Film Noir Friday, on Saturday: Wiretapper [1955]

wiretapper_1955

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 WIRETAPPER starring Bill Williams and Georgia Lee.

Mark Twain succinctly summed up my love of true crime with this wonderful quote: “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t.”  This film is based on a true story with an ending that could only happen in real life.  Jim Vaus was associated with Los Angeles mobster Mickey Cohen, but his life took many unexpected turns–which explains why you see Reverend Billy Graham in the poster.  If you are interested in learning more about Jim Vaus you may want to read MY FATHER WAS A GANGSTER by Will Vaus — it’s available on Kindle!

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

During World War II, Jim Vaus, an army electronics specialist, is serving a prison sentence for having stolen equipment from the army. Because Jim has arranged for released prisoners to mail letters he has written to his girl friend, Alice, Alice thinks that he is still on active duty. When the war ends, the prison chaplain informs Jim that the President has reviewed his, and others’ cases, and that he is to be released. The chaplain, aware of Jim’s letters to Alice, strongly advises him to tell her about his past. However, when Jim returns to Los Angeles, he buys a captain’s uniform and some medals, then goes to visit Alice, her mother and younger sister Helen and lies that he has just finished active service.

 

Film Noir Friday: The Big Knife [1955]

 the big knifeWelcome! 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 KNIFE starring Ida Lupino, Jack Palance, Wendell Corey, Jean Hagen, Rod Steiger and Shelley Winters.

Enjoy the movie!

From a TCM article by Jeff Stafford:

The tone of the entire film is set in the opening shot of The Big Knife accompanied by a portentous voiceover by Richard Boone stating, “This is Bel Air. Lush, luxurious retreat of the wealthy and powerful. If you work in the motion picture industry and are successful, this is where you will probably make your home. Failure is not permitted here.” Regarding his true intentions, director Robert Aldrich stated (in The Films and Career of Robert Aldrich by Edward T. Arnold and Eugene L. Miller) that he did not feel The Big Knife was “exactly anti-Hollywood, for that would make it too sectional. To me it can apply to any sphere of business, or the arts, where man’s natural liberty or expression is squelched by unworthy, incompetent, tyrannical leaders or bosses, many of whom are not deserving of their powers.”

The Wilshire Prowler, Conclusion

bashor-doomed_picDonald Bashor, 27, confessed to dozens of local burglaries and to the bludgeon slayings of Karil Graham and Laura Lindsay. Under intense police questioning Donald didn’t admit to any further offenses, and as far as investigators could tell he’d revealed the extent of his crimes.

Deputy District Attorney Tom Finnerty issued a subpoena for Officer Donald C. Wesley, who had shot and wounded Bashor during his attempt to evade capture. Among the others called to appear before the grand jury were Detective Lieutenant Jack McCreadie, and autopsy surgeons Dr. Frederick Newbarr and Dr. Gerald K. Ridge.

Bashor was indicted on two counts of murder and two counts of burglary. The burglary charges stemmed from the looting of the apartment at 215 South Carondelet Street shared by Dorothy Cowan, Marcella Drews and Eunis Wingel. Lester E. Olson of 325 South Occidental Boulevard, was also burglarized by Bashor. Both crimes were committed about thirty minutes prior to the murder of Karil Graham.

The twenty-seven year-old killer pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and his trial was set for August 14, 1956 in Judge Allen T. Lynch’s court. Because of the insanity plea Bashor would undergo examination by alienists for the State and the defense before the trial.

There are often delays in murder trials and Bashor’s was no exception, it didn’t get underway until October 4, 1956.  The four alienists who examined Bashor deterined that he was sane when he committed the murders.

With the ultimate penalty on the table it was going to be a tough trial. But before the jury could be sworn in the defendant interrupted the proceedings to enter a guilty plea. Terrence Cooney, Bashor’s attorney, was as dumbfounded by his client’s move as was everyone else in the courtroom. Cooney didn’t want any part of placing a banana peel between his client and the gas chamber so he refused to go forward. Bashor fired him.

