Hop Heads

Charles Henderson was high on opium when Los Angeles Police officers, lead by Detective Bean, raided his home/club room at 3631 Trinity Street. The cops weren’t  looking for drugs, they were following up on a tip they’d received from a local hop head. The tipster, whom the police refused to name because they feared for his safety, had told them that he knew of at least four men who had been murdered by a gang operating out the Trinity Street house. According to the snitch, the gang was killing men in order to collect insurance policies which they had taken out on the men’s lives.

When Charles was coherent enough to make a statement to police, he scoffed at the idea of a murder house. Charles said, “You know anyone who has got the ‘habit’ ain’t got nerve enough to pull off a stunt like that fellow described. If a man ever did have any nerve he certainly loses all of it when he becomes an opium fiend. Why I couldn’t kill a chicken much less a human being.”

Charles spoke with the authority of a long-time hop head with a $9/day habit. That may not sound like much now, but in 1915, when Charles was buying dope, $9 was equivalent to $220.

Poster found here: https://bit.ly/2LgsRNh

Local police and Federal authorities had arrested Charles many times. His club room was a safe haven for opium users, and they were willing to pay for a refuge. The room made Charles a lot of money, but he set fire to most of it every time he filled a pipe.

“I have been smoking the pills for twenty years,” Charles told Bean, “and know the game all the way but I can’t believe there is any murders that can be traced to the fiends in this city.”

Charles had a point. When police raided his home/club room he was flying so high he hadn’t the will to to resist or flee.

He told Detective Bean that when the raid began he thought, “This ain’t no dream.”

He continued, “I have been one of the worst victims of the whole bunch. The other morning when you folks came and got me I was about the happiest man in the whole world. You know this stuff makes you feel that way. For a little while I didn’t know what you meant when you started to going through my house with all of them electric lights. They looked like shooting stars to me and I kind of thought that I was riding in an airship and that was the reason so many stars was so close to me.”

Captain Bean waited for Charles to resume.

“When I woke up here in jail and didn’t have no more opium it all came back to me. I realized then that I was just naturally arrested again. I tell you this comes hard on me. It costs me $9 every day to keep me dreaming right and of course I am no millionaire.”

“Gee, but I wish times was like they used to be. When I was down in Mexicali I used to get all the opium I wanted for $1.50 a day,” Charles reminisced.

“I have been tryin’ off and on for twenty years to get away from the habit but it don’t seem to be any use. In fact I don’t remember of a single man who ever quit the stuff for good who had smoked it as long as I have.”

There were no further reports regarding the murder house on Trinity Street in the Los Angeles Times, so we can only assume that Charles was right, the snitch had related one of his more sinister hop dreams to the cops.

As for Charles, did he ever quit kickin’ the gong around?*

Not that I know of.

 

* kickin’ the gong is 1930s slang for smoking opium.

 

Corpus Delicti, Part 2

Ewing wasn’t concerned by Evelyn’s disappearance.  Fiercely independent, she was known to go her own way, and that is what he told her friends that she had done.

Whenever her friends expressed their uneasiness about her sudden, mysterious departure Ewing would tell them that she had been drinking heavily and one night, in a drunken snit, she stood in their bedroom clutching a bottle of whisky and shouted obscenities at him.  He claimed that Evelyn’s drinking was out of control.

Ewing Scott hides his face.

Evelyn’s friends were dumbfounded, and doubtful, of Ewing’s description of his wife’s behavior. A drunken, foul-mouthed Evelyn was simply inconceivable to them.  There was nothing in her past that suggested she would behave that way under any circumstances. Contrarily, she was known to be ladylike and charming.

Two weeks following Evelyn’s disappearance, Ewing informed her chauffeur and handyman, Frank Justice, that his services were no longer required.  Frank had worked for Evelyn since 1943 and was stunned that he was being let go.  Ewing handed him a check for $100 and explained that he was taking Evelyn east because he was “discouraged with the way the doctors were making no headway with her diagnosis.” Ewing also told Frank that the only thing the doctors had decided was that Evelyn did not have cancer but may instead have mental problems.

Whenever Evelyn’s friends inquired about her Ewing cut them off, telling them bluntly that Evelyn was suffering from cancer, though he never specified what form the disease had taken, and that it had been her decision to go off on her own to seek treatment. Again, Evelyn’s friends didn’t buy Ewing’s story, and if they had known what he had told Frank they would have been even more suspicious.

Evelyn had been gone less than a month when Ewing visited the Cunard Steamship office.  He spoke to the manager, Frank Hannifer, about a trip around the world – for one.  The proposed trip would cost $7,250 – nearly twice as much as the average man earned in a year in 1955.  The trip never materialized, but Ewing did put down a deposit of $1700 for a trip to the West Indies.

For a man with a sick wife, Ewing didn’t appear to have a care in the world. In fact, he was acting like a bachelor.

In July, Ewing met Harriet Livermore and began to entertain her in the Bel-Air home. Harriet was the widow of Jesse Lauriston Livermore, a stock speculator known as “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Harriet and Jesse were married only 7 years before he committed suicide in 1940.  He had suffered some reversals of fortune and in a suicide note left for Harriet he described himself as “unworthy of your love.”

Jesse Livermore

When Harriet asked about his marriage, Ewing had a ready explanation.  He said that she had abruptly walked out on him.  Harriet was curious as to how a woman could up and walk away like that.  Ewing said that Evelyn was always prepared and routinely kept $18,000 on her person. That should have made Harriet’s eyes pop out on springs like a cartoon character, but obviously the rich have a much different idea of pocket change than the rest of us. Harriet got an earful about Evelyn from Ewing who said that his runaway wife was a chain smoker, an alcoholic and a lesbian. Ewing eagerly defamed his absent wife at every opportunity.

Harriet asked Ewing why, if Evelyn was so horrible, he hadn’t divorced her.  He had an explanation for that, too.  He said that all he had to do was wait for seven years and if Evelyn didn’t reappear he would be entitled to everything – money, property, the whole shebang. According to Ewing he could afford to wait.  He had sold his property in Milwaukee (never letting on the property wasn’t his to sell) and that he was in a comfortable financial position.  He then asked Harriet if she would accompany him on a trip around the world (but only if they went “Dutch Treat”); or to Guatemala.  Harriet declined the invitations.

Mrs. Marianne Beaman, 46, Santa Monica dental assistant, explains to reporters how she met L. Ewing Scott, whose wife is missing mysteriously, and the subsequent dates she had with him.

While he was dating Harriet, Ewing met another woman – Marianne Beaman, with whom he also started keeping company.  As he had done with Harriet, Ewing didn’t hesitate to air his dirty marital laundry.  Evidently, Evelyn’s disappearance was a great strain on him.  He said he thought, but wasn’t sure, that Evelyn had attempted to poison him.  Then he walked that statement back a little and said that even if she hadn’t tried to do him in, the fact that he thought her capable of such a thing was indicative of her deteriorating mental condition.  He didn’t have a shred of credible evidence that Evelyn had ever attempted to harm him.

According to their mutual acquaintances, Marianne and Ewing didn’t have a torrid love affair.  Acquaintances described them as “two lonely people who enjoyed chatting together over a dinner table.”  If dinner conversation lagged maybe Ewing would take the time to explain to his date why Wolfer Printing Company had a $6,000 judgement against him dating from 1953. The judgement had to do with a book project.

In 1953, Ewing met with William Good, vice president and general manager of Wolfer Printing Company at 416 South Wall Street in Los Angeles.   Ewing had brought with him a manuscript, provocatively titled “How to Fascinate Men”. Ewing said the book had been written by a UCLA professor, Charles Contreras, whom he had met at the Jonathan Club.  William had his doubts about the author, he had a gut feeling that Ewing had written the book himself.  Not that it mattered.

Ewing ordered 10,000 copies of the book and a custom designed cover.  The cover alone cost $750, and it featured a blonde who didn’t look like she’d need an instruction manual.

When the book was ready, Ewing came and picked up 25 copies – then he disappeared. Wolfer Printing was stuck with 9975 copies of “How to Fascinate Men.”

Ewing’s carefully curated personality as man with financial acumen – a man worthy of his smart, capable and cultured wife – started to unravel.

Deftly juggling stories like a Barnum & Bailey circus performer, Ewing managed to keep Evelyn’s friends and acquaintances at bay for nearly a full year. During all that time no one, except Ewing – if you believed him – had any contact with Evelyn.

By March 6, 1956, Evelyn’s brother, Raymond Throsby, had had enough. He filed paperwork to become the trustee of her estate. James B. Boyle, who had been Evelyn’s attorney for over 20 years, had a copy of her will in his office safe, but he was adamant that he would not reveal its contents unless or until he was compelled by a court order.

It didn’t take long for things to heat up among the possible contenders for trustee. A three-way battle loomed on the horizon.

While Ewing waged war on the trustee front, his attorney attempted to fend off cops who wanted Ewing to submit to a lie detector test. And to add to his stress, Ewing was subpoenaed to get him to produce some of Evelyn’s jewels and papers.

Ewing was under increasing scrutiny in Evelyn’s disappearance.  What would he do?

NEXT TIME:  Ewing makes a move.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Corpus Delicti, Part 1

Evelyn and Ewing Scott at the Queen Mary. [Photo found at the LA Daily Mirror blog]

Evelyn Throsby Kiernan Lewis Petit Mumper wasn’t the sort of woman who needed a man at her side to be happy.  As a two-time widow and divorcee, she was well acquainted with the ups and downs of love and marriage. But isn’t it always the way that when you’re not looking for love, you’re most likely to find it?

Evelyn was content living on her own, but who doesn’t want someone to share special moments with?  In 1950, Evelyn met and married her fifth husband.  Robert Leonard Ewing Scott.

Ewing came into the marriage without a job and no money to speak of.  The couple was fortunate that Evelyn’s previous husbands had left her well provided for.  She owned property in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that gave her a monthly income of $1400, which is equivalent to $14,400 a month in today’s dollars.  Evelyn owned a home in Bel-Air, an exclusive suburb of Los Angeles.  She was known to be a sharp investor. Over the years she had managed to grow her nest egg to over $400k dollars (equivalent to $4.4M today).

Nothing in Ewing’s past suggested that he was as good with money, but that didn’t stop him from offering his opinion on her finances.  In fact, shortly after they were married he convinced Evelyn that she didn’t need to pay a financial adviser anymore – she had his expertise to rely on. Ewing assumed complete control over her money.  He convinced her to liquidate a few of her brokerage accounts and convert them to cash. Why?  Ewing claimed he feared the atomic bomb and wanted cash on hand to flee the fallout if necessary.

Evelyn had no reason to distrust her husband, and it wasn’t unusual for a woman during that time for a wife to acquiesce to her husband’s wishes. Maybe Evelyn felt that if she denied Ewing the opportunity to manage her wealth it would hurt his pride. Or perhaps she was relieved to be able to relinquish control and have more free time to spend with her friends.

Evelyn’s intelligence, warmth, generosity and loyalty drew people to her.  She had known most of the people in her immediate circle for many years. Her social life was rich and rewarding – so much so that Evelyn was often heard to say that she would never want to move away or be gone for any length of time because she would miss her friends too much.

Evelyn and Ewing socialized with her friends on a regular basis and all seemed to be well.  None of Evelyn’s friends noticed anything amiss in the Scott’s marriage and  Evelyn appeared to be happy and healthy.

There was one person, however, who had intimate knowledge of the Scott’s relationship, and her opinion of the marriage was different from that of Evelyn’s friends.  Evelyn’s live-in cook, Vera Landry.

One night shortly after Evelyn and Ewing had returned from their honeymoon Vera was awakened by a loud crash.  It sounded to her like something had fallen in the master bedroom. The next day a curious Vera asked Ewing about the noise.  Without hesitation he answered: “Well, I just slapped the wind out of her.”

Vera got a far different explanation from Evelyn, who said she had tripped and fallen. Too frequently women, even those in ritzy Bel-Air, had secrets they were embarrassed or ashamed to reveal.

Vera was painfully aware of problems in the Scott’s marriage, but she was powerless to interfere.  As an employee Vera could only observe if she wanted to keep her place.  In fairness to Vera, it wouldn’t have mattered if she was a friend or not. Even Evelyn’s nearest and dearest would likely have accepted her explanation of an accidental fall rather than do any unseemly prying into her marriage.

Vera’s discomfort became acute when out of the blue Ewing announced to her that he wasn’t in love with Evelyn and their marriage was “just one of those things.” The revelation was more than Vera wanted to know, and she was further appalled when Ewing began to pressure her to spy on Evelyn. He demonstrated how simple it would be to eavesdrop on Evelyn’s telephone calls undetected and threatened to fire her if she didn’t comply.

Rather than betray Evelyn, Vera quit.

Whenever Ewing was out of earshot of Evelyn, he told her friends that she was ill and he was “having trouble with her.”  He hinted that she was drinking heavily and was impossible to deal with.  When her worried friends asked Evelyn if she was feeling well she always responded in the affirmative. They had no reason to doubt her word – she seemed the same as always.

For the first several months of 1955, Ewing persisted with his complaints about Evelyn and her alleged ill-health and bad behavior.  Was Evelyn suffering from alcoholism and/or cancer as Ewing intimated?  Was she trying to keep the painful truth from the people she loved; or was Ewing constructing an elaborate foundation on which to build a plot against his wife?

On May 16, 1955, Ewing ran out to the store to purchase a can of tooth powder for Evelyn. When he returned, she was gone.

NEXT TIME:  The lady vanishes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Black Dahlia: Conclusion

Two years passed with police no closer to a solution for the murder of Elizabeth Short. The 1949 Los Angeles Grand Jury intended to hold LAPD’s feet to the fire for failing to solve the Dahlia case and several other unsolved homicides and disappearances of women.

On September 6, 1949 the jury’s foreman, Harry Lawson, told reporters that a meeting of the jury’s administrative committee was scheduled for September 8. First on the committee’s agenda were the unsolved homicides. Lawson said:

“There is every possibility that we will summon before the jury officers involved in the investigation of these murders. We find it odd that there are on the books of the Los Angeles Police Deportment many unsolved crimes of this type.”

The Grand Jury further concluded that:

“Because of the nature of these murder and sex crimes women and children are constantly placed in jeopardy and are not safe from attack.”

They also decided that something:

” is radically wrong with the present system for apprehending the guilty, the alarming increase in the number of unsolved murders and other major crimes reflects ineffectiveness in law enforcement agencies and the courts and that should not be tolerated.”

jeanne and frank pic

I would argue that the jury and law enforcement had not yet adapted to changes in the post-war world. Cops were unaccustomed to stranger murders; and I believe several of the women whose cases they had been investigating were killed or taken by either a complete stranger or a recent acquaintance.

Then, as now, when a woman is murdered her killer is usually her husband, boyfriend or another man in her life. It is my contention that it wasn’t corruption within law enforcement agencies that prevented them from solving the crimes. The police were doing solid detective work, but their investigative methods hadn’t caught up with the times. There were men walking the streets of Los Angeles who had been severely damaged by their war experiences–how many of them were capable of murder?

 Murder Car -- this is the auto in which the body of Mrs. Louise Springer was found slain. The car was parked at 136 W. 38th St. The discover has touched off the widest man hunt since the slaying of the Black Dahlia.

Murder Car — this is the auto in which the body of Mrs. Louise Springer was found slain. The car was parked at 136 W. 38th St. The discovery touched off the widest man hunt since the slaying of the Black Dahlia.

LAPD detectives were diligent in their investigation into Short’s slaying. There were more than 2700 reports taken on the case. There were over 300 named suspects. Fifty had been arrested and subsequently released. There had been nineteen confessions–none of which panned out.

