Dead Woman Walking: Barbara Graham, Part 3

shorter_davis_picOn March 26, 1953, five men were arrested and held for questioning in the slaying of Mabel Monohan. The men were: Solly Davis (a one-time Mickey Cohen lieutenant); William Upshaw and John Wilds (both Mickey Cohen associates); Joe Allen; and Baxter Shorter.

All five men were career crminals — Upshaw had been frequently arrested on gambling charges, Davis had been incarcerated in two Federal pens, Leavenworth and Atlanta, and in the New York State Prison, Sing Sing. Baxter Shorter had a record that dated back to 1927.

The men were acquainted with Mabel Monohan through her former son-in-law, Las Vegas gambler Tutor Scherer. It was the lure of $100k of Scherer’s cash, allegedly hidden in a safe in Monohan’s home, that had brought a gang to her doorstep resulting in her brutal murder.

The cops had to kick the bad guys loose, they didn’t have enough to hold them; but the arrest was enough to convince Baxter Shorter that his best chance for staying clear of the gas chamber at San Quentin was to turn State’s evidence before any of the other members of the gang were busted and could beat him to it. There’s usually only one get out of jail free card available in a capital case, and Baxter grabbed it.

Baxter told the cops he’d gone along on the Monohan job as a look-out. Of course that was a lie, he was there to crack the safe supposedly hidden in the house. Shorter further stated that he’d seen Perkins slug Mrs. Monohan on the head with the butt of a gun. He also said that he’d been horrified to witness the murder. That may have been the truest statement he made. He was undoubtedly terrified to have become involved in a death penalty case.

Shorter probably would have walked on the Monohan murder, and lived to commit other crimes, if details of his statement hadn’t been leaked by someone close to the investigation. Once his duplicity became public Baxter Shorter’s days were numbered.

Only a few weeks after the Monohan slaying Baxter Shorter was kidnapped at gun point from his Bunker Hill apartment at 121 North Flower Street. Shorter’s wife, Olivia, identified the two kidnappers as Emmett Perkins and Jack Santos.

The building from where Baxter Shorter was kidnapped.

The building from where Baxter Shorter was kidnapped.

Shorter’s kidnapping left the Burbank cops with a huge problem. He was an eyewitness to the Monohan murder and had been willing to testify in court to save his own sorry ass. If he had really been kidnapped the chances of him being found alive were slim to none.

The car believed to have been used in the kidnapping was found abandoned near an apartment at 5124 Imperial Blvd; and that’s where Emmett Perkins, Jack Santo, and Barbara Graham were busted.

The sedan was owned by one of Jack Santos’ girlfriends, Brenda Pearney of Grass Valley, California. It had recently been repainted and the mat in the rear trunk compartment was missing. Police Chemist Ray Pinker turned up some small pieces of wood and a little yellow flower in the car that he took to the Los Angeles County Museum for identification.

yellow flowerThe wood was ribbon wood, found only in Southern California and usually in the San Jacinto Mountains at an elevation of between 2500 and 3000 feet. The flower had no common name, but was identified as metzelia affnis and it too could be found at elevations of between 2500 and 3000 feet.

If Baxter Shorter’s remains were buried off a lonely mountain road at an elevation of 3000 feet then he was likely as close to heaven as he would ever get.

Emmett Perkins was arraigned on charges of kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon in Shorter’s kidnapping. Barbara Graham was charged with seven counts of forgery. She’d gone on a shopping spree in March and April and had passed $266 worth of rubber checks. Santo was released on the kidnapping beef and walked out of court into the waiting arms of Burbank cops who cuffed him and took him in for questioning on the Monohan slaying. They had to release him for lack of evidence, but he wasn’t free for long. He was soon rearrested and charged with forging a fictitious telegram to Baxter Shorter’s mother. The telegram read:

“Sorry to have been away. See Olive (Olivia) and tell her not to make the mistake ’cause I have to return one of these days. All my love. Baxter”

Circumstantial evidence was beginning to mount.

To add to the drama a new witness in the Monohan case came forward. The witness was an ex-con named William Upshaw. He’d voluntarily surrendered to police when he heard that he was wanted in connection with Shorter’s kidnapping.

Upshaw  was cleared of any involvement in the Shorter kidnapping, and he was the first witness called to testify before the grand jury in the slaying of Mabel Monohan. Cops were understandably edgy because of Shorter’s abrupt disappearance, and they weren’t about to lose another witness. Upshaw was heavily guarded around the clock. He testified that he’d been with the gang: Graham, Perkins, Santo,True and Shorter when they’d cased the Monohan home on the night before the crime. He knew all about the plan and had opted out. He decided that he wanted nothing to do with robbing Las Vegas bigwig Tutor Scherer. He remembered what had happened to Tony Trombino and Tony Brancato back in 1951.

The Two Tonys

The Two Tonys

Trombino and Brancato, known as the Two Tonys, were murdered in a car after cheating Las Vegas gambler Sam Lazes out of $3000 by posing as collectors for a local syndicate gambler. Upsahw had no desire to mess with Vegas and end up like the Two Tonys.indictments headline

On June 3, 1953 Perkins, Santo, True and Graham were indicted by the county grand jury on charges of conspiracy to commit burglary, robbery and murder in the death of Mrs. Mabel Monohan.