With Cooney still standing next to Bashor, Superior Judge Allen T. Lynch explained to the defendant that the law prohibits acceptance of a guilty plea in a capital case without benefit of counsel. Cooney must have decided to bend to his client’s will because Judge Lynch accepted the guilty plea. Along with the plea, Judge Lynch also accepted responsibility for determining Bashor’s sentence.

On October 16, 1956, Judge Lynch was ready to pronounce sentence. The courtroom was quiet as the judge began to speak. “This is the most difficult duty I have ever had to perform. For the last four days I have been able to think of nothing else. These were cruel, brutal killings. I find no mitigating circumstances.”

According to newspaper reports Judge Lynch appeared to have difficulty speaking. He paused for several long beats and then continued. “On counts one and three (the two murders) the court sentences you to suffer the death penalty. May God have mercy on your soul!”bashor-doomed

It took about a year for the California State Supreme Court to review the automatic appeal and affirm the death sentence in Bashor’s case.

On October 10, 1957, the night before his scheduled execution, Donald Bashor refused a last meal and then he slept from 1:05 a.m. to 7:05 a.m. When he awoke he had toast and coffee. He read a handful of letters he had recently received and then turned to the Bible.

Photograph by Edward Gamer / Los Angeles Times Senior Deputy George Coenen, left, and Sgt. Howard Earle, right, escort convicted killer Donald Keith Bashor on his trip to San Quentin, Oct. 25, 1956. Bashor's story was the basis of a "Playhouse 90" episode by Jules Maitland. Bashor's slaying of Graham also plays a prominent role in Jack Webb's "The Badge," a not terribly accurate book reissued in 2005.

Photograph by Edward Gamer / Los Angeles Times Senior Deputy George Coenen, left, and Sgt. Howard Earle, right, escort convicted killer Donald Keith Bashor on his trip to San Quentin, Oct. 25, 1956. Bashor’s story was the basis of a “Playhouse 90″ episode by Jules Maitland. Bashor’s slaying of Graham also plays a prominent role in Jack Webb’s “The Badge,” a not terribly accurate book reissued in 2005.

Unlike many killers, Donald Bashor seemed genuinely remorseful for the murders. His last words were: “I’m glad my crimes are coming to an end. I am sorry I cannot undo the horrible things I did.”

Gas began to fill San Quentin’s death chamber at 10:03 a.m. and at 10:12 a.m. Donald Keith Bashor was pronounced dead.

EPILOGUE

There was something about Donald Keith Bashor that set him apart from many other killers. It may have been his movie star good looks, or it may have been the fact that he  sought atonement for his crimes in the gas chamber. Whatever it was, Bashor’s story became an episode of the prime time TV series PLAYHOUSE 90 in 1958.  Bashor was portrayed by Tab Hunter and the episode was narrated by former Los Angeles Mirror columnist Paul Coates. The highly rated episode was directed by Arthur Penn who would later direct such great films as The Miracle Worker and Bonnie & Clyde.

The episode was not without behind-the-scenes drama. One of the sponsors for the  episode, entitled “Portrait Of A Murderer”, was the Southern California Gas Company. They wanted to eliminate Bashor’s trip to the gas chamber from the script. Producer Martin Manulis flatly refused and the episode aired as written.

Donald Bashor’s story also claimed the attention of ten-year-old James Ellroy.  In 1958, his father gave him a copy of THE BADGE written by TV cop Jack Webb who portrayed Sgt. Joe Friday on DRAGNET. Bashor’s case is the first one covered in the book. In large part it was THE BADGE that inspired Ellroy to become a novelist. It definitely sparked his interest in Los Angeles crime.  Now it’s time for a shameless plug — I was fortunate to work with James Ellroy, Glynn Martin, Megan Martin, Nathan Marsak, and Mike Fratatoni on the book LAPD ’53. The book project was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.

EXTRA CREDIT

First, let me direct you to a clip from James Ellroy’s CITY OF DEMONS (2011) in which he glibly recounts the Bashor case.

Next, a far more serious scene from the PLAYHOUSE 90 production of PORTRAIT OF A MURDERER

The Wilshire Prowler, Part 2

Karil Graham’s former flame, Leon McFadden, passed a lie detector test and was cleared of her murder.

Investigators were back to square one.

Square one in this case was to conduct a thorough search of police department records for recently paroled “hot prowl” burglars living in the area. Hot prowl burglars are the creepazoids who enter a home while it is occupied. The risk is increased for the perpetrator, and that may be the point of it. Sneaking around in a home while the inhabitants watch TV, listen to the radio or, even more terrifying, as they sleep, is a major rush for some of the more twisted souls who walk the planet.

three-suspectsThe records search turned up the names of three possible suspects; although only one of them, a 37-year-old ex-con named Clifford Russell Pridemore, was arrested. LAPD picked him up near 7th and San Julian Streets downtown–the heart of Skid Row. According to detectives, Pridemore was well-dressed when they busted him–a fact which they found to be very suspicious given he had no visible means of support.

Pridemore had been released from Folsom in July 1954 after serving a term for burglary. His modus operandi as a burglar was eerily similar to the circumstances in Karil’s murder case. And the fact that Pridemore had a history of assaulting women made him a solid suspect.pridemore

Curiously, three nurses who lived a few doors down from Karil had slept through the hot prowl burglary of their apartment on the same morning that Karil died. Their empty handbags were found on the porch outside their door. It seemed likely that the person who killed Karil had creepy-crawled through the nurses’ apartment too. Was that man Clifford Pridemore?

While detectives continued to sift through the few available leads, Karil’s brother-in-law, H.L. Manley, made arrangements to clear out the dead woman’s apartment.  One of Karil’s prized possessions was an original water color painting by Raoul Dufy. The painting was valued at about $1800 (over $16,000 in 2016 dollars). Manley told reporters that the painting, along with Karil’s other belongings, were headed for storage “at least until we can decide what to do with them.”

Karil’s body was released by the Coroner on February 23rd and taken to the Heath Funeral Home in National City for a funeral in San Diego–which is where her mother lived.

Police leaned hard on Pridemore but he never wavered in his assertion that he had nothing to do with Karil’s slaying. LAPD assigned another team of detectives to work with Jack McCreadie and Charles Detrich–Howard Hudson and Harry Hansen. Hansen was one of the principal detectives in the 1947 mutilation murder of Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia. (The case was unsolved in 1955 and remains so to this day.)

A possible witness, unnamed by the cops for fear of reprisal by the killer, came forward. The witness had observed a man loitering in the immediate vicinity of Karil’s apartment at least twice. Once on the night she was killed.

sluggingA couple of weeks following Karil Graham’s murder police announced they were investigating the slugging of Emily Jones, 26, a local dance hall hostess. Jones had awakened in her apartment at 474 South Hartford Avenue as a prowler attempted to assault her. He beat her with a bottle and his fists, then he fled through a window. Evidently Jones’ assailant had entered the apartment after removing the screen from an unlocked window.

For reasons that they didn’t make public, LAPD detectives were convinced that Jones’ attacker was not the same perpetrator who had bashed Karil’s head in.

Karil’s inquest was held on March 8, 1955 and it took the jury only 10 minutes to decide that she had been murdered “by unknown person(s).”

However, the killer was not Clifford Pridemore–police were able to clear him.woman-beaten

In May 1955 a woman was brutally beaten near the scene of Karil’s slaying. The victim, Nadia Copmpaneitz, a social science student on a visa from France, was attacked by an intruder who ripped the screen from a window in her apartment at 143 North Reno Street.
Nadia told police that she awakened at 4 am–certain that she was not alone in her room. Suddenly gloved hands tightened around her throat. She was able to roll away from the man. Enraged, the intruder beat her and left her with wounds to her scalp and eye. Nadia was fortunate. She lived.

The leads in Kari’s murder dried up and the case went cold.

