Happy Birthday!

year end wrap up cake

Deranged L.A. Crimes is one year old!

When I began this blog just over a year ago I had no idea that it would be as well received as it has been. My goal was simple, I wanted to entertain people while pursuing my passion for Los Angeles history through its crimes. I hoped that along the way I’d find a few like minded people who love Los Angeles history and crime as much as I do. Over the past twelve months the blog has exceeded my wildest dreams and has given me an opportunity to play hostess to approximately 250,000 visitors! It is gratifying, and humbling, to have been able to reach so many people.

I’ve gotten to know many of you over the past year through your comments and I have found that your knowledge of everything from forgotten L.A. lore to film noir trivia is encyclopedic. I have heard from readers in law enforcement as well as from fellow historians and writers. I’ve been contacted by the families of both victims and perpetrators who played a part in some of the crimes I have covered. I’ve even had readers from a couple of L.A.’s oldest street gangs seeking to find their place in the city’s crime history.

It appears that 2014 may be an even more exciting year for Deranged L.A. Crimes than 2013 has been (if that’s possible). In addition to a book of crime scene photos that I’ve been working on with the Los Angeles Police Museum (narrative written by non other than the Demon Dog himself, James Ellroy) I am currently working on a Deranged L.A. Crimes book. I don’t have any lectures scheduled for 2014 yet, but I hope to. Bringing historic L.A. crimes to life in a lecture is something I love to do.

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions please feel free to contact me, I’d love to hear from you.

I wish all of you a very happy new year, and I thank you for your readership!

Best,

Joan

Film Noir Friday, on Saturday! 99 River Street [1953]

 99riverstreet2EGtc

Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crime theater is open! The holiday has thrown the screening schedule off, so it is Film Noir Friday, on Saturday! Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Tonight’s feature is 99 RIVER STREET directed by Phil Karlson and starring John Payne and Evelyn Keyes.

TCM says:

New York City taxicab driver Ernie Driscoll watches the television program “Great Fights of Yesterday,” which is replaying the world heavyweight boxing match that ended his boxing career. Although he dreams of opening his own gas station, Ernie’s wife Pauline berates him for living in the past and blames him for failing to provide adequately for her. After Ernie drops Pauline off at the florist shop where she works, he seeks advice from his best friend, dispatcher Stan Hogan, who good-heartedly suggests that Ernie whisper in Pauline’s ear that they should start a family. Aspiring actress Linda James joins the men at a drugstore lunch counter and shares the good news about her upcoming audition for a Broadway play. At the florist shop, meanwhile, Pauline plans to run away to Paris that night with her lover, thief Victor Rawlins, after he closes a $50,000 deal. Ernie drives up to the shop hoping to smooth things over with Pauline, and sees her kissing Victor.

Enjoy the film!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mG1guwmVPDk&feature=share&list=PL8324F6C554122985&index=1

A Holiday Orgy of Crime, 1930

HOLIDAY ORGY OF CRIMEReaders of the Los Angeles Times were bound to have been dismayed when, on December 26, 1930, they saw the headline “Holiday Brings Orgy of Crime”. Apparently not all Angelenos were filled with goodwill toward their fellow man, or woman for that matter. The article was a litany of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day misdeeds that began with the shooting of a police officer.

Officer Allen G. Adcock of the Hollenbeck Heights division was shot by a bandit during the early morning hours of Christmas Day. Officer Adcock had been directing traffic during a fire at Macy and Gelardo streets when a car containing two men ignored his command to halt and blew through the intersection at a high rate of speed. Apparently Adcock “badged”  a civilian, Earl H. Pfeifer, and commandeered the man’s auto to pursue the suspects. With Pfeifer at the wheel, Adcock stood on the running board of the car and held on for dear life. One of the fleeing men leveled his weapon at Adcock, who then whipped out his own pistol. The two men fired simultaneously and a bullet from the suspect’s gun struck a glancing blow on Adcock’s head which knocked the cop off of Pfiefer’s running board.

Pfiefer stopped to render aid to the fallen policeman and the suspects escaped. A subsequent investigation showed that the two suspects were bandits who had held up Irwin Welborn of West Twenty-ninth Street. They drove him out to Long Beach and then robbed him of $2 and his car.

At Pacific and O’Farrell Streets in San Pedro, a local poultryman, Jack Zuanich, was slugged on the head with a wooden club. The reason for the attack was not determined. Zuanich was taken to the San Pedro General Hospital in serious condition.

00045695_los_feliz_bridge_orgycrime

Los Feliz Bridge (aka Shakespeare Bridge) [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Two cowardly bandits, turned rapists, dragged Maxine Ungeheur (20) and her younger sister Thelma (19) out of a car under the Los Feliz Bridge (aka Shakespeare Bridge) and brutally attacked them. The sisters were being driven home by Roland Oakley, a Griffith Park employee, following a Christmas Eve soiree. Oakley slowed his auto near the bridge and the bandits stepped out from a clump of trees and threatened the girls and Oakley with guns. Oakley, under threat of death, stood helplessly by as the girls were ravaged. The cops located clues at the scene, in particular a leather glove believed to have been worn by one of the attackers. Detective Lieutenants Hoy and Kriewald of the Lincoln Heights Division were hopeful that the clue would lead to the arrests of the men involved in the assaults.

In addition to all of the other mayhem occurring in and around the city, there  was a spate of holiday burglaries for cops to contend with. Two men were discovered plundering a store on Huntington Drive by Officers Cooke and Carter, and a citizen, A. Burke. Upon being found out the two crooks attempted to high-tail it to freedom. Officer Cooke fired at the fleeing suspects and the citizen. A. Burke, unloaded a charge of bird shot from his shotgun at the burglars. Both suspects dropped to the ground, but one of them scrambled to his feet and made good his escape. The other crook was captured by officers and gave the name of Bernave Palacios. He was held on suspicion of burglary.

Benjamin Caldron was held up in his South Western Avenue flower shop on Christmas morning by two bandits and robbed of $110.

The Ungeheur sisters were not the only women who were victims of rape, or attempted rape, over the Christmas holiday. Mrs. Dorothy Loustanau was walking near the corner of Ninetieth Street and Avalon Boulevard when a man drove an automobile up to the curb and leaped out. Snarling that he would beat her to death if she resisted, he clapped his hand over her mouth and pinioned her arms while he attempted to force her into his car. Dorothy struggled desperately and succeeded in staying out of the car. Her attacker, enraged that his victim was putting up a fight, tried to drag her into a vacant lot, but Dorothy broke free and began to scream for help. Her assailant fled the scene.

Lillian Rosine, of 1322 Cherokee Avenue in Hollywood, was driving down Las Palmas Avenue with a friend, Earl Marshall, when a bandit leaped onto the running board of her car. The bandit produced an automatic weapon and commanded Lillian and Earl to stick up their hands. Lillian became furious with the brazen bandit and instead of complying with his order she leaned in front of Earl and shoved the bandit in the face!

The crook was thrown off balance and fired, the round grazed Earl’s head inflicting a four inch wound in his scalp! Lillian screamed and stomped down hard on the gas. The bandit tumbled off of the running board, stood up, and then proceeded to walk nonchalantly up Selma Avenue. Lillian dashed to the Hollywood Receiving Hospital a few blocks away where Earl’s wound was treated and dressed. The bandit remained at large.

Hollywood Receiving Hospital c. 1936 [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Hollywood Receiving Hospital c. 1936 [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

I’ll wrap up the orgy of crime with the murder of Jose Lopez (45). Lopez died in Georgia Street Receiving Hospital from wounds received in an attempted hold-up and fight. Lopez’s friend, Jose Ayala, told the cops that he and Jose were accosted by two men early Christmas morning and beaten with clubs. Ayala did his best to provide a description of the killers but he had been rendered unconscious by a blow in the mouth early in the affray.

Film Noir Matinee: Christmas Holiday [1944]

christmas_holiday

Not everyone celebrates the holidays with fruitcake and a cup of egg nog. Here at Deranged L.A. Crimes we prefer to celebrate with noir; which is why we’ve opened the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater for a special screening.

Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Our feature is CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY directed by Robert Siodmak and starring Deanna Durbin, Gene Kelly and Richard Whorf.

And many thanks to Devlin for mentioning this film to me — it’s perfect for the Hellidays, er, Holidays!

TCM says:

After receiving his commission on Christmas Eve, Lt. Charles Mason learns that Mona, his longtime girl friend, has married another man. When his plane from North Carolina to San Francisco is forced by bad weather to land in New Orleans, the heartbroken Charles meets alcoholic reporter Simon Fenimore, who takes him to a brothel run by Valerie De Merode. There Charles is introduced to hostess/singer Jackie Lamont, and agrees to take her to a midnight mass. After the church services, the two go to a diner, where Jackie tells Charles that her real name is Abigail and that she is the wife of convicted murderer Robert Manette. At the diner, and the next morning in his hotel room, Abigail tells Charles the story of her relationship with Robert…

 

http://youtu.be/5UFSZay18go

Cops Behaving Badly: LAPD Ofcrs. Rice and Robinson

intoxicated_lapd_ofcrs_1940As I’ve said before, cops are only human and as such they are susceptible to all of the same foibles, follies and bad behaviors as are the rest of us.

Have you ever had a few too many and behaved like a jerk? If you answered yes, you should be able to empathize with LAPD Officers Rice and Robinson.

Gideon L. Rice was on duty the morning of March 4, 1940 His shift had ended hours earlier but apparently his drinking had not. He called the station at 1:30 a.m. from his beat at 108th and Main Streets to let the powers that be know that he was still hard at work.

The ungrateful brass were not impressed with Rice’s dedication to duty, particularly since he was obviously shit-faced when he placed the call. The brass were further unimpressed when Officer Rice allegedly made an exhibition of himself in the public view in an 11th Street cafe.

I would love to know how Rice had made an exhibition of himself but, sadly, the newspaper didn’t go into detail.

Gideon felt that his dedication to the job should be rewarded. The fact that he’d been working while inebriated didn’t keep him from demanding to be paid overtime. Unfortunately the Police Commission did not agree with Rice and relived him of duty.

***************************

On the same date that Officer Gideon’s contretemps made the news it was reported that Officer R.S. Robinson had gotten himself in to a booze related jam.

Apparently in his cups, Robinson had attempted to collect coins from the bottom of a wishing well in Chinatown. The tipsy officer drew a crowd, but he didn’t appreciate being the center of attention. He pulled his head out of the wishing well long enough to fire two shots from his revolver and then use it to strike a citizen over the head.

Officer Robinson was suspended for 30 days without pay.

Film Noir Friday: His Girl Friday [1940]

Poster - His Girl Friday_02

Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crime theater is open! Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Tonight’s feature is HIS GIRL FRIDAY directed by Howard Hawks and starring Rosalind Russell, Cary Grant and Ralph Bellamy.

Okay, I realize HIS GIRL FRIDAY is a screwball comedy and not a film noir, but it does revolve, at least in part, around the upcoming execution of a convicted murderer. Besides, I’m in the mood for something light.

TCM says:

Ex-reporter Hildy Johnson, recently divorced from fast-talking newspaper editor Walter Burns, pays him a visit at the office of the Morning Post to tell him that she is marrying mild-mannered insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin. When Hildy enters, Walter is engrossed by the story of the impending execution of Earl Williams, a timid bookkeeper who has been sentenced to die for killing an African-American policeman. To lure Hildy back, Walter lies that his star reporter is preoccupied with the birth of his first child and the paper needs her to cover the story. Hildy rejects Walter’s bait and announces that she is engaged, tired of being a newspaper reporter and now just wants to be a woman. Walter insists upon meeting Hildy’s fiancé and invites them to lunch. At lunch, Walter learns that the couple are leaving with Bruce’s mother, Mrs. Baldwin, on the four o’clock train to Albany. Scheming to win Hildy back, Walter convinces Bruce that only a story written by Hildy can save the wrongly-convicted Williams. Hildy calls Walter’s bluff, but agrees to write the story if Walter will purchase a $100,000 life insurance policy from Bruce.

Let’s begin with a Disney cartoon entitled: DONALD’S CRIME [1945]

A Visit From The Sheriff

Ching-ching-a-ling! Ching-ching-a-ling!
Are those sleighbells I hear?
No.
It’s gunfire…

COX_CHRISTMAST’was the week before Christmas, December ’54
David Cox’s house was filled with violence, mayhem and smashed crockery galore.

David’s Downey neighbors awoke to ruckus and clatter,
and wondered just what in the hell was the matter.

It must be that S.O.B. Cox, they concluded —
a few beers in his belly and he’s completely deluded.

They turned away from their windows and went back to their beds,
where they pulled the covers up over their heads.

David had arrived home three hours late,
with booze on his breath and his eyes filled with hate.

His wife, Billie, had made a modest request
for $25 to buy each of their girls a new dress.

cox_photo4

“Mary and Katherine don’t need presents, you frivilous bitch!”
David picked up a lamp and smashed it to bits.

He ripped out the windows, wood frames and plaster,
then sped off in his truck leaving behind a disaster.

cox_photo5

Later that evening when David came home
he drove his truck into a fence, then lurched around drunk and alone.

cox_photo1

Hello! Anyone home? He shouted to the empty house.
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

His children were frightened and his pregnant wife was alarmed,
she tooks the kids to her mother’s so they wouldn’t be harmed.

The Norwalk Sheriff’s station was called, and deputies rushed to the scene.
David was wielding a shotgun and he looked pretty damned mean.

“Drop your weapon!” the deputies shouted calling David by name.
But Cox opened fire and the cops did the same.

cox_photo3

Sgts. Lovretovich and Piper stood over David who was collapsed on the lawn.
He’d taken multiple rounds — he was deceased, he was gone.

Why didn’t he do as we said, they pondered aloud; to behave as he had —
he must have been crazy, he must have been mad!

david cox

David’s drinking and anger had cost him his life,
he’d never again see his friends, children, or wife.

Christmas was dismal for the Cox family that year.
Instead of baby dolls, buggies and bears named Ted,
there was a casket, flowers and tears to be shed.

No doubt about it, David Cox had acted a fool.
A moron, an idiot, a jackass, a tool.

Neighbors were heard to exclaim, ere Deputies drove out of sight.

Don’t screw with the Sheriffs, they’ll put up a fight.

 

NOTE:  I wrote this poem last year and I thought it would be fun to make it a holiday tradition.

I took very few liberties with this deranged holiday tale. I put words in the mouths of the victim and the cops, but otherwise the details are as they appeared in the  Los Angeles Times report of the incident.  It pleases me no end that one of my favorite Deputy Sheriffs of the era, Ned Lovretovich, played a role in this story. His career continues to fascinate me.

I couldn’t do justice to A VISIT FROM ST. NICHOLAS by Clement Clarke Moore which provided the inspiration for this post, but it was fun just the same.

Many thanks to Mike Fratantoni for turning me on to a great story–he knows them all.

Film Noir Friday: My Gun Is Quick [1957]

MY GUN IS QUICK

Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crime theater is open! Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Tonight’s feature is MY GUN IS QUICK (based on a novel by Mickey Spillane) starring Robert Bray and Whitney Blake.

TCM says:

In a Los Angeles diner, tough private detective Mike Hammer takes pity on Red, a young woman who has come from Nebraska to try to break into movies, but is now down on her luck. After Mike buys Red some soup, she is threatened by Louis, a thug, who tries to get her to leave with him. Mike beats up Louis, then provides Red with money for her bus fare back home and gives her his name and address so that she can let him know when she arrives. As they part, Mike notices a unique ring on Red’s finger. A few hours later, police detective, Capt. Pat Chambers, questions Mike about Red, because his name was found among her belongings after she was killed in a hit-and-run car accident.

 

Was Red’s death really an accident?  You know that Mike Hammer will bitch-slap or brutally beat every miscreant in Los Angeles until he gets answers!

There is time for a cartoon before the feature begins — tonight it’s GOOFY: HOW TO BE A DETECTIVE.

Enjoy!

The Collateral Damage Divorce, Conclusion

betty grant

Betty Grant

Betty Grant and her two young children watched as husband and father, John Henry Grant, was led away by the cops to be questioned in an alleged bomb plot.

If Grant hadn’t, at the very last minute, tussled with the baggage handler and snatched the bag with an incendiary device in it it would have been loaded on to the same plane that his wife and two children were taking from LAX to San Diego!

After examining the gasoline soaked bag, police technician Ray Pinker declared the home made explosive device to be a “clever job”. Pinker continued:

“There’s a clock inside connected to batteries and a high-resistance bridge. At 2:30 p.m. the clock would have started the mechanism, shooting juice through the bridge to a can of matches.”

“These would flame and ignite an inner tube filled with high-octane gasoline crammed in the bag–and in the closed quarters of the cargo compartment.”

“Thus, if the time bomb had gone aloft in the twin-engine transport, a flaming explosion would have torn the after end of the ship as it was approaching San Diego with 16 persons aboard.”

grant2_resizeThat a man could plot the cold-blooded murder of his wife and children is horrifying, but for a man to be willing to take the lives of thirteen strangers at the same time defies understanding — the other passengers and the three person crew would have been collateral damage.

grant_pinker

If you’re wondering if Grant was contemplating mass murder for a multi-million dollar insurance pay-out, he wasn’t — the idiot had purchased a total of $25,000 ($242,267.63 in current USD) in life insurance on his family in one of the airport life insurance vending machines! If you’re of a certain age you may recall the insurance vending machines — they were ubiquitous in airports all across the country. Grant later said he needed money to get himself out of debt. He claimed to owe over $9,000 — but his wife said she thought the amount was closer to $400.tlp965764

But of course Grant wasn’t plotting murder for money alone — cherchez la femme (look for the woman). There was a woman waiting for Grant — a pretty, red-haired airline stewardess named Betty Suomela. Betty had been dating John for three years — she met him shortly after arriving in L.A. from New York. He told her that he was separated from his wife and that he had no children. Suomela admitted to detectives that she was in love with John and that she had believed he was appearing in court for a final settlement of a divorce action — she had no clue that he was actually planting a time bomb designed
to destroy his entire family.

john grant_no loveWhile cooling his heels in a Venice jail cell, the 31 year old aviation engineer was asked about his feelings for his mistress. Without hesitation he said that he’d been stringing her along and that he had told her “a pack of romantic lies’. He said:

“I lied to her so many times I can’t even remember my stories. I told her I was separated…I told her I was getting a divorce…I told her I loved her…”

Maybe the enormity of what he’d planned dawned on Grant for a moment because officers found a crudely fashioned noose of mattress strips hidden in his cell, even though he’d only been left alone for less than 30 minutes.