The cops and the D.A. lucked out when John True decided to turn State’s Evidence in exchange for his freedom. Apparently the indictment in a capital murder case scared John True straight — or as straight as he could be. Taking no chances with this witness, cops guarded John day and night against possible retaliation.

NEXT TIME: The trial and aftermath.

 

Dead Woman Walking: Louise Peete, Finale

louise_testifying

Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, UCLA.

Louise Peete’s trial began on April 23, 1945.

Louise had never denied burying Mrs. Margaret Logan’s body in a shallow grave at the deceased woman’s Pacific Palisades home, but she told several colorful stories about how Logan ended up dead in the first place.

As in her first murder trial for the slaying of Jacob Denton over twenty years earlier, Peete claimed to be broke and was assigned a public defender, Ellery Cuff. Cuff had an uphill battle, the evidence against Peete was compelling.admits burial

For the most part Louise sat quietly as the prosecution drew deadly parallels between the 1920 murder of Jacob Denton and the 1944 murder of Margaret Logan; however, she disrupted the trial during testimony by police chemist Ray Pinker. From the witness stand Pinker testified to a conversation between Louise and LAPD homicide captain Thad Brown. (In 1947 Thad Brown’s brother, Finis, would be one of the lead detectives in the Black Dahlia case.)

peete halts testimonyPinker said that prior to the discovery of Mrs. Logan’s body in a shallow grave in the backyard of her home, Brown had faced Peete and said: “Louise, have you blow your top again and done what you did before?” To which she replied: “Well, my friends told me that I would blow my top again. I want to talk to Gene Biscailuz (L.A. County Sheriff).” Louise spun around in her chair at the defense table and shouted “That is not all of the conversation.” Her attorney quieted her.

Pinker testified to how he had found the mound covering Mrs. Logan’s body. He said that he had observed a slight rise in the ground which was framed by flower pots. The cops didn’t have to dig very deep before uncovering Margaret Logan’s remains. When Louise was asked to face the grave she turned away and hid her face with her handbag.camera shy peete

All of Pinker’s testimony was extremely damaging to Peete’s case. In particular he said he tested a gun found Mrs. Peete’s berdroom, and when he tested the bullets they were consistent with the .32 caliber round found lodged beneath the plaster in the living room of the Logan home.

The prosecution’s case was going to be difficult to refute. It must have been a tough call for the defense when they decided to allow Louise to take the stand. Louise could be volatile and unpredictable.

Louise testified that Mrs. Logan had phoned her to ask if she’d keep house for her while she was working at Douglas Aircraft Company. Louise went on to say that when she arrived at the Logan home she found Margaret badly bruised, allegedly the result of Mr. Logan kicking her in the face.

pinker bulletMr. Logan would be unable to refute any of Louise’s allegations because he had died, just days before, in the psychiatric hospital where he was undergoing treatment. Logan had been committed to the hospital by Louise, masquerading as his sister!

Logan’s death was a boon for Louise and she took full advantage of it by blaming him for his wife’s death. Louise was asked to recreate her story which had Arthur Logan shooting and battering his wife, but she appeared to be squeamish. When she was shown the murder gun and asked by the judge to pick it up to demonstrate how Arthur Logan had used it to kill his wife, Louise said: “I will not take that gun up in my hand.”

Louise’s attorney tried valiantly to contradict the evidence against his client. Would the jury believe him and acquit her?

In his summation District Attorney Fred N. Howser addressed the jury:

“Mrs. Peete has violated the laws of man and the laws of God. She killed a woman because she coveted her property. Any verdict short of first degree murder would be an affront to the Legislature. If this crime doesn’t justify the death penalty, then acquit her.”

The jury of 11 women and 1 man found Louise Peete guilty of the first degree murder of Margaret Logan. With that verdict came a death sentence.peete guilty

Judge Harold B. Landreth pronounced the sentence:

“It is the judgement and sentence of this court for the crime of murder in the first degree of which you, the said Louise Peete, have been convicted by the verdict of the jury, carrying with it the extreme penalty of the law, that you, the said Louise Peete, be delivered by the Sheriff to the superintendent of the California Instution for Women at Tehachapi. There you will be held pending the decision of this case on appeal, whereupon said Louise Peete be delivered to the warden of the State Prison at San Quentin to be by him executed and put to death by the administration of lethal gas in the manner provided by the laws of the State of California.”

peete guilty picIt was reported that Louise took her sentence “like a trouper”.

On June 7, 1945, Louise Peete began her journey from the L.A. County Jail to the women’s prison at Tehachapi to wait out the appeals process.

Louise lost the appeals which may have commuted her death penalty sentence to life in prison. On April 9, 1947 an eleventh hour bid to save her life was made to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court denied the appeal.

Louise would die.

A crush of reporters spent time with Louise on her last night; among them was, of course, Aggie Underwood.

Aggie had interviewed Louise numerous times over the years, and she managed to get at least two exclusives. In her autobiography, NEWSPAPERWOMAN, Aggie devoted a few pages to her interactions with Louise, which I’ll share:

“With other L.A. reporters, I interviewed her there for the last time before she was taken to San Quentin to be executed April 11, 1947.”

“Like other reporters, I suppose I was striving for the one-in-a-million chance: that she would slip, or confess either or both murders, Denton’s in 1920 and Mrs. Logan’s on or about May 29, 1944.’

Louise would not slip; but Aggie gave it her best try. Interestingly,  Aggie said that she never addressed Louise as anything but Mrs. Peete.  Why? Here is her reasoning:

“I called her Mrs. Peete. A direct attack would not have worked with her; it would have been stupid to try it.  She knew the homicide mill and its cogs.  She had bucked the best reporters, detectives, and prosecutors as far back as 1920, when, as a comely matron believed to be in her thirties, she had been tagged the ‘enigma woman’ by the Herald.”

“So I observed what she regarded as her dignity. Though I was poised always for an opening, I didn’t swing the conversations to anything so nasty as homicide.”

And in a move that would have occurred only to a woman, Aggie spent one of her days off finding a special eyebrow pencil for Louise:

“…with which she browned her hair, strand by strand.  I didn’t go back to jail and hand it to her in person.  Discreetly I sent it by messenger, avoiding the inelegance of participating in a utilitarian device to thwart nature which had done her a dirty trick in graying her.  Royalty doesn’t carry money in its pockets.”

About Louise, Aggie said:  “She wasn’t an artless little gun moll.”  No, she wasn’t.

Lofie Louise Preslar Peete was executed in the gas chamber on April 11, 1947– it took about 10 minutes for her to die. She was the second woman to die in California’s gas chamber; two others would follow her.

she buried them all

Peete is interred in the Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles.

NOTE: On March 9, 1950 the DRAGNET radio program aired an episode called THE BIG THANK YOU which was based on Louise Peete’s cases. Enjoy!

http://youtu.be/5ddEOaa4w50

NEXT TIME: Dead Woman Walking continues with the story of the third woman to perish in California’s lethal gas chamber, Barbara Graham.

Dead Woman Walking: Louise Peete, Part 4

peete freedLouise Peete spent approximately 18 years in prison before her release in 1939. Did she kick up her heels in joy when walked out of Tehachapi? Not at all She was angry and bitter and let the world know it by handing out a written statement to the reporters who had come out to Tehachapi to cover her release. Her statement read:

“Twenty-one years ago I pleaded not guilty to murder. I still plead not guilty. After having served 18 1/2 years in bondage for a crime I did not commit, I would appreciate the opportunity to reestablish myself without further publicity. I appreciate the parole and shall not violate the faith placed in me.”

Among Louise’s boosters were Miss Monohan, superintendent of Tehachapi Women’s Prison, and Mrs. Emily Latham, Louise’s probation officer. Neither of them doubted Louise’s sincerity. As could have been expected, Louise had put on a very convincing act in a  performance that lasted for eighteen years!

Not everyone was a member of the Louise Peete cheering section. In fact the Los Angeles Times printed an opinion on the case:paroling peete

Louise left prison behind her and faded into obscurity; that is until December 1944 when she was once again in the headlines for another murder!

parole board shockedThe body of a woman, believed to be Mrs. Margaret Logan, 60, of 713 Hampden Place, Pacific Palisades, was found in a shallow backyard grave. Logan had employed Louise as a nurse/companion

It was “deja vu all over again”.

Louise assumed her familiar role as the outraged innocent, but there was a mountain of evidence against her. Ray Pinker, head of the police crime lab, examined the physical evidence. In this case the most damning piece of evidence was a nickel-plated .32 caliber revolver, rusty and covered with congealed blood. The weapon was found in a dresser drawer in the the dead woman’s home. The revolver was engraved with the initials E.B.L. and had once belonged to Emily B. Latham — Louise’s parole officer! Latham had employed Louise as a nurse and companion. Unfortunately, Latham wasn’t available to be questioned — she was dead. The cops were understandably concerned. Louise’s employers had a way of expiring under suspicious circumstances. However, it was later determined that Latham had died of natural causes.gun adds to mystery

Further examination and tests concluded that Margaret Logan’s death had been caused by a gunshot and a brutal beating. Evidently while she was incapacitated Margaret had been hammered to death with the butt of a gun.

ray pinkerCould 63 year old Louise have been capable of the crime and the cover-up on her own? She certainly could have shot and bludgeoned Logan by herself, but dragging the corpse out to the backyard and digging even a shallow grave may have been physically taxing. It’s possible that Louise may have had an assistant.

Just a few months before Logan’s murder Louise had married again. She had been living and working under the name of Lou Anne Lee, and because her husband was from out of state he knew nothing of her notorious past.

Louise’s husband was Lee Borden Judson, and unfortunately for her he was a man with a conscience. Judson found himself charged with “possessing guilty knowledge as a principal” in Logan’s slaying and the Coroner’s Jury recommended that both he and Louise be held for trial. Louise took the 5th at the Coroner’s Inquest, and then desperately attempted to mitigate Judson’s statements which were incriminating to say the least.

