Too Many Cooks, Part 1

February 9, 1955

Beverly Hills, California

Half a dozen landscapers were hard at work installing a sprinkler system on the grounds of Samuel Hayden’s Beverly Hills estate at 817 North Whittier Street when they were startled by screams coming from inside the home.  Dropping their tools as they ran, the men followed the bloodcurdling shrieks to the back entrance to the kitchen.  The first man in door must have been horrified. 71-year-old Katie Hayden lay in a widening pool of blood. She had been beaten so badly she was barely recognizable. In the sink was a bloody rag and a small ax.

It wasn’t Katie who had screamed.  Peggy King, the Hayden’s new housekeeper and cook, was responsible for the cries which shattered the quiet morning and drawn the landscapers and neighbors from several doors away to the gruesome scene.

The police were called and within minutes Beverly Hills cops and an ambulance arrived.  Katie was taken to Beverly Hills Emergency Hospital and then transferred to Cedars of Lebanon Hospital for surgery.  She didn’t make it.  Katie’s health had been poor for the last couple of years and she didn’t have to the strength to survive the vicious attack.  Even a younger, healthier person would likely have succumbed.  Dr. Frederick Newbarr, the Coroner’s chief autopsy surgeon, said that the beating Katie had suffered was the most vicious he had ever seen.  The killer used the sharp end of the ax to inflict 20 to 30 cuts on her head and face; then used the butt end to fracture Katie’s left jaw and her upper left collarbone.

Who could have wanted Katie dead? She wasn’t a high-risk victim – she was a Beverly Hills housewife.

Investigators dug into the Hayden’s background.  Did Samuel, who had made a fortune as a real estate developer, have enemies who hated him enough to get to him through is family?

The Haydens had relocated to Los Angeles from Chicago in the mid-1940s and moved to Beverly Hills.  They began construction on the Whittier Street home during the summer of 1954 and were occupying it by December.  The $200,000 [equivalent to $1.8 million dollars in today’s currency] estate was their dream home. It was also less than 300 feet away from 810 N. Linden Drive where mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel had been shot to death in the home’s living room in June 1947.

Bugsy Siegel with his attorney Jerry Geisler. [Photo courtesy of LAPL.]

Siegel was a mobster and the Hayden’s were from Chicago, a city with a long history of mob activity.  Was there a connection?

The last thing the city wanted was another unsolved high-profile murder case. Because the house had been under construction and workmen had been in and out, the detectives had at least 50 people to interview.  The master bedroom had been ransacked, maybe the murder was a burglary gone wrong. What if someone knew that Katie had been diagnosed with cancer and assumed she had narcotics on hand? Pharmaceutical grade drugs would be a powerful inducement for someone.

Police didn’t find anything to corroborate mob involvement, and the interviews they had conducted in the early hours of the investigation hadn’t led to any blinding insights.  Even so, they turned up an interesting suspect. Three weeks prior to the murder 39-year-old Rutherford Leon Bennett had been dismissed from the Hayden’s employ when he failed to meet their standards for a cook.  Since Bennett claimed his primary skill was millinery, specifically creating hats for wealthy matrons, his culinary skills may have been lacking.

Bennett’s alibi was straight forward.  He told police that he was asleep at home when the murder was committed. But Bennett had supposedly telephoned Samuel following his dismissal and demanded two weeks’ severance pay. When the Hayden’s wouldn’t deliver did Bennett get mad enough to kill?  Bennett denied that he had pressured the Haydens for money.  He stated that his reason for calling was benign, he wanted permission to use them as a job reference.

Bennett’s roommate, 24-year-old Nathaniel Smith, verified Bennett’s alibi.  Smith said that he and Bennett had been out until 5 a.m. on the morning of the murder and that when they arrived home both had immediately gone to bed.  Another point in Bennett’s favor is that he didn’t own a car so getting to Beverly Hills from his home at 1403 West 39th Street would have been a challenge.  He could have used Smith’s car, but a police search of the vehicle revealed no bloodstains. Bennett’s clothing was also free of bloodstains.

The Beverly Hills police didn’t want to risk another high-profile failure.  They’d struck out on the Siegel murder in ’47.  They arrested their only viable suspect in Katie’s murder, Rutherford Leon Bennett.

Bennett, Smith and the Hayden’s maid of three days, Peggy King, were each scheduled to take a lie detector test.  Cops hoped for a revelation.

NEXT TIME:  False alibis and new clues.

