January 15, 1947: A Werewolf on the Loose

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It was after 10 a.m. on January 15, 1947 — Mrs. Betty Bersinger and her three year old daughter Anne were bundled up against the chill of a cold wave that had held L.A. residents in its grip for several days. Mother and daughter were headed south on the west side of Norton when Mrs. Bersinger noticed something pale in the weeds about a foot in from the sidewalk.

Betty Bersinger

Betty Bersinger

At first Bersinger thought she was looking at either a discarded mannequin, or drunk woman, passed out near the sidewalk. Had she been thrown out of a car by a boyfriend? That particular area was known as a lover’s lane. Once Betty got a closer look, she realized she was in a waking nightmare.  The bright white shape in the weeds was neither a mannequin, nor a drunk. Bersinger said “I was terribly shocked and scared to death, I grabbed Anne and we walked as fast as we could to the first house that had a telephone.”

Over the years several reportera claimed to have been first on the scene of the murder. One them was reporter Will Fowler. Fowler said he and photographer Felix Paegel of the Los Angeles Examiner were near Crenshaw Boulevard when they heard an announcement on the shortwave radio: “A 390 W, 415 down in an empty lot one block east of Crenshaw between 39th and Coliseum streets…Please investigate…Code Two … (Code Two meant “Drunk Woman,” and a 415 designated “Indecent exposure.”) Fowler couldn’t believe his ears: “…a naked drunk dame passed out in a vacant lot. Right here in the neighborhood too…Let’s see what it’s all about.”

Paegel drove as Fowler watched for the woman. “There she is. It’s a body all right…” Fowler got out of the car and walked up to the body as Paegel pulled his Speed Graphic from the trunk of the car. Fowler called out: “Jesus, Felix, this woman’s cut in half!”

That was Fowler’s story, and he stuck to it through the decades. But was it true?

There is information to suggest that a reporter from the Los Angeles Times was the first. In her autobiography, Newspaperwoman, Aggie Underwood said that she was the first reporter on the scene. After all these years  does it really matter who was firstAGGIE_DAHLIA SCENE_1_15_1947_frat_resize

Aggie at the Dahlia body dump site. January 15, 1947.

All those who saw the murdered girl that day were shocked and horrified. Aggie described what she observed in her 1949 autobiography.

“It [the body] had been cut in half through the abdomen, under the ribs. The two sections were ten or twelve inches apart. The arms, bent at right angles at the elbows, were raised about the shoulders. The legs were spread apart. There were bruises and cuts on the forehead and the face, which had been beaten severely. The hair was blood-matted. Front teeth were missing. Both cheeks were slashed from the corners of the lips almost to the ears. The liver hung out of the torso, and the entire lower section of the body had been hacked, gouged, and unprintably desecrated. It showed sadism at its most frenzied.”

The coroner recorded the victim as Jane Doe #1 for 1947.

Detectives Harry Hansen [L} and Finis Brown [R] examine Black Dahlia crime scene.

Detectives Harry Hansen [L} and Finis Brown [R] examine Black Dahlia crime scene.

Two LAPD detectives, Harry Hansen and Finis Brown, took charge of the investigation. During the first twenty-four hours officers pulled in over 150 men for questioning.

dahlia_herald_1_werewolfThe most promising of the early suspects was a twenty-three year old transient, Cecil French. He was busted for molesting women in a downtown bus depot.

Cops were further alarmed when they discovered French had pulled the back seat out of his car. Had he concealed a body there? Police Chemist, Ray Pinker, found no blood or any other physical evidence of a bloody murder in French’s car.

In her initial coverage Aggie referred to the case as the “Werewolf” slaying due to the savagery of the mutilations inflicted on the unknown woman. Aggie’s werewolf tag would identify the case for a few more days until a much better one was discovered–the Black Dahlia.

NEXT TIME: The bisected body of the young woman found in Leimert Park is identified.

REFERENCES:

Fowler, Will (1991). “Reporters” Memoirs of a Young Newspaperman.

Gilmore, John (2001). Severed: The True Story of the Black Dahlia Murder.

