Elizabeth Short was in Los Angeles on December 5, 1946. She left for San Diego on December 8. She had fewer than 6 weeks to live.
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 SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT  starring John Hodiak, Richard Conte, Nancy Guild and Lloyd Nolan.
After a World War II injury, George Taylor’s (John Hodiak) memory of his life is fuzzy, to say the least. In an effort to reverse his amnesia, he tracks down alleged murderer and thief Larry Garter, from whom he received a letter. Along the way, he meets lounge singer Christy Smith (Nancy Guild) and police inspector Donald Kendall (Lloyd Nolan). They aid him in the search for Garter and his stolen loot, but all find themselves mired in a much bigger mystery than they anticipated.
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 BLACK ANGEL starring Dan Duryea, June Vincent, and Peter Lorre.
When Kirk Bennett is convicted of a singer’s murder, his wife tries to prove him innocent…aided by the victim’s ex-husband.
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 SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT, 1946, starring Lloyd Nolan and Richard Conte.
A U.S. Marine recovering from a combat injury in a Navy hospital in Hawaii suffers from undiagnosed amnesia, and while others call him George Taylor, he has no memory of that man. Upon recovery from his wounds, George is transferred to the hospital at Camp Pendleton, California, and is eventually discharged, even though he still has no memory. He returns to his old civilian address at the Martin Hotel in Los Angeles, but no one recognizes him there. At Union Station, he exchanges a bag check he found in his sea bag for a briefcase, which contains a gun and a three-year-old letter to a man named George stating that $5,000 has been deposited for him in a bank account by Larry Cravat.
Amnesia, guns, and money!
Enjoy the movie!
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 the LADY OF BURLESQUE (aka THE G-STRING MURDERS) directed by William A. Wellman and starring Barbara Stanwyck and Michael O’Shea.
If you’re not familiar with Craig Rice, she wrote mystery novels and short stories, and is sometimes described as “the Dorothy Parker of detective fiction.” She was the first mystery writer to appear on the cover of Time Magazine, on January 28, 1946.
Before we roll the feature, let’s enjoy one of Gypsy Rose Lee’s dance routines–followed by a clip from a Tex Avery cartoon starring the lecherous wolf character.
Turner Classic Movies says this about LADY OF BURLESQUE:
S. B. Foss, owner of the Old Opera House on Broadway in New York City, promotes his new recruit, burlesque dancer Dixie Daisy, hoping that she will draw a large audience. Dixie’s performance draws cheers from the crowds and from comedian Biff Brannigan, who ardently admires Dixie even though she hates comics because of past experiences with them. When someone cuts the wire to the light backstage that signals the presence of the police, the performers are surprised by a raid, and pandemonium ensues. As Dixie flees through a coal chute, someone grabs her from behind and tries to strangle her, but her assailant escapes when a stagehand comes along.
Seventy-two years ago on January 8, 1947, Robert “Red” Manley drove to the home of Elvera and Dorothy French in Pacific Beach, in the San Diego area, to pick up a young woman he’d met about a month earlier. Her name was Elizabeth Short.
Red was a twenty-five year old salesman and occasional saxophone player, with a wife and 4-month-old baby at home. The Manley’s had been married for fifteen months and lived in a bungalow court in one of L.A.’s many suburbs. Red and his wife had had “some misunderstandings” as they adjusted to marriage and parenthood. Perhaps restless and feeling unsure about his decision to marry, Red decided to “make a little test to see if I were still in love with my wife.” The woman Red used to test his love for his wife was twenty-two year old Elizabeth Short.
Dorothy French met Beth on the night of December 9, 1946 at the all-night movie theater, the Aztec, on Fifth Avenue. Dorothy worked as a cashier at the ticket window and she noticed that Beth seemed at loose ends. When her shift ended at 3 a.m., Dorothy offered to take Beth back to the Bayview Terrace Navy housing unit she shared with her mother and a younger brother. Beth was glad to abandon the theater seat for a more comfortable sofa.If the French family thought that Beth would stay a night or two and then move on, they were mistaken. She stayed for a month.
Elvera and Dorothy got tired of Beth couch surfing and contributing nothing to the household. Beth could have at least paid for groceries, she received a money order for $100 from a former boyfriend, Gordon Fickling, yet she spent much of her time compulsively writing letters, many of which she never sent.
