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, 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.

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.

Roofie Romeos, Part 3

Media coverage on date rape drugs was sparse in the early 1990s.  There was one high profile story involving Rophynol in March 1994; and that was the near fatal overdose of Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain. He had combined roofies and champagne in what appeared to have been an accidental O.D.  Tragically Cobain was found dead, apparently by his own hand, a month later.

Kurt Cobain

Kurt Cobain

News coverage on roofies continued sporadically until 1996 when it exploded. The potential for the drug to be used in date rape was a hot topic for women’s magazines and magazines geared toward teenage girls. Oprah Winfrey was one of many TV talk show hosts who covered the dangers of date rape drugs. Discussion of the the drugs wasn’t confined to talk shows; scripted shows like Beverly Hills 90210 and South Park also weighed in.   Women were warned never to leave a drink unattended and to avoid punch bowls at parties.

It may have been the heightened awareness of the existence of date rape drugs that brought the law to the Spitzer’s front door in mid-1996.

On July 9, 1996, 36-year-old flight attendant Kimberly B had a few days off between flights. She was with friends at a sidewalk café in Marina del Rey when she met Stefan and George Spitzer.

George, who introduced himself as Gino, struck up a conversation with Kimberly in the parking lot of the café.  He asked her if she was interested in having an authentic Italian dinner with an authentic Italian.  Kimberly was intrigued because she was planning a trip to Italy.  Maybe the guy could offer insider tips on where to stay and what to see. They exchanged phone numbers.

Kimberly heard from George later that day and they arranged to meet at a local Starbuck’s at 8:00 p.m.  The couple went to Jake and Annie’s restaurant where George ordered a bottle of wine and proceeded to regale his date with increasingly unbelievable tales—like how the movie “The Godfather” was based on his dad. Then he told her he had a Ph.D. in psychology and, among his other amazing accomplishments, he was Raquel Welch’s personal trainer.

RoofiedSymptomsInfographicKimberly easily saw through George’s lies, and it didn’t take long before she had had enough. She knew that there would not be a second date and took immediate steps to put the excruciating evening to an end. She told George she had to be home by 11:00 p.m. to relieve the babysitter who was watching her 6-year-old daughter.  And then she watched the clock.

The kitchen at Jake and Annie’s restaurant was closing so the pair went a couple of blocks over to the World Café where they had dinner and wine. Kimberly had one glass.  Following dinner Kimberly reminded George that she had to be home by 11.  At 10:00 she excused herself to go to the ladies’ room.  She was waiting in line when George came up to her and asked her how long she would be—she was away for about 10 minutes before returning to the table.  She was relieved that her date with the tedious blowhard would soon be over.  With any luck at all she would be home by 10:30.

Kimberly awakened at 5:45 a.m. the next morning and couldn’t get her bearings. The room was spinning. She tried to shake the cobwebs out of her head. She looked around expecting to be in her own bedroom, but she was naked and in bed with George. What the hell had happened?  She remembered nothing after the restaurant.  Dazed and moving in slow motion Kimberly quietly dressed and left the  apartment.  It was a miracle she made it home without incident.

She  ran into George later that day and asked him point blank if they’d had sex.  He denied it. She didn’t believe him.

Kimberly went to the  Los Angeles County Sheriff’s  Marina del Rey substation.  She told deputies that she was certain that a creep who called himself Gino Sorrelle had slipped Rohypnol into her wine glass during dinner the previous night and she wanted to file a complaint. She was taken to a nearby hospital for a rape kit. Semen was found in Kimberly’s vagina and rectum.

Sheriff’s investigators secured a warrant to search the Spitzer’s apartment and they uncovered over 20 videotapes. The tapes showed 12 different women, who appeared to be under the influence, being raped. The rapist wasn’t immediately identified. Dealing with identical twins presents law enforcement with unique problems. The investigators also found 20 boxes of Rohypnol. Is there any legitimate reason for private citizens to have that much Rophynol on hand?

George was arrested on August 7, 1996 and Stefan was arrested a few weeks later. Each of them was held on $2 million bail.

The circus was about to begin.

NEXT TIME: Would the twins finally be held accountable?

The Black Dahlia: Conclusion

Two years passed with police no closer to a solution for the murder of Elizabeth Short. The 1949 Los Angeles Grand Jury intended to hold LAPD’s feet to the fire for failing to solve the Dahlia case and several other unsolved homicides and disappearances of women.

dahlia_herald_3_the black dahliaOn September 6, 1949 the jury’s foreman, Harry Lawson, told reporters that a meeting of the jury’s administrative committee was scheduled for September 8. First on the -committee’s agenda — the unsolved homicides. Lawson said: “There is every possibility that we will summon before the jury officers involved in the investigation of these murders. We find it odd that there are on the books of the Los Angeles Police Deportment many unsolved crimes of this type.”

The Grand Jury further concluded that: “Because of the nature of these murder and sex crimes women and children are constantly placed in jeopardy and are not safe from attack.” They also decided that something is “radically wrong with the present system for apprehending the guilty, the alarming increase in the number of unsolved murders and other major crimes reflects ineffectiveness in law enforcement agencies and the courts and that should not be tolerated.” jeanne and frank pic

I would argue that the jury and law enforcement had not yet adapted to changes in the post-war world. Cops were unaccustomed to stranger murders; and I believe several of the women whose cases they had been investigating were killed or taken by either a complete stranger or a recent acquaintance Then, as now, when a woman is murdered her killer is usually her husband, boyfriend or another man in her life. It is my contention that it wasn’t corruption within law enforcement agencies that prevented them from solving crimes “of this type”. The police were doing solid detective work but their investigative methods hadn’t caught up with the times. There were men walking the streets of Los Angeles who had been severely damaged by their war experiences–how many of them were capable of murder?

 Murder Car -- this is the auto in which the body of Mrs. Louise Springer was found slain.  The car was parked at 136 W. 38th St.  The discover has touched off the widest man hunt since the slaying of the Black Dahlia.

Murder Car — this is the auto in which the body of Mrs. Louise Springer was found slain. The car was parked at 136 W. 38th St. The discovery touched off the widest man hunt since the slaying of the Black Dahlia.

LAPD detectives did their due diligence in Short’s slaying. There were more than 2700 reports taken on the case. There were over 300 named suspects. Fifty had been arrested and subsequently released. There had been nineteen confessions–none of which panned out.

In 1949 the DA’s office issued a report on the investigation into Short’s murder. In part the report stated: “[she] knew at least fifty men at the time of her death and at least 25 men had been seen with her within the 60 day period preceding her death. She was not a prostitute. She has been confused with a Los Angeles prostitute by the same name…She was known as a teaser of men. She would ride with them, chisel a place to sleep, clothes or money, but she would then refuse to have sexual intercourse by telling them that she was a virgin or that she was engaged or married. There were three known men who did have sexual intercourse with her and according to them she got no pleasure out of this act. According to the autopsy surgeon her sex organs indicated female trouble. She was known to have disliked queer women very much as well as prostitutes. She was never known to be a narcotic addict.”

Jean Spangler [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Jean Spangler [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Good intentions didn’t get the grand jury any concrete answers to the unsolved homicides or disappearances.. The jury was sidetracked by the continuing saga of local gangster Mickey Cohen and other issues which demanded their attention. In the end they passed the baton to the 1950 grand jury. But they, too, were sidetracked by other issues.

Despite the efforts of the grand jury, the homicides or disappearances of the following women remain unsolved to this day: Elizabeth Short, Jeanne French, Rosenda Mondragon, Laura Trelstad, Gladys Kern, Louise Springer, Mimi Boomhower, and Jean Spangler.

NOTE: This concludes my Black Dahlia posts for 2017. I invite you to stay with me as I unearth more of L.A.’s most deranged crimes.

The Black Dahlia: Confessions of a Benzedrine Eater

charles_lynchA couple of weeks following the one year anniversary of the slaying of Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia, LAPD detectives were still trying to solve the case that would eventually become L.A.’s most infamous unsolved homicide.

Cops thought maybe they’d finally caught a break in the case when twenty-three year old Charles E. Lynch telephoned the homicide squad asking that they come and arrest him for Short’s slaying.

Lynch was arrested and brought to the Central Jail to be interrogated.  The young transient was questioned at length by Det. Lts. Harry Hansen and Finis A. Brown, the two detectives who had been assigned to the case since January 15, 1947 when Short’s body was found in a Leimert Park vacant lot.  Dr. J. Paul DeRiver, police psychiatrist, accompanied Hansen and Brown to the questioning of their new suspect.

It didn’t take long for the seasoned detectives and the shrink to conclude that Lynch was lying to them; and when he was challenged on the details of his confession Lynch promptly repudiated it.

Of course the detectives wanted to know what had motivated Lynch to confess to the gruesome murder in the first place, and that’s when he told them that the idea came to him after he read a newspaper “one year anniversary” account of the crime.benz_headline

The newspaper account of the Black Dahlia case may have given initially motivated Lynch to confess, but his real inspiration came from a Benzedrine inhaler.  He told Hansen, Brown and DeRiver that he bought an inhaler, tore off the wrapper, ate the contents and washed them down with a glass of water — it was then, Lynch said, that he decided to confess.

NEXT TIME: Conclusion of the Black Dahlia case.

The Black Dahlia: Could A Woman Be The Killer?

00010485_beth_sketch

Sketch of Jane Doe #1 prior to her ID as Elizabeth Short.

Max Handler with Det. Ed Barrett (in hat and glasses). [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Max Handler with Det. Ed Barrett (in hat and glasses). [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Dozens of men had been interviewed as possible suspects in the murder of Elizabeth Short. None of the interviews had panned out. A seemingly endless stream of false confessors appeared at various police stations around town; guys like Max Handler, a film bit player, who was the 25th man to claim he had murdered the Black Dahlia. During a lie detector test he admitted that his confession was false and that he “wanted to get away from a gang of men who have been following me constantly”. In the photo he looks to have been on a lobotomizing bender.

Daniel S. Voorhies, a 33 year old army vet, also confessed to killing Short. He said that he’d had an affair with her in L.A. — the problem with his story was that at the time he claimed that he and Short were having a torrid affair, Beth was a very young teenager living on the east coast.

The local landscape was littered with crumpled up false confessions given by every sad drunk and deranged publicity seeker — and most of the confessors were men; but not all of them.

False confessor, Minnie Sepulveda. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

False confessor, Minnie Sepulveda. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

A gal named Minnie Sepulveda stepped up and said that she had killed the Black Dahlia. She hadn’t.

Mrs. Marie Grieme said that she had heard a Chicago woman confess to the Black Dahlia’ murder. Her story didn’t lead anywhere.

Even though none of the women who had confessed had been guilty, the cops were beginning to think that it wasn’t out of the question that Short’s slayer had been a woman. After all, L.A. had had its share of female killers.

The Herald ran side-by-side photos of three infamous homicidal women who had been busted in L.A., Louise Peete (one of only four women ever to have been executed by the State of California) was a serial killer. She’d been busted for murder in the 1920s, did eighteen years, and following her release from prison committed yet another murder for which she paid with her life.

dahlia_herald_16_women_killersWinnie Ruth Judd committed two murders in Arizona. She was busted in L.A. when a trunk containing the dismembered remains of Hedvig Samuelson and Anne Le Roi began to get a little ripe and leak bodily fluids in the baggage claim section of a local train station.

winnie_ruth_trunks_00021264

Winnie Ruth Judd’s trunks. [Photo courtesy LAPL]

In 1922, Clara Phillips (aka “Tiger Girl”) murdered Alberta Meadows, the woman she suspected was a rival for her husband’s affections. She struck Meadows repeatedly with a hammer and, for the coup de gras, she rolled a 50 lb. boulder on top of the corpse.

Body of Alberta Meadows -- victim of Clara Phillips' wrath. [Photo courtesy of UCLA]

Body of Alberta Meadows — victim of Clara Phillips’ wrath. [Photo courtesy of UCLA]

So, the notion that a woman could be Short’s killer wasn’t far-fetched at all. The Herald had featured a series of columns written by psychologist Alice La Vere. La Vere had previously profiled Short’s killer as a young man without a criminal record, but she was very open to the idea of a female killer. She abruptly shifted gears from identifying a young man as the slayer to “…a sinister Lucrezia Borgia — a butcher woman whose crime dwarfs any in the modern crime annals — are shadowed over the mutilated body of 22-year-old Elizabeth Short.”

Obviously La Vere was an expert for hire, and if the Herald editors had asked her to write a convincing profile of the killer as a mutant alien from Mars, she’d likely have done it. Still, she made some compelling comments in her column for the newspaper.

“Murders leave behind them a trail of fingerprints, bits of skin and hair. The slayer of “The Black Dahlia” left the most tell-tale clue of all–the murder pattern of a degenerate, vicious feminine mind.”

Even more interesting was La Vere’s exhortation to the cops to look for an older woman. She said:

“Police investigators should look for a woman older than ‘The Black Dahlia’. This woman who either inspired the crime or actually committed the ghastly, unspeakable, outrage, need not be a woman of great strength. Extreme emotion or high mental tension in men and women give great, superhuman strength.”

If you compare Alice La Vere’s profile of the possible killer to a profile created by John E. Douglas, who is retired from the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) — La Vere’s sixty-nine year old profile holds up rather well.

What I find interesting about La Vere’s profile of a female perpetrator is that she said that the woman would be older than Short. In recent years an older woman did become an integral part of a theory about the crime.

It is a theory put forward by researcher, Larry Harnisch. Larry wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times on the fiftieth anniversary of Short’s death. Subsequently, he has done a lot more digging into the case and has unearthed an important connection between the body dump site near 39th and Norton, and two medical doctors. One of the doctors, Walter Alonzo Bayley, had lived in a house just one block south of the place where Elizabeth Short’s body had been discovered. At the time of the murder he was estranged from his wife who still occupied the home. Bayley had left his wife for his mistress, Alexandra Partyka, also a medical doctor. Partyka had emigrated to the U.S. and wasn’t licensed to practice medicine, but she did assist Bayley in his practice.

bayley_partyka2Following Bayley’s death in January 1948, Partyka and Dr. Bayley’s wife, Ruth, fought over control of his estate. Mrs. Bayley claimed that Partyka had been blackmailing the late doctor with secrets about his medical practice that could have ruined him.

There is also a link between Bayley’s family and Short’s. In 1945 Dr. Bayley’s adopted daughters, Barbara Lindgren, was a witness to the marriage of Beth’s sister, Virginia Short, to Adrian West at a church in Inglewood, California, near Los Angeles.

Larry discussed Dr. Bayley in James Ellroy’s 2001 “Feast of Death”. [Note: Be forewarned that there are photos of Elizabeth Short in the morgue.]

It is clear that a woman could have murdered Elizabeth Short; but could the woman have been Dr. Bayley’s mistress, Alexandra Partyka? The chances are that we’ll never know–or at least not until Larry Harnisch finishes his book on the case.

NEXT TIME: Another confession, and another murder.

The Black Dahlia: The Case Goes Cold — Or Does It?

beth_flowerElizabeth Short’s murder dominated the front pages of the Evening Herald & Express for days following the discovery of her body in Leimert Park on January 15, 1947..

But even in a murder case as sensational as that of the Black Dahlia the more time that elapses following the crime the fewer clues there are on which to report. The fact that the case was going cold didn’t dampen the Herald’s enthusiastic coverage one little bit. The paper sought out psychiatrists psychologists, and mystery writers who would attempt, each in his/her own way, to analyze the case and fill column space in the paper as they, and the cops, waited for a break. Decades before the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) was founded the shrinks and writers whose work appeared in the Herald were engaging in speculative profiles of both the victim and her killer.

One of the psychologists tapped by the Herald to contribute her analysis of the victim and slayer was Alice La Vere.  La Vere was introduced as “…one of the nation’s most noted consulting psychologists”. According to the newspaper, Miss La Vere would give to readers: “an analysis of the motives which led to the torture murder of beautiful 22-year-old Elizabeth Short”. La Vere’s analysis seems surprisingly contemporary.

Here is an excerpt from her profile of Short’s personality:

“Some gnawing feeling of inadequacy was eating at the mind of this girl. She needed constant proof to herself that she was important to someone and demonstrates this need by the number of suitors and admirers with which she surrounded herself.”

La Vere went on to describe the killer:

“It is very likely that this is the first time this boy has committed any crime. It is also likely that he may be a maladjusted veteran. The lack of social responsibility experienced by soldiers, their conversational obsession with sex, their nerves keyed to battle pitch — these factors are crime-breeding.” She further stated: “Repression of the sex impulse accompanied by environmental maladjustment is the slayer’s probable background.”

How does La Vere’s profile of Elizabeth Short and her killer compare the analysis by retired FBI profiler John Douglas? Douglas suggested that Beth was “needy” and that her killer would have “spotted her a mile away”. He said that the killer “would have been a lust killer and loved hurting people.”

