Summer of ’69: August 12th — Rosemary & Leno LaBianca

The big story in Los Angeles on August 12, 1969 was the release of nineteen-year-old William Garretson, the caretaker at the Cielo Drive estate where five people and the unborn son of Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski murdered a few days before.

William Garretson (center)

 

William was the only survivor of the slaughter which made him suspect number one. Police arrested William at the point of a shotgun and grilled him for hours. He agreed to take a polygraph test and passed.  Inspector Harold Yarnell said: “There is not sufficient evidence to hold Garretson.  There is no reason to suspect him.”

Wearing a deer-in-the-headlights expression on his face, William’s attorney, Barry Tarlow, escorted him through the lobby of LAPD’s administration building. The nineteen-year-old, who appeared on the verge of tears, declined to answer any of the barrage of questions called out to him by eager news reporters.  He let his lawyer do the talking.

Tarlow told reporters his client said goodnight to Steven Parent at 11:30 p.m. Friday, then went back inside the guesthouse to listen to his stereo.  He wasn’t aware of anything until LAPD officers kicked in his door and took him away on Saturday morning.

William shared an address with Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski, but they lived on different planets.  Sharon and Roman were in the movie industry; they were among the “beautiful people.” Roman’s big break came in June 1968 with the release of “Rosemary’s Baby.”  His career as an A-list director was underway.

Still a teenager, William wasn’t sure what he wanted out of life. He spoke to his mother of an interest in acting, but his aspiration was as common as a cold and easier to catch when live in L.A. Thousands of young people flock to the city seeking stardom – they have been coming here since the 1910s.  Far from hanging out with the beautiful people, William had more in common with “Hollywood Blvd drifters, hitchhikers, and drugstore cowboys,” many of whom he brought home with him when they needed a place to crash.

Police wanted to speak to members of both groups – killers defy social strata. William offered names of people he knew, but he didn’t believe any of them capable of the murders on Cielo Drive.

William’s release featured prominently on the front page of the Los Angeles Times, but there was another intriguing and disturbing story on page 3.  The double murder in Los Feliz of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca.

Leno, 44, and Rosemary, 37, were stabbed to death Sunday in their home at 3301 Waverly Drive. The killing of the couple was similar in many to ways to the murders of Sharon Tate and her friends on Saturday.  Police Sergeant Bryce Houchin said, “There is a similarity in the slayings. But whether it’s the same suspect or a copycat, we just don’t know.”

Sgt. Houchin appeared open to the idea that the murders could be connected, but in their official statements LAPD wouldn’t go that far.

On August 12, 1969, reporter Bruce Russell wrote:

Whispers that a psychotic killer was after wealthy resident of isolated homes in the Hollywood hills continued after the murder of Miss Tate and the four others was followed a day later by that of a rich supermarket owner and his wife in a plush home 12 miles away.

IN BOTH SETS of slayings the word “Pig” was smeared in blood at the murder scene, hoods covered the heads of males slain and women had cords around their throats.

Police have showed that the two bloodbaths were unconnected. They said the more recent murders of a grocery chain owner Leno La Bianca, 44, and his wife Rosemary, 37, were those of a psychotic cashing in on the publicity of the so-called Tate murders.

But fear-stricken Hollywood residents rushed to buy guns yesterday for self-protection.

Hollywood glitterati panicked.  They ripped the names and numbers of their drug dealers out of their little black books and waited for the killer’s arrest so life could return to normal.

No one, except some Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department homicide investigators, gave a thought to the gruesome killing that pre-dated the August rampage, the murder of Gary Hinman.

 

 

Summer of ’69: August 9th — Murder on Cielo Drive

It was a few minutes into August 9, 1969, and Mrs. Seymour Kott of 10170 Cielo Drive heard a series of claps. She couldn’t identify the source or location of the noise and so she went back to sleep.

Winifred Chapman, maid for director Roman Polanski and his wife actress Sharon Tate, arrived at their home at the far end of Cielo Drive at 8:30 a.m. to begin work. The quiet street is a cul-de-sac between Beverly Glen and Benedict Canyon. Birds chirping, a dog barking or the occasional coyote call are about the only sounds you hear; but there was an unnatural quality to the stillness that morning.

Winifred Chapman

Winifred saw a white two-door Rambler sedan in the driveway.  She didn’t recognize the car and approached it with caution.  She saw a young man behind the wheel slumped over toward the passenger seat. There was blood on his shirt and his left arm.

As she continued toward the sprawling home she found the body of Voytek Frykowski on the front lawn.

Under a fir tree, about 20 yards away, she found Abigail Folger’s bloody body.

The horror followed Winifred into the living room.  Sharon Tate, 8 ½ months pregnant and dressed in her bra and bikini bottom, had a bloody nylon cord wrapped around her neck. The cord looped around a beam in the ceiling.   Someone tied the other end of the cord around Jay Sebring’s neck and placed a black hood on his head.

Terrified, Winifred ran to a neighbor’s home for help.  Fifteen-year-old Jim Asim was preparing to leave when she stopped him screaming, “there’s bodies and blood all over the place!”

Victims being transported to morgue

Asim, a member of Law Enforcement Troop 800 of the Boy Scouts, called the police.  Moments later six LAPD black and whites roared up Cielo Drive to its end where there is a wire gate outside the Polanski residence.  Guns drawn; the officers entered the property. They heard a dog howling behind a guest house and a man’s voice shouted for it to be quiet.

Wire gate outside Polanski residence.

In the guest house, nineteen-year-old William Etson Garretson looked up to see his doorway crowded with police. They had shotguns trained on him.  He was still half asleep, dressed only in pin-striped bell-bottoms.  He did not understand why the cops were there.

After several hours of questioning, they took Garretson into custody and arrested him on suspicion of murder. As the only living person on the premises he was the obvious suspect.  Yet there was no physical evidence tying him to the deaths.

Police in Garretson’s hometown of Lancaster, Ohio, told LAPD investigators the kid had committed one offense of little consequence.  He received a two-year suspended jail sentence in 1967 for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.  Mary Garretson, his 42-year-old mother, told police her son left home in October 1968 “without saying goodbye but had written saying he hoped to return home soon.”

William Garretson (center)

Garretson was a quiet kid and lacked the personality to take control of five adults and viciously murder them.

Garretson didn’t even work for the Polanski’s and had only a vague notion of who they were.  He lived in the guest house and kept to himself.  The property owner, Rudy Altabelli employed him as a caretaker

In Europe when he received the news of the slayings, Altabelli offered no reason for the murders.

Someone cut the telephone lines into the home, which suggested a plan. There was no weapon at the scene except for pieces of a pistol grip.

Telephone line

It was 1969, so it was no surprise that all the victims wore “hippie type” clothes – their mode of dress was enough for the police to search for drugs. They found none.  As far investigators could tell nothing appeared to be missing – which ruled out robbery as a motive.

They found evidence of a struggle and wondered; why had not one of the five victims escaped the carnage?

As LAPD detectives followed scant leads to dead-ends, talk on the street was of the upcoming Aquarian Exposition in White Lake, New York. Many people from L.A. planned to make the trek. Billed as three days of peace and music, the festival promised to be amazing. The younger generation had a chip on its shoulder and something to prove. Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. Fuck Nixon. Fuck the War. Life is beautiful, man.

The dream was already dead.

NEXT TIME:  Two more murders.

Death of a Coed, Part 2

Sheriff’s investigators first believed someone kidnapped Marina. They, and her parents, waited for a ransom demand.  The wait ended almost as soon as it began with the discovery of Marina’s body in the heavy brush down a 30-foot embankment in the 8800 block of Mulholland.

Associated Press index card for Marina Habe

Sheriff’s homicide investigator, Lieutenant Norman Hamilton, told reporters they could not tell if her killer threw or carried Marina down the slope.  Marina still wore the brown capris, white turtleneck sweater and a brown coat with fur cuffs that she wore when she left John Hornburg’s house for her mother’s home.

There were no obvious signs sexual assault.  An autopsy, conducted by coroner Thomas Noguchi, determined Marina’s cause of death as exsanguination and found no evidence of rape. The small amount of cash in Marina’s wallet seemed to rule out robbery as the cause of her abduction and murder.

Her car, left in her mother’s driveway, had the emergency brake pulled up.  Investigators said that it took great strength to get the brake into that position and it was doubtful that Marina could have done it on her own.

Lt. Hamilton speculated that her killer (s) abducted Marina and intended to rape her, but she resisted.  According to Hamilton,  In recent weeks Eloise’s neighborhood, located  three blocks below Sunset Boulevard, was the scene of several recent rapes.

The autopsy revealed that Marina’s killer (s), cut her throat, severing her left carotid artery, and stabbed her multiple times in the chest.  She suffered two black eyes inflicted by a fist and someone beat her with a “small blunt object.” She bled to death.  Despite no physical evidence of forcible rape, detectives felt Marina’s death was an attempted sex crime.

Her parents and 350 others mourned the pretty coed at her funeral. Marina converted to Catholicism in 1966 and they held a requiem Mass for her in the Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Beverly Hills.  Father Acton, who knew Marina in life, said, “We wonder about a society, the products of which can be a large in our midst and capable of such heinous crimes.  There you have the perfect formula for bitterness, resentment, hatred, perhaps despair.  This we must guard against.”

Church of the Good Shepherd, Beverly Hills

Sheriff’s Lieutenant Harold White joined in the hunt for Marina’s killer (s).  He said, “We’re tying very hard. But we have turned up nothing that is even remotely interesting.  There are all kinds of things to check out, but there’s nothing conclusive.”

White told reporters they assigned six homicide investigators to the case full-time and 20 deputies were also working the case.  Despite their best efforts, Marina’s case went cold.

NEXT TIME: Is Marina’s murder connected to a Jane Doe case, and is Charles Manson involved?

Death of a Latin Lover, Conclusion

From the moment they entered the case, LAPD kept mum about the weapon used to batter Ramon Novarro to death.  However, at trial the prosecution revealed the sad fact that Ramon was beaten with a cane, a memento from one of his films.  It couldn’t have been more personal, nor more poignant.

Deputy District Attorney James Ideman said he intended to show that Paul and Thomas Ferguson tortured Ramon to death while trying to find out where he hid his money. Ideman described how the 69-year-old former film heartthrob was beaten and then taken into a shower and revived so he could be questioned further.

The seven man, five woman jury listened to Ideman’s description of Ramon’s violent end at the hands of the young hustlers who accepted his hospitality, and then left him on his bed with his hands tied behind him, to drown in his own blood.

Photograph caption dated July 28, 1969 reads, “Paul Robert Ferguson confers with attorneys at opening of murder trial. Richard Walton, left, and Dorothy Montoya represented accused at beginning of jury selection.” [Photo & caption courtesy LAPL]

Forever in need of money, Paul telephoned Ramon on the day of the murder and introduced himself as a relative of Ramon’s acquaintance, Larry (Paul’s brother-in-law).  Paul arranged to see Ramon that evening. He arrived with his brother Thomas and following dinner and drinks they demanded money.  Ramon was wealthy, but never kept large sums at home, in fact, that night he had $45 in his wallet.

The prosecution’s case hinged on three points: (1) fingerprints, (2) the fact that it was impossible for Ramon to have written the name “Larry” with his hands tied and (3) Thomas’ telephone call to his girlfriend in Chicago from Ramon’s house.

As far as anyone could tell, the brothers intended to blame each other for Ramon’s murder.  The main points in their strategy were: (1) blame the other brother and (2) mental illness.

Lawyer Cletus Hanifin, right, with murder suspects Tom (left) and Paul Ferguson. Photograph dated September 25, 1969. [Photo & caption courtesy LAPL]

Victor Nichols, a real estate investor and friend of Paul’s, testified that Paul and Thomas came to his Hollywood apartment after midnight on October 31.  They weren’t trick-or-treating, they were in trouble. According to Victor, Paul said: “Vic, I’d like to see you . . . we are in some trouble. Tom hit Ramon . . . Ramon is dead.”

Victor gave Paul a cup of coffee to sober him up as Tom slept on the sofa.  Victor’s guests made him nervous. He didn’t want to be involved in a murder.  After Paul finished his coffee, Victor suggested he awaken Tom and leave.  When Victor asked, “How could you do such a thing?”  Thomas replied: “I hit him several times very hard and he is dead.”

Victor gave them $8 for cab fare and sent them on their way.

Paul took the stand and gave his version of the night of the murder.  He said he went into Ramon’s bedroom and found him lying on the floor. He was covered in blood and his hands were tied behind him.  “I touched him on the shoulder.  He felt starchy . . . tight, like paper . . . “, said Paul.

From his chair at the defense table, Thomas starred daggers at his brother and shook his head as if he couldn’t believe the lies coming out of Paul’s mouth.

Paul claimed he wanted to phone the police, but Thomas vetoed the plan and suggested they stage a robbery. His attorney asked Paul why he would go along with Thomas’ plan, he answered, “Stupidness.”

Paul’s attorney asserted his client had no reason to kill Ramon because he thought the actor was a “nice guy”, and because Ramon said he might become a “superstar”.  Paul said, “He (Novarro) said I could be a young Burt Lancaster or another Clint Eastwood.”

By the time Ramon met the  Fergusons, Paul already had a minor career in the seedier side of show business.  He was a nude model, and may have appeared in porno films.  Ramon knew nothing about Paul’s career, but perhaps he saw a reflection of himself in the good looking younger man.

Paul Ferguson

The trial continued with the brothers blaming each other for the murder. Paul insisted he slept during the crime because he downed a fifth of vodka, some beer and tequila. Until Thomas awakened him and said, “This guy is dead” he was oblivious to Ramon’s screams and cries for help.  How did Paul take the news of Ramon’s death? He said he was “just plain sad.”  Thomas’ attorney asked Paul, “Why were you sad if you didn’t do it?”

Ramon in the tub.

“I was just sad because Ramon was dead . . . I had just had two weeks of bad luck and now I was thrown into this thing . . . I wanted to know why everything was happening,” Paul responded.

What was the bad luck plaguing Paul? His job sucked and his wife left him.  Small problems compared to a man’s life. Paul admitted under oath that he considered suicide rather than face trial, but he rejected the idea.  Asked why, Paul said, “I want to live.”

Neither Paul nor Thomas would admit to the murder, each blamed the other. There was some evidence to suggest Thomas was pressured by Paul and his mother to take the blame and he gave it a half-hearted try. As a juvenile he could not be sentenced to death.

On Wednesday, September 17, 1969, Paul and Thomas Ferguson faced the jury.  If the plan was to save Paul from the gas chamber, it worked. Paul and Thomas received life sentences for first degree murder.

Prison agreed with Paul. Maybe it provided the structured environment he lacked on the outside. He was on the prison’s radio station and found his voice through creative writing.  In 1975, he won a P.E.N. award for a short story, “Dream No Dreams.”

Thomas’ incarceration did not go well.  He was constantly in trouble and spent much of his time in solitary for attempted escapes and other infractions of prison rules.  It is easy to get drugs in prison, and Thomas got strung out on coke and glue.

Paul and Thomas never saw or spoke to each other again after they were released in 1976.

Parole wasn’t the start of a new life for either brother. Thomas was busted for rape in 1987. He spent four years in prison.  When he did not register as a sex offender he was busted again. On March 6, 2005, Thomas went to a Motel 6 and cut his throat. He didn’t leave a note.

By 2012, Paul was once again in prison. This time it was for rape. Unless he wins an appeal, he can look forward to 60 years in a Missouri prison.

 

Death of a Latin Lover, Part 3

Ramon Novarro’s funeral. [Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library]

LAPD Detective Lauritzen played it cagey with the press when they asked for details regarding the arrests of Paul and Thomas Ferguson. He said only that they had “physical evidence” of the brothers’ involvement in Ramon’s murder. The reporters interpreted Lauritzen’s comments to mean they found fingerprints at the crime scene. The County Grand Jury indicted the Fergusons and they arraigned the brothers in a Van Nuys courtroom.

Attorney Cletus Hanifin (second from left) confers with murder suspect Paul Ferguson (left) while another attorney talks with Ferguson’s brother and fellow suspect Thomas (second from right). [Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library]

Busted in early November, the brothers awaited trail in county lockup. Early in December new drama in the case erupted with a report that Paul attempted to gouge out his own eyes.  At first he told jailers other inmates attacked him, but they proved he injured himself. If he hoped to eradicate the vision Ramon’s murder from his memory, he should have plunged a knife into his heart. The general feeling was that Paul’s self-inflicted injuries were an attempt to garner sympathy.

The police found more than fingerprints at Ramon’s home. While Paul beat Ramon in another room, Thomas was on the telephone with his girlfriend of six months, Brenda Lee Metcalf. Brenda flew out to Los Angeles on the county’s dime to testify before the Grand Jury. She was a wealth of information about the night of the murder.

She testified that Thomas told her he and Paul were at Ramon’s house because the actor was going to get him into the movies—then he said no, it was Paul who Ramon was going to get into pictures. While he chain-smoked cigarettes and drank beer, Thomas told Brenda, “… he knew there was $5,000 somewhere in the house behind a picture.” Thomas and Paul had plans for Ramon’s money. Brenda said, “They would tie him up to find out where the money was.”  Brenda told Thomas not to get into trouble.  Brenda said, “He said no matter what happened, he wasn’t going to have nothing to do with it because he didn’t want to get in any trouble.”  The screams she heard in the background sound like trouble to her.  “He (Thomas) said he (Paul) was just probably trying to scare him or hit him with something.”

As the phone called neared an end, Thomas said, “Well, I better go now because I’m going to see what’s happening. . . I don’t want Paul to hurt Ramon.”

Another woman surfaced in the case, Paul’s estranged wife, Mary.  Mary identified the mysterious “Larry” – the name scrawled several places at the murder scene.  Larry was Paul’s brother-in-law, the person Paul blamed for his problems with Mary. Paul’s attempt to frame his brother-in-law was amateur hour, but then nothing about the crime was a stroke of genius.

Brenda received one last telephone call from Tom during his stay in Los Angeles. He telephoned her on November 2.  He said, “Well you know about Novarro.  He is dead.  When I bent down over him I saw he was dead and that if we have enough money, we’ll fly back.  Otherwise, we will have to hitchhike back.  Before they could leave Los Angeles County, they were in police custody.

On August 5, 1969, four days before the murders of Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger, Voytek Frykowski and Steven Parent at Tate’s rented home on Cielo Drive, Paul and Thomas were on trial for Ramon’s murder.

The jury of seven men and five women heard Deputy District Attorney James Ideman outline the State’s case in his opening statement. He said he would prove that the brothers tortured Ramon to death on October 30 while trying to discover a hidden cache of money.

Paul and Thomas did not differ from any of the other idiot criminals who murdered people they believed kept large amounts of cash at home.

Defendants Jack Santo (left), Emmett Perkins (center) and Barbara Graham (right) in court for the murder of Mabel Monohan.  [Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library]

On March 9, 1953, in Burbank, California, Barbara Graham, Emmett Perkins, Jack Santo, John True and Baxter Shorter invaded the home of Mabel Monohan, a widow. The gang believed she kept a large amount of cash in a safe for her former son-in-law, a professional gambler and local mob affiliate,  Tutor Scherer. The gang walked away with nothing but a ticket to the “green room” (San Quentin’s gas chamber).

Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, two ex-cons, made the same mistake in 1959 in Holcomb, Kansas.  They believed a cellmate when he told them one of his former employers, a farmer named Herb Clutter, was rich and kept his money in a home safe.  It was a tall tale, told by an idiot, to two other morons who believed it. Hickock and Smith executed Herb, his wife Bonnie Mae, and the couple’s two teenage children, Kenyon and Nancy. The killers walked away with fifty dollars in cash, a pair of binoculars and a transistor radio.  Hickock and Smith went to the gallows on April 14, 1965 on the grounds of Leavenworth prison.

Truman Capote with his bestseller, In Cold Blood. [Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library]

Truman Capote turned the sordid murders into a brilliant narrative in the mostly true account of the case, In Cold Blood.

Paul and Thomas made the same mistake as their predecessors, but would they pay the same price?

NEXT TIME: Paul and Thomas Ferguson pay for Ramon’s murder.

Death of a Latin Lover, Part 1

The calendar may turn a page, but crime is a continuum.

At 8:30 a.m. on October 31, 1968, forty-two-year-old Edward Weber let himself into the home of his employer at 3110 Laurel Canyon Boulevard.  As he always did, Edward entered the home through the kitchen door with his key . Once inside, he knew immediately that something was wrong.

Edward Weber [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Furniture was overturned in the living room and den, and there were what appeared to be bloodstains in at least three rooms in the house.  When Edward entered the master bedroom he found the nude, bludgeoned body of his employer, actor and former silent film superstar, Ramon Novarro.

The 69-year-old’s face and torso showed unmistakable signs of a brutal beating. Edward phoned the police.

Los Angeles Police Department Lieutenant  Lauritzen spoke to reporters, “We have no evidence yet of anything missing.  Of course, this is a large house, and contains many valuable items.” The lieutenant would not speculate on the weapon used in the murder. However, it was revealed that the blood at the scene was dry, indicating the crime was committed several hours before Edward made his sad discovery.

The police were puzzled. Ramon had no known enemies and the house was not broken into. Ramon had likely known his killer.

Ramon was smart with his money and invested in real estate. His residence on Laurel Canyon is impressive, but even more extraordinary is the home he owned in Los Feliz.  In 1928, Ramon’s then business manager Louis Samuel used money he embezzled from the actor to build his dream home.  When Ramon discovered the theft, he took ownership of the place and hired Lloyd Wright (Frank’s son) to design an expansion. It is an astonishing home and was owned and restored in the 1990s by Diane Keaton.

Ramon Novarro home in Los Feliz. Photo found at Archinect.com

At the time of his murder Ramon was worth between $500k and $1M, giving police ample reason to wonder if money was the motive for the slaying.

First, they would follow the trail of clues left behind at the scene. The most intriguing of them was bloody clothing, a man’s denim shirt, pants and underwear, found discarded on a neighbor’s fence 40 yards from the home.

Ramon’s cause of death was pending an autopsy. Police could only hope that between the results of the autopsy and the clues left at the scene they could find a killer.

 

NEXT TIME:  Extra detectives assigned to Ramon’s brutal murder find important physical evidence belong to a killer, or killers. The case continues into 1969.

 

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 throughout the 1940s.

On 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 were 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:

“Because of the nature of these murder and sex crimes women and children are constantly placed in jeopardy and are not safe from attack.”

The jury criticized law enforcement:

“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 were investigating were killed or taken by either a complete stranger or a recent acquaintance.

Then, as now, when a woman is killed, the person responsible 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 the crimes. 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 were 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 were diligent in their investigation into Short’s slaying. They took over 2700 reports. There were over 300 named suspects. Fifty were arrested and subsequently released. There were 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]

Their good intentions didn’t get the grand jury any concrete answers to the unsolved homicides or mysterious 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–which also found itself sidetracked by other issues.

Despite the efforts of the grand jury, and law enforcement, 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–and this is not a complete list.

What happened to the women who disappeared?  It is unlikely that we will ever know. It is also unlikely that the identify of the killer(s) will ever be discovered. People will always speculate about the cases, and every few years a book about the Black Dahlia slaying will emerge claiming to have solved the decades long cold case. None of the books I’ve read so far has seemed entirely credible to me.

I find it impossible to accept theories that rely on elaborate conspiracies perpetrated by everyone from a newspaper mogul to a local gangster, to an allegedly evil genius doctor. A primary reason for my disbelief is simply that most people are incapable of keeping a secret.  Benjamin Franklin once said, “Three (people) can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” Eventually, someone talks.

I have my own theory about the Black Dahlia and the other unsolved homicides of women that horrified Angelenos during the 1940s, and I offered my opinion during an episode of the Hollywood & Crime podcast.  Their first season dealt extensively with the Black Dahlia case and several of the other unsolved homicides. In the episode entitled  Cold Cases, Jim Clemente, former FBI profiler and producer of the TV show Criminal Minds, and I discussed the murders, and we came to very different conclusions. You can find the series on iTunes, Stitcher, etc.

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

 

Black Dahlia: Confessions of a Benzedrine Eater

charles_lynchA couple of weeks following the one year anniversary of the slaying of Elizabeth Short, LAPD detectives thought they’d finally caught a break in the case when twenty-three-year-old Charles E. Lynch telephoned the homicide squad and asked to be arrested for the murder.

Lynch was arrested and brought to the Central Jail for interrogation. The young transient was questioned at length by Detective Lieutenants Harry Hansen and Finis A. Brown who had been assigned to the case since the beginning.  Dr. J. Paul DeRiver, police psychiatrist, accompanied Hansen and Brown to Lynch’s interview.

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 yebenz_headlinear anniversary” account of the crime.

The newspaper account of the Black Dahlia case may have 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.

For an interesting article on the influence of Benzedrine (aka Bennies) on American culture go to this article in  THE ATLANTIC.

More on Benzedrine here.

Black Dahlia: Another Confession, Another Murder

dumais_00010481

U.S. Army Corporal Joseph Dumais [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

On February 8, 1947 the Herald announced that the Black Dahlia case was solved. They had found the killer!

dahlia_herald_24_dumaisThe Herald story began:

“Army Corporal Joseph Dumais, 29, of Fort Dix, N.J., is definitely the murderer of “The Black Dahlia”, army authorities at Fort Dix announced today.’

Dumais, a combat veteran, returned from leave wearing blood stained trousers with his pockets crammed full of clippings about Short’s murder. According to the Herald, Dumais made a 50 page confession in which he claimed to have had a mental blackout after dating Elizabeth Short in Los Angeles five days before her body was found.

The good looking corporal seemed like the real deal. He told the cops, “When I get drunk I get pretty rough with women.” Unfortunately, when police checked his story against known facts the solider’s confession didn’t hold up. Dumais was sent to a psychiatrist.

Two days after Dumais’ false confession the Herald put out an Extra with the headline: “Werewolf Strikes Again! Kills L.A. Woman, Writes B.D. on Body”.

dahlia_herald_27_werewolf strikesThe victim of the “Werewolf Killer” was forty-five year old Jeanne French. Her nude body was discovered at 8 a.m. on February 10, 1947 near Grand View Avenue and Indianapolis Street in West L.A.

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Cops at the scene of Jeanne French’s murder. [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Jeanne Thomas French’s life was as fascinating as a Hollywood screenplay. She was an aviatrix, a pioneer airline hostess, a movie bit player and an Army Nurse. And at one time she was the wife of a Texas oilman. The way she died was monstrous.

jeanne and frank picA construction worker H.C. Shelby was walking to work around 8 o’clock that morning along Grand View Blvd. when he saw a small pile of woman’s clothing in weeds a few feet from the sidewalk. Curious, Shelby walked over and lifted up a fur trimmed coat and discovered French’s nude body.

French was savagely beaten–her  body covered with bruises. She suffered blows to her head, probably administered by a metal blunt instrument–maybe a socket wrench. As bad as they were, the blows to her head were not fatal. Jeanne died from hemorrhage and shock due to fractured ribs and multiple injuries caused by stomping–there were heel prints on her chest. It took a long time for French to die. The coroner said that she slowly bled to death.

Mercifully, Jeanne was unconscious after the first blows to her head so she never saw her killer take the deep red lipstick from her purse, and she didn’t feel the pressure of his improvised pen as he wrote on her torso: “Fuck You, B.D.” (later thought to be be “P.D.”) and “Tex”.

French was last seen in the Pan American Bar at 11155 West Washington Place. She was seated at the first stool nearest the entrance and the bartender later told cops that a smallish man with a dark complexion was seated next to her. The bartender assumed they were a couple because he saw them leave together at closing time.

Jeanne’s estranged husband, Frank, was booked on suspicion of murder. The night before she died Jeanne visited Frank at his apartment and they’d quarreled. Frank said Jeanne had started the fight, then hit him with her purse and left. He said that was the last time he saw her. He told the cops she’d been drinking.

David Wrather, Jeanne’s twenty-five year old son from a previous marriage was also brought in for questioning. As he was leaving the police station he saw his step-father for the first time since he’d learned of his mother’s death. David confronted Frank and said: “Well, I’ve told them the truth. If you’re guilty, there’s a God in heaven who will take care of you.” Frank didn’t hesitate, he looked at David and said: “I swear to God I didn’t kill her.”jeanne french_husband lie detectorFrank was cleared when his landlady testified he was in his apartment at the time of the murder, and when his shoe prints didn’t match those found at the scene of the crime.

Cops followed the few leads they had. French’s cut-down 1929 Ford roadster was found in the parking lot of a drive-in restaurant, The Piccadilly at Washington Pl. and Sepulveda Blvd. Witnesses said that the car had been there since 3:15 the morning of the murder, and a night watchman said it was left there by a man. The police were never able to find out where Jeanne had been between 3:15 a.m. and the time of her death which was estimated at 6 a.m.

Scores of sex degenerates were rousted, but each was eliminated as a suspect. Officers also checked out local Chinese restaurants after the autopsy revealed that French had eaten Chinese food shortly before her death.

French’s slaying, known as the “Red Lipstick Murder” case, went cold.

Three years later, following a Grand Jury investigation into the numerous unsolved murders of women in L.A., investigators from the D.A.’s office were assigned to look into the case.

Frank Jemison and Walter Morgan worked the French case for almost eight months, but they were never able to close it. They came up with one hot suspect, a painter who worked for the French’s four months prior to the murder. He admitted to dating Jeanne several times. The cops discovered the painter burned several pairs of his shoes–he wore the same size as the ones that left marks on Jeanne’s body. Despite his odd behavior, the painter was cleared.

There were so many unsolved murders of women in the 1940s that in 1949 a Grand Jury investigation was launched into the failure of the police to solve the cases.

There haven’t been any leads in Jeanne French’s case in decades; however, there is always a detective assigned to Elizabeth Short’s murder case.  A couple of years ago it was a female detective and, surprisingly, she received several calls a month. To this day there are people who want to confess to Elizabeth Short’s murder. The detective was able to eliminate each one of the possible suspects with a simple question: “What year were you born?

Black Dahlia: Could A Woman Be The Killer?

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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 were interviewed as possible suspects in the murder of Elizabeth Short. None of the interviews 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 Handler admitted  his confession was false.  Why would an innocent man confess? In Handler’s case it was to escape from the 400 tiny men with violins who were chasing him. In the photo he looks to have been on a lobotomizing bender. He subsequently cleaned up, changed his name to Mack Chandler and appeared as a detective in the 1953 noir film, Crime Wave.

Daniel S. Voorhies, a 33 year old army vet, also confessed to killing Short. He said he had an affair with her in L.A. There were a couple of problems with his story. The first was that he didn’t know how to spell her last name and, second, at the time he claimed 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 killed the Black Dahlia. She lied.

Mrs. Marie Grieme said she had heard a Chicago woman confess to the Black Dahlia murder. Her story was a dead end.

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

The Herald-Express ran side-by-side photos of three infamous homicidal women who were 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 was 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 got ripe and leaked bodily fluids in the baggage claim section of a local train station.

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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 grâce, 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-Express featured a series of columns written by psychologist Alice La Vere. La Vere 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-Express editors 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 seventy+ year old profile holds up well.

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

It is a theory put forward by writer and researcher, Larry Harnisch. Larry wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times on the fiftieth anniversary of Short’s death. Subsequently, he has done more digging into the case and 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 left his wife for his mistress, Alexandra Partyka, also a medical doctor. Partyka 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 was 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 one of 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.