In March 1932 the Elyria, Ohio Chronicle Telegram sang the praises of an Avon High School sophomore for scoring ten field goals, bringing his team to its eleventh straight win for the season. The young man had his whole life ahead of him.
Fast forward to Omaha, Nebraska, April 1936. Marion James Linden, former high school grid iron star from Ohio, was living up to the speed he showed in scoring ten field goals. Unfortunately, the 23-year-old was speeding towards a life of crime. Marion was busted for stealing two automobiles, kidnapping three men and staging a holdup in only 45 minutes. Quite an accomplishment.
Why was Marion on a crime spree? He told reporters: “I wanted to commit self-destruction in such a way my insurance policy would not be invalidated through the suicide clause.” Suicide by cop would have been his parents the princely sum of $1200 (equivalent to $20,814.77 in current USD). No doubt the cash would have helped his family weather the Depression. Marion entered a guilty plea, but a few days later he reappeared in court and changed his plea to innocent. He was placed on probation for 2 years.
By early February 1937, Marion was living in Denver, Colorado. By mid-February he was in jail on a murder charge. Marion shot Arlene, his 18-year-old bride of two months, in the heart.
Marion believed that while he was in Texas trying to find employment as an oil field worker, Arlene was in Denver having an affair. When Marion returned from Texas he immediately went to the home of his in-laws, the Cochrans, where Arlene was staying. He told Detective Captain James E. Childers that he pleaded with Arlene to give up her lover, and when she refused he shot her. But there may have been more to Marion’s motive than jealousy. Capt. Childers quoted Marion as saying that a divorce would have revealed a violation of his Nebraska probation agreement and he would have been compelled to return there to serve out the three year sentence for his mini-crime spree in April 1936.
Marion was convicted of voluntary manslaughter. Judge Henry A. Hicks pronounced sentence–from seven to eight years in the state penitentiary. Lewis D. Mowry, Marion’s attorney, said that the his client had no plans to appeal, nor would he seek a new trial.
After serving only three years of his sentence, Marion was released in 1940. At that point he falls off the radar. Did Marion go straight? As an ex-con he may have found it difficult to get a fresh start, but If he committed any further crimes they weren’t newsworthy.
Marion resurfaced in Los Angeles in 1957 where he would once again be the topic of news stories.
Aggie Underwood was born on December 17, 1902 and Deranged L.A. Crimes was born on December 17, 2016, 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. She began her career as a temporary switchboard operator at the Daily Record in late 1926.. In her 1949 autobiography, Newspaperwoman, she described the Record’s newsroom as a “weird wonderland” and promptly fell in love with the newspaper business. It didn’t take her long to realize that she wanted to be a reporter and she pursued her goal with passion and commitment.
During a time when most female journalists were assigned to report on women’s club activities and other social events, Aggie covered most, if not all, of the most important crime stories of the day. She attended 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.
Like Aggie, I’ve become obsessed with the villains and victims in Los Angeles. The stories touch me as often as they frighten and repulse me. I want to understand why people do the things they do, and sometimes I feel like I get close. I don’t expect to ever completely answer that question–but the quest is a rewarding one.
Whether you are new to the blog or have been following Deranged L.A. Crimes for a while, I want to thank you sincerely for your readership.
There will be many more stories in 2017 and a few appearances too. I will keep you posted.
By December 1927 twenty-three-year-old Ruth Malone had been in Los Angeles for about 4 months. She’d fled Aberdeen, Washington to escape her husband John, a jealous and violent drunk. She used her mother’s address at 244 North Belmont Avenue, but lived with a girl friend in an apartment at 9th and Flower. She kept the address of the apartment a secret just in case John tried to find her. She worked half a mile from the apartment at a drug store on East Twelfth between Santee Street and Maple Avenue. Ruth had spent the last few months seriously contemplating divorce but she wasn’t in any hurry to confront John.
