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


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 maybe even a live nude woman who had been drinking and had passed out; that particular area was known as a lover’s lane. But it quickly dawned on her that she was in a waking nightmare and that 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 reporters have claimed to have been first on the scene of the murder. One of the people who made that claim was reporter Will Fowler. Fowler said that he and photographer Felix Paegel of the Los Angeles Examiner were approaching Crenshaw Boulevard when they heard a voice on their 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?

In her autobiography, Newspaperwoman, Aggie Underwood said that she was the first reporter on the scene. There is some information to suggest that actually a reporter from the Los Angeles Times was the first. After all these years it is impossible to state with certainty who turned up first–and does it really matter?

AGGIE_DAHLIA SCENE_1_15_1947_frat_resize

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

Here is Aggie’s description of what she saw that day on South Norton.

“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 seasoned LAPD detectives, Harry Hansen and Finis Brown, were in 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’d been busted for molesting women in a downtown bus depot.

Cops were further alarmed when they discovered that French had pulled the back seat out of his car. Had he concealed a body there? Police Chemist, Ray Pinker, determined that the floor mats of French’s car were free of blood or any other physical evidence of a bloody murder.

In her initial coverage Aggie referred to the case as the “Werewolf” slaying due to the savagery of the mutilations inflicted on the unknown young 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.


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.


The Black Dahlia: San Diego

beth-short-headshot-in-colorSeventy-one 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 with a wife and 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.


Robert “Red” Manley [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Elizabeth (who called herself Betty or Beth) had worn out her welcome in the French home. Elvera and Dorothy were tired of Beth couch surfing and contributing nothing to the household. Beth spent much of her time compulsively writing letters, many of which she never sent.

One of the unsent letters was to a former lover, Gordon Fickling. 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.”

Another complaint that Elvera and Dorothy had was that, 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 the many lies that Beth told about her circumstances.  Beth had an opportunity to work, if she was willing to pursue it. Red had arranged with a friend of his to get her a job interview — but she didn’t follow-up.

When Red heard that Beth hadn’t made it to the job interview, he became worried and wrote to her to find out if she was okay. She said she was fine but didn’t like San Diego, she wanted a ride back to Los Angeles.  She asked Red if he’d help her out, and he agreed. It was the worst mistake of his life.

The drive from San Diego to Los Angeles was going to be 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 too 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. Red’s night with Beth was strictly platonic. He took the bed and she slept in a chair. He had passed his self-imposed love test.

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 Society Bootlegger Murder — Conclusion

Blanche Remington — Earle Remington’s sister.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was more:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



The Society Bootlegger Murder, Part 2

Earle Remington

Earle Remington had made a name for himself locally, and nationally, as an aviator and businessman.  On the surface it appeared that he wasn’t the sort of man to get himself murdered. He was more likely to be injured tripping over a Persian rug at one of the exclusive clubs he frequented. But once police investigators began to scratch the surface they found that Earle was leading a double life — one that may have marked him for murder.

Peggy Remington had spoken with attorney Jerry Geisler about two weeks before Earle’s death. She wanted the attorney to represent her in a divorce. Peggy allegedly told Geisler that not only was Earle having an affair, he was selling bootleg booze. A jealous husband or an angry illicit business partner may well have cause to kill.

The widow had a couple of compelling motives to murder Earle. His infidelity was one. Another, and perhaps even stronger motive, was life insurance.  Earle had a policy in the amount of $27,500 (equivalent to $300k in current dollars).  Ten thousand dollars were to go to his sister, and the remainder would go to Peggy.  Peggy wouldn’t need to kill Earle herself, she could have hired someone to do it for her.

Peggy Remington

Peggy Remington

Where would a well-to-do society matron find an assassin? Her friends and acquaintances weren’t, like some of Earle’s, to be found on the shady side of the law.

Ironically, it was Peggy’s good works that would have put her in touch with a possible gene pool of killers.  She worked with veterans of WWI, some of whom were not only physically but psychologically damaged. Peggy knew dozens of men who knew how to use a weapon, but would any one of them be unstable enough to go through with a murder-for-hire?

