Candlelight Killer, Conclusion

At 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 12, 1970 an unidentified woman telephoned the Huntington Beach Police to report a drunk man lying beside the road. The man, sprawled in the muddy ditch, was twenty-five-year-old Thomas Astorina, but he wasn’t drunk, he was dead. Someone shot Thomas in the stomach with a .22 caliber pistol.
Police speculated that Thomas, arrested in February for possession of stolen property and reckless driving, may have crossed someone and paid with his life.

The killer, or killers, denied the twenty-five-year-old father of two, separated from his wife, a chance to make things right. Why did Thomas die?

Before his death, Thomas lived at 350 Avocado Street in Costa Mesa with three roommates, one of whom, Randall G. Allen, police booked on suspicion of murder. The other two roommates, Robert Connolly and Robert Liberty, remained at large.

Detectives knew of Robert’s trial for Marcella’s murder. His violent past and his release six months earlier from a state run mental institution made Robert a compelling suspect in Thomas’ death.

Robert flew under law enforcement’s radar from March until June when he embarked on a crime spree.

On Saturday, June 6, Robert and a female companion paid an unannounced visit to his mother’s home in Westminster. There, Robert pulled out a .22 caliber pistol and forced his mother to hand over $45. He claimed she owed him the money. Police did Robert’s mother a kindness when they declined to identify her for the newspapers.  Having Robert for a son was a big enough cross to bear in private.

Following the armed robbery of his mother, Robert and the unnamed woman hitchhiked south. A teenage boy picked them up and drove them to the apartment of Robert Irion in old town San Diego. Irion and Robert met in a state run mental facility. It was the same way Marcella Landis, Robert’s first victim, met him.

Rather than turn him loose, Robert and his companion forced the teenager into Irion’s apartment where he watched in horror as Robert and the woman shot and strangled the man.

The couple left the teenager tied up and stole Irion’s Peugeot. The kid escaped his bonds and called police. When police arrived, they found Irions on his bed surrounded by lit candles.

A note scrawled in pencil on a closet door near the body read: “The Candlelight Killer Strikes Again.”

Detectives feared Robert would pay another visit to Orange County, and they began a search of his usual hangouts. He wasn’t in any of his favorite haunts—he was on his way to Colorado.

On the way to Colorado, Robert and his companion, identified as twenty-four-year-old Kendell Bierly of New York City, picked up a 17-year-old boy, Glenn Allen Fawcett, from Midland, Texas. In Colorado Springs, the three of them rented a motel room where, according to Assistant Police Chief Carl Petry, “They harassed everyone quite a bit.”

Around midnight on Tuesday, June 9, the three entered the motel office and tied up the owner, his wife and their small child, and then stole $100 from the cash register. They then searched the adjoining house for more valuables. While they were busy ransacking the house, the manager broke free and ran to another motel and called police.

Robert discovered the manager gone and in retaliation he took the man’s wife, Edna Brenek, hostage. The four left the motel in Brenek’s car.

Detective Bernard Carter and Sergeant Neal Stratton arrived at the motel moments later. Stratton stayed at the motel while Carter took off to search for Brenek’s car. He spotted the vehicle and gave chase.

The chase continued along Interstate 25 south of Colorado Springs and reached speeds of 100  mph. During the chase Robert held Mrs. Brenek up in the rear window of the car and pointed a gun at her temple. He motioned for Carter to stay back.

Carter said, “I felt if he was going to shoot the woman, he would shoot her regardless of whether I was there. Somebody was shooting at me from the back window, but the bullets all went wild—didn’t even hit my car. When I pulled up pretty close behind them, I fired three shots into their car.”

Nine miles and five minutes after the chase began, Robert threw his weapon out of the window and the car pulled to the curb. They arrested Robert, Kendell, and Glenn without further incident.

Charged in Colorado Springs with armed robbery, kidnapping, and assault on a police officer, they set Robert’s bail at $200k and $100k each for the other two.

Huntington Beach and San Diego authorities began extradition proceedings on murder charges against Robert and Kendell.

Robert used his time in the Colorado Springs jail to make a new friend, James E. Jackson Jr., accused of the fatal beating of a local pawnbroker. The two men dug through a cinder block wall at the jail, and they made it halfway through before steel rods stalled their progress.  Someone discovered them and the intended jail break failed.

