Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Tonight’s feature is PLEASE MURDER ME starring Raymond Burr and Angela Lansbury.
Turner Classic Movies says:
After purchasing a handgun at a pawnshop one evening, attorney Craig Carlson returns to his office and begins dictating a message to District Attorney Ray Willis announcing that in less than an hour, Craig will be dead.
As Paul Wright’s trial continued his memory conveniently began to fail, and he substantively revised his original confession. When he first spoke to the cops he told them in vivid detail how he’d fired shots at his wife, Evelyn, and best friend, John Kimmel, in a “white flame” of passion; and he was able to describe exactly the position of both Evelyn and John on a piano bench in the living room of his home.
In Paul’s revised statement he said that he no longer remembered from where he fired the shots, nor how many shots were fired. He substituted the original G-rated story of being awakened by Evelyn’s lilting laughter and then witnessing her embrace his best friend, with an X-rated tale that the newspapers called “a shocking and repugnant picture of passion”.
The lurid revelation of Evelyn fellating John on the piano bench had held trial spectators spellbound, but when less salacious testimony resumed they started to get restless and attendance dropped off. Why queue up for anything less than an orgy?
The prosecution went on the attack in its summation and characterized Paul Wright as a cold-blooded killer — not a man tormented by WWI demons, the aftermath of tuberculosis, and a vasectomy, which is how he was described by his defense team.
Jerry Giesler, Wright’s attorney, passionately argued that his client should go free because he was unconscious when he shot and killed Evelyn and Johnny, on November 9, 1937.
The jury of eight men and four women found Paul Wright guilty on two counts of manslaughter — but in a separate hearing they also found that because he had been insane at the time of the double murders he was not guilty!
If the Lunacy Commission (no, I didn’t make that up) examined Wright and decided that he had regained his sanity, he would be freed! And that is exactly what happened!
Paul Wright would never have to serve a single day in prison!
Editorials were written about the absurdity of the insanity defense and the fickle outcomes. One of the articles compared the results of Wright’s trial to that of another in which the insanity defense had been employed:
“Wright went free as the result of an official finding that he had recovered his sanity after killing two people. Hansen, who also killed two people and who made an identical defense, goes to prison for from two to twenty years.”
Paul Wright in court. [Photo courtesy of UCLA digital collection.]
In his opening statement in the trial of Paul Wright for double murder, defense attorney Jerry Giesler contended that Wright had no motive for murder until the sight of his wife and best friend in an unmentionable pose turned him into an unreasoning, raging avenger.
Giesler had conceived of a creative defense for his client — he said that Wright’s WWI service, during which he as gassed; a post-war tuberculosis attack, and a voluntary vasectomy combined to make him emotionally unstable, with more violent reactions to shock that normal men.
If the vasectomy defense failed Giesler had a Plan B, and he laid it out for the jury:
“When Wright strolled sleepily into his living room at 4 o’clock that morning, there was absolutely no reason for him to criminally and brutally kill.”
“What he saw there on the piano bench–which he will detail to you from this witness stand…that married man still there at 4 o’clock in the morning beside his beloved wife…that horrible situation was such an emotional shock that it rendered this defendant as unconscious as though he had been hit on top of the head with a tremendous mallet.”
“Under the written law of the State of California–not any so-called unwritten law–it is the plain duty of this jury to acquit Mr. Wright.”
The written law to which Giesler was referring is the crime of passion plea, known as the provocation defense. Historically, according to U.C. Berkeley’s School of Law, California defendants who have used the controversial plea have been able to reduce first and second degree murder charges down to manslaughter. Punishment has often been little or no jail time.
But would the defense strategy work for Wright? The prosecution produced evidence that had Wright sitting on his bed brooding, before arranging a chair in front of a mirror so that he could get a full view of his wife and best friend in a passionate embrace on the piano bench.
Giesler called witnesses to the stand who related a fairy-tale like courtship between Paul and Evelyn, resulting in a blissful marriage — at least for the first couple of years.
In 1936 Paul confided in a close friend that:
“I’m worried to the point of distraction. I’ve earned a fair salary ever since we have been married, but there doesn’t seem to be enough for the household and her demands.”
