Dog Spelled Backwards, Conclusion

clarke_arraigned_pichim in all sorts of schemes, most of which smacked of extortion. The cops thought that the scams were primarily small ones, until they uncovered evidence that John was attempting to merge several cults into a “spiritualist trust”. Among the plans he had for the trust were: Mexican distilleries, deals in bat guano, and investments in copper mines and oil stocks.  He planned to operate the trust out of a home offered for sale by Mrs. Dorothy Parry. John represented himself to Dorothy as the agent for a purchaser who could afford the asking price of $70,000 (equivalent to nearly $10M in 2016 dollars). But rather than putting Dorothy together with a buyer, John bombarded her with letters and poems. Dorothy told investigators: “The man’s persistence was so annoying that I had to move and asked my hotel not to give my forwarding address. But somehow Clarke managed to obtain it and followed me to this address. As the result of his visits I have been afraid to answer the door bell or go to the telephone.”

While continuing to pursue Dorothy, John was able to convince several more women to sign “soul contracts.” Helen Isabelle McGee’s contract read in part: “I agree with John Bertrum Clarke to enter with him into a higher spiritual development for at least two years. I will do everything possible to permit him to restore my full youth…and will be guided by him in both objective and subjective…”

love pirate caseSoul contracts and shady real estate deals were bad enough, but what about the  possibility that John had been involved in the suspicious deaths of two women with whom he had been involved?

The first death was that of John’s former housekeeper. Her body was found in the lake at Westlake Park across the street from the apartment John occupied at the time. Shortly before her death the unnamed woman had deeded a piece of property she owned in Ventura to John. He was questioned but subsequently released.

The second death was that of a 22-year-old girl. She was a student of the occult and at the time of her death she was helping John sell his books. It was rumored that the two had been lovers. She shot herself while in the vestibule of a local church–allegedly she was despondent over ill health. If John had played any part in her death it was never proved.

John flatly denied any knowledge of the drowned girl: “There is nothing to that story,” he said. According to him the story had originated at Patton State Hospital where he had been an inmate in 1920. He told investigators that the basis of the story was a play on his name. John explained that if you eliminated the first and fourth letters of his surname you were left with the word “lake”. Hmm. Really?

The hospital, originally known as Southern California Hospital for Insane and Inebriates, first opened its doors in 1893. Exactly why John had been confined in the hospital isn’t clear. At that time, and for many years after, it was a place where the seriously ill, or the seriously inconvenient, were confined. But he could have been there for any one of a number of issues–the place housed people suffering from mental disorders as well as physical ailments, specifically syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases.

John’s immediate problem, and the one for which he was in legal trouble up to his eyeballs, was the contributing charge. He came face-to-face with Clara Tautrim and her mother, Caroline, in the anteroom of the District Attorney’s office. They, along with Cecyle Duncan, had given their statements to D.A. Buron Fitts and Deputy D.A. Joos. John didn’t appear to be distressed by the presence of his accusers. In fact when they left he turned to Detective Berenzweig and said: “Give me credit for picking good looking ones.”

Only Clara Irene Berry seemed to be upset. Clara admitted that she’d been a party to luring the Tautrim girl to John’s apartment, but she denied knowledge of John’s real intentions.

D.A. Fitts questioned John, but the accused couldn’t be persuaded to stay on topic. When he was asked how many women he’d had love affairs with he said: “Most of them didn’t keep their dates, but when they didn’t show up I went out and got another. What I wanted to do was get a wife. I didn’t care if I had to marry her sixteen times. I wanted to transfer over to her my patents which will soon be in use by the government and which will bring me in $3000 a day.” John was returned to his jail cell.

Los Angeles Times, July 21, 1924

Los Angeles Times, July 21, 1924

John had several days’ growth of beard and was wearing the same soiled white suit when, on July 22nd, he was arraigned on the contributing charge. Clara Berry was arraigned as his accomplice. When she heard the charges against her she cried out: “No, no!”

While John and Clara were held in the county jail, each on $5000 bond, Chief Deputy District Attorney Buron Fitts held a press conference. He said: “The arrest of John Bertrum Clarke, ex-convict and former inmate of the asylum at Patton, undoubtedly removed a grave menace to the safety of the womanhood of Los Angeles. Under the guise of a minister of the Church of Cosmic Truth, Clarke planned in a systematic manner to prey on the girls and women of the city, evidence in our hands indicates. Neither the grey-haired woman nor the girl in her teens was immune from the menace. His conviction on a charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor is of the utmost importance to this community, and anyone possessing information regarding the activities of the man should place it in our hands at the earliest possible moment. Detectives Berenzweig, Hoskins and Harris, as well as Captain Plummer and Lieutenant Littell of the vice squad, deserve the highest commendation for their clever and untiring efforts in bringing Clarke before the bar of justice. Men of Clarke’s stamp are as dangerous in every respect as the ‘bad man’ who seeks his victim with a gun. They are certainly not worthy the same respect.”

John’s sanity, or lack thereof, was to be determined by the Lunacy Commission (no, I didn’t make that up). They heard from Clara Tautrim who described her interactions with the so-called love-pirate. She told of his promises to make her a motion picture star, and she also told them about the time he had grabbed her and kissed on on the neck. An overture she didn’t appreciate.

A doctor who had examined John testified: “He has been quiet and cooperative, but talkative. He has an exalted opinion of himself. He said he has discovered an automatic alphabet which enables him to communicate with God. He told me he is one of the greatest spiritualists in the world. He boasted that he had saved 40,000 persons from becoming insane. He says that he has invented an automatic mail sorting machine that has a human mind, and that he wrote President Coolidge about it.”

Another doctor, named Carter, testified: “He (John) was in the Psychopathic Hospital in 1919. Then he was sent to Patton where he stayed one year. His present actions indicate that he did not thoroughly recover at Patton from hi mental illness. He has proven himself a menace to be at large regarding his annoyance of children and a menace to himself.”

“He is a thorough case of dementia praecox,” declared Dr. Allen.

John loudly reiterated his demand for a jury trial. However he was soon bound for the Patton Asylum where, on November 16, 1924, he picked the look on his door and escaped. LAPD and the Sheriff’s Department were keeping an eye on his usual haunts on the chance that he would return to the city. He never turned up.

In early April 1925 District Attorney Asa Keyes learned that John was in Reno; however there was no legal procedure in place to extradite an insane person.  John may not have realized it but the Lunacy Commission had done him a favor.  If he’d he gotten his wish of a jury trial he may have been found guilty and sentenced to prison. It would have been much more difficult to escape from San Quentin than it was from the Patton Hospital.

John was in the wind for months before being discovered in Reno. Several weeks after that he was under arrest in Seattle, Washington. Police Chief Severyns contacted the LAPD and District Attorney Keyes for advice.

The situation was the same as it had been when John had been found in Reno–he couldn’t be extradited. As long as John stayed away from Los Angeles he could continue to operate his crack-pot schemes and cons with impunity; at least until he ran afoul of the law elsewhere.

I’ve found copies of some of John’s writings, but I haven’t been able to track him any further than 1925. I’d love to know what happened to him. If anyone knows please share.

Baby Borgia, Conclusion

alsa_4yrsoldRussell Thompson refused to believe that his daughter, 7-year-old Alsa, had poisoned anyone. Dr. Edwin Huntington Williams, a psychiatrist, was inclined to agree with him. The doctor examined Alsa and pronounced her abnormal but “…not exactly insane.” He said: “It might be that in periods of epilepsy she has done strange things but it will take much careful observation to determine what is wrong with her. I have made only a casual examination but will make a more detailed one with Dr. Martin G. Carter, superintendent of the Psychopathic Hospital, and Dr. G.H. Steele, assistant superintendent.”

Dr. Williams wasn’t alone in believing that epilepsy was an inherited mental defect that could result in criminal behavior. It was one of the conditions which some members of the medical community hoped to eradicate through involuntary sterilization and selective breeding. The social movement that endorsed such repugnant beliefs was known as Eugenics and was practiced in the United States for years before it became part of the Nazis plan to breed a race of Aryan Ubermensch (supermen).

Alsa was calm when she told Dr. Williams about the poisonings. She claimed that when she was a 4-year-old she had killed her twin siblings, and she had confessed to poisoning the food of the Platts family who had taken her and her younger sister in during their parents’ separation and divorce. She also confessed to killing Nettie Steele who had been her caretaker the previous year. Dr. Williams wasn’t convinced that Alsa was guilty of anything but an overactive imagination. About her stories he said: “There is no doubt that she believes them. Until we have checked up on heredity and the child’s history we will be unable to understand just what the trouble is.”

alsa_picPsychiatrists declared that Alsa was sane. Buron Fitts, the Chief Deputy District Attorney, didn’t seem to know what make of the girl. He said: “Frankly, I don’t know what to think. It’s the most extraordinary case I ever heard of. I don’t know whether to believe the child or not. Her stories sound improbable, but then there is the way she tells them. I just don’t what to think about it yet.”

Fitts wasn’t the only one confounded by Alsa’s confessions. The Lunacy Commission (no, I didn’t make that up), ruled that the child was mentally sick and bordering on insanity, but that she was not dangerously insane.

Claire finally spoke on her daughter’s behalf: “I do not believe Alsa’s story now. I suppose I have been impressionable, but Mrs. Platts was telling me these things all along and I usually believe the things people tell me.”

Dr. Paul Powers, an associate of members of the Lunacy Commission, spoke to reporters following the hearing. He said: “I think that half what the girl says is true and half false, but that her environment surely has not been the best.”

It was about time that the authorities looked into Alsa’s caretakers. It was Inez Platts who had charged Alsa with attempting to poison her family and no one seemed to have done anything other than take her word for it. During an interrogation Inez admitted that there was at least one night when Alsa was bound hand and foot.

The consensus was that both Alsa and Maxine would be better off away from the Platts’ home. Russell again expressed his belief in Alsa’s innocence: “My child will now be allowed to get the proper care and I am sure it is the best thing in the world for her. I think she is better away from the influences to which she has been subject, including her mother. I have nothing further to say. I will not capitalize in any way on my child.” Russell further denied earlier reports that he and Claire might reconcile. In fact he filed a petition in Juvenile Court asking that his youngest daughter, Maxine, be made a ward of the court until he could be granted full custody.

It was interesting that Russell included Claire as a negative influence in his daughters’ lives. The courts must have agreed with him because he was awarded custody of both Maxine and Alsa. In retrospect it seems obvious that Alsa’s unsettling confessions had been false—the product of twisted suggestions by an adult—but whether it was Claire or Inez it’s impossible to say.

Just because Alsa wasn’t really a Baby Borgia, doesn’t mean that there is no such thing as a killer kid. In May 1929, four years after Alsa made headlines in L.A., six-year-old Carl Newton Mahan was tried in eastern Kentucky for the murder of his friend, 8-year-old Cecil Van Hoose. The two had been out looking for scrap metal to sell. They fought over a piece of scrap and Cecil smacked Carl in the face with it. Carl shot Cecil to death with his father’s shotgun. He was sentenced to 15 years in reform school, but a judge issued a “writ of prohibition” which allowed him to remain free. There are other cases of kids who kill, but Alsa wasn’t one of them.

Alsa and Maxine must have been relieved when they moved to Orange County to live with Russell. As far as I can determine from census and other records once Alsa was away from the Platts’ and the influence of her mother she lived a normal life. She passed away in April 1994 at age 77.

The Benetti Hit–Conclusion

The gangsters suspected in the shotgun murder of Gaetano Binetti and the serious wounding of his wife barely spent a moment in lock-up before there was a confession. No, none of the gangsters confessed–it was Gaetano’s cousin Marie Binetti.

binetti_photosMarie, a 37-year-old widow with two children, wanted a husband and she had set her sights on Gaetano’s brother, Cinette a Santa Monica farmer. Gaetano may have been a local “godfather” for a collection of families or he may have been the Benetti family patriarch, but either way Marie needed his permission to pursue her heart’s desire. She asked Gaetano’s permission but he denied her. She brooded for a while before deciding to exact revenge. She had taken Gaetano’s shotgun, then she went into the bedroom where he and his wife were sleeping and fired. She hadn’t intended to harm Gaetano’s wife, Conchetta. She thought she could blame the murder on Gaetano’s rivals and tried to buttress her story by spending the night at a neighbor’s house telling the police that she feared that an attempt would be made on her life.benetti_2

The afternoon following the slaying Detective Lieutenants Hickey and Corsini drove out to New Depot Street to bring Marie in for questioning. She excused herself and went into the bathroom. When she didn’t return within a few minutes the detectives became alarmed. They went to look for her and found her sprawled out on the bathroom floor–she had slashed her throat with a straight razor. There was a lot of blood and Marie’s condition was critical. An ambulance was called and took her to the Pasadena Avenue Receiving Hospital. As soon as she arrived she gasped out her confession to Detective Corsini.

While Marie was rushed to the hospital, police scientists compared her fingerprints to those found on the stock of the murder weapon and they were a match.benetti_5

Deputy District Attorneys Thomas and Menzies, accompanied by a stenographer, went to the hospital to record Marie’s death bed confession but was unable to speak. An inquest was held and the jury formally accused Marie of the crime. Immediately after the inquest District Attorney Burton Keyes filed on Marie for murder.

On August 12, 1928, Marie Binetti succumbed to her wounds.

Lois Pantages’s Wild Ride, Conclusion

Photograph caption dated September 3, 1929 reads, "Photo shows Mrs. Karuko Rokumoto, the crash victim's widow, and her three children bereft by the tragedy. At left, William Rokumoto, in foreground Grace, left, and Mary Rokumoto. Mother and son are prosecution witnesses."  (Photo courtesy LAPL0

Photograph caption dated September 3, 1929 reads, “Photo shows Mrs. Karuko Rokumoto, the crash victim’s widow, and her three children bereft by the tragedy. At left, William Rokumoto, in foreground Grace, left, and Mary Rokumoto. Mother and son are prosecution witnesses.” (Photo courtesy LAPL0

By mid-July 1929 Lois Pantages was out on bail pending her trial for the murder of a gardener, Joe Rokumoto, while she was driving under the influence of alcohol.  In an effort to get his wife out of trouble Alexander allegedly hired an old friend, William “Paddy” McGee, to bribe a cop who was on the scene of the accident and could testify to the fact that Lois was shit-faced and smelled like a distillery. The cop, William S. Dutton, testified at the Coroner’s inquest that he and his fellow officers had one hell of time getting Lois out of her car and into an ambulance. Not because she was seriously hurt, but because she was combative. She kept saying she wanted to go home. When Officer Dutton visited her in the Dickey and Cass Hospital later she said: “Ge out of here.  I don’t want to see any policemen, I want to see my husband.”  Even though they’d known each other for decades Alexander referred to Paddy as “that McGee person” in an obvious effort to distance himself from both the messenger and the message. It was Paddy’s word against Alexander’s so guess who went to jail. If you guessed Paddy, you’re right.

Within two weeks of the bribery kerfuffle another witness came forward with a story–not of attempted bribery but of intimidation. Harry J. Lederbrink, a building contractor who lived at 2610 South Ridgely Drive, was asked by Deputy District Attorneys Costello and Jones if he would testify against Lois Pantages he said: “I will unless something happens; I’ve been threatened in this case already.” Lederbrink had received two threatening telephone calls, one telling him that he’d better not testify and the second telling him to get out of town. Deputy D.A. Costello intended to trace the caller, but that would be easier said than done.

Harry Lederbrink [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Harry Lederbrink [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Lederbrink’s testimony was a blow to Lois’s case. At the Coroner’s inquest he testified that he first saw Lois driving erratically in her Stutz near Beverly Boulevard and St. Andrews Place. At the intersection of Western and Beverly he tried to talk to her because he was convinced that she was in no condition to drive. When he leaned into the car to have a word Lederbrink smelled whiskey. Lois wouldn’t listen to Lederbrink when he suggested that she park her car and call a taxi.  She went on to cause the accident that ended the life of Joe Rokumoto.

On August 5, 1929 Lois appeared in Superior Court Judge Aggeler’s court and waived time for plea and entered a plea of not guilty. She demanded an early trial date. The judge obliged and set the date of Lois’s trial for September 2 in Department Twenty-four; Judge Hardy’s court.

On the evening of August 9 the media focus shifted from Lois’s impending murder trial to Alexander who suddenly had serious legal problems of his own. He had been booked at LAPD’s Central Station on suspicion of statutory rape. The alleged victim, 16 year old Eunice Pringle of 417 Acacia Street, Garden Grove, alleged that the 54 year old theater magnate had invited her into his private office, ostensibly to discuss her vaudeville act, but had attacked her instead. She said that she lost consciousness and when she awakened a few minutes later her clothes were in disarray.  Screaming, Eunice fled the office.  Alexander told investigators the attack never happened and that it was a “frame-up”.

Buron Fitts, who was fast becoming the Pantages’s family nemesis, acted quickly to indict Alexander. No fewer than eleven witnesses lined up to testify against him. He entered a not guilty plea and his trial was set to begin on September 23, just a couple of weeks following Lois’s. Both Lois and Alexander were free on bail.  Dinner conversations at the Pantages’s manse must have been interesting.

Lois was very involved in the selection of the jurors who would determine her fate. Did she wince when one of the prospective jurors said that while he’d served on several murder trial juries on the east coast, he’d never sat on a jury in a homicide trial. Another potential juror, H.C. Hagey, told the court that he thought that “gasoline and whiskey would not mix” and was excused for cause. Welcome, Lois, to a jury of your peers.

Jury in the Lois Pantages case. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Jury in the Lois Pantages case. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

One of the first things the jury did was take a field trip to the crash site. It was a circus. The judge, jurors, all of the attorneys accompanied by group of reporters and photographers assembled at the intersection of Serrano Avenue and Sunset Boulevard. The jurors took in the scene and then everyone was taken to view the wrecked cars–Lois’s massive Stutz and Joe’s small Ford sedan. It was a sobering show.

The defense attorneys tried to push the blame for Joe’s death onto the shoulders of the doctors who tried to repair his hip. The defense claimed that the surgery killed Joe, not Lois’s driving. The defense went further than blaming Joe’s death on the anesthetic, they said the accident was actually all Joe’s fault because he was attempting a left turn from Serrano onto Sunset without giving a hand signal.  Poor Lois rammed his car because she couldn’t avoid it.

Courtroom photo of Rev. Robert P. "Bob" Shuler (left) and Rev. Gustav A. Briegleb answering charges of contempt of court as result of their utterances regarding Mrs. Lois Pantages' trial and the jury in the case. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Courtroom photo of Rev. Robert P. “Bob” Shuler (left) and Rev. Gustav A. Briegleb answering charges of contempt of court as result of their utterances regarding Mrs. Lois Pantages’ trial and the jury in the case. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Lois’s trial brought a couple of L.A.’s most outspoken religious leaders into the limelight. One of them, Reverend Robert “Fighting Bob” Shuler, of Trinity Methodist Church, asserted on his radio program that the jury would be “hung” and not only that, he knew the identity of the male juror who would be responsible. Subpenaed along with his crusading colleague, Reverend Gustav Briegleb, Shuler was brought before Judge Hardy to answer for his statements.

Under oath Reverend Shuler admitted that he had based his radio statements on hearsay and anonymous letters.  Rather than cop to telling a lie or being irresponsible, Shuler instead chose to characterize his remarks as “prophecy”. The two pastors were charged with contempt of court and tried. Both were found guilty and ordered to pay fines. Shuler and Briegleb were not accustomed to being silenced and tried to play the free speech card, and when that didn’t work they tried to start a movement to recall Judge Hardy. The recall failed and the three judges adjudicating the case, Hardy, Gould, and Tappaan, denounced Fighting Bob’s radio “tirades” and accused him of attempting to incite a mob.

Three weeks into the trial the jurors boarded a bus bound for the Los Angeles County Fair at Pomona. It was Judge Hardy’s idea.  He wanted the jurors to stay healthy and in good spirits and, since he desperately needed a day away from the courtroom too, he accompanied them.

Relaxed and refreshed following their day at the fair, Judge Hardy and the jurors entered the courtroom ready to resume their respective civic duties. A few days later impassioned closing statements by the defense and the prosecuting attorney signaled the end of the trial. It was time for the jury of five women and seven men to deliberate.

Photograph caption dated September 10, 1929 reads, "The clock ticks on, and the wheels of justice move on inexorably, slowly grinding out the fate of Mrs. Pantages. This courtroom scene shows the clock which ticks away the hours and will have ticked away before the case is done. It shows opposing attorneys who wage legal battles, witnesses ready to take the stand, and spectators. At left is Mrs. Pantages, waiting and looking at the clock." [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Photograph caption dated September 10, 1929 reads, “The clock ticks on, and the wheels of justice move on inexorably, slowly grinding out the fate of Mrs. Pantages. This courtroom scene shows the clock which ticks away the hours and will have ticked away before the case is done. It shows opposing attorneys who wage legal battles, witnesses ready to take the stand, and spectators. At left is Mrs. Pantages, waiting and looking at the clock.” [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

It took the jury seven hours and forty-five minutes to find Lois Pantages guilty of manslaughter in Joe Rokumoto’s death. Upon hearing the sentence Lois first sat immobile, lips quivering. She finally broke into sobs, as did all of the female jurors–though whether the jurors were crying for Joe or Lois wasn’t clear. If they felt it was a bad business all the way around they were right.  Lois, who was standing to hear the verdict read, began to slump towards the floor. Deputy Sheriff Hazel M. Brown rushed to her side and gently assisted the woman back into her chair. Lois’s family and counsel took her into the judge’s chambers and her doctor worked over her for nearly 30 minutes. She finally recovered just enough to be carried by her sons to a car and driven home. Having been found guilty Lois faced a sentence of from one to ten years. In 1929 female felons were still being incarcerated at San Quentin. For any woman, especially one accustomed to the finer things, it was a dreary and terrifying prospect.

Lois’s attorneys wanted probation for their client, not prison, and to that end they delivered a mass of documents supporting their request. The materials would be reviewed by probation officers and they would then make a recommendation to Judge Hardy.  Lois had some heavy hitters on her side and many well-known and wealthy philanthropists were deposed. Carmen Pantages worked tirelessly on her mother’s behalf.

While Lois awaited sentencing William “Paddy” McGee was appeared before Judge Fricke on the bribery charge. Fricke, who was also hearing Alexander’s statutory rape case, listened to Paddy’s denials for about two hours.  He then found him guilty and sentenced him to from one to fourteen years in prison. Courtroom observers described Paddy as “stunned” by the verdict and the sentence, but other than filing an appeal there was nothing he could do.

On November 8, 1929 Lois Pantages appeared before Judge Hardy for sentencing.  The judge granted her request for probation and gave five reasons for doing so:

1.  The preponderance of evidence adduced during the trial indicated that Mrs. Pantages had not been drinking before the accident.

2. Mrs. Pantages and her attorneys had agreed on a sum of money to be paid in compensating persons injured in the accident.

3.  Mrs. Pantages had led a Christian loife and devoted much of her time and money to welfare work and had never before been charged with a felony.

4.  Her health is such that a sentence to prison virtually would be a sentence to death, despite the fact that she was convicted only of manslaughter.

5.  Consideration of all the evidence and legal phases of the case indicated that she is entitled to probation and the fact that she has wealth and position should not discriminate against her.

The term of Lois’s probation was set at 10 years and, even though according to Judge Hardy there was a preponderance of evidence that she had not been drinking, one of the conditions of her release was that she refrain from the use of alcohol and must never drive an automobile.

Judge Hardy then ordered Lois to pay $78,500 (equivalent to $1.1 million in today’s dollars) to the persons injured in the accident within five days as a full settlement of their claims.

It is interesting to note that Lois’s injuries went from a broken nose and a few minor contusions as reported immediately following the crash to: “…a congested condition in one lung, heart disease and general nervousness…” when it came time for sentencing.

District Attorney Buron Fitts was not pleased with the outcome. He said: “It is the policy of my office neither to oppose nor approve probation for any defendant. That is a question for the court to decide.  However, I would like to inquire if the court would have reached the same decision had the defendant in this case been Joe Rokumoto instead of Mrs. Pantages.”

I wonder the same thing.

lois diesLois was mentioned in the newspapers off and on over the next several years, mainly in connection with her thoroughbred racehorses and her frequent visits to Santa Anita. On July 18, 1941 at approximately  5:30 p.m. after a day of bowling on Catalina Island, Lois Pantages went for a swim off of her yacht, La Pan, anchored in Avalon Bay. She was climbing back aboard the ship when she suffered a fatal heart attack.

“People don’t always get what they deserve in this world.”
Lemony Snicket, The Blank Book

NOTE: If you’re wondering how Alexander Pantages fared in his statutory rape trial, that will be the topic of future Deranged posts.

Lois Pantages’s Wild Ride, Part 2

pantages_crash_laplJoe Rokumoto was at the wheel of his small Ford sedan on June 16, 1929. He was on Serrano Street, attempting to cross Sunset Boulevard.  He either didn’t see the Stutz coupe bearing down on him or saw it and was unable to evade it. The much larger auto completely demolished Joe’s car and caused injuries to everyone in it. Those injured in the crash included: Joe, 44; his wife, Karuko, 35; daughters Grace, 8, and Mary, 13. Also in the car with the Rokumoto family was Kiku Kawaguchi, 31, and her two kids, Hachiyoko, 7, and George, 9.  The three adults were taken to Sylvan Lodge Hospital. The children who, despite the severity of the accident, received mostly minor lacerations and were sent home with friends.

Lois Pantages, who had been observed driving recklessly for several blocks before finally plowing into Joe’s car, was treated for a broken nose, lacerated upper lip and a slight concussion and sent home.  She wasn’t home for long when the police knocked on her door and arrested her for driving while intoxicated. She was booked and then released on her own recognizance.

The damage to Joe’s car was complete. Lois’s Stutz sustained front end damage but was otherwise repairable. While Joe’s car was a total loss at least everyone had survived the accident. But that would changed when, a couple of days later, Joe died during the surgery to repair his broken hip. An inquest was held and Coroner’s jury concluded that his death was a direct result of the accident, despite the possible contributing causes of a tubercular abscess of the pleura and tuberculosis of the lower spinal vertebrae. In their verdict the jury said: “…the Stutz was driven on the left-hand side of the highway, and we find the accident was due to reckless driving on the part of the driver of said Stutz automobile.”

The jury didn’t offer any recommendation for further action by the authorities; but it didn’t matter because the D.A. had already taken steps to submit the case to the grand jury for an indictment.  Detective Lieutenant J.R. Stephens interviewed the survivors in Joe’s car, but he had not been able to get near Lois Pantages who was, allegedly, too ill to be questioned.  The initial report indicated that Lois had sustained only minor injuries in the crash, but her condition was upgraded to serious as the charge of second degree murder loomed large before her. The court was informed that she was hospitalized and unavailable for questioning. She had supposedly undergone surgery, although it wasn’t made clear exactly why she would need an operation for a split lip and a broken nose. If you’re thinking it was her attorney’s ploy to keep her away from the cops then we’re on the same page.

District Attorney Buron Fitts said: “I have gone into the matter of Mrs. Pantages since my return this morning from the district attorneys’ convention and I am convinced that the facts justify a prosecution on the charge of murder in the second degree.”

Lois’s preliminary hearing was delayed because her doctor hadn’t cleared her for release from the hospital. The D.A. wasn’t especially concerned, he had his officers continue to question witnesses. He’d also put a stop to scheduled repairs on the Stutz. Joe’s Ford sedan was beyond fixing, it was a crumpled mass of metal. Both vehicles would be held by the police until the case was concluded.

pantagesa_fixerOn July 7 newspapers broke the story that a former police officer had been arrested for attempting to bribe one of the witnesses against Lois.  William R. (Paddy) McGee of 1015 East 78th Street was a former special deputy sheriff and a bail bondsman. Paddy claimed to have been friends with Alexander Pantages for 35 years, and maybe he had been, but once his name appeared in connection with attempted bribery he was persona non grata as far as the Pantages were concerned. Alexander said: “My attention was called to the paper this afternoon wherein a man named McGee claims he was investigating the case for me.  McGee was never employed by me or authorized to have anything to do with the case.”

The assertion was that Paddy had approached William H. Dutton, an officer at LAPD’s Hollywood Division, in an attempt to influence his testimony. Dutton was one of the arresting officers in the case and his testimony was going to be important for the prosecution. Paddy allegedly told Officer Dutton that “There will be plenty on the line” — meaning, of course, that the officer could earn big bucks by changing his testimony.

Paddy denied making any overture to Officer Dutton. The former lawman, and brother-in-law of Tom Finn, ex-Sheriff of San Francisco, stated: “I heard they were looking for me at the District Attorney’s office and went down there voluntarily to see what they wanted. There is no truth in the statement that I tried to bribe anyone.”  The D.A. disagreed and Paddy was remanded into custody.

lois_wheelchairShortly after noon on July 17, Lois Pantages, surrounded by her family, was wheeled into Judge Holland’s court for her preliminary hearing. Her attorney spoke for her and pleaded not guilty to driving while intoxicated and murder. She was released on $50,000 bail–that’s equivalent to nearly $700,000 in current dollars.  Alexander Pantages was wealthy enough to make bail for his wife, and could afford the best attorneys. With the wealth and power of the Pantages fortune behind her would Lois escape justice?

NEXT TIME: The wheels of justice grind slowly on, and another member of the Pantages family ends up in the slammer.

Justice Denied, Part 2

doris parentsDoris Dazey’s parents, Dr. and Mrs. Walter B. Schwuchow, had spent the four years since their daughter’s death investigating their former son-in-law, Dr. George K. Dazey.

In 1935 Doris was found in the garage of the Santa Monica home she shared with George. She was wearing a night gown and her face was only inches away from the car exhaust–she expired from carbon monoxide poisoning. The authorities ruled her death a suicide, but there was no note and seemingly no cause for her to have taken her own life.  Her parents never believed that she would kill herself, not with a four month old child depending on her, so they undertook an independent investigation of the circumstances surrounding her demise.

In bits and pieces the Schwuchows began to assemble a picture of their daughter’s marriage to Dr. Dazey, and it was very different from the public face the couple presented to the world. After speaking with Doris’ friends, and her former neighbors, the Schwuchows learned that her marriage to George was not ideal; in fact Doris had been contemplating divorce even though she’d been married to George for only a year.

As soon as George got wind of the Schwuchow’s statements he issued an immediate denial regarding their accusations:

“We were always happy, never quarreled. Sometimes Doris thought I was working too hard, but you couldn’t call that a quarrel, even when she protested my professional labors.”

“Once in a while she complained that she felt she was not doing her share because of ill-health, but I said we could keep all the servants necessary to aid her.”

If George had murdered Doris and then staged the scene in the garage, what was his motive? Doris had been an actress–she played the lead in “Ramona” for several years in the annual Hemet pageant–what if Doris planned to return to her career sans husband? She’d consulted with attorney Russell Parsons about a divorce, but it wasn’t clear if she had talked to George about it. If she had spoken with George he may have decided that one expensive alimony payment was enough–he was still paying off his first wife. In fact his ex- had taken him to court for back alimony and they’d had an acrimonious courtroom encounter not long before Doris died. It may have been enough sour George on another divorce and drive him to murder. Even though he made a bundle as a physician supporting two ex-wives, one with a child, would have been a financial burden.ramona

The money motive was a strong one, but then the Schwuchow’s revealed a secret that upped the ante even further and provided Dr. Dazey with a very compelling motive for murder. They said that Doris had told them the baby boy she’d had four months before she died may not have been George’s child.

George pooh-poohed the notion:

“Our boy was born two months prematurely.  I am a physician and know a premature baby when I see one.  The boy is in splendid health and looks just like me.”

Even if the baby was George’s as he contended, Miss Frances Hansbury, a nurse and personal friend of his, said that he had bragged to her about having committed “the perfect crime”.  Oh, and then there was a former watchman, Roland Seal, who said that on the fatal day he saw Dr. Dazey carrying what he thought was a woman’s body into the garage.

hansburyDr. Dazey continued to deny any responsibility for Doris’ death and said that the Schwuchow’s were trying to frame him:

“Dr. and Mrs. Schwuchow have been trying to get the boy for themselves and because I won’t let them have him they are stirring up all this trouble.”

A grand jury was convened to delve into the circumstances of Doris Dazey’s death. The D.A. posited that the forty-one year old doctor had killed his wife in a domestic dispute. Seal, the former watchman, said that he had heard screams coming from the Dazey residence on the day Doris died. It was around dusk, he said, that he saw the physician carry the limp form of a woman from the house to the garage.

If we take Frances Hansbury’s and Roland Seal’s statements at face value they beg the question: why the hell didn’t one of them ever go to the police?

District Attorney Buron Fitts was satisfied with the case against Dr. Dazey, in fact he believed it might be strong enough to seek the death penalty. Dazey was indicted for murder.

George had no intention of giving his accusers the last word:

“Doris was the best wife any man could want—why in God’s name would I want to kill her?”  Not long before I found her dead, apparently a suicide from monoxide poisoning in our garage, a boy was born to us and we had everything to be happy about.”

Dazey continued:

“Why should she take her own life I do not know.  There is a far-fetched possibility that someone else may have done her harm, but the idea is so remote and I can think of no reason for it that I scarcely give credence to the thought.”

The doctor dismissed the accusation of his former nurse, and occasional dinner companion, by saying:

“As for Miss Frances Hansbury, who says I boasted to her of the ‘perfect crime,’ I can say nothing except that she was a friend–or I thought she was–and am at a loss to understand her action.”

“I knew Miss Hansbury about four years before my wife died.  I went out with her once or twice socially before marrying Doris and I think that once after I found my wife dead.  She is a nurse and I had employed her.  Our relationship was friendly, but also professional.”

As for the watchman, Roland Seal, Dr. Dazey seemed to be completely mystified by his involvement in the case:

“Roland Seal is a man I have never met, nor ever talked to to my knowledge.  Just what his interest in the case is I may never know, but he is not telling the truth when he says he saw me carry the body of my wife–or any woman–from my house to the garage on the day Mrs. Dazey met her tragic death.”

Dr. Dazey’s trial began in February 1940. The prosecution called its two star witnesses to the stand to lay the foundation for the case against him.

Roland Seal testified that:

“On the day Mrs. Dazey was found dead in the garage of her home I had occasion to pass her house several times.  Once I heard a scream, and just at sunset I saw Dr. Dazey carry a scantily clad woman from the house to the garage.  I paid no attention, thinking she was ill, and he might be taking her to a hospital.  Since then a friend of Dr. Dazey’s warned me that the physician would ‘take care of me’ if I talked.”

Interestingly, Seal’s memory seemed to improve with each retelling. At first he’d stated that he’d seen Dr. Dazey carrying something that he thought may have been a woman’s body into the garage. In court he said that it he definitely saw observed Dr. Dazy carrying a woman’s limp body and that she was “scantily clad”.

Miss Frances Hansbury was also an interesting witness for the prosecution.  She testified that she’d known Dr. Dazey for nine years and she still thought of him as a friend. She said:

“Dr. Dazey once confided in me he had committed the perfect crime.  Then, apparently fearful I might talk out of turn, he threatened my life and said he would ‘frame’ me as a dope addict.  I feel very sorry for Dr. Dazey and never would do anything to hurt him.  But I was in fear of my life and was forced to leave here and go to New York City.”

Dr. and Mrs. Schwuchow reiterated what they had always believed: “We feel now as always that there was no cause for our daughter to take her own life. Beyond that, we have nothing to say.”

And Russell E. Parsons, Doris’ attorney (who became Deputy District Attorney in the years following her death) said:

“While a private attorney, Mrs. Dazey consulted with me about marital difficulties she said she was having with her husband.  Naturally, I cannot disclose publicly the nature of our conversation.”dazey and son

Even as he was preparing to face a jury on a murder charge, George Dazey went to court to battle his former in-laws for custody of four-year-old Walter who may, or may not, have been his biological son. Juvenile Judge W. Turney Fox denied the Schwuchow’s petition to have the child declared a ward of the court. There was sufficient evidence that Walter was devoted to his stepmother, Hazel Dorcas Dazey, and that it was in his best interests to let him stay where he was–Hazel was awarded custody of the little boy while George sorted out his legal problems. Dr. and Mrs. Schwuchow were given the right to take Walter for a visit every other weekend.

Would George Dazey’s murder trial go as well for him as the custody hearing had?  Maybe. If Hansbury and Seal were the D.A.’s best witnesses it would likely be an uphill battle to put the doctor in prison.

NEXT TIME:  Dr. Dazey’s murder trial.

Let’s Kill All The Lawyers, Redux

In 1939 Arthur Emil Hansen was sentenced to from two to twenty years in San Quentin for the courtroom slayings of two attorneys, R. D. McLaughlin and J. Irving Hancock, who were besting him in a civil suit that cost him every cent he had.

Did Arthur learn anything from the crime or his punishment? Evidently not, because in January 1951 a plan he’d hatched from behind the gray walls of San Quentin to assassinate four Los Angeles judges and two attorneys was uncovered by the Sheriff’s Department.

On Hansen’s list for liquidation were: Superior Judges Charles W. Fricke, Arthur Crumm and Frank G. Swain; Municipal Judge Lewis Drucker, former District Attorney Buron Fitts and Attorney Isaac Pacht. Apparently, Hansen had discussed his plan with a few of his fellow convicts — a big mistake–nobody will rat you out quicker. He had approached an inmate scheduled to be released on parole and offered to pay him $10,000 if he would murder one of the six men on his hit list.

hansen_prisonHansen’s plan was diabolically elegant in its own way. He wanted the parolee to whack one of the people on the list, then he would “take care” of the remaining five when he was paroled. He told his confidant that he intended to leave one clear fingerprint at the scene of each murder. Then, when the five murders had been committed, the police would have all the fingerprints of one of his hands and his identity would be revealed.

Sounds a little crackpot, doesn’t it. But in the 12 years that Hansen had been in prison he’d become quite paranoid. He had little else to do but sit and stew about the real or imagined wrongs he’d suffered in the L.A. courts. He refused to accept blame for his actions and his rage continued to build to a detonation point.

Hansen gave his soon-to-be paroled friend a vitriolic letter, copies of which were to be given to various L.A. newspapers. The letter bitterly accused the judges, the Attorney General’s Office, the District Attorney and Governor Warren of conspiracy. Hansen’s letter also predicted that he would not be prosecuted for the murders because he would be revealed as an emancipator and a protector of the public.

I wonder if he thought he had super powers.

The letter advised the police that they could not save the victims on the hit list because “Their doom is sealed.”  Hansen remained unrepentant for the double murders saying: “I regret nothing I did. I had nothing to lose.”

Hansen made a huge mistake when he directed that the letters be sent just as he was coming up for parole, He was just days away from being released when his plot was discovered. For the murder plot, Hansen forfeited all of his good time and at least six more years of his freedom.