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 HIGHWAY 301 starring Steve Cochran and Virginia Grey.
Led by a psychotic killer, a vicious gang of armed robbers terrorizes Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina, robbing banks and payrolls and murdering anyone who might identify them.
In Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the members of a gang known to the police as the Tri-State Gang because they have robbed banks in North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland, are spotted switching cars during a getaway. The farmer who saw them is able to identify the make of the second car and the first few letters of the license plate. The police have been unable to identify any of the gang members, who are George Legenza, William B. Phillips, Robert Mais, Herbie Brooks and Noyes. All have long police records, but received only light sentences. Now, the police hope the license plate will eventually lead them to the criminals, and a special group, headed by an investigator named Truscott, is put together to pursue them.
Charles Lee Guy, III [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Collection]
On November 13, 1957 a jury of ten women and two men was selected in Santa Monica Superior Court for the second murder trial of nineteen year old Charles Lee Guy, III. The teenager stood accused of the shotgun slaying of Guy F. Roberts, his mother’s fiancee.
Charles’ mother Nina didn’t allow minor distractions like a murdered fiancee or a jailed son stand in the way of her happiness. She and Wilson Miles, the man with whom she and Charles had been living prior to her meeting Roberts, eloped to Tijuana!
I believe that the impulsive marriage was a way for the couple to ensure that neither of them could be compelled to testify against the other.
At least Charles had two attorneys who cared about him, his father, Charles Lee Guy, Jr. and one of his former stepfathers, John Angus.
Reporters asked Nina if she would be called as a witness for the prosecution:
“I hope I don’t have to testify against my son. I don’t see how I can. Sonny and I have always been devoted to each other”.
She also said that Charles had said to her:
“Gee, mom, I’m sorry. I don’t know why I did it.”
With a mom like Nina poor Charles didn’t need any enemies.
In an attempt to undo any damage inflicted on their case by Nina, Charles’ father/attorney explained that:
“He (Charles) had no motive and no reason to commit the crime. He believed his mother was involved and wanted to cover up for her.”
At least Charles’ father was able to score a couple of important points during his questioning of Detective William Garn. Detective Garn testified that when he arrived at the Miles’ home to arrest Charles, Wilson Miles answered the door and handed him (Garn) the keys to the dead man’s car! According to the detective, the car keys had been in Wilson’s room and NOT in the room occupied by Charles! In my book that is a smoking gun.
Charles testified that he had covered up for his mother, even though he was angry at her for seeing Miles during her engagement to Roberts:
“I thought that either my mother or Mr. Miles had killed Mr. Roberts.”
“She would write on the mirror at Mr. Miles’ house, ‘I love you,’ and then she’d go up to Mr. Roberts’ place and write the same thing on the mirror. It was a mess.”
Despite evidence that, in my opinion, offered sufficient reasonable doubt to justify an acquittal, on December 5, 1957, after deliberating for 5 hours and 20 minutes, Charles was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to from 1 to 10 years in prison.
When asked to comment on the verdict, Nina said:
“I’m heartbroken. I know Sonny is guilty, but I know he wasn’t in his right mind. I don’t blame Sonny for what he said about me during the trial. I know he had to do it.”
She added that she was thinking of selling the story of her marriages and the crime to a magazine.
Charles spent several years in prison. His mother rarely visited; but his dad continued to offer his support and looked forward to eventually taking Charles with him to North Carolina.
While he was an inmate Charles requested a tape recorder and a guitar to help him pass the time; then he started recording prison folk songs. Capitol Records heard about him from L.A. Times Columnist Paul Coates, and Charles got a record deal.
Charles’ album, The Prisoner’s Dream, was well-received. On October 4, 1963 Time Magazine reviewed the album:
“Charles Lee Guy III has been an inmate of California State Prison since he was 16 [sic 19]. The songs he has learned to sing there all reflect his sorry circumstance – and among them is the latest composition of a prison chum, country music’s Spade Cooley [himself a wife killer]. Guy’s woeful voice and guitar accompaniment fit the spirit of his music, and in this remarkable album he has the power of a young white Leadbelly.”