NEXT TIME:  A knife attack, another murder, and a suspect in Karil Graham’s murder.

The Wilshire Prowler, Part 1

graham-picKaril Graham, an attractive divorcee in her late 30s, had always wanted to be an artist. She studied fine art in New York, but eventually she realized that she didn’t possess the natural talent to have a successful career. Unwilling to completely give up on her dream, Karil found a great way to be involved in what she loved most–she became the registrar at Art Center School, 5353 West 3rd Street. She spent much of her working day counseling budding artists, and the rest of her time in the company of talented faculty members. Karil had a warm smile that lit up her face. She was so well liked by the students that she was thought of as their “mother confessor”.

On Friday, February 18, 1955, Karil prepared dinner in her poolside apartment at 271 South Carondolet Street for two men she knew from school. One of them, Phil Hays, was a student, and the other man, Jack Potter, was an instructor. The dinner was in celebration of a painting, “Bird of Paradise”–a gift to Karil from Phil. After dinner Phil and Karil went for a swim in the heated pool behind her building, while Jack relaxed on the patio. The two men left after midnight.

graham-friends-picKaril had a midnight snack and then prepared to go to bed. She removed her makeup, slipped into her nightgown and put her hair up in curlers. Then she turned on the electric blanket and got into bed.

About 5 am Anita Loeber, who lived in the apartment above Karil’s, heard what she thought was a muffled scream. She had just moved into the apartment and was still getting accustomed to the unfamiliar sounds and habits of her neighbors. She didn’t hear any other noises and, because her phone hadn’t been installed yet, she couldn’t call the police. Anita went back to sleep.

At 2 pm on Saturday, February 19th, Eleanor Lipson, Karil’s landlady, walked past Karil’s apartment and noticed that the door was open. When Eleanor looked closer she saw a bare leg: “I didn’t think it was Karil because she wouldn’t be lying nude with the door open.” Eleanor didn’t investigate further until 6:30 pm. Whose naked leg did she think it was? And why did she believe it was unnecessary to investigate further until over four hours later? In truth it wouldn’t have altered the outcome. When Eleanor and her husband entered Karil’s small studio apartment and found their tenant dead. Karil’s face was covered with her own nightgown, a blanket, and a bedspread. There was blood spatter on the walls of the ransacked apartment, and Karil’s bed was soaked with blood.

fiance-passes-test_page_1Los Angeles Police Department homicide detectives, Jack McCreadie and Charles Detrich, arrived and tried to make sense of the scene. Karil had sustained at least two devastating wounds to her head, but no weapon was found. During their examination of the crime scene they discovered a bloody fingerprint on the inside of the front doorknob. The knob was removed and sent to the crime lab, along with human hair found under one of Karil’s fingernails.

The detectives thought it was possible that Karil was killed during a burglary. They also considered another scenario, that someone had killed her and then staged the scene to look like a burglary.fiance-passes-test_page_2

The first person of interest in the case was Karil’s former boyfriend, Leon McFadden. Leon was picked up by the LAPD for “routine questioning.” He told police that he hadn’t seen Karil in several months and that he had absolutely nothing to do with her murder. He was so adamant about his innocence that he demanded to be given a lie detector test “to clear me in this thing once and for all.” Police obliged.

Leon, who owned a greeting card shop at 166 1/2 N La Brea Avenue, was grilled for over three hours before detectives declared that his story was “straight” and released him.

If Leon hadn’t murdered the popular art school registrar, then who had?

NEXT TIME: Three suspects and a mystery witness surface in Karil Graham’s murder.

Film Noir Friday–Sunday Matinee: The Crooked Web [1955]

crooked web 1955

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. Today’s feature is THE CROOKED WEB starring Frank Lovejoy, Mari Blanchard, and Richard Denning.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Former G.I. Stan Fabian runs a drive-in restaurant with his waitress girl friend, Joanie Daniel, who receives an unexpected visit from her brother Frank. Frank asks Joanie for a loan for a “deal” in Chicago, but she refuses. At dinner that evening, Stan reveals to Frank that he wants to marry Joanie, but she has declined, wary of his lack of financial security. Later, when Stan drives Frank back to his hotel, he inquires about his deal and Frank divulges that years earlier during the war, he and partner Ray Torres hid a sizeable amount of gold, but they have been unable to raise the money necessary to return to Germany to retrieve their treasure.

Film Noir Friday–Saturday Matinee: Shack Out on 101 [1955]

SHACK ON 101Welcome! 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.

It’s time for a Saturday Matinee.  Today’s feature is SHACK OUT ON 101 starring Terry Moore, Frank Lovejoy, Keenan Wynn and Lee Marvin. I’ll watch pretty much anything with Lee Marvin in it.

Enjoy the film!.

 

TCM says:

George Bater owns a diner located near the 101 highway in California, and although he enjoys his somewhat isolated existence, he tires of the bickering between his staff, waitress Kotty and cook Slob. Kotty, who is dating Professor Sam Bastion, a nuclear physicist at a nearby laboratory, is irritated by Slob’s constant harassment. George, who secretly loves Kotty, reprimands Slob, a slovenly man who resents George for never calling him by his real name, Leo. Their latest quarrel is interrupted by the arrival of Sam, after which Kotty announces that she has been studying for the civil service exam. Kotty hopes to better herself in order to make Sam proud, although he tells her that he loves her as she is. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Slob receives a shipment from commercial fisherman Perch, who sells him a small film canister, which Slob hides. George is cheered by the arrival of his pal, Eddie Miller, with whom he fought in World War II. Eddie, who has never recovered from the bloodshed he and George experienced during D-Day, is a traveling salesman. Although Sam presses Eddie to seek psychiatric help for his aversion to violence, Eddie protests that he has recovered from a minor nervous breakdown and is anticipating his upcoming vacation to Acapulco with George.

 

 

https://youtu.be/4p13ozSx1e0

Film Noir Friday: Illegal [1955]

IllegalVoiAssasini-Feb2012IT

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 ILLEGAL [1955] starring Edward G. Robinson, Nina Foch, Hugh Marlowe and Jayne Mansfield.

TCM says:

In Los Angeles, police arrest Edward Clary for murder, despite his protests that he is innocent. Victor Scott, a highly acclaimed district attorney, prosecutes Clary with evidence gathered by chief investigator Ray Borden and assistant Ellen Miles, who is the daughter of Victor’s deceased mentor. In court, jurors carefully chosen by Victor are stirred by his summation and convict Clary. Having won the difficult case, Victor’s reputation soars and he makes plans to run for governor. Then, the real killer confesses and Victor is unable to stop Clary’s execution in time. Ashamed that his drive to succeed has resulted in an innocent man’s death, Victor resigns, drinks heavily and rejects the consolation of Ellen, who loves him although he treats her like a daughter.

Enjoy the film!

http://youtu.be/eI5OpDKvOjc?list=PLcvObjGQpCd0vnqFWy0nbf-jdFlY36fyU

Film Noir Friday: Crashout [1955]

CRASHOUT

 

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 CRASHOUT starring William Bendix, Arthur Kennedy, Luther Adler and William Talman.

Enjoy the film!

TCM says:

Convict Van Duff engineers a large-scale prison break; the six survivors hide out in a forgotten mine working near the prison, then set out on a long, dangerous journey by foot, car, train and truck to retrieve Duff’s bank loot. En route, as they touch the lives of “regular folks,” each has his own rendezvous with destiny.

 
http://youtu.be/kaevY6hgdP0

Bullied Into Murder

13-YEAR-OLD-BOY-KILLS-MOTHER-THOMSON-FAMILY-PHOTO

On Monday, August 22, 1955, Lancaster Sheriff’s deputies were summoned to the Thomson home at 4205 E Ave S.

The caller said:

“You’d better send someone over here because I just shot my mother.”

The dispatcher asked:

“Shall we send an ambulance?”

The caller replied:

“No. She’s dead. I’ll wait for you.”

Sheriff’s deputies rolled out to the home and found thirteen year old Jimmy Thomson waiting for them.

peer pressure headlineWhen questioned by Lt. Campbell Jimmy said that his mother, fifty-one year old Hilda Thomson, had surprised him as he was getting ready to run away from home. He’d packed his clothes and placed a plastic model airplane on top of the pile. The thirteen year old said after he and his mom had words he went into a bedroom where he grabbed a .22 rifle.

Jimmy told homicide investigators:

“First thing I knew I was shooting.”

Lt. Campell explained to reporters that it was difficult to obtain a coherent statement from Jimmy because the traumatized kid kept breaking down.

Jimmy answers questions at the Sheriff's Department

Jimmy has a burger and answers questions at the Sheriff’s Department

“He tells us only that he had decided to run away,” Lt. Campbell reported, because he wanted to prove to the ‘boys at school I’m not a sissy.'”

Campbell continued:

“Jimmy said he frequently has been tormented by other youngsters because he says, ‘I never was arrested or picked up like they were.'”

The cops had no choice but to take Jimmy to the station for further questioning. Finally, Lt. Al Etzel from Sheriff’s homicide was able to obtain a detailed statement from the boy of the events which led up to the shooting.

It was summer vacation so Jimmy spent much of the morning lying in bed. He told Lt. Etzel that he when he finally got up he decided to make some Jello — but he spilled scalding water on his leg. Forgetting about the Jello, he went outside where he immediately injured his knee.

Still smarting from the scalding water and injured knee, he went back into the house to watch TV. With only seven channels to choose from there wasn’t much to watch on the tube in 1955. I wonder if Jimmy caught the Jack McElroy show on the topic “I Cheated the Law”, or if he opted instead to watch “Queen for a Day”.

Nothing says "Queen" like a Dishmaster.

Nothing says “Queen” like a Dishmaster Deluxe.

In any case, at some point during the afternoon Jimmy made up his mind to kill his mother. He decided to shoot her because he couldn’t take the continued taunts of his schoolmates.

He explained to Lt. Etzel that some boys at school bullied him:

“They said I was square because I was never in trouble.”

Boy Kills mother. Hom Det. H A Waldrip holds 22 rifle used by Jimmy Thomson to kill Hilda Thomson

Homicide Detective H.A. Waldrip holds .22 rifle used by Jimmy Thomson to kill his mother.

After watching TV for a while the boy said that he went to his bedroom and loaded 12 cartridges into a .22-caliber lever-action rifle. He put the weapon under the bed, then he went outside to feed the animals — including his pet turtle.

He told investigators that he spent the rest of the afternoon on the telephone, making calls to a girl “to find out if she liked another boy.”

About 4:30 p.m. his mother came home. She scolded him for leaving dirty dishes in the sink. — then she sat down with the newspaper. Jimmy went into his bedroom and retrieved the rifle. He returned, raised his rifle and fired once. Hilda slumped over. He fired twice more.

Hilde Thomson's body examined by Deputy Sheriff Kipp and Det. H.A. Waldrip of Sheriff's Homicide

Hilde Thomson’s body examined by Deputy Sheriff Kipp and Det. H.A. Waldrip of Sheriff’s Homicide

Lt. Etzel said that the first bullet entered Hilde’s left temple. The other two struck the top of her head.

Jimmy set his rifle aside and examined his mother. It was then that he decided to run away from home. He was going to steal a car “to go camp out in the High Sierra.”

But he thought it over, he said, and called deputies.

Juvenile authorities required Jimmy to undergo a series of physical, psychiatric and psychological tests before they could decide how to handle his case. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any follow-up on Jimmy’s story in the Los Angeles Times. I hope that he got the help he needed.

In the 58 years since Jimmy shot his mother to death very little seems to have changed — as a way to deal with the pressure of being bullied children continue to act out in ways that often have tragic and far-reaching consequences.

 NOTE: Many thanks to Mike Fratantoni for assisting me with this sad tale.