Film Noir Friday: The Lady of Burlesque [1943]

lady of burlesque

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 LADY OF BURLESQUE (aka THE G-STRING MURDERS) directed by William Wellman and starring Barbara Stanwyck and Michael O’Shea.

The film was based on the novel The G-String Murders written by strip tease queen Gypsy Rose Lee (with ghost-writing assistance from mystery writer Craig Rice). If you’re not familiar with Craig Rice, she was the author of mystery novels and short stories, sometimes described as “the Dorothy Parker of detective fiction.” She was the first mystery writer to appear on the cover of Time Magazine, on January 28, 1946.

Turner Classic Movies says:

S. B. Foss, owner of the Old Opera House on Broadway in New York City, promotes his new recruit, burlesque dancer Dixie Daisy, hoping that she will draw a large audience. Dixie’s performance draws cheers from the crowds and from comedian Biff Brannigan, who ardently admires Dixie even though she hates comics because of past experiences with them. When someone cuts the wire to the light backstage that signals the presence of the police, the performers are surprised by a raid, and pandemonium ensues. As Dixie flees through a coal chute, someone grabs her from behind and tries to strangle her, but her assailant escapes when a stagehand comes along.

Bullied Into Murder

13-YEAR-OLD-BOY-KILLS-MOTHER-THOMSON-FAMILY-PHOTO

On Monday, August 22, 1955, Lancaster Sheriff’s deputies were summoned to the Thomson home at 4205 E Ave S.

The caller said:

“You’d better send someone over here because I just shot my mother.”

The dispatcher asked:

“Shall we send an ambulance?”

The caller replied:

“No. She’s dead. I’ll wait for you.”

Sheriff’s deputies rolled out to the home and found thirteen year old Jimmy Thomson waiting for them.

peer pressure headlineWhen questioned by Lt. Campbell Jimmy said that his mother, fifty-one year old Hilda Thomson, had surprised him as he was getting ready to run away from home. He’d packed his clothes and placed a plastic model airplane on top of the pile. The thirteen year old said after he and his mom had words he went into a bedroom where he grabbed a .22 rifle.

Jimmy told homicide investigators:

“First thing I knew I was shooting.”

Lt. Campell explained to reporters that it was difficult to obtain a coherent statement from Jimmy because the traumatized kid kept breaking down.

Jimmy answers questions at the Sheriff's Department

Jimmy has a burger and answers questions at the Sheriff’s Department

“He tells us only that he had decided to run away,” Lt. Campbell reported, because he wanted to prove to the ‘boys at school I’m not a sissy.'”

Campbell continued:

“Jimmy said he frequently has been tormented by other youngsters because he says, ‘I never was arrested or picked up like they were.'”

The cops had no choice but to take Jimmy to the station for further questioning. Finally, Lt. Al Etzel from Sheriff’s homicide was able to obtain a detailed statement from the boy of the events which led up to the shooting.

It was summer vacation so Jimmy spent much of the morning lying in bed. He told Lt. Etzel that he when he finally got up he decided to make some Jello — but he spilled scalding water on his leg. Forgetting about the Jello, he went outside where he immediately injured his knee.

Still smarting from the scalding water and injured knee, he went back into the house to watch TV. With only seven channels to choose from there wasn’t much to watch on the tube in 1955. I wonder if Jimmy caught the Jack McElroy show on the topic “I Cheated the Law”, or if he opted instead to watch “Queen for a Day”.

Nothing says "Queen" like a Dishmaster.

Nothing says “Queen” like a Dishmaster Deluxe.

In any case, at some point during the afternoon Jimmy made up his mind to kill his mother. He decided to shoot her because he couldn’t take the continued taunts of his schoolmates.

He explained to Lt. Etzel that some boys at school bullied him:

“They said I was square because I was never in trouble.”

Boy Kills mother. Hom Det. H A Waldrip holds 22 rifle used by Jimmy Thomson to kill Hilda Thomson

Homicide Detective H.A. Waldrip holds .22 rifle used by Jimmy Thomson to kill his mother.

After watching TV for a while the boy said that he went to his bedroom and loaded 12 cartridges into a .22-caliber lever-action rifle. He put the weapon under the bed, then he went outside to feed the animals — including his pet turtle.

