Here’s to a Deranged 2016!

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HAPPY NEW YEAR!      [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

  So, what’s in store for Deranged L.A. Crimes in 2016?  I’m glad you asked.

It’s nearly time to wrap up The First with the Latest!: Aggie Underwood, the Los Angeles Herald, and the Sordid Crimes of a City — the photo exhibit I’m curating at Central Library downtown. It opened in August and the official closing date is January 10th (I have been told it may be up until the 17th, but don’t count on it).  If you haven’t visited the History and Genealogy Department where the exhibit is on display I urge you to do so.  If you can’t make it in person you can purchase the companion book (same title as the exhibit) in the Library’s bookstore or via Amazon.

The First with the Latest! Exhibit Screen SaverOf course it pleases me no end that the exhibit received some very good press. It was the subject of an article by Tanja M. Laden for Atlas Obscura, and another by Christina Rice for the Huffington Post. I was interviewed about the exhibit by Steve Chiotakis for Which Way, LA? on KCRW, a local NPR station. It is gratifying for me to play a part in renewing interest in Aggie’s life and introducing her to a new audience. Her 1949 autobiography Newspaperwoman is in such demand that it is wait-listed at Los Angeles Public Library. Not bad for for a book published over 60 years ago.

There is one accomplishment that has been attributed to Aggie which needs to be addressed; and that is the claim that she was the first woman to become city editor of a major U.S. newspaper.  It simply isn’t true. Journalist and historian Larry Harnisch discovered two women who preceded Aggie and he wrote about them in his Daily Mirror blog. It’s important to note that Aggie never made the claim about herself.  While she didn’t refute it (who would?) she said that she had neither the time nor the inclination to verify it.  I still consider Aggie to be a ground breaking journalist–you don’t have to be the first to be the best.

Det. Sgt. Ned Lovretovich

Detective  Ned Lovretovich, LASD. Here being examined after an attempt was made on his life as he testified in court.

Over the next year I plan to include tales featuring some of the outstanding detectives who have served with the Sheriff’s Department and with the Los Angeles Police Department in the past.  I was inspired to pursue the topic after attending the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau’s holiday party a few weeks ago. Detectives in law enforcement today have one of the most difficult and gut-wrenching jobs on the planet.  I will devote some of this coming year to honoring them by delving into the history of some of their predecessors.

Since the blog debuted on December 17, 2012 I have written over 400 posts, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of historic crime in L.A. One thing is for certain, I’ll never run out of material. In addition to being fascinated with detectives, I’ve run across several defense attorneys who were every bit as colorful as the men and women they represented and I am looking forward to telling some of their stories over the next year too.

A surprising consequence of the blog, surprising to me anyway, has been the correspondence I’ve received from family members of the victims and perpetrators I’ve written about. If there anyone who believes that a murder committed decades ago doesn’t continue to affect family members, even if they were too young to recall the crime, or weren’t born when it was committed, I’ve got news for you–there is no end to the pain. I’ve learned that the best thing I can do is to provide an open ear. The people who contact me just need someone to listen. Some of what they tell me is so difficult to deal with that I have to fight the urge to run away. The reason I don’t run is because I believe that the person who contacted me needed someone with whom to share the burden. It’s a small thing that I can do and it is my hope that each of the people who has reached out to me has found some measure of peace.

My personal plans for 2016 mirror my professional plans. Because I love what I do there’s virtually no separation between work and play for me. I spend a lot of time on this blog, but I also spend time volunteering at the Los Angeles Police Museum in Highland Park. Last year I was involved in creating the Museum’s first book LAPD ’53 by James Ellroy and Glynn Martin. To be a part of the book team (working alongside James Ellroy–are you kidding?!) was an amazing experience and I’m proud that the book spent 4 weeks on the L.A. Times Bestseller list!  I’ve learned a lot working with the museum’s Executive Director, Glynn Martin. He is the ideal steward for the place. I’ve been there for over six years and hope to be there for many more.

In addition to working with the L.A. Police Museum, I volunteer with the Sheriff’s Museum too.  Lately I’ve been shadowing the estimable Mike Fratantoni, learning all I can about the rich history of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Mike is the department’s historian and is a walking encyclopedia of Deranged L.A. Crimes. There are major changes in the works for the Sheriff’s Museum. I’ll keep you posted.

Elizabeth Short

The 69th anniversary of L.A.’s most notorious unsolved murder, the slaying of Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia, is coming up. As I have for the past few years I’ll begin a series of posts on January 9th–the day she vanished.

I hope you’re looking forward to another year of Deranged L.A. Crimes as much as I am.

Best wishes for the new year.

Joan

 

A Visit From the Sheriff – 2014

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

COX_CHRISTMAS

T’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.

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

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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 coxDavid’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 nice to make it a holiday tradition. I’m really just an old-fashioned dame at heart.

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.

I took very few liberties with this take. 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.

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

 

The Green Scarf Bandit, Conclusion

Two weeks after he was shot by Sheriff’s deputies James Monroe Rudolph, the Green Scarf Bandit, was on the mend in the prison ward of General Hospital. He was reported to be in a weakened condition, but evidently not too weak to confess to scores of robberies, burglaries, assaults and kidnappings. Deputy District Attorney Howard Hurd and a couple of Sheriff’s deputies, including one of my favorites from the era, Detective Sergeant Ned Lovretovich, were on hand to witness the statements made by Monroe.

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Photo dated 29 January 1951. James M. Rudolph; Sheriff’s Sergeant Dave Terry; Attorney Abraham Becker; Sheriff’s Department Sergeant Ned Lovretovich (walking behind Rudolph). [Photo courtesy of USC online collection.]

Monroe had been captured and critically wounded by deputies following a call from eight year old Jimmy Jones. Jimmy had telephoned the cops after bravely feigning sleep while Rudolph kidnapped his parents at gunpoint. It was Jimmy’s call that resulted in the capture of the the Green Scarf Bandit. For his courage Sheriff Eugene Biscailuz had awarded the boy a miniature Sheriff’s badge.

The authorities were keen to get Rudolph in front of a judge, but his physical condition delayed the proceedings. Another complication was that there was so much stolen loot in the Ruldoph home in Placerville that it was going to take some time for it to be sorted out and put on trucks so that it could be placed into evidence. Cops estimated the worth of the stolen goods to be in excess of $60,000 [$537,851.00 in current U.S. dollars].

Finally on January 30th James Monroe Rudolph, clad in his prison ward jammies, was sufficiently healed from his multiple gunshot wounds to appear for arraignment before Municipal Judge F. Ray Rennett. In the complaint, sworn to by Deputy Sheriff Dave Terry and issued by the Deputy D.A., Rudolph found himself charged with five counts of robbery, four of attempted robbery, nine of kidnapping and two of false imprisonment. Four of the robberies involved food markets from which Rudolph had made off with thousands of dollars in cash.

One of the robberies had been particularly bold. Just a few days prior to the kidnapping of B.G. Jones and his wife, the Green Scarf Bandit had used the same M.O. to rob a La Crescenta supermarket manager and his wife twice in one day!

greenscarf_twiceAlfred W. Boegler and his wife Irene were awakened at about midnight when a man in a green scarf mask climbed through their bedroom window. Holding a pistol on the couple, the bandit politely turned his head as Irene changed from her nightgown into street clothes so that she could accompany her husband and the crook to the Shopping Bag Market at 3100 Foothill Blvd in La Crescenta.

boegler_greenscarfAlfred related to investigators a conversation he had with the masked intruder:

“When we asked him what was to be done about our two sleeping children, he said that it was too cold to take children outdoors–and that they might get injured if there was a night watchman who started any shooting. He said if we co-operated in driving him to the store and opening the safe, we would be safely back home within 30 minutes.”

Hey, he may have been a gun wielding robber but he wasn’t necessarily indifferent to the comfort and safety of young children. As the couple’s two daughters, Barbara (4) and Karen (18 months) slept soundly, Boegler drove his wife and the robber to the market. Once they arrived at the store the gunman used Irene as a hostage while Alfred went into the store with a passkey and turned off the burglar alarm. All the while the gunman apologized saying that his boss was “pretty tough” and he’d face dire consequences if the job didn’t go off perfectly.

After looting two safes at the market the bandit let the Boegler’s out of their car at the corner of Altura Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. They phoned the Montrose Sheriff’s station (the same station young Jimmy Jones would call a few days later) and walked the short distance to their home. They collected their two kids and then went to the home of Boegler’s brother, William. When the Boegler’s returned to their own home a mere six hours after being taken from their warm bed they were met by the green scarfed gunman who was waiting patiently for them in the kitchen.

“You double-crossed me. My boss doesn’t like that. We missed one safe.”

The man then kidnapped the Boeglers for a second time, emptied out a third safe, and fled.

Rudolph may have thought of himself only as a bandit, but two of the kidnapping charges involved bodily harm, which in California, because of the Little Lindbergh Law could be sufficient to send him to the gas chamber.

Following the kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh, Jr. on March 1, 1932, Congress adopted the Federal Kidnapping Act (aka Lindbergh Law), a law which allowed the feds step in once kidnappers had crossed state lines with their victim. There were were several states, California among them, that implemented their own versions of the law which applied in cases of kidnapping when victims were not transported across state lines; hence Little Lindbergh. California’s Little Lindbergh statute made kidnapping with bodily harm a crime eligible for the death penalty.greenscarf_death

In 1951 when the Green Scarf Bandit was busted the Red Light Bandit (Caryl Chessman) was already on California’s death row for kidnapping — he had been convicted under the Little Lindbergh law. Knowing that another bandit was sitting on death row may have provided the motivation for Rudolph to plead guilty to three felony charges: armed robbery, kidnapping for purpose of robbery and false imprisonment. With his plea Rudolph was able to evade the death penalty. For his misdeeds James Monroe Rudolph was sentenced to a term of from five years to life.

The Green Scarf Bandit had no intention of serving out his sentence. About seven months after arriving at Folsom Prison Rudolph and his cell mate, Claude Newton, attempted to break out.

The men had cut holes in the iron cell doors and were waiting for the right moment to bolt when they were discovered by guards. They had stuffed overalls with paper and placed the decoys in their bunks. Newton had even braided a rope out of bed sheets and put a hook on the end so that they could scale the wall.

Warden Robert A. Heinze had the last word on the attempted escape:

“Everything was set to go on the escape but it didn’t work.”

 

 

The Want Ad Killer, Conclusion

death car

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s homicide investigators Det. Sgts. Hamilton and
Lovretovich were following the scarce leads in the case in the “want ad” murder of Andrew Kmiec. The killer had left his bifocals and a couple of unspent .38 caliber cartridges at the scene, but there was no logical place to begin an investigation in a slaying that appeared to have been random. The detectives ruled out robbery — Andy still had $48.43 in his pockets when his body was found.

found carA few days following the slaying detectives received a call from a bartender named Jack London. He’d parked his car at Soto St. and Olympic Blvd. and headed for the cafe where he worked. He thought he saw bloodstains on the lower part of the left door of a Mercury convertible parked next to his car. When he looked inside the car he saw that the seats were smeared with blood. He phoned the cops.

Within minutes the car was identified by police as Kmiec’s. In the rear seat were Dolly McCormick’s coat, handbag, and the Cosmopolitan magazine she’d had with her. Also inside the car was the mate to the lone shoe that had been lying in the road near Andy’s body — the shoe that had first caught the attention of Menlo Butler’s young son.

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Actor Kurt Kreuger undoubtedly received a call from the Want Ad Killer — fortunately he didn’t meet him.

There seemed to be no leads forthcoming in the case until Dolly, the only witness to Andy’s murder, began receiving threatening telephone calls at her cousin’s home in North Hollywood. She was advised to keep her mouth shut, or pay the consequences. The cops hoped the calls would provide clues to the killer — but upon investigation they appeared to have been the work of pathetic cranks. Even so, Sheriff’s deputies placed Dolly under a 24-hour guard while virtually every detective in the LASD continued to investigate.

A few citizens reported odd telephone calls they said they had received from an unidentified man after they’d placed a want ad in the newspaper. One of the persons who had likely been contacted by Kmiec’s slayer was actor Kurt Kreuger. Kreguer was attempting to sell his Cadillac El Dorado. A man contacted him and asked him to take the car to the Biltmore Hotel. Kreuger said he would, but first he planned to pick up a friend on the way downtown. At that news Kreuger said his caller seemed to cool, then hedged a bit and said he would call the following day with different arrangements. The prospective buyer never phoned.

Det. Sgts. Lovretovich and Hamilton just couldn’t catch a break — until, out of the blue, Samuel Jones, a Sheriff’s records clerk, spotted something interesting.

So many things in life are a mixture of hard work, intelligence, intuition, and plain old luck. That’s how it was in the hunt for Andrew Kmiec’s killer.

zilbauer sketchJones was leafing through a file of police bulletins when he came across the name of Anthony J. Zilbauer, 52, who was wanted for questioning by LAPD’s Hollenbeck Division on a grand theft charge. Zilbauer had stolen furniture from one rental when he and his family had moved to another. Deputy Jones thought that there was a strong resemblance between the police bulletin description of Zilbauer and the description of the want ad killer. So he reported his suspicions to detectives.

LASD investigators got Zilbauer’s mug shots from LAPD and showed them to Dolly. Bingo! She immediately ID’d the man as Andy’s killer. Bloody fingerprints found at the scene were matched to those of Zilbauer. The detectives had a suspect and the manhunt was on.

zilbauer printsJust a few weeks following Andy’s murder his suspected killer was located in St. Louis, Missouri. With the cooperation of St. Louis law enforcement L.A. Sheriffs laid a trap for Zilbauer. He was captured and arrested when he walked into a post office to pick up a general delivery letter from his wife.

While Zilbauer was being arrested in St. Louis his thirty-four year old bride of two months, Geraldine, was in Los Angeles giving a sworn statement to the district attorney in which she said that her husband had confessed to killing Kmiec. Screw spousal privilege — she didn’t intend to go to prison.

The Sheriff’s investigation had revealed that Anthony Zilbauer was a man of many aliases. He’d picked up the name Bauer when his wife had noticed that there was a pottery company in Los Angeles that spelled Bauer the same way he did. The real pottery company was undoubtedly the inspiration for the phony story he gave Kmiec and McCormick about being in that business.

Wells-Bauer

Geraldine had also told the D.A. about a strange overnight trip she and Tony had taken to Las Vegas in November (just a few days after Kmiec’s murder). Geraldine said that her husband had a fur coat, she didn’t know where he’d acquired it, and he wanted to take it to Vegas to pawn or sell it. The couple went to a pawn shop and Tony had Geraldine carry out the transaction on her own. They got $300 for the mink, most of which Tony kept for himself — presumably to finance his flight to St. Louis.geraldine zilbauer

The mink coat that Geraldine and Tony had unloaded in Las Vegas was the property of a woman named Mrs. Belle Brooks. Tony had run the want ad scam on her too. Zilbauer had answered an ad she’d placed to sell her fur coat. When he arrived at her apartment he held her at gunpoint and took the coat and a few of her other personal items.

belle brooksHamilton and Lovretovich were sent to St. Louis to collect Zilbauer, who had waived extradition, and return him to Los Angeles where he had a capital murder charge to answer for.

Under questioning by D.A. Ernest S. Roll, Anthony Zilbauer confessed to the murder of Andrew Kmiec.

Not surprisingly during his trial Zilbauer attempted to mitigate his responsibility for Kmiec’s slaying by testifying that Andy, who was larger than he by over six inches and at least 60 lbs., had attacked him. One important fact that Tony neglected to acknowledge — Andy may have been larger, but he had a gun.

“The whole thing was a mistake. He brought it on himself–that seems a foolish thing to say–but that’s the way it was.”

Then Zilbauer went on to tell his side of the story which was a pack of lies from beginning to end.

“The last time I saw him was when he was running around the rear of the car. Then I got in and drove away as fast as I could.”

What? Andy probably wasn’t capable of running anywhere after taking rounds to his chest and face. Also there was evidence that his body had been dragged into the ditch where it was later found.

There wasn’t any clear motive in the killing of Andrew Kmiec — the only plausible explanation is that it was a thrill kill — Zilbauer simply wanted to commit murder. zilbauer goes quietly

Zilbauer’s wife seemed to think that he’d get only 10 to 15 years for the murder, but Tony was an ex-con, hated prison, and he said he’d rather die.

He stated:

“…they might as well give me the gas chamber as a long prison term.”

Then Zilbauer went on an angry rant about his mother-in-law on whom he blamed everything, um, indirectly.

“If it wasn’t for her, this wouldn’t have happened. She’s responsible, indirectly.”

Tony said that he felt that it was the increased financial burden of having his mother-in-law live with the family that resulted in his crime spree.

zilbauer executed 2On March 4, 1954 it took jurors a mere five hours to find Anthony Zilbauer guilty on count one, the murder of Andrew Kmiec. He was also convicted on count two, robbery and kidnapping with bodily injury in connection with the theft of Belle Brooks’ mink coat and other property.

He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for count two, and received death in the gas chamber at San Quentin for count one.

Anthony Zilbauer, a three time loser in Ohio prisons before he came to California, died in California’s gas chamber on May 18, 1955.

 

 

NOTE:  I’ve covered a few of Det. Sgt. Ned Lovretovich’s cases  in the Deranged blog over the past few months. I’ve heard from a friend in the Sheriff’s Department, who has conducted interviews with some of Ned’s contemporaries, that Lovretovich was respected as a detective and thought of as a decent guy. Victim’s families bonded with him, but the people he busted hated him. That makes him a stand-up guy in my book and I know he’s someone I would have enjoyed meeting.

Read some of Ned’s other cases:  Thugs With Spoons; Death Doesn’t Sleep; Death of a Free Spirit

The Want Ad Killer, Part 2

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Dolly McCormick witnessed the fatal shooting of Andrew “Andy” Kmiec by a man who had posed as a prospective buyer for Kmiec’s 1953 Mercury convertible. She was fortunate to have escaped with her life.

After she had directed  deputies to the scene of Andy’s shooting, Dolly was transported to the Norwalk Sheriff’s Station to be interviewed by Lt. A.W. Etzel and Det. Sgt. Ned Lovretovich.

Det. Loveretovich first asked Dolly questions to establish her relationship to the deceased. She told the detective that she and Andy weren’t in a serious relationship, but they had been dating for about two months.

She said that Andy lived on Beverly Glen with a roommate, Alex Milne, and the two men appeared to get along well. As far as she knew Andy didn’t have any enemies, despite what his killer had said about having been hired to do away with him.

Neither Andy nor Dolly were California natives — Andy’s car still bore Indiana license plates, and Dolly had only recently moved to North Hollywood from Prairie Grove, Arkansas to live with her cousin, a television advertising executive.  Andy had come to Southern California during WWII and, like thousands of other veterans, decided to make it his permanent home a few years later. Dolly, too, was looking for a life different than the one she’d had in Arkansas.

Andy Kmiec was described by his employer, friends, and acquaintances as a decent guy, liked by everyone who knew him. Det. Lovretovich couldn’t find anyone who had even disliked Andy, let alone hated him enough to hire someone to kill him.

Dolly was questioned in detail about the events of the evening of the slaying from the moment that Andy arrived in North Hollywood to pick her up for their date.

On the drive downtown to the Biltmore Hotel, Andy told Dolly:

“This is sort of an odd situation. I have never heard of a
business transaction carried on this way.”

When they arrived at the Biltmore, Andy asked Dolly to wait in the car while he went into the hotel to find the prospect. He arrived a few minutes later and introduced Dolly to the stranger — but she couldn’t recall the man’s name.

She described him to Det. Loveretovich as being approximately 45-50 years old, about 5′ 10″, with blondish brown hair. He was wearing a tan suede jacket with knit ribbing at the collar and cuffs and tan pants. She said the man needed a shave badly, but that he was otherwise unremarkable. He was wearing a pair of gold metal, rimless, bifocal eye glasses.

Dolly became uncomfortable during the drive to Whittier because the stranger told conflicting stories about his employment. He had first implied that he owned a pottery
business in Santa Ana, then moments later said he was the plant’s supervisor. What really alarmed Dolly was when the man seemed unable to provide concise directions to his own home.

The pretty sales clerk went on to describe what happened after the man had told Andy to park the car. She said that he produced a gun, showed it to Andy and said:

“You know what this is.”

Andy said yes, of course he knew that it was a gun — then he offered the stranger his wallet, the car, anything if he would leave.

The stranger said that he’d been hired to “take care” of Andy, and that he was being well paid for the job.

Andy continued to plead, but the man forced him into the back seat of the Mercury at gun point. Dolly was made to drive the car with the stranger sitting next to her.

Right before they pulled to a stop the man said to Dolly:

“It’s too bad that you had to be an innocent bystander, but as long as you do what I tell you to do I promise I won’t hurt you.”

Suddenly the man leaned over into the back seat and fired — Dolly heard Kmiec gasp, and then saw him clutch his chest. The man fired again and Dolly jumped out of the car. She felt something tug on the belt of her dress but she didn’t know if it was the assailant or if she’d caught it on the door handle. The belt ripped away from her dress as she scrambled to get away.

Dolly had left behind her in the car a black, faille purse with a gold clasp, her coat, and a Cosmopolitan magazine.Cosmopolitan-November-1953-1

Once she got to intersection of Lakeland and Painter she flagged down a a passing motorist. She got into the car and said:

“A man’s just been shot. Will you take me to the police, or some place where I can call the police, as quickly as possible?”

She was taken to a drug store where she phoned the Sheriff’s Department.

Det. Lovretovich gleaned what he could from Dolly’s statement, but it wasn’t much. He had a description of the killer, which could fit thousands of men in Los Angeles, and a description of the weapon, which appeared to have been a revolver with a long barrel. The only decent physical evidence was a pair of eye glasses found at the scene and, if they were lucky, they might be able to ID fingerprints left in blood.

Alex Milne, Andy’s roommate, was the next to be questioned by Det. Lovretovich. Alex said he was employed as a test pilot by Lockheed in Burbank. He’d known Andy for about ten months and they had been rooming together in a house on Beverly Glen for a few months prior to the murder.

corrinecalvert

From his interview it was clear that Alex was the quintessential ’50s swinging bachelor. He dropped the names of a few of his actor friends like Don Haggerty, and John Bromfield and his wife Corrine Calvert. He seemed like a guy who wanted to make an impression.

When asked if they ever had any arguments, Alex said that he and Andy got along fine. Det. Lovretovich wanted to know if he and his roommate ever went out with the same girls. Alex admitted that they had, but it was not a big deal. He told Ned that he’d fixed Andy up a few times with women he’d previously dated — he even shared that Andy had “made the team” a couple of times with some of them. Of course those girls were simply “pieces of ass” as far as Alex was concerned.  When Det. Lovretovich asked if the women were hustlers, Alex said no, they were airline stewardesses!

stew1After learning more than he probably ever wanted to know about Alex’s social life, Ned Lovretovich and the others assigned to the case continued to follow-up every lead, trying to get a break.

Detectives hoped that the bloody eye glasses found at the scene would crack the Kmeic case, just as a pair of specs had lead Chicago cops to Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb in 1924. Leopold and Loeb were convinced they’d committed the perfect crime, a thrill killing, when they murdered 14 year old Bobby Franks. The prescription eye glasses proved them wrong.

LLtrib1

As Sheriff’s investigators continued to probe for answers, Andy Kmiec’s body was sent by air to East Chicago, Indiana, for burial.

As it turned out, Andy Kmiec’s killer wouldn’t be identified by his eye glasses, but rather by the sharp eyes of a Sheriff’s records clerk.

NEXT TIME: The Sheriffs make an arrest in Andy Kmiec’s murder.

The Want Ad Killer

A shoe is seen next to a pool of blood after a fight in downtown Rome-1450028

How many times have you seen a single shoe lying in the road? Did you ever wonder how it got there? I came up with an answer when I was a kid. I was convinced that the shoe was there because the owner had been snatched out of it by a violent death.

I speculated that the lone shoe’s owner may have been hit by a car, or involved in some other type of fatal incident. Even now whenever I spy a single shoe in the road it will cause me to shiver just a little bit.

My husband Scott, who is accustomed to my obsession with mayhem and murder, thought my theory was ghoulish for a kid. Hey, I never claimed to have been a laugh riot as a ten year old.

However, this next case vindicates me on the whole shoe thing.

On the night of November 21, 1953, Menlo Butler was driving with his family when his son shouted:

“Daddy, there’s a new shoe in the road!”

Menlo pulled his car over and parked approximately 50 yards east of Painter Avenue near Lakeland Road. A new shoe wasn’t the only thing Butler had discovered. He found blood-spattered, rimless glasses, the belt from a woman’s dress, and a button, comb, penny and two unfired .38 cartridges. He was trying to decide what to do next when L.A. Sheriff’s Deputies, Rowley and Webster, accompanied by a young woman, pulled up in a patrol car.

Butler turned to the cops and said:

“Officers, look what I found.”

He showed them the belt and other items he’d found in the road, and then he said:

“And look over there.”

He pointed to the south shoulder of Lakeland Road where Deputies Rowley and Webster saw the body of a man lying on his face in the weeds. They phoned in for an ambulance which came and took the man to Pico Emergency Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival by Dr. Merrill Colton.

dolly_kmiecThe young woman who had accompanied Deputy Sheriffs Rowley and Webster to the scene of the shooting was twenty-one year old Dolly McCormick. She had been with the victim, identified as thirty-three year old Andrew Kmiec, when he was shot. Somehow she had managed to escape the assailant, flag down a passing car, and get to the South Whittier Pharmacy at 13331 Telegraph Road where she phoned the cops from a booth.

When the deputies rolled up to the pharmacy they found Dolly waiting for them. The officers asked her to get into the radio car so she could direct them to the scene, but she hesitated — she was terrified. She said:

“No. I don’t want to go back there – he is still there and he will shoot me.”

When asked who “he” was, Dolly said she didn’t know, the man was a stranger.

Dolly told Rowley and Webster everything she could recall from the time that Andrew Kmiec, the victim, had picked her up in North Hollywood at approximately 4:30 p.m, until the shooting in South Whittier about two hours later.

Andrew and Dolly had planned a dinner date, but first Andrew had an errand to run and he wanted her to accompany him. He had advertised his car, a 1953 Mercury convertible, for sale in the papers and a man had called him and wanted to meet him at the Biltmore Hotel, downtown, at 5:30 p.m.

kmied

The couple drove to the Biltmore  where Andrew left Dolly to wait for him while he ran into the lobby to meet the prospective buyer. A short time later Andrew returned with a man, whose name Dolly couldn’t recall. The stranger told Andrew that he liked the car but wanted to show it to his wife. If she liked it Andrew would be paid in cash that evening.

Dolly said that the man sat on her right in the front seat of the car and they drove toward Whittier. The trio made small talk during the drive. The man told them that he worked in the pottery business, but Dolly became suspicious of him because it seemed to her that he was lying about his position. He gave odd answers to her inquiries and contradicted himself a couple of times. She was further alarmed when he was unable to provide clear directions to his home.

Finally, they pulled up in front of a house on a dark street and the stranger pulled a gun. Dolly said Andrew told the man he could take all of the money he had, the car, and some stocks and bonds at home if he would let them go. The stranger told him no, that he was a killer, hired to do away with Andrew and that he was being well paid for the job.

Pointing his weapon at Andrew, the stranger told him to get in to the rear seat. He then asked Dolly if she could drive. When she said yes the man motioned her into the front seat and told her to take the wheel. The stranger sat next to her, but kept his weapon pointed at Andrew.

Finally the man told Dolly to stop the car, then he leaned over the back seat and fired three shots at Andrew. Dolly quickly got out of the car on the driver’s side. She thought the killer had grabbed the belt of her dress, but it didn’t slow her down. Neither did the shot she thought she heard ring out as she ran for her life.

NEXT TIME:  Det. Sgts. Hamilton and Lovretovich begin the investigation into Andrew Kmiec’s murder.

Death Of A Free Spirit: Conclusion

alexandra bathing suitLos Angeles County Sheriffs had few clues in the murder of Alexandra “Xandra” Roos — but then most murder cases don’t come with a suspect and confession tied with a big red bow. The lack of evidence in the case meant that investigators had to rely on old-fashioned grunt work — and they began to question all of Xandra’s friends and acquaintances to see what they could shake loose. A logical place to begin was with Xandra’s ex-lover, and father of her child, Alan Brown.

According to Brown he had become involved with Xandra in 1950 during a rough patch in his marriage. After giving birth to a little girl, Xandra threatened him with a paternity suit unless he agreed to support the child. Brown decided to pay up and he had been sending Xandra $10 weekly support through the City Attorney’s office for a couple of years.

Homicide investigators weren’t completely satisfied with Brown’s statement, it seemed too neat, so they pushed him a little harder.

During his interrogation, Alan revealed that he’d taken Xandra out for at least four months before she had finally consented to have sex with him. He also confessed to the cops that he and the dead woman had continued their affair, off and on, until there was an ugly confrontation between Xandra and his wife, Viola.

Xandra had been pressing Alan for child support, and to make sure he knew that she was serious she turned up at the house he shared with Viola. The visit didn’t go well. Viola called Xandra a bum, and Xandra responded by calling Viola a slut. It was a nightmare for Alan who had been led woefully astray by his penis. He was just an average Joe in his 40s looking to bed a sweet young thing while he and his wife were on the outs — but his entanglement with Xandra had nearly cost him his marriage and had briefly made him a murder suspect. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

While detectives were grilling the people who had played a part in Xandra’s life, the fate of her daughter, Allison, was getting more complicated by the minute. Xandra’s will made it clear that she didn’t want her mother and step-father, Frieda and Hugh Schmidt of Tukahoe, NY, to have any role in her daughter’s upbringing. Xandra had stipulated that the Schmidt’s should:

“…be not designed or appointed guardian of the person or property of my daughter.”

Mrs. Hannah Frank of the Bronx, N.Y., who had once taken care of Allison, was named
as the girl’s guardian. But Alan’s wife Viola declared that not only had she forgiven her husband for the affair she was eager to bring his child with Xandra into their home. She declared:alan viola brown

“We want to make a real home for Allison and give her the love parents — something she has never known.”

The battle for guardianship of Allison raged on while services for her mother were held in the chapel of the McGlynn Mortuary. Among the small group of mourners was Xandra’s mother, who flung herself over the flower-decked coffin of her murdered daughter. She sobbed uncontrollably for a few minutes before being led away.

Xandra’s personal life and finances were so complex that detectives despaired of ever untangling the mystery of her murder. They didn’t even have a clear motive for the killing until they learned of Xandra’s relationship with Frank and Anita Meloche.

Xandra had first met Anita and Frank in July of 1954 when she answered their rental ad. The situation at first seemed to be mutually beneficial — Anita cared for Allison while Xandra worked, which meant that the Meloches collected both rent and money for babysitting. Then in August or September Xandra approached Anita with an interesting proposition. Xandra offered to loan the couple enough money to purchase a bigger home — the only attached string was that Anita would continue to care for Allison.

It sounded like a good deal, so Anita and Frank went for it. Xandra loaned them five thousand dollars (equivalent to $43,000 in current U.S. dollars) which they used to buy a home on the 4200 block of Perlita Avenue in Glendale.

anita melocheXandra moved with Allison to a nearby apartment, and then began to make plans to build a second house behind the home that Anita and Frank had purchased. The structure that Xandra had in mind turned out to be too large for the lot, so it was back to square one. Xandra then came up with the idea to purchase the house next door, but all the wheeling and dealing was getting to be too much for Anita.

Xandra had one last suggestion, and it seemed bizarre to Anita. Xandra said:

“What do you want to stay with Frank for? I can do so much for you, Anita, if you would only let me. Leave Frank and we’ll go somewhere.”

Anita was being run ragged between caring for her own children, babysitting for Allison, and running errands for Xandra. On top of everything, Xandra wouldn’t stop pressuring her to leave Frank, something Anita refused to do.

Once detectives discovered that Xandra had made a sizable personal loan to the Meloches, they had a thread to tug on. Money is a powerful motive — but would it lead them to a killer?

One of my favorite Sheriff’s investigators, Det. Sgt. Ned Lovretovich, interviewed Frank and he collapsed, sobbing — then he spilled the whole awful story. (For more on Ned see: Thugs With Spoons and Death Doesn’t Sleep )

Frank said that at about 6:30 p.m. on the evening of January 7, 1955, Anita asked him to go to the store for her. The errand shouldn’t have taken more than 30 minutes — but he was gone for over four hours.

When he finally turned up, Anita asked him:

“Where were you so long?”

Frank replied:

“I just got rid of her”.

Anita fainted.

Once she had regained her senses, Frank confessed to Anita — and he told the same version of events to homicide investigators.scene of crime

Frank had met Xandra at a streetcar stop at the intersection of Glendale Blvd. and Brunswick Ave. He wanted to persuade Xandra to stop making demands on Anita and to leave them alone. He said:

“She (Xandra) didn’t like me. She kept pestering my wife to take our children and come and live with her. She was making a slave out of my wife. I decided to tell her to stay away from us.”

Xandra got into Frank’s car and their chat quickly turned into a heated argument. Frank said that Xandra taunted him about his manhood, or lack thereof, and then slapped him hard across the face. Frank pulled his car to the curb near the intersection of Hart St. and Sepulveda in Van Nuys, and then he snapped. He said that he grabbed Xandra around the neck and throttled her — minutes later she slipped to the floor of the car, dead.meloche

Frank drove her body out near the beach where it was discovered a couple of weeks later.

Frank said that he couldn’t take any more of Xandra’s abuse, and that he had felt an explosion in his brain which compelled him to grab the woman and choke the life out of her.  Evidently Frank was no stranger to brain explosions. He had been discharged from the Navy during WWII after being diagnosed as a “constitutional psychopath” — a condition described in 1926 in The Journal of the American Medical Association as:

“…a generic term to include the six classes of constitutional psychopathic states noted in the nomenclature; criminalism, emotional instability, inadequate personality, paranoid personality, pathologic liar and sexual psychopathy.”

Frank Meloche was found guilty of murder and sentenced to from one to ten years in prison.

Despite Xandra’s will custody of her daughter, Allison, was awarded to Frieda.

Judge Wolfson said that he had disregarded Xandra’s  wishes because:

“…sometimes we have an unconscious hate for those we know we have wronged.”

It wasn’t made clear in what way Xandra may have wronged her mother and stepfather.grandparents

Alan and Viola Brown had filed a petition for custody of Allison, but the judge denied it because he thought they seemed a little too interested in the girl’s inheritance.

The only good news in connection with the Roos case was that the Sheriff’s investigators, who had managed to solve the case despite the initial lack of evidence or clues, were recognized for their accomplishment. Cited were: Lt. Al Etzel, commander of the Sheriff’s homicide detail, and Det. Sgts. Harry Andre, Claude Everley, Jack Lawton, Norman Peterson, Ned Lovretovich, Hubert A. Waldrip, Norman Hamilton, Ray Hopkinson and Lyle Stalcup.

Unfortunately even a successful investigation couldn’t bring Xandra back to life. Alexandra Roos was a fascinating and complex woman; she was a free spirit with a strong will and sense of independence unusual for her time; but she still had a long way to go — how sad that she never got the chance to realize her potential.

Thugs with Spoons

public-enemy_1452829i

THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931)

“Why you, I oughta…”

Tough guy talk and a shiv concealed in a shoe, shirt, or somewhere truly unsavory (where the sun don’t shine) may be gangster film cliches, but those moments are based on truth. The bad guy patter has become more profanity laced over the decades, but criminals are true to type whether they’re celluloid or flesh and blood. Hoods hold grudges and pay-back is a point of pride.

On May 12, 1958, in Department 42 of the Hall of Justice, two punks from East L.A. were on trial for a murder committed during the course of a robbery. Fifty-one year old Jose Castellanos, a local groceryman, had been shot to death by twenty-three year old Gregory Valenzuela. Castellanos and his wife were in their store at 435 S. McDonnell Avenue when two would-be robbers came in and demanded money. Castellanos leaped for a counter and pulled out his own gun to fend off the crooks; he managed to fire a round before being mortally wounded. Mrs. Castellanos watched in horror as her husband died.

Gregory Valenzuela [Photo courtesy USC Digital Archive]

Gregory Valenzuela [Photo courtesy USC Digital Archive]

Sheriff’s Detective Sgts. N.L. Peterson and Ned Lovretovich rolled to the scene of the shooting and began their investigation.  Valenzuela was ID’d by Castellanos’ widow, and within a couple of days he was located hiding with four other young men in an empty house behind the home of a friend, Joseph Lozano.

Valenzuela told officers that he and an unnamed accomplice decided “to hit” the Castellanos’ grocery store.

It’s possible that Valenzuela and his accomplice were members of White Fence (aka WF), one of the oldest street gangs in East Los Angeles. Even though the gang claims it goes back to 1911, it didn’t emerge until the 1930s when it began as a male sports team associated with the La Purisima Church. The WF name supposedly derives from a white picket fence that surrounded the church. The moniker makes the gang sound benign; but nothing could be further from the truth.

Photo found: http://www.handselecta.com/interview_gribbb.html

[ http://www.handselecta.com]

By 1957, when Castellanos was murdered, White Fence was one of the most powerful and violent gangs in the the area with criminal enterprises ranging from auto theft to murder. Over the years WF hasn’t vanished, it has thrived. It now has members in Las Vegas, El Paso, Florida, and Guatemala.

It was diligent police work by detectives Peterson and Lovretovich that resulted in the ID of Valenzuela’s accomplice — twenty-three year old Augustine Acosta. As killers will do, Acosta and Valenzuela developed a grudge against the cops who had arrested them, especially Sgt. Ned Lovretovich — and they were determined to get him.

Det. Sgt. Ned Lovretovich

Det. Sgt. Ned Lovretovich [Photo courtesy USC Digital Photo Archive]

On May 12, 1958, following the afternoon recess, as the defendants Valenzuela and Acosta were being led back into the courtroom by the bailiff  they suddenly broke away and attacked Det. Sgt. Ned Lovretovich with sharpened metal spoons — shivs! Lovretovich was not seriously injured, he received a stab wound to his right shoulder and an abrasion on his cheek. Valenzuela and Acosta were subdued by force and taken away.

When questioned Gregory Valenzuela characterized the courtroom stabbing incident as “Just a misunderstanding”. He claimed not to recall much of what had happened and said that he didn’t know why he’d jumped Lovretovich; later he would say that the motive was that the detective was framing him. Classic.

Acosta’s interview was considerably more colorful than Valenzuela’s had been. When he was asked if he’d care to tell the investigators what happened in the courtroom, Acosta replied:

“No. Fuck everybody. I don’t give a shit.”

Where did Acosta get the spoon he’d sharpened into a shiv?

“It’s for you to find out. You’re the law, not me.”

Acosta gave the same motive for the attack on Lovretovich as Valenzuela had:

“Because the punk knows I’m not guilty and is railroading me.”

During the course of the questioning, Acosta unequivocally stated his reason for attacking the detective:

“…I meant to kill the motherfucker.”

The interview ended when Acosta expressed his desire to return to his cell:

“Let me go back to the tank…”

Gregory Huerta Valenzuela and Augustine Acosta were found guilty of first degree murder in the death of Jose Castellanos and sentenced to life in state prison. The two also plead guilty to assault w/intent to commit murder and injury to a county employee for the attack on Lovretovich — they received sentences to run concurrently with their life terms.

foundguiltyI have no idea if or when Valenzuela and Acosta were released from prison.  Det. Sgt. Lovretovich not only survived the attack on him, he lived to be 90 years old.

 NOTE: Many thanks to Mike Fratantoni for sharing this deranged tale with me.