Film Noir Friday: Undertow [1949]

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 UNDERTOW starring Scott Brady, John Russell, Dorothy Hart, and Peggy Dow.

TCM says:

After buying a half-interest in a small lodge near Reno, Tony Reagan, a recently discharged veteran, runs into Danny Morgan, an old friend from Chicago. Danny, who operates a Reno casino owned by Chicago racketeer Big Jim Lee, offers Tony a job, but Tony declines, stating that he gave up the “business” long ago. Tony shows Danny the engagement ring he plans to give Sally Lee, Big Jim’s niece and ward, and Danny, in turn, shows off the ring he has bought for his girl. Confident and carefree, Tony then helps novice gambler Ann McKnight win at the craps table.

 

Film Noir Friday — Sunday Matinee: Manhandled [1949]

Welcome to Film Noir Friday — Sunday Matinee! 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 MANHANDLED starring Dorothy Lamour, Dan Duryea and Sterling Hayden.  Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Unemployed writer Alton Bennet tells psychiatrist Dr. Redman about his nightmares, in which he dreams that he murders his wealthy wife Ruth with a heavy perfume bottle. Redman’s secretary, Merl Kramer, takes notes as Bennet denies coveting his wife’s jewels, which are worth $100,000. After Bennet is refused an advance from his publishers, he becomes jealous of Ruth’s close relationship with handsome young architect Guy Bayard, who is designing their new beach house.

 

Film Noir Friday — Holiday Edition: The Crooked Way [1949]

 

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. Because it is Memorial Day, today’s film, THE CROOKED WAY, features a tale about a WWII war hero suffering from amnesia.  The film stars John Payne, Sonny Tufts and Ellen Drew.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Eddie Rice, a veteran suffering from amnesia, returns to Los Angeles from a San Francisco veterans hospital hoping to learn who he is and discovers that he is a gangster named Eddie Riccardi and has a police record. Although he does not know it, five years earlier, Eddie was acquitted of murder after turning state’s evidence for homicide detective Lieutenant Joe Williams. His partner, Vince Alexander, took the “rap” and spent two years in prison. On a Los Angeles street, a woman recognizes Eddie and reports him to Vince, who sends his thugs to beat up Eddie.

 

Film Noir Friday: Take One False Step [1949]

 

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 TAKE ONE FALSE STEP starring William Powell, Shelley Winters, Marsha Hunt and James Gleason.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Prof. Andrew Gentling, in Los Angeles to help found a new college, is inveigled by old flame Catherine Sykes into a midnight drive. Next day Catherine is missing, believed killed; friend Martha convinces Andrew that he’s a prime suspect and should investigate before he’s arrested. But this only puts Andrew in a more deadly kind of danger.

 

The Black Dahlia: Conclusion

Two years passed with police no closer to a solution for the murder of Elizabeth Short. The 1949 Los Angeles Grand Jury intended to hold LAPD’s feet to the fire for failing to solve the Dahlia case and several other unsolved homicides and disappearances of women.

On September 6, 1949 the jury’s foreman, Harry Lawson, told reporters that a meeting of the jury’s administrative committee was scheduled for September 8. First on the committee’s agenda were the unsolved homicides. Lawson said:

“There is every possibility that we will summon before the jury officers involved in the investigation of these murders. We find it odd that there are on the books of the Los Angeles Police Deportment many unsolved crimes of this type.”

The Grand Jury further concluded that:

“Because of the nature of these murder and sex crimes women and children are constantly placed in jeopardy and are not safe from attack.”

They also decided that something:

” is radically wrong with the present system for apprehending the guilty, the alarming increase in the number of unsolved murders and other major crimes reflects ineffectiveness in law enforcement agencies and the courts and that should not be tolerated.”

jeanne and frank pic

I would argue that the jury and law enforcement had not yet adapted to changes in the post-war world. Cops were unaccustomed to stranger murders; and I believe several of the women whose cases they had been investigating were killed or taken by either a complete stranger or a recent acquaintance.

Then, as now, when a woman is murdered her killer is usually her husband, boyfriend or another man in her life. It is my contention that it wasn’t corruption within law enforcement agencies that prevented them from solving the crimes. The police were doing solid detective work, but their investigative methods hadn’t caught up with the times. There were men walking the streets of Los Angeles who had been severely damaged by their war experiences–how many of them were capable of murder?

 Murder Car -- this is the auto in which the body of Mrs. Louise Springer was found slain. The car was parked at 136 W. 38th St. The discover has touched off the widest man hunt since the slaying of the Black Dahlia.

Murder Car — this is the auto in which the body of Mrs. Louise Springer was found slain. The car was parked at 136 W. 38th St. The discovery touched off the widest man hunt since the slaying of the Black Dahlia.

LAPD detectives were diligent in their investigation into Short’s slaying. There were more than 2700 reports taken on the case. There were over 300 named suspects. Fifty had been arrested and subsequently released. There had been nineteen confessions–none of which panned out.

In 1949 the DA’s office issued a report on the investigation into Short’s murder. In part the report stated:

“[she] knew at least fifty men at the time of her death and at least 25 men had been seen with her within the 60 day period preceding her death. She was not a prostitute. She has been confused with a Los Angeles prostitute by the same name…She was known as a teaser of men. She would ride with them, chisel a place to sleep, clothes or money, but she would then refuse to have sexual intercourse by telling them that she was a virgin or that she was engaged or married. There were three known men who did have sexual intercourse with her and according to them she got no pleasure out of this act. According to the autopsy surgeon her sex organs indicated female trouble. She was known to have disliked queer women very much as well as prostitutes. She was never known to be a narcotic addict.”

 

Jean Spangler [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Jean Spangler [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Good intentions didn’t get the grand jury any concrete answers to the unsolved homicides or disappearances.. The jury was sidetracked by the continuing saga of local gangster Mickey Cohen and other issues which demanded their attention. In the end they passed the baton to the 1950 grand jury — which also found itself sidetracked by other issues.

Despite the efforts of the grand jury, the homicides or disappearances of the following women remain unsolved to this day: Elizabeth Short, Jeanne French, Rosenda Mondragon, Laura Trelstad, Gladys Kern, Louise Springer, Mimi Boomhower, and Jean Spangler — and this is not a complete list.

What happened to the women who disappeared?  It is unlikely that we will ever know. It is also unlikely that the identify of the killer(s) of the murder victims will ever be discovered.  Of course people will always speculate about the cases, and every few years a book about the Black Dahlia slaying will emerge claiming to have solved the decades long cold case. None of the books I’ve read so far has seemed entirely credible to me. I find it impossible to accept theories that outline elaborate conspiracies perpetrated by everyone from a newspaper mogul to a local gangster for the simple reason that most people are incapable of keeping a secret. Eventually, someone always talks.

I have my own theory about the Black Dahlia and the other unsolved homicides of women that horrified Angelenos during the 1940s; and I offered my opinion during an episode of the Hollywood & Crime podcast.  Their first season dealt extensively with the Black Dahlia case and several of the other unsolved homicides. In the episode entitled  Cold Cases, Jim Clemente, former FBI profiler and producer of the TV show Criminal Minds, and I discussed the murders, and we came to very different conclusions. You can find the series on iTunes, Stitcher, etc.

NOTE: This concludes my series of Black Dahlia posts for now. I invite you to stay with me as I unearth more of L.A.’s most deranged crimes.

 

The Black Dahlia: January 15, 1947, A Werewolf on the Loose

dahlia_herald_1_doyouknow

It was after 10 a.m. on January 15, 1947 — Mrs. Betty Bersinger and her three year old daughter Anne were bundled up against the chill of a cold wave that had held L.A. residents in its grip for several days. Mother and daughter were headed south on the west side of Norton when Mrs. Bersinger noticed something pale in the weeds about a foot in from the sidewalk.

Betty Bersinger

Betty Bersinger

At first Bersinger thought she was looking at either a discarded mannequin, or maybe even a live nude woman who had been drinking and had passed out; that particular area was known as a lover’s lane. But it quickly dawned on her that she was in a waking nightmare and that the bright white shape in the weeds was neither a mannequin, nor a drunk. Bersinger said “I was terribly shocked and scared to death, I grabbed Anne and we walked as fast as we could to the first house that had a telephone.”

Over the years several reporters have claimed to have been first on the scene of the murder. One of the people who made that claim was reporter Will Fowler. Fowler said that he and photographer Felix Paegel of the Los Angeles Examiner were approaching Crenshaw Boulevard when they heard a voice on their shortwave radio: “A 390 W, 415 down in an empty lot one block east of Crenshaw between 39th and Coliseum streets…Please investigate…Code Two … (Code Two meant “Drunk Woman,” and a 415 designated “Indecent exposure.”) Fowler couldn’t believe his ears: “…a naked drunk dame passed out in a vacant lot. Right here in the neighborhood too…Let’s see what it’s all about.”

Paegel drove as Fowler watched for the woman. “There she is. It’s a body all right…” Fowler got out of the car and walked up to the body as Paegel pulled his Speed Graphic from the trunk of the car. Fowler called out: “Jesus, Felix, this woman’s cut in half!”

That was Fowler’s story, and he stuck to it through the decades. But was it true?

In her autobiography, Newspaperwoman, Aggie Underwood said that she was the first reporter on the scene. There is some information to suggest that actually a reporter from the Los Angeles Times was the first. After all these years it is impossible to state with certainty who turned up first–and does it really matter?

AGGIE_DAHLIA SCENE_1_15_1947_frat_resize

Aggie at the Dahlia body dump site. January 15, 1947.

Here is Aggie’s description of what she saw that day on South Norton.

“It [the body] had been cut in half through the abdomen, under the ribs. The two sections were ten or twelve inches apart. The arms, bent at right angles at the elbows, were raised about the shoulders. The legs were spread apart. There were bruises and cuts on the forehead and the face, which had been beaten severely. The hair was blood-matted. Front teeth were missing. Both cheeks were slashed from the corners of the lips almost to the ears. The liver hung out of the torso, and the entire lower section of the body had been hacked, gouged, and unprintably desecrated. It showed sadism at its most frenzied.”

The coroner recorded the victim as Jane Doe #1 for 1947.

Detectives Harry Hansen [L} and Finis Brown [R] examine Black Dahlia crime scene.

Detectives Harry Hansen [L} and Finis Brown [R] examine Black Dahlia crime scene.

Two seasoned LAPD detectives, Harry Hansen and Finis Brown, were in charge of the investigation. During the first twenty-four hours officers pulled in over 150 men for questioning.

dahlia_herald_1_werewolfThe most promising of the early suspects was a twenty-three year old transient, Cecil French. He’d been busted for molesting women in a downtown bus depot.

Cops were further alarmed when they discovered that French had pulled the back seat out of his car. Had he concealed a body there? Police Chemist, Ray Pinker, determined that the floor mats of French’s car were free of blood or any other physical evidence of a bloody murder.

In her initial coverage Aggie referred to the case as the “Werewolf” slaying due to the savagery of the mutilations inflicted on the unknown young woman. Aggie’s werewolf tag would identify the case for a few more days until a much better one was discovered — The Black Dahlia.

NEXT TIME: The bisected body of the young woman found in Leimert Park is identified.

REFERENCES:

Fowler, Will (1991). “Reporters” Memoirs of a Young Newspaperman.

Gilmore, John (2001). Severed: The True Story of the Black Dahlia Murder.

Harnisch, Larry. “A Slaying Cloaked in Mystery and Myths“. Los Angeles Times. January 6, 1997.

Underwood, Agness (1949). Newspaperwoman.

Wagner, Rob Leicester (2000). The Rise and Fall of Los Angeles Newspapers 1920-1962.

 

Film Noir Friday: Whirlpool [1949]

whirlpool-gene-tierney-1949-everett

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 WHIRLPOOL, starring Gene Tierney, Richard Conte, Jose Ferrer and Charles Bickford.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

The wife of a psychoanalyst falls prey to a devious quack hypnotist when he discovers she is an habitual shoplifter. Then one of his previous patients now being treated by the real doctor is found murdered, with her still at the scene, and suspicion points only one way.

 

Film Noir Friday: Whirlpool [1949]

whirlpool-gene-tierney-1949-everett

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, WHIRLPOOL, starring Gene Tierney, Jose Ferrer, Richard Conte, and Charles Bickford.

Enjoy the movie!

 TCM says:

In a Los Angeles department store, unorthodox therapist David Korvo watches as Ann Sutton, wife of famous psychoanalyst Dr. Bill Sutton, is stopped for shoplifting. After convincing the manager that arresting her would mean a scandal for the store, he arranges to meet her the next day. Although Ann assumes that Korvo is a blackmailer, he gives her the store records to destroy, and invites her to a party a few days later. There, Korvo informs her that he can tell that she is a kleptomaniac, and is tired and hurt by emotional pressures. When Ann admits that she cannot sleep, Korvo assures her that he can help and then hypnotizes her without her knowledge.

https://youtu.be/eg91vy0U_9k

Film Noir Friday: Jigsaw [1949]

Jigsaw

 

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 JIGSAW [1949] starring Franchot Tone and Jean Wallace.

Enjoy the film!

TCM says:

After New York City printer Max Borg is murdered, District Attorney Walker, who is assigned to the case, learns that Borg, who had recently been exposed as the printer of propaganda posters for a race hate group called “The Crusaders,” was apparently silenced by them. When an article about the group appears in a local newspaper, Walker’s deputy, Howard Malloy, visits the author, Charles Riggs, who is also his sister Caroline’s fiancé. Later, Charlie is followed home by a mysterious figure, who knocks him unconscious and pushes him out of his high-rise window.

Uh, oh…the plot thickens!

Film Noir Friday: Obsession (aka The Hidden Room) [1949]

poster3 obsession the hidden room

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 OBSESSION (aka THE HIDDEN ROOM) [1949] starring Robert Newton and Sally Gray.

Enjoy the film!

TCM says:

London psychiatrist Clive Riordan, royally fed up with the repeated affairs of his wife Storm, plots a seemingly ‘perfect’ revenge against her latest lover, American Bill Kronin. Catching them in the act, he marches Bill off at gunpoint; and from the viewpoint of Storm and the rest of the world, Bill simply vanishes. But there’s far more to the meticulously worked out plot than Clive’s victims suspect, with the end slowly preparing in his private laboratory. Enter a mild-mannered Scotland Yard man, who seemingly has no clue beyond a missing dog…

http://youtu.be/9B9yJDcLCC8