What do you do when your jailbreak fails? You get married. Robert and Kendall exchanged vows in a double-ring civil ceremony in the El Paso County Courthouse at Colorado Springs. District Judge John Gallagher officiated. A deputy public defender acted as Robert’s best man, and a female inmate was Kendell’s matron of honor. The groom wore no shoes and dressed in dark green pants and a green button-down shirt with its tail hanging out. The bride recited her vows wearing a medium length red-and-white striped dress, with brown shoes.

Robert and Kendell described the day as the “happiest” of their lives. They paid no special attention to the “until death us do part” pledge. Following the ceremony a sheriff’s deputy placed handcuffs on each and led them to separate jail cells where they continued to fight extradition to California.

California won its extradition fight with Robert, and on September 18 he left Colorado for San Diego to stand trial for murder. Kendall joined her husband in San Diego Superior Court where the newlyweds pleaded innocent to the charges against them.

Robert Connolly, the other suspect Thomas Astorina’s slaying, turned up in Waukesha, Wisconsin. The FBI arrested him in Milwaukee on December 10 on a charge of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.

The case against the Candlelight Killer and his accomplices was coming together.

Robert shared a cell block with two other murder suspects—New Yorker, Timothy Earl Dudley, and Carl Raymond Riggs of Romulus, Michigan. Timothy stood accused of strangling a young man with a bootlace, and they charged Carl with murdering an off-duty San Diego police officer outside a bar.

At 7 a.m. on January 20, 1971, jailers did a routine check of the three killers. They returned at 10:50 in response to an alarm bell. They found Robert dead, face down on his bunk with a blanket pulled up to his head. There were scratches on the knuckles of his left hand, an abrasion on his left elbow and discoloration on the sides of his neck.

Carl admitted to the murder. He said he executed Robert because he believed he was a police informant. Some would say it was a fitting end for the Candlelight killer.

Candlelight Killer, Part 1

8382 Westminster Boulevard
Westminster, CA
Saturday, June 4, 1966

Westminster police received a call late Saturday night, June 4, 1966 from a man who identified himself as Robert W. Liberty, nineteen. He told them his girlfriend, thirty-one-year-old Marcella Landis, was dead in the apartment they shared.

A black and white rolled out to the building on busy Westminster Boulevard. The apartment complex was typical for the time.  The buildings were rectangular with minimal ornamentation.

When police arrived, they found Marcella dead on the couch. Lit candles surrounded her and Robert sat on the floor near her body strumming his guitar and humming.

Robert’s behavior was bizarre, and the circumstances of Marcella’s death suggested homicide—she had a single stocking knotted around her neck. The police arrested the teenager on suspicion of murder.

During questioning, Robert said he and Marcella met as patients in the County Hospital psych ward after they admitted both following unsuccessful suicide attempts.

Three court-appointed psychiatrists examined Robert.  Two of them declared him insane. Two out of three convinced Judge Robert Gardner to send Robert to Atascadero for 90 days or until he could assist in his own defense.

They deemed Robert well enough for trial in mid-March 1967.  He pleaded innocent by reason of insanity to Marcella’s murder.

Weird details of Marcella’s murder came out during Robert’s trial. Robert strangled her with one of her own stockings. After he killed her Robert played mortician. He applied eye makeup, arranged her body on the couch, placed a Bible on her chest, and surrounded her with lit candles. Then, in the company of her pets, the onetime glue sniffer conducted a funeral sevice. When he finished, he phoned the police.

Judge Byron McMillan had no qualms finding Robert innocent—the young man was insane at the time of the crime. Robert went to Vacaville State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.

* * *

During his confinement, they transferred Robert from Vacaville to Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk, and it was from there he walked away.

The facility was unaware that Robert, considered a dangerous mental patient, was missing. Sheriff’s deputies claimed to have no record of Robert’s status, and a hospital supervisor said he knew nothing about the case.

While Robert was walk-about, he contacted his attorney who convinced him to surrender. The district attorney’s office recommended Robert be held at the Orange County medical center in Santa Ana where Superior Judge William Speirs ordered Robert to submit to new psychiatric tests.

