The Burton Gang’s Last Job, Conclusion

Not long after the bloody shootout between the Burton gang and Sheriff’s deputies at the Union Ice Company, in which all of the bandits except J.W. Gilkye were killed, deputies found Edward Burton’s girlfriend. Investigators located the young woman in a room at the Superior Hotel. She was taken into custody under her alias, Mary Dayke, but quickly revealed her given name, Evelyn Smith.

burton gang_gilkye mug_crop

Smith, like Burton, was from Chicago. Questioned by Chief of Criminal Investigation, A.L. Manning and Deputy Sheriff Chester Allen, Smith said that she had no idea what Burton was up to or why he had left Chicago for Los Angeles. “I know nothing of Burton’s crimes. I did not realize he was leading a life of crime until he was arrested in the raid. Even then I did not believe he was the man who shot the motor officer.

Smith continued: “I came out from Chicago last May to join Burton. Be he soon lost interest in me. He told me I was not the kind of a girl to stick with him. Last Tuesday afternoon, only a few hours before he was killed, he accused me of being too inquisitive. He said I asked too many questions, told me to mind my own business. And then he beat me severely.”

Sheriff’s investigators asked Smith about the two one-way train tickets to Chicago that were found in Burton’s coat pocket, but again she claimed to know nothing. Evidently, Burton had a new woman in his life; a blonde with bobbed hair who had accompanied the bandit gang on a number of robberies. Smith said Burton planned to “ditch” her for his new squeeze and leave Smith in Los Angeles to fend for herself.

burton gang_evelyn smith_chester allen

Sheriff’s deputies conducted raids at several locations in an attempt to round up other members of the gang. The lawmen came up empty. The gunsels, aware that the deputies wielded sawed-off shotguns and were prepared to do battle, had fled the city for parts east.

Only J.W. Gilkye, the lone bandit to survive, was left to answer for the crimes he and his fellow thugs had perpetrated. Gilkye survived only because he had dropped his weapon and refused to fight when deputies drew down on him at the ice company.

During questioning, Gilkye said: “You got enough on me without me telling you more.” And then he proceeded to tell Chief Deputy Manning a lot more.  Like many crooks Gilkye loved the sound of his own voice and couldn’t resist crowing about his criminal accomplishments and playing the tough guy. “I may get hooked for a long time up the road, but I ain’t through yet. We were double-crossed, we were, by one of our own gang. But I’ll get him if it takes all my life. He double-crossed us and caused three of my best pals to get killed. But they were nervy–had the goods.”  The “goods” can’t do much for you when you’re dead.

Gilkye wasn’t as nervy as his pals had been, so he lived to tell the tale.  He was tried and convicted for his part in the ice company job, but before he left Los Angeles County Jail for San Quentin, he nearly made good on his promise to get even with the man who had dropped a dime on the gang.

The snitch was Roy Melendez. Melendez and Gilkye encountered each other in the County Jail where, according to witnesses, Gilkye “roared like an infuriated animal” when Melendez was placed in lock-up. Gilkye would have murdered Melendez with his bare hands if jail attendants hadn’t intervened.

Melendez may have met a bad end even though Gilkye wasn’t able to lay another finger on him. When Melendez failed to appear in court on a bum check charge an unnamed official opined: “Either Melendez has been killed or they have made it so hot for him he is afraid to show up.” A bench warrant was issued for Melendez, but he was nowhere to be found.

Members of the Sheriff’s Department breathed a sigh of relief. The Burton gang’s brief reign in Los Angeles was over.

* * *

Late in February 1923, two men from Chicago arrived in Los Angeles. The men weren’t tourists, they were on a mission to assassinate the deputies they held responsible for killing Edward Burton and two members of his gang during the shootout at Union Ice Company. The men made inquiries around town in an attempt to learn as much as they could about their targets. While the hitmen were compiling dossiers on their targets, the targets themselves were conducting their business as usual.  Deputies William Bright, Spike Modie, Chester Allen and Norris Stensland didn’t know they were being hunted.burton gang_gunmen headline

At about 1 a.m. on the morning of March 7, 1923,  William Bright and Spike Moody left Sheriff’s headquarters. They climbed into Moody’s Stutz and headed up Broadway. They turned west on Temple and continued down the dark, deserted street. After traveling a few blocks they eyeballed a sedan with the side curtains pulled down. They wouldn’t have paid the automobile much attention except that it was trailing them too closely for their comfort. Knowing that they had enemies in the underworld Moody and Bright readied their weapons. As they prepared themselves for a possible gunfight, Moody and Bright watched the sedan suddenly swing off into a side street and disappear.