One of the songs on the album was entitled: “Wishin’ She Was Here (Instead of Me)”. I imagine Charles spent some awful nights at Folsom fantasizing that Nina was locked up and that he was free.
Another of the songs on Charles’ album was an original composition, “Cold Gray Bars”, given to him by western swing star, Spade Cooley. Cooley was doing time for the 1961 murder of his second wife, Ella Mae. Cooley had suspected Ella of repeated infidelities (never mind that he’d been serially unfaithful) so he beat her head against the floor, stomped on her stomach, then crushed a lighted cigarette against her skin to see if she was dead. When the cops arrived Spade claimed that Ella had fallen in the shower.
Upon his release from prison, Charles moved to North Carolina to work in his father’s law office. He and his dad had both wanted him to have a life out of the public eye, which he seems to have achieved.
As far as I’ve been able to discover Nina died in 1977 at age 57. I don’t know the cause of her death, but I’ll bet that it had nothing to do with a guilty conscience. Charles Lee Guy Jr. died in 1996 after serving 14 years as a district judge.
I found this 2011 obituary for Charles:
“Charles Lee Guy III, 73, of Elizabethtown, died Saturday, June 18, 2011. Services: Funeral will be held in Boise, Idaho. Survived by: Sons, Donnie and Lee; daughter, Tanya Williams; stepmother, Mildred; sisters, Alicia Horne, Judy Angus, Betsy Horner and Natalie; brothers, Michael and John Angus and Robert and Richard; and six grandchildren. Lewis-Bowen Funeral Home of Bladenboro.”
I hope Charles had a happy and fulfilling life — I believe that he got a raw deal from his mother.
You’re probably familiar with the old adage: “always a bridesmaid, never a bride”. Well, for Nina James Angus Miles, 37, the converse was true. It seemed that Nina was always a bride. She was about to embark on her seventh trip to the altar when, on August 15, 1957, her intended, Guy F. Roberts a 45 year old ad executive for Morrell & Co meat packers was shot gunned to death in the Santa Monica motel room they’d been sharing.
Nina and her son, Charles Lee Guy III, 19, were booked on suspicion of murder. Charles had only recently been kicked loose from the California Youth Authority Prison in Tracy where he’d been held for drunk driving and car theft. To cops the young man seemed like a good bet for the killing. They told him that if he did the right thing and confessed to the crime he could save his mom from a prison stretch. After twelve sleepless hours in custody and being subjected to relentless questioning, Charles confessed and Nina was released.
Charles Lee Guy, III [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Collection]
In his confession, Charles, who appeared to have had no motive for the slaying, said that he must have blacked out and murdered Roberts.
However, my guess is that his mom and her live-in boyfriend had much more to do with Roberts’ death than Charles did – and here’s why:
Nina and Wilson “Billy” Miles, 49, had been live-in lovers for about three years – she had even been using his last name. Billy was a music teacher and played an occasional piano bar gig in Santa Monica. In a truly stupid move, Billy introduced Nina to the wealthier Roberts and the next thing he knew the pair were engaged to be married! Roberts and Nina were even looking at homes in Brentwood.
Billy had been overheard to mutter that he’d like to teach Roberts a lesson. Maybe he finally did.
On the evening of the murder Nina asked Charles to go with her to the bar where Billy had a gig. She wanted to break the news of her upcoming nuptials to him, but didn’t want to go alone. Billy had broken her nose once before and she was afraid that her news would send him into a rage.
Once she and Charles arrived at the bar, Billy told the kid to “get lost”. Charles left at about 12:20 am in Roberts’ car, leaving Nina with no cash and no ride home. Billy invited Nina back to his place for a nightcap (perhaps a euphemism for something cozier). At 2:30 am Nina left Billy’s house in a cab and returned to the motel. According to her story she ran upstairs to the room, and in the dark grabbed some change off of the dresser to pay the cabbie. Once she returned to the room she switched on the light and found the place ransacked and Roberts bloody body on the bed.
