The Murder Complex, Prologue

Thursday, February 19, 1925

Night had fallen by the time Donald Mead and Kenneth Selby started home following a school baseball game. The twelve-year-old boys walked in companionable silence. After dark, the silence in Beverly Glen was broken only by the sounds of nature; a coyote’s howl, or the powerful beating of an owl’s wings.  But this night the boys heard the rumble of a car engine. That was unusual, as there wasn’t much traffic in the Glen.  It was a quiet, semi-rural enclave about twenty miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles; the place where many well-to-do local residents owned get-away cabins. On an impulse, the boys dove into a stand of bushes near a small bridge moments before the car’s headlights would have illuminated them. They intended to spy on whomever had the audacity to intrude on their domain.

(ca. 1925) – View showing a car on an unpaved Sunset Boulevard between Carolwood and Delfern Drives in Beverly Hills, with three palm trees in the background. This is in the general location of Beverly Glen.

Keeping still, the boys watched a lone driver back a sedan up to the front steps of a cabin and turn off his headlights. The boys knew that the cabin belonged to Dr. Thomas Young, a Los Angeles dentist, but it was too dark to positively identify the driver who appeared to be male. Maybe it was the doctor — maybe not. No matter, the boys were enjoying their spy game.  From their vantage point they watched the man drag a large, heavy box draped in a dark colored cloth, from the car. Donald and Kenneth whispered to each other that the box must be awfully heavy, because the man was hunched over and appeared to be having difficulty lifting it. Perhaps the boys were speculating about the box’s contents as they watched. Did it contain a king’s ransom of gold and silver?  Or did the box contain the corpse of a desperado?

The man wrestled the box onto the landing and dragged it inside the cabin. The boys thought it odd that he never turned on the cabin lights. When he reappeared on the veranda, he furtively scanned the area. Evidently satisfied that he was alone, he returned to his car and retrieved a gunny sack.  It was large and filled with something the boys couldn’t identify. The sack must not have been as heavy as the box because the man was able to sling it over his shoulder.  He disappeared into the cabin again.  A few minutes later he returned empty-handed.  Then he got into his car and drove away.

 The boys were barely able to contain their curiosity. Who was the man …and why was he being so secretive? They waited a few minutes before leaving their hiding place and then they walked over to the cabin. In the dirt near the cellar door was a sack marked “Lime.” They also found some “funny smelling stuff” that made them “sick at smelling it.”

After poking around the cabin for a few more minutes and finding nothing, Donald and Kenneth headed home.  They wouldn’t give the strange man another thought until they were questioned by police six months later.

NEXT TIME: The Murder Complex continues.

Film Noir Friday — Sunday Matinee: Manhandled [1949]

Welcome to Film Noir Friday — Sunday Matinee! 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 MANHANDLED starring Dorothy Lamour, Dan Duryea and Sterling Hayden.  Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Unemployed writer Alton Bennet tells psychiatrist Dr. Redman about his nightmares, in which he dreams that he murders his wealthy wife Ruth with a heavy perfume bottle. Redman’s secretary, Merl Kramer, takes notes as Bennet denies coveting his wife’s jewels, which are worth $100,000. After Bennet is refused an advance from his publishers, he becomes jealous of Ruth’s close relationship with handsome young architect Guy Bayard, who is designing their new beach house.

 

Too Many Cooks, Conclusion

Their failure to solve the June 22, 1947 murder of Bugsy Siegel still rankled members of the Beverly Hills Police Department.  None of them wanted to suffer the frustration of another high profile cold case.  They were committed to solving Katie Hayden’s murder and they weren’t above asking for help. Many of the smaller Los Angeles county police departments, like Beverly Hills, were unaccustomed to conducting murder investigations so they enlisted the aid of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department homicide bureau.

Rutherford Leon Bennett (R) and Nathaniel Smith (L). Photo courtesy of LAPL.

Despite his protestations of innocence, Rutherford Leon Bennett was a promising suspect. The Hayden’s had recently dismissed Rutherford as their cook when he failed to perform to their expectations. He said he phoned Samuel Hayden for a reference, but his call could have been interpreted as an attempt to extort money from his former boss for his firing.  Rutherford was arrested and booked on suspicion of murder. His roommate, Nathaniel Smith, was taken into custody but released after an intense interrogation proved that he had no part in the crime.

Rutherford submitted to a lie detector test. He passed, but that wasn’t enough to satisfy the police. There are people who can defeat a polygraph – maybe Rutherford was one of them. Police weren’t about to kick him loose unless or until they had a better suspect.

Margaret and Rutherford. Photo courtesy LAPL.

Peggy King, Rutherford’s replacement as the Hayden’s cook, was an obvious suspect because she was the only person in the house when Katie was murdered. But where was her motive?  She had only been in the Hayden’s employ for three days.

