounced but Madelynn Kopple burst into tears.

freeman sparedWhen asked by reporters why Freeman’s life had been spared, the jury’s forewoman said that they had some doubts regarding the extent of his involvement in the murders and so decided against sending him to the gas chamber.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

Ricky Sanders — is still on death row.  On May 26, 2010, he filed an appeal in the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit over the denial of his habeas petition in Federal District Court. I don’t know the outcome of his appeal, but it was very likely denied. If and when California resumes executions he is certainly at the top of the list.

Franklin Freeman Jr. —  is in prison serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

Carletha Stewart — a petition circulated by a friend of hers a few years ago advocated for her release, but as far as I can tell she is still incarcerated.

Madelynn Koppel — according to  the California Bar Association she continues to practice law.

Leslie Abramson — is best known for her defense of Erik and Lyle Menendez for the 1989 shotgun murder of their parents in Beverly Hills.

Harvey Giss — eventually left the DA’s office and went on to become a superior court judge.  He retired in July 2014.

I don’t know what became of the survivors of the tragedy. I sincerely hope that they were able to find some measure of peace and, those who were physically and emotionally able, went on to lead happy lives.

The Mad Professor, Conclusion

Tracy Leroy Nute, alleged teenage victim of Professor Max Bernard Franc’s “homosexual rage”, was described by his mother, Judy Nute, as a “sentimental” and “naive” kid with problems. Interviewed in her Kansas home she said that her son had been in trouble with the law, “but nothing that any rowdy teenager wouldn’t have gotten into.”

Tracy’s scrapes with the law may have been minor, but at some point Judy found it impossible to handle him and he spent much of his time in juvenile homes. The homes in which he was placed didn’t work out and he decided, like many unhappy kids, to head for Southern California. His destination was Hollywood where he intended to become an actor. Runaways have been coming  to Hollywood in droves with the same dream since the first studios appeared in the 1910s. But big dreams die hard and fast when the reality of street life sets in–everything is a struggle–food, cigarettes, a place to crash. Tracy, like other teenage transplants before him, was most likely welcomed to town by drug dealers and pimps, not an agent with a movie contract. Tracy’s home state’s motto is Ad Astra per Aspera (To the Stars through Difficulties). He never reached a star, he never had the chance. By the spring of 1987 he was turning tricks, and by summer he was dead.

Max contended that he wasn’t Tracy’s killer and that the murder had been committed by a gay prostitute by the name of Terry Adams. According to Max, Terry had even lived with him for a while in Fresno. Did Terry exist? Sheriff’s investigators never found him; and Max was so terrified of being outed that he’d gone to great lengths to conduct a secret life in Hollywood. Would he have risked everything to bring a lover to Fresno? It is doubtful.

The trial was as interesting as had been anticipated. Rumors circulated that Tracy had attempted to extort money from Max. If true the kid had morphed quickly from a naive Kansas runaway to a street-wise Hollywood blackmailer.

Public Defender, Mark Kaiserman, admitted that Max was a voyeur who suffered from poor judgment. Explicit photos of the victim were found among the hundreds discovered in Max’s apartment. Interestingly, no photos of his alleged lover were found. The attorney unveiled a unique defense which was based primarily on Max’s ineptitude. Kaiserman argued that Max was too “nerdy” and too much of “a klutz” to wield handle a gun, let alone manage a chain saw. Kaiserman reminded jurors that Max had cemented over the entire yard at his Fresno home to avoid using a lawn mower.

nerd headline

Was it a creative defense? Without a doubt. Was it an effective defense? Unfortunately for Max, no. He was found guilty of Tracy’s murder. Fear of exposure, if that was the motive for the slaying, easily explained how Max was able to overcome his nerdiness and commit such an atrocious murder.

The jury accepted the prosecution’s case that characterized the defendant as a man overcome by homosexual rage and rejected the defense argument that Max was too wimpy to have committed the crime. max blows kiss

At his sentencing hearing Max’s sister, Carol Waiters, a psychiatric social worker from Philadelphia, made a plea for leniency on her brother’s behalf. She implored Judge John H. Reid to consider “the whole person” rather than the part of his personality that drove him to murder. On July 28, 1988, Judge Reid sentenced Max to from 25 years to life with the possibility of parole in 17 years.

Max didn’t live long enough to become eligible for parole. He died of a heart attack in Cochran State Prison on September 18, 1997.

The Mad Professor, Part 2

When LAPD received a call about a rented chain saw which had been returned with what appeared to be pieces of human flesh and flecks of blood in the teeth and motor, they turned the information over to the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department. The Sheriffs were investigating the murder of a John Doe whose body parts had been found off the interstate in Santa Clarita and as possibly as far north as Madera County. The victim had yet to be identified but he was thought to have been a young man, likely in his teens, sporting a punk rocker hair cut.

scholar murderOne of the first things that Sheriff’s detectives needed to do was to identify the person who had rented the chain saw. It turned out to be surprisingly easy. The saw had been rented by a Fresno State College professor, Max Bernard Franc, in his own name. Characterized by colleagues as gentle and non-confrontational, Max didn’t seem to be capable of a cross word let alone a grisly dismemberment killing. But the undeniable evidence of the chain saw was sufficient for detectives to book him on suspicion of murder. He was remanded into custody and held without bail.

While efforts were being made to identify the victim, detectives in both Los Angeles and Madera counties searched both of Max’s residences–his house in Fresno and his apartment in West Hollywood. Sergeant Bryan Williams, an L.A. County Sheriff’s investigator, traveled to Fresno to take part in the search. Williams later told reporters that he had found “one of the largest collections of pornographic homosexual films ever seen.” The link between the quiet college professor and the young punk rocker was becoming a cut up doglittle easier to fathom. All indications were that Max had been leading a double life for years.

The Fresno Bee reported that Max had claimed that the chain saw was bloody because he had run over a dog and then used the saw to cut up the carcass. What? Who in the hell does that? According to Officer George Collier of the LAPD, when he first heard Max’s explanation he was skeptical; but when he was asked if he thought it was unusual for someone to report cutting up a dog with a chain saw he replied: “It’s not the normal type of thing a person would do, but Hollywood’s a bizarre place.” When the dead dog story failed to sway the police Max did what many people accused of murder do–he blamed someone else.

franc_photoMax told Sheriff’s investigator Steve Lee that the still unidentified victim had been killed by a male prostitute, Terry Adams, in self-defense. The cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head and allegedly Terry and the victim had argued over a debt. He described Terry as a white male in his 30s, about 5’10”, 160 pounds with shoulder length blond hair. Detectives were just as doubtful about Terry’s existence as they had been about the dead dog. L.A. County Deputy D.A. Sterling Norris said: “At this time we are still of the opinion that there was not a second man, but we’re still investigating.”

Max in high school.  Class of 1947

Max in high school. Class of 1947

While Max sat in jail and attempted to talk his way out of the murder charge, investigators  succeeded in identifying the victim as an 18-year-old wannabe actor from Kansas City, Tracy Leroy Nute. The D.A.’s office was going forward with the case against Max offering “homosexual rage” as the motive and, citing the “depraved nature of the killing” ,they were seeking the death penalty for Max.

Before you dismiss homosexual rage entirely, note that it is defined in the Urban Dictionary as: “A temper tantrum observed in homosexual men who exhibit behavior of a female coupled with the strength of a man. Such deadly pairing is particularly worrisome given that crimes, such as assault and/or murder committed in a gay rage usually reveal a gory and violent confrontation above normal levels (i.e. excessive bruising, multiple gunshot or stabbing wounds.)

It was a nifty prosecution theory that managed to stereotype both women and gay males.

The trial was going to be very interesting.

NEXT TIME: The conclusion of Max’s story.

The Mad Professor, Part 1

On Tuesday, August 25, 1987, the head and torso of a male, probably in his late teens with a punk-rock style haircut, were found by a Madera County rancher. The body parts were discovered off a rural highway about 20 miles north of Fresno. The young man had a gunshot wound to the head and had been dead about two days. From marks on the bones and the tearing of the flesh it it appeared that the killer may have used a chain saw to dismember the body.

On Thursday, August 27, body parts wrapped in a bed sheet were found near the Golden State Freeway at McBean Parkway in Valencia. The mutilations appeared to have been made with a chain saw. Sergeant John Andrews of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said: “The way the remains were hacked, it appears to be the work of the same person.” No driver’s license or any other means of identifying the young man were discovered with the remains. Investigators weren’t yet sure if the body parts belonged to one or more victims.

Sheriff’s investigators started working the case, but there wasn’t much to go on until the LAPD received a phone call regarding a bloody chain saw. Sheriff’s investigators confiscated the saw–and it would lead them to the most unlikely killer imaginable.

* * *

UntitledFifty-year-old Max Bernard Franc was a tenured professor of public administration at the California State University at Fresno. The unmarried Wisconsin native had earned his Ph.D. at New York University. He’d joined the Fresno faculty in 1969. His colleagues knew him as quiet and scholarly, so you can imagine their shock when he was arrested in Hollywood for the murder and dismemberment of the young man whose body parts had been found scattered along highways between Los Angeles and Fresno.

David Provost, professor and former chair of Max’s department described him this way: “He’s a very low-key kind of individual. When I was chairman of the department, he was one who was always seeking compromise when faculty disputes arose he was. . . a very gentle type of individual.”

One of Max’s colleagues, who declined to be named, said: “I saw him about 10 days ago on campus. He had finished his summer school course and was upbeat, friendly, chatty. He looked as positive and as constructive as I had seen him in years. Nothing seemed amiss. None of this fits the psychology of the person I know. . . He’s not the kind to blow up.” Echoing David Provost’s comments he said: “He’s more the kind who tries to avoid a sticky situation.

Max had recently received a grant to study the budgets and staffing of various cities around the state, a study that had put him in touch with several public officials, including Los Angeles County sheriff’s administrators, and he was just about to begin a semester long sabbatical.

If he was the killer, what had made the mild-mannered professor snap? And what was a fairly conservative man doing in the company of a teenage punk-rocker?

NEXT TIME:  Max Franc’s secret life.