At 3 am Charles turned up at Billy’s house, where he’d been living, and went to bed. Cops came to arrest him later that morning. He couldn’t say were he’d been since leaving the bar and claimed to have no memory of killing Roberts. He said he was fond of the man; it was Billy he had problems with.
On August 22nd, Nina was found unconscious in Billy Miles’ home at 419 S. Hill Street in Santa Monica by a friend, Irma L. Tackett. Doctors at Santa Monica Hospital reported that Nina was in fair condition after having had her stomach pumped following an overdose of sleeping pills. Cops deemed the incident an attempted suicide.
Charles went to trial in October defended by his birth-father, Charles Lee Guy Jr., a North Carolina attorney who had been admitted, as a courtesy, to the California State Bar so that he could defend his son. Also in Charles’ corner were two of his step-dads.
Charles had recanted his confession saying that it had been obtained under duress. Evidently Judge Allen T. Lynch agreed and he ruled that the confession was not admissible as evidence because Santa Monica police had implied during questioning that if Charles confessed his mother would be released.
Charles’ ordeal wasn’t over, it was only delayed — a retrial was scheduled to begin just days after the mistrial was declared.
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 CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE starring Chick Chandler and Shirley Grey.
In California circumstantial evidence is often used to arrive at a guilty verdict. Here is a definition:
“Circumstantial evidence . . . which is defined as evidence that only indirectly proves that a certain fact is true . . . is a legitimate form of evidence in California criminal courts. Many guilty verdicts are based on circumstantial evidence.”
TCM’s synopsis of Circumstantial Evidence:
“After attending the murder trial of a man who is sentenced to death on evidence that is purely circumstantial, newspaper reporter Jim Baldwin decides to write an exposé hoping to put an end to capital punishment based solely on circumstantial evidence. With his fiancée, Adrienne Grey, a court artist, Jim pays a visit to the paper’s wealthy and eccentric gossip columnist, Fred Stevens, and the two men concoct a plan that will forcefully demonstrate how misleading circumstantial evidence can be.”
Los Angeles has never had the reputation for police corruption that other U.S. cities have had, but that doesn’t mean that L.A. law enforcement has been perfect — far from it. As Chief William H. Parker once said in response to questions about corruption and brutality in the LAPD:
“We’ll always have cases like this because we have one big problem in selecting police officers…we have to recruit from the human race.”
The human race is a problematic gene pool at best, and with this post I’m beginning a series of occasional tales called “Cops Behaving Badly”. First up is Deputy Ted Swift.
On October 7, 1939, Deputy Swift stumbled his way into The Dinner Bell Cafe at 1604-1/2 North Vine Street, adjacent to the Brown Derby in Hollywood. He eyeballed two cute waitresses, Jessie Clark and Cleme Reeves, and in his inebriated condition Swift thought that they would find him irresistible.Ted had seriously miscalculated his sex appeal so when he tried to corner the two young women behind the counter they slipped beyond his reach.
Failing to get his arms around either Jessie or Cleme, Swift turned his attention to Michael Aronson who was seated at the counter washing down an early breakfast with a cup of coffee. Taking an immediate and violent dislike to Aronson’s fedora, Swift began to verbally abuse the startled man and then ordered him, and his hat, out of the cafe.
Aronson hadn’t had enough time to finish his coffee, let alone leave a tip for his waitress, so he tried to re-enter the cafe. Swift caught a glimpse of the hated chapeau and drew his revolver. Rather than turn his weapon on the fedora, and the head on which it was perched, he decided to fire on six helpless custard pies! Flecks of creamy custard and bits of crust flew everywhere, and when the smoke cleared half a dozen innocent pies had been senselessly slaughtered.