In a shocking turn of events, they released Robert in September 1969 after six court-appointed psychiatrists concurred he was sane. The shrinks offered a caveat, Robert would be harmful if he used drugs or alcohol.

Deputy District Attorney A. A. Wells argued Robert should remain in custody on the strength of the caveat. Judge Gardner disagreed and noted mere speculation was not enough to hold Robert released him.

NEXT TIME:  What will Robert do with his freedom?

Corpus Delicti: Epilogue

Ewing Scott was released from prison in 1974, still vehemently denying that he had murdered his wife Evelyn in 1955.

Over the years he had told anyone who would listen than he had been wrongly convicted. By 1980 he was living on Social Security in a downtown Los Angeles hotel. Better accommodations than a prison cell — but not nearly as plush as the Beverly Hills mansion he shared with Evelyn.

Ewing leaves prison.

In 1983, Diane Wagner, a Burbank writer who spent five years as a part-time reporter in the New York Times Los Angeles bureau, began researching the Ewing case. She wanted to write a book about the landmark case.

Diane successfully located Ewing, who didn’t mind talking to an attractive young woman in the least, and asked him all the tough questions. She got the standard Ewing responses.  He told her that he had gone out for tooth powder on May 16, 1955 and when he returned, Evelyn was gone.

Diane interviewed Ewing several times but never got past the wall of denial, until August 5, 1984.  Ewing phoned and said that he wanted to see her one more time because he had something important to tell her.

Expecting nothing, but hoping for the best, Diane went to see Ewing. She brought her tape recorder with her, and she asked Ewing to state his full name and acknowledge that he was being recorded. Once the formalities were concluded, Ewing began to speak: “Well, I arrived in Las Vegas about dusk…” Then, to Diane’s amazement, Ewing confessed to killing Evelyn.

Ewing said that on May 16, 1955, he entered Evelyn’s bedroom with the mallet in his hand. Evelyn looked up and said: “But I haven’t done anything.”  Ewing told Diane, “I hit her in the head with a mallet, a hard rubber mallet. Just once. On the head, right on top.”

Ewing told Diane that he wrapped Evelyn’s naked body in a tarp and loaded it into the trunk of a 1940 Ford and drove into the desert six miles east of the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. He dumped the body into a sandy grave and then drove over it numerous times to cover his tire tracks.

The murder, digging the grave, and the drive to Vegas had taken a toll on Ewing. He “went to sleep in the car for awhile. Then I drove back to Los Angeles.”

Ewing expressed no remorse for the murder. In fact he bragged to Diane that he was smarter than the police and prosecutors because they never found his wife’s body. His arrogance defies comprehension. If he was so smart then how the hell did he end up in prison for two decades? Ewing also told Diane that Evelyn “deserved to die…she was a terrible person.” And once again he claimed that Evelyn had attempted to poison him. A claim that J. Miller Leavy, the prosecutor in the case, dismissed as completely ludicrous.

Had Ewing finally told the truth, or was the confession another lie like the hundreds he had told over the course of his life?

J. Miller Leavy believed Ewing told the truth when he said he killed Evelyn. But Leavy didn’t believe Ewing had hit Evelyn just once with a mallet, and he wasn’t convinced that Ewing had buried the body in the desert and not reduced it to ashes in the backyard incinerator.

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

There were several neighbors who recall seeing Ewing tending to a fire at the incinerator on that night in May, and they further remembered the awful stench produced by the smoke. Thirty years after the deed it hardly mattered how he had killed her or disposed of her remains. All that was important was that Ewing had fessed up to the crime.

But nothing was ever simple with Ewing.

About three months after Diane got Ewing’s confession on tape, Tom Towers, a reporter for the Herald Examiner, dropped in on Ewing who was bedridden in a Silver Lake convalescent hospital.

When Tom asked Ewing about Diane he said that she was his third wife and that they had honeymooned in South America.

Ewing also said that he hadn’t seen Diane’s book, “Corpus Delicti” but said that “the publisher is in trouble” for printing it. Tom Towers read to Ewing from the book and Ewing suddenly stopped him and demanded “What do you want?”

Tom wanted to know what had prompted Ewing to acknowledge the murder after three decades of protesting his innocence. Ewing said: “Acknowledge it? I’d be a damn fool to acknowledge it–they never found the body.”

