Happy Birthday to Aggie Underwood & Deranged L.A. Crimes

Aggie hoists a brew c. 1920s.

Aggie hoists a brew c. 1920s. [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Aggie Underwood was born on December 17, 1902 and Deranged L.A. Crimes was born on December 17, 2012, so there’s a lot to celebrate today. We have so many candles on our birthday cake it will take a gale force wind to blow them all out.

It was Aggie’s career as a Los Angeles journalist that inspired me to begin this blog; and my admiration for Aggie and her accomplishments has grown in the years since I first became aware of her.

Aggie at a crime scene in 1946.

Aggie at a crime scene in 1946.

Aggie’s newspaper career began on a whim.  In late 1926, she was tired of wearing her sister’s hand-me-down silk stockings and desperately want a pair of her own. When she asked her husband Harry for the money, he demurred.  He said he was sorry, they simply couldn’t afford them. Aggie got huffy and said she’d buy them herself. It was an empty threat–until a close friend called out of the blue the day following the argument and asked Aggie if she would be interested in a temporary job at the Daily Record. Aggie never intended to work outside her home, but this was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.

In her 1949 autobiography, Newspaperwoman, Aggie described her first impression of the Record’s newsroom as a “weird wonderland”. She was initially intimidated by the men in shirtsleeves shouting, cursing and banging away on typewriters, but it didn’t take long before intimidation became admiration. She fell in love with the newspaper business. At the end of her first year at her “temporary” job she realized that she wanted to be a reporter. From that moment on Aggie pursued her goal with passion and commitment.

Aggie at her desk after becoming City Editor at the Evening Herald & Express.

Aggie at her desk after becoming City Editor at the Evening Herald & Express. Note the baseball bat — she used it to shoo away pesky Hollywood press agents. [Photo courtesy LAPL]

During a time when most female journalists were assigned to report on women’s club activities and fashion trends, Aggie covered the most important crime stories of the day. She attended actress Thelma Todd’s autopsy in December 1935 and was the only Los Angeles reporter to score a byline in the Black Dahlia case in January 1947. Aggie’s career may have started on a whim, but it lasted over 40 years.

Look closely and you can see Aggie's byline.

Look closely and you can see Aggie’s byline under “Night In a Motel”.  [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Over the past six years I’ve corresponded with many of you and I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some of you in person. Your support and encouragement mean a lot to me, and whether you are new to the blog or have been following Deranged L.A. Crimes from the beginning I want to thank you sincerely for your readership.

There will be many more stories in 2019, and a few appearances too. Look for me in shows on the Investigation Discovery Network (I’ve been interviewed for Deadly Women, Deadly Affairs, Evil Twins, Evil Kin and several others.) I recently filmed an episode of Ice Cold Blood for the Oxygen Network, and I did a short sport for the podcast Hollywood & Crime, which will air in January.  I may have a couple of local lectures scheduled too.  You can also find me several times a year on Esotouric’s Bus Adventures crime bus. I’ll be co-hosting the Black Dahlia tour on January 5, 2019 and other tours throughout the year.

For several months I have been working on a book of true crime tales titled, Ways to Be Wicked, Volume 1, Los Angeles Crimes 1919-1949.  I’ll keep you posted on the publishing date (best guess now is late January 2019).

Whether it is on television, in the blog or some other medium I’m looking forward to telling more crime tales in 2019.

Happy Holidays and stay safe!

Joan

The Murder Complex, Part 1

GRACE HUNT

Ohio native Grace Hunt was 17 when she married 41-year-old Charles Price Grogan in Los Angeles on April 5, 1902. It was an advantageous marriage for both.  Charles was so successful in the olive business that the press had christened him the “Olive King,” and with beautiful Grace at his side, he had a queen worthy of his stature. A few days prior to their fifth wedding anniversary they welcomed a son, whom they named Charles Patrick Grogan.

Grace and Charles were married for over a decade before they separated. The difference in their ages may have sunk the marriage, or it may have been due to any number of other private problems. Whatever their reasons, the couple was separated by the late 1910s and divorced by the 1920 census – at least that was how Charles declared his marital status.  Grace, for the same census, gave her marital status as widow.  Why the discrepancy? Simple; divorce stigmatized women.

Grace was luckier than many women because California, at least in its laws, was more tolerant of divorce than other states. The State’s first divorce law in 1851 recognized impotence, adultery, extreme cruelty, desertion or neglect, habitual intemperance, fraud, and conviction of a felony as legitimate grounds for divorce.

Despite the law’s progressive attitude, divorce could ruin a woman socially, which is why many women found it easier to claim widowhood than risk suffering the loss of status if their divorce became public knowledge. It seems strange to us now in these days of no-fault divorce and “conscious uncoupling” (a phrase coined by celebrity Gwenyth Paltrow to describe her separation from her musician husband, Chris Martin), but divorce was not a simple matter when Grace and Charles ended their marriage.

The couple’s family and intimate friends would likely have known the truth, and the rest of local society may have acknowledged Grace’s widowhood with a nod and a wink and allowed her to continue her fiction unchallenged.

As it happened, Grace’s claim to widowhood would edge closer to the truth when Charles died of apoplexy (internal bleeding – perhaps due to a stroke) on July 8, 1921.

The Olive King was a wealthy man who loved his only son. He bequeathed Patrick his entire fortune, estimated to be between $1 and $2 million dollars. Grace was responsible for administering Patrick’s monthly allowance, the princely sum of $800 per month, until he turned 25.  Grace and Charles had come to an agreement upon their divorce. Grace surrendered her rights of inheritance if Charles would pay her approximately $3000 per year.  Additionally, the couple agreed that Charles would create a trust fund, not to exceed $50,000, for her maintenance. To put things into perspective, $50,000 in 1921 is equivalent to nearly three quarter of a million dollars today. And Patrick’s monthly allowance is currently equivalent to about $12,000.  A fortune like the one Charles left Patrick and Grace can attract the best people in society – it can also be a magnet for the worst of humanity.

In her 30s, Grace was beautiful, wealthy and socially prominent. She would make a wonderful wife for the right man. Tragically, the wrong man courted and won her.

NEXT TIME: The Murder Complex continues.