A few blocks later the mysterious sedan lurched out of a side street onto Temple and passed the Stutz at a high rate of speed. Moody and Bright saw the side curtains part and a shotgun appear. A second shotgun appeared from the tonneau, the rear passenger compartment of the sedan, and both unleashed a volley fire at Modie and Bright. The deputies pulled out their revolvers and returned fire. Bright fired through the windshield of the Stutz. Fortunately for the deputies, the would-be assassins aim went high when their sedan hit a pothole.

Stutz c. 1923

Stutz c. 1923

Moody jammed his foot down on the accelerator and gave chase as the sedan drew away. Bright continued to return fire. Bright may have scored a hit. The sedan skidded across the street into a telephone pole. The sedan sagged with one broken wheel. Three men jumped from the car and fled, but not before firing again at the deputies.

Bright and Moody gave chase on foot but the men vanished into the darkness. Returning to the crippled sedan Bright found a hat with a jagged hole through the crown. The wearer had narrowly escaped death. The hat bore the name of a Chicago hatter.

Sheriff’s investigators located the gunmen’s hotel room. They also identified a few of the shooters acquaintances who, under orders from Sheriff Traeger, were kept under surveillance.

Deputies Bright, Moody, Stensland and Allen prepared themselves for the possibility of another attack–but it never came. The Burton gang seems to have departed Los Angeles forever.

This is such a great photo I decided to post it again!

This is such a great photo I decided to post it again!

NOTE:  Once again, I am indebted to Mike Fratantoni. His knowledge of L.A.’s law enforcement and criminal history is encyclopedic.

It can be frustrating to pin down accurate spellings of proper names in these historic tales. Often reporters phoned a story into a rewrite person at the newspaper who phonetically spelled a person’s name. Edward Burton was in some reports, Edwin. Another example, Spike Moody’s surname has appeared as Modie. Judging from the above photo it should be the former spelling.

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

30 More Years of Crime in L.A.

When I  began this blog in December 2012, I arbitrarily chose to examine crime in Los Angeles during the years from 1900 to 1970.  Now, however, I think it is time to expand the purview to include the decades of 1970, 1980 and 1990 to encompass all of the last century. In terms of crime in the City of Angels, the last three decades of the 20th Century are enormously interesting.

The 1970s have been called one of the most violent decades in U.S. history. Homicide rates climbed at an alarming rate and people felt increasingly vulnerable.

dirtyharry

Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry

Hollywood contributed to popular culture, and helped fuel the debate on crime and punishment, with a slew of vigilante films like Dirty Harry and Death Wish. The films  showed bad guys being blown away by impressively large weapons.  It was cathartic, but not terribly realistic.

It was during the ’70s that the bogeyman got a new name when FBI Investigator Robert Ressler coined the term “serial killer”.

In 1978 convicted rapist and registered sex offender, Rodney Alcala, appeared on the Dating Game. Why wasn’t he more thoroughly vetted by the show’s producers? I have no idea. Even more astounding than his appearance was the fact that he won! The bachelorette who selected Rodney ultimately declined to go out with him–she found him “creepy”. He’s currently on California’s death row and is believed to have committed as many as 50 murders.

ramirez_108a

Richard Ramirez aka the Night Stalker, flashes a pentagram on his palm.

Some people joined cults where they banded together with like-minded folks for spiritual comfort and to retreat from the scary world-at-large. But there is not always safety in numbers, and evil can assume many guises. In 1978, over 900 members of the People’s Temple died in a mass suicide commanded by their leader, Jim Jones. The group was living in Guyana when they drank cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. The People’s Temple may have been founded in Indiana, but like so many other cults before them they established a presence in L.A.

Jim Jones of the People's Temple

Jim Jones of the People’s Temple

A crack cocaine epidemic swept the country in the early 1980s.  It decimated communities and cost many people their lives. Crack  was inexpensive, easily accessible, and even more addictive than regular cocaine.

The 1980s gave rise to a “satanic panic” which resulted in some of most bizarre prosecutions we’ve seen in this country since the Salem Witch Trials in the 1690s. The McMartin Preschool abuse trial was the most costly ($15 million) ever in the U.S. and resulted, rightfully I believe, in no convictions.

