A Thanksgiving Eve Date with the Gas Chamber – Repost

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!  I’m sure it will be better than Allen Ditson’s–unless you’re seated next to your least favorite relative at the dinner table.

The following is a repost from 2015.

PART 1

November 20,1962. Thanksgiving was two days away, but 41-year-old Allen Ditson wasn’t looking forward to it. He wouldn’t spend the day gnawing on a turkey drumstick or fighting with a cousin to claim the last slice of pumpkin pie. In fact Allen wouldn’t have the classic holiday dinner at all, unless he requested it for his last meal. If Governor Brown didn’t commute his death sentence, like he had done for Allen’s pal Carlos Cisneros, he would be executed in San Quentin’s gas chamber on Thanksgiving Eve.

*  *  *

DITSON_HEADLINE1In 1959 Allen owned a small jewelry and watch repair shop at 7715 Hollywood Way in the San Fernando Valley. The former Kansas farm boy was the father of two, a WWII veteran and former pilot who had spent five years in uniform before being honorably discharged. When he was mustered out of the service he took courses in watch and jewelry repair then opened his own business. He worked long hours and he continued to take classes related to his trade. The time he spent away from home was hard on his marriage; so hard in fact that he and his wife separated. Even though they no longer lived together he saw his children “at least twice a week” and contributed to their support. His mother-in-law said “he’s been good to all of us.”

On the surface Allen’s life appeared completely normal, but it wasn’t. The seemingly average businessman had a secret, he was the mastermind of a gang of violent armed robbers. Under his direction the gang of about 15 men had netted an estimated $150,000 (equivalent to approximately $1.2 in current dollars) between January and October of 1959.

Like most gang leaders Allen had a lieutenant, his name was Carlos Gonzales Cisneros. According to court records Carlos lost his mother to tuberculosis and spent most of his infancy and childhood in foundling homes. He left school in 1950 when he was 17. He married, had four kids and worked at Lockheed as a sheet metal worker. He was 24-years-old and working the swing shift as a sheet metal worker at Lockheed when he met Allen. Allen was already running a gang and he slowly brought Carlos in. He began by telling the young man that “it would be nice to see him driving a Cadillac.” Eventually Carolos owned two Cadillacs.

Allen used skills he’d learned in the military to operate the gang. He was adamant that each member carry out his “assignment” with precision. If things went sideways and a gang member was busted he was to keep his mouth shut. Allen would see to it that he was provided with an attorney. Allen also made it clear that the penalty for being a “squealer” or a blackmailer was death.

During September and October 1959 a series of robberies were committed by Allen and Carlos and several gang members: Robert Ward, Keith Slaten, and Eugene and Norman Bridgeford.. During a robbery in October Robert “Bob” Ward failed his assignment. He was supposed to securely bind the store owners. He tied the man tightly, but the woman was able to free herself. Once freed the man grabbed his rifle and began shooting at the fleeing robbers. As they ran Eugene pitched the stolen cash box into some shrubs in an alley. Later that night Eugene and Carlos returned to retrieve the cash box and were busted on the spot. About a week later they made bail. During a meeting with Allen, Carlos and Eugene were informed that Bob was demanding money in exchange for keeping quiet about the gang.

On November 6, 1959, Allen told Eugene that he had “decided that tonight would be the best night to get rid of Bob Ward” because he was “through being blackmailed by a no-good-son-of-a-bitch like him.” Allen had already paid Bob $100 but had no intention of giving him one dime more. Allen came up with a plan to “…get rid of him.” Allen stayed at the store and let Carlos and Eugene implement his plan to take care of Bob.

Carlos and Eugene drove to a liquor store to pick up a couple of pints of booze. They knew that Bob was a heavy drinker and thought that he would be “more amiable” with a few shots of booze in him. Then they went to the house Bob shared with fellow gang member Keith Slaten. Carlos parked the Cadillac on the street in front of the house. Keith had seen them pull up and went out to greet them.  Keith and Bob thought they were going to pull another robbery. The men piled into Keith’s Ford. Keith was behind the wheel, Bob was in the passenger seat, and Eugene and Carlos sat in the back. They spent about 45 minutes drinking. Carlos picked up a hammer from the floor of Keith’s car and brought it down on the back of Bob’s head. Bob fell against Keith and screamed: “Keith, help me. They are trying to kill me.” Keith had his own life to worry about and gave Bob a shove so he’d be an easier target for Carlos–then he ran into the house. Carlos called him back and said, “just take it easy and it’ll be all right.”

In the interim Bob had managed to get out of the car and was leaning against a tree when Carlos found him and beat him down to the ground. Carlos backed his car into the driveway and after delivering a few more blows to Bob’s head put him in the trunk of the car. Carlos and Eugene drove off and Keith followed them in the Ford. Carlos had driven about half a mile before Bob regained consciousness and started pleading from his confinement in the trunk to be released. He said he thought his eye had come out of its socket. Carlos told him to be quiet and then turned up the car radio so he wouldn’t be able to hear Bob call his name.

