About the Blog

Los Angeles is a city that dreams in Technicolor, but lives in black and white – at least in my mind. For me L.A. is classic film noir, a Raymond Chandler novel, Bugsy Siegel wearing a county morgue toe tag (with his last name misspelled!), and a newsboy on a downtown street corner bellowing out a Herald-Express headline, “Hungry Ex-Wife Slays Hollywood Astrologer”.

For the entirely of the 20th Century Angelenos were treated daily to a litany of the city’s evils exposed in newspapers such as the Los Angeles Record and the Herald-Express.  Deranged L.A. Crimes looks behind the headlines to scrutinize the social history of the city.

The inspiration for Deranged L.A. Crimes is the life and times of a local reporter, Agness “Aggie” Underwood.

I was first introduced to Aggie  through her reporting of the infamous 1947 mutilation murder of twenty-two year old Elizabeth Short (aka The Black Dahlia).  Following the discovery of Short’s bisected and eviscerated body in a vacant lot in Leimert Park on January 15, 1947, every reporter in town began scouring the city for clues and evidence in the vicious slaying.  Aggie was fortunate to be working for the Evening Herald & Express during the Dahlia case.  The paper’s owner William Randolph Hearst had deep pockets, so it was easy for his reporters to grease the right palms and beat the other local newshounds, and often the cops, to key evidence and interviews.

Aggie initially tagged the slaying the Werewolf killing because of the savagery of the post-mortem mutilations inflicted on Short’s body.  However, once Elizabeth Short’s Long Beach acquaintances had been interviewed and had revealed that they’d nicknamed the twenty-two year old beauty the Black Dahlia, the headlines changed forever.  The Black Dahlia label even turned up in official LAPD files!

I was intrigued by Aggie, a woman in the largely man’s world of the newspaper business, who had lived and worked in Los Angeles during the decades that I find among the most compelling in the city’s history. It was as if Aggie was my childhood fantasy come to life – a woman investigating crimes and uncovering the hidden truths concealed beneath layers of lies. I had often imagined myself in similar scenarios (truthfully, I still do) operating as a grown-up Nancy Drew.

As I started digging deeper my interest in Aggie’s life and career grew, and in 2011 I gave a lecture at the Los Angeles Central Library in which I talked about Aggie and a few of the outrageous crimes on which she’d reported. I was gratified by the response; people loved Aggie’s personality and were as captivated by her tales of L.A.’s worst criminals as I was. I realized that I wanted to expand the lecture into a blog, which I did in December 2012.

I seek to bring the darker side of Los Angeles to life through the blog. When possible I will use Aggie as a guide.  She knew killers, cops, celebrities, and politicians.  She wrote hundreds of headline stories that made residents shake their heads in disgust at the rampant corruption that was pervasive in city government; and many of her stories horrified the locals when they realized that there were monsters living among them.

Aggie’s decades of reporting on Los Angeles has left us with a road map of headlines to follow from the desert to the sea, and from Beverly Hills mansions to Bunker Hill apartment houses.  Headlines such as: “Doheny Kidnap Plot in Killing”, “3 Missing Inglewood Tots Found Murdered”, and “Find Thelma Todd, Film Star, Dead in Mystery” captured the attention of Angelenos every day for decades.

There have been many great reporters in Los Angeles, and a incredible numbers of deranged tales to tell. So put on some comfortable shoes and together we’ll walk through historic Los Angeles and bear witness to crime, scandal, and the occasional natural disaster.

I sincerely hope that you will enjoy  Deranged L.A. Crimes.

Joan Renner

P.S. The wonderful header photo for this site is courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library.

72 thoughts on “About the Blog

  1. I am so excited about this! (My mom used to let me read all her True Crime and True Detective magazines when I was a kid and I became as addicted as her.) Looking forward to reading the rest of your stories. I already love the way you write.

    • Brenda, thank you for your kind words and positive feedback! You’ve made my day! I love the old crime magazines too, and I hope to honor their memory with Deranged L.A. Crimes. Again, thank you.

  2. Can’t wait! Glad to learn other women are interested in the same mix of 20th century history and crime stories in a city like L.A. I’m from Chicago and L.A. is going to be a different perspective for me.

    • I’m always happy to meet a kindred spirit! I’m originally from Chicago, but have been in L.A. most of my life. There’s something a little different about crime in L.A. when compared to the mid-west and east, so I believe you’ll find it interesting.

    • Sherry – I’ll definitely do something for the Black Dahlia anniversary. It is one of the crimes that defines L.A., even after six decades. I was fortunate to be an assistant curator for the L.A. Police Museum’s limited run Black Dahlia exhibit early in 2012. It was an honor to be a part of putting the exhibit together and to be able to review many of the case files. Also, Aggie played a significant role in reporting on the crime.

      • I saw the exhibit online….you did a great job. How interesting to be able to view and be a part of the original investigation.

        • It was great being able to go through many of the original case files, and an honor to be a part of the museum’s effort to
          bring the information to the public.

          • In your opinion, do you think everything on the Dahlia case will be made available to the public? After all these years, the killer is very old or either dead. I wish you would go on the Biography Channel, have a Special and just show everything once and for all. That would be so cool.

          • Sherry — it’s difficult to say if the files will be released or not. LAPD usually keeps a close grip on case files, and of course the statute doesn’t run out on murder. The Dahlia case is still an open homicide with a detective assigned to it, so we were lucky to be able to get access at all. It’s funny, the detective said that she still gets about 10 calls a month on the case — even confessors! The first question she asks the caller if they say they have info is “when were you born?”

  3. This blog looks exactly what I’ve been waiting for. As a born Angeleno this has always been my favorite subject and favorite period.

    Great!

    • Chris – I’m so glad that you’re enjoying the blog. I’ve been in L.A. almost all of my life (definitely long enough to
      qualify as an honorary a native). And I share your passion for the subject. Thank you for your support.

  4. Very smart of the detective to ask the callers what year they were born. I’ve always wondered if the address book is in the evidence file or did it disappear with some of the other evidence. It’s a shame some of it is gone. I had no idea they get about 10 calls a month. That’s very interesting. Thank you!

    • The detective is a sharp cookie. I was stunned to discover that she still gets a relatively large number of calls on the case.

      • Well, now that we have a female detective over seeing the case, maybe we’ll get something done. It’s kinda spooky to think people will call and confess, but I guess it takes all kinds. I guess she can’t ask the “magic” questions now since all has been revealed. I’ll tell you, if I lived in LA I would work for you for free.

        • I like that a female detective is working the case too. I’m not sure, but I’m betting that there is still something that’s been successfully held back, even after 66 years. And thanks — free work is always appreciated 😉

  5. Could you please open up a blog post on the Sam Rummel murder in 1950? He was Mickey Cohen’s lawyer and had obvious mob ties, but his clandestine meeting with certain corrupt LAPD officials just hours before his murder is a sinister coincidence.

    • The Rummel case is one of my favorites, really fascinating. I’ll try to get to it soon. Thanks for the suggestion, and thank you for reading the blog. Best — Joan

  6. Hi Joan, I love your blog! I had a few questions regarding photos that were touched up back then and maybe you know the answer :)
    I noticed some people/objects are outlined in old photos – I assume to sharpen the image? Was this done by newspapers or the police? And was it done to the originals/negatives? I also noticed some crime photos were drawn over to hide the grisly details, like the Black Dahlia crime scene with the drawn-in blanket. Was that a very common practice? Thanks!!

    • Hi Susana – I’m so glad that you are enjoying the blog. You’re absolutely correct about the manipulated photos, they wanted
      to make sure that the image reproduced well in the newspaper, and sometimes they even drew fake frames around the photos! It
      was the prints that they manipulated and not the negs. I’m on the board of Photo Friends, a non-profit affiliated with the
      Central Library in downtown L.A., and the library has an enormous collection of photos from the Herald Express (a Hearst newspaper).
      Many of those photos were manipulated (like the Black Dahlia), and sometimes only the prints still exist so we’re stuck with the touched-up image.

      The Black Dahlia photo was heavily touched-up with the drawn in blanket and changes to her face so that the mutilations wouldn’t
      show. Yes it was very common for newspapers to clean-up crime scene photos for publication. Great questions — hope I was of some help.
      Best, Joan

  7. i want to thank you for your outstanding blog. I find LA crime in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s to be fascinating. I am a retired Deputy Sheriff in the Central Valley who served for over 30 years,as a detective for 20 of those years. During my early years I got to know a Fresno Bee crime reporter by the name of Eleanor Garner Hannah I guess she had been a reporter for the old LA Herald in the 40’s and 50’s. Over drinks at a local cop watering hole she could really spin some tales of that era in LA.I actually learned a lot from her about being a detective. Keep up the good work and keep us entertained.

    • Manuel, first I want to thank you for your 30 years of service — that is quite a career!
      One of my favorite L.A. characters is Aggie Underwood who was also a reporter for the Herald;
      she became editor in 1947. She is the inspiration for the blog, and so are old true crime
      magazines and classic movie serials (shown weekly at local theaters, always with a cliffhanger).
      There isn’t much difference in my mind between a good detective and a good reporter. They’re both
      trained observers who generally have uncanny intuition and I’m in awe of their skills. Thanks again
      for your kind words, and I am glad to hear that you’re enjoying the blog. Best — Joan

  8. Hi – I just found this site after seeing a post from Decaying Hollywood Mansions. I am 56 and have lived in the Chicago area all of my life but was always intrigued with true crime stories – especially from the earlier part of last century. I finally visited LA a year ago and now that I have an idea of what it really looks like it’s made me much more interested in what’s got to be numerous crime stories in the area. Everything is just a little bit more heightened in that area, isn’t it? Of course when I was out there I got a map of the stars and while that was fun I, of course, had to look up Sharon Tate’s murder site. So I guess I’m hooked and I will enjoy reading everything on this site. Thank you!

    • Kim – it’s great to hear from you! I’m so glad that my friend Charles at DHM pointed you in my direction. I’m actually a native Chicagoan. I’ve been in California since I was a little kid, but you can’t take the Chicago out of the girl! Nothing like a visit to L.A. to really immerse you in the all that the place has to offer (from the delightful to the depraved). I don’t know if you took the Dearly Departed Charles Manson tour, but whenever you’re out in L.A. again I recommend it. Scott Michaels is the owner-operator and he knows his stuff. Also, I am a frequent co-host on crime bus tours for a company called Esotouric, it’s another way to get your crime fix. Thanks again for your kind words, and welcome. Best – Joan

  9. This is one of the best crime blogs I have ever read; well written and engaging.

    Can you recommend any other blogs that focus on vintage crime in other cities or parts of the country?

  10. I live in Iowa Falls, Iowa, and noticed an error in your report on Madge Meredith. You state that she is an “Iowa City” girl. Iowa City is 150 miles Southeast of Iowa Falls. Both towns are on the Iowa River. Majorie Massow (Madge Meredith) was born and raised in Iowa Falls.

    • Richard — thank you for the information, I’ll make the correction. I get my information primarily from old newspapers and, unfortunately, they’re not always 100% accurate. Best, Joan

      • Hi Joan. I am the grandaughter of Albert Tucker, one of the kidnappers in the Madge Meredith case. I have some interesting things that he gave me to read and stories to tell.. I would love to talk with anyone who might be interested in turning this story into a screenplay or novel if you know of anyone. It’s got such an interesting twist at the end and would make a great true crime movie. Love the site!

  11. Many thanks for your excellent work, Joan. I greatly appreciate all of your efforts in bringing to life the historical dark side of the City of Angels. I have always been a sucker for all things noir and became fascinated with the infamous L.A, criminal cases you write about through my long standing interest in the radio (and ‘50’s black and white television) episodes of Dragnet. These episodes were the grandfather of all police procedurals and hold up very well after some 60 years to the plethora of crime shows currently on television or in the movie theatres today. Yet every Dragnet radio show is also like a time capsule and listening to it transports one back to the noir world of the Los Angeles police from the late ‘40’s and early ‘50’s. It’s also fascinating to note how much the storyline for many of these episodes was drawn from the actual case files of the police. I think the connection between certain Dragnet episodes and actual well known police cases would make a fascinating exhibit at the LAPM or perhaps could even be the theme of an Esotouric tour. In any event, thanks again for this blog and keep up the great work!

    • Tom – thank you so much for your kind comments. I share your love of Dragnet (both on radio and TV) and I have listened to many episodes of “Calling All Cars”, etc. What I like about those shows is that they were based on real cases which gives them an authenticity that scripted shows can’t usually match. It’s always been my intention with the blog to write about the cases and offer the facts in a way that recalls those old programs and also the wonderful crime and detective magazines from the 1930s-1950s. I absolutely agree that certain of the Dragnet episodes juxtaposed with the real cases would make a compelling exhibit at the police museum. I’ll have to mention it to the executive director. I’ve been trying to write a tour for Esotouric for ages, perhaps what you’ve suggested is just the thing. I thank you again for your readership; I appreciate it. Best, Joan

      • Thanks so much for the positive reply. I am guessing that you are probably very busy with a range of different projects, but in the event you decide to pursue one (or both) of these ideas, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line if you think I could provide any long-distance (I live in Canada) research assistance. I would be happy to volunteer some of my time subject only to other obligations such as work and my dear wife’s “honey-do” list . :) Regardless, I will continue to read the excellent articles you post on this blog. Cheers.

        • Tom — you’re right, I am juggling multiple projects at the present time; however, I thank you so much for your kind offer of research assistance. I will certainly keep you in mind if an opportunity should arise. Thanks again for your readership, I appreciate it. Best, Joan

  12. I love this blog. I think LA true crime stories are fascinating and riveting. I’m hoping to do a screenplay about Jerry Giesler soon. You’ve given me a good start with this blog. You have great photos and write terrific stories.

    Keep it up. thanks!

    • Thank you so much for your kind words about the blog. I agree, L.A. true crime is compelling. Giesler’s career was fascinating and would make a killer film–good luck with the screenplay! Best — Joan

    • Thank you, Norma! I appreciate your kind commend and your readership. I’ll try not to disappoint.

      Best,

      Joan

  13. LOVE this! I wrote the biography “Peg Entwistle and the Hollywood Sign Suicide” (McFarland, 2014) and am writing one on Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer, so this sight is right up my alley. Sharing it to my Hollywood Book Chat Group! 😉

    • James – I’m one of the many endlessly fascinated by old Hollywood. The Peg Entwistle story is particularly poignant. Looking forward to your
      Carl Switzer book! Please keep me posted! –Joan

  14. I love your blog ! This stuff is really cool . I’m a big time fan of all old things in Los Angeles . My grandfather was an L.A.P.D officer . Started working in in L.A. in 1931. He used to work in Lincoln Park area , in his early days . Man O man , the stories he told me about Los Angeles . I have to go to the museum in Highland Park , I would love to meet you . Tons of questions . Once again, hats off , for such a wonderful job on this blog .

    • Michael – Thank you so much for your kind words about the blog. I too am a big fan of old Los Angeles, in particular anything to do with law enforcement and crime. You must be very proud of your grandfather. He worked for LAPD during one of the most fascinating periods in its history. Yes, you really must visit the Police Museum, you’ll really enjoy it. I’m there most Thursdays but you should probably email me to verify. The museum is open the third Saturday of each month so I’ll be there on January 16th. We’re open from 9-3. Thanks again for your support, and I hope to meet you in person. Best — Joan

  15. I’ve been joyously discovering you and Aggie Underwood in the week since I discovered that I drive down the hill past the site of Hazel Glab’s husband’s murder at least once every day. I’ve missed your show at the library but I did buy your book and am now looking for a take home copy of Newspaperwoman. I see that the LAPL circulation copies are out but they do have two in reference.

    Do you have another book coming out? If you have any upcoming events, readings, adventures, please let me know so I can attend.

    Thank you for opening this door for me.

    • Martha — thank you so much for your kind words about the blog. Aggie was a fascinating woman; and what a career! I pass the Hazel Glab
      house routinely too on my way to the gym. I’m currently working on a book and I always post upcoming events, etc. here and on the Deranged L.A.
      Crimes Facebook page. I hope to meet you one of these days. Best, Joan

  16. I am the daughter of Norman Wells (half brother of Albert Horace Wells). So many puzzles are coming together after reading your article. Beautifully done. Do you have anymore on this crime. Books, films? Anything. Norma 208-473-6634

    • Carol, I must apologize for my very tardy reply. Things have been a little hectic here at Deranged L.A. Crimes. If you like you
      can sign up for RSS feeds on the homepage. I hope that answers your question. If now please feel free to contact me. Best — Joan

  17. The story about Tracy Leroy Nute is about my cousin. This happened 2 years after i was born but will forever be in my mind. I cant believe i just came across this story. Thank you for doing this story. I just have one question how come so many pictures of the murderer and there is none of my cousin Tracy the victim?

    • Athena – I am so sorry that you never had the opportunity to know your cousin Tracy. To be able to tell the victims stories
      is an honor, and one I take seriously. Strangely, in all the coverage in the Los Angeles Times on the case there wasn’t a
      single photo of Tracy. I definitely would have used a photo if there was one–not sure why there wasn’t.

      Joan

  18. Hi Joan,

    Feel so lucky to have found your website. L.A. ‘Noir’ is a passion of mine. Ever since I saw ‘L.A. Confidential’ I have been hooked on the era.

    I was wondering if you could tell me the background behind the headline photo you use ? I have searched around here but was unable to find anything.

    Keep up the great work!

    Dave Mitchell
    Toronto, Canada

    • David — Welcome! I’m glad you found the site. As you can tell I am very passionate about L.A. Noir too.
      The photo I use for the site is courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library. The photo is c. 1930 and here’s
      the info from the library:

      LAPL00042202
      Summary: An unidentified man is being taken into custody outside of Boos Bros. Cafeteria. A man, presumably
      a police officer, is holding a gun as other men force the suspect into the car.

      If you go to lapl.org you can search the photo collection (a large portion of it anyway) online. You can
      find the photo I use with it’s ID number (above). There are many great vintage L.A. crime photos in the
      online collection. If you get a chance you might want to browse it.

      Best,

      Joan

  19. I love your blog. Just finished the book L.A. Noir and it’s an amazing account of LA crime and vice. Wow–so much movie material here.

    As a screenwriter and true crime fan in Houston, I see so many parallels between

    both cities in the area of crime. LA has so many stories which could still be made

    into films. Thanks for the good work.

  20. I have taken a few tours with Joan and she is so knowledgeable and a total hoot. My husband and I are so determined to have some Gin & Tonics with her in the near future.

  21. Oh my gosh, you have done a remarkable job bringing to us these old crimes. I am so grateful I stumbled across your site. I know you are a true lover, like me of this kind of material. Your site reflects that. Thank you forgiving me many days and weeks of entertainment. Thank you, thank you, thank you, job well done!

    • Sandra — Thank you so much!! You really made my holiday! More stories to come. Be safe and well.

      Best,

      Joan

  22. Love your blog! However, I need to know how to read a whole story. There seem to be pieces on several pages. Can you advise please??

    • Deb,
      Thank you for your kind words about the blog. I’m glad you found it. I think the easiest way to read a multi-part story is to locate part one (you can enter the part or all of the title in the search box at the top of the page). When you’re ready to ready subsequent parts do the same thing. Does that make sense?

      Best,

      Joan

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