On August 17, 1987, ninety-one year-old Ewing Scott died at the Skyline Convalescent Hospital in Silverlake. He was destitute and alone. His body was taken to the Los Angeles County Morgue where it lay unclaimed for more than a week after his death.

Ewing’s cremains are buried in a mass grave with the other unclaimed dead in Los Angeles County at Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights.

Evelyn’s remains have never been found.

Corpus Delicti, Conclusion

Ewing’s attorneys told reporters they were worried that their client had met with “foul play”. Both the police and the district attorney were convinced that Ewing’s convenient disappearance was a hoax.

District Attorney Ernest Roll said: “By this disappearing act he (Ewing) has apparently again avoided taking the stand and testifying under oath in one of our civil courts. It is further interesting to note that no missing person report has been filed with the Los Angeles Police Department in connection with Scott’s alleged disappearance.” Roll added that if Ewing didn’t appear for his next scheduled court appearance then, “proper legal steps will be taken to produce him.”

With $179,000 (equivalent to $1.5M today) of his missing wife’s assets unaccounted for,  and likely in his possession, Ewing could buy a ticket to anywhere in the world. In his case it would likely be a place with no extradition treaty with the U.S.

If his disappearance was voluntary, then he was in contempt of court in connection with the $6,000 judgement against him by the Wolfer Printing Company for the costs they incurred publishing his book, “How to Fascinate Men.”

Ewing’s recent companion, Marianne Beaman, might have been worried about Ewing after the sedan he’d been driving had been discovered in Santa Monica with bullet holes through the windshield. But her worry paled in comparison to that of Louis and Irving Glasser. The Glassers were the bail bondsmen who had guaranteed Ewing’s bail. If Ewing was a no-show, they’d be out the money.

So, was Ewing sitting on a distant beach sipping a cocktail with a colorful little umbrella in it; or was he dead and buried in an unmarked shallow grave along Angelus Crest Highway? Nobody knew for sure.

As in in many missing persons cases there were reported sightings of Ewing everywhere from Long Beach to Mexico. None of the sightings were verified.

On May 15, 1956, after Ewing failed to show up for his court appearance, District Attorney Roll requested bail in the amount of $100,000, but Superior Court Judge Herbert V. Walker had a better idea. He ordered Ewing’s original $25,000 bail forfeited and issued a bench warrant for his arrest.

District Attorney Roll read California Penal Code Section 32 aloud in the courtroom. He intended to drive home his point that anyone who “harbors, conceals or aids a principal … with the intent that said principal may avoid or escape from arrest, trial, conviction or punishment…” would be in an enormous amount of trouble with the law.

If Ewing was missing under his own steam, a likely accessory would be Marianne Beaman, and the police and the district attorney intended to hold her feet to the fire. They had a list of questions that she would be required to answer if she wanted to remain a free woman. One of the questions had to do with a few gifts given to her by Ewing. Items of clothing that had belonged to Evelyn.

A credible sighting of Ewing came from Bishop, California where he had allegedly spent the nights of May 2, 3, 4 and 5. Chief of Detectives Gordon Bowers of the Sheriff’s Department said he had alerted law enforcement entities from Los Angeles north to the Canadian border.

Ewing remained at large through the rest of 1956. On April 15, 1957, eleven months after Ewing had vanished, a man who gave his name as Lewis E. Stewart was arrested in Windsor, Ontario, Canada just across the Detroit River from Detroit. Mr. Stewart strongly resembled Ewing Scott.  And what a coincidence — his initials were the same.

Lewis Stewart was quickly confirmed to be the fugitive Ewing Scott and was confined to a cell on the fifth floor of the Wayne County Jail. As always, Ewing was impeccably dressed and vocal on the topic of his innocence in the death of his wife. “I’m the goat,” he said. “They are trying to make me take the rap for somebody else. I am innocent. I am being prejudged. I do not want to go back to California.”

Ewing was charming and friendly during his interview until a reporter asked him point-blank if he had murdered his wife. Scott replied, “That is an asinine question. It is just plain ridiculous and stupid. It is the last thing I would want to do.”

Ewing unsuccessfully fought extradition to California, and by mid-May he was returned to Los Angeles.

Ewing’s attorney filed a plea to dismiss the murder charge against him, but the judge wasn’t having it. Ewing’s trial for the murder of his wife was set for mid-September.

As Ewing awaited trial he spent a lot of his time attempting to sell his story to the movies. He wanted $200,000 for the tale and he claimed he planned to spend a significant portion of the sum to “follow up on a number of hot leads on the whereabouts of Mrs. Scott.”  According to Ewing Evelyn was missing, not dead.

As far as any possible film, the charming, sophisticated and good looking English actor, Ronald Colman, seemed to Ewing to be the obvious choice to portray him on the big screen. Who would play Evelyn? Ewing wasn’t so sure. “As far as Mrs. Scott goes, I don’t know who would be exactly right. perhaps an older Peggy Lee, or Mary Astor. I’d have to see the woman first.” After further thought, Ewing said about the as yet unnamed actress, “I do know that she’ll have to be smart, dignified and rather good looking–and definitely not the wisecracking type.” Okay. I guess Joan Blondell wouldn’t be considered — although personally I think she would have been a fantastic choice.

Ever the optimist, Ewing said he had no desire to portray himself in the film. He was, of course, certain that he would be free to accept the role if offered and not pacing the yard at San Quentin, or awaiting execution on death row instead of sitting in a canvas director’s chair with his name emblazoned on the back.

The district attorney’s decision to prosecute Ewing for Evelyn’s murder when her body had not been found was an enormous risk. Ewing was the first person in California to face such a trial, making his case one for the books.

Despite the lack of a physical body, Deputy District Attorney J. Miller Leavy, was confident that the corpus delicti of murder could be established. There was a mountain of compelling circumstantial evidence to bolster the State’s case. Leavy was not only certain of a conviction, he asked for the death penalty.

One of the highlights of Ewing’s trial was a visit, by the jurors, to the Beverly Hills home he and Evelyn had occupied. Of particular interest to the jurors was the backyard incinerator where the remains of women’s clothing were found, and also the spot where Evelyn’s denture and eyeglasses had been discovered. One of the female jurors opened the door to the incinerator and peered in — although what she expected to find wasn’t clear.

The defense attempted to cast doubt on the murder charge by claiming Evelyn had been spotted living on the East Coast, but they fell far short of refuting the prosecution’s robust case.

On December 21, 1957, the jury in the Ewing Scott murder trial returned a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree for the slaying of Evelyn Scott. Ewing showed no emotion as the verdict was read.

Several days later, following four hours of deliberation, the jury returned with their sentence: life in prison.

The jurors who agreed to speak with reporters said that they had tried to find a way to acquit Ewing but “we just couldn’t.”  The evidence of Ewing’s greed, manipulation, and the physical evidence of Evelyn’s glasses and denture, and the ashes of clothing, were too great to overcome. Nobody bought his contention that Evelyn was a drunk who left home of her own volition.

Ewing appealed his conviction.  The appeal was denied.  He also had the balls to petition for $600 per month so that, according to him, he could pay to mount an investigation into Evelyn’s disappearance. In February 1963, Ewing was legally denied his request to share in Evelyn’s estate.

In 1974, seventeen years after his conviction for Evelyn’s murder, Ewing was granted parole.  He refused to leave prison. His reason for refusal was that he felt accepting parole would be tantamount to accepting guilt for Evelyn’s murder.

Still vociferously denying his guilt, Ewing was released from prison in 1978.

NEXT TIME: Corpus Delicti Epilogue

Happy Birthday Aggie Underwood & Deranged L.A. Crimes!

Aggie hoists a brew c. 1920s.

Aggie hoists a brew c. 1920s.

Aggie Underwood was born on December 17, 1902 and Deranged L.A. Crimes was born on December 17, 2012, so there’s a lot to celebrate today. We have so many candles on our birthday cake it will take a gale force wind to blow them all out.

It was Aggie’s career as a Los Angeles journalist that inspired me to begin this blog; and my admiration for Aggie and her accomplishments has grown in the years since I first became aware of her.

Aggie at a crime scene in 1946.

Aggie at a crime scene in 1946.