It was 11 o’clock on the morning of Wednesday, December 7, 1927 and Ruth had started her work day when John turned up. She hadn’t even known he was in town. He was obviously drunk and made a scene. He wanted Ruth to come back to him, but she wasn’t interested in a reconciliation and John stormed out. He returned at noon and began to plead with Ruth. Again she accused him of being drunk. He copped to it–in fact he said that he’d been drinking for three weeks straight and would stay drunk until Ruth agreed to come back to him. She refused. He pulled a revolver from his pocket. Ruth clocked it and made a dash for the rear of the store. Her escape route was cut off by some partitions–she was trapped. As twenty people watched John began firing and each shot hit its mark. Ruth was hit in the chest, face and hip. Satisfied that he’d killed her, John turned the gun on himself. One bullet entered his chest a few inches above his heart and then he raised the weapon to his head and fired.
The police were called and when Detectives Lieutenants Hickey, Stevens and Condaffer, of the LAPD’s Central Station Homicide Squad arrived they found Ruth dead and John nearly so. Detective Hickey was shocked when John summoned the strength to say “I’m sorry I killed her, but give me a smoke before I croak, will you?” Hickey later said that even though John believed he was dying his first thought appeared to be of a cigarette. The detectives also found an incoherent note in John’s pocket, the ramblings of a man driven to murder by jealousy and gin.
Investigators learned that John was 29-years-old and that he had an arrest record. He’d been busted in Oakland on October 10, 1917 on a burglary charge and later in San Francisco for violation of the State Poison Act (a drug charge). John had been in Los Angeles for a few weeks. He was staying at a hotel just a few blocks away from Ruth’s workplace.
As John lay in a bed in General Hospital fighting for his life, a Coroner’s jury charged him with Ruth’s slaying. If he lived he would be tried for her murder. Ruth was buried in Graceland Cemetery following a private funeral at Mead & Mead undertaking parlor.
It was touch and go for a few weeks but John pulled through and by February 1928 he was well enough to stand trial. L.V. Beaulieu, his court-appointed attorney, unsuccessfully attempted to use John’s three week long drinking spree as an excuse for the murder but the judge sustained the prosecution’s objections. Alcohol induced amnesia was a poor defense strategy. The jury quickly returned a guilty verdict with no recommendation for leniency. Under the law Judge Fricke had no alternative but to sentence John to be hanged. He was transported to San Quentin to await execution.On March 20, 1928 John and several other death row inmates welcomed a newcomer to their ranks, William Edward Hickman. Hickman, who had given himself the nickname “The Fox” had been sentenced to death for the brutal mutilation murder of 12-year-old Marion Parker, a crime he had committed only ten days after John had killed Ruth. The two dead men walking had met in the Los Angeles County Jail while each was awaiting trial. John cornered Hickman on one occasion and blamed him for inciting the public to a renewed interest in capital punishment–resulting in his own date with the hangman.
John’s sentence was automatically appealed but the State Supreme Court upheld the death penalty. Judge Fricke re-sentenced John to hang. Unless something changed he would meet his end on December 7, exactly one year to the day since Ruth’s murder. John had evidently changed his mind about dying since his suicide attempt because he was part of a Thanksgiving escape plot that failed. To prevent him from any further attempts to tunnel out of San Quentin he was moved to the death cell.
As a condemned man, John’s final requests were honored. He was given a record player and listened repeatedly to “I Want to Go Where You Go” until it was time for him to climb the thirteen steps to the scaffold. One year before, just moments after killing Ruth, John’s first thought had been for a cigarette. Nothing had changed in the year since. John was still smoking as guards placed the black cap over his head. As he dropped he quipped: “Well boys, I got a run for this one.” The cigarette was jerked from his lips. Three witnesses, one of them a guard, fainted. John Joseph Malone was pronounced dead 12 minutes later.
The investigation into the robbery of the Municipal Bureau of Water and Power was bogged down by dead ends and false leads and it was beginning to look like the crooks were going to get away with the crime that had netted them over $73,000 in cash (the equivalent of nearly $1 million dollars in today’s money) — but then an LAPD officer at the Highland Park station noticed something odd about one of his neighbors, Fern Sadler.