On the salient points, I’d say that La Vere and Douglas were of like minds regarding Elizabeth Short and her killer — wouldn’t you?craig_rice_Time

At the time of Elizabeth Short’s murder, mystery writer Craig Rice (pseudonym of Georgiana Ann Randolph Walker Craig) was one of the most popular crime writers in the country. In its January 28, 1946 issue,TIME magazine selected Rice for a cover feature on the mystery genre. Sadly, Rice has been largely forgotten by all except the most avid mystery geeks (like me).

Craig Rice was invited by the Herald to give her take on the Black Dahlia case in late January 1947. Rice described Elizabeth Short in this way:

“A black dahlia is what expert gardeners call ‘an impossibility’ of nature. Perhaps that is why lovely, tragic Elizabeth Short was tortured, murdered and mutilated Because such a crime could happen only in the half-world in which she lived. A world of–shadows.”

NEXT TIME: Did a woman kill the Black Dahlia?

 

The Black Dahlia: Aggie Gets Off the Bench

Prior to being benched by her city editor, Aggie had made some headway in her coverage of Elizabeth Short’s murder. She had interviewed Robert “Red” Manley, the first suspect in the case, and had concluded that he was innocent. Her interview had earned her a by-line. As far as I know she was the only Los Angeles reporter to get a by-line in the case.

dahlia_herald_14_aggie_bylineIn her 1949 autobiography, Newspaperwoman, Aggie said that she came across Elizabeth’s nickname when she was checking in with Ray Giese, a LAPD homicide detective-lieutenant. According to Aggie, Giese said: “This is something you might like, Agness. I’ve found out they called her the ‘Black Dahlia’ around that drug store where she hung out down in Long Beach.”

Like it? Aggie loved it. Los Angeles, in particular the Hearst newspapers, seemed to have a penchant for naming homicide cases after flowers. Over the years orchids, roses, and gardenias would feature in many grim headlines.

Aggie longed to be back in the field chasing leads and sniffing out suspects, but she was officially off the case for the second time. After a few days of sitting at her desk working on an embroidery project, to the amusement of her co-workers and the dismay of her supervisors, an announcement was made that Aggie’s new assignment would be the city desk. She was flabbergasted. She had just become one of the first women in the United States to hold a city editorship on a major metropolitan daily!

Aggie at a crime scene (not the Dahlia) c. 1940s.

Aggie at a crime scene (not the Dahlia) c. 1940s.

Why had Aggie been removed from the Black Dahlia case in the first place? There are those who believe that there was a cover-up and that Aggie was getting too close to a solution to Short’s murder, so someone with enough juice had her promoted to keep her out of the way. That doesn’t make sense to me, as city editor she directed the activities of all the reporters working the case, and she wasn’t the sort of person who could have been bought. Nevertheless, the timing of Aggie’s promotion remains an intriguing part Dahlia lore.

With Aggie back in the thick of things, the Herald continued to follow every lead. Sadly, the victim of a homicide is often re-victimized by the press. Murder victims lose their right to privacy; all of their secrets are revealed, and in an effort to fill column space while multiple leads were being tracked, the Herald looked to psychiatrists, Elizabeth’s acquaintances, and even mystery writers, to speculate on the case, which they did with creative abandon.

The psychiatrist whose expert opinion was sought by the Herald was Dr. Paul De River, LAPD’s very own shrink. He wrote a series of articles for the paper in which he attempted to analyze the mind of the killer. De River wrote that the killer was a sadist and suggested that: “during the killing episode, he had an opportunity to pump up affect from two sources — from his own sense of power and in overcoming the resistance of another. He was the master and the victim was the slave”.

Dr. De River

Dr. De River

In one of his most chilling statements, De River hinted at necrophilia—he  said: “It must also be remembered that sadists of this type have a super-abundance of curiosity and are liable to spend much time with their victims after the spark of life has flickered and died”.

People who had only a fleeting acquaintance with Elizabeth (who frequently called herself Betty or Beth) were interviewed by reporters  and they weighed in on everything from her hopes and dreams to her love life. Beth was, by turns, described as “a man-crazy delinquent”, and a girl with “childlike charm and beauty”. The interviews yielded nothing of value in the hunt for Beth’s killer.

The cops weren’t having any better luck.

 NEXT TIME: The Black Dahlia case goes cold. Or does it?