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.

Let’s Kill All The Lawyers, Redux

plot_headline
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.