Aggie’s career began in late 1926 when she took a job as a temporary switchboard operator at the Daily Record. She had never intended to work outside of her home, but she was motivated by her desire for a pair of silk stockings. When her husband Harry told her they couldn’t afford the stockings, Aggie got huffy and said she’d buy them herself. It was an empty threat — until a close friend called out of the blue and asked her if she would be interested in a temporary job at the Daily Record. Aggie jumped at the chance. Christmas was coming and the Underwood family could use a few extra dollars, and Aggie would get her silk stockings.

In her 1949 autobiography, Newspaperwoman, Aggie described her first impression of the Record’s newsroom as a “weird wonderland”. She was initially intimidated by the men in shirtsleeves shouting, cursing and banging away on typewriters, but it didn’t take long before intimidation became exhilaration. Much to her surprise she had fallen in love with the newspaper business. At the end of her first year at her “temporary” job she realized that she wanted to be a reporter. From that moment forward Aggie pursued her goal with passion and commitment.

Aggie at her desk after becoming City Editor at the Evening Herald & Express.

Aggie at her desk after becoming City Editor at the Evening Herald & Express. Note the baseball bat — she used it to shoo away pesky Hollywood press agents.

During a time when most female journalists were assigned to report on women’s club activities and fashion trends, Aggie covered the most important crime stories of the day. She attended actress Thelma Todd’s autopsy in December 1935 and was the only Los Angeles reporter to score a byline in the Black Dahlia case in January 1947. Aggie’s career may have started on a whim, but it lasted over 40 years.

Look closely and you can see Aggie's byline.

Look closely and you can see Aggie’s byline under “Night In a Motel”.

Over the past five years I’ve corresponded with many of you and I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some of you in person. Your support and encouragement mean a lot to me, and whether you are new to the blog or have been following Deranged L.A. Crimes from the beginning I want to thank you sincerely for your readership.

There will be many more stories in 2018, and a few appearances too. Look for me in shows on the Investigation Discovery Network (I’ve been interviewed for Deadly Women, Deadly Affairs, Evil Twins, Evil Kin and several others.) I recently appeared in a show on the infamous Cecil Hotel (Horror at the Cecil Hotel).  The Cecil has the dubious distinction of having been home to two serial killers!

I have appeared in a few podcasts — Hollywood & Crime and Gangland Wire to name two.

Whether it is on television, in the blog or some other medium I’m looking forward to telling more crime tales in 2018.

Happy Holidays!

Thank you again for your support.

Joan

Happy Birthday to Aggie Underwood and Deranged L.A. Crimes

aggie_scene-landon-murder-1946_lasd-photo_crop

Aggie at a crime scene in the 1940s.

Aggie Underwood was born on December 17, 1902 and Deranged L.A. Crimes was born on December 17, 2016, so there’s a lot to celebrate today. We have so many candles on our birthday cake it will take a gale force wind to blow them all out.

It was Aggie’s career as a Los Angeles journalist that inspired me to begin this blog.  She began her career as a temporary switchboard operator at the Daily Record in late 1926.. In her 1949 autobiography, Newspaperwoman, she described the Record’s newsroom as a “weird wonderland” and promptly fell in love with the newspaper business. It didn’t take her long to realize that she wanted to be a reporter and she pursued her goal with passion and commitment.

During a time when most female journalists were assigned to report on women’s club activities and other social events, Aggie covered most, if not all, of the most important crime stories of the day. She attended Thelma Todd’s autopsy in December 1935 and was the only Los Angeles reporter to score a byline in the Black Dahlia case in January 1947.

Like Aggie, I’ve become obsessed with the villains and victims in Los Angeles. The stories touch me as often as they frighten and repulse me. I want to understand why people do the things they do, and sometimes I feel like I get close. I don’t expect to ever completely answer that question–but the quest is a rewarding one.

Whether you are new to the blog or have been following Deranged L.A. Crimes for a while, I want to thank you sincerely for your readership.

There will be many more stories in 2017 and a few appearances too. I will keep you posted.

Joan

Film Noir Friday: Farewell My Lovely [1975]

1975-farewell-my-lovely-003

Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open! Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Tonight’s feature is FAREWELL MY LOVELY, starring Robert Mitchum and Charlotte Rampling.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

This, the second adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s novel is much closer to the source text than the original, ‘Murder, My Sweet’, which tended to avoid some of the sleazier parts of the plot, but still concerns private eye Philip Marlowe’s attempts to locate Velma, a former dancer at a seedy nightclub, and the girlfriend of Moose Malloy, a petty criminal just out of prison. Marlowe finds that once he has taken the case events conspire to put him in dangerous situations, and he is forced to follow a confusing trail of untruths and double crosses before he is able to locate Velma.

Film Noir Friday: Family Plot [1976]

family-plot-poster

Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open! Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Tonight’s feature is FAMILY PLOT, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Karen Black, Bruce Dern, Barbara Harris and William Devane.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

A phony psychic and con man are a conniving couple who plot to swindle an old lady out of her fortune by telling her they can find her long-lost nephew. In the process, their lives become intertwined with a larcenous jewel merchant and his beautiful girlfriend who have an affinity for kidnapping.

The Trash Bag Killer — Conclusion

kearney3-209x300At the end of July 1977, Patrick Kearney was indicted in Riverside county and pleaded innocent to the murders of Albert Rivera, 21, Los Angeles; Arturo Marques, 24, Oxnard, and John O. LaMay, 17, El Segundo. Kearney’s attorney, Jay Grossman, requested that the transcript of the Riverside County indictment proceedings be sealed. His co-counsel, Steven Harmon, requested a gag order.

A few months went by and in November Kearney’s request to plead guilty and become his own attorney was turned town in Riverside Superior Court pending a psychological evaluation. It took only a couple of weeks for the results of Patrick’s psych evaluation to be completed. The multiple murder suspect was allowed to represent himself. He began by waiving a probation report and requesting immediate sentencing.

Superior Judge John Hews obliged by handing down a life sentence, with the possibility of parole in seven years, for the three Riverside victims.

Suspected of nearly 20 other slayings in Los Angles, Orange, and San Diego Counties, Patrick’s legal problems were far from over. Any one, or all, of the other counties could file murder charges against him.

Reporters interviewed the confessed killer in the courtroom following his sentencing, but Patrick declined to comment saying, “I can’t allow myself to think about it much. It’s too painful.”

The gag order was lifted once Patrick was sentenced, and for the first time many of the details of the slayings were revealed. He told prosecutors and investigators that he had killed “coolly”. He also said that he got ideas from reading the coverage of the serial rape/torture murders of at least 28 boys in Houston in the early 1970s. The crimes, committed by Dean Corll, Elmer Henley and David Brooks were known at the Houston Mass Murders. At the time, the Houston murders were consider the worst serial murders in American history. Patrick said that when he realized that the authorities were getting close to arresting him he removed all of the literature about the Houston murders from his home.

In January 1978, Patrick gave Los Angeles authorities the names of four more victims: David Rogers, 27, a Camp Pendleton Marine; Michael McGhee, 13, who vanished from Redondo Beach on June 11, 1976; Merle Chance, 8, whose decomposed body was found on May 26, 1977 in the Angeles National Forest; and finally Ronald Dean Smith, 5, whose body was found in Riverside County on October 12, 1974.

SEVENTEEN MORE COUNTSAlready serving a life term in Chino for the “trash bag murders” of three young men in Riverside County, in February 1978 Patrick was changed with 17 additional counts of murder. The complaint against Patrick was the largest ever filed in Los Angeles County. Two Sheriff’s homicide detectives, Al Sett and Roger Wilson, gathered the evidence on the cases using information provided by Patrick himself.

Just when they thought that they had finished filing murder charges against Patrick, one more victim was added to the death count. Detectives Sett and Wilson had placed an advertisement in the South Bay Daily Breeze. The ad referred to a teenager Patrick said he had shot to death in the fall of 1976. A woman answered the ad and gave the detectives enough information to convince them that the previously unnamed victim was 17-year-old Robert William Benniefiel of Redondo Beach.

As he had done in the three Riverside cases, Patrick Kearney pleaded guilty to 18 more counts of homicide on February 21, 1978. At least Ronnie Smith’s mom knew the name of the monster who had killed her son. But neither she, nor any of the other relatives of the dead, would learn why Patrick had committed the murders.

Judge D. Tevrizian addressed Patrick, “I feel I have some obligation to the 18 people whom you have silenced. the families of those victimes want to know why. Can you tell us why?”

Patrick replied, “I prefer not to.”