The suggestion that the stab wound in Earle’s chest had been made not by a dagger but by a bayonet or a trench knife lent credibility to the theory that a vet, either on his own or enlisted by Peggy, had done the deed.  Peggy wanted out of the marriage – but how far was she willing to go?

Captain George Home

Captain George Home

Two veteran LAPD officers, Captain George Home and Detective Sergeant Herman Cline, headed the murder investigation. Captain Home had nearly 20 years on the job, and he briefly served as Chief of Police in 1919 and 1920. Detective Cline worked many high-profile cases – most notably he had been involved in the investigation into the mysterious slaying of film director William Desmond Taylor in 1922.

Milster’s was not an uncommon theory. From the end of WWI until the beginning of WWII, many criminal acts were rightly, and wrongly, attributed to veterans. If vets behaved badly it may have been because they suffered from shell-shock, the original term for what, decades later, became known as Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder (PTSD). Milster was satisfied that his sister had nothing to do with Earle’s death — but detectives weren’t so sure. They were convinced that Peggy was withholding information. Despite evidence to the contrary, particularly from her own attorney, Peggy continued to deny knowing anything about Earle’s secret life of infidelity and bootleg booze.

Earle kept a little red book containing the names, addresses and telephone numbers of many women. Detectives hoped that the book would lead them to Earle’s killer. All Peggy would say is that for at least two weeks prior to the murder Earle appeared to be in fear of his life. She told police that he never revealed to her the reasons for his unease.

society bootlegger_3_cropLess than a week into the investigation police discovered that Earle was the victim of extortion — a blackmail scheme run by a man and woman.  The woman had allegedly seduced Earle then told him it would cost him big time for her to keep her mouth shut about their affair.

In 1933 crime novelist and chronicler of Los Angeles noir, Raymond Chandler, published his first piece of crime fiction entitled “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot”.  Chandler was on to something.  Why would blackmailers kill the golden goose? They might kill him if he finally refused to pay.

Evidently, Earle had been hemorrhaging money and when the blackmailers tried to tap him again, he told them they were out of luck. Were they made angry enough to kill?

Police identified the couple, but they weren’t sharing that information with the press.  What they said was that they had heard from informants that the night before the murder the blackmailers were at a party in a cabaret on the outskirts of Chinatown. Earle was there with another man and three women.  The blackmailers hadn’t been seen since. Or had they?  Neighbors of Earle’s saw a couple necking in a coupe near the murder scene.  They also witnessed another coupe, driven by a woman, drive up to the Remington home followed moments later by a touring car in which there were two men.  Both automobiles circled the block several times before disappearing. And nobody seemed to know where the amorous couple had gone. Were Earle’s killers doing reconnaissance before they struck?

As if the case wasn’t complicated enough Aimee Torriani, an actress and acquaintance of the Remingtons, came forward. Aimee told detectives that two weeks before his death she had bumped into Earle at a downtown club.  Aimee said that Earle had confided in her that his marriage to Peggy was in serious trouble. Earle had seemed nervous.

Aimee told police that she had special insight into the Remington’s marriage because not only had she known Earle since she was ten years old, she was a psychic.

NEXT TIME:  Will psychic revelations help the cops solve Earle’s murder?  And is the murder of Oakland society bootlegger, Edward Shouse, connected to Earle’s death?





Hollywood Cliff Murder, Conclusion

Illinois native Pearl Wessel moved to Los Angeles for the first time in 1928.  Whatever dreams brought her here died with her on April 2, 1940 at the bottom of a 60 foot cliff in the Hollywood hills.

trail of death_hollywood cliff murder

LAPD arrested two men for Pearl’s death,  Lesley Al Williams and Alberni Roggers. Neither of them would admit to knowing Pearl, let alone having anything to do with her death.  The problem for Lesley was that a witness had taken down the license plate number of the car that drove away after Pearl went over the cliff–and the number matched the car registered to Lesley.A description of Pearl went out to local eateries and bars in an effort to find out where, and with whom, she had spent her time on the day of her death. William J. Moran, a bartender in a place at 608 S. Western Avenue said he was sure Pearl had been drinking in his bar with two men. He didn’t know the men, but felt he could identify them. LAPD detectives gave William the opportunity to be a stand-up citizen by inviting him to attend a line-up in which the two suspects would participate.hollywood cliff murder headline4