Surprisingly, there was a decline in crime during the 1990s, and it has been attributed to a variety of factors including: increased incarceration; increased numbers of police, growth in income; decreased unemployment, decreased alcohol consumption, and even the unleading of gasoline (due to the Clean Air Act). Despite the decline, there was still enough murder and mayhem to make us uneasy.

oj-simpson-murdeHere in L.A. there was the murder trial of O.J. Simpson, the so-called Trial of the Century. If you remove fame, wealth, and race and reduce the crime to its basic elements you end up with nothing more than a tragic domestic homicide–the type of crime which is altogether too common everywhere–yet the case continues to fascinate.

Heidi Fleiss, the Hollywood Madam, made news in 1993. At her pandering trial actor Charlie Sheen divulged that he had spent in excess of $53,000 for services rendered by Heidi’s girls.

Please join me as I explore the entirety of 20th Century crime in Los Angeles.

Joan

 

 

 

Happy Birthday!

year end wrap up cake

Deranged L.A. Crimes is one year old!

When I began this blog just over a year ago I had no idea that it would be as well received as it has been. My goal was simple, I wanted to entertain people while pursuing my passion for Los Angeles history through its crimes. I hoped that along the way I’d find a few like minded people who love Los Angeles history and crime as much as I do. Over the past twelve months the blog has exceeded my wildest dreams and has given me an opportunity to play hostess to approximately 250,000 visitors! It is gratifying, and humbling, to have been able to reach so many people.

I’ve gotten to know many of you over the past year through your comments and I have found that your knowledge of everything from forgotten L.A. lore to film noir trivia is encyclopedic. I have heard from readers in law enforcement as well as from fellow historians and writers. I’ve been contacted by the families of both victims and perpetrators who played a part in some of the crimes I have covered. I’ve even had readers from a couple of L.A.’s oldest street gangs seeking to find their place in the city’s crime history.

It appears that 2014 may be an even more exciting year for Deranged L.A. Crimes than 2013 has been (if that’s possible). In addition to a book of crime scene photos that I’ve been working on with the Los Angeles Police Museum (narrative written by non other than the Demon Dog himself, James Ellroy) I am currently working on a Deranged L.A. Crimes book. I don’t have any lectures scheduled for 2014 yet, but I hope to. Bringing historic L.A. crimes to life in a lecture is something I love to do.

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions please feel free to contact me, I’d love to hear from you.

I wish all of you a very happy new year, and I thank you for your readership!

Best,

Joan

Death By Dermatology, Conclusion

steele noseIf you were a resident of Los Angeles during the 1910s or 1920s it would have been simple for you to locate a beauty doctor. Beauty doctors were rarely, if ever, actual physicians, they were practitioners of dubious skill, training, and ethics, and they advertised relentlessly in the personal columns of the local newspapers.

One of the many beauty doctors advertising her skills to Angelenos seeking to improve their looks was Gertrude Steele. Steele called herself a doctor but she was not a medical doctor, nor was she a doctor of philosophy, she was a registered naturopath.

Steele’s registration as a naturopath meant very little at that time because there were few regulations to which such a practitioner had to adhere. The lack of oversight many times resulted in disfigurement or death for the patients unlucky enough to be worked over by a scalpel wielding faux doctor.steele before after

Steele had caused the death of her son-in-law, George Blaha, who had only wanted his freckles removed — what he got instead was a premature death. Steele had administered an overdose of chloroform to ease the excruciating pain she’d caused him with the freckle removal procedure.

As a result of the botched operation on George, Gertrude’s naturopath license was revoked. There were a few months when it looked as though Gertrude would be held accountable for her son-in-law’s death, but her attorney successfully argued before the California State Supreme Court that Steele had the right to perform the procedure on George because the Legislature had not defined what her license permitted her to do! Steele’s license was restored and she was swiftly back in business!

But the LAPD, the State Board of Medical Examiners, and the District Attorney weren’t satisfied with the outcome in George’s case, and when another of Steele’s patients died it prompted a more thorough investigation.

steele licenseMrs. Christina Leslie was 67 years old and was seeking to restore the “youthful bloom” to her face as promised in Gertrude Steele’s ads. Instead of having her youth restored, Mrs. Leslie died of blood poisoning.

For many weeks the cause of Mrs. Leslie’s death was known only to a few of her closest friends — no autopsy had been performed. Finally the circumstances surrounding her demise reached the ears of Chief of Detectives George Home who ordered an immediate investigation.

