Shootout at the Selma Hotel, Conclusion

shirt clueAccording to the attorneys for Tom Bay and Ed “Red” Carmichael, the red shirt that James “Yakima Jim” Anson died in was going to clear their clients of murder.  The shirt would supposedly show that there had been a terrific battle prior to the shooting, thus clearing Tom and Red of a cold-blooded slaying. Unfortunately,  the shirt had disappeared.

On August 26, 1925 a telegram originating from Shosone, Idaho cleared up the mystery of the red shirt. It wasn’t lost and the cops hadn’t concealed it, it had accompanied Yakima’s body to Idaho where it was burned.

Tom and Red’s preliminary hearing lasted for several weeks. At the end of it only Tom was held to answer for Yakima’s murder. Justice Russell released Red, apparently believing the man’s story that he’d been out of the room when the fatal shot was fired. Even though Red had left Yakima’s room for a short time he seemed to know that Tom had produced a revolver, faced Yakima, and said: “Now I’ve got you just where I want you.” He said he heard a scuffle and then a shot. He ran back into the room in time to see Tom escape out the hotel window.jury baffled

As a Hollywood cowboy Tom spent much less time on a horse than he did with a cocktail glass in his hand. His wife Pearl testified that whenever he came home drunk, which was often, he would attempt to crawl under a chiffonier that was only six inches from the floor.  On the day that Yakima was shot Tom came home and again tried to hide under the furniture. Pearl intervened, and then she listened as he told her a garbled tale of Yakima’s shooting. Pearl said: “He told me there had been a shooting and that Anson was badly hurt, but I got the impression he had shot himself. Tom didn’t say anything about having shot him and didn’t seem to know who had.”

Tom Bay c. 1931

Tom Bay c. 1931

When Tom took the stand in Judge Kectch’s court he offered his version of Yakima’s death. He readily admitted that he’d been drinking, but he claimed there were several other men in the  hotel room–which didn’t square with Red’s account. Tom said that Yakima had drawn the gun and started waving it around. It was during a struggle for possession of the weapon that it discharged. Yakima staggered back against the wall and slowly slid into a sitting position on the floor. According to Tom, Red came back into the room (he’d been in the bathroom) and told the wounded man to “snap out of it” and “the cops might come because that gun went off.” Rather than wait for the cops, or check to see if Yakima was okay,  Tom crawled through an open window and dropped to the sidewalk–leaving Red to face the music. Red picked up the revolver, realized it was his, and headed for the door. He didn’t even get out of the hotel before the cops took him into custody. Tom was picked up later.

tom freedThroughout the trial Tom maintained that he didn’t know that Yakima had been shot when he fled from the room. For me that stretches the bounds of credibility, but evidently the jury bought the story because following twenty hours of deliberation they acquitted him. Dozens of men in high-heeled boots, holding ten-gallon hats, and grinning swarmed Tom and slapped him on the back in congratulations.

There are several unanswered questions in this case. Who brought Red’s gun to the room, and why? It seems likely that Tom had somehow managed to get his hands on the weapon and, in his inebriated condition, thought he’d scare an apology out of Yakima for making rude comments about Pearl. Did the gun go off accidentally as Tom insisted or was he drunk enough to pull the trigger in anger?tragedy

We’ll never know for sure and all that matters is the jury’s decision. However if you believe, as I do, that Tom was at the least guilty of involuntary manslaughter then you’ll be interested to know how he fared following his acquittal.

In May 1931, Pearl sued Tom for divorce. She said that she had sold her piano and car to pay for his attorneys; however, he was not only ungrateful, he treated her badly. He was physically and emotionally abusive and he cheated on her over and over. Pearl had discovered love letters and overheard Tom talking to another woman on the phone in a tone of voice that went beyond friendly. To buttress her case Pearl produced a handful of letters written by a woman living in Deadwood, South Dakota. They were torrid enough to have courtroom spectators on the edge of their seats. Pearl won her divorce. Tom continued his film career. He appeared, mostly uncredited,  either as a stunt double or as a heavy in popular horse operas into the early 1930s.

Mary Frances Miller

On October 11, 1933, actress Mary Frances Miles received a telephone call from her friend Alta Lessert. Alta said she and her live-in lover, cowboy actor Tom Bay, had been fighting. Alta may have been looking for moral support or a referee–in any case Mary went to help. She arrived at Alta and Tom’s house at 602 North Lincoln Boulevard, Burbank and tried to keep the peace. She thought she had succeeded in getting the combative couple to calm down–she saw them embrace and kiss–but moments later she heard a gunshot.

Alta ran from the living room to the bedroom.  Alta was standing with a gun in her hand  Tom’s back was to her and he had his hands raised above his head. Alta fired another shot and Tom fell to the floor.

Mary ran from the house to phone the police. On her way to get help she passed the bedroom window. She looked in and saw Alta hold the muzzle of the gun against her breast and fired twice. She collapsed on the floor beside the dead cowboy. lessert_mailbox

Tom died at the scene, a bullet through his heart. Alta’s ribs deflected the bullets and she survived to stand trial for his murder. She claimed self-defense. Tom had been violent with her before and the day he died he had been drinking heavily and threatened to kill her. She had grabbed the gun before he could reach it and fired. Several character witnesses testified on Alta’s behalf–most of them were cowboy actors: Buck Bucko, Roy Bucko, Jack Castle, and Jack Padjan. The men said Tom was a known troublemaker.

The jury deadlocked 6 to 6. The D.A. wanted to re-try Alta, but Judge Fricke dismissed the murder charge saying that he didn’t believe a conviction was possible.

Just as Tom had done nine years earlier, Alta walked out of court a free woman.

Shootout at the Selma Hotel-Part 2

Movie cowboy James (Yakima Jim) Anson was shot to death at the Selma Hotel in Hollywood on August 9, 1925; and the shooter was either Tom Bay or Edward (Red) Carmichael. Because each of the suspects was pointing his finger at the other, no one was sure which of the men had actually pulled the trigger.

SELMA SHOOTOUT1On August 11, 1925 the Coroner’s Jury heard testimony from a number of witnesses. Among them was LAPD Detective Lieutenant Clark who stated that following his arrest Bay told him: “I was passing the Selma Yotel and Yakima Jim called me up. I went into his room and found him there with a gun in his lap. I saw two or three fellows there. I asked Yakima, ‘What’s the trouble?’ and Yakima said, ‘You know what’s the trouble.’ I saw he was shot and thought I was being framed on, so I got out.” The scenario was at odds with Carmichael’s version which had he and Bay visiting Yakima’s room together–no one else was there when they arrived. According to Carmichael he had stepped out of the room for a moment leaving Bay and Yakima alone. He was certain he’d heard Yakima say. “Put down the gun.” Carmichael returned to the room when he heard a shot and saw Bay climbing out of the hotel window. Yakima was still alive and there was a gun on the floor. Carmichael recognized it as his own weapon. He didn’t know how it had come to be there so he picked it up and was about to leave the room when police arrived. The cops were conveniently next door at the Hollywood Station.SELMA SHOOTOUT2

E.D. Musselman, another cinema cowpoke and a roomer in Bay’s home, testified that Bay arrived home at 4 p.m. on the day of the shooting and he was completely soused. Musselman said Bay was so drunk he was barely able to talk and muttered something unintelligible about Yakima Jim being hurt.

An intriguing piece of the puzzle was supplied by A.J. Antela, a Hollywood jail trusty, who testified that he found $340 in bills on the ground beneath Anson’s window. The money was important was because Bay complained of losing $440 in denominations matching the found money, so it lent credibility to Carmichael’s version of events. The inquest panel never heard the theory that the shooting was tied to Bay’s failed attempt to borrow money from Yakima; nor did they hear that Yakima had allegedly said some nasty things about Bay’s wife.

bay wife picIn his testimony Detective Lieutenant Clark stated that Yakima Jim revealed that he had been shot by “Tom Bay with Red Carmichael’s gun.” Generally a dying declaration is given a lot of weight, and this one was pretty damned clear, yet the jury couldn’t reach a conclusion. They returned with a open verdict–meaning they couldn’t affix blame to either Bay or Carmichael and settled for accusing “some party or parties unknown.”

A couple of days following the inquest Bay and Carmichael were in front of Judge Russell for arraignment. The Coroner’s jury was unable to name the shooter so it was going to be up to a judge and/or jury to try to figure it out.

