The Cleaver Widow, Part 2

Jerry Ferreri

Jerry Ferreri

When Betty Laday married Jerry Ferreri in 1943 she had big plans–she believed that she was going to transform her handsome new husband from an indolent, skirt-chasing, playboy into a successful businessman. It never happened.

Jerry browbeat, and occasionally physically beat, Betty into complying with this plan, which required him to do nothing and live on whatever his parents and his wife could provide. Betty worked hard as a carhop and she made a pretty decent living, but what Jerry really wanted her to do was turn tricks. Yes, that’s right–Jerry told his wife if she really loved him she’d prostitute herself for him. Betty did not act on his employment suggestion and stuck with the carhop gig.

It was fortunate for Jerry that his father Victor was a successful politician in New Jersey’s Italian community (make of that what you will). When Jerry and Betty found a beautiful home on South Lucerne Blvd in L.A.’s Hancock Park/Wilshire District, the elder Ferreri’s ponied up the cash to purchase the $35,000 home [$434,857.00 in current U.S. dollars]. Not surprisingly, Betty’s carhop salary and Jerry’s lack of gainful employment wouldn’t have sealed the deal, so neither of them was on the mortgage, it was Jerry’s mother who appeared on the deed.

ferreri house pic

The house was large enough for Betty, Jerry, their 5 year old son Vincent and assorted friends and relatives. Among the residents at the home were Jerry’s cousin Vincent “Charley” D’Angelo (35); Marion James “Val” Graham (24), a professional singer; Allan Aldron (51) a live-in handyman, and Mrs. Maxine Gould (28), who also roomed at the mansion.

All of the residents of the house had heard and seen Jerry verbally and physically abuse Betty, and Charley had once prevented Jerry from harming little Vincent.

On the night of October 26, 1948 Val Graham and Charley D’Angelo witnessed Jerry pick up a fire place poker and attack Betty. Jerry was red-faced and screaming that he was going to kill her.

Graham said: “He had a poker in his hand. Before we could interfere he lunged at Betty with the poker. he swung it hard enough to have killed her if it had hit squarely, but she ducked and the steel bar only knocked her hat off and grazed the top of her head.

“He swung once more–hard. And again he missed. He had started a third swipe of the poker when Charley reached him and held his arm.”

The two men managed to calm Jerry down a bit and persuaded him to leave the house. They told Betty that he probably wouldn’t return that night–but he did.

About 10 minutes after the scene in the living room, Allan Adron returned home from an errand and a few minutes after that Jerry was at the front door.

Charley and Val met Jerry at the door and told him they were going out for a cup of coffee, and they asked him if he wanted to join them but he said:

“No, I’ve got something to take care of.”

Graham and D’Angelo had just seated themselves in the car at the curb in front of the house when they heard two shots and then screams. They ran into the house and found Jerry lying mortally wounded on the floor of the pantry. Allan had shot the man and Betty had taken a meat cleaver and used it to hack Jerry twenty-three times.

The police arrived and took Betty and Allan to the station for questioning. Detectives then began to try to unravel Jerry’s complicated love life while police psychiatrist Paul de River (he was the psychiatrist in the Black Dahlia case) attempted to untangle “the complicated emotional pattern surrounding the Ferreris and to investigate the ‘other woman angle'”.

The cops had discovered that the dead man didn’t have one girlfriend, he had at least two. Motives for his murder were growing exponentially by the second.

An attractive twenty-eight year old blonde, Mrs. Loretta Salisbury Burge had been seeing Jerry for at least eight months prior to his death. The cops found Loretta through a mysterious telegram found at the Ferreri home–it was addressed to Jerry and asked for a rendezvous–it was signed “Three Deuces”. Loretta Burge lived at 222 North St. Andrews Place just a little more than one mile from Jerry’s home.

Loretta Burge

Loretta Burge

Jerry had kept the “three deuces” telegram and he’d also kept a red face powder compact that belonged to neither Betty nor Loretta. The compact was identified as the property of Miss Floy Smock, a twenty-one year old redhead and former model with whom Jerry had been seen in his car on the night of the killing.

Apparently Jerry liked to keep his women close because Floy, like Loretta, lived only blocks from his home.

When detectives asked Floy about Jerry she insisted that they had been very good friends, but that the relationship was “purely platonic”.

Because Floy had been riding around with Jerry in his car on the night of the murder investigators wanted her to provide a detailed recounting of their evening together.

Floy stated:

“On the night of the murder Jerry picked me up about 9 p.m. We drove around awhile. We drove up and down streets and I guess we passed in front of his house.”

Betty said that she had seen her husband driving up and down their street with “some woman”.

She continued:

“At about 10:20 p.m. we stopped by Jerry’s house. He ran inside. Then he came out again and drove me home. I guess it was about 10:35 p.m. then. He drove away, drove back…to that.”

“I can’t tell you any more now.”

Even though it seemed clear what had happened in the the pantry of the Ferreri home, cops know better than to take anything at face value. The coroner still had to weigh in on whether it was the gun shots or the meat cleaver that had ended Jerry’s life.

Would the widow and/or the handyman be charged with murder?

NEXT TIME: The Ferreri case continues with an inquest and a cousin by any other name.


The Cleaver Widow, Part 1

betty ferreri

Betty Ferreri

In 1941, Elizabeth “Betty” Laday was attending college in New Jersey when she stopped by her parents’ cafe in New Brunswick on her way home. One of their best customers, Jerry Ferreri, was chatting up the cashier, Betty’s younger sister: “Why don’t you go out with me?” he asked

Betty stepped in right away with a bit of sisterly advice, “Don’t go out with that man” she said.  Her sister turned Ferreri down.  Whether Betty’s admonition to her sibling was based on a gut feeling about Jerry’s character or on the desire to see the man herself, Betty would have been wise to have heeded her own advice.

She would later recall:

“I’d skip classes to meet him.  I had a head for math and hoped to be a chemist.  When summer came my folds packed me off to Asbury Park, hoping I’d be over it by fall.  But Jerry followed me there and we eloped to New York and were married.”

“They had a three state search out for us, but in late fall we called and told my parents we’d be home for Christmas.  All was forgiven.”

Jerry wasn’t exactly burning with ambition; in fact he was a lousy breadwinner and couldn’t hang on to a job.  Betty thought she could change him.

Jerry Ferreri

Jerry Ferreri

“Jerry’s father was in politics and once I saw a ‘big man’ and got Jerry a civilian job with the Army.  But Jerry pleaded heart trouble, got a desk job and started giving major orders.  That ended that.  And that’s what he wanted.  He wanted me to keep him.”

In 1943, Jerry was arrested at his parents’ home on charges of assault and battery after he had attacked his wife; but Betty had him cleared. Her reason was simple; she didn’t want him to be able to use his record as an excuse for not working.  Jerry was arrested seven times in New Jersey on charges ranging from grand larceny auto to assault with intent to kill, and once he was arrested in New York City for forgery. The forgery rap earned him probation.

It was about that time that Betty discovered she was pregnant, so the Ferreri’s decided to move to Los Angeles to get a fresh start. As they were about to head west they grabbed a bite to eat at the train station; the waitress who served them wrote her phone number on the back of the check she handed to Jerry.  Betty wasn’t surprised: “Women just fell for him and even gave him money.  He was what you would call a great lover.” A great lover, maybe; a faithless and abusive husband, definitely.

Their move to Los Angeles didn’t change anything in the Ferreri’s marriage. Jerry continued to be unemployed, all the while suggesting ways in which Betty might support him–most of them pretty disgusting. The least objectionable, and one of the only legal options that Jerry gave her, was to find work as a carhop.

Betty did very well as a carhop; she brought in $400 a month (equivalent to $3882 per month in 2014 U.S. dollars).  But Jerry was still not satisfied and he told his wife he wanted a Cadillac. Betty bought one for him. During the first few years of their marriage she had learned an important lesson: “…when I gave him the things he wanted, everything went well”.

Betty’s tolerance of Jerry’s behavior could not last forever: “You can’t hate anyone unless you’ve loved them.” she said

On October 26, 1948 the Ferreri home erupted in violence and bloodshed.

NEXT TIME:  A meat cleaver and three deuces.

Film Noir Friday: The Big Clock [1948]


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 BIG CLOCK (1948).  Directed by John Farrow and starring Ray Milland, Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Sullivan — this is one of my favorites.  Enjoy the film!

TCM Says:

As George Stroud, editor-in-chief of Crimeways magazine, hides from security guards in the clock tower of the Janoth Publications building in New York City, he reflects on the fact that thirty-six hours before, he was leading a normal life as a Janoth employee: George, who is finally about to go on his honeymoon after seven years of marriage, is ordered by his tyrannical boss, Earl Janoth, to go on assignment or be fired. Fed up with being loyal to a firm that is jeopardizing his family life, George quits. He then joins Janoth’s mistress, Pauline York, in a bar and misses his honeymoon train while drowning his sorrows. Pauline, also tired of Janoth’s egocentric manipulations, offers to help George humiliate Janoth by writing a torrid biography of him.

Film Noir Friday, On Saturday! The Scar (aka Hollow Triumph) [1948]

THE_SCARWelcome!  The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open — a day late. It took us a while to to scrape gum off of the floor and throw away the old popcorn boxes and soda cups. Find a seat and get comfortable. Tonight’s offering is THE SCAR starring Paul Henreid and Joan Bennett.

 TCM says:

After serving a jail sentence, gangster John Muller is offered a job by his parole officer at the Meiklejohn company in Los Angeles. Before he settles down, John is anxious to perform one more heist, and convinces his former gang to help him rob a gambling house owned by rival mobster Rocky Stansyck. While escaping with the cash, gang members Big Boy and Rosie are caught by Stansyck, but John and his friend Marcy escape.

Marcy, who is terrified that Stansyck’s men will hunt him down and kill him, moves to Mexico, while John accepts the job at Meiklejohn. Later John’s brother Frederick tells him that Marcy was murdered in Mexico City and that Stansyck’s men have tracked John to Los Angeles.

One day while running an office errand, John is mistaken for a psychologist named Victor Bartok, who, except for a scar on his face, could easily pass as John’s double.

I sense a twisted plan of stolen identity!

Parole, Inc. [1948]


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 offering is a “B” film from 1948 starring Michael O’Shea, Turhan Bey, and Evelyn Ankers.

Turner Classic Movies says:

As federal agent Richard Hendricks lies badly hurt in a hospital, he dictates a full report for the bureau chief on his last assignment: Richard is hired by the governor, attorney general Whitmore and police commissioner Hughes to go undercover as parole violator Richard Murdock in order to expose a corrupt parole board.

Enjoy the film!

Hollywood Cinderella, Part 1

madge portraitMarjorie Massow was an Iowa Falls, Iowa girl — but she didn’t want to be one all of her life. She had big dreams so she moved to Hollywood to make them come true.

Even pretty girls like Marjorie could find Hollywood tough going; it wasn’t always as simple as getting off a Greyhound bus and into a starring role, no matter what the movie magazines said. Instead of working on a sound stage, Marjorie found herself ringing up lunch specials at the cash register in the 20th Century-Fox commissary. Even though she wasn’t working as an actress, Marjorie saw movie stars every day and she felt sure that  she’d catch a break — after all everyone knew that Lana Turner had been discovered in a Hollywood drugstore.

Lana Turner

Lana Turner

The Iowa City girl got lucky, and in 1944 she was plucked out from behind the cash register and cast for a role in “Take It or Leave It”. Marjorie only made a couple of films for 20th Century-Fox, but they were enough to whet her appetite for more.

By 1946 Marjorie had adopted the stage name of Madge Meredith and she was working for RKO. She was cast opposite Tom Conway in “The Falcon’s Adventure”, and later that year she appeared in “Trail Street” with Randolph Scott, Robert Ryan, and Anne Jeffries.

RKO terminated Madge’s contract early in 1947, and in a few short months her life went from bad to much worse.

hollywood cinderella soughtOn July 2, 1947, Madge was in the headlines, but it wasn’t because she was starring in a film — the actress was being sought for questioning in a kidnapping case!

Nick Gianaclis, Madge’s business manager and a restaurant supply man, had filed a complaint in which he said that he and his body guard, Verne Davis, had been kidnapped, beaten, and taken out to Lopez Canyon from where they had managed to escape. According to Gianaclis, he and Davis had caught the man who was watching them off guard and relieved him of his weapon. They ran to a ranch house and called the cops.

In Nick’s statement to Capt. W.T. Deal and Det. Sgt. S.W. Robinson of the L.A. County Sheriffs Department, he said:

“It was about 9 a.m. Monday, Davis and I were on the way to work. When we reached the bottom of the hill at Laurel Canyon Road, we met Marjorie Massow driving a new maroon convertible couple. She motioned to us to turn around and follow her up the hill to the house. So we did.”

The house to which Nick referred in his statement was in the Hollywood Hills, and it was at the center of a nasty dispute between he and Madge.  About 200 yards from the house, Nick told officers, the actress turned her car to block the road. Gianaclis said that when he stopped a third car drove up behind him.

“There they are! Go get them!” Nick quoted Madge as saying.

Three men got out of the car to the rear, Gianaclis said, and while two of them covered the victims with guns, the third administered a beating with a blackjack.

“We were ordered into the rear of the car. While we were being driven for more than an hour, we were struck from time to time–just about every time we moved. When we finally stopped in a hilly area, the man called Jim taped our eyes. Then they made us crawl over some rocks and through heavy brush. They left a guard to watch us.”

Gianaclis said his wallet containing $85 cash and a cashier’s check for $4,000 had been stolen.

Police later located Gianaclis’ allegedly stolen wallet at his home, but then Davis said that the men had taken the money from Gianaclis’ pocket NOT his wallet. The minor inconsistency in Nick’s story didn’t seem to bother anyone, and a warrant was issued for Madge’s arrest.

Madge surrendered herself to Sheriff’s deputies Lt. Pete Sutton and Sgt. M.W. Skelly at the Public Library. The meeting had been arranged by her attorney, Ward Sullivan

When she was questioned, Madge told a tale that was quite different from the statements given by Gianaclis and Davis.

She said that Nick had threatened her many times about ownership of the house, and that he had arranged a meeting in the Hollywood Hills on the day of the kidnapping to discuss the property rights.

Madge told the police that on the way to the meeting, as she was driving up the steep, winding road, she became frightened when she noticed that she was being followed by a car driven by Nick. When she reached the meeting place in Laurel Canyon, Madge said that Nick forced her automobile to the curb. When she attempted to escape, she said that he threatened her with a length of pipe.


Madge’s standing mugshot.


Damon Klinkenberg

Nick filed a formal complaint against Madge and three men for robbery, kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon.

The men in the kidnapping case had been identified as: Damon William Klinkenberg, 21, a cook; Albert W. Tucker, 29, nurseryman, and James Alfred Hatfield, 33, former Beverly Hills policeman.

Madge was released on $5,000 bail, her co-defendants were held in the County Jail in lieu of $10,000 bail each.

The case against the alleged kidnappers went to trial. Davis and Gianaclis testified that they’d heard one of the men say that the trio were “getting $2,000 from Massow for this job.”

Madge's standing mugshot.

James Hatfield

Nick sobbed out his testimony saying:

“They beat me with blackjacks and guns even though I told them I would given them money if that was what they were after”. They taped my eyes and forced me to lie down in the back of their car and drove away with me.”

Madge was called to testify about her dispute with Nick over the house:

“I fell in love with the house, but was $5000 short on the purchase price. I called on several of my friends for aid and finally Nick said he would put up $5000 to complete the transaction. I took out two life insurance policies  to protect Nick’s investment.”

Madge testified that Nick had duped her. He’d gotten her to sign a deed to the house, not a mortgage, so that he would be part owner. She’d trusted him, she said, and he had betrayed her.

Albert Tucker

Albert Tucker

Ward Sullivan and Abbott Bernay, Madge’s attorneys, said she was “scared to death” after Nick threatened to “get her” over the lawsuit involving the home at 8444 Magnolia Drive in the Hollywood Hills.

The trial lasted for four weeks and on December 12, 1947, the jury of 11 women and 1 man returned guilty verdicts for each of the defendants.

Madge was found guilty of five felony charges involving the kidnapping of Nick. Two of her co-defendants, Albert Tucker and Damon Klinkenberg, were also convicted. A fourth defendant, James Hatfield, the former Beverly Hills cop, was found guilty only on the possession of a deadly weapon charge.

Madge said she had been framed. She was remanded to County Jail pending a new hearing, but the motion for a new  trial was denied.

Madge was sentenced to from 5 to life in Tehachapi; Albert Tucker was sent to San Quentin; Damon Klinkenberg received three 60 day County Jail sentences to run concurrently, and James Hatfield was confined for just 30 days.

Imposition of Madge’s prison sentence was postponed indefinitely pending the outcome of an appeal; however, she was incarcerated in County Jail while she waited.

Finally, in October 1948, Madge was freed on a $15,000 bond; she had served 11 months in jail. Of her time in the County Jail she said:

“At first I was on ‘hard time’. That is when you feel you didn’t get a fair break. Persecuted. You know–‘we wuz robbed’ sort of thing.”

“Sometimes you couldn’t even imagine what it was like to walk down a street or take a drive out by the ocean.

But I like to work and I looked forward to getting to be a trusty so I’d have something to do. I volunteered for any kind of work. Then one day they took me to the sewing room–I, who never could sew–and put me to work. I can sew now all right.”

“And pretty soon I was on ‘easy time'”.

To add to her woes, while she was out pending an appeal, Madge was sued for $65,732 for damages by one of her alleged victims, Verne Davis. The civil suit charged that “under Miss Meredith’s direction” three men had pulled him out of a car, beat him repeatedly with their fists and a blackjack over a two hour period, and taped his eyes and mouth shut before releasing him.  Nick testified on Verne’s behalf.

Madge and her three co-conspirators were ordered to pay $4,050 in damages to Verne V. Davis.

In March 1949 Madge lost her appeal in the kidnapping case, and on April 25, 1949 Madge surrendered to police to begin her term in Tehachapi Women’s Prison.

Madge told reporters:

“I know in my own heart I’m innocent of any crime and some day, someone will believe the truth about what I say.”

NEXT TIME:  The truth will out.