Judson described how, on the day of the murder, Louise had left their Glendale home to visit the Logans. She told him that she might be late getting home. About 9:45 that night Louise phoned to say she was going to stay overnight with the Logans. Judson wasn’t happy about the arrangement because Louise had told him that Mr. Logan was mentally unbalanced and sometimes became violent.

According to Judson, the next day when he arrived at the Logan’s he was met outside by Louise. She was dressed in an old pair of slacks and appeared distraught, as if she’d been crying. When he asked her what was wrong Louise spun one of her more imaginative tales; and that’s saying something. Judson stated that Louise had told him that: “Mr. Logan had jumped on Mrs. Logan and had bit her on the neck and cheek…and that Mr. Logan had bitten off the end of Mrs. Logan’s nose.” Judson then asked Louise if she had saved the part of the nose that was bitten off, but she told him that she hadn’t.

Judson testified that he entered the Logan’s residence to find a very large spot of blood on the living room rug, and he found Mr. Logan pacing around the house like Lady MacBeth saying: “I’ve got some blood on my hands–where did I get it?”

Louise took charge of the situation and tried to calm Mr. Logan by telling him that his wife was fine, that she was “away on some real estate deal”.

On the day following the discovery of the blood on the carpet, Judson said that he and Louise took Logan to the psychopathic parole office of the County Lunacy Commission and had the man committed.

judson blood

What Judson didn’t know was that Louise had masqueraded as Logan’s sister in order to have him committed. Louise was undoubtedly relieved when, during her trial, Mr. Logan died in the psychiatric hospital.

Judson probably had no idea that the blood spot on the carpet had anything to do with a murder. Louise told him, and anyone else who asked, that Mrs. Logan was in a sanitarium undergoing plastic surgery to repair the facial injuries she’d suffered in the asserted insane attack by Mr. Logan!

The story was a variation of the the tale Louise had told about Jacob Denton two decades earlier. You’ll recall she told people that he was away being fitted for, and learning to use, prosthetic limbs as the result of an attack he’d suffered at the hands of a sword wielding Spanish speaking woman.judson sobs

Judson was becoming a major liability for Louise. He testified that he’d seen her sign a check for $2500 on Mrs. Logan’s behalf. The reason Louise gave Judson for signing the check was that Mrs. Logan’s right arm was paralyzed! Even though, as her husband, he wasn’t able to testify against her, everything he said in his own defense brought her closer to the gas chamber.

In a bizarre side note, while Louise was cooling her heels in the County Jail her cellmate Mrs. Constance Renner (no relation to me that I’m aware of) attempted suicide by taking an overdose of sedatives she’d been given to calm her nerves. Louise heard Renner’s labored breathing and struck a match to see what was going on. She saw foam on Renner’s lips and alerted the matron, thus saving the woman’s life. The cell was later searched because five of the sedative tablets were unaccounted for. You’ll never guess where they were found — Louise had stashed them in her hair! She said she hidden them so that she could give them to the jail chief later, but it’s obvious that she was keeping them just in case she needed an exit strategy.

renner suicide attemptThings were going from bad to worse for Louise. The State of California contended that her marriage to Judson wasn’t legal.; then they dropped the charges against him and cut him loose. Judson was greeted by his son and daughter following his release and he should have been on his way to happier times but instead, less than twenty-four hours after he was freed, Lee Judson went over to the Broadway-Spring Arcade Building and hurled himself down a stairwell to his death. Whether Judson’s guilty knowledge of Louise’s actions included him actually assisting her in the burial of Margaret Logan’s remains we’ll never know. He was a decent man and it likely that the shame of sharing a life, if only for a few months, with a killer was too much for him to bear.judson leaps

Louise took the news with a great deal of weeping and drama, but declined to attend Judson’s funeral saying “I prefer to remember him as he was”.

Louise was once again facing a murder charge on her own.

NEXT TIME: Louise meets her fate.

Dead Woman Walking: Louise Peete, Part 3

louise_prisonWhen I wrote part two of Louise Peete’s story I thought for sure I’d be able to wrap it up in part three — I was wrong. Louise’s criminal career demands at least one more post after this one!  So, let’s get started with part three of her tale.

Louise Peete was sent to San Quentin in 1921 to begin serving a life sentence for the murder of Jacob C. Denton. According to prison authorities Louise was a model prisoner, and model prisoners don’t make news.

However, in August 1924 Peete made news in spite of herself when her ex-husband, Richard, committed suicide. Apparently Richard had preferred death to poverty and illness. He traveled to Tucson, Arizona where he purchased a small bore rifle, he then put a bullet in his brain. He died instantly. Louise had no comment.peete suicide pic

In July 1926 Louise made news again when she came forward with yet another version of Jacob Denton’s murder. Louise had outdone herself, the new version was a doozy! Louise claimed that William Desmond Taylor was killed by Denton’s slayers!

Louise obviously had one hell of an imagination.