He told investigators that he spent the rest of the afternoon on the telephone, making calls to a girl “to find out if she liked another boy.”

About 4:30 p.m. his mother came home. She scolded him for leaving dirty dishes in the sink. — then she sat down with the newspaper. Jimmy went into his bedroom and retrieved the rifle. He returned, raised his rifle and fired once. Hilda slumped over. He fired twice more.

Hilde Thomson's body examined by Deputy Sheriff Kipp and Det. H.A. Waldrip of Sheriff's Homicide

Hilde Thomson’s body examined by Deputy Sheriff Kipp and Det. H.A. Waldrip of Sheriff’s Homicide

Lt. Etzel said that the first bullet entered Hilde’s left temple. The other two struck the top of her head.

Jimmy set his rifle aside and examined his mother. It was then that he decided to run away from home. He was going to steal a car “to go camp out in the High Sierra.”

But he thought it over, he said, and called deputies.

Juvenile authorities required Jimmy to undergo a series of physical, psychiatric and psychological tests before they could decide how to handle his case. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any follow-up on Jimmy’s story in the Los Angeles Times. I hope that he got the help he needed.

In the 58 years since Jimmy shot his mother to death very little seems to have changed — as a way to deal with the pressure of being bullied children continue to act out in ways that often have tragic and far-reaching consequences.

 NOTE: Many thanks to Mike Fratantoni for assisting me with this sad tale.

Creepy Kristy, Conclusion

kristy_wifeOn July 5, 1951, Frank Kristy, a house painter in his late 40s, held his family at gun point in their Downey home. He had made clear his intention to kidnap his twenty year old stepdaughter Betty and force her to watch him commit suicide. He had been molesting the girl, likely for years, but she was slipping out from under his control. She had recently started to work as a secretary and she had even bought a car. It was becoming increasingly difficult for Frank to dominate her and it was making him terrifyingly unstable. He had blurted out a confession to Margaret, his wife, and told her that he’d been “screwing Betty” and planned to continue.

It is difficult to understand why Margaret didn’t take the kids and leave Frank, particularly after his disgusting admission. The situation finally culminated with Frank pulling a gun and threatening to kill everyone in the house if they didn’t comply with his demands. The gutsiest person in the room seems to have been the Kristy’s youngest daughter, Helen. She had been the one to hold a butcher knife on her dad when he had previously threatened her older half-sister’s life. This time as Frank held a weapon on his family, Helen made a move toward the obviously crazed man but he waved her back telling her that he’d just as soon kill her as anyone else.

Kristy kept his gun pointed at his wife and kids while he grabbed his stepdaughter’s handbag and car keys. He marched his family into the living room, then he pushed Betty, through the front door. Frank shoved the gun back into his shirt and warned Margaret not to call the police because if he saw any cops he would shoot Betty on the spot.

Margaret begged Frank not to take Betty, but he wouldn’t listen. He told her:

“I’m going to make her drive me out here ten miles … I will kill myself so she can see it … then I will let her come back.”

With a final glance back at Margaret, Frank said:

“If you come through that gate … I’ll shoot you right here.”

She asked Frank to let her kiss Betty goodbye, but once again he told her not to come through the gate or he would shoot her. Margaret watched helplessly as Betty got into the car on the driver’s side and, with Frank in the passenger seat, drove away.

Margaret waited two hours before phoning the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department to report the kidnapping. She’d been afraid to call sooner, worried that if she did it would mean certain death for Betty. An APB went out on the car, a 1942 coupe, owned by Betty. Buying the car had been her first major declaration of independence from her controlling stepfather.

Sheriffs caught a break on July 8th when the car was discovered abandoned near a gravel pit outside of Las Vegas. A man answering Kristy’s description had been seen hitchhiking at Hoover Dam a couple of days earlier at about 8:30 in the morning.

As the search for Betty and Frank continued further details of Creepy Kristy’s obsession with his stepdaughter became fodder for the daily newspapers. According to Margaret, Frank was insanely jealous of Betty and would never allow her to have boyfriends. To make his point that Betty was off limits, Frank kept two vicious dogs and let them roam freely in the fenced yard of the cottage. On the rare occasions when someone visited they could gain admittance by ringing the doorbell that Frank had installed on the gate.

kristy_dogs

On July 14th the R.L. Hill family of Bellflower had stopped off of Highway 6 near Newhall for a picnic. The Hill children were exploring a gorge when they made a grisly discovery and called their parents.

img765

Betty Hansen had been found.

At the top of the embankment above the spot where Betty’s body was discovered were a pair of blue slippers and a pearl necklace. Near the body officers found a silver cigarette lighter bearing Kristy’s initials, F.W.K.

img769The FBI joined the manhunt charging Kristy with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. The fugitive was reportedly seen in Salt Lake City, Utah — but the lead didn’t pan out.

As the search for Frank continued, twenty year old Betty Jean Hansen was laid to rest under the shade of an elm tree in Downey Cemetery. Her mother, sister, brother and about fifteen friends were in attendance — so were two deputy sheriffs. The sheriffs hoped that Frank would appear at the services, but he was a no-show.

On July 25, 1951 Frank Kristy was arrested in Sterling, Colorado. He had been turned in by a local man, Bob Hammond, who recognized the fugitive after seeing his likeness on wanted posters in town.img776

Once he was in custody, Kristy began to make self-serving statements that were meant to shift the blame for his actions onto everyone else. In particular the most offensive statements made by sexual abusers are when they claim that the sexual relations they had with a victim were consensual. Frank attempted to spin his abuse of Betty into a love affair in which the girl was complicit.

“I’ve raised Betty from the time I took her from my wife’s sister. My wife objected to the attention I paid Betty through the years.”

Obviously he was so caught up in his own lies that he had no idea how truly vile he remarks were. He continued:

“Betty devoted all her time to me and didn’t go around with boys. She wanted to leave, but in such a manner that her mother wouldn’t object.”

The depth of Frank Kristy’s self-delusion and depravity defy comprehension. Local newspaper coverage seemed to buy into Frank’s story to some extent. I was appalled to read the L.A. Times describe the years of sexual abuse suffered by Betty Jean Hansen as a “love affair”.

“…officials here (Los Angeles) learned that 20-year-old Betty Jean Hansen’s death was the climax of a love affair with her stepfather.”

Frank was extradited from Colorado to stand trial in Los Angeles for Betty’s murder, and of course he continued to try to mitigate his guilt with statements that characterized Betty’s death as a tragic accident rather than a cold-blooded killing.

He stated that he and Betty had been outside of her car when the gun fired, but the physical evidence pointed to a very different scenario. Betty’s blood was found inside her car and she was shot in the left temple — I don’t think it takes a sophisticated reconstruction of the crime to imagine how Betty actually met her death.

Frank Kristy was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

NOTE: Many thanks to Mike Fratantoni for his assistance with this deranged tale.

Creepy Kristy

Frank W. Kristy

Frank W. Kristy

When a man has his twenty year old stepdaughter’s name tattooed on his shoulder warning bells should go off, lights should flash and everyone should get as far away from him as possible because nothing good is going to happen. Unfortunately, Margaret Kristy didn’t heed the danger signs when her common-law husband Frank got a tattoo that read “Betty”, and as a result she lost her eldest daughter forever.

In 1937 Margaret Frances Thomas began living with Frank Walter Kristy (Krystopik) as husband and wife. Margaret had two young children, Betty and Raymond, who were living in foster care when, in December 1937, she gave birth to Frank’s child, a daughter they named Helen.

Sometime in 1940 or 1941, Betty and Raymond came to join the Kristy family in their small home in Downey. For the next several years the family continued to live together until April, 1950, when Frank told Margaret to get out. It isn’t clear why she complied with his demand, and it is especially troubling that she didn’t take her children with her — although her youngest, Helen, joined her a few months later.

During the year that she was away from the home Margaret didn’t see Betty or Raymond, although she occasionally spoke with Betty on the telephone.

In June, 1951, Frank and Betty asked Margaret to return to the family home, which she did on June 15, 1951. About one week prior to her return she spoke to Betty who said that Frank “had things to do” with her. The implication was that Frank had been having sexual intercourse with his twenty year old stepdaughter.

Betty Hansen

Betty Jean Hansen

Just having that information should have been enough for Margaret to take Betty, Helen and Raymond and flee from the house to safety, but inexplicably she did not. Instead she moved back in and fought with Frank over how to spend her paycheck. During the argument Frank told her:

“Well, …I’ll tell you now, … I have screwed her, … I intend to screw her as long as she is in this house.”

Still, Margaret and the kids stayed, even after Frank threatened:

“If Betty leaves this house I’ll kill her.”

It is a mystery to me why Margaret stayed with Frank after he’d admitted having sex with Betty; and it is utterly mind boggling that on June 23, 1951 Margaret invited Frank to accompany her and the kids to a square dance! She and the kids should have been in another city or state by then starting new lives — but there they were, with Frank in the little house on Cheyenne Avenue. Frank told Margaret he had to make a phone call before he could commit to going out to a dance. Margaret decided to listen in on his conversation and she heard him say:

“Well, my son likes to shoot too.”

It was obvious that Frank was shopping for a gun — and yet Margaret and the kids remained in the house.

For the next few nights Frank drank and then threatened Margaret and Betty with violence; one night he even told Betty that she did not have long to live.

On July 3rd Frank announced to the family that he was going to make it a “real Fourth of July”, but not with firecrackers. Margaret asked him what he meant by that, and he told her that he was going to kill Betty on that day.

The only one who seemed to have any kind of a grasp on the seriousness of the situation, or any notion about what to do, was the youngest daughter, Helen. After a night of watching her father drink and get increasingly sullen, Helen went into the kitchen and then returned to the back porch to face Frank. She was hiding something behind her. Frank asked her a few times what she had in her hands, the girl finally said:

“Well, Daddy, … I have got a butcher knife. If you dare lay your hands on Betty, … I’ll cut your throat from ear to ear.”

Frank’s reaction to Helen’s threat was to blame Margaret for turning the children against him. However, he had a solution for the alienation of affection problem. He told Margaret:

“Well, I guess I’ll just have to do away with the whole family.”

On the morning of July 4th, Margaret discovered that both telephone wires in the house had been cut. If, at that point, Margaret had grabbed the kids and the car keys and driven away things may have ended differently.

The 4th of July passed without further incident.

The next day Margaret was altering a bathing suit for Helen so that she and the kids could go to Long Beach for a swim. She heard Frank come into the room and saw him pull a gun out of his shirt. He said:

“You didn’t think I had a gun, did you?”

Margaret begged him not to do anything drastic. Drastic?? He’d repeatedly threatened her life, he’d admitted to sexually molesting Betty, and suddenly Margaret was advising him not to do anything drastic.

Frank leveled his weapon at Betty and, to her credit, Margaret jumped in front of her daughter to protect her — but her maternal instinct had kicked in far too late.

NEXT TIME: Frank Kristy’s one man crime wave continues.

The Coincidence Killer

thomason photo

It was about 4 a.m. on October 27, 1951 and Virginia Pauline Thomason, a pretty twenty-four year old defense plant worker, was driving home alone after attending a baby shower and visiting a bar with a girl friend. She was near Fairview and Vanowen streets in Burbank, headed for her Van Nuys home, when a shot from a rifle shattered her jaw. She slumped over, dead, as the driverless sedan rolled for two or three blocks before it came to rest against a railroad right-of-way embankment.

thomason_dead

Following Thomason’s shooting William Frank Cairns, an unemployed mechanic and WWII Navy vet, walked into the Van Nuys Police Station and told the cop at the desk that he had shot at a traffic violator who had tried to crowd him off the road. He was then told that the victim of his road rage was Virginia Thomason, his former sweetheart!

Cops had a hard time buying Cairns’ contention that he’d had no idea that the motorist he’d shot and killed was his ex-girlfriend. But he refused to budge from his story no matter how hard the police pressed him. He told officers that they only reason he had the rifle in his car was that he’d planned to go deer hunting in Idaho. Cairns was booked on the shooting and released on bail.

