A Thanksgiving Eve Date with the Gas Chamber – Repost

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!  I’m sure it will be better than Allen Ditson’s–unless you’re seated next to your least favorite relative at the dinner table.

The following is a repost from 2015.

PART 1

November 20,1962. Thanksgiving was two days away, but 41-year-old Allen Ditson wasn’t looking forward to it. He wouldn’t spend the day gnawing on a turkey drumstick or fighting with a cousin to claim the last slice of pumpkin pie. In fact Allen wouldn’t have the classic holiday dinner at all, unless he requested it for his last meal. If Governor Brown didn’t commute his death sentence, like he had done for Allen’s pal Carlos Cisneros, he would be executed in San Quentin’s gas chamber on Thanksgiving Eve.

*  *  *

DITSON_HEADLINE1In 1959 Allen owned a small jewelry and watch repair shop at 7715 Hollywood Way in the San Fernando Valley. The former Kansas farm boy was the father of two, a WWII veteran and former pilot who had spent five years in uniform before being honorably discharged. When he was mustered out of the service he took courses in watch and jewelry repair then opened his own business. He worked long hours and he continued to take classes related to his trade. The time he spent away from home was hard on his marriage; so hard in fact that he and his wife separated. Even though they no longer lived together he saw his children “at least twice a week” and contributed to their support. His mother-in-law said “he’s been good to all of us.”

On the surface Allen’s life appeared completely normal, but it wasn’t. The seemingly average businessman had a secret, he was the mastermind of a gang of violent armed robbers. Under his direction the gang of about 15 men had netted an estimated $150,000 (equivalent to approximately $1.2 in current dollars) between January and October of 1959.

Like most gang leaders Allen had a lieutenant, his name was Carlos Gonzales Cisneros. According to court records Carlos lost his mother to tuberculosis and spent most of his infancy and childhood in foundling homes. He left school in 1950 when he was 17. He married, had four kids and worked at Lockheed as a sheet metal worker. He was 24-years-old and working the swing shift as a sheet metal worker at Lockheed when he met Allen. Allen was already running a gang and he slowly brought Carlos in. He began by telling the young man that “it would be nice to see him driving a Cadillac.” Eventually Carolos owned two Cadillacs.

Allen used skills he’d learned in the military to operate the gang. He was adamant that each member carry out his “assignment” with precision. If things went sideways and a gang member was busted he was to keep his mouth shut. Allen would see to it that he was provided with an attorney. Allen also made it clear that the penalty for being a “squealer” or a blackmailer was death.

During September and October 1959 a series of robberies were committed by Allen and Carlos and several gang members: Robert Ward, Keith Slaten, and Eugene and Norman Bridgeford.. During a robbery in October Robert “Bob” Ward failed his assignment. He was supposed to securely bind the store owners. He tied the man tightly, but the woman was able to free herself. Once freed the man grabbed his rifle and began shooting at the fleeing robbers. As they ran Eugene pitched the stolen cash box into some shrubs in an alley. Later that night Eugene and Carlos returned to retrieve the cash box and were busted on the spot. About a week later they made bail. During a meeting with Allen, Carlos and Eugene were informed that Bob was demanding money in exchange for keeping quiet about the gang.

On November 6, 1959, Allen told Eugene that he had “decided that tonight would be the best night to get rid of Bob Ward” because he was “through being blackmailed by a no-good-son-of-a-bitch like him.” Allen had already paid Bob $100 but had no intention of giving him one dime more. Allen came up with a plan to “…get rid of him.” Allen stayed at the store and let Carlos and Eugene implement his plan to take care of Bob.

Carlos and Eugene drove to a liquor store to pick up a couple of pints of booze. They knew that Bob was a heavy drinker and thought that he would be “more amiable” with a few shots of booze in him. Then they went to the house Bob shared with fellow gang member Keith Slaten. Carlos parked the Cadillac on the street in front of the house. Keith had seen them pull up and went out to greet them.  Keith and Bob thought they were going to pull another robbery. The men piled into Keith’s Ford. Keith was behind the wheel, Bob was in the passenger seat, and Eugene and Carlos sat in the back. They spent about 45 minutes drinking. Carlos picked up a hammer from the floor of Keith’s car and brought it down on the back of Bob’s head. Bob fell against Keith and screamed: “Keith, help me. They are trying to kill me.” Keith had his own life to worry about and gave Bob a shove so he’d be an easier target for Carlos–then he ran into the house. Carlos called him back and said, “just take it easy and it’ll be all right.”

In the interim Bob had managed to get out of the car and was leaning against a tree when Carlos found him and beat him down to the ground. Carlos backed his car into the driveway and after delivering a few more blows to Bob’s head put him in the trunk of the car. Carlos and Eugene drove off and Keith followed them in the Ford. Carlos had driven about half a mile before Bob regained consciousness and started pleading from his confinement in the trunk to be released. He said he thought his eye had come out of its socket. Carlos told him to be quiet and then turned up the car radio so he wouldn’t be able to hear Bob call his name.

Now thoroughly rattled Carlos misjudged a turn, struck the curb with the front wheel of the car and blew a tire. He spotted a pay phone, gave Eugene some change and told him to call Allen and ask him to bring a spare tire and a heavy duty jack (after all it was a Cadillac with a man in the trunk). About an hour later Allen arrived with a friend of his, Leonard York. They changed the tire and then Carlos, with Bob still in the trunk, took off for the jewelry store. Eugene and Leonard rode with Allen back to the store. When they arrived they could hear unintelligible noises coming from the trunk of the Cadillac. Allen said they’d have to get rid of Bob before the neighbors heard him and called the cops. Eugene took Leonard home and then begged off the rest of the evening saying he was sick.

Allen took a .38 revolver from the store and he and Carlos drove Bob out to the Newhall Pass. Allen opened the trunk and ordered Bob to get out. Unaided, the seriously injured man got out and stood on his feet. He asked for a cigarette. Allen shot him in the chest. He fell, got up, and ran toward Carlos. As they rolled over an embankment Allen shot Bob in the back paralyzing him. Allen walked down the incline to see if Bob was finally dead. He wasn’t. He said, “Give me another one.” Allen knelt down beside him, pressed the .38 to his head and killed him.

squiggle

PART 2

After shooting Bob Ward to death with a .38, Allen Ditson had to figure out what to do with the body. At least Carlos Cisneros was there to help him. Carlos began to dig a grave with his bare hands until Allen brought him a butcher knife from the car. Once the grave was ready Allen said that they would have to dismember Bob to prevent identification if someone should discover his remains. Using the butcher knife they removed Bob’s head and each arm at the elbow. They buried the remains and then tossed the head and arms into the truck of the car and drove back Allen’s store.

While Allen and Carlos were coping with the dead body, Keith Slaten turned up at the house of his friend Martha Hughes. He told her that he’d been in a fight and wanted to clean up his car. He was covered with blood and shaking like a leaf and Martha told him she didn’t believe he’d been in a fight.  He blurted out: “Well, God damn. All right, so we killed him.” Allen couldn’t keep his mouth shut either. The day after Bob’s murder he told Eugene Bridgeford everything that had happened after he pleaded illness and left.

What happened to Bob’s head and arms? Allen and Carlos took them to the home of Christine Longbrake a few days after the murder. Christine was an acquaintance of Allen’s and a couple of weeks before the crime she’d been in Allen’s shop and he’d told her that “there was someone they had to get rid of” because the man was trying to blackmail him.  Allen asked to use her garage as a place to get rid of the guy but she thought he was kidding. When Allen and Carlos turned up with two boxes Christine knew she couldn’t refuse any request they made. She stayed upstairs while the boxes were taken to the cellar. Allen knocked Bob’s teeth out with a hammer then placed what was left of him in the hole and then poured in a bottle of acid.  When the men came back upstairs Christine smiled nervously and said: “Is it somebody I know?” They smiled back and Allen said that she wouldn’t know him. Then he and Carlos drove out to Hansen Dam and tossed Bob’s teeth and dental plate into a gravel pit.DITSON_PIC

Christine hadn’t seen the last of Allen and Carlos. Not more than a few days after they’d buried the boxes in her cellar Carlos stopped by and told her everything. He even told her what was in the boxes underneath her house. Her nerves weren’t soothed when he told her that he could never kill a woman. In fact she was so unnerved that she told Allen she was going to move “…because I couldn’t stand living in this house …” Allen told her that if it bothered her so much he’d pay her rent if she’d just hang on a bit longer.

A bit longer turned out to be several months. In June 1960 Allen asked George Longbrake, Christine’s brother-in-law, if he would dig up the two arms and head under the house. George agreed and Allen bought him some aluminum foil so he could wrap up the bits of Bob that remained. Then, since it seemed the entire Longbrake family was involved anyway, Allen asked Wynston Longbrake, Christine’s husband, if he’d “help bury something.” Allen, Carlos, and Wynston drove from L.A. on Highway 99 to a place about 14 miles from Castaic Junction. He turned off the highway for about 100 yards. Carlos waited in the car while the other two carried the macabre foil wrapped packages out of sight, then dug a post-hole and buried them.

DITSON_CARLOSBecause Allen and Carlos were incapable of keeping quiet about what they’d done it was only a matter of time before the law caught up with them. The remaining gang members began to fear Allen more than they did the cops. On June 17, 1960 Keith Slaten went to the police and a few days later Eugene Bridgeford did the same. The statements were enough for the police to get a warrant to examine Carlos’ Cadillac–they found traces of human blood in the trunk. One day later the police conducted a similar examination of Keith’s Ford and found human blood on the upholstery. On June 28, “sometime after 1:00 p.m.” Allen and Carlos were taken into custody.