Deputy D.A. Davis, head of the homicide bureau, said:

“It is ridiculous and just another product of an imagination working overtime in an effort to escape just punishment. There never has been a shred of evidence connecting the two crimes.”

William Desmond Taylor

William Desmond Taylor

Municipal Judge Turney, who had been a Deputy D.A. and part of the team that prosecuted Peete, weighed in:

“William Desmond Taylor was never mentioned in the case. So far as we knew he never knew Jacob Denton, and Mrs. Peete never mentioned him in any of the twenty or more conflicting statements and inconsistent stories she has issued. She was convicted on overwhelming evidence.”

Louise had never let reason or truth stand in her way before, and she wasn’t about to start. When asked why she had kept the names of the real murderers concealed, she said it was because emissaries of the killers had threatened the kidnapping or murder of her little daughter Betty.

She went on to say:

“William Desmond Taylor knew Jacob Denton intimately. He was a frequent visitor at the Denton home. After Denton was murdered and I was sent to prison for life, Taylor knew I was taking the medicine for others. Why? Because they would kill Betty if I talked. Taylor knew the truth, too. He stood it as long as he could. Then, when he could no longer bear the burden of seeing me in prison for a crime that I did not commit, he threatened to tell everything. He paid for that threat with his life.”

Proof of the maxim that there is “a sucker born every minute” was made manifest when a number of club women and other sympathizers, convinced of Louise’s innocence, began a campaign to have her released from prison!

Louise’s attempts to win parole were unsuccessful until 1939 when she was granted her freedom. There was a problem though — Louise needed a job and, not surprisingly, there weren’t any offers forthcoming.freedom delayed

The soon-to-be ex-con wanted to work as a housekeeper but given the fate of her last employer, Jacob Denton, no one was willing to give her a chance. Really though, can you blame them?

Finally a good Samaritan named Margaret Logan offered Louise employment as a housekeeper and companion. Of course upon her release Louise couldn’t resist talking to the press. She said:

“I still insist I am innocent. I don’t believe it was Jake Denton’s body at all that was found buried in the cellar of his home. If it was his, I don’t know how it got there or who was responsible. I believe some day Denton will let the world know he is still alive.”

Louise kept a low profile from her release in 1939 until December 1944 when the body of her benefactor, Margaret Logan, was discovered buried in the back yard of her Pacific Palisades home.

peete new deathHad the sword wielding Spanish looking woman reappeared?  Perhaps the slayers of William Desmond Taylor were trying to mess with Louise by tangling her up in another murder. Or maybe, just maybe, harmless looking Louise Peete was a multiple murderer and a sociopath.

NEXT TIME: Louise’s second murder trial in twenty-five years.

Dead Woman Walking: Louise Peete, Part 2

peete_indictmentOnce Jacob Denton’s body had been unearthed from its “basement sepulcher” the search for material witness, Louise Peete, was on.

peete-oct28-1920-colorMrs. Peete was finally located in Colorado where she was living with her husband, Richard, and their four year old daughter, Betty. Accompanied by her family, Louise Peete returned to Los Angeles as a voluntary witness. Louise was taken to the house at 675 South Catalina Street to view Jacob Denton’s make-shift crypt. Louise offered nothing except her tale of the Spanish-looking woman with whom Denton had allegedly argued.

The District Attorney didn’t believe a word of Louise’s story, and she was hard pressed to explain the silver and furs belonging to Denton that had been discovered in her possession.  She also found it difficult to explain why she had purchased two expensive gowns, under the name of Mrs. J.C. Denton, prior to her departure from Los Angeles. And when she was grilled about broken furniture and wild parties at the house she had to be warned by both her attorney and her husband not to “overtalk”. Louise seemed certain of her ability to talk her way out of any situation. Arrogance and garrulousness have tripped up many sociopaths.spanish_woman_headline

Grudgingly I have to hand it to Louise; she was nothing if not ballsy. She told reporters that she was being crucified:

“I am being crucified upon a cross. But I can say, as did Christ, ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do’.”

Of course the law knew exactly what it was doing and Louise was indicted for Denton’s murder. The cause of Denton’s death had been determined to have been a bullet to the head. The gun responsible for the fatal wound was found in the closet where Louise’s dresses and other personal belongings were kept.

Trying to sort out the various absurd stories told by Louise in her defense is nearly as frustrating as trying to untangle the story of her life. Louise was an adept and inventive liar.

Louise told the authorities that she and her husband were without the resources to hire an attorney to defend her; she said:

“I have no intention of changing counsel. The Public Defender is entirely satisfactory to me. Mr. Peete and I are entirely without means to employ counsel.  Any rumor relative to a large amount, or any amount, of money being or having been raised for my defense is entirely without foundation and unknown to me.  I am innocent. I did not kill Jacob C. Denton.”

Thousands of people thronged the streets and sidewalks during Peete’s trial just to catch a glimpse of her.peete_crowd

On February 8, 1921 Mrs. Louise Peete was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Jacob C. Denton and she was sentenced to life in prison.

Richard Peete had served Louise with divorce papers before she was named as a suspect in Denton’s murder, but he stood by her during the trial. Once Louise was sentenced to life the divorce went forward, and Richard was granted custody of their young daughter Betty.

Louise filed motions for a new trial to no avail. She would spend 18 years in prison.  Was she rehabilitated during that time?  Hell no. Louise would kill again.

NEXT TIME:  Louise Peete finally gets her comeuppance.

Dead Woman Walking: Louise Peete, Part 1

10_7_1920_peete_picI’ve spent a few frustrating hours trying to untangle the maze of Lofie Louise Peete’s (nee   Preslar) life before 1920, and I don’t think it can be done. There is almost no consensus among the sources, except that everyone seems to agree that she was born in Bienville, Louisiana on September 20, 1880, and that she was a killer

I don’t know what caused Louise to become a multiple murderer, but I’m prepared to call her a bad seed and move on to discussing the first murder she committed for which she was actually tried and convicted.

By the time she was in her late 30s, Louise Peete had left a trail of shattered lives in her wake from Boston, Massachusetts to Waco, Texas. She was the reason that two men had committed suicide; and she’d killed a man during an attempted rape — at least that was her story. The truth remains elusive but probably goes something like this: Louise was dating a rich oilman in Waco, Texas. He owned diamond belt buckles and big diamond rings, and Louise loved diamonds. The diamond studded oilman ended up shot to death. Louise claimed that it was self-defense, and the oilman was in no position to argue. Louise was tried for the killing, but when the jury heard her tearful account of her valiant fight to the death for her honor, they acquitted her. And then they cheered! What about the diamond belt buckles and the rings? Everyone seemed to have forgotten about them.

Following the kerfuffle in Waco Louise needed a fresh start and an infusion of cash, and there was no better place to find both than in Los Angeles in 1920.

Louise and her daughter Betty were looking for a place to live when, while checking out rental properties, she met middle-aged mining executive Jacob Denton. He was the answer to her housing dilemma, and possibly to her cash flow problems as well. Denton was a recent widower, having lost both his wife and child in the recent influenza epidemic. Louise quickly sized him up as a man who would be susceptible to her Southern charm. She wooed him non-stop for several weeks but he refused to marry her (and he didn’t even know that she was already married). Denton wasn’t a pushover after all. Louise concealed her annoyance and immediately ordered Denton’s caretaker to dump a ton of earth into the basement of the home because, she said, she planned to raise mushrooms.

Jacob Denton disappeared on May 30, 1920. Louise had concocted an utterly outrageous story for the people who came by to call. She said that Jacob had had a violent argument with a “Spanish-looking woman” who chopped off his arm with a sword! What? Who in the world would buy a story like that? Apparently everyone. If pressed, Louise would say that Denton had survived the horrific amputation but he was so embarrassed by his missing limb that he’d gone into hiding. If pressed further, Louise said that not only had Denton lost an arm, he’d also lost a leg! But she allayed everyone’s concerns by telling them that he’d come out of hiding once he had learned to use his artificial limbs.

Jacob’s absence didn’t put a damper on Louise’s social life. Calling herself Mrs. Denton she threw lavish parties in the man’s home, all on his dime.

Denton had been missing for a few months before his attorney became suspicious. It had taken him long enough. He phoned the cops and asked them to search the house. After digging for about an hour in the basement the cops found the body of Jacob Denton. All four limbs were intact, but he had a bullet in his head.

Naturally the law had a few questions for Louise, but she was nowhere to be found. Had the sword wielding Spanish-looking woman returned? Probably not.

The search for Louise Peete was on.

NEXT TIME: Louise faces a murder charge.

Aggie and the City of Forgotten Women: Part 3

forgotten_women_headline_3

This is the third of a series of articles by an International News Service staff correspondent who was enabled to obtain the first comprehensive inside story of California’s unique all-woman prison.

aggie_byline

Tehachapi, Cal., May 2 — Forbidden to read newspapers, their only source of information being occasional letters and visits by friends, the 145 women inmates of California’s “City of Forgotten Women,” Tehachapi, have one question that is always asked early during a visit.

anna_de_ritas

Anna de Ritas shot her lover to death.

“Something new?” It was the first question asked me by Mrs. Anna de Ritas, 39-year-old convicted slayer of her sweetheart Mike Lotito. The dormitory in which she is housed is by far the “happiest” sounding building of the prison group.

thelma_alley2

Thelma Alley killed a man with her car.

Housed with her are Miss Thelma Alley, Hollywood actress, convicted of manslaughter in connection with an automobile accident; Mrs. Eleanor Hansen, who murdered the husband whom she charged failed to properly feed her and their daughter; Emma Le Doux, who has spent more than 20 years in state prisons for murder in Stockton.

thelma_alleyAnother interesting inmate of Tehachapi, and another really happy one, is Mrs. Trinity Nandi who has spent more than 17 years behind prison walls for murder. She is to be released in May, and she is full of plans for the future.

Since her removal from San Quentin to the Tehyachapi institution, Mrs. Nandi has been working in the rabbitry and has qualified as an expert. It is her hope to start a rabbit farm when she is released.

The women in Tehachapi are learning how to make themselves useful when they leave it.

The girl the nation read out as the “jazz baby,” Burmah White, the blonde bandit moll, wife of one of Los Angeles’ most notorious slain criminals, Thomas White, has vanished. The “tough,” cynical 19-year-old girl who entered the prison 16 months ago has been transformed into a quiet mannered, sad-eyed girl, her face framed in soft dark brown hair which she had let grow back to its natural color.

When Burmah first entered Tehachapi, she was full of ambition and conducted classes in commercial courses, Miss Josephine Jackson, deputy warden, says Burmah did a fine job of it. She taught oral English, typing, and dramatics to fellow inmates.

She fell ill for almost two months and during that illness her ambition and vivacity seemed to disappear.

“I’ve gone into it very thoroughly,” Burmah said softly, and sadly, after announcing that her interviewer was the first visitor she has had since last November. Her father, who was loyal to her throughout her arrest and trial, is dead now.

“The prison board can’t do a thing. The judge who sentenced me fixed that up and I just can’t see any sense in working hard every day when there’s nothing to work for. I can’t see any sense in hoping for the future, when there’ nothing to hope for. I can’t see any sense in training for work to do when I get out of here, because I’ll be an old lady then–maybe not old physically, but I know from what it’s already done to me that I’ll be hundreds of years old mentally.”

“You know,” she said, with a slightly cynical smile, “they tell me there’s civilization beyond them thar hills!”

“I wa an example to the youth of this country when I was sentenced for the wrongs I had done. That was the sole purpose in giving me that stiff sentence–to set an example. I wonder if it ha deterred any girls in Los Angeles from a life of crime–I doubt if it even made an impression on any of them,” she said bitterly.

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Burmah White may have lost hope for a while, but she was eventually released. She was only in her late 20s.

Burmah hopes to be a writer. She started taking journalism instruction through a University of California mail course.

I found she had been making a new blouse out of a bit of silk that she had managed to obtain. A particularly becoming blouse–peach colored, with a white lacing down the front.

“Oh, can you wear those things up here?” I asked her, and then she grinned her old grin and said, “Well, we can wear dark skirts and blouses on Sunday–only the blouses have to be white–but making it helped pass the time of day.”

 NEXT TIME: Meet Anna de Ritas and Emma Le Doux, two of the women in the “happiest” cottage at Tehachapi.

Hollywood Love Triangle: Conclusion

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Initially, Dorothy Mackaye and Dr. Sullivan were charged with compounding a felony and being accessories after the fact because of their asserted attempts to cover up the facts surrounding Ray Raymond’s death. After some legal wrangling the charges were altered and a new indictment was filed charging the pair with withholding information as to the true cause of Ray Raymond’s death.  The difference in the charges were merely splitting hairs; either way they were looking at prison time if convicted.

mackaye_new_chargeIf there was any one in Los Angeles gullible enough to buy Dorothy Mackaye’s assertion that she and Paul Kelly were like brother and sister, they were faced with the hard truth when love letters between the two were read in open court.  The Los Angeles Times reported that when the love notes were read many of the spectators, described as “gaily dressed flappers” tittered, smiled, and looked at each other with astonished glances.

Flappers were also the subject of a a frothy piece about how the courtroom spectators, and the principals in the case, were dressed. Apparently the weather had turned warm for the May trial of Kelly and everyone adjusted their wardrobes accordingly.  The LA Times reported: “…There were a number of modishly gowned women present who gave the proceedings the air of a fashion display.  Yesterday there were even more of the little flapper models…”  The reporter further observed: “The new type of audience has brought out the mirrors, powder puffs and lipsticks, and face dabbing is a popular courtroom occupation.”powdernose

Being an actress Dorothy knew how to dress and play the part of a grieving widow.  She appeared in court dressed in black with a heavy black veil covering her face. She couldn’t have been mourning Ray, she’d never once shown any remorse for the part she had played in his death.

Kelly’s defense attorney, aided by Dorothy, attempted to paint an unflattering portrait of the dead man – essentially blaming his death on his drinking. The coroner’s testimony made it clear that the fatal hemorrhage suffered by Ray wasn’t caused by drinking, but rather by violence.

dorothy_mackaye_jailPaul Kelly was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to from one to ten years in prison.

Dorothy Mackaye was found guilty of compounding a felony in concealing the facts concerning the death of her husband. She was sentenced to from one to three years in San Quentin.

The only one who walked was Dr. Sullivan — the charges against him were dismissed for a lack of evidence.

Dorothy would serve only ten months – but she’d make good use of her time. In December 1929 she and some of her fellow inmates staged a vaudeville show in the prison.  It was reported that: “A flapper bandit, (very likely Burmah White), provided the music; Clara Phillips, hammer slayer, danced and tooted a saxophone; and a forger in a pink dress attempted a recitation.  Dorothy Mackaye acted as the school mistress in a country school act.”

Oh, to have been in the audience.