The defendants’ attorneys, Phillips and Kendall, excoriated the cops for failing to produce the ragged, bloody shirt worn by Yakima when he was shot to death. The defense contended that the shirt would show that Yakima was shot during a struggle–not murdered in cold blood. Attorney Kendall shouted at the prosecution: “You have brought everything connected with the case into court, but you didn’t bring the shirt. Why? I’ll tell you why. Because it shows evidence of a terrific struggle having taken place before Jim was killed, evidence that will exonerate these defendants of the charge of murder.”

The judge postponed the hearing to give everyone an opportunity to deal with the mystery of the missing shirt. Bay and Carmichael were handcuffed to each other to be returned to lock-up. As they were being led from the courtroom Bay’s sobbing wife rushed to his side begging that cops: “Handcuff me to him and take me to jail.” The officers declined.

Was evidence that might clear Bay and Carmichael being deliberately withheld? The hunt for the red shirt was on.

NEXT TIME: Sorting out the shooter. The red shirt mystery solved.

Shootout at the Selma Hotel

There was a time when Los Angeles was a wild west outpost. Cowboys rode into town and got into trouble. They drank too much, chased women, and often drew a gun without contemplating the consequences. But by 1925 the city was modern and civilized, after a fashion, and the only cowpokes to be seen were likely on their way to a movie studio for a day of dress-up and make believe.

On August 9, 1925 Edward “Red” Carmichael and Thomas Bay, both movie cowboys, called on another film cowpoke, James Anson (aka Yakima Jim), at his hotel room. The Selma Hotel was adjacent to the LAPD’s Hollywood station.

LAPD's Hollywood Station.  [Photo courtesy of LAPL

LAPD’s Hollywood Station. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Anson, Bay, and Carmichael may have been in the movies but they were more than rhinestone cowboys–they had credibility. Yakima Jim was from the Yakima Reservation in Washington, and Red was a range rider from Texas. Bay was a western showman who hailed from Oklahoma.

Famous Players Lasky [Photo found at http://www.hollywoodlegends.net/paramount.html]

Famous Players Lasky [Photo found at http://www.hollywoodlegends.net/paramount.html]

The three men had recently worked together at the Famous Players-Lasky ranch on a picture, The Pony Express, directed by James Cruze. There had been some discord–Bay intended to confront his fellow movie buckaroo about some nasty remarks Yakima had allegedly made about Bay’s wife.

PONY EXPRESSAll three men had been drinking and the confrontation went from verbal to violent in short order. At least one gunshot was were heard and a man was seen jumping from a second-story window at the rear of the hotel. It wasn’t known who had fired the shot nor was the identity of the jumper known until LAPD Detectives arrived at the scene.

Yakima was conscious but in bad shape. One shot had entered his body under his right arm pit, traveled through both lungs and then exited under his left arm. He was immediately transported to the Receiving hospital. When Detectives questioned him he said that Bay had shot him. When asked why Yakima said that the man was “…just trying to be tough, I guess.”

Detectives brought Bay and Carmichael in for questioning. Bay clammed up. Mrs. Bay appeared at the police station and gave a statement in which she said that the disagreement between her husband and Yakima was about money. Yakima had asked Bay to loan him $25. Mrs. Bay nixed the plan, evidently believing that Yakima was a bad risk. Yakima didn’t take the rejection well at all; he supposedly said to Anson: “You wouldn’t let that bitch tell you what do to, would you?” It was not surprising that Mrs. Bay supported her husband’s story–but what was Red’s role in the shooting?

Red claimed not to know the nature of the beef between Yakima and Bay. He said he’d left the hotel room for a moment but the crack of a gunshot brought him back in a hurry. He witnessed Bay jumping out of the window of the room and saw Yakima on the floor bleeding. He said he was very surprised to see his own gun, which he thought was in one of his suitcases, on the floor. Was Red telling the truth? Bay denied shooting Yakima and waggled his j’accuse finger squarely at Red.

SELMA SHOOTOUT1While cops weren’t looking Bay climbed out of a window at the Hollywood Police Station shimmied down a small pipe and fled. Fifty officers were immediately dispatched to find him. He was recaptured in Whitley Heights in the Hollywood foothills. His escape was a dumb move but it wasn’t the worst of his problems–Yakima had died in the Receiving Hospital.

Now it was murder case. But who was the shooter?

NEXT TIME: Sorting out the facts in the Selma Hotel shootout.