Allen maintained his innocence, but Carlos appeared to be genuinely remorseful and he wanted to talk. In his 1959 book, The Compulsion to Confess, Theodore Reik said “There is … an impulse growing more and more intense suddenly to cry out his secret in the street before all people, or in milder cases, to confide it at least to one person, to free himself from the terrible burden. The work of confession is thus that emotional process in which the social and psychological significance of the crime becomes preconscious and in which all powers that resist the compulsion to confess are conquered.”DITSON_HEADLINE1

Allen’s protestations of innocence didn’t sway the jury of five men and seven women.  He was found guilty and sentenced to death. Carlos was also found guilty in Bob’s murder and sentenced to death. In early November 1962, with their executions imminent, Governor Brown presided over a clemency hearing. Carlos’ remorse saved him. His sentence was commuted to life.

Allen never admitted his guilt to the police, but he did confess to nearly everyone else he knew. On November 21, 1962, without requesting a special holiday meal, Allen kept his Thanksgiving Eve date with the gas chamber.

30 More Years of Crime in L.A.

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

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

dirtyharry

Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry

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

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

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

ramirez_108a

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

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

Jim Jones of the People's Temple

Jim Jones of the People’s Temple

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joan

 

 

 

A Thanksgiving Eve Date with the Gas Chamber, Conclusion

DITSON_WARDAfter shooting Bob Ward to death with a .38, Allen Ditson had to figure out what to do with the body. At least Carlos Cisneros was there to help him. Carlos began to dig a grave with his bare hands until Allen brought him a butcher knife from the car. Once the grave was ready Allen said that they would have to dismember Bob to prevent identification if someone should discover his remains. Using the butcher knife they removed Bob’s head and each arm at the elbow. They buried the remains and then tossed the head and arms into the truck of the car and drove back Allen’s store.

While Allen and Carlos were coping with the dead body, Keith Slaten turned up at the house of his friend Martha Hughes. He told her that he’d been in a fight and wanted to clean up his car. He was covered with blood and shaking like a leaf and Martha told him she didn’t believe he’d been in a fight.  He blurted out: “Well, God damn. All right, so we killed him.” Allen couldn’t keep his mouth shut either. The day after Bob’s murder he told Eugene Bridgeford everything that had happened after he pleaded illness and left.

What happened to Bob’s head and arms? Allen and Carlos took them to the home of Christine Longbrake a few days after the murder. Christine was an acquaintance of Allen’s and a couple of weeks before the crime she’d been in Allen’s shop and he’d told her that “there was someone they had to get rid of” because the man was trying to blackmail him.  Allen asked to use her garage as a place to get rid of the guy but she thought he was kidding. When Allen and Carlos turned up with two boxes Christine knew she couldn’t refuse any request they made. She stayed upstairs while the boxes were taken to the cellar. Allen knocked Bob’s teeth out with a hammer then placed what was left of him in the hole and then poured in a bottle of acid.  When the men came back upstairs Christine smiled nervously and said: “Is it somebody I know?” They smiled back and Allen said that she wouldn’t know him. Then he and Carlos drove out to Hansen Dam and tossed Bob’s teeth and dental plate into a gravel pit.DITSON_PIC

Christine hadn’t seen the last of Allen and Carlos. Not more than a few days after they’d buried the boxes in her cellar Carlos stopped by and told her everything. He even told her what was in the boxes underneath her house. Her nerves weren’t soothed when he told her that he could never kill a woman. In fact she was so unnerved that she told Allen she was going to move “…because I couldn’t stand living in this house …” Allen told her that if it bothered her so much he’d pay her rent if she’d just hang on a bit longer.

A bit longer turned out to be several months. In June 1960 Allen asked George Longbrake, Christine’s brother-in-law, if he would dig up the two arms and head under the house. George agreed and Allen bought him some aluminum foil so he could wrap up the bits of Bob that remained. Then, since it seemed the entire Longbrake family was involved anyway, Allen asked Wynston Longbrake, Christine’s husband, if he’d “help bury something.” Allen, Carlos, and Wynston drove from L.A. on Highway 99 to a place about 14 miles from Castaic Junction. He turned off the highway for about 100 yards. Carlos waited in the car while the other two carried the macabre foil wrapped packages out of sight, then dug a post-hole and buried them.

DITSON_CARLOSBecause Allen and Carlos were incapable of keeping quiet about what they’d done it was only a matter of time before the law caught up with them. The remaining gang members began to fear Allen more than they did the cops. On June 17, 1960 Keith Slaten went to the police and a few days later Eugene Bridgeford did the same. The statements were enough for the police to get a warrant to examine Carlos’ Cadillac–they found traces of human blood in the trunk. One day later the police conducted a similar examination of Keith’s Ford and found human blood on the upholstery. On June 28, “sometime after 1:00 p.m.” Allen and Carlos were taken into custody.

Allen maintained his innocence, but Carlos appeared to be genuinely remorseful and he wanted to talk. In his 1959 book, The Compulsion to Confess, Theodore Reik said “There is … an impulse growing more and more intense suddenly to cry out his secret in the street before all people, or in milder cases, to confide it at least to one person, to free himself from the terrible burden. The work of confession is thus that emotional process in which the social and psychological significance of the crime becomes preconscious and in which all powers that resist the compulsion to confess are conquered.”DITSON_HEADLINE1

Allen’s protestations of innocence didn’t sway the jury of five men and seven women.  He was found guilty and sentenced to death. Carlos was also found guilty in Bob’s murder and sentenced to death. In early November 1962, with their executions imminent, Governor Brown presided over a clemency hearing. Carlos’ remorse saved him. His sentence was commuted to life.

Allen never admitted his guilt to the police, but he did confess to nearly everyone else he knew. On November 21, 1962, without requesting a special holiday meal, Allen kept his Thanksgiving Eve date with the gas chamber.

A Thanksgiving Eve Date with the Gas Chamber

November 20,1962. Thanksgiving was two days away, but 41-year-old Allen Ditson wasn’t looking forward to it. He wouldn’t spend the day gnawing on a turkey drumstick or fighting with a cousin to claim the last slice of pumpkin pie. In fact Allen wouldn’t have the classic holiday dinner at all, unless he requested it for his last meal. If Governor Brown didn’t commute his death sentence, like he had done for Allen’s pal Carlos Cisneros, he would be executed in San Quentin’s gas chamber on Thanksgiving Eve.

*  *  *

DITSON_HEADLINE1In 1959 Allen owned a small jewelry and watch repair shop at 7715 Hollywood Way in the San Fernando Valley. The former Kansas farm boy was the father of two, a WWII veteran and former pilot who had spent five years in uniform before being honorably discharged. When he was mustered out of the service he took courses in watch and jewelry repair then opened his own business. He worked long hours and he continued to take classes related to his trade. The time he spent away from home was hard on his marriage; so hard in fact that he and his wife separated. Even though they no longer lived together he saw his children “at least twice a week” and contributed to their support. His mother-in-law said “he’s been good to all of us.”

On the surface Allen’s life appeared completely normal, but it wasn’t. The seemingly average businessman had a secret, he was the mastermind of a gang of violent armed robbers. Under his direction the gang of about 15 men had netted an estimated $150,000 (equivalent to approximately $1.2 in current dollars) between January and October of 1959.

Like most gang leaders Allen had a lieutenant, his name was Carlos Gonzales Cisneros. According to court records Carlos lost his mother to tuberculosis and spent most of his infancy and childhood in foundling homes. He left school in 1950 when he was 17. He married, had four kids and worked at Lockheed as a sheet metal worker. He was 24-years-old and working the swing shift as a sheet metal worker at Lockheed when he met Allen. Allen was already running a gang and he slowly brought Carlos in. He began by telling the young man that “it would be nice to see him driving a Cadillac.” Eventually Carolos owned two Cadillacs.

Allen used skills he’d learned in the military to operate the gang. He was adamant that each member carry out his “assignment” with precision. If things went sideways and a gang member was busted he was to keep his mouth shut. Allen would see to it that he was provided with an attorney. Allen also made it clear that the penalty for being a “squealer” or a blackmailer was death.

During September and October 1959 a series of robberies were committed by Allen and Carlos and several gang members: Robert Ward, Keith Slaten, and Eugene and Norman Bridgeford.. During a robbery in October Robert “Bob” Ward failed his assignment. He was supposed to securely bind the store owners. He tied the man tightly, but the woman was able to free herself. Once freed the man grabbed his rifle and began shooting at the fleeing robbers. As they ran Eugene pitched the stolen cash box into some shrubs in an alley. Later that night Eugene and Carlos returned to retrieve the cash box and were busted on the spot. About a week later they made bail. During a meeting with Allen, Carlos and Eugene were informed that Bob was demanding money in exchange for keeping quiet about the gang.

On November 6, 1959, Allen told Eugene that he had “decided that tonight would be the best night to get rid of Bob Ward” because he was “through being blackmailed by a no-good-son-of-a-bitch like him.” Allen had already paid Bob $100 but had no intention of giving him one dime more. Allen came up with a plan to “…get rid of him.” Allen stayed at the store and let Carlos and Eugene implement his plan to take care of Bob.

Carlos and Eugene drove to a liquor store to pick up a couple of pints of booze. They knew that Bob was a heavy drinker and thought that he would be “more amiable” with a few shots of booze in him. Then they went to the house Bob shared with fellow gang member Keith Slaten. Carlos parked the Cadillac on the street in front of the house. Keith had seen them pull up and went out to greet them.  Keith and Bob thought they were going to pull another robbery. The men piled into Keith’s Ford. Keith was behind the wheel, Bob was in the passenger seat, and Eugene and Carlos sat in the back. They spent about 45 minutes drinking. Carlos picked up a hammer from the floor of Keith’s car and brought it down on the back of Bob’s head. Bob fell against Keith and screamed: “Keith, help me. They are trying to kill me.” Keith had his own life to worry about and gave Bob a shove so he’d be an easier target for Carlos–then he ran into the house. Carlos called him back and said, “just take it easy and it’ll be all right.”

In the interim Bob had managed to get out of the car and was leaning against a tree when Carlos found him and beat him down to the ground. Carlos backed his car into the driveway and after delivering a few more blows to Bob’s head put him in the trunk of the car. Carlos and Eugene drove off and Keith followed them in the Ford. Carlos had driven about half a mile before Bob regained consciousness and started pleading from his confinement in the trunk to be released. He said he thought his eye had come out of its socket. Carlos told him to be quiet and then turned up the car radio so he wouldn’t be able to hear Bob call his name.

Now thoroughly rattled Carlos misjudged a turn, struck the curb with the front wheel of the car and blew a tire. He spotted a pay phone, gave Eugene some change and told him to call Allen and ask him to bring a spare tire and a heavy duty jack (after all it was a Cadillac with a man in the trunk). About an hour later Allen arrived with a friend of his, Leonard York. They changed the tire and then Carlos, with Bob still in the trunk, took off for the jewelry store. Eugene and Leonard rode with Allen back to the store. When they arrived they could hear unintelligible noises coming from the trunk of the Cadillac. Allen said they’d have to get rid of Bob before the neighbors heard him and called the cops. Eugene took Leonard home and then begged off the rest of the evening saying he was sick.

Allen took a .38 revolver from the store and he and Carlos drove Bob out to the Newhall Pass. Allen opened the trunk and ordered Bob to get out. Unaided, the seriously injured man got out and stood on his feet. He asked for a cigarette. Allen shot him in the chest. He fell, got up, and ran toward Carlos. As they rolled over an embankment Allen shot Bob in the back paralyzing him. Allen walked down the incline to see if Bob was finally dead. He wasn’t. He said, “Give me another one.” Allen knelt down beside him, pressed the .38 to his head and killed him.

NEXT TIME: Which will it be for Allen Ditson? A turkey dinner with more to come, or the gas chamber?

Happy Thanksgiving?

jail menu

Most people spend Thanksgiving week overeating turkey, stuffing and pie and overspending at the Black Friday sales. This week Deranged L.A. Crimes takes a look at the dark side of Thanksgiving. The robberies, burglaries, and occasional homicides. While they may not celebrate the holiday like the rest of us, the miscreants are only human and their bad behavior doesn’t mean that they don’t crave a sumptuous meal–even if it’s served to them in a jail cell.

***

If you’re curious, and you know that you are, here’s the Thanksgiving Day menu for Los Angeles County Jail in 1919 as prepared by Captain George Ganagner and the jail chef:

Soup — Cream of Tomato
Celery Hearts
Ripe Olives
Garden Radishes
Baked fresh ham
Cauliflower
Candied sweet potatoes
Combination salad — Thousand Island dressing
Spiced Plum Pudding
Fresh Apple Pie
Coffee
French rolls — bread and butter

Among the people to enjoy the feast were Lewis B. Harris. Harris, convicted of looting the First National Bank of Artesia.  Harris was sitting in the slammer awaiting an appeal. Joining Harris was M.P. McDonald, wife killer, who was waiting to find out if he’d go to prison for life or hang; James Cameron, convicted of second degree murder waiting on his appeal; Matthew Joseph who pleaded guilty to a charge of second degree murder, and Mrs. Ella R. Kehr who was accused of assisting in the murder of a woman friend in Hotchkiss, Colorado.

Other diners included several suspected killers, a con-artist, an extortionist, and a forger. Can you imagine the dinner conversation?

Next time: More Thanksgiving mayhem.

Cops Behaving Badly: Edward P. Nolan, Part 1

During Prohibition people drank whatever they could get their hands on, and it wasn’t always quality juice.  Shady characters who distilled booze in basements and warehouses weren’t concerned with anything other than profit.  Manufacturing overnight whiskey made from “…refuse, burned grain or hay or any old thing that will sour” posed a serious danger to people’s physical and mental health.

prohibition-one

According to a St. Louis newspaper article from August 30, 1933 (just a few months prior to repeal):

“Here are some of the things called for in different formulas that go to make up our modern whisky:

Peppers, all kinds; prune juice, caramel, Acetic ether, tobacco, creosote, sulphuric acid, butyric ether, extract vanilla, sorghum waste, artifical bead, cenanthic ether, amyl alcohol, butyrate of amyl, fusel oil, extract of orris, acetic acid, tannic acid, oil bitter almond, muriatic acid, tartaric acid, oil of cedar, oil of fennel, catechu, alum, cloves, castile soap, and a little pure aged whisky.”

The article continued:

“Not too much whisky should be added, as that might be expensive; about 1 gallon to 20.  Blend is what the public is getting drunk and sodden on today, and not whisky, but whisky gets the blame.  The man over stimulated from alcohol makes a quick recovery.   The soft-nerved wreck depressed with blend, mentally and physically mortified and shattered, seldom makes a complete recovery.”

After several cocktails containing a noxious blend of chemicals a person might be capable of anything.

***

A native New Yorker, Edward P. Nolan had come to Los Angeles to make his fortune in the budding film industry. He was much luckier than most Hollywood hopefuls because during 1914 and 1915 he appeared in shorts with Charles Chaplin, Mabel Normand, and Marie Dressler.  His most noteworthy appearances were in The Face on the Barroom Floor and Between Showers (both from 1914). He doesn’t appear to have worked in film between 1915 (Hogan’s Wild Oats) and 1920 when he appeared opposite Leatrice Joy and James O. Barrows in Down Home.

Nolan played the bartender in "Face on the Barroom Floor"

Nolan played the bartender in “Face on the Barroom Floor”

What Nolan did for a living during the five years between acting gigs is anyone’s guess, but by 1922 he had joined the LAPD and risen to the rank of Detective Lieutenant.  Maybe policing wasn’t such a big stretch for Nolan; after all, he’d played a cop several times in the movies.

On June 16, 1931, Nolan made a dramatic arrest of an extortionist, George Freese.  Freese had sent anonymous death threats to A.H. Wittenberg, president of the Mission Hosiery Mills in an attempt to get $700 out of him. The bust went down like this: Freese instructed Wittenberg to hand the pay-off over to a taxi-cab driver-messenger who would then deliver the cash to him.  Nolan had been living with the Wittenberg family for several days as their protector.

When the phone call from the extortionist came, Nolan took down the details and made a plan. He prepared a dummy package and when the cab driver appeared outside the Wittenberg home Nolan concealed himself in the auto and told the driver to proceed to the rendezvous point. Detective Lieutenants Leslie and McMullen followed in a police car.

Freese was waiting at the corner of First Street and La Brea Avenue to collect the money. As he accepted the dummy package he was grabbed by Nolan and the two other detectives.

Freese confessed immediately–he held a grudge against Wittenberg because six months earlier he had been turned down for a salesman’s job at the hosiery company. Freese said that he and his family needed the money because they’d fallen on hard times–a common enough predicament for people during the Great Depression.

The day following the successful conclusion of the Wittenberg case, Nolan and his 36 year old divorced girlfriend, Grace Murphy Duncan, were together at the Lankershim Hotel. The couple spent a lot of time at the hotel while Nolan sought a divorce from his wife, Avasinia. Once the divorce was final Duncan and Nolan planned to marry.

Photo of Lankershim Hotel courtesy of LAPL.

Photo of Lankershim Hotel courtesy of LAPL.

At about 6:30 pm on the evening of June 17 1931, Mrs. Helen Burleson, who was visiting from San Francisco, left her upper floor room and headed for Nolan’s room on the second floor. She had wanted to consult with him on a private matter. When she entered the room she saw that Grace was there and noticed that the couple had been drinking heavily. The lovers began to quarrel and Nolan shoved Duncan out of the room and threw her coat into the hallway after her.

helen burleson_crop

Helen and Grace went up to Helen’s room and talked about Nolan’s bad behavior. Grace wanted to drop a dime on him to the LAPD brass, but Helen talked her out of it.

While Grace and Helen were talking a trio of traveling salesmen, Robert V. Williams, Dan Smith, and Jimmy Balfe went up to Robert’s room to catch a ball game on the radio. Robert said:

“After a while the lights went on in a room across the light well and we saw two women enter the room.  Smith said he recognized Mrs. Burleson and he telephoned to her room and asked her if she wanted to come over and listen to the radio. Mrs. Duncan with her, and I don’t believe the two were in the room five minutes before Nolan burst in.  The ball game had ended and I had dialed some music.  It was about 10:30 o’clock.  Mrs. Duncan and I were dancing.  Nolan walked right up to her and said: ‘What do you mean by making up to this fellow?’  He pushed her over on the bed.  Then he turned to me and said, ‘I saw you kissing her.”  Then he hit me.  I staggered back into the bathroom.”

 The violence was about to escalate.

NEXT TIME:  Murder in room 815.

The Boos Cruise, Conclusion

cassie boosBy early August 1916, Cassie Boos and Naomi Ernst had been locked in mortal legal combat for weeks. Cassie had accused Naomi of attempting to extort money from her; Naomi accused Cassie of trying to steal her husband from her. Neither woman seemed willing to give an inch, at least if what their attorneys told the reporters was true.

E.E. Ernst, the man in the middle of the embarrassing skirmish, was trying to diffuse the situation, or maybe he was just trying to get released from police custody, when he signed an affidavit denying that he or his wife were involved in a plot to blackmail Cassie Boos, and he also vehemently denied that Mrs. Boos had made an effort to alienate his affection from his wife.