One of the unsent letters was to Gordon. In the letter dated December 13, 1946, Beth wrote:
“I do hope you ﬁnd a nice girl to kiss at midnight on new years eve. It would have been wonderful if we belonged to each other now. I’ll never regret coming West to see you. You didn’t take me in your arms and keep me there. However it was nice as long as it lasted.”
The French family had another complaint about their house guest–despite her claims, there was no evidence that Beth ever looked for work. Beth wrote to her mother, Phoebe, that she was working for the Red Cross, or in a VA Hospital, but it was just one of her many lies. Her letters home never revealed her transient lifestyle–nothing about couch surfing, borrowing money to eat, or accepting rides from strange men.
Beth could have found a job if she wanted one. She worked in a delicatessen in Florida as a teenager and at the post exchange (PX) at Camp Cooke (now Vandenberg Air Force Base). Her new acquaintance, Red Manley, arranged with a friend of his to get her a job interview–but she didn’t follow-up.
When Red heard from his friend that Beth hadn’t made it to the job interview, he was worried enough to write to her to find out if she was okay. She said she was fine but didn’t like San Diego, she wanted to return to Los Angeles. She asked Red if he’d help her out, and he agreed.
The drive from San Diego to Los Angeles was Red’s love test. If nothing happened with Beth then he would know that he and his wife were meant to be together. But if he and Beth clicked, he’d have a tough decision to make.
Beth and Red weren’t on the road for long before they stopped at a roadside motel for the night. They went out for dinner and drinks before returning to their room to go to bed. Did Red have butterflies in his stomach? How did he want the love test to turn out?
Red must have known the decision was ultimately Beth’s. They never shared more than a kiss. She spent the night in a chair and he took the bed.
The pair left the motel at about 12:20 p.m. on January 9, 1947 for Los Angeles.
Beth had about one week to live.
Next time: The Black Dahlia–Last Seen
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 BLACK ANGEL (based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich) starring Dan Duryea, June Vincent, Peter Lorre and Broderick Crawford.
A falsely convicted man’s wife, Catherine (June Vincent), and an alcoholic composer and pianist, Martin (Dan Duryea), team up in an attempt to clear her husband of the murder of a blonde singer, who is Martin’s wife. Their investigation leads them to face-to-face confrontations with a determined policeman (Broderick Crawford) and a shifty nightclub owner (Peter Lorre), who Catherine and Martin suspect may be the real killer.
Enjoy the film!
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 PASSKEY TO DANGER staring Kane Richmond and Stephanie Bachelor.
Enjoy the movie!
Perplexed by a new advertisement designed for his company by advertising man Tex Hanlon, New York fashion designer Malcolm Tauber asks Hanlon to explain how the ad, which contains little more than the words “The Three Springs,” represents his company’s product. Hanlon, however, reminds Tauber that their contract stipulates that the mystery can only be revealed in the final installment of the ad campaign. Gwen Hughes, Tauber’s assistant and Hanlon’s sweetheart, helped design the Three Springs ad, which consists of three pictured models, each wearing a different fashion, with captions reading “Palm Springs,” “Saratoga Springs” and “Colorado Springs.” While Gwen and Hanlon admire their creation, a threatening note is slipped under the door of Hanlon’s office, but Hanlon believes that it is a hoax. Just outside his office, Hanlon walks into the path of a mysterious woman named Renee Beauchamps, who asks for a job with his firm and tries to abscond with his portfolio.
On October 24, 1946, Tony Adams limped into Judge Leroy Dawson’s courtroom and was formally charged with the murder of California Highway Patrolman Steve Sodel. He was also indicted for grand theft of the Chevy sedan which belonged to Jeanne Trude. Adams was manacled to Lieutenant John Law of the sheriff’s department, presumably to prevent him from making another escape attempt. Adams’ attorney, William E. Turner, waived reading of the complaint and Judge Dawson set a hearing date.
Adams, an occasional artist’s model, had at least one person in his corner. Beverly Lounsbury, 23, ex-cashier at a Sunset Strip night club that was one of Adams’ regular night spots. Lounsbury visited Adams in the County Jail on the morning of his arraignment. She said that Adams had broken a date with her for the night before Sodel’s murder. Lounsbury told Lieutenant Law, “I feel sorry for him and wanted to tell him so. He told me you fellows didn’t believe him when he said he threw the gun away but he swore he was telling the truth.”
A jury of nine women and three men was selected to determine Adams’ fate. Attorney William Turner must have worked hard to get nine women on the jury. There was no doubt that Adams was a handsome guy, referred to in the newspapers at the Playboy Killer. Perhaps, if he was lucky, the women jurors could be swayed by the defendant’s good looks. Adams was going to need all the luck he could get. He had drawn Judge Charles W. Fricke. The judge was a former prosecutor with a reputation for being a tough on lawbreakers. For their part, the prosecutors John Barnes and Fred Henderson didn’t care what Adams looked like, they made it clear that they intended to seek the gas chamber for the alleged cop killer.
Beverly Lounsbury found a seat in spectator section of Fricke’s courtroom. She told reporters “I’m not sure myself that Tony is guilty of the crime they charge him with. He needs a friend and I’m going to stick by him.”
One of the prosecution witnesses was a former girlfriend of Adams’, Jeanne Louise Smith. The car hop testified that she and Adams had dated briefly while she was separated from her husband. On the evening of September 14, Adams had shown up at her workplace to show her something. “He called me to the rear of the drive-in stand and showed me this gun. I asked him what he was doing with it, but he didn’t answer. He merely stood there, holding the gun in one hand and jingling a bunch of cartridges in his other hand.” Unfamiliar with guns, Smith was shown several different types of firearms but she was unable to say whether Adams had shown her a revolver or another type of gun.
Frances Sodel, the slain officer’s widow, took the stand and, wiping away tears, she identified a photo of her husband and articles of clothing which were discovered in the shallow grave with Steve Sodel’s bullet riddled body.
Frederic D. Newbarr had performed the autopsy on Sodel and he testified that the officer had been shot in the chest five times.
Jack Singleton identified Adams as the man who had stopped him and asked for help in extricating his car from sand alongside the road. Singleton said he had a feeling that the car was hot, so when he saw Officer Sodel he flagged him down and reported his suspicions. Sodel took off after the black sedan.
In his testimony service station operator John Rose said “I heard sounds of automobiles traveling at a high rate of speed and then a black Chevrolet zoomed east on Jefferson closely followed by a California Highway Patrol car. Neither car made the boulevard stop and I think they were going about 65 or 70 miles an hour. I knew the Highway patrol car was Sodel’s because I had seen it many times before.” Rose said he watched both cars disappear from view, then he went back to work.
Jeanne Trude told the court how Adams had introduced himself to her and a girlfriend, movie extra, Elyse Pearl Brown, at the Jococo Club. She said Adams accompanied them to Dave’s Blue Room on the Sunset Strip where, “Miss Brown and myself ordered dinner at Dave’s but Tony just asked for a cup of coffee. He said he was suffering from malaria. Then he excused himself and left. I didn’t see him again, but when I went to get my car I discovered it was gone. I saw it again two weeks later and instead of being gray it was painted black–and not very well, at that.”
The hat-check girl/former cashier and reputed girl friend of the defendant testified that he had visited her a couple of days prior to the slaying. He had a gun, a handful of cartridges and an electric razor he claimed he had won in a poker game the previous night. Adams wanted her to hold the gun for him but she refused. He then told her to “keep quiet about the whole thing.”
One of Adams’ neighbors, Gordon Briggs, testified that he had seen him wearing a paint stained work shirt late in the afternoon of September 17. When Briggs asked about the stains Adams told him, “I’ve been helping a friend fix some pipes.”
Adams’ explanation for the paint was refuted by Police Chemist Ray Pinker. Pinker said he took samples of paint from the stolen car and matched them to the paint on Adams’ work shirt. They were identical. Pinker had also examined the undercarriage of the stolen car for evidence and had found weeds similar to those found near Sodel’s shallow grave.
Adams’ defense opened their case with two alibi witnesses. The first was Armand Martinez who worked at a cafe at 219 N. Vermont Avenue. He told jurors that Adams couldn’t have committed the murder because he was in the cafe lunching with a beautiful blonde at the time of the crime.
Next on the witness stand was Alvin Faith, a bartender. At 3 p.m. on the day of Sodel’s disappearance he said that Adams was in his bar. “Adams had a nosebleed. So I got him some ice and told him to go back to the restroom.”
Fletcher Herndon, an employee of the Studio Club at 3668 Beverly Boulevard, said that Adams was a frequent customer and had been in at about 11 p.m. on September 17 and asked whether a woman named Selznick had been in looking for him. Selznick?! At the mention of the name name Adams grimaced at Herndon and began to shake his head vigorously back and forth. Herndon didn’t get the message fast enough. He said it was his understanding that the woman was married to a “movie man”. Is it possible that Irene Mayer Selznick, wife of producer David O. Selznick, was seeing pretty boy Tony Adams? In Hollywood, anything is possible.
Adams’ attorneys decided to put their client on the stand to testify in his own defense. Under direct examination by William Turner, Adams denied being Sodel’s killer. Once Turner had finished Prosecutor John Barnes grilled Adams in a blistering cross-examination.
The only thing Adams would admit to was that he had accompanied Jeanne Trude from the Jococo Club to Dave’s Blue Room. He claimed that he left the table when he realized he didn’t have funds sufficient to pay for dinner. Rather than face the embarrassment, he left. In the parking lot Adams claimed he met a “Mr. Cudahy”–a guy he knew from one of the bars in town–and they’d driven downtown looking for women to pick up.
According to Adams, the mysterious Mr. Cudahy told him he as leaving for New York the next evening and offered Adams a ride. They arranged to meet the next day. Adams said they drove to Las Vegas, but he discovered Cudahy was carrying a box filled with guns. Adams said he “ditched” Cudahy and went on to New York by bus. He told the court “The first time I knew I was wanted for any crime was when I heard it over the radio on a murder program. When my name was mentioned you could have knocked me through the floor.”
Adams claimed the statements he’d made to New York City detectives, in which he had copped to stealing Jean Trude’s car and getting rid of two guns the day following Sodel’s murder, had been made under duress. Adams said he was questioned continuously by a group of at least 6 detectives. One of them, he said, kept slamming a blackjack on the table and telling Adams that he was a candidate for Harts Field (a local pauper’s cemetery in).
In closing arguments the prosecutors wove together all of the circumstantial evidence that linked the defendant to the murder. They made a compelling case.
The Defense Attorneys John Irwin and William Turner weren’t left with much. All they could do was maintain that the State had failed to prove its case. They said that there was no definite link between Adams and the murder of Steve Sodel.
The jurors would have to weigh the evidence and testimony and make up their own minds.
The jury deliberated for four hours before notifying Judge Fricke that they had reached a verdict. Frances Sodel said beside another CHP widow, Mrs. Loren Roosevelt as they waited for the verdict to be read. Adams, dressed in a brown pin-striped suit, sat at the defense table with his head in his hands. Jury foreman Edward A. Mohr handed the decision to the court clerk, who then handed it to Judge Fricke. Adams was found guilty of the murder of Steve Sodel. But rather than the gas chamber the jury recommended life without parole.
Why hadn’t the jury handed Adams, a cold-blooded cop killer, a ticket to California’s gas chamber? Evidently the verdict was a compromise, reached when one of the female jurors declared that she would, “sit in the jury room for six months if if necessary” rather than condemn Adams to death.
After hearing the verdict, Adams posed for news photographers and said, “I am satisfied with the jury’s verdict. My attorneys, Richard Erwin and William Turner, have given me a fair shake. I’m very lucky.”
Certainly luckier than Steve Sodel and his family.
Epilogue — According to records, Tony Adams arrived at San Quentin on February 1, 1947. Adams’ prison register indicates that he was married with one child. His marital status never came up at trial, although his numerous girlfriends and other female acquaintance did. It is entirely possible that he abandoned his wife and child, likely in New York. One wonders if his wife and child ever knew where he went or what happened to him. Adams didn’t spent much time at San Quentin before being transferred to Folsom Prison on April 17, 1947. As far as I know he remained there until he was paroled. I haven’t been able to discover the date of his parole, but I sincerely hope his looks were long gone by the time he was released. He had a reputation for using women by trading on his looks. Several women to whom he owed money came forward to talk to sheriff’s department detectives. I prefer to believe that by the time he left prison he had nothing left to trade. Albert Anthony Adams died in Huntington Beach, California on August 15, 2000.
A bronze memorial plaque honoring Steve Sodel was set in cement at the base of a tree at the Sheriff’s Honor Farm (known as Wayside) in Castaic by Sheriff’s Department American Legion Star Post 309.
Note: Many thanks to my friend, Mike Fratantoni, for sharing this story with me.
While the search for Tony Adams, suspected of the kidnapping and murder of CHP Officer Steve Sodel continued, detectives dug into the background of the wanted man.
Adams had served time in New York for grand larceny and he had been AWOL from Camp Rucker, Alabama, since May 1944. He was obviously a crook, but was he a killer?
Based on the forensic science evidence there wasn’t much doubt that Adams had pulled the trigger of the gun that ended Patrolman Sodel’s life. A bullet removed from the dead officer’s body was a match for a slug found in the abandoned, bloodstained sedan discovered near Las Vegas. Tire impressions taken at the location where Sodel’s patrol car was found corresponded to tire tracks found at the place where his body was hastily buried. The most damning evidence against Adams was verified by the Sheriff’s Department—they said fingerprints taken from the left door of the impounded death car belonged to wanted ex-con and Army deserter.
Twelve days after the murder there were several reported sightings of the fugitive in LA. Cops thought that Adams had fled the state, but someone answering his description was seen one or two blocks from the West Los Angeles Police Station. None of the leads panned out. If Adams was in LA he was proving impossible to find.
Within a week of the LA sightings of Adams he was busted in New York City. He may have been running home to his mother, Josephine, a resident of the city. In a bone-headed attempt to evade capture the fugitive jumped from a two-story window and injured himself.
He was in a wheel chair when he appeared before a U.S. Commissioner in New York on October 8. Adams denied everything. Accompanied by Captain Gordon Bowers, head of the Sheriff’s bureau of investigation and Inspector Mark Benson of the California Highway Patrol, Adams was returned to LA to stand trial.
Adams was also suspected of the June 5, 1946 slaying of CHP Officer Loren Cornwell Roosevelt. The murder had some similarities to Sodel’s murder. It wasn’t until six months later that Roosevelt’s real killer, Erwin ‘Machine Gun’ Walker, was apprehended. Walker was tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Due to some legal twists and turns Walker was released on parole in 1974. He legally changed his name, became employed as a chemist, and vanished from public view. He died in 1982 without ever showing remorse for the cold-blooded murder of Officer Roosevelt.
When Adams arrived at Union Station downtown he was immediately shackled to the aptly named Lieutenant John Law of the Sheriff’s Department.
Adams told detectives that he had run across the country in a panic after he came to from black-out drunk episode to find Sodel’s patrolman’s cap and service weapon in his hands. The story was likely a pathetic attempt by the suspect to lessen his responsibility. And, in my opinion, his tale of being too drunk to recall the murder further unraveled when he managed to remember enough about the immediate aftermath of the crime to direct a car full of deputies to a vacant lot in which they found a charred fragment of the plaid seat cover from the stolen black Chevy sedan.
The deputies drove Adams around until they reached Alameda Street between Seventh and Third Streets. It was in that area, the suspect contended, that he had ditched the guns (his and Sodel’s). Unfortunately no trace of either weapon was found.
On October 23, 1946, Adams told reporters “I have confessed to nothing. I’m innocent of the charge and with God’s help the world will soon know it.” His attorneys said “Adams told us that he has been in a daze since his arrest, but that he has admitted nothing to the officers.”
For a dazed man Adams had managed to accomplish a lot. He’d successfully evaded arrest for weeks following the murder, and he had had the presence of mind to dispose of evidence in such a manner that detectives had been unable to locate it some of it. Imagine what he could do if he wasn’t in a daze.
Next time: Will a jury believe Tony Adams?
Note: Watch HE WALKED BY NIGHT, based on the Erwin ‘Machine Gun’ Walker case. It is one of my favorite films noir.