Cairns inappropriately mugging for the camera after being fingerprinted.[Photo courtesy of USC Digital Collection]

Cairns inappropriately mugs for the camera after being fingerprinted.
[Photo courtesy of USC Digital Collection]

Virginia was to have been a bridesmaid at her brother Ray’s wedding, scheduled for the day after she was killed. The ceremony was postponed when her family got word of her death. The Thomason family was in deep mourning but they assisted the detectives as best they could.

Virginia’s mother told the police that her daughter had known Cairns for a couple of years and she’d dated him, but she broke up with him several months before her death. Cairns didn’t cope well with rejection and continued to make himself a nuisance. Virginia had been compelled to sign a complaint against him in the Burbank City Attorney’s office in September. He was charged with carrying a concealed weapon after he threatened her life.

A more credible tale based on jealousy, not coincidence, began to emerge as Burbank detectives questioned Virginia’s friends and relatives.

Janet Avichouser [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

Janet Avichouser [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

Janet Avichouser told Burbank P.D. Det. H.D. McDonald that she and the dead girl had seen Cairns in a bar on Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood when they had gone out for drinks after the baby shower, but they didn’t speak to him. He bought drinks for the girls but they refused them. Janet told Det. McDonald that she thought that Cairns had “acted jealous” when Virginia danced a few times with other men in the bar.

The inquest proceedings were temporarily halted when Janet collapsed in the witness box. She had finished identifying herself when Dep. Coroner Ira Nance asked:

“Were you with Miss Tomason on the night she was killed?”

Janet answered softly, “Yes”, then put her hands to her face and fainted. Her friends ran to her, lifted her out of the witness box and took her into the hallway where she was revived with smelling salts. She was excused for the day.

Cairns at the scene of Virginia's shooting. [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

Cairns at the scene of Virginia’s shooting. [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

Cairns couldn’t attend the inquest, he was in General Hospital prison ward recovering from an appendectomy. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t at the hearing, he was held accountable for Virginia’s death.

At Cairn’s trial there were a few bits of evidence that were difficult to explain away as coincidence. In particular nobody believed that Cairns hadn’t recognized Virginia’s car — he had helped her paint it a very distinctive golden color.

Thomason's family photos. [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

Thomason’s family photos. [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

Sadly, because there were no witnesses to slaying, jurors were stuck with Cairns’ version of the shooting. He testified that he’d fired from his moving car into Virginia’s car, which he claimed was also moving. His explanation didn’t tally with the physical evidence. The autopsy revealed that Virginia was within four feet of the gun when it was fired because powder burns were found on her left shoulder, left hand and fingers.

William Frank Cairns was far luckier than he deserved to be considering the enormity of his crime. He was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to from one to ten years in Chino State Prison.

The Shuddering Bride, Conclusion

shuddering headlineBarbara Eras’ sleuthing had convinced her that her new husband, Robert Pennington, was a liar and possibly a murderer. He had told conflicting stories regarding the whereabouts of his wife, Helen Beitz. Barbara was convinced that something bad had happened to her predecessor, especially after Robert took her to the house he and Helen had shared. As she was giving her statement to the cops, Barbara put her hand to her throat and shuddered; she said:

“Bobby pins and cosmetics were strewn around. I didn’t think a woman would leave things like this if she was going on away on a visit. In the living room were pictures of her two babies and their little bronzed baby shoes. No mother would go away and leave things like that behind.”

The Sheriffs agreed with Barbara and brought Robert in for questioning. They hammered away at him for three days but he wouldn’t break his silence, so the cops had no choice but to cut him loose for lack of evidence. He may have been released but he wasn’t off the hook, the sheriffs kept him under surveillance.

pennington quizzedWhen Robert attempted to leave Los Angeles he was arrested again, and this time he broke down and confessed to the murder of Helen Beitz.

