Film Noir Friday: Fall Guy [1947]

 FALL GUY 1947

Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.

Tonight’s feature is FALL GUY starring Leo Penn (billed as Clifford Penn), Robert Armstrong, Teala Loring and Elisha Cook, Jr. Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Tom Cochrane, full of dope (cocaine) and covered with blood, is picked up by the police and then questioned by detectives Shannon (Douglas Fowley) and Taylor (Harry Strang), but manages to escape. His girl friend Lois Walter (Teala Loring), against the wishes of her guardian, Jim Grosset (Charles Arnt), assists Tom and his police-officer brother-in-law Mac (Robert Armstrong) in trying to clear Tom of a possible murder charge. Tom only recalls meeting a man in a bar and going to a party.

http://youtu.be/tCJp824nYE4

Film Noir Friday: Phantom Lady [1944]

  PHANTOMLADY2

Welcome!  The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.

Tonight’s feature is PHANTOM LADY [1944] based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich and written under his pseudonym, William Irish. The film was directed by Robert Siodmak and starred Franchot Tone, Ella Raines and Alan Curtis.

Enjoy the film!

TCM says:

At Anselmo’s bar in New York, Scott Henderson sits dejectedly next to an equally despondent woman wearing a distinctive hat. Scott offers the woman tickets to a musical show that he cannot use, but she is not interested until Scott asks if she would like to accompany him to the show. Impulsively she agrees, on the condition that they do not exchange any personal information and just enjoy the evening together. At the show, Scott and the woman sit near the front, where the woman attracts the eye of the orchestra drummer and singer Estela Monteiro, who is furious that the woman’s hat matches her own. After the show, Scott escorts the woman back to the bar and they part amicably. Upon returning to his apartment, Scott is greeted by by police Inspector Burgess, who informs him that Scott’s wife Marcela has been strangled to death with one of Scott’s ties.

Film Noir Friday: Dark Waters [1944]

 dark waters 1944

Welcome!  The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.

Tonight’s feature is DARK WATERS starring Merle Oberon and Franchot Tone. Directed by Andre DeToth.

Enjoy the film!

TCM says:

When the ship that is carrying Leslie Calvin and her wealthy parents from Batavia to America sinks, Leslie, one of only four survivors, is haunted by the death of her parents.  Just before she is to be released fro the New Orleans hospital in which she is recuperating, Leslie writes a letter to her only living relative, her mother’s sister, Emily Lamont, whom she has never met.  Emily writes back from Belleville, Louisiana, explaining that she and her husband Norbert are residing at the ancestral plantation there and inviting Leslie to stay with them. Leslie travels to Belleville, but when no one appears to meet her at the train station, the neurotic Leslie faints from the heat.

Is Leslie unstable or really in danger?

 

http://youtu.be/J09wbMo_-YY

Let’s Kill All the Lawyers

Dick the butcher: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

 –Henry The Sixth,  William Shakespeare

Like many residents of Los Angeles, Arthur Emil Hansen was a transplant. He had been a successful farmer in South Dakota before moving to the city in 1932. Perhaps he’d grown tired of farming and longed for a change; whatever the reason he had traded his 200 acre farm for the Chatham Apartments on Berendo Street. He assumed a $15,000 (equivalent to $256,000 in 2014 U.S. dollars) mortgage against the building. Subsequently, he traded his equity for an equity in another apartment house and assumed a $150,000 (equivalent to approximately $2.5M in current U.S. dollars) liability against it.

lawyers slain

If not a real estate mogul, Hansen was fast becoming quite the wheeler and dealer. Following his success with the apartment building he then invested in an 800 acre parcel of land in the Imperial Valley. Unfortunately the deal didn’t go smoothly, and by June 1938 the thirty-eight year old former farmer, and land baron wanna-be, had been tied up in a civil suit for over five years. For his part Hansen claimed that he’d never even taken possession of the ranch and that after signing the trust deed he was foreclosed upon. Arthur had lost both the apartment building AND the ranch for a total of about $39,000 (equivalent to $665,892.00 in 2014 U.S. dollars)–hardly a pittance at any time, and a veritable fortune at the tail end of the Great Depression. He was convinced that he had been swindled.

In the first round of litigation Hansen was awarded $7000, but the case didn’t end there and more legal wrangling ensued. After all was said and done he was on the hook for taxes and water assessments for the ranch and Mr. John Hancock (no, I didn’t make it up) was seeking to collect the $5000 judgement he’d won against Hansen in 1935.

On June 22, 1938, Hansen entered the courtroom of Referee in Bankruptcy on the eighth floor of the Hall of Records where he was about to lose every dime he had left–the real estate deals had gone south and paying an attorney over a period of five years is an extremely expensive proposition. Financially, Hansen was on crutches and they were about to be kicked out from underneath him. As soon as he crossed the threshold, he caught sight of the two attorney’s who were representing his opponent.

lawyer vics

The attorneys, J. Irving Hancock, who was representing his father (John must have saved a fortune in attorney’s fees)  and R. D. McLaughlin, were seated toward the front of the room with their heads together. Anyone else observing the pair would likely have thought that they were conferring on a point of law, or maybe asking after each others wives and children, but as far as Arthur was concerned the two lawyers were sneaking glances at him, whispering, smirking, and plotting his complete financial annihilation.