As Swift unloaded a volley of rounds into the unarmed pies, patrons of the cafe dove for cover under tables and beneath the counter. It was at this point that Police Officer Monte Sherman arrived — and so did several squad cars filled with detectives.
Ted was quickly, or should that be swiftly, subdued and taken to the Hollywood Receiving Hospital where he was determined to be shit-faced.
Undersheriff Arthur C. Jewell was not happy with Deputy Swift and offered him an opportunity to resign. If he didn’t take the Undersheriff up on his generous offer he would be fired.
Swift was infinitely more popular with his fellow officers than he was with the Undersheriff because they passed a hat (probably NOT a fedora) and collected $75 to pay the costs of the broken crockery, punctured walls and slain pies at the Dinner Bell Cafe.
Swift left the LASD and found his way into the growing SoCal aerospace industry, he owned two charter companies — Desert Skyways, and Swiftair.
On October 24, 1949 two men were injured and three killed on Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam when the amphibian plane they were test landing snagged its landing wheels in the water, slammed over on it back and burst into flames. One of the dead was former deputy Ted Swift.
NOTE: Thanks again to my friend Mike Fratantoni for a great idea.
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 Fear In The Night and stars Paul Kelly, DeForest Kelley, Ann Dorn, and Kay Scott. The movie is based on a story Cornell Woolrich (under the pseudonym of William Irish). Cornell Woolrich’s stories and novels have made terrific films: Rear Window,The Bride Wore Black, and Phantom Lady. Fear In The Night was directed by Maxwell Shane.
Bank teller Vince Grayson wakes from a nightmare in which he and an unknown woman murdered a man in a strange, mirrored room. Only a dream…but Vince finds that he has physical objects and bruises from his “dream.” His cop brother-in-law dismisses his story…until the family, on a picnic, takes shelter from a thunderstorm in a deserted mansion containing that mirrored room. Is doom closing in on Vince?
The Strange Love of Martha Ivers stars Barbara Stanwyck,Van Heflin, Lizabeth Scott and featuring Kirk Douglas in his film debut. The movie is based on the short story “Love Lies Bleeding” by playwright John Patrick – using the pseudonym Jack Patrick – and was produced by Hal B. Wallis. The film was directed by Lewis Milestone from a screenplay written by Robert Rossen and Robert Riskin, who was not credited.
In 1928, young Martha Ivers is returned by the police to Iverstown, Pennsylvania after running away for the fourth time to escape the tyranny of her aunt. When her aunt insults her dead father, then attacks her pet cat with a cane, the child kills her aunt with the cane. Martha’s friend, Sam Masterson, with whom she was trying to run away, flees the scene and joins the circus. Mr. O’Neill, Martha’s greedy tutor, and his weak-minded son Walter, support Martha’s story that the murderer was a strange intruder. In 1946, Sam inadvertently returns to Iverstown when he wrecks his car.
By the late 1940s mobsters from the East Coast were finally gaining a bit of a toe hold in L.A. They had been attempting to move-in and take over the city for years — but L.A. had a much different paradigm than New York or Chicago.
In L.A. corruption was a trickle-down affair with dishonest city government officials at the top of the heap in charge of vice, gambling, and (during Prohibition) liquor. A shadowy and mutually beneficial collective between the people in office and local bad guys was known as The Combination. With collusion among City Hall politicians, some members of local law enforcement (both LAPD and LASD), and vice and gambling lords like Charlie “The Gray Fox” Crawford and Tony “The Hat” Cornero, there was plenty of illegal loot to go around — not that that stopped anyone from trying to grab a bigger slice of the profane pie for himself.
I’ve lived in Southern California nearly all of my life, but I was born in Chicago, which I believe accounts in large measure for my fascination with crime. As a little kid I had an honorary uncle, a close friend of the family, not a blood relation — let’s call him Tommy. Whatever Uncle Tommy did for a living in Chicago was mysterious, at least to me. His real line of work became clear when he and his family departed for Las Vegas where he was made pit boss at the Stardust. Interestingly, the Stardust was conceived and built the previously mentioned Tony “The Hat” Cornero. The criminal world, especially back in the day, was a small one.