Naomi won the first round when Judge Richardson sustained the demurrer to the complaint against her, in which she was accused of attempting to extort $15,000 from Cassie Boos.  The judge’s action automatically dismissed the charge; however, it was stipulated that the prosecution could, if it desired, file an amended complaint.naomi

It is difficult to say who blinked first, but on August 16, 1916, the Los Angeles Times reported that Cassie’s attorneys, Morton, Behymer, Craig and Salzman stated that an agreement had been reached by the waring parties, and that Mrs. Boos was going to withdraw the criminal complaint she’d filed against Naomi.

Maybe a good faith sign from Cassie was all the incentive Naomi needed to drop her suit too. Naomi even went so far as to admit that she’d been misled and deceived by a few of Cassie’s enemies who urged her to bring the suit.  Who the enemies were and how they came across Naomi wasn’t revealed in the papers. Naomi (as her mother had earlier advised her to do) agreed to return to Cassie the letters that she had written to E.E. during the summer of 1915.

By the end of August 1916, the combatants had negotiated a peace treaty–but it lasted for only a couple of months.

sues boosE.E. must have spent the time from August to October ruminating over the claims and counterclaims that had resulted in his arrest and seven day detainment in the City Jail–because on October 13, 1916 his attorney, Daniel M. Hidey, filed a false arrest suit against Cassie Boos on behalf of his client.

The newspapers took the opportunity to rehash some of the more humiliating moments of the alienation of affection claim against Cassie. To buttress her argument that Cassie had attempted to steal her spouse, Naomi had produced letters from Cassie to E.E. in which she addressed him as “The Duke of Catalina”, “My Sweetheart” and “My Dear”.   A disclosure of this kind would have been bad enough for anyone, but for the wife of a wealthy and respected man it had to have been devastating.

Through his attorney E.E. stated that he had suffered damages amounting to $60,796 (equivalent to $1.3M in today’s dollars) due to his false arrest.  He had spent seven days in jail where he declared he was made ill after being subjected to a “third degree” interrogation by detectives.  Further, according to E.E., Cassie knew he was innocent when she swore to the complaint charging him with blackmail.

Daniel M. Hidey submitted an itemized list of damages to the court:

“Seven days in jail, lost time at $3 day, $21; legal counsel, $150, securing above sum he sacrificed property valued at $300; seventy-five days lost by reason of arrest, $225; illness caused by “third degree” required medical services, $100; injury to feeling and loss of pride, $10,000; general damages, $25,000; punitive damages, $25,000.”

Cassie Boos’ attorney, Ona Morton, issued a unequivocal denial of the charges, alleging Cassie was the victim of a conspiracy to extort money from her.

Mr. Morton said:

“Mr. Ernst has no just claim against Mrs. Boos for false arrest and we will show that, by his own statements, Mrs. Boos was fully justified in causing his arrest on the charge she did.  There was no malice in the charge.”

Unfortunately, there was no further mention of the Ernst vs. Boos lawsuit in the L.A. Times so I don’t know if E.E. emerged triumphant. My guess is that the lawsuit went nowhere; I can’t imagine that the L.A. Times would not have reported on such a large settlement, if there had been one.

henry boos deathI don’t know how E.E. and Naomi fared in the months and years following the lawsuits; but the Boos’ marriage survived another four decades beyond Cassie’s brief infatuation with “The Duke of Catalina”. Henry passed away at age 78 at his home on Plymouth Blvd in April 1957. He had retired in 1946. He was survived by his widow Cassie, brother Cyrus and four married sisters. Services for the cafeteria pioneer were conducted in Grace Chapel, Inglewood Park Cemetery.

The Boos Cruise

In 1905 the four Boos brothers, Henry, Cyrus, Horace and John moved to Los Angeles from Moscow, Ohio with a dream of opening their own cafeteria. Cafeterias were a new concept in those days; in fact the term hadn’t even been coined until 1893 when John Kruger opened an eatery in Chicago modeled on European smorgasbords.

Boss Brother Cafeteria c. 1934 [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Boss Brother Cafeteria c. 1934 [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

The brothers had worked in restaurants in New York and St. Louis and they were drawn to Los Angeles, as were so many others from the East and Midwest, because of its weather and the opportunity to create something completely new.

Angelenos loved the cafeterias, they offered a multitude of choices and, even better, you didn’t have to tip! By 1916 the brothers were operating four cafeterias downtown.

00037577_boos bros xmas dinner 1934

Cassie Altherr arrived in Los Angeles a few years after the Boos brothers. Cassie’s husband, William, trained and showed Shetland ponies and was involved in what was referred to as the “amusement” business–I read that to mean carnivals and/or circuses. William may have been good with horses, but he was a miserable husband. The pair had married in 1902 in Alton, Illinois, but the union lasted for only a few years before William deserted Cassie. At least he left her stranded in Los Angeles–not the worst fate that could have befallen her.

In September 1910, Cassie sought to divorce her spouse on the grounds of desertion. Cassie testified that William wasn’t a total deadbeat, he had sent her regular checks–usually accompanied by a terse note:

“Cassie, Please find enclosed check for $35.”

