Lois Pantages’s Wild Ride, Part 2

pantages_crash_laplJoe Rokumoto was at the wheel of his small Ford sedan on June 16, 1929. He was on Serrano Street, attempting to cross Sunset Boulevard.  He either didn’t see the Stutz coupe bearing down on him or saw it and was unable to evade it. The much larger auto completely demolished Joe’s car and caused injuries to everyone in it. Those injured in the crash included: Joe, 44; his wife, Karuko, 35; daughters Grace, 8, and Mary, 13. Also in the car with the Rokumoto family was Kiku Kawaguchi, 31, and her two kids, Hachiyoko, 7, and George, 9.  The three adults were taken to Sylvan Lodge Hospital. The children who, despite the severity of the accident, received mostly minor lacerations and were sent home with friends.

Lois Pantages, who had been observed driving recklessly for several blocks before finally plowing into Joe’s car, was treated for a broken nose, lacerated upper lip and a slight concussion and sent home.  She wasn’t home for long when the police knocked on her door and arrested her for driving while intoxicated. She was booked and then released on her own recognizance.

The damage to Joe’s car was complete. Lois’s Stutz sustained front end damage but was otherwise repairable. While Joe’s car was a total loss at least everyone had survived the accident. But that would changed when, a couple of days later, Joe died during the surgery to repair his broken hip. An inquest was held and Coroner’s jury concluded that his death was a direct result of the accident, despite the possible contributing causes of a tubercular abscess of the pleura and tuberculosis of the lower spinal vertebrae. In their verdict the jury said: “…the Stutz was driven on the left-hand side of the highway, and we find the accident was due to reckless driving on the part of the driver of said Stutz automobile.”

The jury didn’t offer any recommendation for further action by the authorities; but it didn’t matter because the D.A. had already taken steps to submit the case to the grand jury for an indictment.  Detective Lieutenant J.R. Stephens interviewed the survivors in Joe’s car, but he had not been able to get near Lois Pantages who was, allegedly, too ill to be questioned.  The initial report indicated that Lois had sustained only minor injuries in the crash, but her condition was upgraded to serious as the charge of second degree murder loomed large before her. The court was informed that she was hospitalized and unavailable for questioning. She had supposedly undergone surgery, although it wasn’t made clear exactly why she would need an operation for a split lip and a broken nose. If you’re thinking it was her attorney’s ploy to keep her away from the cops then we’re on the same page.

District Attorney Buron Fitts said: “I have gone into the matter of Mrs. Pantages since my return this morning from the district attorneys’ convention and I am convinced that the facts justify a prosecution on the charge of murder in the second degree.”

Lois’s preliminary hearing was delayed because her doctor hadn’t cleared her for release from the hospital. The D.A. wasn’t especially concerned, he had his officers continue to question witnesses. He’d also put a stop to scheduled repairs on the Stutz. Joe’s Ford sedan was beyond fixing, it was a crumpled mass of metal. Both vehicles would be held by the police until the case was concluded.

pantagesa_fixerOn July 7 newspapers broke the story that a former police officer had been arrested for attempting to bribe one of the witnesses against Lois.  William R. (Paddy) McGee of 1015 East 78th Street was a former special deputy sheriff and a bail bondsman. Paddy claimed to have been friends with Alexander Pantages for 35 years, and maybe he had been, but once his name appeared in connection with attempted bribery he was persona non grata as far as the Pantages were concerned. Alexander said: “My attention was called to the paper this afternoon wherein a man named McGee claims he was investigating the case for me.  McGee was never employed by me or authorized to have anything to do with the case.”

The assertion was that Paddy had approached William H. Dutton, an officer at LAPD’s Hollywood Division, in an attempt to influence his testimony. Dutton was one of the arresting officers in the case and his testimony was going to be important for the prosecution. Paddy allegedly told Officer Dutton that “There will be plenty on the line” — meaning, of course, that the officer could earn big bucks by changing his testimony.

Paddy denied making any overture to Officer Dutton. The former lawman, and brother-in-law of Tom Finn, ex-Sheriff of San Francisco, stated: “I heard they were looking for me at the District Attorney’s office and went down there voluntarily to see what they wanted. There is no truth in the statement that I tried to bribe anyone.”  The D.A. disagreed and Paddy was remanded into custody.

lois_wheelchairShortly after noon on July 17, Lois Pantages, surrounded by her family, was wheeled into Judge Holland’s court for her preliminary hearing. Her attorney spoke for her and pleaded not guilty to driving while intoxicated and murder. She was released on $50,000 bail–that’s equivalent to nearly $700,000 in current dollars.  Alexander Pantages was wealthy enough to make bail for his wife, and could afford the best attorneys. With the wealth and power of the Pantages fortune behind her would Lois escape justice?

NEXT TIME: The wheels of justice grind slowly on, and another member of the Pantages family ends up in the slammer.