 

 

 

The Society Bootlegger Murder, Part 2

Earle Remington

Earle Remington had made a name for himself locally, and nationally, as an aviator and businessman.  On the surface it appeared that he wasn’t the sort of man to get himself murdered. He was more likely to be injured tripping over a Persian rug at one of the exclusive clubs he frequented. But once police investigators began to scratch the surface they found that Earle was leading a double life — one that may have marked him for murder.

Peggy Remington had spoken with attorney Jerry Geisler about two weeks before Earle’s death. She wanted the attorney to represent her in a divorce. Peggy allegedly told Geisler that not only was Earle having an affair, he was selling bootleg booze. A jealous husband or an angry illicit business partner may well have cause to kill.

The widow had a couple of compelling motives to murder Earle. His infidelity was one. Another, and perhaps even stronger motive, was life insurance.  Earle had a policy in the amount of $27,500 (equivalent to $300k in current dollars).  Ten thousand dollars were to go to his sister, and the remainder would go to Peggy.  Peggy wouldn’t need to kill Earle herself, she could have hired someone to do it for her.

Peggy Remington

Peggy Remington

Where would a well-to-do society matron find an assassin? Her friends and acquaintances weren’t, like some of Earle’s, to be found on the shady side of the law.

Ironically, it was Peggy’s good works that would have put her in touch with a possible gene pool of killers.  She worked with veterans of WWI, some of whom were not only physically but psychologically damaged. Peggy knew dozens of men who knew how to use a weapon, but would any one of them be unstable enough to go through with a murder-for-hire?

The suggestion that the stab wound in Earle’s chest had been made not by a dagger but by a bayonet or a trench knife lent credibility to the theory that a vet, either on his own or enlisted by Peggy, had done the deed.  Peggy wanted out of the marriage – but how far was she willing to go?

Captain George Home

Captain George Home

Two veteran LAPD officers, Captain George Home and Detective Sergeant Herman Cline, headed the murder investigation. Captain Home had nearly 20 years on the job, and he briefly served as Chief of Police in 1919 and 1920. Detective Cline worked many high-profile cases – most notably he had been involved in the investigation into the mysterious slaying of film director William Desmond Taylor in 1922.

Milster’s was not an uncommon theory. From the end of WWI until the beginning of WWII, many criminal acts were rightly, and wrongly, attributed to veterans. If vets behaved badly it may have been because they suffered from shell-shock, the original term for what, decades later, became known as Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder (PTSD). Milster was satisfied that his sister had nothing to do with Earle’s death — but detectives weren’t so sure. They were convinced that Peggy was withholding information. Despite evidence to the contrary, particularly from her own attorney, Peggy continued to deny knowing anything about Earle’s secret life of infidelity and bootleg booze.

Earle kept a little red book containing the names, addresses and telephone numbers of many women. Detectives hoped that the book would lead them to Earle’s killer. All Peggy would say is that for at least two weeks prior to the murder Earle appeared to be in fear of his life. She told police that he never revealed to her the reasons for his unease.

society bootlegger_3_cropLess than a week into the investigation police discovered that Earle was the victim of extortion — a blackmail scheme run by a man and woman.  The woman had allegedly seduced Earle then told him it would cost him big time for her to keep her mouth shut about their affair.

In 1933 crime novelist and chronicler of Los Angeles noir, Raymond Chandler, published his first piece of crime fiction entitled “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot”.  Chandler was on to something.  Why would blackmailers kill the golden goose? They might kill him if he finally refused to pay.

Evidently, Earle had been hemorrhaging money and when the blackmailers tried to tap him again, he told them they were out of luck. Were they made angry enough to kill?

Police identified the couple, but they weren’t sharing that information with the press.  What they said was that they had heard from informants that the night before the murder the blackmailers were at a party in a cabaret on the outskirts of Chinatown. Earle was there with another man and three women.  The blackmailers hadn’t been seen since. Or had they?  Neighbors of Earle’s saw a couple necking in a coupe near the murder scene.  They also witnessed another coupe, driven by a woman, drive up to the Remington home followed moments later by a touring car in which there were two men.  Both automobiles circled the block several times before disappearing. And nobody seemed to know where the amorous couple had gone. Were Earle’s killers doing reconnaissance before they struck?

As if the case wasn’t complicated enough Aimee Torriani, an actress and acquaintance of the Remingtons, came forward. Aimee told detectives that two weeks before his death she had bumped into Earle at a downtown club.  Aimee said that Earle had confided in her that his marriage to Peggy was in serious trouble. Earle had seemed nervous.

Aimee told police that she had special insight into the Remington’s marriage because not only had she known Earle since she was ten years old, she was a psychic.

NEXT TIME:  Will psychic revelations help the cops solve Earle’s murder?  And is the murder of Oakland society bootlegger, Edward Shouse, connected to Earle’s death?