Detectives discovered scores of Gertrude Steele’s patients, male and female, who had reported to the State Board of Medical Examiners that they had been mutilated and disfigured for life by Dr. Steele’s facial lotions and by her scalpel.steele_indicted

Gertrude Steele had never had a single day of instruction in surgery and her incompetence had lead to countless deformations and several deaths. Steele’s daughter, Mrs. Solomon, had acted as her mother’s assistant in all of her operations — it appears that Mr. Steele was no longer part of the practice — although it isn’t clear what happened to him. Solomon didn’t have any medical training either, although she appeared to have some compassion for the victims of her mother’s ineptness. She described the post-surgery horror that Mrs. Leslie endured:

“A few days after the operation, Mrs. Leslie came back. Infection had begun in the incisions. She remained at my mother’s house for ten days and all that time I begged my mother to call in a physician. But she would not. She would take the top of my head off for butting in and all the time she was trying to treat Mrs. Leslie who appealed more to the divine powers to help her rather that her own common sense.”

Mrs. Emma Graham, a close friend of Christina’s, arrived at Steele’s clinic and once she saw the condition her friend was in she promptly had her removed. But instead of taking her to a hospital, Christina was transferred to Emma’s home — where at least
she was under the care of a certified physician. Mrs. Graham told cops:

“I learned that Mrs. Leslie was in a bad condition and that she was being kept at Mrs. Steele’s house. I went to see her, I found her reclining on a window seat. Her face was in a terrible condition and her clothing was all bloody. I had her removed to my home.”

“At my home Mrs. Leslie grew worse each day. She told me Dr. Steele had performed the operation. Terrible abscesses were appearing all over her and she complained of pains in her swollen hands.”

Dr. James Reeve Dean, the physician who attended Mrs. Leslie for the last few weeks of her life told investigators:

“I found two incisions had been made upon Mrs. Leslie’s head. These incisions began at the hairline on the forehead and each extended downward and along the side of the face, in front of the ears and then curved back behind the ears. Upon Mrs. Leslie’s neck I found an ugly abscess, filled with infected matter with a drain at the top of the abscess instead of at the bottom where it should have been. The incisions on the forehead had left ugly wounds. Pyemia had set in and had centered on one of the patients hips and upon one of her hands, which was swollen to twice its normal size.”

After three long weeks of unbearable pain, Mrs. Leslie succumbed to blood poisoning. In Dr. Dean’s opinion the cause of Mrs. Leslie’s death had been infection due to the dirty conditions in the  surgery in which the facelift had been performed.

Investigators turned up the names of other people who had suffered at Mrs. Steele’s hands:

  • Michael Goane, 19, who died in Dr. Steele’s office while undergoing treatment for the removal of a scar from his cheek.
  • Martin J. Colbert, from San Francisco, who came to his death from shock caused by a carbolic acid application and anesthetic treatment.
  • Miss Pauline Hall, motion picture actress, won a judgement of $2500 against Dr. Steele for the mutilation of her face. Miss Hall testified in court that her lower lip had been “frozen” and that while Dr. Steele performed the operation the doctor communed with the Universe and prayed for the success of the operation.
  • Arthur Carew, had an operation for a hump nose. Dr. Steele cut a piece from his nose, cut strips of flesh from each temple and severed an artery which she first attempted to close with her fingers, later attempting to stop the flow of blood by prayer. Fortunately for Carew he was taken to a hospital and survived his ordeal.
  • Miss I. Vogel, formerly employed at the Ambassador Beauty Parlors reported that her face had been mutilated in an unsatisfactory nose operation.

The list of people maimed or killed by Steele seemed to be endless. One of Steele’s patients said that the doctor requested all of her patients sign a form absolving her from any after-effects of her operations:

“I hereby certify that the operation and subsequent treatment to be performed upon me is at my own request and I hereby absolve Dr. G.D. Steele and Company from all responsibility from any results therefrom.”

For her part, Dr. Steele advertised:

“The work is done conscientiously, with perfect technical skill in feature correcting under Divine Guidance. God does the healing.”

gertrude steel picFinally in October 1924, Gertrude Steele was indicted for manslaughter in the death of Mrs. Christina Leslie. When cops went to pick Steele up all they found was a “For Rent” sign on her property and her daughter, Mrs. Solomon, whom she had apparently left behind without a thought. Solomon said:

“She left me penniless and ill and with all of her own troubles to contend with — bill collectors, complaints from her patients and such. I am glad the investigation was made. It has taken a great burden of worry and sorrow from my mind. I feel so much better now.”

Solomon continued:

“She is my mother, but I believe, as the authorities believe, that she should be stopped from continuing with this work of which she has no scientific knowledge.”