Film Noir Friday, a day late: Sleep My Love [1948]

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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 SLEEP MY LOVE, starring Claudette Colbert, Robert Cummings and Don Ameche.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Alison Courtland, who is from a wealthy family and married to architect Richard Courtland, wakes up hysterical on board a train from New York to Boston with no idea of how she got there. At the airport on her way back to New York, she meets an old friend, Barby, there to see off explorer Bruce Elcott, who joins Alison’s flight. Richard, meanwhile, has informed police sergeant Strake about Alison’s unexplained absence and because she has disappeared before, he is arranging for her to see an eminent psychiatrist, Dr. Rhinehart.

Danger and suspense ensue.

Lois Pantages’s Wild Ride, Part 1

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Alexander Pantages

In 1876,  Pericles Pantages left his home on a small Greek Island and shipped out as a cabin boy on a schooner–he was 9. By age 12 the boy had contracted malaria and was put ashore in Panama where he stayed for two years. Panama wasn’t exactly the best place for a boy who already had malaria, and he was told by a doctor that if he didn’t leave the isthmus he would die there. He shipped out as soon as he could and landed in Puget Sound.

He bounced around for a time nurturing a variety of get-rich-quick schemes before he finally wised up and realized he’d be better off taking money from those who had already made it.  What better means of relieving people of their money than the entertainment business? Pericles, possibly as a declaration to the world of his will to make good, took the name of his hero Alexander the Great.  The young man was every bit as fierce in business as his chosen namesake was on the field of battle. He stumbled and fell a few times, but by the end of WWI he had put together one of the most successful theater circuits in the U.S.

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Lois & Alexander Pantages

Alexander met and married Lois Mendenhall, a pianist, in Seattle in the early 1900s. The couple had two sons: Rodney Alexander (b. 1905) and Lloyd Alexander (b. 1907). They added a daughter, Carmen Elrene (b.1910) and then they adopted another girl, Marjorie Nelson (b. 1908).

He may not have been able to read or write, but Alexander could speak several languages and he was particularly adept at figures. It was his innate business sense that enabled him to beat the odds. Alexander’s was an inspiring rags-to-riches tale and he and Lois lived in luxury.

By the late 1920s Alexander was worth the equivalent of approximately $30 million in current dollars. That kind of money can change a person’s living circumstances. But what about a person’s character?  Do the other family members become spoiled and out of touch?  In Lois’s case it seems very likely.

On  the evening of June 17, 1929  Lois  careened around Hollywood in her large Stutz with a reckless abandon that would have shocked even Mr. Toad.  Used car salesman William Taylor was near Oxford Street and Santa Monica Boulevard when he noticed a woman at the wheel of a Stuz driving erratically. The car swerved and it appeared to Taylor that the driver was not in control of the vehicle. He held his breath as it side-swiped another car and continued down the street at a high rate of speed.  Hoping to stop the woman before someone came to harm, he followed her in his car as fast as he deemed safe. Although he kept her in sight he couldn’t match her pace.

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Harry Lederbrink, first saw the Stutz at St. Andrews Place and Beverly Boulevard, and he noticed that it was being driven in a “very careless” manner. He pulled up behind the car and when it didn’t move forward as the traffic signal turned green he got out and went to see if the driver was in distress. He saw the woman with her head down and she had a “glassy stare”  He drew closer and “got a whiff” of whiskey. He also noticed the registration certificate–it was made out in the name of Lois Pantages.  He told the woman that she should pull her car to the curb and call a taxicab, but once she’d snapped out of her trance she became verbally abusive and roared off trailing dust and expletives.

As C.F. Holmes, his wife, and another couple were driving down Western Avenue the Stutz passed him on the wrong side of the road and clipped his fenders. The big car didn’t slow down or stop, so Holmes followed it and watched in disbelief as the westbound car swerved into the eastbound lane of Sunset Boulevard. The driver made no hand signal and gave no indication of what she was intending to do. Then, as several people watched, the car crashed into a small slow moving sedan jam-packed with people. The sickening sound of metal-on-metal was accompanied by screams.

NEXT TIME:  The aftermath of the crash.

Film Noir Friday: Angel On My Shoulder [1946]

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Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. We’ve been closed for a couple of weeks to scrape the gum off the floor and refill the soda machine. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.

Tonight’s feature is ANGEL ON MY SHOULDER, starring Paul Muni, Anne Baxter and Claude Rains. Directed by Archie Mayo who also directed The Man With Two Faces and The Petrified Forest among many others.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Soon after his release from prison, gangster Eddie Kagle is killed by his longtime friend and associate, Smiley Williams, and wakes in Hell. When Eddie realizes what has happened, he immediately attempts to break out of Hell and avenge his death. His actions draw the attentions of Nick, the Devil, who notices Eddie’s close resemblance to Frederick Parker, an incorruptible judge who is running for governor. Nick offers to help Eddie escape and get even with Smiley, if he, in turn, will help Nick destroy Parker’s reputation. Eddie readily agrees and, accompanied by Nick, returns to earth.