William identified Leslie by his voice. William had recalled that when of the one of the men at the bar was asked about places he had worked he had mentioned Sacramento. Each of the men in the lineup was asked to say “Sacramento”. When Leslie was instructed to repeat the word Moran looked at the detectives and said, “That’s one of the men. I’m dead sure of it.” William wasn’t so sure about the second man, Alberni Roggers. Another witness, Alfred Dobriener, thought he recognized Leslie, but wasn’t willing to go on the record and identify him. All he would say is that, “He (Alberni) looks more like the man than any in the line-up.”

Once he had been identified by two witnesses, Leslie copped to having been with Pearl, but he still wouldn’t admit to responsibility for her death. He did, however, name the man who was actually with him. It wasn’t Alberni, it was a 32 year-old married salesman named Brydon Stockdale. Leslie’s statement was enough for police to issue a State-wide broadcast for his arrest. It didn’t take long for Brydon to be found. About two hours after the initial broadcast, he was taken into custody in Redlands by San Bernardino County Sheriff E.L. Shay. According to Shay, Brydon had been arrested as he stepped off a bus.

LAPD Detective Lieutenants Fred Trosper and Emmett Jones left for Redlands immediately to return the suspect to Los Angeles for questioning.

Only Alberni was given good news. Because it was determined that he had had nothing to do with the crime he was kicked loose from the County Jail.

While Brydon was en route to Los Angeles, Lesley’s tongue loosened. He finally admitted that he and Brydon had been bar hopping with Pearl before they drove to Franklin Avenue. He steadfastly maintained that he had not pushed Pearl to her death. Leslie said that Pearl ran from the car and fell over the cliff. Of course his statement begs the question, why did Pearl feel she had to run?

hollywood cliff murder headline3At the Coroner’s inquest Dr. Frank R. Webb, autopsy surgeon, testified that Pearl had died of a skull fracture and that her blood alcohol level was .22, enough for her to be intoxicated.

Brydon took the stand and gave his account of the night Pearl died. He said that he had met Leslie, whom he had known prior to that night, and Pearl, in a bar on S. Western. When he and Leslfey decided to leave, Pearl accompanied them.

Brydon said he took the wheel of Lesley’s car, “I got in the driver’s seat because I didn’t think Williams was in a condition to drive. He directed me to drive to a place he knew where Miss Wessel could get something to eat. We ended up at the end of Franklin Avenue. When I got out of the car and saw where we were, I told Williams the situation was no good. I left the car again and when I returned Williams and the woman were in the back seat.”

“They were having a drunken argument about something and the door, facing the embankment, was open. I told them we were going to get out of there. Then the girl leaped out and started stumbling toward what I thought was a trail. Williams started to drive away. I protested, saying we ought not to leave the woman there. He drove off anyway.” Brydon stepped down from the witness stand and his wife Mildred walked over to him and wrapped her arms around him–then the two of them burst into tears.

Lesley refused to testify.

Brydon and his wife embrace.

Brydon and his wife embrace.

Lesley stood trial alone for Pearl’s murder. On June 19, 1940 the jury deadlocked 10 to 2 in favor of acquittal and was discharged.

It was reported that Lesley would be retried, but he never was.

So, what really did happen on Franklin that night?

Why was Pearl drinking in a bar on her own? It wasn’t typical behavior for a woman at that time.  I get the impression that Pearl may have been lonely. Is that why she left the bar with two strangers?

Even though Brydon claimed to be entirely innocent, and was subsequently freed, he was driving that night. Why did he drive to the lover’s lane on Franklin?  Did he know it was there, or was he simply following Lesley’s directions?  And when the car pulled into the dark and lonely spot, did Pearl and Lesley have an argument? Did she get out of the car in high dudgeon and run not knowing she was headed for a 60 foot cliff?

Or were the events more sinister? Did one, or both, of the men intend to assault Pearl? Did Pearl realize she was in danger and panic?  And did one or both of them push her over the cliff?

In this case, as in so many, we are left with many more questions than answers.  We’ll never know what transpired between Pearl, Lesley and Brydon, so it is difficult to determine whether or not justice was served. No matter how events played out that April night, the result was a tragedy for Pearl.

Hollywood Cliff Murder, Part 1

On April 2, 1940, Paul Cote was in his home on the 8700 block of Hollywood Blvd when a young man knocked on the front door. The young man was frantic. He pointed to a spot across the street where a body lay crumpled on the pavement. “Call an ambulance!  A young woman’s been hurt.”  Then the young man disappeared. Cole dialed the operator to summon emergency services and the police.  The woman was taken to Hollywood Receiving Hospital where Dr. G.E. Christian pronounced her dead. She had perished from a skull fracture, broken neck and other injuries. The dead woman was identified as Pearl Wessel.
pearl wesselClose on the heels of the first man’s visit to Cote’s home another young man, twenty year-old Alfred Dobriener of 1625 Sunset Plaza Drive, came to Cote’s door. He said that he’d been hiking in the hills above Franklin Avenue when he noticed an old car parked in an open space at the end of that street. From his vantage point, Alfred saw a man in the front seat and a man and a blond woman struggling in the back seat.

Alfred said, “The woman’s head kept bobbing in and out of the car as if she were being struck in the face.  Soon the man (from the backseat) shoved her from the car and she fell on the ground. The man, who was tall and dark, got out of the front seat and picked her up.  While she was still struggling, he dragged her to the edge of the bluff and shoved her over.  She did not scream.  The men got in the car and left.”

Alfred thought quickly and took down the license plate number of the car–and that is when he ran over to Cote’s house to get help. The police kept the name of the car’s registered owner to themselves until they could locate him and bring him in for questioning.

A third witness came forward. He said that he had seen a woman running down Franklin prior to Pearl’s fall. Was it Pearl?

suspects_hollywood cliff murderDetective Lieutenant S.R. Lopez of the the LAPD said that Pearl had either gone to the end of the bus line and hiked up Franklin to take in the view alone, or she had ridden up in the car with the two men to the top of the hill.  By virtue of its seclusion and spectacular views the spot was a local lover’s lane. But why would Pearl have gone there with two men?”

By the next day police had pieced together a little more of Pearl’s life.  She lived at 694 S. Hobart Blvd. where she roomed with Mrs. P.A. Boyle.  Mrs. Boyle provided detectives with some personal information about Pearl. She said, “Miss Wessel had an income from some property near St. Louis, Missouri and sometimes she took special secretarial jobs (in Los Angeles). She has been happy visiting Southern California.”

Pearl had been dividing her time between Los Angeles and St. Louis since 1928. Sh had gone to St. Louis to celebrate the New Year and then returned to Los Angeles shortly afterward and resumed her work as a stenographer.

On April 4th, police had two men in custody for questioning in Pearl’s death; Lesley Al Williams and Alberni Roggers. Lesley, a self-proclaimed “mixologist” was the registered owner of the car and he was arrested at his home at 815 W. Sixth Street and booked on suspicion of murder.

Lesley’s wife Daisy, from whom he appeared to be estranged, spoke to police from her home at 727 S. Olive Street. She told the police that Lesley was chummy with another bartender named Alberni Roggers. The police busted him at his home at 833 W. Ninth Street.

Lesley and Alberni both denied having any connection with Pearl. At the death scene Police Chemist Ray Pinker found scuff marks consistent with the witnesses statements that Pearl had been dragged from the parked car before going over the cliff. Tire marks discovered at the scene matched the tires on Lesley’s car.

Ray Pinker, Police Chemist c. 1935 Photo courtesy LAPL

Ray Pinker, Police Chemist c. 1935
Photo courtesy LAPL

The evidence against the two men, particularly Lesley, was damning. Still, it was possible that police had arrested the wrong men. What if the witness had transposed or mistaken a number on the license plate of the car?

NEXT TIME: Another suspect is identified as the investigation into Pearl’s murder continues.