Police learned that Peggy was also known as (Mrs.) Margaret Moore.  Margaret was a relative newcomer to Los Angeles. She left her home in Houston, Texas in 1954 following a separation from her husband.  Her father, Samuel Johnson, was a prominent figure in Houston’s Baptist church community. Nothing in Margaret’s background marked her as someone capable of hacking her employer to death with a hatchet.   Still, police were obliged to subject her to the same scrutiny they gave Rutherford.

Detective Sergeant Ray Hopkinson of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s homicide bureau assisted in the investigation. He said that one of Margaret’s male friends, with whom she had recently quarreled, had been located and was able to account for his whereabouts. One more suspect eliminated.

The police weren’t entirely satisfied with Margaret’s description of events.  Since there was no one who could confirm or deny her story the police had to find another way to get at the truth. In her closet they found the dress that Margaret was wearing the day of the murder. It was spattered with what appeared to be blood. Even if the blood was Katie’s, it didn’t necessarily mean that Margaret was a killer.

Margaret’s alibi, that she had been vacuuming in another part of the house while Katie was being butchered, didn’t hold together when police realized that the killer would have had to pass Margaret to get to Katie.

Margaret had a date with the polygraph machine on February 11, 1955.  Investigators hoped that the polygraph, the ultimate truth or dare device in a murder investigation, would reveal Margaret’s lies — if she was telling any.  The former cook was questioned for over 90 minutes. The examiner concluded that Margaret was being deceptive in her answers.

Detectives used Margaret’s lies against her.  It didn’t take long for her to break down and confess. But why had she done it?

Margaret. Photo courtesy LAPL.

According to Margaret the murder was the result of a heated argument she had with Katie about how to bone a roast. Katie was supervising Margaret in the kitchen and lost patience with her. In a fit of pique Katie snatched the small ax Margaret was using out of her hands and attempted to give her a demonstration.

“I had gotten the ax to cut the bone in the roast.  During the argument Mrs. Hayden took the ax from me and tried to show me how to do it.”  Margaret said.

“She (Katie) continued arguing with me and then I took the ax from her and struck her on the head.  She didn’t fall after I struck her once and then I struck her again and again.  I don’t know how many times I struck her after that. . .”

Margaret may have lost count of the blows it took to shatter Katie’s skull, but Dr. Newbarr, who conducted Katie’s autopsy, said that the sharp end of the ax had been used to inflict 20 to 30 cuts to her head and face.  Then the butt end of the ax was used to fracture her lower left jaw and her upper left collarbone.

The vicious attack sent Katie to the kitchen floor in a bloody heap.  “I stood over her for more than 10 minutes,” Margaret said.  “I was dazed.”

She wasn’t too dazed to formulate a plan to escape detection. As Katie lay dying in a widening pool of blood, Margaret went upstairs and ransacked her employer’s room.  “I opened all the drawers in the dressers and scattered clothing about the floor to make it appear that someone had broken in the house,” she told detectives.

While Margaret was yanking out dresser drawers and throwing clothing around Katie’s room, the telephone rang.  The caller was one of Katie’s daughters, Rose Furstman.  Margaret answered the phone and told her that someone had come in and killed her mother.  Then she hung up.  Rose lived at 1041 Hilts Avenue in West Los Angeles, barely two miles away from her parents’ home.  It must have been an agonizing drive over to her parent’s home.

Margaret used the few minutes before Rose arrived to wipe her bloody hands clean with a dust rag.  She tossed the rag and the ax into the kitchen sink, then she began to scream.

Margaret’s unholy wailing drew the attention of the half a dozen landscapers that were in the Hayden’s backyard installing a sprinkler system. When they got to the kitchen they found Margaret standing near Katie’s body. There was blood everywhere.

Margaret’s explanation for the murder was that her nerves were on edge because her common-law husband of two years had left her. Margaret’s two-year relationship was nothing compared to the 49 years that Samuel and Katie had spent together. The couple would have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in August.

Margaret comforted by her brother, Milton Johnson. Photo courtesy LAPL.

Roy King, the man Margaret called husband, showed up at the Beverly Hills Jail to comfort her. Her brother, Milton Johnson, also came to the jail to show support.

With Margaret’s confession in hand the cops breathed a sigh of relief. Their part was done. Now it was up to the courts to decide her fate.

There was talk of an insanity plea, so Dr. Marcus Crahan, County Jail psychiatrist, examined Margaret. After questioning her for 45 minutes Crahan said: “She is normal mentally.”

Margaret in tears. Photo courtesy LAPL.

With the confession and Dr. Crahan’s report against her, Margaret appeared before Judge Stanley Mosk and withdrew her earlier plea of innocent by reason of insanity and waived her right to a jury trial.  It was a smart move, she likely would have fared much worse with a jury than she did with Judge Mosk.  He heard the case without a jury and found Margaret guilty of second degree murder and sentenced to a term of from five years to life in state prison.

Film Noir Friday: Slightly Honorable [1939]

 

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 SLIGHTLY HONORABLE starring Pat O’Brien, Edward Arnold, Broderick Crawford and Ruth Terry. This film was directed by Tay Garnet who, seven years later, would direct THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE.  Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Attorney John Webb is fighting the corruption of a political ring led by Vincent Cushing, a newspaper publisher who has become very wealthy through graft. Webb’s only ally is his law partner, Russ Sampson. While at the state capitol to enlist the aid of Senator Scott, the two meet Alma Brehmer, Cushing’s mistress and a law client of Webb’s. Alma invites them to a party that Cushing is giving at Pete Godeana’s nightclub that night, and Webb accepts. At the club, Webb is impressed by dancer Ann Seymour’s performance in the floor show until he learns that she is only eighteen. Minutes later, he hears Ann scream and sees Godeana slapping the girl. Webb punches Godeana and takes Ann from the club.

 

Too Many Cooks, Part 1

February 9, 1955

Beverly Hills, California

Half a dozen landscapers were hard at work installing a sprinkler system on the grounds of Samuel Hayden’s Beverly Hills estate at 817 North Whittier Street when they were startled by screams coming from inside the home.  Dropping their tools as they ran, the men followed the bloodcurdling shrieks to the back entrance to the kitchen.  The first man in door must have been horrified. 71-year-old Katie Hayden lay in a widening pool of blood. She had been beaten so badly she was barely recognizable. In the sink was a bloody rag and a small ax.

It wasn’t Katie who had screamed.  Peggy King, the Hayden’s new housekeeper and cook, was responsible for the cries which shattered the quiet morning and drawn the landscapers and neighbors from several doors away to the gruesome scene.

The police were called and within minutes Beverly Hills cops and an ambulance arrived.  Katie was taken to Beverly Hills Emergency Hospital and then transferred to Cedars of Lebanon Hospital for surgery.  She didn’t make it.  Katie’s health had been poor for the last couple of years and she didn’t have to the strength to survive the vicious attack.  Even a younger, healthier person would likely have succumbed.  Dr. Frederick Newbarr, the Coroner’s chief autopsy surgeon, said that the beating Katie had suffered was the most vicious he had ever seen.  The killer used the sharp end of the ax to inflict 20 to 30 cuts on her head and face; then used the butt end to fracture Katie’s left jaw and her upper left collarbone.

Who could have wanted Katie dead? She wasn’t a high-risk victim – she was a Beverly Hills housewife.

Investigators dug into the Hayden’s background.  Did Samuel, who had made a fortune as a real estate developer, have enemies who hated him enough to get to him through is family?

The Haydens had relocated to Los Angeles from Chicago in the mid-1940s and moved to Beverly Hills.  They began construction on the Whittier Street home during the summer of 1954 and were occupying it by December.  The $200,000 [equivalent to $1.8 million dollars in today’s currency] estate was their dream home. It was also less than 300 feet away from 810 N. Linden Drive where mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel had been shot to death in the home’s living room in June 1947.

Bugsy Siegel with his attorney Jerry Geisler. [Photo courtesy of LAPL.]

Siegel was a mobster and the Hayden’s were from Chicago, a city with a long history of mob activity.  Was there a connection?

The last thing the city wanted was another unsolved high-profile murder case. Because the house had been under construction and workmen had been in and out, the detectives had at least 50 people to interview.  The master bedroom had been ransacked, maybe the murder was a burglary gone wrong. What if someone knew that Katie had been diagnosed with cancer and assumed she had narcotics on hand? Pharmaceutical grade drugs would be a powerful inducement for someone.

Police didn’t find anything to corroborate mob involvement, and the interviews they had conducted in the early hours of the investigation hadn’t led to any blinding insights.  Even so, they turned up an interesting suspect. Three weeks prior to the murder 39-year-old Rutherford Leon Bennett had been dismissed from the Hayden’s employ when he failed to meet their standards for a cook.  Since Bennett claimed his primary skill was millinery, specifically creating hats for wealthy matrons, his culinary skills may have been lacking.

Bennett’s alibi was straight forward.  He told police that he was asleep at home when the murder was committed. But Bennett had supposedly telephoned Samuel following his dismissal and demanded two weeks’ severance pay. When the Hayden’s wouldn’t deliver did Bennett get mad enough to kill?  Bennett denied that he had pressured the Haydens for money.  He stated that his reason for calling was benign, he wanted permission to use them as a job reference.

Bennett’s roommate, 24-year-old Nathaniel Smith, verified Bennett’s alibi.  Smith said that he and Bennett had been out until 5 a.m. on the morning of the murder and that when they arrived home both had immediately gone to bed.  Another point in Bennett’s favor is that he didn’t own a car so getting to Beverly Hills from his home at 1403 West 39th Street would have been a challenge.  He could have used Smith’s car, but a police search of the vehicle revealed no bloodstains. Bennett’s clothing was also free of bloodstains.

The Beverly Hills police didn’t want to risk another high-profile failure.  They’d struck out on the Siegel murder in ’47.  They arrested their only viable suspect in Katie’s murder, Rutherford Leon Bennett.

Bennett, Smith and the Hayden’s maid of three days, Peggy King, were each scheduled to take a lie detector test.  Cops hoped for a revelation.

NEXT TIME:  False alibis and new clues.