DAILY BREEZE PHOTO_1

Photo courtesy of Daily Breeze

The likely reason Patrick declined to discuss his murders is that he was a necrophiliac. He’s not the only serial killer who preferred not to discuss his necrophilia–Ted Bundy similarly didn’t want to talk about his personal preference for sex with the dead.

After he entered his pleas in municipal court on the 5th floor of the criminal courts building, Patrick was taken to the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Paul G. Breckenridge for sentencing. The judge imposed a concurrent life sentence and then he said, “This defendant has certainly perpetrated a series of ghastly and grisly crimes. . . I can only hope the community release board will never release Mr. Kearney. He appears to be an insult to humanity.”

So far Judge Breckenridge’s wish has been granted–Patrick Kearney remains incarcerated.

The Trash Bag Killer, Part 2

KEARNEY_HILL_PICSIn late June 1977, Sheriff’s officers announced that they were seeking Patrick W. Kearney, 38, and David D. Hill, 34, formerly of Redondo Beach, as suspects in the sex murders of 8 young men. Investigators said that they had found evidence near the body of John Otis LaMay that lead them to issue warrants for the two men–but they wouldn’t reveal what it was they had found.

EVIDENCE NEAR BODYThe victims tentatively linked to the wanted men ranged in age from 12 to 24–none were as young as 5-year-old Ronnie Dean Smith, who had been dead for nearly 3 years. Maybe the detectives were mistaken in their earlier hunch that the boy’s slaying was connected to the others.

Newspapers printed photos of the wanted men and, because it was a different time, frequently referred to them as “admitted homosexuals”. Along with photos and physical descriptions of the fugitives some details of the crimes were revealed. All eight victims had been nude when discovered, all had been shot and four of them were stuffed into heavy trash bags. As far as detectives could determine, the victims had been picked up in El Segundo or downtown Los Angeles and then dumped in several different counties.

Within a day or two of the warrants being issued for their arrest, Kearney and Hill walked into the Riverside County Sheriff’s headquarters, pointed to their pictures on a wanted poster, and surrendered. They were booked on suspicion of two murders; but Los Angeles County Sheriff’s investigators said that “there may be as many as 30 to 35 more bodies”, but they qualified the statement: “none of this has been confirmed.”KEARNEY_HILL_SURRENDER

Immediately following the July 4th holiday, Kearney and Hill were arraigned for the “trash bag” killings and bail was set at $500,000 each.

Detectives from five Southern California counties reviewed their John and Jane Doe cases to see if there were other possible victims that matched the “trash bag” M.O., and they found several that appeared similar.

HILL INNOCENT SAYS MOMDavid Hill’s mother, Edna, was interviewed in her hometown of Lubbock, Texas: “My David would do anything like that. I know the Lord’s going to help. He’ll take care of him.”

Hill had had a had a rough childhood. He was one of 9 kids and his father, J.W. Hill Sr., hanged himself in late 1948, leaving his family to struggle. Hill seemed always to be at loose ends. He never finished high school and was rarely employed. Finally, as many rootless young men do, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He completed his basic training at Ft. Ord, California and never went back to Lubbock to live. He occasionally visited his family and reconnected with his  high school sweetheart, whom he married. He met Kearney in 1962 and his wife divorced him in 1966.

Nobody was surprised that Hill’s mother defended her son, but what came as a complete surprise was that Kearney did the same. Soon after surrendering Kearney began to talk. He revealed the location of a victim he had buried between two garages at the rear of a triplex he and Hill had shared in 1968. Lt. Ed Douglas of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department said that Kearney knew the victim only as “George”. The skeleton was unearthed and there was a hole in the skull, likely caused by a gunshot.HILL RELEASED HEADLINE

On July 14, nine days after they had surrendered themselves to the Riverside Sheriff’s Department, charges against Hill were dropped. To spare him from having to gun a gauntlet of reporters and photographers Hill was secretly taken from the jail. He may have gotten a “get out of jail free” card, but his attorney wisely counseled him to keep mum because there was a chance he could be recharged.

The Riverside County Grand Jury indicted Kearney for murder. He lead detectives to George’s grave in Culver City–would he lead them to other victims?  What about Ronnie Smith? His murder didn’t fit the M.O.–was he a victim of the Trash Bag Killer?  His family still needed answers.

NEXT TIME:  At last–more answers than questions.