Film Noir Friday: Midnight Manhunt [1945]


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 comedy/mystery MIDNIGHT MANHUNT starring William Gargan, Ann Savage, Leo Gorcey and George Zucco.

Enjoy the film!

TCM Says:

At the shoddy New York Empress Hotel, gangster Joe Wells is attacked by Jelke, who then steals a packet of diamonds from Wells’s apparently dead body. After Jelke leaves, Wells, who is still alive, struggles out of his room, but is later found dead outside The Last Gangster Wax Museum by policeman Murphy. Murphy reports his finding to detective Max Hurley, who does not believe it because Wells, who has been missing for five years, was presumed dead. When Murphy goes to verify the identity of the body, it has disappeared.


The Department of Water and Power Caper, Conclusion

The investigation into the robbery of the Municipal Bureau of Water and Power was bogged down by dead ends and false leads and it was beginning to look like the crooks were going to get away with the crime that had netted them over $73,000 in cash (the equivalent of nearly $1 million dollars in today’s money) — but then an LAPD officer at the Highland Park station noticed something odd about one of his neighbors, Fern Sadler.

sadler picPatrolman John Kopytek wondered how Sadler, who lived with his mother near Kopytek’s home, could afford three new cars when he was unemployed. Kopytek continued to watch Sadler and as he did he became convinced that there was something hinky going on. He couldn’t find anything to explain Sadler’s sudden good fortune, so he took his suspicions to the higher ups at his station. Detectives kept an eye on Sadler for several weeks and he looked suspicious to them too. They finally took him into custody for questioning but failed to wring a confession out of him even after $7800, for which he had no credible explanation, was found in the apartment he had rented on North Avenue  61.

Sadler finally broke and made a full confession, and he also implicated Frank C. Wagoner, 42, of Pasadena; Harvey Schlagel, 43, of, Pasadena; and Gilman Rankin, 42 of Santa Monica.

Rankin denied any involvement in the robbery and immediately requested an attorney. Harvey Schlagel decided it was in his best interest to confess and try to make a deal.

From what they were told by Sadler and Schlagel the detectives were able to piece together the plot of the robbery and it was quite a story. Sadler resigned from the Water and Power Bureau on November 4th, about three weeks following the robbery, and of course he didn’t have to find another job because he had the $7800 that was found in his apartment and another $15k or so that he had buried following the hold-up. Then there were the three cars he’d purchased valued at approximately $3400 total.

Sadler said that he and Rankin had committed the actual robbery and they’d hired Schlagel and Wagner to kidnap payroll guard Fred Kimple  and detain, but not harm, him. For their part in the robbery the two crooks were paid $1,000 each. Right after the robbery Sadler and Rankin went to a hotel room they’d rented prior to the crime and divied up the reminder of the plunder in a 50/50 split.

The grand jury indicted Sadler, Schlagel, Rankin and Wagoner for the robbery.  And to add to Sadler’s legal woes the City of Los Angeles filed a civil suit to recover as much of the stolen loot as possible. In the complaint it was stated that someone (Sadler and a number of “John Does”) had stolen approximately $75,000 from the bureau office, and that part of the money had been found in various banks to the credit of Fern Sadler, and part had been invested in sues

Sadler made the mistake of believing that successfully committing the robbery meant that he and his accomplices were free and clear. He learned the hard way that the actual crime is just the beginning. It was incredibly arrogant of him to think that nobody in his neighborhood would notice that he was living way beyond his unemployed means — it was his bad luck that the neighbor who noticed was an LAPD officer.

Maybe it’s just me but I believe that declarations like: “The check is in the mail”; “I’ll always love you”; and “I’ll never rat you out” should always be met with a healthy dose of skepticism. If Rankin had a little voice that told him to be leery of Sadler’s promisies, he didn’t listen to it. He was blind-sided, and more than a little pissed-off, when Sadler (said to be the brains of the hold-up) suddenly pleaded guilty and turned State’s evidence. The two men, handcuffed together, were being lead from the courtroom by Bailiff Hammon when Rankin suddenly whirled his arm upward and brought the handcuffs smashing down on Sadler’s head.

“I’ll get you yet, you dirty squealer!” he shouted as Bailiff Hammon tried to insert himself between the two felons. Sadler wasn’t badly hurt by Rankin’s attack, but the co-conspirators were separated and extra guards were assigned to the courtroom for the remainder of the trail.

Sadler testified in detail to the planning and execution of the robbery. He’d connected with Rankin by placing a want ad in a local paper asking for the services of a “courageous man” and promising “big money” as a reward.

For squealing on his accomplices Sadler earned the D.A.’s recommendation to be sentenced on the lesser charge of second-degree robbery charge. He took the deal but it wasn’t a great one, because Sadler was sentenced to from seven years to life for masterminding the crime. Schlagel and Wagoner followed Sadler’s lead and changed their pleas to guilty and were sentenced to from one year to life in prison.

rankin guiltyRankin was the last man standing and would have to face the jury alone. He was found guilty of first degree robbery and sentenced to from seven years to life in prison.

The robbery was a success and  the gang could have gotten away with it but, as is often the case, the bad guys weren’t nearly as smart as they thought they were. This is where I say crime doesn’t pay — but then you already knew that.

Film Noir Friday: The Web [1947]

Film Noir Poster - Web, The_01

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 WEB starring Edmond O’Brien, Ella Raines, William Bendiz and Vincent Price.

Enjoy the film!

TCM Says:

At a big city train station, Martha Kroner greets her father Leopold after his release from prison, where he served a five-year term for counterfeiting bonds. Kroner is disappointed that his former associate, wealthy businessman Andrew Colby, has not come to welcome him home. Unknown to Kroner, Colby’s henchman, Charles Murdock, watches him from the shadows.

Film Noir Friday: The Mob [1951]


Welcome!  The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.

Tonight’s feature is THE MOB [1961] starring Broderick Crawford, Betty Buehler, and Richard Kiley.

Enjoy the film!

TCM Says:

While walking home late one rainy night, off-duty police detective Johnny Damico hears the gunfire of a shootout. A man at the scene identifies himself as a fellow officer and hastens to summon police backup as Johnny examines the victim. When the officer fails to return, Johnny grows suspicious and telephones his commanding officer, Lt. Banks. After Johnny relates the events, Banks summons him to headquarters, where he informs Johnny that the badge shown to him by the man at the scene was taken from an officer murdered a few hours earlier. The victim is identified as the principle witness for a grand jury investigation into the waterfront rackets.

The Department of Water and Power Caper, Part 1

The 1920s are often recalled as the decade of bob-haired flappers, bootleg booze, and giddy stunts (like flag pole sitting); but it was also a decade of less benign pursuits—like an audacious day-time robbery.

Chief Ed “Two Gun” Davis, LAPD

On Monday, September 26, 1927, bandits robbed the city’s Department of Water and Power of $73,600 in cash (equivalent to $989,437.79 in current U.S. dollars). That was bad, but what was even worse was the proximity of the scene of the crime to LAPD’s Central Station–just a block away.

To say that Chief Davis was annoyed by the affront to his authority is an understatement. He told assembled reporters and concerned citizens:

“Our men have been sent out to bring into the station every suspected man on the streets, in rooming-houses, bungalow courts, apartments and hotels who cannot give a good account of himself.  We ask all good citizens who carry guns to leave them off because we are going to bring in every man with a gun and try to procure a maximum jail sentence for him.  We will bring in and attempt to get a maximum vagrancy sentence for every person who cannot explain his idleness or presence under suspicious circumstances.  We are going to search automobiles, persons and rooms and ask good citizens to be patient as we are trying to round up an incarcerate all of the type that has been precipitating these crimes.  Policemen have been instructed to be especially courteous and we appeal for public support because the move is for the public good.”

Obviously the Chief wasn’t a big fan of the Fourth Amendment. In fact a few years later, in 1933, when LAPD was hunting a married couple who had spent their honeymoon on a crime spree Davis would be quoted as saying that constitutional rights were of “no benefit to anybody but crooks and criminals”.  While I don’t agree, I understand his frustration with laws that sometimes do a better job of protecting perpetrators than victims.


The robbers’ plan was as perfectly choreographed as a performance of the Ballet Russe. It began with the kidnapping of Fred C. Kimple, a watchman for the water and power bureau. As was his routine on paydays Fred left the Clovis and Ninety-Eighth Street warehouse branch at about 6:30 a.m. to go down to the main office and stand guard at the cashier’s office. He only got as far as Ninety-Sixth Street when a sedan with a man on the running board brandishing a blue-steel revolver crowded him to the curb. It must have been frightening when his kidnappers called him by name:

“Come on Fred, let your gun alone and you won’t be hurt.”

Fred asked them who they worked for and they replied:

“Well, we’re from the Aqueduct.  They made bums out of us and we’re going to get even.”

[NOTE: For those of you unfamiliar with the contentious history of the L.A. Aqueduct, I refer you to the 1975 film “Chinatown”; it is a fictionalized version for sure, but you’ll get the idea.]

Fred was pulled out his car, shoved to the floor of the bandit’s sedan and covered with a robe.  He later  said they didn’t harm him and that after riding around for quite some time he was ordered out of the car. He found himself in the sparsely populated district near the Midwick Country Club.  It took him a while, but he finally found a telephone and raised the alarm.

Meanwhile, Cashier George Pessell arrived at the bureau office at about 7:30 a.m. He entered through a “trick” door into the counter clerk’s compartment that led to the cashier’s room.  George later told police:

“I saw two men seated at the desk with green eyeshades on their heads, and thinking they were clerks, I went on into the cashier’s office. Then the assistant, L.H. Brockway, came in and was opening up the smaller safe and Paymaster S.F. Arthur arrived.  As Arthur stepped in, the two ‘clerks’ came up.  One shoved a gun against his back and the other covered me through the little window, and they made their way inside the cage.”

Once they were inside the robbers worked fast.  They forced rubber balls, though which strings had been run, into the mouths of Pessell, Brockway and Arthur and tied gags on them. With a gun pressed into him Pessell was forced to open the large safe, and then the three employees were bound up with cotton web straps and made to lie on the floor.  One of the crooks pulled out a sugar sack and started cramming it full with every bit of cash he could see.

Milton Fischel, a bureau employee on his way to work, saw two men leaving the building through the entrance onto Broadway, but there was nothing unusual about them so Milton didn’t give them another thought until he found his three bound co-workers.  He released them and then contacted the police.

Police investigators arrived quickly, they were, after all, just a block away. They began to question the employees to find out if they had noticed anything strange. Frank Albith, an employee on the second floor, said he had noticed two men outside of the bureau at about the time of the crime. Police believe the men may have been lookouts for the two bandits who got the money.

Every employee who came in contact with the gangsters cooperated fully with Captains Cato and Curtis, Detectives Malino, Williams and O’Connor who were working the case. One of the employees, Louise Dolan, said she had noticed two men acting suspiciously a few days before—it was thought likely that the crooks had been casing the place.

Detectives were positive that the two inside men were part of a larger group of bandits, but how many and who were they?  At least the investigators were able to get general descriptions of the robbers who had been inside the bureau. One of them had a scar on his cheek, the other’s nose was taped, and both were between the ages of 30 and 35

It wasn’t much, but it would have to do until they got a break.

NEXT TIME:  The search for the bandits continues.