In future posts I’ll introduce you to many more of the bad actors in the so-called Combination, and some of the mobsters who relocated to L.A. from places like New York, Chicago and Cleveland, but today I want to focus on one guy, a small-time hood with big ambitions, Benny “The Meatball” (aka “Little Meatball”) Gamson.
The Meatball was a Chicago transplant. It was there that he’d known Mickey Cohen who, in the 1940s, was beginning to rise in the L.A. rackets. When Benny came out to L.A. he expected his old pal Mickey to welcome him with open arms and introduce him to a couple of the city’s biggest players: Ben “Bugsy” Siegel and Jack Dragna.
Mickey was attempting to be a pal when he tried to explain to Benny that things didn’t work the same way in L.A. as they had in Chicago, but The Meatball didn’t like what he heard. In fact he pitched a fit and beat the crap out of one of Cohen’s longtime Boyle Heights buddies. Then Benny did something completely unforgivable, he went in to business with one of Cohen’s rivals, Paul “Pauley” Gibbons.
Gibbons may, or may not, have been a serious rival of Mickey’s but he was certainly a gambler on a life-long losing streak. He was also a guy who didn’t pay his debts, and things never end well for welshers.
Whether it was for crossing Cohen, or reneging on a debt, Gibbons paid with his life. On May 2, 1946 at 2:30 a.m. the forty-five year old ex-con with an extensive arrest record, was shot and killed in an ambush.
Gibbons had parked his pricey sedan across from his apartment on N. Gale Drive. He had no idea that a gunman was waiting in the shadows. Witnesses said that as Pauley walked toward his apartment, a car came screeching out of the alley. Five shots rang out, Gibbons staggered and fell. The killer leaped from the car and as Gibbons begged for mercy he was lifted into a kneeling position and finished off with two more shots
Among the local thugs questioned in the slaying was Mickey Cohen, referred to in the newspapers as a “sporting figure”. Mickey denied knowing anything about the murder.
Benny was booked in Beverly Hills Jail on suspicion of Pauley’s murder, but he wriggled out of the net. The cops characterized the killing as a professional hit and Inspector Norris Stensland of the Sheriff’s office said:
“The job was too well done to have been thought up by any of our small-fry racketeers.”
If ever there was a small-fry it was the 5′ 1″ crook, Benny Gamson. Beverly Hills held him for two days and then kicked him loose.
A couple of weeks later two radio car officers, E.M. Kudlac and J.D. Wolfe, noticed The Meatball as he was driving on Beverly Blvd. between Ogden Drive and Genesee St.
The officers noticed that sprayed along the driver’s side of Benny’s car were five bullet holes — and another had punctured the rear window.
Old school wise guy that he was, Meatball knew nuthin’ about nuthin’. He told the cops a variety of different stories. My favorite of them was that he’d noticed the holes in his car two weeks earlier and had reported them to his insurance company as the attack of “vandals who tried to ruin my car.”
The Meatball should have seen the handwriting on the wall, but he wasn’t exactly a deep thinker.
In October 1946 Gamson, who was described as: “the pudgy 39 year old strong arm of many aliases”, and an associate, George Levinson, were shot and killed by unknown assailants.
Witnesses said that Gamson had stumbled from an apartment house on Beverly Blvd with blood streaming from five through and through bullet holes. He died on the sidewalk, screaming for help.
George Levinson dropped near the door of the apartment house with a slug through the back of his head.
A big, black sedan was observed fleeing the scene.
Mickey Cohen and his bullet proof car.
The police couldn’t get anyone to cooperate and nobody came forward with information on the murders.
Gamson’s wife clammed up — she knew better than to comment on the slayings.
Levinson’s wife also kept quiet. When asked by investigators if she would discuss the case, she replied: