A Death on Mulholland Drive, Part 1

Barbara

Barbara

On September 10, 1927 a young couple, fueled by love and $300 (equivalent to $4200 in today’s money) in stolen cash, left Philadelphia for Los Angeles to start fresh. The money would last long enough to get them to Los Angeles and provide them with a stake sufficient to find a place to live and get settled. The pair moved a couple of times before they located the perfect apartment in a bungalow court slightly northwest of downtown at 841 Golden Avenue. New lives occasionally call for new identities, so the couple became Barbara and Russell Burnholme.

Barbara was at home during the day while Russell was at work so the neighbors and local tradesmen got to know her the best. Barbara was well-liked by the people in her new life.  She had a ready smile and a sweet manner and when it became evident that she and Russell were going to become parents the neighbors were thrilled for her.  Their neighbors never thought twice about the reasons for the Burnholme’s move from Philadelphia to Los Angeles; hell, most people in L.A. were transplants.

During her last trimester Barbara busied herself nesting, doing the sorts of homey things that young mothers-to-be frequently do when the birth of a child is imminent. She sewed baby clothes, fixed up the little apartment and planted flower boxes because she wanted everything to be perfect for the baby’s arrival. During the weeks leading up to her due date Barbara was given a kitten by the local grocer, the small Burnholme family was complete.

At 10:00 a.m. on June 24, 1928, Mrs. Morris Allen, one of the Burnholme’s neighbors saw Barbara and Russell getting into a rented roadster.  It was a nice day for a Sunday drive and the parents-to-be were wise to take advantage of an opportunity to spend time alone,  they might not have another chance for a long time. Russell had borrowed a gun from a friend and it was his intention to go out along a stretch of Mulholland Drive and shoot a few rabbits while Barbara put her feet up and enjoyed the summer air above the city.

No matter how excited an expectant mother is about her future the last few weeks of pregnancy can be incredibly uncomfortable. Discomfort can lead to a short fuse and a flood of hormonal emotions. Often times a new father, especially if it is his first child, can be left scratching his head and treading on egg shells.

Mrs. Allen lived across from Barbara and Russell at the bungalow court and she saw him return from the Sunday drive alone. When asked, Russell told his neighbors that Barbara had gone back east to have the baby; but that wasn’t the only story he told.

Russell also told people that he and Barbara had quarreled during  their Sunday drive and she had jumped from the car and had stubbornly refused to allow him to drive her home. It was quite a hike from Mulholland Drive to Golden Avenue, at least fifteen miles, and much of way home felt remote, even if the city lights could be seen twinkling in the distance. While the sun was still up hawks could be seen circling high in the blue skies waiting for the right moment to swoop down and make a meal of a rabbit or a mouse. After dark the mournful cries of local coyotes would shatter the silence and a person’s nerves; and the rustling of roadside brush would be unnerving as unseen creatures either hunted, or attempted to avoid becoming prey. If Russell had worried about Barbara’s safety it wasn’t enough to make him turn around and try to convince her to get into the car with him.

Over the next few days Mrs. Allen heard Russell moving about the little apartment whistling, and she saw him wrapping up some bundles for mailing. Nothing sinister in that, right?

NEXT TIME: Where’s Barbara?

 

Film Noir Friday: M-Squad – The Golden Look & The Watchdog [1957]

 m-squad

 

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.  To shake things up a bit tonight’s offering isn’t a feature film but rather the first two episodes of M SQUAD starring Lee Marvin.  If you’re unfamiliar with the series–you’re in for a treat.

From the description of the DVD box set:

M Squad stands apart because of its unique combination of story, production values, musical score and a great cast portraying crime fighters getting down and dirty on the mean streets. Lee Marvin, a decorated WWII Marine veteran of the South Pacific,where he received the Purple Heart in the Battle of Saipan, stars as Lt. Frank Ballinger, a no-nonsense Chicago plainclothes cop in the elite M Squad Division. The Squad’s (M-for Murder) task is to root out organized crime and corruption in America’s Second City. Marvin’s portrayal of a tough undercover officer, whose perseverance and potential for violence, but with utter cool, permeates each gritty episode, gave Marvin name recognition with the public, and did much to make him a star.

Frank Ballinger’s boss, Captain Grey, is played by Paul Newlan, a fine actor who brings weight and substance to the role of running the M Squad. It is perhaps his most memorable role. In addition to the regular cast, a who’s who of television luminaries and stars-to-be made guest appearances on the show. Among the guest stars were Angie Dickinson, Charles Bronson, Janice Rule, Leonard Nimoy, Ed Nelson, DeForest Kelley, H. M. Wynant and a young Burt Reynolds. But is wasn’t just the crisp, taut story lines and great cast that made M Squad memorable. First, it was shot in gritty, film-noir style black and white. The excellent high contrast cinematography brings Chicago to life, with all of its easily recognizable landmarks, swanky penthouses on Lake Michigan, and the seedy darker side of the city. In fact, M Squad did for Chicago what the Naked City did for New York. Second was the musical score. In keeping with the film noir look of the series, the producers enlisted conductor Stanley Wilson to lead the orchestra in arrangements by legendary jazz men Benny Carter, and a young John Williams (Star Wars). For the second season, the great jazz artist Count Basie wrote the enduring M Squad Theme. It was a perfect marriage of image and sound.

http://youtu.be/48BIFPJld5c

http://youtu.be/nhi5LGwmLGQ

Policewoman of the Year, Conclusion

Florence Coberly testifies at inquest. [Photo courtesy USC Digital Archive]

Florence Coberly testifies at inquest. [Photo courtesy USC Digital Archive]

In 1952 LAPD Policewoman Florence Coberly appeared to be a woman with a bright future in law enforcement. She had been instrumental in taking down career criminal and ex-con, Joe Parra. Parra had a history of sexual assault and he was shot and killed during an undercover assignment in which Florence had acted as a decoy. She had stayed tough during the inquest following Parra’s shooting when his brother Ysmael began shouting and then attempted to lunge at photographers. She had appeared on television and had been honored at various awards banquets all over town.

Yes sir, Florence’s star was shining brightly.

divorce_1955But (you knew that was coming, didn’t you) Florence’s personal life began to unwrap slightly when after only three years of marriage she divorced her husband Frank in 1955. We’ve heard countless times over the years how tough it is to be a cop’s wife, but I imagine being the husband of a cop is not much easier–the unpredictable hours and the danger could be enough to send any spouse out the door forever. But then we don’t really know what caused the Coberly’s marriage to dissolve. The divorce notice appeared in the June 29, 1955 edition of the L.A. Times, but it was legal information only and gave no hint of the personal issues which may have caused the Coberly’s to break up. Even if her marriage hadn’t made until “death us do part” at least Florence had her job.

Florence with her back to the camera, befriends a lost girl c 1954 [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

Florence with her back to the camera, befriends a lost girl c 1954 [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

There is no further record of her in the Times for several years following the fatal shooting of serial rapist Joe Parra in 1952, so we’ll have to presume that her career in law enforcement was on track. Then nearly six years after the Parra case, on July 2, 1958, the Times ran a piece under the headline: “Policewoman’s Mother Convicted in Shoplifting”; it was buried in the back pages of the “B” section and it told an interesting tale.

Mrs. Gertrude Klearman, the fifty-three year old mother of a policewoman, had been found guilty of shoplifting by a jury of eleven women and one man. The jury had spent only one hour and seven minutes in deliberation. As embarrassing as it would have been to have your mom convicted of shoplifting, it would have been so much worse if you were a cop–and orders of magnitude more humiliating if you were a cop busted WITH your mother for stuffing $2.22 worth of groceries into a handbag and walking out without making the necessary stop at the check-out stand.flo_mom

According to Police Officer George Sellinger, an off-duty cop supplementing his income by working as a store detective, the pair of women, one of whom you have undoubtedly guessed was Florence Coberly, had been accused of stealing two packages of knockwurst, a can of coffee, a package of wieners and an avocado.

Florence had remarried and not surprisingly she had married another cop, Sgt. Dave Stanton. But despite a change in her surname there was no mistake that the woman accused of shoplifting was none other than the former Florence Coberly, Policewoman of the Year.

Florence seated next to her husband, Sgt. Dave Stanton. [Photo courtesy USC Digital Archive]

Florence seated next to her husband, Sgt. Dave Stanton. [Photo courtesy USC Digital Archive]

Gertrude was found guilty, but Florence had been freed of the shoplifting charge during trial on a technicality involving unreasonable search and seizure.

At the misdemeanor trial her attorney, Frank Rothman, vigorously questioned Sellinger on the stand and finally got him to admit that he had not actually seen Florence stuff the food items into her purse. He had pressured her to submit to a search outside the grocery store based on the scant evidence of having seen her holding some packages in her hand. As far as Rothman and the law were concerned Sellinger’s reason for the search was seriously flawed and a legal no-no.

LAPD in the late 1950s was still understandably touchy about any hint of scandal or misbehavior by its officers. During the decades prior to William H. Parker’s ascension to Chief, the institution had watched as many of its members were accused (some even convicted) of all manner of graft and corruption.

While a package of knockwurst hardly rises to the standard of bad behavior that had plagued LAPD earlier, just being arrested was enough to get Florence suspended from duty pending a Police Board of Rights hearing.

It couldn’t have been easy for Florence to sit on the sidelines and await the decision that would have such an enormous impact on her future. Law enforcement wasn’t just a 9-5 job for her, it was a career and one for which she had displayed an aptitude.

While Florence waited on tenterhooks for the Board of Rights hearing, her mother was sentenced to either forty days in jail or a $200 fine (she paid the fine).

Florence’s hearing began on July 22, 1958 before a board composed of Thad Brown, chief of detectives, and Capts. John Smyre and Chester Welch. Officer Sellinger repeated the testimony he had given at the trial and despite the fact that the shoplifting charges against Florence had been dismissed in a court of law, the board found her guilty of the same charge and ordered her dismissed from LAPD.

This photo may have been misidentified in the USC Digital Archive. I believe it to be the Police Board hearing.

This photo may have been misidentified in the USC Digital Archive as Florence’s misdemeanor trial. I believe it to be the Police Board hearing.

It was an ignominious end to a career that had shown such early promise, and I can’t help but wonder if there was more to Florence’s dismissal from the police force than the shoplifting charge.

In February 1959, Florence filed suit in superior court seeking to be reinstated. Her complaint was directed against Chief Parker and the Board of Rights Commission. Florence stated that she had been dismissed from the LAPD on a charge that she had, with her mother, shoplifted groceries from a San Fernando Valley market. Florence denied her guilt and contended that the only evidence in the case may have been applicable to her mother alone.

flo_firedIt took several months, but in July 1959 Superior Court Judge Ellsworth Meyer sided with the LAPD and refused to compel Chief Parker to reinstate Florence.

I haven’t discovered any further mentions of Florence in the newspaper. I’m curious to know how her life played out and what became of her in later years. As it is with so many of the tales covered here in Deranged L.A. Crimes there is no satisfactory conclusion. Of course I can always hope that a member of her family will see the story and contact me.  It has happened before.

Meanwhile, I salute Florence for her no-holds-barred, kick-ass entry into policing in 1952; and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one last time that fantastic bandolier that dangled so daintily from her belt–as I said before lady cops knew how to accessorize.

NOTE: Many thanks to my friend and frequent partner in historic crime, Mike Fratantoni. He knows the BEST stories.

 

Policewoman of the Year

attacker killed

I confess, the litany of sweetheart slayings that I have been researching for the Valentine’s Day holiday started getting me down. I was casting a jaundiced eye at my blameless husband wondering if I’d feel a hammer come down on my head and feeling generally off-kilter. So, what better antidote for the blahs than some good old mayhem. I believe this case will lift me out of the doldrums.

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Cops at LAPD’s 77th Street station were fed up with the wave of assaults on women in their district; there had been nearly 40 in the few months between April 2nd and late July 1952. The scumbag responsible for the attacks had been targeting lone women as they left street cars late at night.

00011769_77th street station. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

77th Street Station, LAPD

If they were going to nab the guy the cops figured they would need to bait and set a trap that he couldn’t resist. They couldn’t have found more attractive bait than policewoman Florence Coberly.

Coberly, in her mid-twenties and recently married, had been on the job for fewer than six months when she was tapped for the assignment. Florence and another policewoman, Marie Little, were assigned to act as decoys (cop euphemism for perv bait) while patrol officers and detectives cast a net that extended from Broadway to San Pedro Street and from Manchester Avenue to 67th Street. Officers would be deployed on foot and in squad cars while the two policewomen attempted to lure the reptile out from under his rock.

The massive stake-out began on the evening of July 31st. Coberly, who had dressed in a pencil skirt with a kick-pleat in the front, a short-sleeved white blouse and some sweet little pumps was undeniably an appealing target for a degenerate. She was walking along swinging her white handbag in time with her gait when a man leaped from a dark doorway in front of 8209 South San Pedro Street and snatched the bag from her hand. Florence did exactly as she’d been instructed to do, she reached into her pocket and got out her police whistle, then she put it to her lips and blew as hard as she could. The whistle blast was a signal to Detectives concealed nearby that she was in trouble.

Policewoman_lures_rape_suspect_1952

Policewoman Florence Coberly flanked by two LAPD detectives. [Photo courtesy of USC digital archive]

The man who had grabbed her demanded to know what in the the hell she thought she was doing–and without waiting for her answer he slugged her on the jaw; Coberly went down and the man continued to beat her. Coberly said later that she wasn’t worried because she knew that someone would be coming to her aid.

Coberly’s trust was rewarded when two detectives, Frank Marz and Walter Clago heard the whistle and screeched up in a squad car just in time to see Florence’s attacker fleeing the scene. The guy wasn’t moving very fast because Florence had managed to reach her weapon and got off a shot which struck the man in one of his lungs. Note the nifty little bandoleer dangling from her skirt with six bullets in it–policewomen knew how to accessorize!

Policewoman Coberly accessorizes for an evening of luring rape suspects. [Photo courtesy USC Digital Archive]

Policewoman Coberly accessorizes for an evening of luring rape suspects. [Photo courtesy USC Digital Archive]

Detective Clago helped Florence to her feet while Detective Marz set off in pursuit of the would-be molester yelling at him to “Stop in the name of the law!”. The man surely heard the cop’s admonition, but he continued to evade capture. He wasn’t moving very fast–it’s tough to sprint with a punctured lung. Marz fired his service revolver five times at the suspect and missed each time.

Contents of a policewoman's handbag c. 1952 [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Contents of a policewoman’s handbag c. 1952 [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Detective Marz saw the man head toward a car parked on 82nd Street. It was dark but a man was barely visible in the driver’s seat behind the wheel. The man didn’t wait for his passenger, as soon as he saw Parra staggering toward the sedan and heard the crack of gunfire he sped off into the night.

Detective Marz watched as the suspect whirled and dashed, or rather tried to dash, behind a house at 253 East 82nd Street. With a single round left in his revolver Marz fired and the man collapsed to the ground.

[Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

[Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

The dead man was ID’d as Joe L. Parra who had been residing at 8465 South San Pedro Street. Parra was an ex-con who had recently been paroled out of San Quentin where he had done time for multiple counts of robbery, burglary and morals violations. Parra’s arrest record was extensive, he had been busted on at least 40 occasions. His most recent arrest had been for robbery just one month prior to his death, but he’d been kicked loose for insufficient evidence.

second man capturedAbout an hour after Joe had expired in the dirt near a couple of discarded metal signs cops located the wheel man, the person who had left Joe in the lurch on 82nd Street. It turned out that the getaway driver was seventeen year old Henry P. Parra, Joe’s nephew. Henry ‘fessed up pretty quickly and admitted that he had gone with his uncle several times on late night purse snatching raids. I wonder if the kid knew what else Uncle Joe had been up to on their midnight forays. I think it’s pathetic that Uncle Joe had to be driven from crime to crime by his young nephew, what a low life. The dumb-ass could have taken a street car and left the kid out of his crime spree.

Florence shows off her injuries to colleagues. [Photo courtesy USC Digital Archive]

Florence shows off her injuries to colleagues. [Photo courtesy USC Digital Archive]

Policewoman Florence Coberly was feted for her role in putting an end to Parra’s reign of terror in LAPD’s 77th Street Divison. The newspapers credited Marz with firing the fatal round but I have it on good authority that the autopsy revealed that Florence had delivered the kill shot. Evidently Joe would have died from the wound she inflicted to his lung even if Detective Marz hadn’t finally managed to hit him. But let’s not quibble–Parra needed to be stopped and it was a cop’s bullet that did the trick.

Not only did Florence pose for several newspaper photos (she appears to have been a natural in front of the camera), she was a guest on a local TV show hosted by Johnny Dugan.

Johnny Dugan, local L.A. television celebrity.

Johnny Dugan, local L.A. television celebrity.

In February 1953, Florence was named “Policewoman of the Year” by the Exchange Club, sponsors of that month’s Crime Prevention Week. Florence continued to bask in the limelight and, in June 1954, she was an honored guest at the installation and dinner-dance held by the Los Angeles Policewomen’s Association. Also on the guest list were Sgts. Joe Friday and Frank Smith (Jack Webb and Ben Alexander) of the Dragnet series. The two fictional LAPD cops would share the spotlight with Chief of Police William H. Parker and his wife.

Florence may have been anticipating more star-studded evenings in her future as an L.A. cop. Who knows, with such as auspicious beginning maybe she would end up with an enviable spot in the LAPD hierarchy. With just over 100 women on the force, there wasn’t much female competition in the ranks in those days.

But wait a minute, you know that this is Deranged L.A. Crimes and nobody’s good luck lasts forever. Right?

NEXT TIME: Policewoman of the Year takes a fall.

Film Noir Friday: Witness to Murder [1954]

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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 WITNESS TO MURDER [1954].  Directed by Roy Rowland and starring Barbara Stanwyck, George Sanders and Gary Merrill.  Enjoy the film!

TCM says:

One night, when Cheryl Draper wakens and gets out of bed to close her bedroom window, she sees a man, Albert Richter, strangling a young woman to death in an apartment across the street. Cheryl phones the police, but before Lt. Lawrence Mathews and Sgt. Eddie Vincent arrive to interview Richter, he hides the body in an unoccupied apartment next door and pretends to have been asleep. After they find nothing to incriminate Richter, Larry suggests to Cheryl that she may have dreamed it all, but she is adamant that she saw the murder.

 

http://youtu.be/BnkhXuBLRpk

Love Hurts

twojiltedmen_headlineLove hurts; and if you don’t believe me consider the attempted suicides of John V. Myers and Harry Wheeler on the same day in 1922. The two despondent Angelenos had been jilted by the women in their lives and, well, they just couldn’t handle it.

John Myers was a laborer who had been thrown over by his sweetheart. Overtaken by unbearable grief Meyers climbed to the top of the railing of the Hill Street tunnel and poised himself like a man on a high dive as he patiently awaited the arrival of a Pacific Electric train. It appeared that he planned to hurl himself in front of the oncoming rail car and put a permanent end to his pain.jiltedment2

Myers was seen by several officers who just happened to be loitering nearby in front of the police station and Receiving Hospital at First and Hill Streets. Patrolman Woodward reached Myers just in time to prevent him from taking a fatal dive.  I’ll bet Myers wasn’t pleased at being thwarted in the midst of his dramatic gesture, but I like to think that it didn’t take him more than a few days at most to realize that his life was worth living. Certainly there were other women in Los Angeles.

Hill Street Tunnel c. 1922

Hill Street Tunnel c. 1922

The second man to attempt to take his life over a lost love was Harry Wheeler. Harry was inconsolable because his wife, Marion, had left him for another man. In his misery Wheeler swallowed a vial of poison — but only after he’d left a venomous note for his soon-to-be-ex.  It is not clear from the newspaper account who found the unfortunate Mr. Myers, but whoever it was had saved his life. Myers was treated at the Receiving Hospital and released.

Stay tuned as the litany of love-related tragedies continue through February.

Film Noir Friday: Woman On The Run [1950]

woman_on_the_run_xlgWelcome!  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 WOMAN ON THE RUN [1950].  Directed by Norman Foster and starring Ann Sheridan and Dennis O’Keefe.  Enjoy the film!

TCM says:

Frank Johnson (Ross Elliott), sole witness to a gangland murder, goes into hiding and is trailed by Police Inspector Ferris (Robert Keith), on the theory that Frank is trying to escape from possible retaliation. Frank’s wife, Eleanor (Ann Sheridan), suspects he is actually running away from their unsuccessful marriage. Aided by a newspaperman, Danny Leggett (Dennis O’Keefe), Eleanor sets out to locate her husband. The killer is also looking for him, and keeps close tabs on Eleanor.

http://youtu.be/IP17gzfzO5M

Death Is Like A Box Of Chocolates

Valentine’s Day is only ten days away and the sweet scent of roses mingled with perfume, chocolate and lust is in the air — except here at Deranged L.A. Crimes. I’m getting a whiff of cordite, mixed with jealousy, rage and madness. Ain’t love grand?

The dark side of love will be the topic of February’s posts and I’m going to kick off the month with the tale of a spurned lover and a special box of chocolates.

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evelyn_weeks_poisoned_chocolatesTwenty-two year old newlywed Evelyn Weeks of Huntington Park wasn’t particularly shocked when, on February 16, 1940, she read in a local newspaper that her former suitor, twenty-nine year old Louis Schostek had been busted by the Feds for sending her what he hoped would be her last Valentine’s Day gift ever, a box of poisoned chocolates.

It wasn’t the first time that Louis had sent his former flame a box of candy. He had tried to gift her with some special chocolates the previous Christmas, but he didn’t have her California address so he mailed the present to her parents, Mr. & Mrs. Frank Jasa, of St. Edwards, Nebraska–they returned the box unopened.

The Jasa’s were well aware of Louis’ obsession with Evelyn, and her fear of him.  The couple had dated for two years before Evelyn ended the relationship. Louis wouldn’t throw down his torch and continued to pester his ex with letters that became increasingly threatening. When another box of chocolates arrived at the Jasa manse on February 6th with a note asking the couple to forward it to their daughter, they decided to investigate. Using the family dog as a guinea pig they fed the trusting canine a few of the candies–the poor thing immediately became violently ill. Fortunately the pooch survived and the Jasa’s, realizing that the candy had been tampered with, called the cops.poisoned_chocolates_1940

Once the local law realized that Louis had broken a federal statute by sending the poisoned chocolates through the U.S. mail they brought in the FBI.

The feds turned up at Schostek’s home in Oconee, Nebraska with a few questions for him. Schostek readily admitted to having sent Evelyn dozens of threatening letters and two boxes of poisoned chocolates. When FBI agents asked him why he’d done it, all Louis could say was:

“I don’t know why I did it.  I guess I was out of my mind.”

The Kept Girl — An Interview with Kim Cooper

 keptgirlcover

Kim Cooper and I have been friends for several years, and while she may be familiar to many of you for her tireless efforts on behalf of historic preservation in Los Angeles, she is also the brains behind the seminal Los Angeles crime-a-day blog THE 1947 PROJECT, Esotouric Bus Adventures, and endeavors such as the remarkable Los Angeles Visionaries Association which hosts monthly salons covering topics that will open your eyes and your mind.

Now, with today’s launch of THE KEPT GIRL, Kim may also add novelist to her list of accomplishments.

THE KEPT GIRL is set in Los Angeles during 1929 and it explores a demented cult of angel worshipers as they are investigated by oil company executive (and future novelist) Raymond Chandler, and a straight-arrow LAPD cop, Thomas James. Remarkably, Kim’s novel is based on a true and utterly deranged L.A. story which I know that you will enjoy. Her novel is available today on Amazon and I urge you to pick up a copy.

I also want to encourage you to follow Kim on Facebook and via social media at #keptgirlbt

To track the progress of Kim’s blog tour, on which Deranged L.A. Crimes is the first stop, go HERE.

Now, let’s get to the good stuff–earlier today Kim and I sat down to discuss her novel.

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Joan Renner: Congratulations on your first novel, The Kept Girl! I’m curious, there were so many esoteric religious groups and cults in L.A. during the 1920s — what was it about The Great Eleven that captured  your imagination and compelled you to write about it?

Kim Cooper: Thank you, Joan! I can still remember the moment I discovered the Great Eleven, while researching crimes for Esotouric’s Wild Wild West Side tour, which you co-hosted with me.

I was searching the historic “Los Angeles Times” archives for strange keywords, and because these folks were so deeply strange, an article about the discovery of the long-missing teenage priestess Willa Rhoads popped up immediately. There were so many
intriguing elements in that one story– weird rituals, financial fraud, the Santa Susana hills best known as the hideout of the Manson Family, runaway wives, divine resurrection, etc. — that I had to learn everything about the group. Six years later, here they are in a novel!

(Parenthetically, I hope you’re not offended that I kept the Great Eleven to myself for that crime bus tour and didn’t give you a chance to tell the tale. The truth of the matter is that I fell a bit in love with Willa, and didn’t want to share her. I think you understand the feeling.)

Joan Renner: I understand very well becoming attached to some of the people we run across in our research. I’m half in love with a crazy multiple murderer myself! But speaking of research, in your novel Ray refers to “the myth” of his relationship with Cissy. What inspired you to deviate from the romanticized version of their story that has so often been told?

Kim Cooper: Like many fans of the writer, I have long been charmed by the narrative of Ray’s deep affection for Cissy, despite their large age difference and her inability to fit in with his Hollywood colleagues. But when new research casts a fresh perspective on a familiar story, I’m always eager to see where truth and fiction meet.

A few years back Loren Latker, who maintains the Shamus Town website and who was instrumental in the successful legal plea to finally put Cissy Chandler’s forgotten cremains into her husband’s grave, set himself the task of going methodically through the chronological records of the County of Los Angeles for anything related to Raymond Chandler. These records are not digitally searchable, and no Chandler biographer had previously taken the time. Loren didn’t know what he might find, but like a panner for gold, thought it was worth looking.

Sure enough, he soon found a nugget: records from early 1930, documenting the formal separation of Ray and Cissy in their sixth year of marriage!

Since their marriage was breaking down at the exact time that the Great Eleven cult came into the public eye, if I was going to write truthfully about Raymond Chandler at home, troubles with Cissy had to be part of the story.

Joan Renner: In your novel Raymond Chandler’s relationship with his secretary, Muriel Fischer is a love story, but it is also the tale of a woman who discovers and embraces her independence. Would you mind telling the Deranged L.A. Crimes readers on whom Muriel is based?

Kim Cooper: The character of Muriel is inspired by our mutual friend, much missed, Dorothy Fisher. About twenty years after my book is set, the teenaged Dorothy was selected out of the secretarial pool at Paramount to be Chandler’s right hand girl. She had lovely, tender stories about their working relationship that she shared with us. These stories gave me insights into Chandler’s personality–and Dorothy’s character gave me insights into the kind of woman that Chandler was drawn to.

Joan Renner: All of the characters in your novel are finely drawn and fully realized portraits, and I sensed that you felt some affection even for the most reprehensible of them. I wonder, if you could be any character in The Kept Girl for one day who would you be?

Kim Cooper: Thank you, Joan– I’m glad you think so. Even before I thought about writing this novel, I worked hard seeking to understand the motivations of the various characters, to be better able to quickly describe their odd behaviors on the bus in a way that made sense to our passengers.

This is a very good question. Although I feel more of a personal affinity to other characters, if I could spend the day as one of them, I’d pick the policeman Tom James. My reasoning: he is the one person in the book who can move freely among all levels of society, and he visits all the most interesting locations.

As Tom, I could go from a basement speakeasy to the County Morgue, from police headquarters to Chandler’s oil company offices, from an off-limits downtown rooftop to a stranger’s parlor on Bunker Hill, and be welcomed wherever I went. Of course, first thing I’ll have to do when I get to 1929 Los Angeles is call in sick from my beat at 7th & Broadway. I don’t want to waste my one day as a time traveler helping people cross the street!

Joan Renner: Raymond Chandler and Thomas James seem to me to be a perfect one-two punch — the ideal crime solving duo. Do you have any plans to feature them in a future novel?

Kim Cooper: I’m definitely thinking about it, and looking for another old Los Angeles problem that might be suitable for their particular talents.

Joan Renner:  I’m glad to hear that you’re thinking about writing another novel — The Kept Girl is simply wonderful! I want to thank you, Kim, for spending time with Deranged L.A. Crimes. Do you have any parting thoughts on your novel, or anything else for that matter, that you’d like to share?

Kim Cooper: It’s been my pleasure. Thanks for having me, Joan. I can’t think of another site where I’d rather launch the February blog tour for “The Kept Girl” than “Deranged L.A. Crimes.” You and I have had so much fun over the past few years, blogging weird history and telling tales on the Esotouric bus, and bringing these forgotten Angelenos back into the spotlight. I hope your readers have enjoyed learning a bit about “The Kept Girl,” and look forward to returning the favor as blog tour host when YOUR book comes out!

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