Harnisch, Larry. “A Slaying Cloaked in Mystery and Myths“. Los Angeles Times. January 6, 1997.

Underwood, Agness (1949). Newspaperwoman.

Wagner, Rob Leicester (2000). The Rise and Fall of Los Angeles Newspapers 1920-1962.

Black Dahlia–Last Seen

About 12:20 p.m. on January 9, 1947, Elizabeth Short and Robert “Red” Manley left the motel where they spent the night.

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Robert ‘Red’ Manley. Photo courtesy LAPL.

What did Beth and Red talk about during the couple of hours that it took them to drive back to Los Angeles from San Diego? Red noticed some scratches on Beth’s arms and asked her about them. She spun a tale of an “intensely jealous” boyfriend – an Italian “with black hair who lived in San Diego”, and claimed that it was he who scratched her. In truth the scratches were probably made by Beth herself, the result of itchy insect bites. Beth lied to Red a few times more before their day together ended.

Because Red and his wife were having problems, he wondered if they were meant to be together. In the way that only a spouse on the verge of cheating can do, he sold himself on the notion that if he and his wife were meant to be together, then nothing would happen with Beth.

Following their platonic night in a motel room, Red’s marriage was certified as made in heaven–the fates clearly decreed it. But he had a problem; he’d been out of touch with his wife, Harriette, for a couple of days. How would he explain his lack of communication to her? Any guy capable of devising a ridiculous love test could easily come up with an excuse for being incommunicado for a couple of days.

studebaker

In my mind’s eye I see Beth and Red seated across from each other on the bench seat in his Studebaker, each lost in thought. Beth may have been wondering what she’d do once she hit L.A.  Maybe she’d go to friends in Hollywood. If she was lucky someone would have an empty bed for her. Her immediate difficulty was Red. How would she get away from the well meaning guy for whom she felt  little or nothing?

Once they arrived in the city, Beth told Red that she needed to check her luggage at the bus depot. He took her there, and Beth was ready to wave good-bye to him and be on her way–but he wouldn’t leave. He told her he couldn’t possibly leave her in that neighborhood on her own. She insisted that she would be fine, but he wouldn’t hear of it.

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Biltmore Hotel and part of Pershing Square. [LAPL Photo]

Beth had a few minutes while she checked her bags to come up with a plan. When they returned to his car she told him that she needed to go to the Biltmore Hotel to wait for her sister. It was another lie. Virginia, the sister she referred to, was in Oakland, hundreds of miles to the north.

Red drove her several blocks back to the Biltmore Hotel.  The main lobby was on Olive Street, directly opposite Pershing Square. Beth thanked Red.  He had been a gentleman. He’d paid to have taps put on the heels and toes of her pumps, and of course he’d paid for meals and the motel room. She thought that he would drive off and leave her, but once again he said that he didn’t feel comfortable just putting her out of the car.

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Matchbook cover — Crown Grill

He parked, and the two of them waited in the Biltmore’s exquisite lobby for quite a while. Finally, Beth managed to out wait Red. He said he had to go. She told him she would be fine and that she expected her sister to arrive at any moment.

Red left her in the Biltmore at approximately 6:30 p.m. Beth watched him go. She gave him a few minutes, and then she exited the hotel and turned right down Olive Street.

Beth may have been headed for the Crown Grill at Eighth and Olive.  She’d been there before and perhaps she hoped to bump into someone she knew; after all, she needed a place to stay. Some patrons of the bar later told cops that she’d been there that night, although it could not be verified, and no one saw her leave. 

Beth would never be seen alive again.

NEXT TIME: The Black Dahlia: January 15, 1947, A  Werewolf on the Loose

NOTE:  For a glimpse into Los Angeles as Beth Short would have seen it, here is some amazing B-roll from 1946 shot for a Rita Hayworth film, Down to Earth, via the Internet Archive.

Here’s a screen grab of the Crown Grill [thanks to Richard Schave of Esotouric Bus Adventures].

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The Black Dahlia: January 8, 1947

beth-short-headshot-in-colorSeventy-two years ago on January 8, 1947, Robert “Red” Manley drove to the home of Elvera and Dorothy French in Pacific Beach, in the San Diego area, to pick up a young woman he’d met about a month earlier. Her name was Elizabeth Short.

Red was a twenty-five year old salesman and occasional saxophone player, with a wife and 4-month-old baby at home. The Manley’s had been married for fifteen months and lived in a bungalow court in one of L.A.’s many suburbs. Red and his wife had had “some misunderstandings” as they adjusted to marriage and parenthood. Perhaps restless and feeling unsure about his decision to marry, Red decided to “make a little test to see if I were still in love with my wife.”  The woman Red used to test his love for his wife was twenty-two year old Elizabeth Short.

Aztec Theater, San Diego

Dorothy French met Beth on the night of December 9, 1946 at the all-night movie theater, the Aztec, on Fifth Avenue. Dorothy worked as a cashier at the ticket window and she noticed that Beth seemed at loose ends. When her shift ended at 3 a.m., Dorothy offered to take Beth back to the Bayview Terrace Navy housing unit she shared with her mother and a younger brother. Beth was glad to abandon the theater seat for a more comfortable sofa.

Dorothy French [Photo: theblackdahliain hollywood]

If the French family thought that Beth would stay a night or two and then move on, they were mistaken. She stayed for a month.

Elvera and Dorothy got tired of Beth couch surfing and contributing nothing to the household. Beth could have at least paid for groceries, she received a money order for $100 from a former boyfriend, Gordon Fickling, yet she spent much of her time compulsively writing letters, many of which she never sent.

One of the unsent letters was to Gordon. In the letter dated December 13, 1946, Beth wrote:

“I do hope you find a nice girl to kiss at midnight on new years eve. It would have been wonderful if we belonged to each other now. I’ll never regret coming West to see you. You didn’t take me in your arms and keep me there. However it was nice as long as it lasted.”

The French family had another complaint about their house guest–despite her claims, there was no evidence that Beth ever looked for work. Beth wrote to her mother, Phoebe, that she was working for the Red Cross, or in a VA Hospital, but it was just one of her many lies. Her letters home never revealed her transient lifestyle–nothing about couch surfing, borrowing money to eat, or accepting rides from strange men.

Robert “Red” Manley [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Beth could have found a job if she wanted one. She worked in a delicatessen in Florida  as a teenager and at the post exchange (PX) at Camp Cooke (now Vandenberg Air Force Base).  Her new acquaintance, Red Manley, arranged with a friend of his to get her a job interview–but she didn’t follow-up.

When Red heard from his friend that Beth hadn’t made it to the job interview, he was worried enough to write to her to find out if she was okay. She said she was fine but didn’t like San Diego, she wanted to return to Los Angeles.  She asked Red if he’d help her out, and he agreed.

The drive from San Diego to Los Angeles was Red’s love test. If nothing happened with Beth then he would know that he and his wife were meant to be together. But if he and Beth clicked, he’d have a tough decision to make.

Beth and Red weren’t on the road for long before they stopped at a roadside motel for the night. They went out for dinner and drinks before returning to their room to go to bed. Did Red have butterflies in his stomach? How did he want the love test to turn out?

Red must have known the decision was ultimately Beth’s.  They never shared more than a kiss. She spent the night in a chair and he took the bed.

The pair left the motel at about 12:20 p.m. on January 9, 1947 for Los Angeles.

Beth had about one week to live.

Next time: The Black Dahlia–Last Seen

The Night Stalker Case Revisited: Insights From the Lead Investigator

Gil Carrillo, retired Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Lieutenant, was  the new kid in the department’s homicide bureau in 1985 when several brutal, seemingly random, murders were committed. Gil discerned a pattern to the crimes which caused him to believe they were hunting a serial killer.  While detectives hunted a killer, the killer hunted human prey. He was dubbed the Night Stalker–his given name was Richard Ramirez.

If you lived in Southern California during the summer of 1985, you likely have vivid memories of the Night Stalker murders.  The crimes changed forever the way many of us lived. We not only locked our doors, we barricaded them. We bought guard dogs. We bought guns. We would never feel completely safe again.

On Sunday, January 20, 2019 at 2 p.m. in the Central Library’s Mark Taper Auditorium, join two of my friends, Gil Carrillo and Glynn Martin (retired LAPD), for a conversation about the summer of 1985 and the terror of the Night Stalker.

Details for the event are HERE.   

You don’t want to miss this!  I also suggest that you attend the opening of the photo exhibit for Glynn’s book, Satan’s Summer in the City of Angels: The Social Impact of the Night Stalker.  

Details for the photo exhibit are HERE.

 I’ll be at both events, so please come up and say hello.

 

Unhappy Holidays

The holidays are a time for family, and Sarah Marquez and her two-year-old son, Eric,  were looking forward to Christmas 1953 with more enthusiasm than ever.  Eric was too young to recall his parents ever living together, they separated when he was an infant, but if all went well on December 18th, the family would be reunited.

December 18th came—Sarah gathered up Eric and they left her parents home at 208 West 97th Street to join her husband Reginald at his apartment at 15732 ½ Paramount Boulevard. Sarah and Reginald filled their arms with tree ornaments, toy trains and other gifts designed to make Eric giddy with delight.

The get-together went well at first, then Reginald began drinking. Beer cans and liquor bottles piled up on the floor and Reginald’s mood turned ugly. Sarah tried to salvage the day, but it was impossible to reason with her husband. Unable to take Reginald’s bad temper any longer, Sarah drew Eric to her and demanded Reginald take them back to her parents’ home.

When they arrived at her door Reginald forced his way in and grabbed a knife from the kitchen. He waved the knife around and made threats terrifying enough to send her running for the bathroom.  She locked the door and waited for him to go.

Reginald refused to leave.  Instead he calmed and persuaded Sarah to come out so they could patch things up.  The attempt at reconciliation lasted only until Reginald saw a photograph of Sarah with another man, a mutual friend of theirs. The photo was taken during the period of their separation, but Reginald was not mollified. He became abusive and tore the photo into shreds.  He grabbed another knife and chased her around the house threatening to kill her. Sarah ran for the bedroom and slammed the door shut behind her.  In a blind rage, Reginald beat his fists against the door and then broke the knife against it.  He managed to force the door open and they took their struggle to the living room sofa.

In desperation Sarah grabbed at the cushions.  She fumbled around and found the .32 caliber automatic pistol Reginald gave her when he returned from the war. She fired six shots. Two of the slugs smashed into Reginald’s stomach and killed him. The other four rounds ricocheted around the room, fortunately none of them struck Eric who cowered in his crib.

Police from the Los Angeles Police Department’s 77th Division took Sarah to jail.

Eric’s maternal grandparents took Eric. The little boy had a lot of questions his grandparents didn’t want to answer, so they let him open his presents a few days early.

NOTE:  The Los Angeles Times did not report any further on the case. It is likely that Reginald’s death was considered self-defense.

 

 

 

The Trick or Treat Murder

We expect goblins, ghosts, and ghouls to roam the streets on All Hallows Eve; what we don‘t expect is murder.

October 31, 1957 was a school night, kids scored their Butterfinger bars and homemade caramel apples and were home in bed by a decent hour.  Thirty-five-year-old Peter Fabiano, his wife Betty, and teenage stepdaughter, Judy Solomon, had just retired for the night. Peter’s stepson, Richard Solomon, had left earlier to return to his Navy base in San Diego. The family wasn’t expecting any callers when the doorbell rang shortly after 11 p.m.

Peter got out of bed and went to the door. Betty heard him say “Yes?” Then he said, “Isn’t it a little late for this?”   She heard, but didn’t recognize, two other adult voices, “One sounded masculine and another like a man impersonating a woman.” Then Betty hear a noise that “sounded like a pop.”  The noise brought her and Judy out of bed in a hurry. They ran to the front door where they found Peter lying on his back just inside the front door.

Judy ran two doors down to Bud Alper’s home.  Judy knew Bud was a member of the Los Angeles Police Department, assigned to the Valley Division. She banged on the door until Bud answered. Bud contacted Valley Division and several officers arrived within minutes to the scene of the shooting.

They transported Peter to Sun Valley Receiving Hospital where he succumbed to massive bleeding from the gunshot wound.

A fifteen-year-old boy witnessed a car leave the neighborhood at a high rate of speed around the time of the shooting. He had no other information for police.

Detectives found no spent shells, nor did they find evidence that the shooting was part of an attempted robbery.  Betty told them she and Peter married in 1955. Together they ran two successful beauty shops and as far as she knew he had no enemies.

Peter’s murder resembled a gangland hit, so the police dug into his background. Peter had a minor record for bookmaking in 1948–nothing that connected him to L.A.’s underworld.

Detectives interviewed friends and relatives of the deceased, but they offered nothing in the way of suspects.  A week later a confidential tip led detectives to a bizarre murder plot.

Goldyne Pizer, a 43-year-old widow, admitted to the slaying when arrested at her Hollywood home.  Goldyne told LAPD Detective Sergeants Charles Stewart and Pat Kelly, “It’s a relief to get it off my mind.”  She said a friend of hers, 40-year-old Joan Rabel, a former employee at one of Fabiano’s beauty shops, talked her into committing the crime.

Friends for four years, Goldyne and Joan planned the murder for three months. “All we talked about was Peter Fabiano.”  Joan described the victim as, “… a vile, evil man—one who destroyed all the people about him.  I developed a deep hatred for him.”

On September 21, Goldyne purchased a .38 special from a gun shop in Pasadena.  She told the man behind the counter she needed the weapon for “home protection.”  A few days later Joan drove Goldyne back to the shop where they picked up the gun with two bullets in it.  Joan paid for the gun, but Goldyne kept it until Halloween night when Joan picked her up in a borrowed car.

“Joan came over to my house with some clothing—blue jeans, khaki jackets, hats, eye masks, makeup and red gloves.  We dressed up, got in the car and drove to Fabiano’s home arriving there about 9 p.m.”

The women waited until the lights went out.  Goldyne said, “I rang once and when nothing happened rang again.” She brought the gun up with both hands and fired.

“I ran to the car and Joan drove to Mrs. Barrett’s home,” Goldyne said. [Joan borrowed Margaret Barrett’s car to commit the murder.]  “We left the car on the street, separated and walked to our homes. Joan said, ‘Forget you ever saw me’.”

The County Grand Jury returned indictments against Goldyne and Joan for Peter’s murder.  Goldyne wept as she told the Grand Jury of the weird killing. She explained Joan incited her to commit the murder of a man she didn’t know by picturing the victim as a “symbol of evil.”

Joan declined to testify.

Rather than face trial, on March 11, 1958, Goldyne and Joan pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and sentenced to 5 years to life in prison.

What about a motive?  Why did Joan want Peter to die? Simple.  Peter stood in the way of Joan’s plan to get much, much closer to Betty.  Before his death, Peter asked Betty to end her friendship with Joan, which she did.

The newspapers alluded to the motive. Reports described Joan as jealous of the Fabiano’s relationship—1957 readers did not need to have it spelled out for them. They understood the subtext.  Homosexuality was illegal in California—which may be why Joan accepted a plea deal.

A doctor who examined Goldyne characterized her as a passive person who became “a handy tool, or putty, in the hands of Mrs. Rabel.” The same doctor described Joan as “schizoid.”

I don’t know when Goldyne and Joan left prison–but I hope they spent a long time behind bars.

It appears Betty never remarried. She died in 1999.

The Murder Complex, Part 5

Chief County Investigator, George Contreras, supervised the disinterment of Grace’s decomposing body from her cement covered coffin in the cistern at her Beverly Glen cabin. News of the discovery spread quickly, and soon morbid crowds paralyzed traffic in the Glen as they attempted to catch a glimpse of Thomas.

Dressed in a blue suit and appearing calm, Thomas, unaided, exited a car in front of the cabin.  He was accompanied by Deputy D.A. Harold Davis and Investigator Charles Reimer.

“We want to talk this over a little bit,” Deputy District Attorney Davis told him.  Since uncovering Grace’s body, the authorities had a lot of questions for Thomas. As soon as they arrived at the cabin, Thomas settled himself in a comfortable rocking chair, lit a cigar, and began to speak.

Grace’s body found in the cistern.

He told the investigators, and the shorthand reporter talking notes, that his father was a chaplain at the Pennsylvania Penitentiary. Thomas also mentioned that he had been educated at the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery and at Washington and Jefferson University.

Thomas recalled meeting Grace and courting her, culminating in their Santa Barbara marriage.  According to him, on the day of the marriage Grace told him she was the to be the “boss of the family.”

Investigators were skeptical of Thomas’ account.  They believed that he had been laying plans for his “perfect crime” since the first day of his marriage, and that he had always planned to kill Grace and gain control of Patrick and the Grogan fortune. It was revealed that a part of his plan included marrying Patrick off to a woman of Thomas’ choosing, killing Patrick, and then marrying the boy’s widow.

At first, Thomas said he could not recall how he had killed Grace. “I don’t know how I killed her,” he said.  His pseudo loss of memory was, investigators felt, another calculated move by Thomas. They believed that Thomas planned to feign insanity.

Davis wanted to know where Grace had been killed. Was it in Thomas’ office, or in his car? Or out on a lonely road, or possibly at the cabin?

Prodded by Davis’ questions, Thomas said: “I don’t think we went to the office.  How did I get her out of the office?  How could I get her out of the office?”

Then he began an eerie mantra: “I don’t know how I killed her, I don’t how I killed her, I don’t know how I killed her.”

“And you didn’t choke her to death?” Davis asked.

“I don’t think so,” he answered.

“And if you killed her when she was in the car, you didn’t kill her with gas, did you?”

“No sir,” Thomas replied.

“If you killed her with gas, you killed her at the office?”

“Possibly I did.”

“And if you killed her in the car, you choked her to death?”

“Yes.”

Thomas admitted to carrying a .38 caliber automatic pistol in the side pocket of his car on the night of the murder. The weapon was discovered by Investigator Reimer in Thomas’ dresser at the Kingsley Drive townhouse.

“Did you shoot her?” he was asked.

“No I don’t think so. Was she shot?”

“What was the next thing you remember?”

“When she hit the bottom of the cistern, there,” he pointed toward the cistern. “I think I heard a thud.”

Grace in the morgue.

After hours of sparring with investigators and just as he was about to be taken from the cabin to the Strother & Dayton funeral parlor to view Grace’s remains, Thomas said: “I’m glad she is dead. I am glad she’s dead, because I am free.”

It was 3 a.m. when Deputy D.A. Davis and his associates arrived at the funeral home with Thomas.

Thomas walked right up to Grace’s ravaged body and said: “It doesn’t look like her.”

Then Thomas swayed on his feet and collapsed.

“It was a little bit of a hand.” He mumbled.

Thomas was taken to the front office where he sat with a vacant stare for several minutes before recovering himself.  Suddenly, he wanted to unburden himself.

Thomas said that on the night of the murder, he and Grace stopped at the Plantation Grill, where they argued, then they went to his office where they got a bottle of liquor and got “lit up.” While they were at the office, Thomas picked up a tube of Somnoform, a heavy anesthetic, and concealed it in his pocket.

Grace fell asleep in the car as Thomas drove out to the cabin. When they arrived, Thomas put a mask over her face, administering the Somnoform until she quit breathing.

After giving Grace the drug, Thomas told investigators: “I put cotton in her nose, and then I took that rubber bag off the Somnoform.”

What was thought to be a rubber glove found stuffed into Grace’s mouth was actually the bag from the tube of Somnoform. Thomas had used the cotton and the rubber bag to make sure that Grace “wouldn’t start breathing again.”

Before dumping Grace’s body into the cistern, Thomas stole $140 from her purse and relieved her of her jewelry. He subsequently gave his assistant, Dorothy Leopold, the diamond ring Grace had been wearing, as well as several items of expensive clothing.

Dorothy knew nothing about the murder and, in fact, she was staunch in her support of Thomas. She told reporters: “Of course, at first I did not believe that the doctor had killed Mrs. Young.  But after talking with Mr. Harris (of the Nick Harris Detective Agency), I was satisfied he (Thomas Young) knew more about it than he had related.  The fact that she had not communicated with Patrick was pointed out to me by Mr. Harris, and I told him I would do everything I could to find out for him and the officers.”

Police allowed Dorothy to speak with Thomas and she asked him if he knew where Grace was. “Why don’t you tell them?” she said. To which Thomas replied: “I can’t.”

The most revolting part of Thomas’ confession was the glee he took in having Patrick assist him in pouring cement on Grace’s grave. He thought it was a “good joke.”

Of course, the investigators wanted to know what had motivated Thomas to murder Grace. He said he’d killed her because after their fight she had slapped him and broken his glasses. It was enough to activate the murder complex.

“Someone was always imposing on me, beating me, verbally or physically. Yes, I was always the goat.” Thomas said.

NEXT TIME: Thomas Young’s fate.

The Murder Complex, Part 1

GRACE HUNT

Ohio native Grace Hunt was 17 when she married 41-year-old Charles Price Grogan in Los Angeles on April 5, 1902. It was an advantageous marriage for both.  Charles was so successful in the olive business that the press had christened him the “Olive King,” and with beautiful Grace at his side, he had a queen worthy of his stature. A few days prior to their fifth wedding anniversary they welcomed a son, whom they named Charles Patrick Grogan.

Grace and Charles were married for over a decade before they separated. The difference in their ages may have sunk the marriage, or it may have been due to any number of other private problems. Whatever their reasons, the couple was separated by the late 1910s and divorced by the 1920 census – at least that was how Charles declared his marital status.  Grace, for the same census, gave her marital status as widow.  Why the discrepancy? Simple; divorce stigmatized women.

Grace was luckier than many women because California, at least in its laws, was more tolerant of divorce than other states. The State’s first divorce law in 1851 recognized impotence, adultery, extreme cruelty, desertion or neglect, habitual intemperance, fraud, and conviction of a felony as legitimate grounds for divorce.

Despite the law’s progressive attitude, divorce could ruin a woman socially, which is why many women found it easier to claim widowhood than risk suffering the loss of status if their divorce became public knowledge. It seems strange to us now in these days of no-fault divorce and “conscious uncoupling” (a phrase coined by celebrity Gwenyth Paltrow to describe her separation from her musician husband, Chris Martin), but divorce was not a simple matter when Grace and Charles ended their marriage.

The couple’s family and intimate friends would likely have known the truth, and the rest of local society may have acknowledged Grace’s widowhood with a nod and a wink and allowed her to continue her fiction unchallenged.

As it happened, Grace’s claim to widowhood would edge closer to the truth when Charles died of apoplexy (internal bleeding – perhaps due to a stroke) on July 8, 1921.

The Olive King was a wealthy man who loved his only son. He bequeathed Patrick his entire fortune, estimated to be between $1 and $2 million dollars. Grace was responsible for administering Patrick’s monthly allowance, the princely sum of $800 per month, until he turned 25.  Grace and Charles had come to an agreement upon their divorce. Grace surrendered her rights of inheritance if Charles would pay her approximately $3000 per year.  Additionally, the couple agreed that Charles would create a trust fund, not to exceed $50,000, for her maintenance. To put things into perspective, $50,000 in 1921 is equivalent to nearly three quarter of a million dollars today. And Patrick’s monthly allowance is currently equivalent to about $12,000.  A fortune like the one Charles left Patrick and Grace can attract the best people in society – it can also be a magnet for the worst of humanity.

In her 30s, Grace was beautiful, wealthy and socially prominent. She would make a wonderful wife for the right man. Tragically, the wrong man courted and won her.

NEXT TIME: The Murder Complex continues.

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.