Now thoroughly rattled Carlos misjudged a turn, struck the curb with the front wheel of the car and blew a tire. He spotted a pay phone, gave Eugene some change and told him to call Allen and ask him to bring a spare tire and a heavy duty jack (after all it was a Cadillac with a man in the trunk). About an hour later Allen arrived with a friend of his, Leonard York. They changed the tire and then Carlos, with Bob still in the trunk, took off for the jewelry store. Eugene and Leonard rode with Allen back to the store. When they arrived they could hear unintelligible noises coming from the trunk of the Cadillac. Allen said they’d have to get rid of Bob before the neighbors heard him and called the cops. Eugene took Leonard home and then begged off the rest of the evening saying he was sick.

Allen took a .38 revolver from the store and he and Carlos drove Bob out to the Newhall Pass. Allen opened the trunk and ordered Bob to get out. Unaided, the seriously injured man got out and stood on his feet. He asked for a cigarette. Allen shot him in the chest. He fell, got up, and ran toward Carlos. As they rolled over an embankment Allen shot Bob in the back paralyzing him. Allen walked down the incline to see if Bob was finally dead. He wasn’t. He said, “Give me another one.” Allen knelt down beside him, pressed the .38 to his head and killed him.

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PART 2

After shooting Bob Ward to death with a .38, Allen Ditson had to figure out what to do with the body. At least Carlos Cisneros was there to help him. Carlos began to dig a grave with his bare hands until Allen brought him a butcher knife from the car. Once the grave was ready Allen said that they would have to dismember Bob to prevent identification if someone should discover his remains. Using the butcher knife they removed Bob’s head and each arm at the elbow. They buried the remains and then tossed the head and arms into the truck of the car and drove back Allen’s store.

While Allen and Carlos were coping with the dead body, Keith Slaten turned up at the house of his friend Martha Hughes. He told her that he’d been in a fight and wanted to clean up his car. He was covered with blood and shaking like a leaf and Martha told him she didn’t believe he’d been in a fight.  He blurted out: “Well, God damn. All right, so we killed him.” Allen couldn’t keep his mouth shut either. The day after Bob’s murder he told Eugene Bridgeford everything that had happened after he pleaded illness and left.

What happened to Bob’s head and arms? Allen and Carlos took them to the home of Christine Longbrake a few days after the murder. Christine was an acquaintance of Allen’s and a couple of weeks before the crime she’d been in Allen’s shop and he’d told her that “there was someone they had to get rid of” because the man was trying to blackmail him.  Allen asked to use her garage as a place to get rid of the guy but she thought he was kidding. When Allen and Carlos turned up with two boxes Christine knew she couldn’t refuse any request they made. She stayed upstairs while the boxes were taken to the cellar. Allen knocked Bob’s teeth out with a hammer then placed what was left of him in the hole and then poured in a bottle of acid.  When the men came back upstairs Christine smiled nervously and said: “Is it somebody I know?” They smiled back and Allen said that she wouldn’t know him. Then he and Carlos drove out to Hansen Dam and tossed Bob’s teeth and dental plate into a gravel pit.DITSON_PIC

Christine hadn’t seen the last of Allen and Carlos. Not more than a few days after they’d buried the boxes in her cellar Carlos stopped by and told her everything. He even told her what was in the boxes underneath her house. Her nerves weren’t soothed when he told her that he could never kill a woman. In fact she was so unnerved that she told Allen she was going to move “…because I couldn’t stand living in this house …” Allen told her that if it bothered her so much he’d pay her rent if she’d just hang on a bit longer.

A bit longer turned out to be several months. In June 1960 Allen asked George Longbrake, Christine’s brother-in-law, if he would dig up the two arms and head under the house. George agreed and Allen bought him some aluminum foil so he could wrap up the bits of Bob that remained. Then, since it seemed the entire Longbrake family was involved anyway, Allen asked Wynston Longbrake, Christine’s husband, if he’d “help bury something.” Allen, Carlos, and Wynston drove from L.A. on Highway 99 to a place about 14 miles from Castaic Junction. He turned off the highway for about 100 yards. Carlos waited in the car while the other two carried the macabre foil wrapped packages out of sight, then dug a post-hole and buried them.

DITSON_CARLOSBecause Allen and Carlos were incapable of keeping quiet about what they’d done it was only a matter of time before the law caught up with them. The remaining gang members began to fear Allen more than they did the cops. On June 17, 1960 Keith Slaten went to the police and a few days later Eugene Bridgeford did the same. The statements were enough for the police to get a warrant to examine Carlos’ Cadillac–they found traces of human blood in the trunk. One day later the police conducted a similar examination of Keith’s Ford and found human blood on the upholstery. On June 28, “sometime after 1:00 p.m.” Allen and Carlos were taken into custody.

