Film Noir Friday: The Man Who Cheated Himself [1951]


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 THE MAN WHO CHEATED HIMSELF, directed by Felix Feist and starring Jane Wyatt, Lee J. Cobb, and John Dall.

Turner Classic Movies says:

Bitter because his rich wife Lois is going to divorce him, Howard Frazer buys a revolver and concocts an elaborate scheme to murder her and make her death appear to be the work of a burglar. After Howard leaves home early for the airport for a trip to Seattle, Lois discovers his purchase and telephones her boyfriend, homicide lieutenant Ed Cullen. Instead of Ed, however, the phone is answered by his younger brother Andy, who has just joined the homicide bureau. When Andy tells Ed that a woman called for him and then hung up, Ed guesses that it was Lois and goes to her house.

A beautiful dame, a greedy soon-to-be ex-husband and a couple of homicide cops — a recipe for murder and mayhem! Enjoy the movie!

The Butcher, Conclusion

lillian johnsonThe murdered and badly mutilated bodies of two women were found at separate downtown Los Angeles hotels on November 15, 1944.

The first victim to be found was twenty-five year old Mrs. Virgie Lee Griffin of 1934 W. 70th Street. Virgie’s body had been stuffed in a clothes closet in the Barclay Hotel at 103 W. Fourth Street. Near her remains lay a large butcher knife and a razor. A preliminary examination suggested that Mrs. Griffin had been murdered about 8 a.m. The detectives who caught the case were Det. Lts. Harry Hansen (in 1947 he would be one of the lead detectives on the Black Dahlia case), R.F. McGarry, and Stewart Jones. Some of the cops had to be re-deployed when another woman was found dead and mutilated at a hotel just blocks away.

The second victim, thirty-eight year old Mrs. Lillian Johnson of 114 W. 14th Place was discovered just after 3:30 p.m.

Even seasoned veterans of L.A.P.D’s homicide division were sickened by the condition of the bodies. Both women had been hacked to pieces — Lillian’s breasts and vagina had been dissected.

While detectives were reviewing evidence and interviewing hotel employees, an APB went out with a description of the suspect. Patrolman H.E. Donlan had been handed a police bulletin containing information about the wanted man and he recalled seeing a guy who fit the description while he was walking his beat at Third and Hill Streets. He decided to check out the bars.

Patrolman Donlan walked over to a bar at 326 S. Hill Street, just a few doors from where Lillian Johnson’s body lay. He noticed that one of the patrons, who fit the suspect’s description, was sitting with a glass of wine and he was chatting up a woman — maybe his next victim. In the man’s hand was a book of matches from the Barclay Hotel. That was enough for Donlan, he walked over to the man who looked up at him and said: “What do you want?” The patrolman replied: “This.” and snapped a pair of handcuffs on the man’s wrists. His name was Otto Stephen Wilson.


As a city employee Patrolman Harry Donlan wasn’t eligible for a reward for the capture of Otto Stephen Wilson, but Police Commissioner Al Cohn wrote him a check for a $100 War Savings Bond saying:

“I’ll give you another $100 bond if you repeat the job when the next murder comes along.”

It had been a successful day for the cops. The first murder had been discovered at 2 p.m., the second at 3:30 pm. The suspect was in custody by 5:30 p.m., and by 7:30 p.m. he had confessed!


At homicide headquarters detectives said that when he was arrested Wilson’s hands were found to be stained with blood and he had a razor in his pocket.

Once they had him in custody detectives began to interview Wilson. He told them he had been born in Shelbyville, Indiana and graduated from high school in 1930. Immediately following high school Wilson had joined the Navy, serving until 1941 when he was given a medical discharge for sexual psychosis.

Otto Stephen Wilson

Otto Stephen Wilson

According to Wilson’s statement his wife had gone to naval authorities and told them about a few of the homosexual encounters she knew he’d had. She also told them how her husband had once waited for her to get out of the shower, sliced her buttocks with a razor and then began to lick at the drops of blood. These are the “unnatural impulses” to which I referred yesterday.

The U.S. Navy agreed with Mrs. Wilson, Otto’s impulses were definitely unnatural and they discharged him as quickly as they could.

Since his discharge Wilson had been working menial kitchen jobs in and around Los Angles all the while, according to him, trying to suppress his urge to kill or destroy women. Because he had syphilis the cops at first thought his urge to kill was revenge on all women for his having contracted VD, but he said that he knew that he’d caught the disease three years earlier, after his impulse to kill had started to invade his thoughts.

Finally Wilson began to tell cops the details about his day of slaughter.

He said that he met Mrs. Griffin in a Main Street bar and took her to the Barclay Hotel where they registered as Mr. and Mrs. O.S. Wilson — not a very clever alias. Once in their room the pair continued to drink. Later Wilson would claim that he became enraged when Virgie asked for $20, but the truth was that he’d brought the butcher knife and razor with him to the room, he had intended to commit murder.

