Ex-Burlesque Dancer Found Dead

burlesque dancer dead_edit

As the days, months and years ticked by the Black Dahlia case grew as cold as an Arctic blast. In late October 1949 the cops received an anonymous telephone tip that a woman had been murdered in a downtown hotel, and that her killer was the same person who had murdered Elizabeth Short.

LAPD investigators rolled to the scene and what they found was sad, but it wasn’t murder. Upon examining her body Dr. Frederick Newbarr, county autopsy surgeon, determined that the woman had been badly beaten but that the beating had not been fatal. She’d been done in by a serious liver ailment caused by her heavy drinking.

Detectives searched  the dead woman’s handbag and they found an ID card and other papers that revealed her to have been Mrs. Lucille Bowen, a former dancer in a Main Street burlesque house.

The Follies on Main Street.  [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

The Follies on Main Street. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Also in Lucille’s handbag were a couple of police business cards; one of them belonged to Officer C.O. Smith and on its back was written “Lucille Bowen, a good friend of mine. Any courtesy extended to her will be appreciated.” A second card belonged to Officer R.E. Myers, it was apparently signed by him and had a similar inscription.

The cards were issued during the time that Smith was on the Central Division Vice Squad and Myers was assigned to administrative vice. By October 1949 Officer Smith had moved up the chain of command and was in charge of the vice unit at LAPD’s University Division. When quizzed by reporters Smith stated that he didn’t recall Lucille and he doubted the card was his.  Myers had made detective, however reporters couldn’t reach him for comment.

Get_out_of_jail_free The two cops may not have recalled Lucille, but personally I have little doubt that the cards belonged to them, particularly since they’d worked vice. The business cards were probably never intended for use as “courtesy cards”; and I think it is likely that Lucille came into possession of the cards and then simply wrote on the backs of them. Lucille may have considered the cards to be talismans that could protect her from arrest, but if that’s what she believed she had been misinformed. Courtesy cards weren’t equivalent to a Monopoly “Get Out of Jail Free” card and wouldn’t have been much use to her.

According to the hotel room clerk Ralph Myers (as far as I know he was no relation to the cop) Lucille had registered for a room the night before with an unidentified man — they’d signed in as Mr. and Mrs. James Johnson.

Interior of Skid Row Hotel. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Interior of Skid Row Hotel. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Police records revealed that years prior to her pitiful death Lucille had come to L.A. as Rena Lucille Hodge, a strikingly beautiful dancer from Oklahoma City with big Hollywood dreams. Like so many girls before her Lucille’s dreams had died hard, crushed in the crucible of Main Street burlesque joints.

The LAPL database doesn't call her out, but I believe the woman in the center is none other than Betty "Ball of Fire" Rowland. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

The LAPL database doesn’t call her out, but I believe the woman in the center is none other than Betty “Ball of Fire” Rowland. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

In December 1944 she was busted on Main Street with nine others on charges of contributing to the delinquency of minors by staging a lewd show. By the time her body was discovered in a Skid Row hotel Lucille had been reduced to life on “The Nickel” (Fifth Street) chasing her dreams with enough liquor to destroy her liver. It would have been easy for her to find male companionship in the dark bars along Skid Row  — men who might listen to her stories of a movie career that never materialized for a few minutes before they would beat and use her.

The "Nickel" (Fifth Street) at night. [Photo courtesy of LAPl]

“The Nickel” (Fifth Street) at night. [Photo courtesy of LAPl]

Lucille’s death had not provided LAPD detectives with a much needed lead in the Black Dahlia case. In the nearly three years since Short’s murder a solution to the crime was still out of reach.

Film Noir Friday: Impact [1949]

impact-movie-poster-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 IMPACT directed by Arthur Lubin and starring Brian Donlevy and Ella Raines.

TCM says:

After delivering a passionate speech in which he convinces his company’s board of directors to purchase some factories in Tahoe, California, San Francisco industrialist Walter Williams returns home to his wife Irene.

Walter reenacts part of the speech for Irene, and their maid, Su Lin [Anna May Wong], mistakes it for an argument. Walter then leaves to finalize the deal, promising to call Irene on his way home. After Walter leaves, Irene phones her lover, Jim Torrence, with whom she is plotting to kill Walter, and tells him to go to Sausalito.

When Walter phones Irene, she persuades him to give her cousin “Jim,” who is stranded in Sausalito, a ride to his home in Denver. Walter meets Torrence and they drive for several hours before stopping at a café. While Walter is inside, Torrence sabotages one of Walter’s tires. When the later tire blows, they stop near a steep embankment. Torrence then hits Walter on the head with a wrench, rolls his unconscious body down the slope and tosses his briefcase after him.

Film Noir Friday: The Crooked Way [1949]

 crooked way 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 THE CROOKED WAY directed by Robert Florey and starring John Payne, Sonny Tufts and Ellen Drew.

THE CROOKED WAY has all the elements of a solid film noir: flashing neon signs, shadows on a wall, guys in suits, hats, killer ties and a dame with a grudge. Bonus points for some nice shots of post-war L.A.

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. Holding an old newspaper clipping announcing the verdict that put him in jail, Vince confronts Eddie about the past and gives him one day to leave town.

http://youtu.be/roeY-s_nUmg

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.

MASSOW

Madge’s standing mugshot.

KLINKENBERG

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.