Allen maintained his innocence, but Carlos appeared to be genuinely remorseful and he wanted to talk. In his 1959 book, The Compulsion to Confess, Theodore Reik said “There is … an impulse growing more and more intense suddenly to cry out his secret in the street before all people, or in milder cases, to confide it at least to one person, to free himself from the terrible burden. The work of confession is thus that emotional process in which the social and psychological significance of the crime becomes preconscious and in which all powers that resist the compulsion to confess are conquered.”DITSON_HEADLINE1

Allen’s protestations of innocence didn’t sway the jury of five men and seven women.  He was found guilty and sentenced to death. Carlos was also found guilty in Bob’s murder and sentenced to death. In early November 1962, with their executions imminent, Governor Brown presided over a clemency hearing. Carlos’ remorse saved him. His sentence was commuted to life.

Allen never admitted his guilt to the police, but he did confess to nearly everyone else he knew. On November 21, 1962, without requesting a special holiday meal, Allen kept his Thanksgiving Eve date with the gas chamber.

The Wilshire Prowler, Conclusion

bashor-doomed_picDonald Bashor, 27, confessed to dozens of local burglaries and to the bludgeon slayings of Karil Graham and Laura Lindsay. Under intense police questioning Donald didn’t admit to any further offenses, and as far as investigators could tell he’d revealed the extent of his crimes.

Deputy District Attorney Tom Finnerty issued a subpoena for Officer Donald C. Wesley, who had shot and wounded Bashor during his attempt to evade capture. Among the others called to appear before the grand jury were Detective Lieutenant Jack McCreadie, and autopsy surgeons Dr. Frederick Newbarr and Dr. Gerald K. Ridge.

Bashor was indicted on two counts of murder and two counts of burglary. The burglary charges stemmed from the looting of the apartment at 215 South Carondelet Street shared by Dorothy Cowan, Marcella Drews and Eunis Wingel. Lester E. Olson of 325 South Occidental Boulevard, was also burglarized by Bashor. Both crimes were committed about thirty minutes prior to the murder of Karil Graham.

The twenty-seven year-old killer pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and his trial was set for August 14, 1956 in Judge Allen T. Lynch’s court. Because of the insanity plea Bashor would undergo examination by alienists for the State and the defense before the trial.

There are often delays in murder trials and Bashor’s was no exception, it didn’t get underway until October 4, 1956.  The four alienists who examined Bashor deterined that he was sane when he committed the murders.

With the ultimate penalty on the table it was going to be a tough trial. But before the jury could be sworn in the defendant interrupted the proceedings to enter a guilty plea. Terrence Cooney, Bashor’s attorney, was as dumbfounded by his client’s move as was everyone else in the courtroom. Cooney didn’t want any part of placing a banana peel between his client and the gas chamber so he refused to go forward. Bashor fired him.

With Cooney still standing next to Bashor, Superior Judge Allen T. Lynch explained to the defendant that the law prohibits acceptance of a guilty plea in a capital case without benefit of counsel. Cooney must have decided to bend to his client’s will because Judge Lynch accepted the guilty plea. Along with the plea, Judge Lynch also accepted responsibility for determining Bashor’s sentence.

On October 16, 1956, Judge Lynch was ready to pronounce sentence. The courtroom was quiet as the judge began to speak. “This is the most difficult duty I have ever had to perform. For the last four days I have been able to think of nothing else. These were cruel, brutal killings. I find no mitigating circumstances.”

According to newspaper reports Judge Lynch appeared to have difficulty speaking. He paused for several long beats and then continued. “On counts one and three (the two murders) the court sentences you to suffer the death penalty. May God have mercy on your soul!”bashor-doomed

It took about a year for the California State Supreme Court to review the automatic appeal and affirm the death sentence in Bashor’s case.

On October 10, 1957, the night before his scheduled execution, Donald Bashor refused a last meal and then he slept from 1:05 a.m. to 7:05 a.m. When he awoke he had toast and coffee. He read a handful of letters he had recently received and then turned to the Bible.

Photograph by Edward Gamer / Los Angeles Times Senior Deputy George Coenen, left, and Sgt. Howard Earle, right, escort convicted killer Donald Keith Bashor on his trip to San Quentin, Oct. 25, 1956. Bashor's story was the basis of a "Playhouse 90" episode by Jules Maitland. Bashor's slaying of Graham also plays a prominent role in Jack Webb's "The Badge," a not terribly accurate book reissued in 2005.

Photograph by Edward Gamer / Los Angeles Times Senior Deputy George Coenen, left, and Sgt. Howard Earle, right, escort convicted killer Donald Keith Bashor on his trip to San Quentin, Oct. 25, 1956. Bashor’s story was the basis of a “Playhouse 90″ episode by Jules Maitland. Bashor’s slaying of Graham also plays a prominent role in Jack Webb’s “The Badge,” a not terribly accurate book reissued in 2005.

