Hollywood Cliff Murder, Conclusion

Illinois native Pearl Wessel moved to Los Angeles for the first time in 1928.  Whatever dreams brought her here died with her on April 2, 1940 at the bottom of a 60 foot cliff in the Hollywood hills.

trail of death_hollywood cliff murder

LAPD arrested two men for Pearl’s death,  Lesley Al Williams and Alberni Roggers. Neither of them would admit to knowing Pearl, let alone having anything to do with her death.  The problem for Lesley was that a witness had taken down the license plate number of the car that drove away after Pearl went over the cliff–and the number matched the car registered to Lesley.A description of Pearl went out to local eateries and bars in an effort to find out where, and with whom, she had spent her time on the day of her death. William J. Moran, a bartender in a place at 608 S. Western Avenue said he was sure Pearl had been drinking in his bar with two men. He didn’t know the men, but felt he could identify them. LAPD detectives gave William the opportunity to be a stand-up citizen by inviting him to attend a line-up in which the two suspects would participate.hollywood cliff murder headline4

William identified Leslie by his voice. William had recalled that when of the one of the men at the bar was asked about places he had worked he had mentioned Sacramento. Each of the men in the lineup was asked to say “Sacramento”. When Leslie was instructed to repeat the word Moran looked at the detectives and said, “That’s one of the men. I’m dead sure of it.” William wasn’t so sure about the second man, Alberni Roggers. Another witness, Alfred Dobriener, thought he recognized Leslie, but wasn’t willing to go on the record and identify him. All he would say is that, “He (Alberni) looks more like the man than any in the line-up.”

Once he had been identified by two witnesses, Leslie copped to having been with Pearl, but he still wouldn’t admit to responsibility for her death. He did, however, name the man who was actually with him. It wasn’t Alberni, it was a 32 year-old married salesman named Brydon Stockdale. Leslie’s statement was enough for police to issue a State-wide broadcast for his arrest. It didn’t take long for Brydon to be found. About two hours after the initial broadcast, he was taken into custody in Redlands by San Bernardino County Sheriff E.L. Shay. According to Shay, Brydon had been arrested as he stepped off a bus.

LAPD Detective Lieutenants Fred Trosper and Emmett Jones left for Redlands immediately to return the suspect to Los Angeles for questioning.

Only Alberni was given good news. Because it was determined that he had had nothing to do with the crime he was kicked loose from the County Jail.

While Brydon was en route to Los Angeles, Lesley’s tongue loosened. He finally admitted that he and Brydon had been bar hopping with Pearl before they drove to Franklin Avenue. He steadfastly maintained that he had not pushed Pearl to her death. Leslie said that Pearl ran from the car and fell over the cliff. Of course his statement begs the question, why did Pearl feel she had to run?

hollywood cliff murder headline3At the Coroner’s inquest Dr. Frank R. Webb, autopsy surgeon, testified that Pearl had died of a skull fracture and that her blood alcohol level was .22, enough for her to be intoxicated.

Brydon took the stand and gave his account of the night Pearl died. He said that he had met Leslie, whom he had known prior to that night, and Pearl, in a bar on S. Western. When he and Leslfey decided to leave, Pearl accompanied them.

Brydon said he took the wheel of Lesley’s car, “I got in the driver’s seat because I didn’t think Williams was in a condition to drive. He directed me to drive to a place he knew where Miss Wessel could get something to eat. We ended up at the end of Franklin Avenue. When I got out of the car and saw where we were, I told Williams the situation was no good. I left the car again and when I returned Williams and the woman were in the back seat.”

“They were having a drunken argument about something and the door, facing the embankment, was open. I told them we were going to get out of there. Then the girl leaped out and started stumbling toward what I thought was a trail. Williams started to drive away. I protested, saying we ought not to leave the woman there. He drove off anyway.” Brydon stepped down from the witness stand and his wife Mildred walked over to him and wrapped her arms around him–then the two of them burst into tears.

Lesley refused to testify.

Brydon and his wife embrace.

Brydon and his wife embrace.

Lesley stood trial alone for Pearl’s murder. On June 19, 1940 the jury deadlocked 10 to 2 in favor of acquittal and was discharged.

It was reported that Lesley would be retried, but he never was.

So, what really did happen on Franklin that night?

Why was Pearl drinking in a bar on her own? It wasn’t typical behavior for a woman at that time.  I get the impression that Pearl may have been lonely. Is that why she left the bar with two strangers?