In 1949 the DA’s office issued a report on the investigation into Short’s murder. In part the report stated:

“[she] knew at least fifty men at the time of her death and at least 25 men had been seen with her within the 60 day period preceding her death. She was not a prostitute. She has been confused with a Los Angeles prostitute by the same name…She was known as a teaser of men. She would ride with them, chisel a place to sleep, clothes or money, but she would then refuse to have sexual intercourse by telling them that she was a virgin or that she was engaged or married. There were three known men who did have sexual intercourse with her and according to them she got no pleasure out of this act. According to the autopsy surgeon her sex organs indicated female trouble. She was known to have disliked queer women very much as well as prostitutes. She was never known to be a narcotic addict.”

 

Jean Spangler [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Jean Spangler [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Good intentions didn’t get the grand jury any concrete answers to the unsolved homicides or disappearances.. The jury was sidetracked by the continuing saga of local gangster Mickey Cohen and other issues which demanded their attention. In the end they passed the baton to the 1950 grand jury — which also found itself sidetracked by other issues.

Despite the efforts of the grand jury, the homicides or disappearances of the following women remain unsolved to this day: Elizabeth Short, Jeanne French, Rosenda Mondragon, Laura Trelstad, Gladys Kern, Louise Springer, Mimi Boomhower, and Jean Spangler — and this is not a complete list.

What happened to the women who disappeared?  It is unlikely that we will ever know. It is also unlikely that the identify of the killer(s) of the murder victims will ever be discovered.  Of course people will always speculate about the cases, and every few years a book about the Black Dahlia slaying will emerge claiming to have solved the decades long cold case. None of the books I’ve read so far has seemed entirely credible to me. I find it impossible to accept theories that outline elaborate conspiracies perpetrated by everyone from a newspaper mogul to a local gangster for the simple reason that most people are incapable of keeping a secret. Eventually, someone always talks.

I have my own theory about the Black Dahlia and the other unsolved homicides of women that horrified Angelenos during the 1940s; and I offered my opinion during an episode of the Hollywood & Crime podcast.  Their first season dealt extensively with the Black Dahlia case and several of the other unsolved homicides. In the episode entitled  Cold Cases, Jim Clemente, former FBI profiler and producer of the TV show Criminal Minds, and I discussed the murders, and we came to very different conclusions. You can find the series on iTunes, Stitcher, etc.

NOTE: This concludes my series of Black Dahlia posts for now. I invite you to stay with me as I unearth more of L.A.’s most deranged crimes.

 

The Black Dahlia: Confessions of a Benzedrine Eater

charles_lynchA couple of weeks following the one year anniversary of the slaying of Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia, LAPD detectives were still attempting to solve the case that was on its way to becoming L.A.’s most infamous unsolved homicide.

Cops thought maybe they’d finally caught a break in the case when twenty-three year old Charles E. Lynch telephoned the homicide squad asking that they come and arrest him for Short’s slaying.

Lynch was arrested and brought to the Central Jail to be interrogated.  The young transient was questioned at length by Det. Lts. Harry Hansen and Finis A. Brown, the two detectives who had been assigned to the case since the beginning.  Dr. J. Paul DeRiver, police psychiatrist, accompanied Hansen and Brown to the questioning of their new suspect.

It didn’t take long for the seasoned detectives and the shrink to conclude that Lynch was lying to them; and when he was challenged on the details of his confession Lynch promptly repudiated it.

Of course the detectives wanted to know what had motivated Lynch to confess to the gruesome murder in the first place, and that’s when he told them that the idea came to him after he read a newspaper “one year anniversary” account of the crime.benz_headline

The newspaper account of the Black Dahlia case may have initially motivated Lynch to confess, but his real inspiration came from a Benzedrine inhaler.  He told Hansen, Brown and DeRiver that he bought an inhaler, tore off the wrapper, ate the contents and washed them down with a glass of water — it was then, Lynch said, that he decided to confess.

NEXT TIME: Conclusion of the Black Dahlia case.

For an interesting article on the influence of Benzedrine (aka Bennies) on American culture go to this article in  THE ATLANTIC.

More on Benzedrine here.

The Black Dahlia: Another Confession, Another Murder

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U.S. Army Corporal Joseph Dumais [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

On February 8, 1947 the Herald announced that the Black Dahlia case had been solved. They had found the killer!

dahlia_herald_24_dumaisThe Herald story began:

“Army Corporal Joseph Dumais, 29, of Fort Dix, N.J., is definitely the murdered of “The Black Dahlia”, army authorities at Fort Dix announced today.’

Dumais, a combat veteran, had returned from leave wearing blood stained trousers with his pockets crammed full of clippings about Short’s murder. According to the Herald, Dumais made a 50 page confession in which he claimed to have had a mental blackout after dating Elizabeth Short in Los Angeles five days before her body was found.

The good looking corporal seemed like the real deal. He told the cops that “When I get drunk I get pretty rough with women.” Unfortunately, when police checked his story against known facts the solider’s confession didn’t hold up. Dumais was sent to a psychiatrist.

Two days after Dumais’ false confession the Herald put out an Extra with the headline: “Werewolf Strikes Again! Kills L.A. Woman, Writes B.D. on Body”.

dahlia_herald_27_werewolf strikesThe victim of the “Werewolf Killer” was forty-five year old Jeanne French. Her nude body had been discovered at about 8 a.m. on February 10, 1947 near Grand View Avenue and Indianapolis Street in West L.A.

jeanne_french_scene_00057603

Cops at the scene of Jeanne French’s murder. [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Jeanne Thomas French had lived an incredibly fascinating life. She had been an aviatrix, a pioneer airline hostess, a movie bit player and an Army Nurse. And at one time she had been the wife of a Texas oilman. The way she died was monstrous.

jeanne and frank picA construction worker H.C. Shelby was walking to work around 8 o’clock that morning along Grand View Blvd. when he saw a small pile of woman’s clothing in weeds a few feet from the sidewalk. Curious, Shelby walked over and lifted up a fur trimmed coat and discovered French’s nude body.

French had been savagely beaten, and her body was covered with bruises. She had suffered some blows to her head, probably administered by a metal blunt instrument — maybe a socket wrench. As bad as they were, the blows to her head had not been fatal. Jeanne died from hemorrhage and shock due to fractured ribs and multiple injuries caused by stomping — she had heel prints on her chest. It took a long time for French to die. The coroner said that she slowly bled to death.

Mercifully, Jeanne was unconscious after the first blows to her head so she never saw her killer take the deep red lipstick from her purse, and she didn’t feel the pressure of his improvised pen as he wrote on her torso: “Fuck You, B.D.” (later thought to be be “P.D.”–but was it?) and “Tex”.

French had last been seen in the Pan American Bar at 11155 West Washington Place. She was seated at the first stool nearest the entrance and the bartender later told cops that a smallish man with a dark complexion was seated next to her. The bartender assumed they were a couple because he saw them leave together at closing time.

Jeanne’s estranged husband, Frank, was booked on suspicion of murder. The night before she died Jeanne had gone to the apartment where Frank was living and they’d quarreled. Frank said that his wife had started the fight, then hit him with her purse and left. He said that was the last time he saw her. He told the cops she’d been drinking.

David Wrather, Jeanne’s twenty-five year old son from a previous marriage was also brought in for questioning. As he was leaving the police station he saw his step-father for the first time since he’d learned of his mother’s death. David confronted Frank and said: “Well, I’ve told them the truth. If you’re guilty, there’s a God in heaven who will take care of you.” Frank didn’t hesitate, he looked at David and said: “I swear to God I didn’t kill her.”jeanne french_husband lie detectorFrank was cleared when his landlady testified that he’d been in his apartment at the time of the murder, and when his shoe prints didn’t match those found at the scene of the crime.

Cops followed the few leads they had. French’s cut-down 1929 Ford roadster was found in the parking lot of a drive-in restaurant, The Piccadilly at Washington Pl. and Sepulveda Blvd. Witnesses said that the car had been there since 3:15 the morning of the murder, and a night watchman said it was left there by a man. The police were never able to find out where Jeanne had been between 3:15 a.m. and the time of her death which was estimated at 6 a.m.

Scores of sex degenerates were rousted, but each was eliminated as a suspect. Officers also checked out local Chinese restaurants after the autopsy revealed that French had eaten Chinese food shortly before her death.

French’s slaying, known as the “Red Lipstick Murder” case, went cold.

Three years later, following a Grand Jury investigation into the numerous unsolved murders of women in L.A., investigators from the D.A.’s office were assigned to look into the case.

Frank Jemison and Walter Morgan worked the French case for almost eight months, but they were never able to close it. They came up with one hot suspect, a painter who had painted the French’s house about four months prior to her death. He even dated her several times. The suspicious thing about the painter was that the day after Jeanne’s murder he had burned several pairs of his shoes. Also he wore almost the same size shoes as the ones that had left marks on French’s body.

Jemison and Morgan thoroughly investigated the painter, but he was eventually cleared.

There were so many unsolved murders of women in the 1940s that in 1949 a Grand Jury investigation was launched into the failure of the police to solve the cases.

There haven’t been any leads in Jeanne French’s case in decades; however, there is always a detective assigned to Elizabeth Short’s murder case.  A couple of years ago it was a female detective and, surprisingly, she received several calls a month. To this day there are people who want to confess to Elizabeth Short’s murder. The detective was able to eliminate each one of the possible suspects with a simple question: “What year were you born?

The Black Dahlia: Could A Woman Be The Killer?

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Sketch of Jane Doe #1 prior to her ID as Elizabeth Short.

Max Handler with Det. Ed Barrett (in hat and glasses). [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Max Handler with Det. Ed Barrett (in hat and glasses). [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Dozens of men had been interviewed as possible suspects in the murder of Elizabeth Short. None of the interviews had panned out. A seemingly endless stream of false confessors appeared at various police stations around town; guys like Max Handler, a film bit player, who was the 25th man to claim he had murdered the Black Dahlia. During a lie detector test he admitted that his confession was false and that he wanted to escape from the 400 tiny men with violins who were chasing him. In the photo he looks to have been on a lobotomizing bender.

Daniel S. Voorhies, a 33 year old army vet, also confessed to killing Short. He said that he’d had an affair with her in L.A. There were a couple of problems with his story. The first was that he didn’t know how to spell her last name and, second, at the time he claimed that he and Short were having a torrid affair Beth was a very young teenager living on the east coast.

The local landscape was littered with crumpled up false confessions given by every sad drunk and deranged publicity seeker — and most of the confessors were men; but not all of them.

False confessor, Minnie Sepulveda. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

False confessor, Minnie Sepulveda. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

A gal named Minnie Sepulveda stepped up and said that she had killed the Black Dahlia. She hadn’t.

Mrs. Marie Grieme said that she had heard a Chicago woman confess to the Black Dahlia murder. Her story didn’t lead anywhere.

Even though none of the women who had confessed had been guilty, the cops were beginning to think that it wasn’t out of the question that Short’s slayer had been a woman. After all, L.A. had had its share of female killers.

The Herald-Express ran side-by-side photos of three infamous homicidal women who had been busted in L.A., Louise Peete (one of only four women ever to have been executed by the State of California) was a serial killer. She’d been busted for murder in the 1920s, did eighteen years, and following her release from prison committed yet another murder for which she paid with her life.

dahlia_herald_16_women_killersWinnie Ruth Judd committed two murders in Arizona. She was busted in L.A. when a trunk containing the dismembered remains of Hedvig Samuelson and Anne Le Roi began to get a little ripe and leak bodily fluids in the baggage claim section of a local train station.

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Winnie Ruth Judd’s trunks. [Photo courtesy LAPL]

In 1922, Clara Phillips (aka “Tiger Girl”) murdered Alberta Meadows, the woman she suspected was a rival for her husband’s affections. She struck Meadows repeatedly with a hammer and, for the coup de gras, she rolled a 50 lb. boulder on top of the corpse.

Body of Alberta Meadows -- victim of Clara Phillips' wrath. [Photo courtesy of UCLA]

Body of Alberta Meadows — victim of Clara Phillips’ wrath. [Photo courtesy of UCLA]

So, the notion that a woman could be Short’s killer wasn’t far-fetched at all. The Herald-Express had featured a series of columns written by psychologist Alice La Vere. La Vere had previously profiled Short’s killer as a young man without a criminal record, but she was very open to the idea of a female killer. She abruptly shifted gears from identifying a young man as the slayer to “…a sinister Lucrezia Borgia — a butcher woman whose crime dwarfs any in the modern crime annals — are shadowed over the mutilated body of 22-year-old Elizabeth Short.”

Obviously La Vere was an expert for hire, and if the Herald-Express editors had asked her to write a convincing profile of the killer as a mutant alien from Mars, she’d likely have done it. Still, she made some compelling comments in her column for the newspaper.

“Murders leave behind them a trail of fingerprints, bits of skin and hair. The slayer of “The Black Dahlia” left the most tell-tale clue of all–the murder pattern of a degenerate, vicious feminine mind.”

Even more interesting was La Vere’s exhortation to the cops to look for an older woman. She said:

“Police investigators should look for a woman older than ‘The Black Dahlia’. This woman who either inspired the crime or actually committed the ghastly, unspeakable, outrage, need not be a woman of great strength. Extreme emotion or high mental tension in men and women give great, superhuman strength.”

If you compare Alice La Vere’s profile of the possible killer to a profile created by John E. Douglas, who is retired from the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) — La Vere’s seventy-one year old profile holds up rather well.

What I find interesting about La Vere’s profile of a female perpetrator is that she said that the woman would be older than Short. In recent years an older woman did become an integral part of a theory about the crime.

It is a theory put forward by researcher, Larry Harnisch. Larry wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times on the fiftieth anniversary of Short’s death. Subsequently, he has done a lot more digging into the case and has unearthed an important connection between the body dump site near 39th and Norton, and two medical doctors. One of the doctors, Walter Alonzo Bayley, had lived in a house just one block south of the place where Elizabeth Short’s body had been discovered. At the time of the murder he was estranged from his wife who still occupied the home. Bayley had left his wife for his mistress, Alexandra Partyka, also a medical doctor. Partyka had emigrated to the U.S. and wasn’t licensed to practice medicine, but she did assist Bayley in his practice.

bayley_partyka2Following Bayley’s death in January 1948, Partyka and Dr. Bayley’s wife, Ruth, fought over control of his estate. Mrs. Bayley claimed that Partyka had been blackmailing the late doctor with secrets about his medical practice that could have ruined him.

There is also a link between Bayley’s family and Short’s. In 1945 one of Dr. Bayley’s adopted daughters, Barbara Lindgren, was a witness to the marriage of Beth’s sister, Virginia Short, to Adrian West at a church in Inglewood, California, near Los Angeles.

Larry discussed Dr. Bayley in James Ellroy’s 2001 “Feast of Death”. [Note: Be forewarned that there are photos of Elizabeth Short in the morgue.]

It is clear that a woman could have murdered Elizabeth Short; but could the woman have been Dr. Bayley’s mistress, Alexandra Partyka? The chances are that we’ll never know–or at least not until Larry Harnisch finishes his book on the case.

NEXT TIME: Another confession, and another murder.

The Black Dahlia: The Case Goes Cold

beth_flowerElizabeth Short’s murder dominated the front pages of the Evening Herald & Express for days following the discovery of her body in Leimert Park on January 15, 1947..

But even in a murder case as sensational as that of the Black Dahlia the more time that elapses following the crime the fewer clues there are on which to report. The fact that the case was going cold didn’t dampen the Herald’s enthusiastic coverage one little bit. The paper sought out psychiatrists psychologists, and mystery writers who would attempt, each in his/her own way, to analyze the case and fill column space in the paper as they, and the cops, waited for a break. Decades before the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) was founded the shrinks and writers whose work appeared in the Herald were engaging in speculative profiles of both the victim and her killer.

One of the psychologists tapped by the Herald to contribute her analysis of the victim and slayer was Alice La Vere. La Vere was introduced as “…one of the nation’s most noted consulting psychologists”. According to the newspaper, Miss La Vere would give to readers: “an analysis of the motives which led to the torture murder of beautiful 22-year-old Elizabeth Short”. La Vere’s analysis seems surprisingly contemporary.

Here is an excerpt from her profile of Short’s personality:

“Some gnawing feeling of inadequacy was eating at the mind of this girl. She needed constant proof to herself that she was important to someone and demonstrates this need by the number of suitors and admirers with which she surrounded herself.”

La Vere went on to describe the killer:

“It is very likely that this is the first time this boy has committed any crime. It is also likely that he may be a maladjusted veteran. The lack of social responsibility experienced by soldiers, their conversational obsession with sex, their nerves keyed to battle pitch — these factors are crime-breeding.” She further stated: “Repression of the sex impulse accompanied by environmental maladjustment is the slayer’s probable background.”

How does La Vere’s profile of Elizabeth Short and her killer compare the analysis by retired FBI profiler John Douglas? Douglas suggested that Beth was “needy” and that her killer would have “spotted her a mile away”. He said that the killer “would have been a lust killer and loved hurting people.”

On the salient points, I’d say that La Vere and Douglas were of like minds regarding Elizabeth Short and her killer — wouldn’t you?craig_rice_Time

At the time of Elizabeth Short’s murder, mystery writer Craig Rice (pseudonym of Georgiana Ann Randolph Walker Craig) was one of the most popular crime writers in the country. In its January 28, 1946 issue,TIME magazine selected Rice for a cover feature on the mystery genre. Sadly, Rice has been largely forgotten by all except the most avid mystery geeks (like me).

Craig Rice was invited by the Herald to give her take on the Black Dahlia case in late January 1947. Rice described Elizabeth Short in this way:

“A black dahlia is what expert gardeners call ‘an impossibility’ of nature. Perhaps that is why lovely, tragic Elizabeth Short was tortured, murdered and mutilated Because such a crime could happen only in the half-world in which she lived. A world of–shadows.”

NEXT TIME: Did a woman kill the Black Dahlia?

 

The Black Dahlia: Aggie Gets Off The Bench

Prior to being benched by her city editor, Aggie had made some headway in her coverage of Elizabeth Short’s murder. She had interviewed Robert “Red” Manley, the first suspect in the case, and had concluded that he was innocent. Her interview had earned her a by-line. As far as I know she was the only Los Angeles reporter to get a by-line in the case.

dahlia_herald_14_aggie_bylineSeveral people have taken credit for uncovering the Black Dahlia moniker; Aggie among them. In her 1949 autobiography, Newspaperwoman, Aggie said that she came across Elizabeth’s nickname when she was checking in with Ray Giese, a LAPD homicide detective-lieutenant. According to Aggie, Giese said: “This is something you might like, Agness. I’ve found out they called her the ‘Black Dahlia’ around that drug store where she hung out down in Long Beach.”

Like it? Aggie loved it. Los Angeles, in particular the Hearst newspapers, seemed to have a penchant for naming homicide cases after flowers. Over the years orchids, roses, and gardenias would feature in many grim headlines.

Aggie longed to be back in the field chasing leads and sniffing out suspects, but she was officially off the case for the second time.  About her newsroom embroidery project Aggie said: “Although i got damn tired of it, I kept my needle going until the quitting hour.  Early the next morning the assistant city editor announced that the city editor had made an overnight assignment for me to go back to homicide and continue on the ‘Black Dahlia’ case.”

Once again Aggie was pulled off the case, but this time she learned that her new assignment was the city desk.  She said she was: “Completely unwarned. I was the most surprised person in Los Angeles.” She had just become one of the first women in the United States to hold a city editorship on a major metropolitan daily!

Aggie at a crime scene (not the Dahlia) c. 1940s.

Aggie at a crime scene (not the Dahlia) c. 1940s.

Why had Aggie been removed from the Black Dahlia case in the first place? People are drawn to conspiracies, no matter how unlikely, and there are those who believe that there was a cover-up and that Aggie was getting too close to a solution to Short’s murder.  Theorists have suggested that someone with enough juice had Aggie promoted to keep her out of the way. That doesn’t make sense to me, as city editor she directed the activities of all the reporters working the case, and she wasn’t the sort of person who would take a pay-off. Nevertheless, the timing of Aggie’s promotion remains an intriguing part Dahlia lore.

With Aggie back in the thick of things, the Herald continued to follow every lead. Sadly, the victim of a homicide is often re-victimized by the press. Murder victims lose their right to privacy; all of their secrets are revealed, and in an effort to fill column space while multiple leads were being tracked, the Herald looked to psychiatrists, Elizabeth’s acquaintances, and even mystery writers, to speculate on the case, which they did with creative abandon.

The psychiatrist whose expert opinion was sought by the Herald was Dr. Paul De River, LAPD’s very own shrink. He wrote a series of articles for the paper in which he attempted to analyze the mind of the killer. De River wrote that the killer was a sadist and suggested that: “during the killing episode, he had an opportunity to pump up affect from two sources — from his own sense of power and in overcoming the resistance of another. He was the master and the victim was the slave”.

Dr. De River

Dr. De River

In one of his most chilling statements, De River hinted at necrophilia—he said: “It must also be remembered that sadists of this type have a super-abundance of curiosity and are liable to spend much time with their victims after the spark of life has flickered and died”.

People who had only a fleeting acquaintance with Elizabeth (who frequently called herself Betty, Bette or Beth) were interviewed by reporters and they weighed in on everything from her hopes and dreams to her love life. Beth was, by turns, described as “a man-crazy delinquent”, and a girl with “childlike charm and beauty”. The interviews yielded nothing of value in the hunt for Beth’s killer.

The cops weren’t having any better luck.

NEXT TIME: The Black Dahlia case goes cold.

Black Dahlia Suspect – Robert “Red” Manley

In his 1991 autobiography, “Reporters”: Memoirs of a Young Newspaperman, Will Fowler recalled that one of his colleagues, Baker Conrad, had noticed a telegram among Elizabeth Short’s effects. The Examiner’s editor, Jim Richardson, dispatched Fowler to the address on the telegram, 8010 Mountain View Avenue in South Gate.

When Fowler arrived at the bungalow court he was greeted by “A strikingly beautiful red-haired young woman.” Fowler may not have actually said he was a cop, but he let the woman, Harriet Manley, believe he was law enforcement.

Robert "Red" Manley with his wife Harriette. [LAPL Photo]

Robert “Red” Manley with his wife Harriette. [LAPL Photo]

During her conversation with Fowler, Harriet said that Red had phoned her from San Francisco after seeing his name in the newspapers in connection with Elizabeth Short’s murder. Red tried to reassure Harriet that he’d had nothing to do with the slaying and told her that he “loved her more than any man ever loved his wife.”

At about 10:00 pm on January 19th a couple of LAPD sergeants, J.W. Wass and Sam Flowers, were staking out the home of Red’s employer in Eagle Rock where the wanted man was expected to arrive shortly. When Red pulled up in his sedan the officers approached him with their guns drawn. An Examiner photographer was there to capture the arrest. Red looks like a deer in the headlights as Sgt. Flowers handcuffs him.

Robert "Red" Manley busted in Eagle Rock. Photo courtesy LAPL.

Robert “Red” Manley busted in Eagle Rock — handcuffed by LAPD Sgt Sam Flowers. Photo courtesy LAPL.

Aggie Underwood interviewed Red early in the morning of January 20th at LAPD’s Hollenbeck station. She recalled the interview in her 1949 autobiography Newspaperwoman:

“You look as if you’ve been on a drunk,” I said in sizing up the suspect. I was ready to talk sympathetically about hangovers. That approach won’t work always, but Red looked like a guy reporters might meet at a bar and find a congenial drinking companion, possible criminal or not.

“This is worse than any I’ve ever been on,” he replied. Perry Fowler, the photographer assigned to the case with me, caught the cue we had used repeatedly in softening subjects and stepped forward with a cigarette, which Manley took gratefully.

“Look, fella,” I continued as he inhaled. “You’re in one hell of a spot. You’re in a jam and it’s no secret. If you’re as innocent as you say you are, tell the whole story; and if you haven’t anything to hide, people can’t help knowing you’re telling the truth. That way, you’ll get it over with all at once and it won’t be kicking around to cause you more trouble.”

Red didn’t need any further encouragement to unburden himself to Aggie. He told her how he’d initially picked Elizabeth up on a San Diego street corner. How they had spent an “erotically uneventful” night in a motel and how he had eventually dropped her off at the Biltmore Hotel on January 9th.

Red finished his tale with: “I’ll never pick up another dame as long as I live.”

Robert Manley in high school c. 1940. Photo from Ancestry.

Robert Manley in high school c. 1940. Photo from Ancestry.

Aggie believed Red was innocent, and shared her gut feelings with the police. Red had been forthcoming in his interview and Aggie knew right away that he wasn’t a killer. Red was just a frightened man with goofy ideas about love tests.

If there was one thing that Aggie detested it was a sob sister. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a sob sister is a female journalist who writes overly sentimental copy. That sort of journalism was never Aggie’s thing. She said: “A sob sister could have wept with and over Manley, interpolating, editorial gushes to prove what a big bleeding heart beat in her breast. To hell with that. I’d rather have a fistful—an armload—of good solid facts.”

Aggie at her desk c. 1949. Photo courtesy LAPL. [Yes, that it a baseball bat on her desk. Aggie had a way of dealing with overzealous Hollywood agents.

Aggie at her desk c. 1949. Photo courtesy LAPL.  Yes, that’s a baseball bat on her desk. Aggie had her own a way of dealing with over zealous Hollywood press agents.  Concealed in her desk drawer is a starter pistol which she used to gain the attention of dozing reporters. She’d fire it at the ceiling and shout, “Don’t let this paper die today.”  Aggie had a flair!

It was the armload of facts that made Aggie’s interview with Red Manley so compelling. In fact her city editor, who normally cautioned her to keep her copy short, let the entire interview run without a ton of photos. He knew a good interview when he read one.

Why, then, in the midst of covering of the murder was Aggie unceremoniously yanked off the story? Without any warning or explanation Aggie suddenly found herself benched. The city editor had pulled her off the story and let her cool her heels in the newsroom without a thing to do.

Aggie spent a couple of miserable days at her desk bored out of her mind. Then she got pissed-off enough to fight back. She didn’t get huffy or raise her voice. She brought in an embroidery project. Shortly the other newsroom denizens were snickering. One of the other newswomen, Caroline Walker, said: “What do you think of that? Here’s the best reporter on the Herald, on the biggest day of one of the best stories in years—sitting in the office doing fancy work!”

The next day Aggie was reassigned to the story—only to be pulled off a second time. What the hell was going on?

NEXT TIME: Will Aggie get off the bench?