The judge asked her if that sort of abbreviated communication was typical of William’s correspondence, and she said that it was. The judge said:

“Well, they are brief and to the point, but they are not examples of the missive a man would send to his wife if he really cared for her.”

Cassie won her divorce.

Cassie remained in Los Angeles; and it isn’t clear how she and the cafeteria magnate met but they married on March 20, 1912. The wedding, a small affair, was covered the next day in the Society page of the L.A Times:

“Miss Cassie Altherr, daughter of Mrs. Mary Green of Kingsley Drive was married yesterday, to Henry Boos, a young business man of the city. Rev. J. M. Schaefle read the ceremony at the Hotel Alexandria, in the presence of twenty-four guests. The room was aglow with bride roses, and where the young people stood a forest of palms was effective.
Luncheon was served from a table, enhanced with a beautiful centerpiece of bride roses. A three months’ trip through Florida, Cuba and the East will be enjoyed before making this city their home.”

Only a few weeks into their honeymoon Cassie and Henry, along with the rest of the world, would hear the news that the luxury vessel Titanic had gone down in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic Ocean just four days into her maiden voyage. They must have felt fortunate knowing that, even if they had wanted to, they would never have been able to make it to Southampton, England in time to take the cruise.

The newlyweds returned from their extensive trip in June and eventually made their home in a palatial mansion on Gramercy Place.

Other than an occasional mention in the society pages the Boos appear to have led a quiet life. But this is Deranged L.A. Crimes, so you know that quiet domesticity never lasts.

On June 24, 1916, LAPD detectives Raymond and Canto, and a private detective named Blair, went to the small home of Naomi and Erwin Ernst at 1321 1/2 W. 25th Street. The Ernst home was about two miles and two million light years away from the Boos mansion.

The police had a warrant issued by Judge Richardson to arrest Naomi and Erwin for being members of a blackmail gang that was said to have extorted large sums of money from well-known businessmen and their wives over the course of about six months. A complaint had been signed by Cassie Boos alleging that the Ernsts had attempted to extort money from her.

blackmail headlineNaomi told the detectives that the charges against she and Erwin were absurd. She said she wasn’t a blackmailer at all, in fact she was a wronged woman. She said she was going to name Mrs. Boos in a $50,000 alienation of affection (heart balm) suit.

Erwin, who was cooling his heels in the City Jail, was more than willing to talk about what he considered to be a misunderstanding. He backed up Naomi’s claim that neither of them were blackmailers; however, he said that his wife had recently come into possession of some overly friendly letters sent to him the previous summer by Mrs. Boos, and therein was the problem.

Apparently, in August 1915 Erwin had been employed by the Catalina Excursion Company as a boatman and he had met Cassie and several of her wealthy friends when they hired the boat he piloted for an outing. It may only have been a day cruise, but apparently Erwin made quite an impression on the ladies.

Erwin said:

“I met Mrs. Henry Boos and several other ladies on an excursion and extended every courtesy; these ladies seemed to appreciate the kindness extended to them and I later received several letters from them manifesting their interest in me and their intention to help me.”

Erwin claimed that he and Naomi had separated a couple of months prior to his meeting Cassie, so there was no way that the cafeteria owner’s wife could have been responsible for alienating him from Naomi. He maintained that the correspondence from Cassie was innocent,  and certainly not intended to rupture his already rocky marriage.naomi

By December 1915, Naomi and Erwin had resolved their differences and resumed their marriage; that was until the letters surfaced. Like most daughters in a similar situation, Naomi sought the counsel of her mother, Mrs. L.C. Osborne, a former Long Beach osteopath.

Mrs. Osborne protested her daughter’s innocence to the detectives and recalled her advice to her offspring:

“When my daughter obtained those letters from her husband, last December, I advised her to take them to Mrs. Boos and have it out with her and return them without resorting to any legal action.”

Good advice that had fallen on deaf ears.

Cassie’s attorney’s tried to spin the case as an egregious attempt by two sinister individuals to perpetrate a crime against their client:

“We regret exceedingly that there has been any publicity of this case. The facts unquestionably show that a certain coterie of people deliberately planned and purposely acted to extort money by blackmail from our client. We are prepared to prove this beyond any question from many sources.”

“Unfortunately, blackmailing in Los Angeles is becoming a fad.”

They continued:

“In this instance they (the alleged blackmailers) have found one who has been strong enough to meet the light of publicity full in the face, for the sake of exposing the attempt that has been made to extort money from her, and the authorities, after a careful investigation are now bringing justice to the instigators of this nefarious plot.”

Nefarious plot? Maybe. Maybe not.

The attorneys for both sides traded barbs in the newspaper, but it was tough to tell who was in the right. Were Naomi and Erwin blackmailers–was Cassie a home wrecker; and who would emerge victorious once the smoke cleared?

NEXT TIME: The Boos Cruise continues.