The Dime Murder, Conclusion

In late December 1930, Emery Ells went on trial for hiring Benjamin Brown to murder his estranged wife, Merle Ells. The prosecution called it “murder on the installment plan” because Benjamin had been given $2.20 worth of dimes to commit the crime with the promise of $2000 more to come.

merle sistersBenjamin confessed to police, but his trial was postponed until January 1931. His attorneys needed time to gather evidence regarding his sanity.

Emery retracted his confession and through his attorney, William T. Kendrick, Jr., accused the cops of giving him the third degree. The defense fought to keep Emery’s confession out of court, and they won the battle–for a while. The confession made to officers was continuously blocked, but Emery had apparently confessed not only to the police but in the presence of newspaper reporter, George White. Since White had been in the room during Ells’ statement he was able to testify that the suspect had not confessed under duress.

Merle’s five sisters appeared in Judge Schauer’s court ready and willing to testify against their former brother-in-law. Merle had often spoken to them of her fear that Emery might do her harm if she didn’t allow him to have custody of their toddler son.

Emery took the stand in his own defense. He reiterated his accusation of police brutality to force a confession from him. He testified that he had been denied food and sleep for four days following his arrest. He also charged that he was kept near Merle’s body in the County Morgue until 3 a.m.–all the while being peppered with questions. Deputy Coroner Russell Monroe refuted Emery’s claim.

emery_ells_mug2Emery’s trial lasted two weeks. On January 8, 1931 after deliberating for just a few hours the jury found him guilty of first degree murder. They recommended life in prison rather than the death penalty asked for by the prosecution. When Emery heard that his life had been spared he turned to his attorney and grinned.

Benjamin Brown withdrew his plea of not guilty by reason of insanity and threw himself on the mercy of the court. Given Emery’s sentence Brown had good reason to expect the same treatment. Brown’s Public Defender, George A. Benedict, made an impassioned plea for leniency on his client’s behalf, but Judge McComb sentenced the defendant to hang.benjamin_brown_mug2

On July 31, 1931, Benjamin Brown climbed the thirteen steps to the gallows. On his way he tripped on Warden Holohan’s heel. “Sorry Warden” were his last words. Earlier in the day Emery begged the Warden to be allowed to see Benjamin. He said Benjamin could exonerate him. Pretty ballsy considering he was lucky to have escaped the gallows himself. Warden Holohan denied the request. When he was told about it Benjamin said: “We are equally guilty. We did it together and we ought to hang together.”

A Holiday Orgy of Crime – Redux

HOLIDAY ORGY OF CRIMEReaders of the Los Angeles Times were bound to have been dismayed when, on December 26, 1930, they saw the headline “Holiday Brings Orgy of Crime”. Apparently not all Angelenos were filled with goodwill toward their fellow man, or woman for that matter. The article was a litany of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day misdeeds that began with the shooting of a police officer.

Officer Allen G. Adcock of the Hollenbeck Heights division was shot by a bandit during the early morning hours of Christmas Day. Officer Adcock had been directing traffic during a fire at Macy and Gelardo streets when a car containing two men ignored his command to halt and blew through the intersection at a high rate of speed. Apparently Adcock “badged” a civilian, Earl H. Pfeifer, and commandeered the man’s auto to pursue the suspects. With Pfeifer at the wheel, Adcock stood on the running board of the car and held on for dear life. One of the fleeing men leveled his weapon at Adcock, who then whipped out his own pistol. The two men fired simultaneously and a bullet from the suspect’s gun struck a glancing blow on Adcock’s head which knocked the cop off of Pfiefer’s running board.

Pfiefer stopped to render aid to the fallen policeman and the suspects escaped. A subsequent investigation showed that the two suspects were bandits who had held up Irwin Welborn of West Twenty-ninth Street. They drove him out to Long Beach and then robbed him of $2 and his car.

At Pacific and O’Farrell Streets in San Pedro, a local poultryman, Jack Zuanich, was slugged on the head with a wooden club. The reason for the attack was not determined. Zuanich was taken to the San Pedro General Hospital in serious condition.

00045695_los_feliz_bridge_orgycrime

Los Feliz Bridge (aka Shakespeare Bridge) [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Two cowardly bandits, turned rapists, dragged Maxine Ungeheur (20) and her younger sister Thelma (19) out of a car under the Los Feliz Bridge (aka Shakespeare Bridge) and brutally attacked them. The sisters were being driven home by Roland Oakley, a Griffith Park employee, following a Christmas Eve soiree. Oakley slowed his auto near the bridge and the bandits stepped out from a clump of trees and threatened the girls and Oakley with guns. Oakley, under threat of death, stood helplessly by as the girls were ravaged. The cops located clues at the scene, in particular a leather glove believed to have been worn by one of the attackers. Detective Lieutenants Hoy and Kriewald of the Lincoln Heights Division were hopeful that the clue would lead to the arrests of the men involved in the assaults.

In addition to all of the other mayhem occurring in and around the city, there was a spate of holiday burglaries for cops to contend with. Two men were discovered plundering a store on Huntington Drive by Officers Cooke and Carter, and a citizen, A. Burke. Upon being found out the two crooks attempted to high-tail it to freedom. Officer Cooke fired at the fleeing suspects and the citizen. A. Burke, unloaded a charge of bird shot from his shotgun at the burglars. Both suspects dropped to the ground, but one of them scrambled to his feet and made good his escape. The other crook was captured by officers and gave the name of Bernave Palacios. He was held on suspicion of burglary.

Benjamin Caldron was held up in his South Western Avenue flower shop on Christmas morning by two bandits and robbed of $110.

The Ungeheur sisters were not the only women who were victims of rape, or attempted rape, over the Christmas holiday. Mrs. Dorothy Loustanau was walking near the corner of Ninetieth Street and Avalon Boulevard when a man drove an automobile up to the curb and leaped out. Snarling that he would beat her to death if she resisted, he clapped his hand over her mouth and pinioned her arms while he attempted to force her into his car. Dorothy struggled desperately and succeeded in staying out of the car. Her attacker, enraged that his victim was putting up a fight, tried to drag her into a vacant lot, but Dorothy broke free and began to scream for help. Her assailant fled the scene.

Lillian Rosine, of 1322 Cherokee Avenue in Hollywood, was driving down Las Palmas Avenue with a friend, Earl Marshall, when a bandit leaped onto the running board of her car. The bandit produced an automatic weapon and commanded Lillian and Earl to stick up their hands. Lillian became furious with the brazen bandit and instead of complying with his order she leaned in front of Earl and shoved the bandit in the face!

The crook was thrown off balance and fired, the round grazed Earl’s head inflicting a four inch wound in his scalp! Lillian screamed and stomped down hard on the gas. The bandit tumbled off of the running board, stood up, and then proceeded to walk nonchalantly up Selma Avenue. Lillian dashed to the Hollywood Receiving Hospital a few blocks away where Earl’s wound was treated and dressed. The bandit remained at large.

Hollywood Receiving Hospital c. 1936 [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Hollywood Receiving Hospital c. 1936 [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

I’ll wrap up the orgy of crime with the murder of Jose Lopez (45). Lopez died in Georgia Street Receiving Hospital from wounds received in an attempted hold-up and fight. Lopez’s friend, Jose Ayala, told the cops that he and Jose were accosted by two men early Christmas morning and beaten with clubs. Ayala did his best to provide a description of the killers but he had been rendered unconscious by a blow in the mouth early in the affray.

NOTE: This is a re-post from last year’s holiday season. Enjoy.

A Holiday Orgy of Crime, 1930

HOLIDAY ORGY OF CRIMEReaders of the Los Angeles Times were bound to have been dismayed when, on December 26, 1930, they saw the headline “Holiday Brings Orgy of Crime”. Apparently not all Angelenos were filled with goodwill toward their fellow man, or woman for that matter. The article was a litany of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day misdeeds that began with the shooting of a police officer.

Officer Allen G. Adcock of the Hollenbeck Heights division was shot by a bandit during the early morning hours of Christmas Day. Officer Adcock had been directing traffic during a fire at Macy and Gelardo streets when a car containing two men ignored his command to halt and blew through the intersection at a high rate of speed. Apparently Adcock “badged”  a civilian, Earl H. Pfeifer, and commandeered the man’s auto to pursue the suspects. With Pfeifer at the wheel, Adcock stood on the running board of the car and held on for dear life. One of the fleeing men leveled his weapon at Adcock, who then whipped out his own pistol. The two men fired simultaneously and a bullet from the suspect’s gun struck a glancing blow on Adcock’s head which knocked the cop off of Pfiefer’s running board.

Pfiefer stopped to render aid to the fallen policeman and the suspects escaped. A subsequent investigation showed that the two suspects were bandits who had held up Irwin Welborn of West Twenty-ninth Street. They drove him out to Long Beach and then robbed him of $2 and his car.

At Pacific and O’Farrell Streets in San Pedro, a local poultryman, Jack Zuanich, was slugged on the head with a wooden club. The reason for the attack was not determined. Zuanich was taken to the San Pedro General Hospital in serious condition.

00045695_los_feliz_bridge_orgycrime

Los Feliz Bridge (aka Shakespeare Bridge) [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Two cowardly bandits, turned rapists, dragged Maxine Ungeheur (20) and her younger sister Thelma (19) out of a car under the Los Feliz Bridge (aka Shakespeare Bridge) and brutally attacked them. The sisters were being driven home by Roland Oakley, a Griffith Park employee, following a Christmas Eve soiree. Oakley slowed his auto near the bridge and the bandits stepped out from a clump of trees and threatened the girls and Oakley with guns. Oakley, under threat of death, stood helplessly by as the girls were ravaged. The cops located clues at the scene, in particular a leather glove believed to have been worn by one of the attackers. Detective Lieutenants Hoy and Kriewald of the Lincoln Heights Division were hopeful that the clue would lead to the arrests of the men involved in the assaults.

In addition to all of the other mayhem occurring in and around the city, there  was a spate of holiday burglaries for cops to contend with. Two men were discovered plundering a store on Huntington Drive by Officers Cooke and Carter, and a citizen, A. Burke. Upon being found out the two crooks attempted to high-tail it to freedom. Officer Cooke fired at the fleeing suspects and the citizen. A. Burke, unloaded a charge of bird shot from his shotgun at the burglars. Both suspects dropped to the ground, but one of them scrambled to his feet and made good his escape. The other crook was captured by officers and gave the name of Bernave Palacios. He was held on suspicion of burglary.

Benjamin Caldron was held up in his South Western Avenue flower shop on Christmas morning by two bandits and robbed of $110.

The Ungeheur sisters were not the only women who were victims of rape, or attempted rape, over the Christmas holiday. Mrs. Dorothy Loustanau was walking near the corner of Ninetieth Street and Avalon Boulevard when a man drove an automobile up to the curb and leaped out. Snarling that he would beat her to death if she resisted, he clapped his hand over her mouth and pinioned her arms while he attempted to force her into his car. Dorothy struggled desperately and succeeded in staying out of the car. Her attacker, enraged that his victim was putting up a fight, tried to drag her into a vacant lot, but Dorothy broke free and began to scream for help. Her assailant fled the scene.

Lillian Rosine, of 1322 Cherokee Avenue in Hollywood, was driving down Las Palmas Avenue with a friend, Earl Marshall, when a bandit leaped onto the running board of her car. The bandit produced an automatic weapon and commanded Lillian and Earl to stick up their hands. Lillian became furious with the brazen bandit and instead of complying with his order she leaned in front of Earl and shoved the bandit in the face!

The crook was thrown off balance and fired, the round grazed Earl’s head inflicting a four inch wound in his scalp! Lillian screamed and stomped down hard on the gas. The bandit tumbled off of the running board, stood up, and then proceeded to walk nonchalantly up Selma Avenue. Lillian dashed to the Hollywood Receiving Hospital a few blocks away where Earl’s wound was treated and dressed. The bandit remained at large.

Hollywood Receiving Hospital c. 1936 [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Hollywood Receiving Hospital c. 1936 [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

I’ll wrap up the orgy of crime with the murder of Jose Lopez (45). Lopez died in Georgia Street Receiving Hospital from wounds received in an attempted hold-up and fight. Lopez’s friend, Jose Ayala, told the cops that he and Jose were accosted by two men early Christmas morning and beaten with clubs. Ayala did his best to provide a description of the killers but he had been rendered unconscious by a blow in the mouth early in the affray.

The “It” Girl and the Secretary

clara bowBy 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.

WAMPAS_baby_stars_1924

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”.

clara itWhat 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.”

rod la rocqueThere 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. daisy

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 rex court

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!

NEXT TIME: The De Voe case continues.