Unlike many killers, Donald Bashor seemed genuinely remorseful for the murders. His last words were: “I’m glad my crimes are coming to an end. I am sorry I cannot undo the horrible things I did.”

Gas began to fill San Quentin’s death chamber at 10:03 a.m. and at 10:12 a.m. Donald Keith Bashor was pronounced dead.

EPILOGUE

There was something about Donald Keith Bashor that set him apart from many other killers. It may have been his movie star good looks, or it may have been the fact that he  sought atonement for his crimes in the gas chamber. Whatever it was, Bashor’s story became an episode of the prime time TV series PLAYHOUSE 90 in 1958.  Bashor was portrayed by Tab Hunter and the episode was narrated by former Los Angeles Mirror columnist Paul Coates. The highly rated episode was directed by Arthur Penn who would later direct such great films as The Miracle Worker and Bonnie & Clyde.

The episode was not without behind-the-scenes drama. One of the sponsors for the  episode, entitled “Portrait Of A Murderer”, was the Southern California Gas Company. They wanted to eliminate Bashor’s trip to the gas chamber from the script. Producer Martin Manulis flatly refused and the episode aired as written.

Donald Bashor’s story also claimed the attention of ten-year-old James Ellroy.  In 1958, his father gave him a copy of THE BADGE written by TV cop Jack Webb who portrayed Sgt. Joe Friday on DRAGNET. Bashor’s case is the first one covered in the book. In large part it was THE BADGE that inspired Ellroy to become a novelist. It definitely sparked his interest in Los Angeles crime.  Now it’s time for a shameless plug — I was fortunate to work with James Ellroy, Glynn Martin, Megan Martin, Nathan Marsak, and Mike Fratatoni on the book LAPD ’53. The book project was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.

EXTRA CREDIT

First, let me direct you to a clip from James Ellroy’s CITY OF DEMONS (2011) in which he glibly recounts the Bashor case.

Next, a far more serious scene from the PLAYHOUSE 90 production of PORTRAIT OF A MURDERER

The Wilshire Prowler, Part 4

According to LAPD homicide detectives Jack McCreadie and S.W. Beckner, Charles Hart fit the profile of the Wilshire Prowler to a “T”.  But then it’s one thing to LOOK like the Prowler, but another thing entirely to BE the Prowler.

For days following Hart’s arrest detectives probed the suspect’s background and, importantly, his whereabouts for the murders of Karil Graham and Laura Lindsay.

Suddenly there was a break in the case–and it had nothing to do with Charles Hart. Police Technician A.R. McLaughlin worked diligently to find a match for a bloody palm print found at the scene of Laura Lindsay’s slaying. He painstakingly compared the bloody print against all the burglary suspects that had popped up since Laura’s murder until he found a match. The suspect was no stranger to law enforcement, he was two-time loser and confessed burglar Donald Keith Bashor.

bashor-nailThe hunt for Bashor was on. The twenty-seven year-old man was discovered by LAPD officers and detectives as he prowled the alley between two apartment buildings at 325 and 337 South Occidental Boulevard.

The suspect was wearing gloves but he was in his bare feet, which was a lucky break for the cops. Bashor ran and it looked like he was going to escape but then he leaped on a pile of lumber and stepped on a nail.

Bashor stopped. Policeman Donald C. Wesley took the opportunity to fire his weapon. Bashor fell, wounded in the arm.

Once he was in custody, Bashor was confronted by Chief of Detectives Thad Brown about the Lindsay murder. He denied having anything to do with it and refused to submit to a lie detector test.

bashor-charged-picBashor could refuse the lie detector test but the palm print was damning. Ironically, it was Officer McLaughlin who had been Bashor’s nemesis in 1949 when he was sent up the first time on a burglarly conviction.

Still denying the Lindsay murder, Bashor copped to nine burglaries in the neighborhood where he was captured. Thad Brown believed the burglary confession and he also believed that Bashor was a killer times two. He liked him for both the Karil Graham and Laura Lindsay bludgeon murders.bashor-confesses_headline

When detectives dug into Bashor’s records they found that he was in prison, working as a trusty at Harbor General Hospital on March 9, 1950, when he escaped and fled to Oregon.

He was captured in Portland the following July and confessed to numerous burglaries in the area. Bashor was sent to Oregon State Prison where he was confined for a year. When he had finished his time he wasn’t free, he was returned to San Quentin as an escapee. He was paroled in 1953.

When questioned about his recent activities, Bashor said that he had been working as a painter on and off between burglaries. He kept up his denials about the homicides for a number of hours. Finally he broke down and wept, and confessed to killing Karil Graham and Laura Lindsay.

bashor-confesses_2According to Bashor he entered the residences of the women intending only to steal, but then why was he armed with an 18-inch length of lead pipe when he broke into Karil’s apartment? Bashor said that he had been ransacking the place when Karil awakened and began to scream. He hit her on the head and he continued to beat her until she went still. He didn’t bolt and run after the murder, he stayed and searched until he found Karil’s purse. He found $20. The next day he took the weapon and his bloody clothing and dropped it off the pier at Ocean Park.