Gertrude Steele’s license to practice naturopathy was revoked, but it didn’t matter — she was nowhere to be found. At last, in January 1925 she was discovered living in Oberhausen, Germany. California requested Gertrude Steele’s extradition, but I have not yet been able to find out if she was ever returned to the U.S. to face justice.german poster

Chilling, isn’t it, that a person could butcher people with impunity. I suspect that Gertrude Steele found herself quite at home in Germany during the mid-1920s, because by 1925 Adolf Hitler had begun his ascendancy to power.

Death By Dermatology, Part 1

The hypodermic needle was invented in 1854 and the first effective local anesthetic was cocaine, which was used in an eye surgery in 1884. Those discoveries, and the many others that followed, paved the way for modern doctors to perform surgeries and other invasive medical procedures that patients could actually hope to survive.

The first facelift is said to have been performed by Eugen Hollander in 1901 in Berlin on an elderly Polish aristocrat who wanted her cheeks and the corners of her mouth lifted. The
surgery was successful and the patient was reportedly pleased with the outcome. The first textbook on facial cosmetic surgery was written by Charles Miller of Chicago and was
entitled: The Correction of Featural Imperfections (1907).

Allisvanity

“All Is Vanity” [1892] by Charles A. Gilbert

Legitimate medical professionals and their patients benefited from scientific advancements but sadly criminals also found a way to profit.

For decades medical quacks have made their homes in Los Angeles. The degree to which they have believed their own advertising has varied —  some of the practitioners may have been sincere and deluded, while others have undoubtedly been conniving and cynical seeking only to separate gullible Angelenos from their cash.

By the early 1900s personal ads in the local newspapers hyperbolized the wonders of modern medical science for the removal of pimples, wrinkles, crows feet, double chins, thin necks and superfluous hair. One ad exclaimed:

“Premature Ugliness is a Crime which has its effect on coming generations.”

I have no idea what the hell that was supposed to mean, but presumably answers could be found at the Cosmetic Surgery Company in the Johnson Building at the corner of Fourth and Broadway.

Among the early practitioners of cosmetic procedures in Los Angeles were Professor David and Mme. Gertrude Steele. This advertisement for their services appeared in the Los Angeles Times on April 21, 1907:

gertrudesteele_ad

It seemed that there was no dermatological miracle the Steele’s couldn’t perform — that is until March 1908 when they permanently disfigured Mrs. G.W. Du Bois.

Mrs. Du Bois said that she’d read the Steele’s advertisement which guaranteed the harmless removal of wrinkles and spots from the face, and filling in of hollows by a unique chemical substance. The Steele’s promised a refund if their work was unsatisfactory, so what did she have to lose?

A money back guarantee for a medical procedure wouldn’t inspire confidence in me, but Mrs. Du Bois went ahead with a visit to the Steele’s downtown clinic.

A few days following her treatment lumps had formed on either side of Mrs. Du Bois’ nose, on top of it, and on the left side of her neck. She found it impossible to lie down at night, was in constant pain, and was informed by doctors that the lumps could not be safely removed. Arsenic, prescribed to cure the facial spots, affected Mrs. Du Bois’ health so adversely that the roots of her eyebrows were burned out.

In her lawsuit the injured woman stated that she was permanently disfigured and her health was ruined. She requested $1000 [approximately $26,000 in current U.S. dollars] in damages and the refund of her original payment of $100.

During the one day hearing in Judge Hutton’s court, Mrs. Du Bois and the Steele’s each presented their side of the case. Mrs. Du Bois spoke of the pain and suffering she had endured, while Gertrude Steele insisted that the disfigured woman was attempting to extort money from them.

steele_disfigure

Judge Hutton ruled against the Steele’s and they were required to pay Mrs. Du Bois every penny she had asked for in her suit. The injured woman went home to her life of constant pain and deformation, and the Steele’s remained in business. In fact Mrs. Steele continued to deliver lectures on “How to Remain Young Forever”.

Either the Steele’s managed not to disfigure anyone else for the next decade or no one who had been harmed came forward because there was nary peep out of them, except for their advertisements, until 1919.

In December 1919, Gertrude Steele (who by that time was calling herself a doctor) killed her son-in-law George Blaha with an accidental overdose of chloroform. The “doctor” had administered the anesthetic to ease the pain caused by the mixture of chloroform and carbolic acid she had used in an attempt to remove freckles from his face.

Maybe the so-called doctor would be held to answer in criminal court for the death of her son-in-law. Maybe not.

NEXT TIME: Dr. Gertrude Steele’s reign of error continues.