Dorothy also penned a play “Women in Prison” which became the screenplay for the 1933 pre-code film “LADIES THEY TALK ABOUT”. Barbara Stanwyck played tough talking Nan Taylor, a gangster moll sent to prison for a bank robbery.

Paul Kelly served only two years and one month for the beating death of Ray Raymond. When he was interviewed upon his release from San Quentin he stated that he was leaving for New York and said that he was “headed straight for the comeback trail”. He would be fairly successful.

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Unlike most lovers in a deadly triangle, Dorothy Mackaye and Paul Kelly didn’t turn on each other, in fact they eventually married in 1931.  Dorothy and Paul bought a ranch in the San Fernando Valley, dubbed it KellyMac and went on with their lives.

Paul adopted Dorothy’s daughter Valerie (the one who had watched him beat her birth father to death), and renamed her Mimi — as if her previous life, the one where she had watched Paul Kelly beat her father to death, never existed. And I’ve often wondered what she called Kelly. Stepfather? Daddy killer?

Dorothy was injured in an automobile accident near the ranch in January 1940 – she died of her injuries three days later. Dorothy Mackaye is buried in an unmarked grave in Oakwood Memorial Park in Chatsworth.

Paul Kelly remarried just one year following Dorothy’s death. He went on to have a successful career on stage, screen, and T.V. He died of a heart attack in 1956.

Hollywood Love Triangle: Part 2

raymond_mackaye_kellyThe circumstances of Ray Raymond’s death may have been successfully covered up if not for local newshounds who got wind of the fight and his subsequent death. They called on the Coroner and began asking for details, but he couldn’t tell them a thing – Raymond’s death had not been reported to him!  Dorothy’s $500 payment to Dr. Sullivan had clearly been worth every cent.

Coroner Frank Nance at his desk. [LAPL photo]

Coroner Frank Nance at his desk. [LAPL photo]

Coroner Nance called the hospital where Raymond had died, and was informed that not only was Ray deceased his body had been removed by an undertaker!

Nance followed up and located Raymond’s body at a Hollywood mortuary.  He immediately claimed the body to perform an autopsy.

Not surprisingly, Coroner Nance’s findings didn’t agree with those of Dr. Sullivan — and Dr. Nance had harsh words for both Paul Kelly and Dorothy Mackaye.

He said: “Fortifying himself with four or five drinks — probably to brace up his bully courage — Kelly deliberately went into Raymond’s home for the purpose of beating him. I am also informed that Mrs. Raymond was in Kelly’s apartment when he left his home for the purpose of going to her home to beat up Raymond and it is my belief that it was due to her influence that Kelly went to Raymond’s for the sole purpose of attacking him.”

I agree with Coroner Nance.

Dorothy Mackaye collapsed three times at the grand jury inquiry into Ray’s death.  At one point she fell to the marble floor with enough force to render her unconscious for ten minutes. She must have become light-headed after finally being compelled to tell the truth about the day of the beating. Her original story had been that she’d gone out to get Easter eggs for her daughter and to go to a dressmaker. The truth was that she and one of her so-called chaperones, Helen Wilkinson, had been at Kelly’s apartment drinking and had been present when he phoned Ray.

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Mackaye summed up her day of testimony before the grand jury by saying: “It has been a terrible ordeal. Why, oh, why, do they have to do all this to me? I would be all right but my nerves are shot to pieces. I hope I won’t have to go through all this again very soon.”

Dorothy had no words of sadness or remorse for Ray’s miserable death. In true Hollywood diva fashion, it was all about her.

In Kelly’s statement to the cops he said he’d purposely called Ray to demand an apology. Seems pretty ballsy to demand that Ray retract statements about Kelly’s relationship with Dorothy — statements which were true. Kelly also told cops was that he went to Raymond’s home “to give him the threshing that was coming to him”.  Kelly wouldn’t make any other statements except to profess his love for Dorothy.

Witnesses stated that Dorothy was still at Kelly’s apartment when he returned after viciously beating Ray, and apparently the couple retired to a rear room and conferred in secret for nearly thirty minutes — obviously to get their stories straight.

It wasn’t only Kelly and Mackaye who were in deep trouble following Ray’s death.  Dr. Sullivan, the physician who had determined that Raymond had died of natural causes, was being taken to task as well. In the District Attorney’s office the day following the grand jury hearing, Dorothy Mackaye came to Dr. Sullivan’s defense. She said:

mackaye_sullivan“I have absolute faith in Dr. Sullivan’s statement that Ray’s death was due to natural causes. He [Raymond] hadn’t been well for some time and we had been afraid of a nervous breakdown.” She continued: “Mr. Kelly I have known for years. I knew him as a youngster in New York when he was first starting out. My feeling for him has always been, and is, I suppose, a sort of sisterly love.”

Mackaye admitted that she and Ray hadn’t been happy for some time and had discussed divorce, but they hadn’t gone through with it due to financial concerns. Oh, and any talk of a future marriage with Kelly had been done “in a joking manner”.

Paul Kelly was indicted for the murder of Ray Raymond, and Dorothy Mackaye was indicted for concealing facts in the case.

NEXT TIME: Hollywood Love Triangle: Part 3