Patrolman John Kopytek wondered how Sadler, who lived with his mother near Kopytek’s home, could afford three new cars when he was unemployed. Kopytek continued to watch Sadler and as he did he became convinced that there was something hinky going on. He couldn’t find anything to explain Sadler’s sudden good fortune, so he took his suspicions to the higher ups at his station. Detectives kept an eye on Sadler for several weeks and he looked suspicious to them too. They finally took him into custody for questioning but failed to wring a confession out of him even after $7800, for which he had no credible explanation, was found in the apartment he had rented on North Avenue 61.
Sadler finally broke and made a full confession, and he also implicated Frank C. Wagoner, 42, of Pasadena; Harvey Schlagel, 43, of, Pasadena; and Gilman Rankin, 42 of Santa Monica.
Rankin denied any involvement in the robbery and immediately requested an attorney. Harvey Schlagel decided it was in his best interest to confess and try to make a deal.
From what they were told by Sadler and Schlagel the detectives were able to piece together the plot of the robbery and it was quite a story. Sadler resigned from the Water and Power Bureau on November 4th, about three weeks following the robbery, and of course he didn’t have to find another job because he had the $7800 that was found in his apartment and another $15k or so that he had buried following the hold-up. Then there were the three cars he’d purchased valued at approximately $3400 total.
Sadler said that he and Rankin had committed the actual robbery and they’d hired Schlagel and Wagner to kidnap payroll guard Fred Kimple and detain, but not harm, him. For their part in the robbery the two crooks were paid $1,000 each. Right after the robbery Sadler and Rankin went to a hotel room they’d rented prior to the crime and divied up the reminder of the plunder in a 50/50 split.
The grand jury indicted Sadler, Schlagel, Rankin and Wagoner for the robbery. And to add to Sadler’s legal woes the City of Los Angeles filed a civil suit to recover as much of the stolen loot as possible. In the complaint it was stated that someone (Sadler and a number of “John Does”) had stolen approximately $75,000 from the bureau office, and that part of the money had been found in various banks to the credit of Fern Sadler, and part had been invested in automobiles.
Sadler made the mistake of believing that successfully committing the robbery meant that he and his accomplices were free and clear. He learned the hard way that the actual crime is just the beginning. It was incredibly arrogant of him to think that nobody in his neighborhood would notice that he was living way beyond his unemployed means — it was his bad luck that the neighbor who noticed was an LAPD officer.
Maybe it’s just me but I believe that declarations like: “The check is in the mail”; “I’ll always love you”; and “I’ll never rat you out” should always be met with a healthy dose of skepticism. If Rankin had a little voice that told him to be leery of Sadler’s promisies, he didn’t listen to it. He was blind-sided, and more than a little pissed-off, when Sadler (said to be the brains of the hold-up) suddenly pleaded guilty and turned State’s evidence. The two men, handcuffed together, were being lead from the courtroom by Bailiff Hammon when Rankin suddenly whirled his arm upward and brought the handcuffs smashing down on Sadler’s head.
“I’ll get you yet, you dirty squealer!” he shouted as Bailiff Hammon tried to insert himself between the two felons. Sadler wasn’t badly hurt by Rankin’s attack, but the co-conspirators were separated and extra guards were assigned to the courtroom for the remainder of the trail.
Sadler testified in detail to the planning and execution of the robbery. He’d connected with Rankin by placing a want ad in a local paper asking for the services of a “courageous man” and promising “big money” as a reward.
For squealing on his accomplices Sadler earned the D.A.’s recommendation to be sentenced on the lesser charge of second-degree robbery charge. He took the deal but it wasn’t a great one, because Sadler was sentenced to from seven years to life for masterminding the crime. Schlagel and Wagoner followed Sadler’s lead and changed their pleas to guilty and were sentenced to from one year to life in prison.
Rankin was the last man standing and would have to face the jury alone. He was found guilty of first degree robbery and sentenced to from seven years to life in prison.
The robbery was a success and the gang could have gotten away with it but, as is often the case, the bad guys weren’t nearly as smart as they thought they were. This is where I say crime doesn’t pay — but then you already knew that.
The 1920s are often recalled as the decade of bob-haired flappers, bootleg booze, and giddy stunts (like flag pole sitting); but it was also a decade of less benign pursuits—like an audacious day-time robbery.
Chief Ed “Two Gun” Davis, LAPD
On Monday, September 26, 1927, bandits robbed the city’s Department of Water and Power of $73,600 in cash (equivalent to $989,437.79 in current U.S. dollars). That was bad, but what was even worse was the proximity of the scene of the crime to LAPD’s Central Station–just a block away.
To say that Chief Davis was annoyed by the affront to his authority is an understatement. He told assembled reporters and concerned citizens:
“Our men have been sent out to bring into the station every suspected man on the streets, in rooming-houses, bungalow courts, apartments and hotels who cannot give a good account of himself. We ask all good citizens who carry guns to leave them off because we are going to bring in every man with a gun and try to procure a maximum jail sentence for him. We will bring in and attempt to get a maximum vagrancy sentence for every person who cannot explain his idleness or presence under suspicious circumstances. We are going to search automobiles, persons and rooms and ask good citizens to be patient as we are trying to round up an incarcerate all of the type that has been precipitating these crimes. Policemen have been instructed to be especially courteous and we appeal for public support because the move is for the public good.”
Obviously the Chief wasn’t a big fan of the Fourth Amendment. In fact a few years later, in 1933, when LAPD was hunting a married couple who had spent their honeymoon on a crime spree Davis would be quoted as saying that constitutional rights were of “no benefit to anybody but crooks and criminals”. While I don’t agree, I understand his frustration with laws that sometimes do a better job of protecting perpetrators than victims.
The robbers’ plan was as perfectly choreographed as a performance of the Ballet Russe. It began with the kidnapping of Fred C. Kimple, a watchman for the water and power bureau. As was his routine on paydays Fred left the Clovis and Ninety-Eighth Street warehouse branch at about 6:30 a.m. to go down to the main office and stand guard at the cashier’s office. He only got as far as Ninety-Sixth Street when a sedan with a man on the running board brandishing a blue-steel revolver crowded him to the curb. It must have been frightening when his kidnappers called him by name:
“Come on Fred, let your gun alone and you won’t be hurt.”
Fred asked them who they worked for and they replied:
“Well, we’re from the Aqueduct. They made bums out of us and we’re going to get even.”
[NOTE: For those of you unfamiliar with the contentious history of the L.A. Aqueduct, I refer you to the 1975 film “Chinatown”; it is a fictionalized version for sure, but you’ll get the idea.]
Fred was pulled out his car, shoved to the floor of the bandit’s sedan and covered with a robe. He later said they didn’t harm him and that after riding around for quite some time he was ordered out of the car. He found himself in the sparsely populated district near the Midwick Country Club. It took him a while, but he finally found a telephone and raised the alarm.
Meanwhile, Cashier George Pessell arrived at the bureau office at about 7:30 a.m. He entered through a “trick” door into the counter clerk’s compartment that led to the cashier’s room. George later told police:
“I saw two men seated at the desk with green eyeshades on their heads, and thinking they were clerks, I went on into the cashier’s office. Then the assistant, L.H. Brockway, came in and was opening up the smaller safe and Paymaster S.F. Arthur arrived. As Arthur stepped in, the two ‘clerks’ came up. One shoved a gun against his back and the other covered me through the little window, and they made their way inside the cage.”
Once they were inside the robbers worked fast. They forced rubber balls, though which strings had been run, into the mouths of Pessell, Brockway and Arthur and tied gags on them. With a gun pressed into him Pessell was forced to open the large safe, and then the three employees were bound up with cotton web straps and made to lie on the floor. One of the crooks pulled out a sugar sack and started cramming it full with every bit of cash he could see.
Milton Fischel, a bureau employee on his way to work, saw two men leaving the building through the entrance onto Broadway, but there was nothing unusual about them so Milton didn’t give them another thought until he found his three bound co-workers. He released them and then contacted the police.
Police investigators arrived quickly, they were, after all, just a block away. They began to question the employees to find out if they had noticed anything strange. Frank Albith, an employee on the second floor, said he had noticed two men outside of the bureau at about the time of the crime. Police believe the men may have been lookouts for the two bandits who got the money.
Every employee who came in contact with the gangsters cooperated fully with Captains Cato and Curtis, Detectives Malino, Williams and O’Connor who were working the case. One of the employees, Louise Dolan, said she had noticed two men acting suspiciously a few days before—it was thought likely that the crooks had been casing the place.
Detectives were positive that the two inside men were part of a larger group of bandits, but how many and who were they? At least the investigators were able to get general descriptions of the robbers who had been inside the bureau. One of them had a scar on his cheek, the other’s nose was taped, and both were between the ages of 30 and 35
It wasn’t much, but it would have to do until they got a break.
By 1930 Clara Bow had been appearing films for eight years, and she’d lit up the screen in every one of them. In 1924 Bow was selected to be a WAMPAS Baby Star.
The Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers (WAMPAS), honored thirteen (fourteen in 1932) young women each year whom they believed to be on the threshold of movie stardom. Clara had appeared in about 40 films by the time she made “WINGS” and “IT” in 1927. Both films were financial and critical successes, and Clara was praised as “a joy to behold”. However, she would forever be identified as the “It Girl”.
What is “it”? In his 1904 short story “Mrs. Bathurst”, Rudyard Kipling introduced the concept:
“It isn’t beauty, so to speak, nor good talk necessarily. It’s just “It”. Some women will stay in a man’s memory if they once walk down the street.”
In February 1927, Cosmopolitan magazine published a two-part serial story in which Elinor Glyn described “It” as:
“That quality possessed by some which draws all others with its magnetic force. With “it” you win all men if you are a woman and all women if you are a man. “it” can be a quality of the mind as well as a physical attraction.”
There was no question that Clara Bow possessed “It” in spades. The public adored her, and with good reason. Bow had sex appeal infused with enough sweetness and innocence to make her approachable, not saccharin.
Clara was making truckloads of money, and her contemporaries were doing just as well. But many of them were like kids in a candy store, they had no clue about what do with their money except to spend it. Fellow star, Rod La Rocque, became incorporated and his fortune was under the management of a board of directors.
Until about 1928, Clara’s money had been managed by Bogart Rogers. In 1930 her money and her personal affairs were in the hands of her secretary, Daisy De Voe.
On November 10, 1930 local newspapers reported on a story that was eventually going to shine a light on both Clara’s money and Daisy’s management skills. Clara and Daisy had parted ways, and it wasn’t an amicable split.
Both Clara and Daisy denied the stories of the break in their professional relationship. De Voe said:
“As far as I know I am still her secretary. Miss Bow has not served notice on me. I guess I’ll have to find out all about it.”
Clara refused to comment.
A few days later the story got even more interesting when it was revealed that Daisy had indeed been fired by Clara, and then she had helped herself to some of her former employer’s valuables including: diamond jewelry, a sapphire ring, and all of Bow’s insurance papers. In addition, Daisy had also taken a $20,000 cashier’s check, and a mass of personal papers, including canceled checks, paid and unpaid bills, and personal correspondence.
Despite the fact that De Voe had taken thousands of dollars worth of Clara’s belongings, the cheeky amanuensis was gearing up to file a suit against Bow for several thousand dollars that she alleged she was owed for back pay and expenses.
De Voe and Bow had disagreed on what to do with the cashier’s check; but why did De Voe take jewelry and papers belonging to her employer?
“Clara was going to use this in a business deal I had advised her against going into so that is the reason I kept it from her. She knows as well as everybody else that I could never have cashed it. I intended giving it back the same as everything I had that belonged to her. They (the D.A. and cops) treated me terribly and I think it absolutely unjust the way the treated me and kept me at the hotel. I believe, as does my attorney, we have justifiable cause of action against them.”
Clara Bow and Rex Bell
De Voe intimated that Clara’s latest boyfriend (actor Rex Bell) was responsible for her firing. It is possible that Bell instigated the firing, but once Clara had discovered her belongings were missing she had no other choice.
Daisy’s attorney, Nathan O. Freedman, announced that he was going to file a civil suit on her behalf against Buron Fitts (he D.A.) and Blayney Matthews (a chief investigator for the D.A.’s office). According to De Voe the two had held her incommunicado for several days while they cleaned out her safe deposit box. Fitts didn’t think De Voe had much of a case since the majority of the items found in the safe deposit box had belonged to Clara Bow.
Fitts told reporters:
“This matter came into this office in the nature of a formal request for a criminal complaint against Miss Daisy De Voe for the embezzlement of money and property belonging to Miss Clara Bow. The matter was regularly referred to Mr. Blayney Matthews, chief of the bureau of investigation. After several days of investigation, Mr. Matthews reported back that Miss De Voe had made a thirty page confession of the theft of some $35,000 of Miss Bow’s money, a great deal of which was found in her possession.”
“It is the policy of this office that before issuing a complaint against a private citizen to first thoroughly investigate the case in order to prevent a mistake or miscarriage of justice. This investigation was completed today, and this office has no other alternative under the law but to place the matter before the county grand jury.”
Daisy was quick to deny having made a confession, and she boasted that she had nothing to fear from the grand jury; but she had spoken too soon.
The grand jury indicted Daisy De Voe on thirty-seven counts of grand theft!
It had taken less than two years for Aggie Underwood to work her way up from switchboard operator at the Los Angeles Daily Record, to part-time assistant for one of the paper’s columnists, Gertrude Price (who wrote the Cynthia Grey column).
On December 15, 1927, just a couple of days away from Aggie’s twenty-fifth birthday, she was working in the newsroom when reporters learned that twelve year old Marion Parker, the daughter of Perry Parker a prominent banker, had been abducted from her school. Marion’s twin sister Marjorie had not been taken.
The kidnapper had arrived at Mount Vernon Junior High School where the twins were students and gone directly to the office of Mary Holt, the school’s registrar. The young man told her that Perry Parker had been seriously injured in an automobile accident and was calling for his youngest daughter. Times were different then. Holt never even asked the man for his identification, nor did she ask him what he meant by youngest daughter since Marion and Marjorie were twins and presumably separated in age by mere minutes.
Any moment of doubt that Mary Holt may have had before releasing Marion into the custody of a maniac (who didn’t look maniacal at all) was overcome when the man insisted that he was an employee at Parker’s bank. When she was questioned later, Holt said the man had seemed sincere. He had been quick to suggest that if Holt doubted his word, she should phone the bank. If only she had.
Mt. Vernon Junior High School [LAPL photo]
Instead of phoning the bank for verification of the stranger’s story, Holt dispatched an office assistant to fetch Marion from class. The children were in the midst of a Christmas party when the assistant delivered the news of Perry Parker’s accident. Marion didn’t hesitate; she accompanied the assistant to the registrar’s office where she was led away by the stranger.
Witnesses would later recall that the man helped Marion into his coupe and “…patted her reassuringly on the shoulder”. As Marion’s friends watched the coupe drive away they had no idea that they were witnessing a kidnapping, or that the abduction would result in one of the most heinous murders in the city’s history.
Once it had been determined that Marion had been kidnapped, terror and helplessness replaced calm and security in the Parker family home. They could not name a single enemy. The Parkers were prepared to meet any ransom demand, they simply longed for word that Marion was unharmed.
LAPD, the LA County Sheriff, and the District Attorney’s office put all available men into the search for Marion. At that time it was the largest single manhunt in the city’s history. The scope of the search would not be eclipsed until 1947 when LAPD conducted a massive search for the killer of twenty-two year old Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia.