The Purple Haze Slaying

Purple Haze was in my brain,
lately things don’t seem the same,
actin’ funny but I don’t know why…
–Jimi Hendrix

RearWindowIn the 1954 Hitchcock masterpiece, “Rear Window“, L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries, a professional photographer, is wheelchair bound while he recuperates from an accident. His rear window looks out onto a small courtyard and he can see into the apartments of several of his neighbors.

One evening  he hears a woman scream “Don’t!” and then a glass breaks. He watches as Lars Thorvald, a traveling jewelry salesman with a bedridden wife, makes repeated late night trips carrying his sample case. What is he carrying, and where did Thorvald’s wife go? Jeff begins to suspect Thorvald of a grisly murder.

On March 6, 1952, two years before “Rear Window” hit theaters, Jordan Jones, a Sacramento based insurance salesman, was staying in a downtown Los Angeles hotel located at 230 West 7th Street.  Like Jeff Jeffries he was staring out of his window watching the guests in another wing of the hotel. But as just as Jeffries would discover in Rear Window, peeping isn’t always merely a spectator sport.

Most of the guests had the good sense to draw their shades against prying eyes, but suddenly Jones noticed a couple putting on an X-rated show–far racier than anything he’d find in a Main Street burlesque house. Their shades were up and the lights in their room were ablaze. He watched, riveted, as the couple hungrily pulled off their clothing and began to have sex. Jones continued to watch the impromptu show–it sure as hell beat whatever was on the radio that night.  But then their lovemaking turned ugly.

The man put his belt around the nude woman’s neck and started choking her and it didn’t appear to be a part of their sex play. Jones immediately reported the incident to the hotel desk, but he kept his front row seat and watched as a bellboy appeared at the door of the couple’s room. The man removed the belt from the woman’s neck, and the bellboy presumably returned to his duties.

Klink enjoys a post confession burger.

Klink enjoys a post confession burger.

Moments after the bellboy departed Jones watched in horror as the man turned to the woman and resumed choking her, then he dragged her nude body around the room by the belt that was still tight around her neck.  When she crumpled to the floor the strangler began going through the woman’s handbag and clothing.

This time Jones phoned the hotel manager who, with three bellboys, crashed into the couple’s room where they found the killer standing dazedly over the woman’s nude body. A Fire Department inhalator squad tried to revive the victim and Dr. Alfred Schaffel from Georgia Street Receiving Hospital administered adrenalin injections, but it was too late. The woman was pronounced dead at the scene.

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LAPD homicide Lt. Bob Reid said that the woman’s papers identified her as forty-eight year old Mae Ellen Mathis from Dragerton, Utah. She had been employed as a registered nurse at Queen of Angels Hospital for a short time, living in the nurses’ residence there.

The strangler gave his name as William Klink, a 27 year old refrigerator repairman, but he refused to give a home address. Klink said he had met Mae in a bar on Hill Street and that she agreed to accompany him to the hotel where they registered as husband and wife.

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LAPD Sgt. Jack Gotch (L), William Klink (C), D.A. Ernest Roll (R)

Andrew Faiss (47) the bellboy who had showed them to the room only two hours earlier said that they had carried no luggage.

Officer L.M. Vaughn shows Klink the murder weapon.

Officer L.M. Vaughn shows Klink the murder weapon.

KIlink, who was on parole out of Ohio for a forgery conviction in 1947, told a different story to detectives and District Attorney Roll than Jones had.

According to Klink he’d been drinking for hours before he had hooked up with Mae.  After he and Mae had made love he said that he had feigned sleep and then watched as his companion got up, put on her clothes, and began going through his pants pockets.

Klink offered no rational explanation for why he’d put his belt around her neck and strangled her to death.

“I was in a kind of purple haze,” he said.

A few months following Mae’s slaying Klink was found guilty of second degree murder. Superior Judge John J. Ford sentenced him to five years to life in the California Institution for Men at Chino.

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Film Noir Friday: Quicksand [1950] & Drive A Crooked Road [1954]

QUICKSAND

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, as a tribute to Mickey Rooney who passed away earlier this week, we’re showing a double feature starring the diminutive actor. If you only recall Rooney as Andy Hardy, you’re in for a surprise. The actor actually took his turn at film noir during the 1950s.

First up is QUICKSAND [1950] starring Mickey Rooney, Jeanne Cagney, Barbara Bates and Peter Lorre.

TCM says:

At a diner, young auto mechanic Dan Brady has just finished telling his co-worker Chuck that he has broken up with his adoring girl friend, Helen Calder, when he notices the stunning blonde cashier, Vera Novak. Dan convinces Vera to go out with him that evening, but when he returns to his job at the garage, he remembers that he has no money. While making change at the register, Dan realizes that the bookkeeper will not be in to check the cash drawer for a few days and decides to borrow twenty dollars, intending to pay it back the next day when he collects the money that his friend, Buzz Larson, owes him.

And thus begins Brady’s downward spiral…

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Second on tonight’s bill is the 1954 film DRIVE A CROOKED ROAD starring Mickey Rooney and Dianne Foster.

TCM says:

Los Angeles auto mechanic Eddie Shannon, a devoted car buff with no family or other outside interests, frequently competes in local car races to improve his driving. The other mechanics at work tease Eddie constantly over his diminutive stature and solitary nature. One day Eddie meets Barbara Mathews, an attractive woman who invites him to the beach. Uncertainly, Eddie accepts the invitation, and at the beach Barbara introduces him to Steve Norris, a handsome businessman from the East, who is spending several weeks in a Santa Monica beach house. Eddie is surprised when Barbara shows an interest in him and shyly begins dating her. Barbara tries to learn as much about Eddie’s interests as possible, but asks him if he is content to remain a mechanic all his life. Eddie confides that his dream has always been to drive in one of the top European races. Barbara takes Eddie to a party thrown by Steve and his associate, Harold Baker, and during the evening, Steve asks Eddie his opinion about the best kind of race car. After the party, Barbara advises Eddie that Steve might be able to help him realize his dream of racing in Europe. Later that evening, Steve visits Barbara, eager to discuss plans for a bank robbery, for which they hope to use Eddie’s driving skill. Barbara pleads with Steve to call off the heist, as she feels sorry for Eddie, a lonely man who has never experienced love…

Film Noir Friday: Witness to Murder [1954]

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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 WITNESS TO MURDER [1954].  Directed by Roy Rowland and starring Barbara Stanwyck, George Sanders and Gary Merrill.  Enjoy the film!

TCM says:

One night, when Cheryl Draper wakens and gets out of bed to close her bedroom window, she sees a man, Albert Richter, strangling a young woman to death in an apartment across the street. Cheryl phones the police, but before Lt. Lawrence Mathews and Sgt. Eddie Vincent arrive to interview Richter, he hides the body in an unoccupied apartment next door and pretends to have been asleep. After they find nothing to incriminate Richter, Larry suggests to Cheryl that she may have dreamed it all, but she is adamant that she saw the murder.

 

http://youtu.be/BnkhXuBLRpk

A Visit From The Sheriff

Ching-ching-a-ling! Ching-ching-a-ling!
Are those sleighbells I hear?
No.
It’s gunfire…

COX_CHRISTMAST’was the week before Christmas, December ’54
David Cox’s house was filled with violence, mayhem and smashed crockery galore.

David’s Downey neighbors awoke to ruckus and clatter,
and wondered just what in the hell was the matter.

It must be that S.O.B. Cox, they concluded —
a few beers in his belly and he’s completely deluded.

They turned away from their windows and went back to their beds,
where they pulled the covers up over their heads.

David had arrived home three hours late,
with booze on his breath and his eyes filled with hate.

His wife, Billie, had made a modest request
for $25 to buy each of their girls a new dress.

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“Mary and Katherine don’t need presents, you frivilous bitch!”
David picked up a lamp and smashed it to bits.

He ripped out the windows, wood frames and plaster,
then sped off in his truck leaving behind a disaster.

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Later that evening when David came home
he drove his truck into a fence, then lurched around drunk and alone.

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Hello! Anyone home? He shouted to the empty house.
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

His children were frightened and his pregnant wife was alarmed,
she tooks the kids to her mother’s so they wouldn’t be harmed.

The Norwalk Sheriff’s station was called, and deputies rushed to the scene.
David was wielding a shotgun and he looked pretty damned mean.

“Drop your weapon!” the deputies shouted calling David by name.
But Cox opened fire and the cops did the same.

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Sgts. Lovretovich and Piper stood over David who was collapsed on the lawn.
He’d taken multiple rounds — he was deceased, he was gone.

Why didn’t he do as we said, they pondered aloud; to behave as he had —
he must have been crazy, he must have been mad!

david cox

David’s drinking and anger had cost him his life,
he’d never again see his friends, children, or wife.

Christmas was dismal for the Cox family that year.
Instead of baby dolls, buggies and bears named Ted,
there was a casket, flowers and tears to be shed.

No doubt about it, David Cox had acted a fool.
A moron, an idiot, a jackass, a tool.

Neighbors were heard to exclaim, ere Deputies drove out of sight.

Don’t screw with the Sheriffs, they’ll put up a fight.

 

NOTE:  I wrote this poem last year and I thought it would be fun to make it a holiday tradition.

I took very few liberties with this deranged holiday tale. I put words in the mouths of the victim and the cops, but otherwise the details are as they appeared in the  Los Angeles Times report of the incident.  It pleases me no end that one of my favorite Deputy Sheriffs of the era, Ned Lovretovich, played a role in this story. His career continues to fascinate me.

I couldn’t do justice to A VISIT FROM ST. NICHOLAS by Clement Clarke Moore which provided the inspiration for this post, but it was fun just the same.

Many thanks to Mike Fratantoni for turning me on to a great story–he knows them all.