“I’ve always paid the bills, and it breaks my heart to see my credit go like this.”
I’ve done everything in my power to make her happy–even had myself sterilized, but it seems to be no use.”
The vasectomy had cost Paul one of his most cherished dreams — he’d always wanted a son, and that was never going to be possible for him.
Giesler continued to hammer home the impact of Paul’s “sex sacrfice” which the attorney
contended had destroyed Wright’s self-control when he found Evelyn and John in an intimate pose. Dr. Charles B. Huggins, a Chicago surgeon, described the vasectomy performed on Wright to save Evelyn from the danger of again becoming a mother. She’d nearly lost her life giving birth to Helen and a sterilization operation on her would have been much more dangerous.
From the witness stand, under Giesler’s skilled interrogation, Paul Wright gave his version of the events leading up to the double murder.
Paul said that he and John had attended a club meeting, then gone out for a nightcap. By 2 a.m. they were at Clara Bow’s “It Cafe” preparing to go home. It was Paul who suggested that John accompany him home, ostensibly to provide back-up when Evelyn questioned him about where, and with whom, he’d spent the evening and early morning hours.
Paul went on to describe feeling fatigued and going to the bedroom for a nap. He told the hushed courtroom:
“I was awakened by some sort of sound–like the piano. It started me up out of my sleep. I went to the living room door and saw that the lights were still on. Johnny was sitting at the piano. I could just see his head. He was looking downward. I couldn’t see Evelyn and I wondered where she was.”
I thought she was on the davenport and I looked, but she was not there. I thought she was in the kitchen. Then I turned–then I turned–I saw Evelyn on the piano bench with Johnny…They embraced and kissed each other.”
“Everything inside me exploded!” he shouted.
“Next thing I knew I was standing there with the gun in my hand. She was on the floor–Johnny was moaning. They were covered with blood.”
It wasn’t possible to know what the jury thought about what they’d heard, but a reporter for the L.A. Times was clear about how Wright had conducted himself: “Seldom in local court annals has a defendant appeared to such good advantage defending himself on the witness stand.”
However the report wasn’t all admiration, Wright was accused of having “robbed his wife’s grave of decency and fidelity” in his attempt to save his own life. And the report went on with: “Johnny Kimmel, by inference was branded a depraved scoundrel by the man who killed him.”
Of course the only people whose opinions mattered were sitting in the jury box.
Wright emotionally and physically collapsed under Deputy D.A. Roll’s blistering cross-examination, and his earlier testimony started to come unraveled. He had maintained that he’d shot blindly at the pair from the bedroom doorway, but changed his story by declaring that when he pumped the final rounds into the two bodies he was standing with his gun in his hand beside the piano.
Also, little details began to surface about exactly what Paul had witnessed that had provoked him to commit double murder. Kimmel was immediately visible on the piano bench, but Evelyn was not.
Deputy D.A. Roll asked Wright:
“Was it in your mind that they had committed some unnatural act?”
To which Wright answered:
“Yes, it must have been.”
At last the prosecution was getting to the the truth of what Wright had seen. Evelyn wasn’t on the piano bench next to Johnny, she was in front of him on her knees! That explains Wright’s violent reaction a little better than what had at first been represented as a kiss and an embrace. From the beginning, Wright’s story made him sound like a Victorian husband who had stumbled upon his wife and a companion in a relatively innocent lip lock — an act which should have merited nothing more than a shout demanding to know what the hell was going on.
Wright also admitted that he didn’t know whether he’d disarranged the clothing of his victims in the manner that they were found later by police!
Sounds to me like Wright had the presence of mind to set the scene of the crime to match his later statements to the cops. How would his conflicting testimony sound to the jury?
NEXT TIME: The verdict and aftermath of Paul Wright’s case.
A quiet hilltop neighborhood in Glendale had been the scene of a violent double murder. Paul Wright, the president of United Airports Corporation of California, had confessed to the slaying of his wife, Evelyn, and his best friend, John B. Kimmel while blinded by a “white hot flame” of jealousy.
