The Burton Gang’s Last Job, Part 1

Photo is not of this case, but typical of the time. Courtesy of LAPL.

Photo is not of this case, but typical of the time. Courtesy of LAPL.

On the evening of July 19, 1922, motorcycle Officer Chester L.. Bandle clocked a coupe speeding through the intersection at Ninth and Hill Streets at a reckless forty miles an hour. He gave chase. The driver pulled over at Seventh and Hill and Officer Bandle walked over to hand the speeder a ticket, but he never got the chance. The driver, aiming a revolver, leaned out of the car and shot Officer Bandle in the right shoulder–then he sped off abandoning the car several blocks away. The car  was  taken to Central Police Station and Officer Bandle was taken to White Memorial Hospital in fair condition, but expected to survive.

The abandoned car was found a few blocks from where the motor officer had been wounded, and a search of the vehicle yielded a few bits of potentially useful information. Charles Mullen, 4124 Washington Street, Fresno, was the registered owner. Was the car stolen? Was the shooter and the owner of the car the same person?   It was up to Sheriff’s investigators to find out.

Detectives learned that Charles Mullen was one of many aliases used by twenty-seven year-old Edward Burton of Chicago.  Burton was well-known to Chicago cops having begun his life of crime there as a teenager. Under one of his aliases, Louis Miller, he was implicated, but never charged, in he 1919 gangland murder of fellow Windy City street thug, Jimmy Cherin.

burton gang_smith and burton

Evelyn Smith and Edward Burton

Like many crooks before him Burton decided to head west, at least for a while. Burton didn’t travel to Los Angeles alone, he brought his girl, Evelyn Smith, and his gang with him. It didn’t take long for the gang to come to the attention of local law enforcement, and for six months cops tried unsuccessfully to catch the gang in the act.

Shortly after the wounding of Officer Bandle, Sheriff Traeger received a hot tip about where the gang was holed up and he and LAPD Chief Oaks formulated a plan.

An early morning joint raid was conducted by Sheriff Traeger and Chief Oaks at two locations. Swarms of deputies and patrolmen arrived at the bungalow in the rear of 1234 West 39th Street and at a rooming house at 533 1/2 South Spring Street. Under the direction of the Sheriff and the Chief of Police, Detective Capt. Home, Capt. Murray, Detective Sgts. Jarvis, Neece, Longuevan and Davis, and Deputy Sheriffs Sweezy and Allen took part in the raid. Arrested on suspicion of robbery were : Edward Burton; J.W. Gilkye; K.B. Fleenor; B.C. Beaucanan, and his wife; William R. Ryan; F.J. Ryan and his wife; and Evelyn Smith. Also at the bungalow was a burglary kit and a stash of weapons including three shotguns, two rifles, and half a dozen revolvers–a good indication that the gang was up to no good. burton gang_arsenal

The recent hold-up of E.E. Hamil and E.C. Harrison, collectors for the Puente Oil Company, netted the bandits $3875 (equivalent to over $56k in current dollars). Hamil and Harrison attended a line-up to see if they could identify any of the suspects as the man who had robbed them. They pointed at Edward Burton.

burton gang_burglar kitBurton was released on $10,000 [equivalent to $145k in current dollars] bail while Sheriff’s investigators continued to dig into his life and the lives of his companions. No one was surprised to find that Burton was a career criminal with numerous aliases–among them, Charles Mullen. Burton/Mullen fit the description of the man who had shot Motor Officer Bandle; and the car found near the scene of the shooting was registered to Mullen. An unlikely coincidence.

Evidence against the gang was mounting. They started to talk about hopping the next train east. Burton agreed that things were getting too hot for them in Los Angeles, but he said before they bid adieu to blue skies, ocean breezes and palm trees, they needed to pull just one more job.

NEXT TIME: Shootout at Union Ice Company.

Film Noir Friday: The Brasher Doubloon [1947]

brasher_doubloon_ver2

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 BRASHER DOUBLOON starring George Montgomery, Nancy Guild and Conrad Janis.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Philip Marlowe (George Montgomery) gets involved when limp-wristed and snidley Leslie Murdock (Conrad Janis) steals a rare doubloon from his mother (Florence Bates) to give to a newsreel photographer in exchange for film that is being used for blackmail purposes. Marlowe’s involvement has him encounter a girl who goes into hysterics when touched by a man; a husband-killing woman; three corpses; a couple of scuffles in which he gets his clock cleaned; a secretary who thinks she has killed her boss, which is the reason Raymond Chandler called his story “The High Window”, and a son (who qualifies as a S.O.B. by two definitions) who blackmails his widowed mother. So, what’s not to like.

Ode to Joy

joy1Incorporated in 1913, San Marino is a quiet, residential only, enclave catering to people with money; lots of money.  It is unthinkable, not to mention in poor taste, for a resident to die of unnatural causes.  But on December 31, 1949 the body of 39 year-old socialite, and well-known party girl, Joy McLaughlin was found in the lush bedroom of her San Marino rental home—with a gunshot wound to her chest. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department sent detectives Herman Leaf and Garner Brown to investigate.

When Brown and Leaf arrived at McLaughlin’s Spanish-style bungalow at 2002 Oakdale Street they found the attractive blonde artfully sprawled on a blood spattered Oriental rug in her bedroom next to her lace canopied bed.  If they hadn’t known better the detectives may have thought that they were looking at a scene from a film noir.  The deceased was wearing a maroon off-the-shoulder blouse, blue skirt and black peep-toed pumps. Her jewelry consisted of a simple gold bracelet and gold earrings. A .38 revolver lay near her right hand.joy2

As the detectives scanned the frilly bedroom for clues they noticed a framed pastel portrait of McLaughlin. The portrait appeared to be from the 1930s. In the portrait McLaughlin had long blonde hair, kohl rimmed eyes and vaguely resembled actress Mary Astor, if she had been a blonde. The glass in the portrait had been broken by a bullet.  The shattered glass was another film noir touch in the real-life death scene.

What had Joy’s life been like in the years since the portrait was completed? And why had she died? In order to better understand Joy’s death, detectives would have to answer that question by examining her past.

joy lost loveAccording to some records, Joy was born Denver Joy McLaughlin on September 22, 1910 or 1911 in Memphis, Texas. By the 1930 census, Joy was living with her widowed mother, Daisy, and her sisters May, Dorothy, Novella, Ysleta and Thelma in a home on Larrabee Street in Hollywood.  Joy was 19 at the time of the census and was in a relationship with automobile (Cadillac and LaSalle) and radio (KHJ) magnate, Don Lee. The older man, who had been married and divorced twice, had been seeing Joy since she was sixteen.

Joy believed she and Don would eventually marry, but he met another age inappropriate woman, twenty-four year-old Geraldine May Jeffers Timmons, and dropped Joy like a burning coal.  Don and Geraldine dated for only a few months before being married in Agua Caliente, Mexico.

Disappointed and angry, Joy filed a breach of promise lawsuit, aka a “heart balm” suit  in 1933 against her former lover in the amount of $500,000. To put it in perspective, $500,000 then is equivalent to $9 million dollars today. That kind of money would go a long way to soothe a broken heart.  Following a brief court battle Joy walked away with $11,500. Not exactly what she hoped for, but not chump change – it had the same buying power as $210k has today.  That amount of money could go a long way during the Great Depression.joy sues for balm

For the next several years, Joy traveled.  She sailed through the Panama Canal, she visited Hawaii, and she spent time at the resort in Agua Caliente, Baja California, Mexico.  She even found time to marry a man named Robert Stark; but the marriage ended in divorce.

At some point during years before her death, Joy met an oil millionaire, John A. Smith. John was married but when asked about it he said: “I’m not working at it.” During their investigation of Joy’s death Sheriff’s Department detectives discovered that John had been with Joy in the hours prior to her death.

Had John killed her?  Not according to his testimony at the Coroner’s inquest.  John described an evening of drinking (Joy’s blood alcohol registered .021 at her autopsy) and dancing.  The couple, accompanied by Fern Graves, a friend of Joy’s, partied at the Jonathan Club and the Zebra Room of the Town House.

John said: “Joy wanted to dance.  She called the orchestra leader over and arranged for some music.  I bought the orchestra a drink. We danced and drank until the bar closed.”  At 2 a.m. Joy, Fern and John accepted the invitation of bar acquaintance named George to have a nightcap in his room at the Biltmore Hotel.  The party continued until 8 a.m. Joy was incensed when John john sobssuggested they call it a night. She bolted from George’s hotel room, and John had to retrieve her.

Joy and John finally made it back to her home.  Between sobs, John testified that Joy tended to become melancholy, and occasionally belligerent, when she drank.  He followed Joy into her bedroom where she began to undress.  He said that she turned to him and said: “You can get out.”  John said that he knew better than to cross Joy when she was in a mood so he left the house. As he got to his car he thought he heard a gunshot. “I ran back into the house.  Joy was sitting on the floor…”

John started to fall apart on the stand and it took him several moments to regain control and continue his testimony. “She (Joy) was sitting at the foot of the bed, sort of half sprawled and leaning against the bed.  I saw the whole scene in an instant.  Her hand was out and a gun was lying not over three feet from her body. I grabbed it.” fern mclaughlin

“I said, ‘My God, what have you done!”  Joy was beyond answering.  John picked up the weapon and it went off. It scared him half to death. Joy didn’t make a sound. When John tried to lift her he felt blood ooze through his left hand.  “I listened for life.  In my judgment, she was dead.”

John panicked. He left without calling a doctor because he believed Joy was dead. He then drove through a thick fog to the Wilmington home of two of Joy’s sisters, Thelma and Ysleta.  When they opened the door, they found John wringing his hands and crying.

mclaughlin sistersWhen Joy’s sister Ysleta was called to testify at the inquest she revealed that it was she who had given Joy the weapon that killed her. Joy was described as a person who felt things keenly; sensitive and sympathetic to other people’s problems.

After hearing from all the witnesses the Coroner’s Jury determined that it was Joy who had fired the .38 into her chest, one inch from her breast.

There appeared to be no single event that had caused Joy to take her own life. Perhaps her suicide was the culmination of a life that had never gone quite how Joy dreamed it would.

NOTE: Many thanks to Mike Fratantoni — one of my favorite historians.