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.

Happy Thanksgiving?

jail menu

Most people spend Thanksgiving week overeating turkey, stuffing and pie and overspending at the Black Friday sales. This week Deranged L.A. Crimes takes a look at the dark side of Thanksgiving. The robberies, burglaries, and occasional homicides. While they may not celebrate the holiday like the rest of us, the miscreants are only human and their bad behavior doesn’t mean that they don’t crave a sumptuous meal–even if it’s served to them in a jail cell.

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If you’re curious, and you know that you are, here’s the Thanksgiving Day menu for Los Angeles County Jail in 1919 as prepared by Captain George Ganagner and the jail chef:

Soup — Cream of Tomato
Celery Hearts
Ripe Olives
Garden Radishes
Baked fresh ham
Cauliflower
Candied sweet potatoes
Combination salad — Thousand Island dressing
Spiced Plum Pudding
Fresh Apple Pie
Coffee
French rolls — bread and butter

Among the people to enjoy the feast were Lewis B. Harris. Harris, convicted of looting the First National Bank of Artesia.  Harris was sitting in the slammer awaiting an appeal. Joining Harris was M.P. McDonald, wife killer, who was waiting to find out if he’d go to prison for life or hang; James Cameron, convicted of second degree murder waiting on his appeal; Matthew Joseph who pleaded guilty to a charge of second degree murder, and Mrs. Ella R. Kehr who was accused of assisting in the murder of a woman friend in Hotchkiss, Colorado.

Other diners included several suspected killers, a con-artist, an extortionist, and a forger. Can you imagine the dinner conversation?

Next time: More Thanksgiving mayhem.

Death By Dermatology, Part 1

The hypodermic needle was invented in 1854 and the first effective local anesthetic was cocaine, which was used in an eye surgery in 1884. Those discoveries, and the many others that followed, paved the way for modern doctors to perform surgeries and other invasive medical procedures that patients could actually hope to survive.

The first facelift is said to have been performed by Eugen Hollander in 1901 in Berlin on an elderly Polish aristocrat who wanted her cheeks and the corners of her mouth lifted. The
surgery was successful and the patient was reportedly pleased with the outcome. The first textbook on facial cosmetic surgery was written by Charles Miller of Chicago and was
entitled: The Correction of Featural Imperfections (1907).

Allisvanity

“All Is Vanity” [1892] by Charles A. Gilbert

Legitimate medical professionals and their patients benefited from scientific advancements but sadly criminals also found a way to profit.

For decades medical quacks have made their homes in Los Angeles. The degree to which they have believed their own advertising has varied —  some of the practitioners may have been sincere and deluded, while others have undoubtedly been conniving and cynical seeking only to separate gullible Angelenos from their cash.

By the early 1900s personal ads in the local newspapers hyperbolized the wonders of modern medical science for the removal of pimples, wrinkles, crows feet, double chins, thin necks and superfluous hair. One ad exclaimed:

“Premature Ugliness is a Crime which has its effect on coming generations.”

I have no idea what the hell that was supposed to mean, but presumably answers could be found at the Cosmetic Surgery Company in the Johnson Building at the corner of Fourth and Broadway.

Among the early practitioners of cosmetic procedures in Los Angeles were Professor David and Mme. Gertrude Steele. This advertisement for their services appeared in the Los Angeles Times on April 21, 1907:

gertrudesteele_ad

It seemed that there was no dermatological miracle the Steele’s couldn’t perform — that is until March 1908 when they permanently disfigured Mrs. G.W. Du Bois.

Mrs. Du Bois said that she’d read the Steele’s advertisement which guaranteed the harmless removal of wrinkles and spots from the face, and filling in of hollows by a unique chemical substance. The Steele’s promised a refund if their work was unsatisfactory, so what did she have to lose?

A money back guarantee for a medical procedure wouldn’t inspire confidence in me, but Mrs. Du Bois went ahead with a visit to the Steele’s downtown clinic.

A few days following her treatment lumps had formed on either side of Mrs. Du Bois’ nose, on top of it, and on the left side of her neck. She found it impossible to lie down at night, was in constant pain, and was informed by doctors that the lumps could not be safely removed. Arsenic, prescribed to cure the facial spots, affected Mrs. Du Bois’ health so adversely that the roots of her eyebrows were burned out.

In her lawsuit the injured woman stated that she was permanently disfigured and her health was ruined. She requested $1000 [approximately $26,000 in current U.S. dollars] in damages and the refund of her original payment of $100.

During the one day hearing in Judge Hutton’s court, Mrs. Du Bois and the Steele’s each presented their side of the case. Mrs. Du Bois spoke of the pain and suffering she had endured, while Gertrude Steele insisted that the disfigured woman was attempting to extort money from them.

steele_disfigure

Judge Hutton ruled against the Steele’s and they were required to pay Mrs. Du Bois every penny she had asked for in her suit. The injured woman went home to her life of constant pain and deformation, and the Steele’s remained in business. In fact Mrs. Steele continued to deliver lectures on “How to Remain Young Forever”.

Either the Steele’s managed not to disfigure anyone else for the next decade or no one who had been harmed came forward because there was nary peep out of them, except for their advertisements, until 1919.

In December 1919, Gertrude Steele (who by that time was calling herself a doctor) killed her son-in-law George Blaha with an accidental overdose of chloroform. The “doctor” had administered the anesthetic to ease the pain caused by the mixture of chloroform and carbolic acid she had used in an attempt to remove freckles from his face.

Maybe the so-called doctor would be held to answer in criminal court for the death of her son-in-law. Maybe not.

NEXT TIME: Dr. Gertrude Steele’s reign of error continues.

Clara Eunice Barker, Vampire

AP_Constitution_19AmendmentThe early 20th century was a tumultuous time — it was a collision of old and new technologies and it was also a period of great civil unrest. The role of women in the new millennium had yet to be defined and in 1919, when this story takes place, women in the U.S. were one year away from celebrating the Nineteenth Amendment which gave them the right to vote. Legally women were becoming the equal of men, socially they were still considered by many to be chattel.

During a time when a woman was unlikely to make her own living, let alone a fortune of her own, it is no wonder that the wife and the mistress of a wealthy man would square off in court to battle over money and property.

On March 2, 1919 the Los Angeles Times reported that Mrs. Grace Munro, wife of wealthy zinc manufacturer Charles W.S. Munro filed a “love suit” (alienation of affection) in the amount of $50,000 (equivalent to $673K in current dollars) against Miss Clara Eunice Barker, Charles’ mistress of five years.

Mrs. Munro’s suit alleged that her twenty-three year marriage to Charles had been a happy one until Clara entered their lives. Grace was so angry with Charles that she had even accused him of a statutory offense against Clara — a charge that would subsequently be dismissed at Grace’s request.

munro and daughterCops showed up on the doorstep of the home that Charles and Clara shared in Glendale and arrested him. Glendale society was shocked to discover that Clara and Charles were not actually cousins, which was how they’d introduced themselves. No one in Glendale had even aware that Charles had a wife and three daughters in Trenton, NJ.

Police wanted to speak with Clara too, but she couldn’t be found and Charles was silent as to her whereabouts — in fact he wasn’t talking at all except to flatly deny his wife’s charges.

Clara had fled to Salt Lake City, Utah as soon as she’d gotten word that Grace had filed a suit against her, but Grace had tracked her down and confronted her in a hotel lobby. Clara said that Grace had walked up to her and exclaimed: “So you are the vampire”.

theda bara

The original Vampire — Theda Bara

Grace wasn’t accusing Clara of being a blood sucking member of the undead — she was using the term to imply that Clara was a seductress, a femme fatale, a vamp(ire) of the type made famous by actress Theda Bara in the 1915 film A FOOL THERE WAS.

The Glendale home in which Clara and Charles had been living was in Clara’s name, and she wanted to keep it, along with the furnishings, an automobile, and any other trinkets that the zinc man had bestowed upon her. She decided to file her own suit.

clara eunice barker

Clara told reporters:

“I am fighting for my honor as well as my legal rights. I have been cruelly mistreated and imposed upon by the man in whom I had implicit faith, and I intend to test the justice of the courts.”

Barker had alleged that there was a conspiracy against her in which the suddenly reconciled Munros, and a few of their friends, had sought to deprive her of her property. In all, Clara demanded damages of $51,500 (equivalent to $693K in current dollars), of which $17,500 was for the Glendale property, $6000 for the furniture, $3000 for the car, and $25,000 for damage suffered by reason of the conspiracy and threats that she asserted where made against her.

According to Clara while she was staying in Salt Lake City she had not only been called a vampire, but she had been plagued by mysterious telephone calls, loud knocks on her bedroom door after midnight, and attempts by strangers to “force their acquaintance on her.” All of these incidents, Clara said, were part of a plan to harass and frighten her.

Grace Munro intended to fight the conspiracy charge and to vigorously pursue her $50K alienation suit against Clara. Grace said:

“I said she (Clara) is a vampire, and she is.”

Grace had claimed that she and Charles had been happily married for years before Clara entered their lives, but Grace had lied. Prior to his affair with Clara, Charles had been involved with his stenographer, Miss May Pierson, with whom he’d taken an auto trip. Apparently Grace had been aware of the liaison because she’d known the location of May’s apartment and had turned up on the doorstep with questions for the landlady. It seemed that Charles Munro had long possessed a wandering eye.

If Angelenos had been anticipating a lurid trial they were not going to be disappointed. Wife vs. Mistress was going to be a battle royal.

NEXT TIME: A vampire’s love letters and the wages of sin in Part 2 of Clara Eunice Barker, Vampire.