Wright may have been temporarily blinded by a white hot flame, but he’d regained his senses long enough to “Get Giesler” — that was Jerry Giesler the famed defense attorney. Giesler had obviously advised his client not to make any further statements; but Wright had already confessed, Giesler was going to have an uphill battle.
Paul Wright & Jerry Giesler [Photo courtesy UCLA digital collection.]
So far there were more questions than answers in the homicides; but at least the mystery of why Mrs. Wright had entered the Glendale mortuary as Mrs. Alta Vernon had been cleared up. Police announced that when she had first been taken in a fire department ambulance the driver, ignorant of her name, looked up the address in a directory and wrote down the name of a former tenant of the house. With the minor mystery solved, the cops could devote themselves to unraveling the larger conundrum of the piano bench killings.
Paul and Evelyn Wright had been having marital difficulties for months before the murders. Evelyn had written to her mother about her continuing estrangement from Paul. In her letters Evelyn revealed that money troubles and her fear that Paul was being unfaithful to her were driving a wedge between them.
Police detectives were attempting to reconcile the physical evidence at the scene of the murders to Paul Wright’s statement, and it was tough going. Wright stated that he was was about twenty feet away from Evelyn and John, who were in a clutch on a piano bench, when he started firing blindly — but tests showed that the bullets had entered the bodies at a 60 degree angle — in other words the shooter was practically standing over the couple.
As the investigators continued their examination of the crime scene a clearer picture of the night of the murders began to form, and it wasn’t pretty.
Wright’s story of being asleep on his bed for a while before he entered the living room and found his wife and best friend in flagrante delicto on a piano bench was refuted by investigators. Cops found a chair in the bedroom that was placed in front of a mirror which reflected the piano and bench that had been occupied by Evelyn and John. Also, the bed on which Paul was supposed to have been sleeping was undisturbed except for one side where police surmised he had probably sat and brooded before moving to the chair to watch the entire seduction unfold.
As Paul was being held in the County Jail awaiting arraignment he managed to make arrangements for Helen, his three year old daughter with Evelyn, to be sent to live with her uncle in Cleveland. Dr. Herbert Wright, brother of the accused, told reporters that Helen’s welfare was uppermost in her father’s mind, and that he considered it even more important than his own welfare.
Paul’s future welfare was in jeopardy — he was going to be tried for double murder. On the advice of his attorney, Jerry Giesler, Wright entered a dual plea; not guilty, and not guilty by reason of insanity.
The prosecution demanded that Wright should be found guilty and his life snuffed out in California’s new lethal gas chamber. [The gas chamber had replaced the gallows in California in August 1937, just a couple of months before the murders of Evelyn Wright and John Kimmel.]
With Jerry Giesler mounting Wright’s defense the trial was going to be well worth watching — particularly when it was revealed that psychiatrists had been deposed concerning the possible effects on Wright’s mental condition of gassing during WWI, tuberculosis, and a sterilization operation he’d undergone in 1934 in order to spare Evelyn a second childbirth.
Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Tonight’s feature is PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET starring Richard Widmark and Jean Peters.
Wikipedia says: Richard Widmark plays Skip McCoy, an insolent pickpocket who steals the wallet of Candy (Jean Peters). Unbeknownst to Skip or Candy, the wallet contains a microfilm of top-secret government information. Candy was delivering an envelope as a final favor to her ex-boyfriend, Joey. But Candy didn’t know the envelope’s content, nor did she know that Joey was a Communist spy.
Lana Turner and Jerry Giesler. [Photo courtesy LAPL]
From the 1920s until his death in 1962, Jerry Giesler was the best known criminal defense attorney in the U.S. Whenever people with money found themselves on the wrong side of the law they knew to “Get Giesler”.
Having the accomplished attorney on your side didn’t guarantee your acquittal, but it definitely improved your chances.
Over his fifty year career Giesler represented hundreds of clients from Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel to Lana Turner’s daughter, Cheryl Crane.
In November 1937, thirty-four year old Paul Wright, director of Union Air Terminal (now Bob Hope Airport) confessed to the murder of his wife Evelyn, and his best friend John Bryant Kimmel, United Air Lines operations manager. Wright said that he had committed the murders in the white flame of passion. Maybe. But once the white flame had dimmed to a flicker, he’d still had the presence of mind to “Get Giesler”.
Bugsy Siegel and Jerry Giesler. [Photo courtesy of LAPL.]
Giesler was going to have to work hard to earn his fee defending Wright — it seemed like a slam dunk for the prosecution. Wright had confessed, and in his initial statement to the cops he had stated that he’d fired his weapon blindly, making no attempt to aim it at either his wife or his best friend. But the physical evidence told a much different story — for a man who was firing in the white hot flame of jealousy he was a pretty damned good shot — eight of the nine rounds had found their mark in one or the other of his targets.
There were other troubling discrepancies in Wright’s confession. For instance Coroner Nance wanted to know why his office had not been notified of the crime until AFTER the body of Mrs. Wright had been embalmed. Nance also demanded to know why Mrs. Wright was registered at the Physicians and Surgeons Hospital in Glendale under the name of Alta Burnham.
Evelyn was already dead by the time her body arrived at the hospital where she was registered under a pseudonym Joseph A. Zaremba of the Glendale mortuary was notified to collect the body. When he discovered that the dead woman had died as a result of gunshot wounds he asked the nurse if the Coroner had been notified, and he was assured that proper procedures had been followed. It wasn’t until four hours after the shooting that Zaremba was told by the Coroner that the victim of the shooting had been murdered and her name was not Alta Burnham.
Understandably Coroner Nance was not a happy man. He said:
“No one can delegate the duties of the Coroner. I cannot have anyone disregarding the rules of this office. Unless good reasons are show for this infraction of my rules and of the California Penal Code, I shall suspend the morticians responsible and take whatever steps I deem advisable in clearing up this situation.”
Giesler hadn’t gotten to Wright in time to prevent him from confessing, but once he took over the case Wright wasn’t doing any further talking. Giesler announced that:
“My client will not be a witness at the inquest nor at the preliminary hearing. He will enter a plea of not guilty. I am satisfied that when the true details all are disclosed there will be an entirely different light on this situation.”
A brief, but bizarre, tug-of-war erupted between Wright and his father-in-law, J. E. McBride, over possession of Evelyn’s body. Paul caved in quickly, but his request that Evelyn be buried in her favorite outfit, a two-piece black velvet suit, with a simple white collar, was respected. Her body was placed aboard a Santa Fe train bound for her hometown of Detroit.
Local L.A. newspapers speculated about the white flame that had burned so brightly in Paul that he was compelled to commit murder. What was it exactly that had set him off?
NEXT TIME: A piano bench ignites a murderous rage in Part 2 of the White Flame Murder.
The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Visit our snack bar for a fizzy beverage, a big bag of popcorn and a candy bar.
Tonight’s feature is This Gun for Hire, a 1942 film noir, directed by Frank Tuttle and based on the novel A Gun for Sale by Graham Greene. The film stars Veronica Lake, Robert Preston, Laird Cregar, and Alan Ladd.
Ilene and Owen Nolan struggled to get on with their lives in the wake of Stella’s disappearance. They moved to the San Diego area, but I imagine that every time the story of a missing or abused child made the news their hearts broke a little more.
Sherriff’s deputies and LAPD investigators continued to pull in every deviant who even looked cross-eyed at a child. They busted other child molesters, but they couldn’t seem to get a break in Stella’s case which grew colder with every passing day.
In December 1955, Sheriff’s deputies interrogated Robert Louis Kracker, 20, on suspicion of kidnapping a 3-year-old Baldwin Park girl, Cynthia Hardacre. Kracker had been visiting a cousin in the Hardacre neighborhood when Cynthia, apparently mistaking Robert for her father, dashed toward his automobile calling, “Wait, Daddy.” Kracker told the police
that: “When I saw her, something just came over me.”
Kracker was on parole and had a record, including sex offenses, going back to age 14! In 1949 he spent three months in Juvie and was subsequently committed to the State Hospital at Camarillo. In July of 1950, he was arrested in L.A. on suspicion of a sex offense, and in November, 1951 he was arrested on suspicion of burglary.