Even though Brydon claimed to be entirely innocent, and was subsequently freed, he was driving that night. Why did he drive to the lover’s lane on Franklin?  Did he know it was there, or was he simply following Lesley’s directions?  And when the car pulled into the dark and lonely spot, did Pearl and Lesley have an argument? Did she get out of the car in high dudgeon and run not knowing she was headed for a 60 foot cliff?

Or were the events more sinister? Did one, or both, of the men intend to assault Pearl? Did Pearl realize she was in danger and panic?  And did one or both of them push her over the cliff?

In this case, as in so many, we are left with many more questions than answers.  We’ll never know what transpired between Pearl, Lesley and Brydon, so it is difficult to determine whether or not justice was served. No matter how events played out that April night, the result was a tragedy for Pearl.

Hollywood Cliff Murder, Part 1

On April 2, 1940, Paul Cote was in his home on the 8700 block of Hollywood Blvd when a young man knocked on the front door. The young man was frantic. He pointed to a spot across the street where a body lay crumpled on the pavement. “Call an ambulance!  A young woman’s been hurt.”  Then the young man disappeared. Cole dialed the operator to summon emergency services and the police.  The woman was taken to Hollywood Receiving Hospital where Dr. G.E. Christian pronounced her dead. She had perished from a skull fracture, broken neck and other injuries. The dead woman was identified as Pearl Wessel.
pearl wesselClose on the heels of the first man’s visit to Cote’s home another young man, twenty year-old Alfred Dobriener of 1625 Sunset Plaza Drive, came to Cote’s door. He said that he’d been hiking in the hills above Franklin Avenue when he noticed an old car parked in an open space at the end of that street. From his vantage point, Alfred saw a man in the front seat and a man and a blond woman struggling in the back seat.

Alfred said, “The woman’s head kept bobbing in and out of the car as if she were being struck in the face.  Soon the man (from the backseat) shoved her from the car and she fell on the ground. The man, who was tall and dark, got out of the front seat and picked her up.  While she was still struggling, he dragged her to the edge of the bluff and shoved her over.  She did not scream.  The men got in the car and left.”

Alfred thought quickly and took down the license plate number of the car–and that is when he ran over to Cote’s house to get help. The police kept the name of the car’s registered owner to themselves until they could locate him and bring him in for questioning.

A third witness came forward. He said that he had seen a woman running down Franklin prior to Pearl’s fall. Was it Pearl?

suspects_hollywood cliff murderDetective Lieutenant S.R. Lopez of the the LAPD said that Pearl had either gone to the end of the bus line and hiked up Franklin to take in the view alone, or she had ridden up in the car with the two men to the top of the hill.  By virtue of its seclusion and spectacular views the spot was a local lover’s lane. But why would Pearl have gone there with two men?”

By the next day police had pieced together a little more of Pearl’s life.  She lived at 694 S. Hobart Blvd. where she roomed with Mrs. P.A. Boyle.  Mrs. Boyle provided detectives with some personal information about Pearl. She said, “Miss Wessel had an income from some property near St. Louis, Missouri and sometimes she took special secretarial jobs (in Los Angeles). She has been happy visiting Southern California.”

Pearl had been dividing her time between Los Angeles and St. Louis since 1928. Sh had gone to St. Louis to celebrate the New Year and then returned to Los Angeles shortly afterward and resumed her work as a stenographer.

On April 4th, police had two men in custody for questioning in Pearl’s death; Lesley Al Williams and Alberni Roggers. Lesley, a self-proclaimed “mixologist” was the registered owner of the car and he was arrested at his home at 815 W. Sixth Street and booked on suspicion of murder.

Lesley’s wife Daisy, from whom he appeared to be estranged, spoke to police from her home at 727 S. Olive Street. She told the police that Lesley was chummy with another bartender named Alberni Roggers. The police busted him at his home at 833 W. Ninth Street.

Lesley and Alberni both denied having any connection with Pearl. At the death scene Police Chemist Ray Pinker found scuff marks consistent with the witnesses statements that Pearl had been dragged from the parked car before going over the cliff. Tire marks discovered at the scene matched the tires on Lesley’s car.

Ray Pinker, Police Chemist c. 1935 Photo courtesy LAPL

Ray Pinker, Police Chemist c. 1935
Photo courtesy LAPL

The evidence against the two men, particularly Lesley, was damning. Still, it was possible that police had arrested the wrong men. What if the witness had transposed or mistaken a number on the license plate of the car?

NEXT TIME: Another suspect is identified as the investigation into Pearl’s murder continues.

Film Noir Friday: Half A Sinner [1940]

HALF A SINNER

Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Tonight’s feature is HALF A SINNER, based on a story by Dalton Trumbo.  The message is carpe diem, and who can argue with that?  It’s all fluff, no substance, but fun. The film stars Heather Angel and John King.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Ignoring the advice of her crochety old grandmother, straightlaced schoolteacher Anne Gladden decides to discard her glasses, buy a new outfit and relish one day of freedom doing exactly as she pleases. Things don’t work out exactly as she has planned, however, when, to avoid the unwelcome advances of a gangster, Anne jumps into a parked limousine and speeds away. Unknown to Anne, the car is stolen and a dead body is stashed in the back seat.

NOTE:  There are a couple of commercials, but you can skip them. I put up with the minor annoyance because it’s a good copy of the film.

Marion Linden’s Life of Crime, Part 1

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.

News-UT-OG_ST_EX.1936_04_03_LINDEN_headlineWhy 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.NEWS-NE-EV_ST_JO.1937_02_22_LINDEN_headline

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.

News-CO-GR_DA_TR.1937_04_24_LINDEN_headlineMarion 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.

Next time:Marion’s story concludes.

Film Noir Friday: Rebecca [1940]

rebecca1Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.

Tonight’s feature is REBECCA, adapted from a novel by Daphne Du Maurier and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. This 1940 classic stars Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine.

 TCM says:

Maxim de Winter, who is in Monte Carlo to forget the drowning death of his wife Rebecca, meets the demure paid companion of matronly socialite Edythe Van Hopper and begins to court her. The girl falls in love with Maxim and happily accepts when he asks her to be his wife. The bride’s happiness comes to an abrupt end when Maxim takes her to his grand seaside estate, Manderley. There she is tormented by the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, who continually reminds the young bride of the great beauty and elegance of the first Mrs. de Winter and undermines her attempts to assert herself in the household.

Enjoy the movie!

 

Film Noir Friday–Sunday Matinee: Night Train to Munich [1940]

Night Train to Munich_10

Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.

Today’s matinee feature is NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH [1940].  The film stars Margaret Lockwood and Rex Harrison.

I’m stretching the noir definition with this film–but maybe not to the breaking point. One definition of film noir is that it is “a film marked by a mood of pessimism, fatalism, and menace”. Certainly there are elements of noir in this  war-time thriller.  Has there ever been anything more more menacing than Nazis?

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

The Nazis invade Prague in 1939, and inventor Axel Bomasch, who is developing armor plating that is essential for Allied defense, attempts to flee to England with his daughter Anna. Anna is captured, however, and taken to a concentration camp, where her captors interrogate her about Bomasch’s location. She refuses to divulge what little information she has and soon becomes friends with Karl Marsen, a teacher imprisoned for his anti-Nazi views.

 

Death Is Like A Box Of Chocolates

Valentine’s Day is only ten days away and the sweet scent of roses mingled with perfume, chocolate and lust is in the air — except here at Deranged L.A. Crimes. I’m getting a whiff of cordite, mixed with jealousy, rage and madness. Ain’t love grand?

The dark side of love will be the topic of February’s posts and I’m going to kick off the month with the tale of a spurned lover and a special box of chocolates.

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evelyn_weeks_poisoned_chocolatesTwenty-two year old newlywed Evelyn Weeks of Huntington Park wasn’t particularly shocked when, on February 16, 1940, she read in a local newspaper that her former suitor, twenty-nine year old Louis Schostek had been busted by the Feds for sending her what he hoped would be her last Valentine’s Day gift ever, a box of poisoned chocolates.

It wasn’t the first time that Louis had sent his former flame a box of candy. He had tried to gift her with some special chocolates the previous Christmas, but he didn’t have her California address so he mailed the present to her parents, Mr. & Mrs. Frank Jasa, of St. Edwards, Nebraska–they returned the box unopened.

The Jasa’s were well aware of Louis’ obsession with Evelyn, and her fear of him.  The couple had dated for two years before Evelyn ended the relationship. Louis wouldn’t throw down his torch and continued to pester his ex with letters that became increasingly threatening. When another box of chocolates arrived at the Jasa manse on February 6th with a note asking the couple to forward it to their daughter, they decided to investigate. Using the family dog as a guinea pig they fed the trusting canine a few of the candies–the poor thing immediately became violently ill. Fortunately the pooch survived and the Jasa’s, realizing that the candy had been tampered with, called the cops.poisoned_chocolates_1940

Once the local law realized that Louis had broken a federal statute by sending the poisoned chocolates through the U.S. mail they brought in the FBI.

The feds turned up at Schostek’s home in Oconee, Nebraska with a few questions for him. Schostek readily admitted to having sent Evelyn dozens of threatening letters and two boxes of poisoned chocolates. When FBI agents asked him why he’d done it, all Louis could say was:

“I don’t know why I did it.  I guess I was out of my mind.”

Cops Behaving Badly: LAPD Ofcrs. Rice and Robinson

intoxicated_lapd_ofcrs_1940As I’ve said before, cops are only human and as such they are susceptible to all of the same foibles, follies and bad behaviors as are the rest of us.

Have you ever had a few too many and behaved like a jerk? If you answered yes, you should be able to empathize with LAPD Officers Rice and Robinson.

Gideon L. Rice was on duty the morning of March 4, 1940 His shift had ended hours earlier but apparently his drinking had not. He called the station at 1:30 a.m. from his beat at 108th and Main Streets to let the powers that be know that he was still hard at work.

The ungrateful brass were not impressed with Rice’s dedication to duty, particularly since he was obviously shit-faced when he placed the call. The brass were further unimpressed when Officer Rice allegedly made an exhibition of himself in the public view in an 11th Street cafe.

I would love to know how Rice had made an exhibition of himself but, sadly, the newspaper didn’t go into detail.

Gideon felt that his dedication to the job should be rewarded. The fact that he’d been working while inebriated didn’t keep him from demanding to be paid overtime. Unfortunately the Police Commission did not agree with Rice and relived him of duty.

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On the same date that Officer Gideon’s contretemps made the news it was reported that Officer R.S. Robinson had gotten himself in to a booze related jam.

Apparently in his cups, Robinson had attempted to collect coins from the bottom of a wishing well in Chinatown. The tipsy officer drew a crowd, but he didn’t appreciate being the center of attention. He pulled his head out of the wishing well long enough to fire two shots from his revolver and then use it to strike a citizen over the head.

Officer Robinson was suspended for 30 days without pay.

Film Noir Friday: His Girl Friday [1940]

Poster - His Girl Friday_02

Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crime theater is open! Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Tonight’s feature is HIS GIRL FRIDAY directed by Howard Hawks and starring Rosalind Russell, Cary Grant and Ralph Bellamy.

Okay, I realize HIS GIRL FRIDAY is a screwball comedy and not a film noir, but it does revolve, at least in part, around the upcoming execution of a convicted murderer. Besides, I’m in the mood for something light.

TCM says:

Ex-reporter Hildy Johnson, recently divorced from fast-talking newspaper editor Walter Burns, pays him a visit at the office of the Morning Post to tell him that she is marrying mild-mannered insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin. When Hildy enters, Walter is engrossed by the story of the impending execution of Earl Williams, a timid bookkeeper who has been sentenced to die for killing an African-American policeman. To lure Hildy back, Walter lies that his star reporter is preoccupied with the birth of his first child and the paper needs her to cover the story. Hildy rejects Walter’s bait and announces that she is engaged, tired of being a newspaper reporter and now just wants to be a woman. Walter insists upon meeting Hildy’s fiancé and invites them to lunch. At lunch, Walter learns that the couple are leaving with Bruce’s mother, Mrs. Baldwin, on the four o’clock train to Albany. Scheming to win Hildy back, Walter convinces Bruce that only a story written by Hildy can save the wrongly-convicted Williams. Hildy calls Walter’s bluff, but agrees to write the story if Walter will purchase a $100,000 life insurance policy from Bruce.

Let’s begin with a Disney cartoon entitled: DONALD’S CRIME [1945]

Film Noir Friday: Brother Orchid [1940]

brother orchid2

The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Visit our snack bar for a fizzy beverage, a big bag of popcorn and a candy bar. Tonight’s feature is BROTHER ORCHID, starring Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart, Ann Sothern, Donald Crisp, and Allen Jenkins.

From Wikipedia: Crime boss Little John Sarto (Edward G. Robinson) retires suddenly, giving leadership of his gang to Jack Buck (Humphrey Bogart), while he leaves for a tour of Europe to acquire “class”. However, Sarto is repeatedly swindled and finally loses all his money.

He decides to return home and take back his gang, as if nothing has changed after five years, but Buck has him thrown out of his office. The only ones who remain loyal to Sarto are his girlfriend Flo Addams (Ann Sothern) and Willie “the Knife” Corson (Allen Jenkins). Sarto raises a new gang and starts encroaching on Buck’s territory.

http://youtu.be/gOl6X_GPMx8