The Burton Gang’s Last Job, Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

burton gang_smith and burton

Evelyn Smith and Edward Burton

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEXT TIME: Shootout at Union Ice Company.

Politics Is A Dirty Business

Politics in Los Angeles has long been a dirty and corrupt business. This was never truer than during the 1930s.

I found this wonderful cartoon in an issue of the Evening Herald & Express. Any citizen of Los Angeles who was paying attention would have known exactly who all the players were. I didn’t understand several of the references and so I thought it might be fun to try to decipher them.

Here is the cartoon, and below that is my key to understanding just what in the hell the cartoonist was talking about.

1932 corruption cartoon_resize

On the second floor of the Payoff Villa Apartments one of the gamblers says: “Guy, send Eddie in.” The gambler was referring to Guy McAfee. McAfee, like thousands of others, had moved from the midwest to Los Angeles years before seeking his fortune. He didn’t find it as a firefighter, which he worked at for a while. But things began to look up for him when he joined the LAPD. His career trajectory ultimately landed him in the position of head of the vice squad. Oh, delicious irony! While serving as the head of the vice squad, McAfee owned brothels and gambling dens.

Guy McAfee and his wife, June in 1939.

Guy McAfee and his wife, June in 1939.

In the late 1930s, when it appeared that LA might become less tolerant of vice (the possible crackdown was a momentary hiccup in the ongoing criminal enterprise that the city had become), McAfee moved to Las Vegas, Nevada. Bugsy Siegel gets the credit, or blame depending on your view, for establishing the desert gaming mecca, but it was men like Guy McAfee and his associate Milton B. “Farmer” Page who really kicked things off in the sleepy little cow town. McAfee was the co-founder of the Pioneer Club and was the President of the Golden Nugget until his death in 1960.

The “Eddie” referred to in the cartoon bubble was Eddie Nealis, a local bookmaker. Eddie’s name along with his fellow vice kings: Guy McAfee, Farmer Page, Tudor Scherer, Jack Dragna and Johnny Roselli, came up in the Los Angele County 1937 Grand Jury investigation into vice. Most of those named fled the city for Vegas in 1938.

Cathay_Circle_Theater (1)

Carthay Circle Theater c. 1937

On the roof of the Payoff Villa Apartments, you will find a cop named Mac D. Jones. He appears to be shoving a woman in a toga over the edge. Lysistrata is mentioned. Lysistrata was Greek play written by Aristophanes. This reference threw me for a loop. I couldn’t figure out what a cop had to do with the play. But I found out. The play, written in 411 BC, is a comedy in which a woman, Lysistrata, embarks on a mission to end the Peloponnesian War. And how does she plan to do it? Get all of the women of Greece to withhold sex from their husbands and lovers so that they’ll snap to their senses and negotiate peace. It still seems like a solid plan.

Apparently, Officer Mac Jones wasn’t a lover of Greek plays, he raided the show twice while it was on stage at Carthay Circle Theater (the beautiful 1926 building was demolished in 1969–a bad year for many reasons).  The cast filed a suit against Jones in the amount of $226,000 for damages. The judge who heard the case, Superior Court Judge Willis, was evidently no lover of Greek theater either He said that there were two scenes that “as written and acted are sufficient in the mind of the average person to condemn the play as indecent and obscene as hereintofore defined, and there can be found nowhere in the play any redeeming or ameliorating quality of uplift, or lesson, or message of good.” Judge Willis threw out the demand for damages. I happen to love the play for many reasons, one of which is its powerful anti-war stance.

A poster on the exterior wall of the Payoff Villa Apartments exclaims: “Radio fans hear Martin Luther Thomas preach on ‘No Vice, No Crime.'” I was intrigued. Who was Martin Luther Thomas? It turns out that Thomas was one of several local radio preachers who, when he wasn’t railing against the “Underworld”, was the chief investigator for City Prosecutor Johnson.

And the fellow crawling on his hands and knees in the street? He was Wells J. Mosher, confidential secretary to Mayor Porter.

In July 1931 Thomas and Mosher were linked by a so-called “snooping system” they allegedly ran to gather dirt on other city employees–particularly members of the city council. Director Knox of the Bureau of Budget and Efficiency was told to file a report with the Efficiency and Personnel Committee of the City Council. The report was specifically ordered to address whether or not Thomas and Mosher should lose their jobs. One of the councilmen declared that the two men were costing the city money that could be put to better use.

Mayor John Clinton Porter was a teetotaler and a xenophobe. Porter’s promise to clean-up the city’s political system won him the election in 1929, but it didn’t win him any friends on the wrong side of the law. Once sworn in the mayor began receiving death threats. He was the only mayor in LA’s history to be the victim of an attempted assassination.

On February 19, 1932, a federal warehouse worker, Jacob Denzer, who kept watch over confiscated booze, sat in the mayor’s lobby awaiting an audience. The self-proclaimed “messenger of the Lord” had had a vision for a “divine plan of salvation.” When 50 Fullerton Junior High School students, on a tour of City Hall, started to crowd into the lobby Denzer became agitated. He stood up, waved his gun and shouted at the startled students to “Get out of here, all of you.” A city janitor saw the ruckus. He managed to grab the revolver from Denzer’s hand.

Frank L. Shaw

Frank L. Shaw

Porter came through a recall effort and presided over the 1932 Olympic Games. Ever the teetotaler, no alcohol was served at the opening ceremony.

Porter enjoyed being mayor and ran in 1933, only to be defeated by arguably the most corrupt mayor in Los Angeles’ history, Frank L. Shaw (who, by the way, was recalled in 1938).

The Death of Love, Conclusion

Helen -- out like a light. Photo courtesy of LAPL.

Helen — out like a light. Photo courtesy of LAPL.

Within hours of her conviction Helen had willed herself into a coma, just like she said she could do. Inmates in the jail who passed by Helen made cracks, to which she was oblivious, about the “sleeping beauty”. Maybe they were jealous, because if Helen regained consciousness she’d be svelte.  The first 5 days of her coma she lost 10 lbs! Nothing gets results like a diet of despair and guilt.

The jail physician, Dr. Benjamin Blank, examined Helen and declared that:

“She is suffering from a catatonic condition, a form of stupor brought on by extreme mental strain.”

Helen in a wheel chair. Photo courtesy LAPL.

Helen in a wheel chair. Photo courtesy LAPL.

He further stated:

“It is possible that the condition was brought on by fear during her trial that she might be hanged if convicted, or fear of serving the second-degree murder sentence fixed by the jury.”

A TIME Magazine article described Helen’s condition as:

“a fit of sulks so profound that half a dozen solemn psychiatrists could not even agree on a name for it, variously calling it ‘hysterical fugue,’ ‘split personality,’ ‘dementia praecox,’ ‘triumph of the subconscious,’ ‘self-imposed hypnosis,’ ‘voluntary stupor.'”

Legally, Helen could not be sentenced for her crime while in an insensible state. Her condition put justice for Harry on hold indefinitely.

Judge Smith was skeptical about Helen’s coma, and he wasn’t the only one.  Matron Vada Sullivan, who had seen many female prisoners during her tenure at the jail said:

“Mrs. Love is faking.  She has been causing us considerable trouble since the jury returned the verdict that found her guilty of second degree murder.  She has been stubborn and despondent.”

After several continuances of sentence, Judge Smith ordered court to be held in the hospital so that Helen’s reactions could be observed. There wasn’t much to see. Doctors stuck her with pins and otherwise abused the unconscious woman but she responded only when Dr. Samuel M. Marcus, the fifth psychiatrist to examine her, massaged her head and mentioned Harry’s name.  Helen muttered: “Please don’t go away, Harry!”

officials-study-helenHelen became known as “the husk woman”, and she remained unconscious for 158 hours.

After slapping and shaking her, which one can only hope weren’t the usual psychiatric treatments for a comatose patient, Dr. Marcus was finally successful in awakening Helen by whispering in her ear:

“Here I come—that Dr. Marcus again—I’m knocking, knocking at that door—let me in now, Helen! Let me in, I say! I am going to get through that door so open it! Wake up!”

Helen did awake, while film crews recorded everything and her attorney stood by. It took 58 seconds for her to rise, and when she did she was terrified and begged for water. When Dr. Marcus asked if she was happy to be back in the land of the living she sobbed, ‘No, Oh, I haven’t done anything wrong! Let me go back!”

Helen, passed out in her mother's arms.  Photo courtesy LAPL.

Helen, passed out in her mother’s arms. Photo courtesy LAPL.

She felt much better the next day. She said to the assembled newspapermen: “Don’t I look beautiful this morning?”

Helen was ravenously hungry. She’d been fed intravenously while she was out, but once she was upright she was treated to chicken broth with rice, buttered toast and two glasses of milk.

When asked about rumors that she was going to lapse into another neurotic coma, Helen smiled. She did her nails, wrote letters, read her fan mail, and expressed her disappointment at not being able to play golf with Jailer Clem Peoples.

She was sure she could beat him because she had once driven a golf ball 240 yards. She said, “Can you imagine that? And me a girl?”

When all was said and done, Helen was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to serve from seven years to life in prison. Helen left HOJJ (Hall of Justice Jail,) for Tehachapi dressed as though off to a fashionable tea. She was wearing a black crepe dress embroidered with silver flowers and a black cloth coat.  Around her shoulders was a silver fox fur. She wore a black straw hat which, she said, she had bought in Paris. Black shoes, gloves, and purse completed her off-to-prison ensemble. Women dressed up for everything in those days, and a trip to prison was no exception. It paid to look your best.

Helen heads off to Tehachapi.  Photo courtesy LAPL.

Helen heads off to Tehachapi. Photo courtesy LAPL.

Helen did well at Tehachapi, she even won first place in a baking contest for her coconut cake.

While Helen was baking awarding winning cakes in prison, her mother-in-law, Cora, was embarking on a scorched earth policy where her former daughter-in-law was concerned.

Tehachapi bake-off. And the winner is...  Photo courtesy LAPL.

Tehachapi bake-off. And the winner is… Photo courtesy LAPL.

Cora went to court to prove that there was no evidence of a marriage between Harry and Helen.  She got an injunction barring Helen from representing herself as Harry’s widow or using the name Love.

In an unrivaled act of optimism, Helen applied for parole in November 1938 under her maiden name, but was told she would have to wait two years before applying again. Not unreasonable given that she had shot a man to death a year earlier.

In 1940 the litigious Cora sued Rio Grande Oil Co., Richfield Oil Co., KNX and CBS for $1M in a libel suit.

Cora Love (right) and a friend in the courtroom during Helen's trial. Photo courtesy LAPL.

Cora Love (right) and a friend in the courtroom during Helen’s trial. Photo courtesy LAPL.

Cora claimed her character had been defamed in a broadcast of the radio program “Calling All Cars” (an episode entitled The Silver Cord which aired on January 13, 1939.) I haven’t found any record of her suit, so I don’t know if she won.  But I doubt it. Listen to the episode and decide for yourself if she had a legitimate complaint. Actually, everyone should have complained. The heavily hyperbolic episode didn’t flatter any of the characters.

If Helen was paroled in 1940 it didn’t make news; however, she was eventually released. It is difficult to trace women, especially in years past when they routinely took their husband’s surnames. That said, I think I’ve been able to ferret out a few bits of information on Helen.  As far as I can tell she was married a total of four times (three if you agree with Cora Love who adamantly denied Helen was ever legally married to Harry). As far as I know, Helen managed not to kill any of her other husbands or lapse into any more self-induced comas.

Helen Wills passed away in San Francisco, California on November 1, 2000 at the ripe old age of 95.

As for Cora Love, she passed away in Riverside, California on 17 Nov 1950 ten days following her 85th birthday.

The Death of Love, Part 2

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

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

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

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

The fabulous Norconian c, 1920s/1930s.

The fabulous Norconian c, 1920s/1930s.

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

Typical women's evening wear 1936.

Typical women’s evening wear c. 1936.

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

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

1930s dame with gun.

1930s dame with gun.

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

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

Typical men's evening wear in 1936.

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

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

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

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