Robert was guilty of the attack on Cynthia, but he was not responsible for Stella’s abduction.
In August of 1961 the L.A. Times reported on five children who had mysteriously vanished in recent years; Stella’s name was among them.
On March 6, 1970 a 51-year-old Sylmar construction worker, Mack Ray Edwards, appeared at the LAPD’s Foothill Division station. He handed them a loaded handgun and then said the had kidnapped three Sylmar girls earlier that day.
Edwards, a native of Arkansas, was booked on suspicion of murder in the 1969 death of a 13-year-old Pacoima boy — one of the six cases he voluntarily discussed with detectives.
Edwards and an unnamed 15-year-old companion told the police that they’d entered the home of Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Cohen at 5 a.m., after the couple had left for work. The two stole a coin collection and other items from the house and then took the three Cohen children, Valerie (12); Cindy (13); and Jan (14) by car to Bouquet Canyon in Angeles National Forest north of Newhall.
Two of the girls escaped and the third was abandoned by Edwards and his accomplice — they told her they’d send a sheriff’s car to pick her up.
It was during his confession to police that he admitted to kidnapping, raping, and then murdering 8-year-old Stella Darlene Nolan in 1953. The girl was allegedly his first murder victim.
In mid-March 1970, the skeletal remains of Stella Darlene Nolan were unearthed by a highway crew who worked from directions given to them by her killer.
In addition to the slaying of Stella, Edwards admitted to murdering Gary Rocha, 16, in 1968, and Donald Allen Todd, 13, in 1960. He also admitted to three other murders of children but he wasn’t charged with them because their bodies couldn’t be found. Edwards was a heavy machine operator and often worked freeway construction sites, it simply wasn’t possible for the law to go around digging up Southern California freeways in an effort to unearth the other remains.
In Van Nuys Superior Court, Edwards entered a plea of guilty in three of the six slayings to which he had confessed. Sgt. George H. Rock was called to testify about Edwards’ voluntary admission that he was a child killer. All of the murders were horrible, but Stella’s was the worst. Edwards had taken her from Auction City in Norwalk to his Azusa home where he molested and then attempted to strangle her. After he thought Stella was dead, he threw her body over bridge. The following day he returned to the scene to bury his victim and found the little girl still alive. She had managed to drag herself about 100 feet. She was sitting up, dazed, when Edwards took out his pocketknife and stabbed her to death.
Edwards attempted to sell his surrender and confession as a guilty conscience. He said:
“I have a guilt complex. I couldn’t eat and I couldn’t sleep and it was beginning to affect my work. You know I’m a heavy equipment operator. That long grader I’m using now costs a lot of money — $200,000. I might wreck it. Or turn it over and hurt someone.”
That doesn’t sound like a guilty conscience to me — it sounds exactly like the kind of profoundly stupid, self-serving statement a sociopath would make. There was no expression of remorse for his victims, his primary concern appears to have been the deleterious affect the brutal child killings were having on his work.
Edwards claimed to want a death sentence. Maybe he did — he attempted suicide twice during his trial. On March 30, 1970 he slashed a 14-inch cut across his stomach with a razor blade and on May 7, 1970 he took an overdose of tranquilizers The third time was the charm — he successfully hanged himself with a length of TV cord in his cell on California’s Death Row.
Edwards had always claimed six victims, never more; however, he is suspected in the murders of over 20 children between 1953 and 1970.
In 2006, a letter written by Edwards to his wife while he was on death row implicated him the 1957 disappearance of 8-year-old Tommy Bowman in the Arroyo Seco.
In 2011, the Santa Barbara Police Department took four teams of cadaver dogs to an area near a Goleta freeway overpass that was under renovation, looking for the remains of Ramona Price, a 7-year-old girl who disappeared in August 1961 — Mack Ray Edwards worked in the area during that time. Ramona wasn’t found, but the search for other victims of Edwards continues.
A little over 40 years following Mack Ray Edwards’ suicide I stumbled across Stella Darlene Nolan’s photograph in a Los Angeles Police Daily Bulletin as I was archiving documents from 1953. Something about Stella pulled me in and when I couldn’t find a cancellation for her missing notice in a subsequent Bulletin I followed up, and that’s when I discovered her entire story.
I shared everything I’d uncovered with the L.A. Police Museum’s Executive Director and he telephoned a detective he knows at Foothill Division. She told him she couldn’t discuss details of the case with him because she was assigned to the cold case! She’s seeking to solve many more murders and disappearances for which Edwards may have been responsible. The detective asked if we would send her a copy of the Daily Bulletin featuring Stella because she didn’t have one — it was an incredible feeling to be able to provide a small piece of information in an on-going investigation — my first cold case!
The Daily Bulletins aren’t merely artifacts to be cataloged and filed away; the impact of crime on victims and their families reaches across time. History lives.
For the past 3 1/2 years I’ve been a volunteer archivist at the Los Angeles Police Museum. I find the work fascinating and rewarding, in fact given my passion for old paper (I have a vast collection of vintage cosmetics ephemera) and historic L.A. crime, it is the ideal place for me.
When I first met with the Executive Director of the LAPM, I wasn’t sure what projects they had or what they would want me to do. I told him about my personal collection and he said “I may have a project for you.” He sure did! He showed me the museum’s collection of Daily Bulletins and I was immediately hooked.
Many of the Daily Bulletins had been bound into volumes, while others were loose pages. The majority of the Bulletins, even those in bindings, were in fragile condition. They were printed on inexpensive paper and were handed out to each officer at the beginning of a shift; they were never meant to survive beyond a day or two and we wanted them to last forever.
Our first priority was to determine the best practice for preserving the Bulletins — they’re a valuable resource and we couldn’t afford to make any mistakes.
We we arranged a consultation with experts at the Getty and they recommended that we unbind the volumes and place the individual pages into archival sleeves.
I was particularly worried about the unbinding process. I’d never done anything like it before. With proper instruction and the right tools I have been able to unbind many years worth of Daily Bulletins. The future of the Bulletins is secure, and we’ll eventually have a searchable database which will allow us to further our own research as well as to share knowledge with historians, sociologists, criminologists and policy makers.
The Bulletins began in March of 1907 under Chief Edward Kerr, and provide a daily snapshot of the LAPD as well as of the City of Los Angeles over a period of 50 years.
In his 1913 holiday greeting, Chief C.E. Sebastian referred to the Daily Bulletin as the ‘Paper Policeman’, which suits them perfectly. The Bulletins didn’t just convey information about wanted criminals or stolen property; they contained notices of funerals, commendations, and policy and procedure updates.
The Bulletins sometimes had a sense of humor. In this Bulletin from April 1, 1907 there’s a LOOK OUTS notice:
“A real bear is lost, strayed or stolen from the Shrine Sircus (sic) at Fiesta Park. Look out for him and if found notify Leo Youngworth, U.S. Marshal and Chief Bear Tamer.”
I checked the historic LA Times and there was a circus in town that week, but I found no report of a runaway bear.
Dedication of the L.A. Aqueduct — November 5, 1913. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]
The November 3, 1913 Daily Bulletin listed the all of the officers who would form the Aqueduct Detail for the opening of the Los Angeles Aqueduct.
It was arguably the most significant event in the history of L.A., and the Bulletin shows that LAPD was present.
I’ve seen thousands of incredible Daily Bulletins, but the one that means the most to me personally is from June 1953, and that’s because I was peripherally involved in the cold case 56 years later.
But let me begin at the beginning — June 20, 1953. Ilene Nolan had reported the disappearance, and possible abduction, of her eight year old daughter, Stella Darlene. There was something about the little girl that caught my eye.
Usually a missing child will turn up in a day or two and the notice will be canceled in a subsequent Bulletin. I couldn’t find a cancellation for Stella, so I decided to dig deeper; and I couldn’t believe what I found.
Stella had disappeared from Auction City (in the Norwalk area) where her mother was employed as a clerk at a refreshment stand. Stella was a well behaved child and checked in every hour with her mom, so when she failed to turn up between 8 and 9 pm Mrs. Nolan knew that something was wrong.
A few days following Stella’s disappearance the little girl had still not returned home. Her parents, who lived in a trailer park at 16108 South Atlantic in Compton, were frantic with worry. Even Stella’s dog, Pal, was inconsolable. By day, the little dog wandered around the trailer whimpering, and at night he would howl and bay.
In desperation, Stella’s mom and dad revealed that they were not her birth parents and that even though they’d had custody of her since birth they had never legally adopted her!
Ilene told cops how she and her husband, Owen, had acquired custody of Stella. During the mid-1940s Ilene had worked with Marjorie Woods and Betty Jean Stalcup at the Pony Cafe in San Diego. Ilene had expressed her desire to have a child and so Betty Jean, who was pregnant, agreed to give her baby to Nolan a few days after the baby’s birth. Six days after the child was born Betty Jean tuned her over to Ilene.
The Nolans said they had often thought of adopting Stella Darlene and in 1950 they had even gone so far as to consult a San Diego lawyer. The attorney, however, had advised the couple to save possible sorrow and heartbreak by doing nothing!
The cops quickly located Betty Jean, Stella’s birthmother. She’d moved to Texas, married, and had a three year old girl. She was swiftly cleared of any involvement in Stella’s disappearance.
The newspapers reported that except for occasional fits of silent weeping, Ilene Nolan had maintained her composure. But she lost it when her cousin, Mrs. Kay Talley of San Diego, arrived at the trailer. Ilene collapsed and sobbed convulsively. Then she told of having a vision in which she saw Stella Darlene dead.
“I sat quiet for a few minutes trying to rest. I was thinking very hard about anything that might help us. Then across my eyes came a vision of Darlene’s little legs sticking out of a hole somewhere. She had red shoes on her feet. They were leather ones with big, thick crepe rubber soles.”
By early July, barely a month after she’d disappeared, Stella’s twenty year old married cousin, William R. Nolan, an unemployed hospital orderly, was jailed on a technical booking in Long Beach as a key suspect in the case. Nolan emphatically denied any connection with Stella Darlene’s disappearance. William was grilled for hours by detectives. The L.A. Sheriff’s Department dispatched several criminal laboratory technicians to check for possible blood stains in William’s bungalow court apartment and in the trunk of his 1949 convertible. The techs didn’t turn up a single clue. He told conflicting stories regarding his whereabouts on the night that Stella disappeared, but he was cleared.
At least one crank caller phoned the Nolans to tell them that their little girl was alive, but nothing came of the call. The police were frustrated by the lack of movement in the case.
In mid-October 1953, a fourteen year old boy was brought in for questioning — Norwalk Dep. Dist Atty. Adolph Alexander and Inspector Garner Brown stated that the boy held the key to the girl’s fate. While the fourteen year old was being questioned two of his acquaintances, William R. Hardy, twenty-two, and an unnamed seventeen year old, were facing lie detector tests in Pasadena.
The boys were proved to be liars, and one of them even made a false confession, however they were not killers.
During the remainder of 1953 various “hot” suspects were interrogated but none of them panned out.
On June 20, 1955, the second anniversary of her disappearance, the L.A. Times ran a follow-up story about Stella but it didn’t result in any further leads. The Sheriff’s detectives reluctantly stated that they believed Stella had been kidnapped and killed by a sexual psychopath.
The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Visit our snack bar for a fizzy beverage, a big bag of popcorn and a candy bar. Tonight’s feature is LURED, starring Lucille Ball, George Sanders, and Boris Karloff.
Wikipedia says: “Sandra Carpenter (Lucille Ball) is an American who came to London to perform in a show, but now is working as a taxi dancer. She is upset to find out that friend and fellow dancer Lucy Barnard (Tanis Chandler) is missing and believed to be the latest victim of the notorious “Poet Killer,” who lures victims with ads in the newspaper’s personal columns and sends poems to taunt the police.”
Since Lucille Ball is the star of the LURED, let’s begin the evening with a Tex Avery cartoon featuring another stunning red head, SWING SHIFT CINDERELLA.