He started by choking her, then he stabbed her several times. For over an hour he sat naked on the bed with Virgie’s body and attempted to remove her arms and legs with a razor. When he found it too difficult to carry out his planned dissections he left the room and went to a movie.

What film do you see after committing murder? Wilson walked over to the Million Dollar Theater at Broadway and Third where he saw The Walking Dead; also on the bill was Return of the Ape Man, but he couldn’t stay for a double feature, he had another urge to kill.

Poster - Walking Dead, The_04

Wilson’s second and final victim was Mrs. Lillian Johnson. Johnson was choked and stabbed just as Griffin had been, but this time Wilson bit off the dead woman’s nipple. He couldn’t recall if he swallowed it. Wilson’s reason for murdering Lillian was simple, he said he did it for “pure cussedness”.

Dr. J. Paul De River, Criminal Psychiatrist for L.A.P.D, interviewed Wilson right after the detectives had finished with him. In his book “The Sexual Criminal – A Psychoanalytical Study”, De River includes Wilson’s interview and a review of his case in the chapter on “Sadistic Homicide-Lust Murder” identifying Wilson as Case Study 116, K.

De River described Wilson in his report to the police:

“He was a necrophiliac and cannibalistic, all of which when summed up are the manifestations of the sado-masochistic complex.”

Before you rush out to buy a copy of of De River’s book be forewarned, the book was universally denounced, investigated by the Police Department, and I believe it was illegal to send it through the mail at one point.

Cops investigated Wilson for other unsolved homicides of women in L.A., one of which was the murder of Georgette Bauerdorf, and they would have loved to pin more killings on him but it wasn’t to be. He couldn’t be connected to any murders other than the two he committed on November 15, 1944.

Otto Stephen Wilson was found guilty of both slayings and sentenced to death. On September 20, 1946 he was executed in California’s gas chamber.


The Butcher


Georgette Bauerdorf

Georgette Bauerdorf

There were numerous unsolved slayings of women in 1940s Los Angeles, and among the dead were: Ora Murray, Laura Trelstad, Jeanne French, Georgette Bauerdorf, and of course Elizabeth Short. The murders were enough to frighten and enrage the public, who then demanded that local politicians address their concerns. The 1949 L.A. County Grand Jury was tasked with investigating what many perceived to have been a failure on the part of law enforcement to crack the cases. The Grand Jury dropped the ball on investigating the cops handling of the murders to focus instead on corruption in police vice units, but I’m not sure that it matters.

I don’t believe the murder cases went unsolved due to sloppy police work. What I think is that with the flood of transients (i.e. military personnel, war workers, etc.) into the city after the U.S. entered WWII in December 1941, it became increasingly hard for detectives to solve a homicide case.  If the victim and killer were strangers to one another, which in the war and post-war environment was likely, it would add another layer of difficulty to solving a murder with few, if any, clues.dahlia_herald_3_the black dahlia

By poking around in old newspapers I’ve discovered that there was a large number of dishonorably or medically discharged veterans wandering the streets of L.A. during the 1940s. Some of them had suffered profound trauma during their service, what we’ve come to know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. Others of them, like Otto Stephen Wilson, were screwed up for reasons that had nothing to do with a battlefield.  Wilson had served in the Navy for eleven years before being discharged in November 1941, one month before the U.S. went to war.

The reason for Wilson’s discharge from the Navy was the he suffered from sexual psychosis. If you’re wondering why it took them over a decade to diagnose him, it wasn’t until his wife complained to San Diego naval authorities about his “unnatural impulses” that the he came to the attention of his superiors and they gave him the boot. We’ll get to his impulses later.

Otto Stephen Wilson

Otto Stephen Wilson

Following his discharge from the Navy, Wilson had been living in and around L.A. working menial jobs as kitchen help in various cafes. He had a police record in the city beginning with his arrest on March 25, 1943 on suspicion of criminal attack when a young woman, Celeste Trueger, told cops he had grabbed her by the throat on a hotel stairway. His guilty plea on a battery charge earned him 90 days in jail, 30 of which were suspended.

On March 14, 1944, he was arrested on suspicion of burglary and handed over to county authorities to begin a nine month sentence. Wilson was released on good behavior about a month before he slaughtered two women in downtown hotels.

NEXT TIME: The story of Otto Stephen Wilson’s murder spree continues.

Film Noir Friday: The Hoodlum [1951]



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 THE HOODLUM, directed by Max Nosseck and starring Lawrence Tierney.

Turner Classic Movies says:

Incorrigible criminal Vincent Lubeck comes up for parole after serving five years for bank robbery in the state penitentiary. Although the warden believes that Vincent is an unrepentant “hoodlum,” Vincent’s naive and loyal mother defends her son when the Parole Board convenes to review his case. Vincent is released and returns home with his mother. While Vincent was in jail, his brother Johnny started Lubeck’s Service gas station and bought a home for the family, using the insurance money from their father’s death. Mrs. Lubeck is proud of the new home, which she boasts is a great improvement over the shack near the city dump in which the boys grew up. Refusing to compliment his brother’s hard work, Vincent bitterly remarks that “dough is the only thing that will cover up the stink of the city dump.”

Uh, oh. We know this can’t end well. Enjoy the movie!

The Human Fly, Conclusion

fly fifteen to lifeCarl G. Hopper, the human fly, was sentenced in May 1943 to fifteen years to life for his crimes. But surely nobody could have expected the human fly to be content to sit in Folsom Prison while some of the best years of his life, um, flew by.

Hopper wangled an early parole so that he could join the Army — but if Folsom couldn’t hold him how could the Army expect to? By late October 1944 he’d escaped from the guardhouse at Camp Roberts.


On October 27, 1944 at 7:50 p.m.Hopper was observed in a car listed as stolen, he was approached by a radio patrolman and a military policeman at Third Street near Lucas Avenue. He got out of the car and walked toward the officers. He drew a gun and made his escape when the M.P.’s gun jammed as he tried to fire at the fleeing man.

An hour later Hopper held up John D. Bowman of Downey in front of 1212 Shatto Street. Bowman told cops that the bandit was “too drunk to know how to drive”, so he forced Bowman to start his (Bowman’s) car for him and then he sped photo1

Next he turned up in Beverly Hills where he accosted Freddie Schwartz and Maude Beggs as they arrived at 514 N. Hillcrest Street for a party. Schwartz complied with Hopper’s demand for money, but he only had a $5 bill which Hopper hurled back at him in disgust complaining that it was not enough.

At 10:35 pm. Hopper held-up Sherman Oaks residents Mr. and Mrs. Julian N. Cole and Mr. and Mrs. Walter Deutsch on Valley Vista Blvd. He took $25 from Cole and $2 from Deutsch.

Only minutes later he held-up Dorothy Snyder in the 600 block of S. June Street, but he refused to take her money when he discovered she had only $7 in her purse. The fly was a gentleman.

Hopper’s one man crime wave continued.

A about half a block away from where he’d encountered Dorothy Snyder he held up Dr. Rudolph Mueller, getting away with $65.

Shortly after robbing Dr. Mueller, Hopper was observed driving at a high rate by two officers, S.W. Stevenson and K.M. Aitken, who pursued him until he crashed into a palm tree on Second Avenue near Santa Barbara Street. The fly fled on foot between two houses.

About ten minutes following the car crash Hopper committed another hold-up — this time he robbed C.B. Kaufman of his sedan and $55 near 43rd Street and Western Avenue.

Then the fly disappeared, at least for a few days.

At the Mexican border near Tijuana, Hopper was busted when he was thwarted in an attempt to shoot a U.S. Customs Service inspector who had halted him for routine questioning. The inspector, Richard McCowan, wasn’t entirely satisfied with Hopper’s answers to his questions and ordered him to wait. Hopper responded by pulling out a .38 caliber revolver and jamming it into McCowan’s abdomen. The fly had apparently seen too many western movies because he tried to discharge the weapon by fanning it, like he was Quick Draw McGraw, but failed to pull the hammer back far enough — he was taken into custody.

Hopper admitted his identity and boasted of how he’d led police in Los Angeles on a merry chase. Of course he denied committing any of the crimes laid at his feet, he said:

“they are just trying to pin something on me.”

Hardly. When he was busted he had a gasoline ration book and a driver’s license made out to C.B. Kaufman, the man who had been robbed of $55 and his sedan.

During the couple of days he was conducting his one man crime wave, Hopper had committed six robberies, netting him $147, and he had stolen three automobiles, one of which was a police car!

Carl was returned to the Los Angeles County Jail where he was booked on suspicion of the various crimes committed during his escape from Camp Roberts. His bail was set at $10,000.

Folsom Prison gate.

Folsom Prison gate.

Hopper was tried, convicted and then sentenced to life in Folsom Prison. Not surprisingly, the fly was considered to be a habitual criminal.

On December 12, 1946, only three years after his escape from the Hall of Justice Jail in Los Angeles, Carl Hopper attempted to break out of Folsom. He slugged a guard, ran to the top cell block, broke a skylight and made his way to temporary freedom over the roof, and down the ladder of an unmanned guard tower.  Then he took a 12 foot leap from a wall. Unfortunately for Hopper he got no further than the prison yard when he discovered the American River, swollen by recent rains, was far too dangerous to cross.

Ordinary housefly

Ordinary housefly

When guards found Hopper he said that he was “cold, wet and hungry”. He was returned to his cell.

The ordinary housefly lives from 15 to 30 days.  The human fly never reached old age. On June 23, 1949, six years after his daring escape from the Hall of Justice Jail in Los Angeles, twenty-nine year old Carl Hopper, the human fly, hanged himself with a bed sheet tied to a piece of plumbing in his solitary cell in Folsom Prison.

The Human Fly

human fly comic

On April 2, 1943 Carl Hopper, a 22 year old bandit and kidnapping suspect, made a daring escape from HOJJ (Hall of Justice Jail), and from that day forward he would be known as the “human fly”.

Hall of Justice c. 1939 [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Hall of Justice c. 1939 [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Cops hunted the human fly for several days without success. He finally resurfaced in a shoe store at 4411 W. Slauson. He had entered the store and, simulating a gun, he held up the manager Hans A. Camnizter — getting away with $23.51. A private patrolman, Edward Scheld, heard the ruckus and saw Hopper fleeing the store. Scheld got off a couple of rounds but they went wild. Carl ran to the rear parking lot where he forced Sam Tenn and his wife out of their car and drove away. The Tenn’s car was later found abandoned in the 400 block on E. Fairview Avenue, Inglewood. The human fly had escaped AGAIN!

On April 18th cops answered a prowler call at the home of Mrs. James Lehy, 38 Marion Avenue, Pasadena. Patrolman Gerald Wilson noticed Hopper limping along Harkness Street, a block away. Patrolman Wilson thought the limping man was drunk, he smelled of booze, and approached him with caution. He got the man into his police car and was headed to the Pasadena Police Station when suddenly Hopper struck Wilson in the neck, ripped the broadcasting microphone from the car and leaped shows cast

Wilson recovered quickly and gave chase. He caught up with Hopper in front of 234 N. Molino Avenue. Hopper struggled, but Wilson was able to subdue him and get him to the station.

At first Hopper refused to reveal his identity, but when he was confronted with fingerprint records and his photo in a police bulletin he confessed to being the human fly. Then he wouldn’t shut up. He was boasting, telling any one within earshot how he had eluded police for over two weeks:

“I started for San Francisco, hitchhiking, but learned there was a police blockade on the highway so  headed back here. Things went all right until last Thursday, when some fellows were chasing me, and I broke my leg getting off a little roof.”

The human fly continued to brag that he was under the noses of police every day in Pasadena. He’d taken a room in a house across from Pasadena Junior College, bought some collegiate clothes, and hung around malt shops where he mingled with students, showing off his leg in a plaster case — he said the leg was his excuse for not being in the Army.

fly back picCops were curious about how the human fly had spent his time immediately following his flight from the Hall of Justice. He told them on the day that he’d escaped from HOJJ, he went to the beach, bought a pair of swimming trunks, and lay all day with his face in the sand to avoid recognition.

Carl was booked in Pasadena Jail for drunkenness, resisting arrest, vagrancy, suspicion of burglary and violating the Selective Service Act. He was later taken down to Central Jail where he was booked on suspicion of robbery.

Officers took Carl to his room at 73 N. Harkness Street in Pasadena, but they didn’t find anything of interest except a small bottle filled with water. Hopper said he carried the vial on hold-ups and pretended it was nitroglycerin! He also told cops that he used a cap pistol in his robberies.

Because Hopper was such a slippery character cops weren’t convinced that his leg cast wasn’t being used to store hacksaw blades, a gun or other possible jail breaking equipment. They planned to x-ray the cast to be sure. Just so you know, the only thing inside the cast was Carl’s leg.

Of course everyone wanted to hear the details of the fly’s original escape, and he was happy to give them chapter and verse. He said that he made his way to the 14th floor roof top and then worked his way down a ventilator to the eighth floor, through a window and down the stairs. He said:

“I was scared all the time. I’m darned lucky to be alive.”

He went on to say:

“The worst part was getting over the hump (the rounded top of the ventilator) and down the side of the fire wall. I put one foot inside the ventilator, next to the wall, and started sliding. Every four feet there was a two-inch reinforcing flange, and I grabbed that to slow up. I just about tore my fingers off.”

He told cops that at one time he wanted to go back, but he couldn’t work his way up. When he reached the eighth floor he leaped about six feet sideways into space and caught a narrow window ledge, still six floors above the concrete bottom of a light well!


The great Jesse Owens.

Hopper attempted to plead insanity, but that went nowhere. He ended up pleading guilty to two counts of armed robbery and one count of attempted robbery. Superior Judge Arthur Crum immediately sentenced the human fly to a term of from 15 years to life. He admitted to the judge that he was already on 50 year parole from San Quentin where he had served 26 months on a first-degree robbery charge. He was released in December 1942 and began his life of crime anew.

As the fly was being led away by Bailiffs H.H. Parker and N.C. LeFever he still limped from his leg injury. The injury didn’t stop him from boasting about being an escape artist; however, Judge Crum reminded him that others had escaped from the jail ahead of him but Hopper replied:

“Not in the daytime, Your Honor.”

He went on to say that he could outrun Jesse Owens, handicap or no handicap. He even offered to prove it if the deputies would turn their backs. They declined.

NEXT TIME: Whatever became of the human fly?



Film Noir Friday: Shadow of a Doubt [1943]

shadow of a doubt

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 SHADOW OF A DOUBT, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotten and Macdonald Carey — with a fine performance by Hume Cronyn.

The script was a collaboration between Thornton Wilder, Sally Benson and Alma Reville (Hitchcock’s wife).

Of course Hitch makes a cameo appearance in the film, and Wikipedia tells you when to look for him:

Alfred Hitchcock appears about 15 minutes into the film, on the train to Santa Rosa, playing bridge with a man and a woman (Dr. and Mrs. Harry). Charlie Oakley is traveling on the train under the assumed name of Otis. Mrs. Harry is eager to help Otis, who is feigning illness in order to avoid meeting fellow passengers, but Dr. Harry is not interested and keeps playing bridge. Dr Harry replies to Hitchcock that he doesn’t look well while Hitchcock is holding a full suit of spades, the best hand for bridge.

The Want Ad Killer, Conclusion

death car

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s homicide investigators Det. Sgts. Hamilton and
Lovretovich were following the scarce leads in the case in the “want ad” murder of Andrew Kmiec. The killer had left his bifocals and a couple of unspent .38 caliber cartridges at the scene, but there was no logical place to begin an investigation in a slaying that appeared to have been random. The detectives ruled out robbery — Andy still had $48.43 in his pockets when his body was found.

found carA few days following the slaying detectives received a call from a bartender named Jack London. He’d parked his car at Soto St. and Olympic Blvd. and headed for the cafe where he worked. He thought he saw bloodstains on the lower part of the left door of a Mercury convertible parked next to his car. When he looked inside the car he saw that the seats were smeared with blood. He phoned the cops.

Within minutes the car was identified by police as Kmiec’s. In the rear seat were Dolly McCormick’s coat, handbag, and the Cosmopolitan magazine she’d had with her. Also inside the car was the mate to the lone shoe that had been lying in the road near Andy’s body — the shoe that had first caught the attention of Menlo Butler’s young son.


Actor Kurt Kreuger undoubtedly received a call from the Want Ad Killer — fortunately he didn’t meet him.

There seemed to be no leads forthcoming in the case until Dolly, the only witness to Andy’s murder, began receiving threatening telephone calls at her cousin’s home in North Hollywood. She was advised to keep her mouth shut, or pay the consequences. The cops hoped the calls would provide clues to the killer — but upon investigation they appeared to have been the work of pathetic cranks. Even so, Sheriff’s deputies placed Dolly under a 24-hour guard while virtually every detective in the LASD continued to investigate.

A few citizens reported odd telephone calls they said they had received from an unidentified man after they’d placed a want ad in the newspaper. One of the persons who had likely been contacted by Kmiec’s slayer was actor Kurt Kreuger. Kreguer was attempting to sell his Cadillac El Dorado. A man contacted him and asked him to take the car to the Biltmore Hotel. Kreuger said he would, but first he planned to pick up a friend on the way downtown. At that news Kreuger said his caller seemed to cool, then hedged a bit and said he would call the following day with different arrangements. The prospective buyer never phoned.

Det. Sgts. Lovretovich and Hamilton just couldn’t catch a break — until, out of the blue, Samuel Jones, a Sheriff’s records clerk, spotted something interesting.

So many things in life are a mixture of hard work, intelligence, intuition, and plain old luck. That’s how it was in the hunt for Andrew Kmiec’s killer.

zilbauer sketchJones was leafing through a file of police bulletins when he came across the name of Anthony J. Zilbauer, 52, who was wanted for questioning by LAPD’s Hollenbeck Division on a grand theft charge. Zilbauer had stolen furniture from one rental when he and his family had moved to another. Deputy Jones thought that there was a strong resemblance between the police bulletin description of Zilbauer and the description of the want ad killer. So he reported his suspicions to detectives.

LASD investigators got Zilbauer’s mug shots from LAPD and showed them to Dolly. Bingo! She immediately ID’d the man as Andy’s killer. Bloody fingerprints found at the scene were matched to those of Zilbauer. The detectives had a suspect and the manhunt was on.

zilbauer printsJust a few weeks following Andy’s murder his suspected killer was located in St. Louis, Missouri. With the cooperation of St. Louis law enforcement L.A. Sheriffs laid a trap for Zilbauer. He was captured and arrested when he walked into a post office to pick up a general delivery letter from his wife.

While Zilbauer was being arrested in St. Louis his thirty-four year old bride of two months, Geraldine, was in Los Angeles giving a sworn statement to the district attorney in which she said that her husband had confessed to killing Kmiec. Screw spousal privilege — she didn’t intend to go to prison.

The Sheriff’s investigation had revealed that Anthony Zilbauer was a man of many aliases. He’d picked up the name Bauer when his wife had noticed that there was a pottery company in Los Angeles that spelled Bauer the same way he did. The real pottery company was undoubtedly the inspiration for the phony story he gave Kmiec and McCormick about being in that business.


Geraldine had also told the D.A. about a strange overnight trip she and Tony had taken to Las Vegas in November (just a few days after Kmiec’s murder). Geraldine said that her husband had a fur coat, she didn’t know where he’d acquired it, and he wanted to take it to Vegas to pawn or sell it. The couple went to a pawn shop and Tony had Geraldine carry out the transaction on her own. They got $300 for the mink, most of which Tony kept for himself — presumably to finance his flight to St. Louis.geraldine zilbauer

The mink coat that Geraldine and Tony had unloaded in Las Vegas was the property of a woman named Mrs. Belle Brooks. Tony had run the want ad scam on her too. Zilbauer had answered an ad she’d placed to sell her fur coat. When he arrived at her apartment he held her at gunpoint and took the coat and a few of her other personal items.

belle brooksHamilton and Lovretovich were sent to St. Louis to collect Zilbauer, who had waived extradition, and return him to Los Angeles where he had a capital murder charge to answer for.

Under questioning by D.A. Ernest S. Roll, Anthony Zilbauer confessed to the murder of Andrew Kmiec.

Not surprisingly during his trial Zilbauer attempted to mitigate his responsibility for Kmiec’s slaying by testifying that Andy, who was larger than he by over six inches and at least 60 lbs., had attacked him. One important fact that Tony neglected to acknowledge — Andy may have been larger, but he had a gun.

“The whole thing was a mistake. He brought it on himself–that seems a foolish thing to say–but that’s the way it was.”

Then Zilbauer went on to tell his side of the story which was a pack of lies from beginning to end.

“The last time I saw him was when he was running around the rear of the car. Then I got in and drove away as fast as I could.”

What? Andy probably wasn’t capable of running anywhere after taking rounds to his chest and face. Also there was evidence that his body had been dragged into the ditch where it was later found.

There wasn’t any clear motive in the killing of Andrew Kmiec — the only plausible explanation is that it was a thrill kill — Zilbauer simply wanted to commit murder. zilbauer goes quietly

Zilbauer’s wife seemed to think that he’d get only 10 to 15 years for the murder, but Tony was an ex-con, hated prison, and he said he’d rather die.

He stated:

“…they might as well give me the gas chamber as a long prison term.”

Then Zilbauer went on an angry rant about his mother-in-law on whom he blamed everything, um, indirectly.

“If it wasn’t for her, this wouldn’t have happened. She’s responsible, indirectly.”

Tony said that he felt that it was the increased financial burden of having his mother-in-law live with the family that resulted in his crime spree.

zilbauer executed 2On March 4, 1954 it took jurors a mere five hours to find Anthony Zilbauer guilty on count one, the murder of Andrew Kmiec. He was also convicted on count two, robbery and kidnapping with bodily injury in connection with the theft of Belle Brooks’ mink coat and other property.

He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for count two, and received death in the gas chamber at San Quentin for count one.

Anthony Zilbauer, a three time loser in Ohio prisons before he came to California, died in California’s gas chamber on May 18, 1955.



NOTE:  I’ve covered a few of Det. Sgt. Ned Lovretovich’s cases  in the Deranged blog over the past few months. I’ve heard from a friend in the Sheriff’s Department, who has conducted interviews with some of Ned’s contemporaries, that Lovretovich was respected as a detective and thought of as a decent guy. Victim’s families bonded with him, but the people he busted hated him. That makes him a stand-up guy in my book and I know he’s someone I would have enjoyed meeting.

Read some of Ned’s other cases:  Thugs With Spoons; Death Doesn’t Sleep; Death of a Free Spirit

The Want Ad Killer, Part 2

mancuso 025_53_merc

Dolly McCormick witnessed the fatal shooting of Andrew “Andy” Kmiec by a man who had posed as a prospective buyer for Kmiec’s 1953 Mercury convertible. She was fortunate to have escaped with her life.

After she had directed  deputies to the scene of Andy’s shooting, Dolly was transported to the Norwalk Sheriff’s Station to be interviewed by Lt. A.W. Etzel and Det. Sgt. Ned Lovretovich.

Det. Loveretovich first asked Dolly questions to establish her relationship to the deceased. She told the detective that she and Andy weren’t in a serious relationship, but they had been dating for about two months.

She said that Andy lived on Beverly Glen with a roommate, Alex Milne, and the two men appeared to get along well. As far as she knew Andy didn’t have any enemies, despite what his killer had said about having been hired to do away with him.

Neither Andy nor Dolly were California natives — Andy’s car still bore Indiana license plates, and Dolly had only recently moved to North Hollywood from Prairie Grove, Arkansas to live with her cousin, a television advertising executive.  Andy had come to Southern California during WWII and, like thousands of other veterans, decided to make it his permanent home a few years later. Dolly, too, was looking for a life different than the one she’d had in Arkansas.

Andy Kmiec was described by his employer, friends, and acquaintances as a decent guy, liked by everyone who knew him. Det. Lovretovich couldn’t find anyone who had even disliked Andy, let alone hated him enough to hire someone to kill him.

Dolly was questioned in detail about the events of the evening of the slaying from the moment that Andy arrived in North Hollywood to pick her up for their date.

On the drive downtown to the Biltmore Hotel, Andy told Dolly:

“This is sort of an odd situation. I have never heard of a
business transaction carried on this way.”

When they arrived at the Biltmore, Andy asked Dolly to wait in the car while he went into the hotel to find the prospect. He arrived a few minutes later and introduced Dolly to the stranger — but she couldn’t recall the man’s name.

She described him to Det. Loveretovich as being approximately 45-50 years old, about 5′ 10″, with blondish brown hair. He was wearing a tan suede jacket with knit ribbing at the collar and cuffs and tan pants. She said the man needed a shave badly, but that he was otherwise unremarkable. He was wearing a pair of gold metal, rimless, bifocal eye glasses.

Dolly became uncomfortable during the drive to Whittier because the stranger told conflicting stories about his employment. He had first implied that he owned a pottery
business in Santa Ana, then moments later said he was the plant’s supervisor. What really alarmed Dolly was when the man seemed unable to provide concise directions to his own home.

The pretty sales clerk went on to describe what happened after the man had told Andy to park the car. She said that he produced a gun, showed it to Andy and said:

“You know what this is.”

Andy said yes, of course he knew that it was a gun — then he offered the stranger his wallet, the car, anything if he would leave.

The stranger said that he’d been hired to “take care” of Andy, and that he was being well paid for the job.

Andy continued to plead, but the man forced him into the back seat of the Mercury at gun point. Dolly was made to drive the car with the stranger sitting next to her.

Right before they pulled to a stop the man said to Dolly:

“It’s too bad that you had to be an innocent bystander, but as long as you do what I tell you to do I promise I won’t hurt you.”

Suddenly the man leaned over into the back seat and fired — Dolly heard Kmiec gasp, and then saw him clutch his chest. The man fired again and Dolly jumped out of the car. She felt something tug on the belt of her dress but she didn’t know if it was the assailant or if she’d caught it on the door handle. The belt ripped away from her dress as she scrambled to get away.

Dolly had left behind her in the car a black, faille purse with a gold clasp, her coat, and a Cosmopolitan magazine.Cosmopolitan-November-1953-1

Once she got to intersection of Lakeland and Painter she flagged down a a passing motorist. She got into the car and said:

“A man’s just been shot. Will you take me to the police, or some place where I can call the police, as quickly as possible?”

She was taken to a drug store where she phoned the Sheriff’s Department.

Det. Lovretovich gleaned what he could from Dolly’s statement, but it wasn’t much. He had a description of the killer, which could fit thousands of men in Los Angeles, and a description of the weapon, which appeared to have been a revolver with a long barrel. The only decent physical evidence was a pair of eye glasses found at the scene and, if they were lucky, they might be able to ID fingerprints left in blood.

Alex Milne, Andy’s roommate, was the next to be questioned by Det. Lovretovich. Alex said he was employed as a test pilot by Lockheed in Burbank. He’d known Andy for about ten months and they had been rooming together in a house on Beverly Glen for a few months prior to the murder.


From his interview it was clear that Alex was the quintessential ’50s swinging bachelor. He dropped the names of a few of his actor friends like Don Haggerty, and John Bromfield and his wife Corrine Calvert. He seemed like a guy who wanted to make an impression.

When asked if they ever had any arguments, Alex said that he and Andy got along fine. Det. Lovretovich wanted to know if he and his roommate ever went out with the same girls. Alex admitted that they had, but it was not a big deal. He told Ned that he’d fixed Andy up a few times with women he’d previously dated — he even shared that Andy had “made the team” a couple of times with some of them. Of course those girls were simply “pieces of ass” as far as Alex was concerned.  When Det. Lovretovich asked if the women were hustlers, Alex said no, they were airline stewardesses!

stew1After learning more than he probably ever wanted to know about Alex’s social life, Ned Lovretovich and the others assigned to the case continued to follow-up every lead, trying to get a break.

Detectives hoped that the bloody eye glasses found at the scene would crack the Kmeic case, just as a pair of specs had lead Chicago cops to Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb in 1924. Leopold and Loeb were convinced they’d committed the perfect crime, a thrill killing, when they murdered 14 year old Bobby Franks. The prescription eye glasses proved them wrong.


As Sheriff’s investigators continued to probe for answers, Andy Kmiec’s body was sent by air to East Chicago, Indiana, for burial.

As it turned out, Andy Kmiec’s killer wouldn’t be identified by his eye glasses, but rather by the sharp eyes of a Sheriff’s records clerk.

NEXT TIME: The Sheriffs make an arrest in Andy Kmiec’s murder.

The Want Ad Killer

A shoe is seen next to a pool of blood after a fight in downtown Rome-1450028

How many times have you seen a single shoe lying in the road? Did you ever wonder how it got there? I came up with an answer when I was a kid. I was convinced that the shoe was there because the owner had been snatched out of it by a violent death.

I speculated that the lone shoe’s owner may have been hit by a car, or involved in some other type of fatal incident. Even now whenever I spy a single shoe in the road it will cause me to shiver just a little bit.

My husband Scott, who is accustomed to my obsession with mayhem and murder, thought my theory was ghoulish for a kid. Hey, I never claimed to have been a laugh riot as a ten year old.

However, this next case vindicates me on the whole shoe thing.

On the night of November 21, 1953, Menlo Butler was driving with his family when his son shouted:

“Daddy, there’s a new shoe in the road!”

Menlo pulled his car over and parked approximately 50 yards east of Painter Avenue near Lakeland Road. A new shoe wasn’t the only thing Butler had discovered. He found blood-spattered, rimless glasses, the belt from a woman’s dress, and a button, comb, penny and two unfired .38 cartridges. He was trying to decide what to do next when L.A. Sheriff’s Deputies, Rowley and Webster, accompanied by a young woman, pulled up in a patrol car.

Butler turned to the cops and said:

“Officers, look what I found.”

He showed them the belt and other items he’d found in the road, and then he said:

“And look over there.”

He pointed to the south shoulder of Lakeland Road where Deputies Rowley and Webster saw the body of a man lying on his face in the weeds. They phoned in for an ambulance which came and took the man to Pico Emergency Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival by Dr. Merrill Colton.

dolly_kmiecThe young woman who had accompanied Deputy Sheriffs Rowley and Webster to the scene of the shooting was twenty-one year old Dolly McCormick. She had been with the victim, identified as thirty-three year old Andrew Kmiec, when he was shot. Somehow she had managed to escape the assailant, flag down a passing car, and get to the South Whittier Pharmacy at 13331 Telegraph Road where she phoned the cops from a booth.

When the deputies rolled up to the pharmacy they found Dolly waiting for them. The officers asked her to get into the radio car so she could direct them to the scene, but she hesitated — she was terrified. She said:

“No. I don’t want to go back there – he is still there and he will shoot me.”

When asked who “he” was, Dolly said she didn’t know, the man was a stranger.

Dolly told Rowley and Webster everything she could recall from the time that Andrew Kmiec, the victim, had picked her up in North Hollywood at approximately 4:30 p.m, until the shooting in South Whittier about two hours later.

Andrew and Dolly had planned a dinner date, but first Andrew had an errand to run and he wanted her to accompany him. He had advertised his car, a 1953 Mercury convertible, for sale in the papers and a man had called him and wanted to meet him at the Biltmore Hotel, downtown, at 5:30 p.m.


The couple drove to the Biltmore  where Andrew left Dolly to wait for him while he ran into the lobby to meet the prospective buyer. A short time later Andrew returned with a man, whose name Dolly couldn’t recall. The stranger told Andrew that he liked the car but wanted to show it to his wife. If she liked it Andrew would be paid in cash that evening.

Dolly said that the man sat on her right in the front seat of the car and they drove toward Whittier. The trio made small talk during the drive. The man told them that he worked in the pottery business, but Dolly became suspicious of him because it seemed to her that he was lying about his position. He gave odd answers to her inquiries and contradicted himself a couple of times. She was further alarmed when he was unable to provide clear directions to his home.

Finally, they pulled up in front of a house on a dark street and the stranger pulled a gun. Dolly said Andrew told the man he could take all of the money he had, the car, and some stocks and bonds at home if he would let them go. The stranger told him no, that he was a killer, hired to do away with Andrew and that he was being well paid for the job.

Pointing his weapon at Andrew, the stranger told him to get in to the rear seat. He then asked Dolly if she could drive. When she said yes the man motioned her into the front seat and told her to take the wheel. The stranger sat next to her, but kept his weapon pointed at Andrew.

Finally the man told Dolly to stop the car, then he leaned over the back seat and fired three shots at Andrew. Dolly quickly got out of the car on the driver’s side. She thought the killer had grabbed the belt of her dress, but it didn’t slow her down. Neither did the shot she thought she heard ring out as she ran for her life.

NEXT TIME:  Det. Sgts. Hamilton and Lovretovich begin the investigation into Andrew Kmiec’s murder.