Suomela wasn’t the only “other woman” in Grant’s life. Three years earlier he had been convicted in New York for a paternity case involving a baby girl born to 22 year old divorcee, Helen Hansen, an American Airlines employee. He was ordered to pay $10 a week toward the little girl’s support, but he quit making payments after a year and a warrant was issued for his arrest. He was traced to L.A. but authorities refused to extradite him to New York on the grounds that he hadn’t been charged with a crime.noose_pic

Grant’s problems had gone way beyond being a deadbeat dad to his out of wedlock daughter — he was looking at a possible sentence of 20 years on each of 16 counts of attempted murder. At first Grant said he didn’t want a lawyer, that he wanted to plead guilty and be done with everything. Ultimately John Grant was charged with six counts of attempted murder, and a Health and Safety Code violation for taking explosives aboard a public conveyance.

Not surprisingly, Grant decided not to hurl himself under the judicial bus after all and he entered a plea of innocent and innocent by reason of insanity at his arraignment. Bail for Grant was set at $50,000 — but nobody stepped up to pay it. After being examined by several psychiatrists, and found to be sane, Grant changed his plea to not guilty, and an attorney was appointed to handle his case.

Betty Suomela

Betty Suomela

While Grant was awaiting trial his wife, Betty, filed for and was granted a divorce from her homicidally inclined husband. She was also awarded full custody of their two children — in fact John would not be permitted to ever set eyes on his son or daughter again and Betty was given the right to return to her maiden name.

During Grant’s trial, Deputy District Attorney Mervyn Aggeler described the bomb plot as “Satanic…”. The jury agreed. It took the jury of ten women and two men in Santa Monica Superior Court only twenty-five minutes to convict John Henry Grant on six counts of attempted murder. Grant showed no trace of emotion as the verdict was read. Superior Judge Oriando V. Rhodes sentenced Grant to from one to twenty years in prison.

Grant was mentioned briefly in a 1956 article on airplane bombers and he was still in prison at that time.

The Collateral Damage Divorce, Part 1

halts bombOn April 17, 1950, H.A. Mayer, a cargo loader for United Airlines, was just heaving the last piece of luggage, a 47-pound suitcase, into the rear cargo hatch of a DC-3 when a corner of the bag snagged on the hatchway, and as it did a puff of smoke curled into the air. Mayer threw the suitcase to the ground and grabbed a fire extinguisher. As he was pouring chemicals onto the smoking case a wild-eyed man, huffing, puffing and sweating profusely, ran up and gasped:

“Thank God you didn’t get it aboard!”

Then the man lunged for the bag. The baggage handler and the stranger engaged in a fierce tug-of-war over the case and the stranger emerged victorious. He dashed out of the terminal clutching the still-smoking bag, but just as he was about to get into a parked car he was seized by Richard Clarke, ramp supervisor, and Jim Moore, another UAL employee, who threw the bag into a parking lot across the street and held the stranger for the cops.

The man collapsed to the curb beside his blue sedan and sobbed:

I couldn’t do it!  I just couldn’t do it!”

Thirteen passengers and a crew of three — Capt. Dick Bechtel, pilot; E.L. Keck, co-pilot, and Mary Kubichi, stewardess, were removed from the plane which had been less than five minutes from take-off before the odd incident took place.

What the hell had just happened, and who was the wild-eyed stranger anyway?

One of the passengers, twenty-six year old Betty Grant and her two children, Marie Ann (6) and Robert (5) immediately recognized the sobbing man as thirty-two year old John Henry Grant, husband and father.  Betty and the kids watched as John was led away for questioning by the cops.

plotters remorse

C.H. Colley, Venice Police (L) and John Henry Grant (R)

During his interrogation Grant blurted out:

“I wanted to end it…this was the only way I knew…but I lost my nerve…my wife and youngsters–it’s not their fault…I’m a sick man…”

It was becoming uncomfortably clear to everyone that John Grant was indeed a very sick man who, until his eleventh hour attack of conscience, had been willing to kill a plane load of people, his wife and two young children among them.  It sounded too diabolical to be true; but was it?