As it turned out he and Helen had never even been married, although they’d lived together for a year or so. He told cops that he’d killed her when he found her dressing for a date with another man. The way Robert told the story he’d acted in self-defense, resorting to violence only after Helen had lunged at him with a butcher knife. He said he had grabbed her by the throat to keep her from plunging the knife into him. He choked her until she slumped to the floor. Then he spent more than an hour administering artificial respiration and trying to revive her.body in swamp

When he realized that Helen was dead, Robert stripped off her clothes and wrapped her nude body in a blanket, placed it in his car and drove south toward Fallbrook. He turned up Mt. Palomar Road, leading to the observatory, then turned onto another road known as Live Oak Park Road. At the bend in the road, at the bottom of a gully, Robert dug a shallow grave and buried her.

Pennington at grave of Helen Beitz. [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Collection]

Pennington at grave of Helen Beitz. [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Collection]

Following his confession, he lead deputies to the scene and stood, manacled, between two deputy sheriffs and watched while a bulldozer uncovered Helen’s corpse which had been covered by mud from the January rains.

Barbara and Robert in court. [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Collection]

Barbara and Robert in court. [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Collection]

Barbara Pennington had done a remarkable job of revealing the murder of Helen Beitz, and most women would have been relieved to have emerged from a ten day marriage to a killer unscathed. Barbara was not most women.

She had been advised by an attorney to have her marriage to Robert annuled, but when reporters asked her about it she said:

“I’m not going to get an annulment. I’m going to stick by Bob because he was good to me. And because he was good to my children.”

She went on to say:

“I’ve check up on that women he killed — and she wasn’t much good. I’m sticking by Bob. I’m going to raise all the money I possibly can to defend him. As soon as we get out of this I’m going to remarry him — in the United States.”

Robert’s trial began with Barbara at his side. A couple of women who had met Pennington in a Lynwood bar two weeks before Christmas, and just days after Helen’s murder, testified that he had offered them his dead wife’s clothing. He said that his wife had died several months before from a cerebral hemorrhage.

Following Helen’s death Robert grieved in public, once he had a few drinks in him, but in private he was busy trying to convert Helen’s property into cash for his own use. He even collected one of her paychecks at the paper carton factory in South Gate where he and Helen had worked together.

On April 28, 1952, Robert Pennington was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to from five years to life in San Quentin.

Barbara said:

“I’d wait for him for two years, maybe five years. If he gets more than that, I’d be crazy to wait.”

Barbara may have been a lot of things, but she wasn’t crazy. Two months after Robert’s murder conviction the shuddering bride had her marriage annulled.

Film Noir Friday: The File on Thelma Jordon [1950]

file on thelma jordon poster

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 FILE ON THELMA JORDON, directed by Robert Siodmak and starring Barbara Stanwyck, Wendell Corey, and Paul Kelly (who, in real life, served time in prison).

Turner Classic Movies says:

Assistant district attorney Cleve Marshall goes on a drunken binge and misses celebrating his anniversary with his wife Pamela. Left alone in chief investigator Miles Scott’s office, Cleve drunkenly pursues Thelma Jordon, an alluring and confident woman, who is reporting an attempted burglary at her elderly aunt Vera’s house. Thelma agrees to join Cleve for a drink after he offers to fix a parking ticket for her. He stays with her until late that night, when she throws him out of her car for proclaiming his love.

It’s a complicated tale of theft and murder!

The Shuddering Bride

bride_photo

Barbara Eras Pennington

By January 1952, twenty-nine year old divorced mother of four, Barbara Eras, had been through one hell of a lot. She had married an American solider stationed in England and then had accompanied him to the U.S. The wartime marriage ended and Barbara supported herself and her kids: Sandra, 6; Sonia, 5; Dolores, 3; and Jerry, 2, by working as a cocktail waitress.

Barbara was working on Wednesday, January 16th, and she was in a melancholy mood. The juke box was playing some English tunes like “Tipperary” and she became homesick for England where she had served as a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF). She was lost in her reverie when she was approached by a tall, handsome man. He was thirty-one year old Robert Pennington, a machinist, and he said that he, too, was burdened by sorrow. He told Barbara that his wife had recently died of a stroke. He sobbed as he recounted how the resuscitator squad had worked on his wife’s body for over two hours, but had ultimately failed to revive her. Barbara and Robert cried together at the bar.

By the end of the week Pennington had proposed marriage to Barbara — he said that they had both been through so much that they might be good for each other. On January 21st the couple, along with a few of their friends, drove down to Tijuana where they were married.

Barbara immediately started to have second thoughts about her whirlwind courtship and hasty marriage. She had a strange feeling about her new husband. What did she really know about Robert? They hadn’t even known each other for a week before they eloped. Barbara saw to it that she and Robert were never alone together — a challenge considering they were supposed to be on their honeymoon.

The bride was concerned enough to engage in a bit of amateur detective work. She followed up on Robert’s story about the resuscitation squad taking two hours to try to revive his deceased wife, Helen Beitz. Barbara said:

“I telephoned the Fire Department to find out if, as Bob said, a resuscitator squad had worked over Mrs. Beitz’s body for two hours.”

There was no record of any such attempt. Definitely a black mark against Robert.

Barbara talked to neighbors who said they’d heard from Robert that Helen had gone to Oklahoma to visit relatives, but when she contacted the relatives they said that they hadn’t seen Helen.

Robert & Helen at a nightclub.

Robert & Helen at a nightclub.

The new bride was becoming frightened, but she was undeterred. Robert had given Barbara a beautiful ring when they were married. She was suspicious about its provenance so she got out the phone book and began calling every jeweler in town until she found the one who had made the ring for Helen Beitz. Things were looking worse by the minute.

So far everything Barbara had learned about Robert had done nothing to assuage her fears, in fact she she was becoming increasingly terrified. The final straw came when following an argument Robert said to her:

“You are monkeying with a dangerous guy.”

Barbara decided that it was time she phoned the cops.

NEXT TIME: A confession and a body, as The Shuddering Bride continues.

Film Noir Friday: Leave Her To Heaven [1945]

leave_her_to_heaven

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 LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN, directed by John Stahl and starring Gene Tierney, Cornel Wilde, Jeanne Crain and Vincent Price.

Wikipedia Says:

The film begins with novelist Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde) returning to his remote island home Back of the Moon after two years in prison. His approach there dissolves to an extended flashback running almost the entire duration of the film narrated by Harland’s friend and attorney (Ray Collins). Through him we see how Richard meets beautiful socialite Ellen Berent (Gene Tierney) on a train. She falls in love with him based mainly on his close resemblance to her recently deceased father, to whom she was obsessively attached.

Ellen is already engaged to an ambitious Boston attorney (Vincent Price), but she jilts him and rapidly marries Richard, who at first is fascinated not only with Ellen’s beauty but her exotic and intense manner. It gradually becomes apparent however that Ellen is pathologically jealous towards any other person and activity that her husband cares about.

This is an incredible film, and one of my favorites.  Enjoy the movie!

http://youtu.be/F0SiMF-zV_U

The Deadly Usher, Conclusion

usher booked_img_0Only 17 days after theater usher Lorenzo Castro shot a movie patron for attempting to snatch a handbag belonging to his boss’s wife, the teenager was back in the news for kidnapping and murder.

How did Castro go from hero to villian in less than three weeks?

On February 23, 1958, at approximately 11:10 p.m. Loren Gross, manager of the Jewel Theater in East Los Angeles, placed a call to the Sheriff’s Department when Castro failed to return to work following his dinner break. Gross feared foul play because Castro had been hassled and threatened by members of the White Fence gang ever since a shooting incident at the theater earlier in the month. Castro had shot and wounded seventeen year old Elias Alvarado during an attempted purse snatching. Elias’ life had been saved by the .75 cent crucifix he wore around his neck. The shooting was ruled self-defense and no action was taken against Castro — but maybe some of Elias’ friends wanted payback.

Deputies G. Franzen and M. Buoniconte were dispatched to search for Lorenzo, whom they found at the home of his friend Ruben Ramos. Castro was brought back to the theater for questioning. During Castro’s interrogation, Deputies Franzen and Buoniconte were informed by Sgt. Vogan that the Newhall Station had called to report that a thirteen year old boy had been shot. The victim told officers that he and a friend had been kidnapped by the usher who worked at the Jewel theater. Castro and Ramos were arrested, transported to the East L.A. Sheriff’s station and interrogated.

Castro told Homicide Detective Sgts. Walsh and Waldrip that the shooting in which he’d been involved earlier in the month had resulted in his nearly constant harassment by members of the White Fence gang. Lorenzo stated:

“Ever since that other time, the White Fence gang has been giving me a bad time. They’ve been pushing me around at the theater. They were doing it again Sunday.”

I-Was-a-Teenage-FrankensteinThe young gang members had come to the Jewel Theater to catch a double feature: “I Was A Teenage Frankenstein” and “Blood of Dracula” — they’d also come to harass Lorenzo.

Lorenzo said that he was fed up and wanted to look for some of the guys who had been antagonizing him. Ramos offered to help — he had a car and a .32 caliber Harrington & Richardson chrome-plated six shot revolver. Castro and Ramos began to cruise the neighborhood around the theater. Lorenzo thought that some of the White Fence gang hung out at a hot dog stand at the corner of Indiana and Percy, so he and Ramos checked it out — nobody was there. They kept riding around until they spotted two guys that Lorenzo ID’d as part of the group that had tormented him. Lorenzo didn’t know the boys by name but they were fourteen year old Gerald Randolph Delao and thirteen year old George Rodriguez. Ramos eased his car to the curb and Castro, holding the pistol, got out and forced the two boys into the sedan. Along the way Castro took Rodriguez’ watch, set it ahead three hours, then broke it and forced the boy to put it back on his arm.52chevroletstylelinesedan

Then the four youths drove out to a spot along Soledad Canyon Road near the Tick Canyon Wash.

Ramos parked his 1952 Chevy Fleetline on a deserted section of road. Castro ordered the two younger boys from the car and told them to walk away. At about 15 feet from the road he barked: “Turn around”. Then he opened fire. Both the boys fell, then Lorenzo walked to them and fired at each of the boys lying on the ground. Satisfied that neither of the boys would harass him again, Castro went back to the car to rejoin Ramos and the pair sped back to Los Angeles. Castro phoned his boss  and reported that there had been gang members outside Ramos’ house, but they had finally left.

delao dead

Detectives Jim Wahlke and H.A. Waldrip examine the crime scene and look at the body of Gerald Delao. Photo courtesy of USC Digital Collection

George Rodriguez, bleeding from a gun shot wound to his arm, staggered to the road and flagged down a trucker, Olen Hoover. Hoover took the boy to a nearby house to call Sheriff’s deputies. Rodriguez was lucky to be alive, his friend Gerald had died at the scene.

id of killer

Detectives Walsh and Waldrip look on as George Rodriguez IDs his assailants. Photo courtesy of USC Digital Collection

Castro and Ramos were indicted for murder, assault with intent to commit murder, and kidnapping. Castro had a previous record for driving an automobile without the owner’s permission and for carrying a concealed weapon. He was paroled from a forestry camp in 1956.

rodriguez shell shocked

Detectives Wahlke and Waldrip with an obviously shell-shocked George Rodriguez. Photo courtesy of USC Digital Collection.

Thirteen year old George Rodriguez made a powerful witness against the defendants at trial. He told the jury of eight men and four women that he had been shot in the shoulder by Castro, and then turned over and shot again.  After pumping two rounds into Gerald, Ramos and Castro started to leave but they returned when they heard the boy moaning. George whispered to his friend to keep quiet, but Gerald was lying about three feet away and probably didn’t hear him. The kid died with three slugs in his chest.

usher vic deadFeigning death, George was turned on his back and one of the defendants (likely Castro) fired at him from point-blank range, then he was dragged under some bushes and left for dead.

On May 28, 1958, former movie theater hero, Lorenzo Castro, was found guilty of murder in the first degree in count one, and guilty of attempted murder in count two.  He was sentenced to life in prison. His co-defendant, Ruben Ramos, was found guilty of murder in the second degree in count one, and guilty of attempted murder in count two.  Ramos was sentenced to from five to life.

In July 1958 each of the defendants appeared before Judge Dawson for probation hearings — both were denied and remanded to State Prison to begin their terms.

Castro came up for parole in 1967 but Sheriff Peter J. Pitchess recommended against it. In May 1969 Castro was again eligible for parole — the Sheriff’s Department made
no recommendation. I don’t know when or if either Castro or Ramos were released.