More than nine months passed before Bashor hit the streets again, this time he was armed with a ball-peen hammer. Laura Lindsay’s murder was nearly identical to Karil Graham’s. Again he beat the victim until she fell and died. He said that he saw a llight fall across Laura’s nude body and the sight of the blood bothered him. He found a shawl and placed it over her.

In the dark, with Laura’s body nearby, Bashor searched her home until he found her purse. He walked away with another $20.

The next day he wrapped the hammer in his bloodied shirt and tossed the bundle over the pier at Ocean Park.

While he was in a confessing mood, Bashor also admitted to 40 burglaries in the L.A. area since his parole in 1953. Had he committed any other murders?

NEXT TIME: Donald Bashor’s crimes and his punishment.

The Wilshire Prowler, Part 3

For eighteen months a mystery assailant had been terrorizing women in L.A. The man, described as blonde, medium build and about 26-years-old, had killed Karil Graham in her apartment in January 1956 and he was a suspect in several other violent attacks on women.

laura-linsay_picOn May 25, 1956 the Los Angeles Times reported that there had been another murder the night before. The circumstances were very similar to Karil Graham’s slaying and it was in the same general neighborhood. The victim was Laura Lindsay, a 62-year-old legal secretary. Her home at 2536 West 5th Street was in the MacArthur Park district.

According to Captain Robert Lohrman of LAPDs homicide detail Lindsay’s killer had crawled through a 3’x3′ wood box which lead into the living room of the home. Laura was in her underwear when she was confronted by her killer. The assailant struck her repeatedly over the head with a hammer or similar blunt instrument. Laura got to her feet and staggered to the living room sofa where she fell face down and never got up again.

The Coroner’s chief autopsy surgeon, Dr. Frederick D. Newbarr, said that Laura had been struck multiple times on the right side of her head and that the woulds were “extensive and deep.”

burglar-sought

The killer emptied Laura’s purse and jewelry box onto the bedroom floor. He went into Laura’s bathroom and washed her blood from his hands, wiped them on a towel, and threw the towel on the floor. He brazenly left through the front door.

Irving M. Walker, an attorney and Laura’s boss for 30 years, stopped by her house at 8:45 a.m. on Thursday, May 24. Walker had left his home at 400 South Norton Avenue and was on his way to his office in the Van Nuys Building downtown. He stopped at Laura’s because he often drove her to work. He found the wood box open and the front door ajar. Walker said “I called Mrs. Lindsay at the door. When she did not answer I entered the front room and called her again. Then I found her lying face down on the couch.” He saw that Laura’s head was covered with blood and that the room was in complete disarray. Walker said, “I placed my hand on her shoulder and knew she was dead.”

lindsay_vic1

After discovering Laura’s body he went next door to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Negrete. Mr. Negrete accompanied Walker back to Laura’s apartment while Mrs. Negrete phoned the police.

Was it a coincidence that Laura’s home had been burglarized just a few days prior to her murder on Sunday May 20th? Police aren’t big fans of coincidence. They thought it was likely that the earlier break-in was committed by the same man who murdered Laura.bashor_mccarthy

Ironically, the last person to see Laura alive was Detective Joseph Oaks. He had been to her apartment on May 23rd to interview her about the burglary. He said “She expressed concern about prowlers in the neighborhood and the fact that she lived by herself.” Walker had seen Laura earlier on Wednesday night when he brought her home from work. He said, “At the time we discussed the Sunday burglary and I told her that another incident like it might not happen in 15 or even 50 years. But we both agreed that inside locks should be placed on the wood box immediately.” Laura never had the opportunity to burglar proof her home before she was attacked and killed.

On May 31st, Clarice McCarthy was returning from the bank to the apartment building at 257 South Kenmore Street that she managed with her husband. She found a blonde man standing in the hallway outside her door. He told her he was there in answer to an ad for an apartment to rent.

Clarice took the man to apartment 310 and as soon as they were inside he grabbed her and began to choke her. Clarice fought with him and he pulled out a sharp linoleum knife and cut her several times on her hands. During the struggle the man lost control of his weapon and then fled. One of the strangest things about the attack was that Clarice’s assailant never uttered a word.

bashor_kniferLAPD Motorcycle Officer Robert Knight found the suspect in the vicinity of Clarice’s apartment shortly after the attack. Detectives Jack McCreadie and S.W. Beckner of the central homicide squad said that the attacker, identified as 30-year-old Charles Hart of 2176 West 27th Street, fit the description of the Wilshire Prowler to a “T”.

It appeared that the police finally had the Prowler in custody.

NEXT TIME: The Wilshire Prowler story continues.

The Wilshire Prowler, Part 2

Karil Graham’s former flame, Leon McFadden, passed a lie detector test and was cleared of her murder.

Investigators were back to square one.

Square one in this case was to conduct a thorough search of police department records for recently paroled “hot prowl” burglars living in the area. Hot prowl burglars are the creepazoids who enter a home while it is occupied. The risk is increased for the perpetrator, and that may be the point of it. Sneaking around in a home while the inhabitants watch TV, listen to the radio or, even more terrifying, as they sleep, is a major rush for some of the more twisted souls who walk the planet.

three-suspectsThe records search turned up the names of three possible suspects; although only one of them, a 37-year-old ex-con named Clifford Russell Pridemore, was arrested. LAPD picked him up near 7th and San Julian Streets downtown–the heart of Skid Row. According to detectives, Pridemore was well-dressed when they busted him–a fact which they found to be very suspicious given he had no visible means of support.

Pridemore had been released from Folsom in July 1954 after serving a term for burglary. His modus operandi as a burglar was eerily similar to the circumstances in Karil’s murder case. And the fact that Pridemore had a history of assaulting women made him a solid suspect.pridemore

Curiously, three nurses who lived a few doors down from Karil had slept through the hot prowl burglary of their apartment on the same morning that Karil died. Their empty handbags were found on the porch outside their door. It seemed likely that the person who killed Karil had creepy-crawled through the nurses’ apartment too. Was that man Clifford Pridemore?

While detectives continued to sift through the few available leads, Karil’s brother-in-law, H.L. Manley, made arrangements to clear out the dead woman’s apartment.  One of Karil’s prized possessions was an original water color painting by Raoul Dufy. The painting was valued at about $1800 (over $16,000 in 2016 dollars). Manley told reporters that the painting, along with Karil’s other belongings, were headed for storage “at least until we can decide what to do with them.”

Karil’s body was released by the Coroner on February 23rd and taken to the Heath Funeral Home in National City for a funeral in San Diego–which is where her mother lived.

Police leaned hard on Pridemore but he never wavered in his assertion that he had nothing to do with Karil’s slaying. LAPD assigned another team of detectives to work with Jack McCreadie and Charles Detrich–Howard Hudson and Harry Hansen. Hansen was one of the principal detectives in the 1947 mutilation murder of Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia. (The case was unsolved in 1955 and remains so to this day.)

A possible witness, unnamed by the cops for fear of reprisal by the killer, came forward. The witness had observed a man loitering in the immediate vicinity of Karil’s apartment at least twice. Once on the night she was killed.

sluggingA couple of weeks following Karil Graham’s murder police announced they were investigating the slugging of Emily Jones, 26, a local dance hall hostess. Jones had awakened in her apartment at 474 South Hartford Avenue as a prowler attempted to assault her. He beat her with a bottle and his fists, then he fled through a window. Evidently Jones’ assailant had entered the apartment after removing the screen from an unlocked window.

For reasons that they didn’t make public, LAPD detectives were convinced that Jones’ attacker was not the same perpetrator who had bashed Karil’s head in.

Karil’s inquest was held on March 8, 1955 and it took the jury only 10 minutes to decide that she had been murdered “by unknown person(s).”

However, the killer was not Clifford Pridemore–police were able to clear him.woman-beaten

In May 1955 a woman was brutally beaten near the scene of Karil’s slaying. The victim, Nadia Copmpaneitz, a social science student on a visa from France, was attacked by an intruder who ripped the screen from a window in her apartment at 143 North Reno Street.
Nadia told police that she awakened at 4 am–certain that she was not alone in her room. Suddenly gloved hands tightened around her throat. She was able to roll away from the man. Enraged, the intruder beat her and left her with wounds to her scalp and eye. Nadia was fortunate. She lived.

The leads in Kari’s murder dried up and the case went cold.

NEXT TIME:  A knife attack, another murder, and a suspect in Karil Graham’s murder.

The Wilshire Prowler, Part 1

graham-picKaril Graham, an attractive divorcee in her late 30s, had always wanted to be an artist. She studied fine art in New York, but eventually she realized that she didn’t possess the natural talent to have a successful career. Unwilling to completely give up on her dream, Karil found a great way to be involved in what she loved most–she became the registrar at Art Center School, 5353 West 3rd Street. She spent much of her working day counseling budding artists, and the rest of her time in the company of talented faculty members. Karil had a warm smile that lit up her face. She was so well liked by the students that she was thought of as their “mother confessor”.

On Friday, February 18, 1955, Karil prepared dinner in her poolside apartment at 271 South Carondolet Street for two men she knew from school. One of them, Phil Hays, was a student, and the other man, Jack Potter, was an instructor. The dinner was in celebration of a painting, “Bird of Paradise”–a gift to Karil from Phil. After dinner Phil and Karil went for a swim in the heated pool behind her building, while Jack relaxed on the patio. The two men left after midnight.

graham-friends-picKaril had a midnight snack and then prepared to go to bed. She removed her makeup, slipped into her nightgown and put her hair up in curlers. Then she turned on the electric blanket and got into bed.

About 5 am Anita Loeber, who lived in the apartment above Karil’s, heard what she thought was a muffled scream. She had just moved into the apartment and was still getting accustomed to the unfamiliar sounds and habits of her neighbors. She didn’t hear any other noises and, because her phone hadn’t been installed yet, she couldn’t call the police. Anita went back to sleep.

At 2 pm on Saturday, February 19th, Eleanor Lipson, Karil’s landlady, walked past Karil’s apartment and noticed that the door was open. When Eleanor looked closer she saw a bare leg: “I didn’t think it was Karil because she wouldn’t be lying nude with the door open.” Eleanor didn’t investigate further until 6:30 pm. Whose naked leg did she think it was? And why did she believe it was unnecessary to investigate further until over four hours later? In truth it wouldn’t have altered the outcome. When Eleanor and her husband entered Karil’s small studio apartment and found their tenant dead. Karil’s face was covered with her own nightgown, a blanket, and a bedspread. There was blood spatter on the walls of the ransacked apartment, and Karil’s bed was soaked with blood.

fiance-passes-test_page_1Los Angeles Police Department homicide detectives, Jack McCreadie and Charles Detrich, arrived and tried to make sense of the scene. Karil had sustained at least two devastating wounds to her head, but no weapon was found. During their examination of the crime scene they discovered a bloody fingerprint on the inside of the front doorknob. The knob was removed and sent to the crime lab, along with human hair found under one of Karil’s fingernails.

The detectives thought it was possible that Karil was killed during a burglary. They also considered another scenario, that someone had killed her and then staged the scene to look like a burglary.fiance-passes-test_page_2

The first person of interest in the case was Karil’s former boyfriend, Leon McFadden. Leon was picked up by the LAPD for “routine questioning.” He told police that he hadn’t seen Karil in several months and that he had absolutely nothing to do with her murder. He was so adamant about his innocence that he demanded to be given a lie detector test “to clear me in this thing once and for all.” Police obliged.

Leon, who owned a greeting card shop at 166 1/2 N La Brea Avenue, was grilled for over three hours before detectives declared that his story was “straight” and released him.

If Leon hadn’t murdered the popular art school registrar, then who had?

NEXT TIME: Three suspects and a mystery witness surface in Karil Graham’s murder.

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.

Bloodbath at Bob’s Big Boy, Part 2

Chief Daryl Gates at a press conference.

Chief Daryl Gates at a press conference.

At a press conference on December 23, 1980 at Parker Center, Daryl Gates, Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, announced that three suspects in the gruesome massacre at the Bob’s Big Boy restaurant on La Cienega near Sawyer Street, in which three people were killed, were in custody and would be charged with first degree murder. The suspects were identified as: Franklin Freeman, 22, Ricky Sanders, 25, and Carletha Stewart, 19. [Stewart and Freeman were cousins, Stewart was Sanders’ girlfriend.] Gates said that Stewart was a former employee of the restaurant but did not say how long she had been employed or when she had left.

Forbidden by law to disclose the criminal records of the suspects prior to their being charged, Chief Gates said that the alleged gunmen had police records and one of them had a record of “serious violations–real hard-time stuff.” Stewart had no criminal record and wasn’t in the restaurant during the murders; however, she was thought to have been the getaway driver.

The suspects spent Christmas Eve in court where they were formally charged with murder, robbery, assault with a deadly weapon and conspiracy. Each of them was eligible for the death penalty if convicted; and all of them entered a plea of not guilty.

Once they’d been charged, Sanders’ criminal record was made public. He had been released from custody on March 12, 1979 after serving almost a year in Soledad and Tehachapi for a residential burglary in Orange Count.  Not exactly “hard-time stuff”, but certainly incarceration in a California State Prison counts as serious.

As far as hard-time goes, Freeman’s younger brother, Anthony, 19, stood a chance of doing a major stretch in prison for a murder he had allegedly committed. He was awaiting a retrial for the strangulation murder of seventy-two year-old Rosa Robinson. She had been strangled with a vacuum cleaner cord on August 8, 1979. She was the mother of Inglewood Municipal Court Judge Roosevelt Robinson. Anthony’s first trial deadlocked 11-to-1 in favor of conviction. It was possible that the Freeman brothers would serve prison time, if not in the same facility, then at least simultaneously. [Anthony was sentenced to life at his second trial.]

One of the revelations during the preliminary hearing in April 1981 was that the robbery was not committed on a whim, it had been planned. According to an acquaintance of Stewart’s, Andre Gilcrest, 21, about two weeks prior to the actual robbery Stewart told him that some of her friends were going to rob the Bob’s restaurant that night. Gilcrest, who was held in protective custody, said that after Stewart told him about the plan they drove to the restaurant and drank coffee until closing waiting for the shit to hit the fan. The robbery didn’t occur that night because, as Stewart later learned, the manager, thinking that the would-be robbers were customers who hadn’t made it before closing time wouldn’t open the door for them.

sanders_freeman pic

One of the victims who testified at the preliminary hearing, during which all three of the defendants were present, was Rhonda Robinson. She took the stand and almost immediately began to tremble. When she became incoherent a recess was called so she could collect herself. When the DA asked her why she was so frightened she said: “Because I know that’s the guy [motioning to Freeman] over there who did it.” She was one of the lucky ones in that she was not physically harmed during the shootings, but she was psychologically damaged. She said she had nightmares and wasn’t able to return to work. She was consulting a psychiatrist for her ongoing emotional trauma.

Ismael Luna testified through a Spanish language interpreter. He was shocked and bewildered by the violence.  He said: “We were all in a group and they just started shooting.” Luna’s father Cesario, wounded during the shooting, died after languishing for several months in a coma–bringing the death toll to four.

Michael Malloy, night manager at the restaurant, lost his right eye during the gunfire. He appeared in court with a bandage covering half his face.

Orasteen Freeman insisted her son was the victim of mistaken identity. You might expect a mother to defend her son, but in this case there was possibly something to her assertion. One of the survivors of the massacre, Tami Rogoway, had failed to make a positive identification of Freeman. But less than a week later she testified that she was “positive” that he was one of the two men who shot into the freezer that night. She explained her inability to identify him the first time because she had  been too afraid to make eye contact with the defendant; but later when “he turned back once, our eyes caught…and I flashed back to Bob’s Big Boy.”

Madelynn Kopple, Freeman’s attorney, asked Rogoway if she was “willing to bet your life” on identifying Freeman. Rogoway replied: “I have to be willing to sit up here and say what I just said.”

witness changes testimony

Would Rogoway’s initial failure to ID Freeman be enough to plant the seeds of reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors?

NEXT TIME:  The conclusion of the bloodbath at Bob’s Big Boy.

Bloodbath at Bob’s Big Boy, Part 1

bob logoIt was 2:05 a.m. on Sunday, December 14, 1980 and the Bob’s Big Boy restaurant on La Cienega near Sawyer, just north of the Santa Monica Freeway, was closed for the night. There were still eleven people inside, two customers preparing to leave, and nine employees.

Two black men entered the restaurant through the front door. The late comers could have been customers who had not realized the restaurant was closed except that each them was brandishing a sawed-off shotgun, and one of them was armed with a revolver.

All eleven people were herded at gunpoint into the restaurant’s 8×15 foot walk-in freezer and made to lie on the floor. The victims complied with every request. They covered their heads with their hands and waited for the ordeal to end. Then, for no apparent reason, the robbers opened fire. When they were finished the freezer was an abattoir and three people were dead.

The bloodbath at Bob’s ended the fourth highest weekend of murder on record in Los Angeles with a total of 32 people slain. It was an appalling statistic and prompted Lt. Glenn Ackerman of LAPD’s West LA division to say: “What in the name of God kind of monster could have done a thing like this? It’s totally out of the realm of the kind of behavior that civilized people can even contemplate.”

rising tide violence

Citizens were terrified, and no wonder. The week before the Bob’s murders former Beatle John Lennon was assassinated on the street in front of his New York City apartment. It seemed that no matter where you lived, or who you were, you were not safe. The 1980s was one of the most violent decades in the U.S. since the 1860s and the carnage  continued at a record pace until the early 1990s.

LAPD issued a nationwide dragnet for the killers based on the physical descriptions as reported by the victims. The management of Bob’s Big Boy offered a $10,000 reward for information leading their arrest and conviction.luna pic

There were three dead at the scene: David Burrell, 20, customer; Aphrodite (Dita) Agtani, 23, waitress and mother of a 4 month old child. Ahmad Mashuck, 20, employee who died several hours later. In critical condition were diswasher Cesario Luna, 45 and Evelyn Jackson, 23, also an employee. In serious condition were Rami Ellen Rogoway, 17, patron; Dionne Alcia Irvin, 20, and Michael Malloy, 23 both employees. Slightly wounded was Derwin Logan, 19, employee. Uninjured were Rhonda Robinson, 19, and Ismael Luna, 20 (Cesario’s son), both employees. Cesario Luna would linger in a coma for several months before he passed away, bringing the death toll to four.

task force

A special LAPD task force to combat violent crime on the West Side was formed and Deputy Police Chief Daniel Sullivan said: “The idea is to keep people from getting hurt in the first place–instead of just arresting someone after something terrible has happened.” The plan was to use cops as decoys. Sullivan continued: “I want the bad guys to know that the next guy they try to rob on the street is liable to be a police officer…”

A task force was all well and good going forward, but meanwhile the cops had to identify and arrest the people responsible for the massacre at Bob’s.

NEXT TIME: The killers are busted.