E.F. Crozier, clerk in Commissioner Kurtz Kauffman’s court, was working on some papers when he noticed Hansen enter the room and sit behind McLaughlin and Hancock. Then he heard shots. Crozier ducked behind the desk and then got up and ran for help.

death scene diagram

Deputy Sheriff Frederick O. Field arrived and took charge of the situation: “Don’t let anybody in or out” he said. Field saw Hansen attempt to exit the courtroom and prevented him from escaping. Then  the deputy ordered the courtroom to be kept closed until Capt. William Penprase, head of the Sheriff’s Bureau of Investigation, arrived with a squad of officers.

Hansen confessed on the spot:

“When I entered that courtroom and saw those two attorneys whispering together to harass me further I could not stand it. I wanted to kill them both–I am glad they’re dead–they can’t hurt anybody else.”

Hansen was summarily booked in the County Jail, charged by Deputy Sheriff Killion with suspicion of murder and ordered to be held incommunicado for forty-eight hours.

Shortly after being placed in his cell, Hansen was interviewed by Gustav F. Boehme, Jr., a psychiatrist. Reporters attempted to get an in-depth statement from the alienist, but all he would say was that Hansen was emotionally excitable.

Hansen was definitely volatile, but even so he’d made some interesting allegations about harassment and about having been swindled by Hancock and a few others in the real estate transactions. Was he just hysterical, or had the South Dakota farm boy been duped?

NEXT TIME: Hansen’s criminal case and aftermath.

The Prisoner’s Dream, Conclusion

Charles Lee Guy, III [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Collection]

Charles Lee Guy, III [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Collection]

On November 13, 1957 a jury of ten women and two men was selected in Santa Monica Superior Court for the second murder trial of nineteen year old Charles Lee Guy, III. The teenager  stood accused of the shotgun slaying of Guy F. Roberts, his mother’s fiancee.

motel_GuyVictimCharles’ mother Nina didn’t allow minor distractions like a murdered fiancee or a jailed son stand in the way of her happiness. She and Wilson Miles, the man with whom she and Charles had been living prior to her meeting Roberts, eloped to Tijuana!

I believe that the impulsive marriage was a way for the couple to ensure that neither of them could be compelled to testify against the other.

At least Charles had two attorneys who cared about him, his father, Charles Lee Guy, Jr. and one of his former stepfathers, John Angus.

Reporters asked Nina if she would be called as a witness for the prosecution:

“I hope I don’t have to testify against my son. I don’t see how I can. Sonny and I have always been devoted to each other”.

She also said that Charles had said to her:

“Gee, mom, I’m sorry. I don’t know why I did it.”

With a mom like Nina poor Charles didn’t need any enemies.nina testifies

In an attempt to undo any damage inflicted on their case by Nina, Charles’ father/attorney explained that:

“He (Charles) had no motive and no reason to commit the crime. He believed his mother was involved and wanted to cover up for her.”

At least Charles’ father was able to score a couple of important points during his questioning of Detective William Garn.  Detective Garn testified that when he arrived at the Miles’ home to arrest Charles, Wilson Miles answered the door and handed him (Garn) the keys to the dead man’s car! According to the detective, the car keys had been in Wilson’s room and NOT in the room occupied by Charles! In my book that is a smoking gun.

GUY SENTENCED PICCharles testified that he had covered up for his mother, even though he was angry at her for seeing Miles during her engagement to Roberts:

“I thought that either my mother or Mr. Miles had killed Mr. Roberts.”

“She would write on the mirror at Mr. Miles’ house, ‘I love you,’ and then she’d go up to Mr. Roberts’ place and write the same thing on the mirror. It was a mess.”

Despite evidence that, in my opinion, offered sufficient reasonable doubt to justify an acquittal, on December 5, 1957, after deliberating for 5 hours and 20 minutes, Charles was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to from 1 to 10 years in prison.

When asked to comment on the verdict, Nina said:

“I’m heartbroken. I know Sonny is guilty, but I know he wasn’t in his right mind. I don’t blame Sonny for what he said about me during the trial. I know he had to do it.”

She added that she was thinking of selling the story of her marriages and the crime to a magazine.

Charles spent several years in prison. His mother rarely visited; but his dad continued to offer his support and looked forward to eventually taking Charles with him to North Carolina.

While he was an inmate Charles requested a tape recorder and a guitar to help him pass the time; then he started recording prison folk songs. Capitol Records heard about him from L.A. Times Columnist Paul Coates, and Charles got a record deal.

Charles+Lee+Guy+III+++the+prisoCharles’ album, The Prisoner’s Dream, was well-received. On October 4, 1963 Time Magazine reviewed the album:

“Charles Lee Guy III has been an inmate of California State Prison since he was 16 [sic 19]. The songs he has learned to sing there all reflect his sorry circumstance – and among them is the latest composition of a prison chum, country music’s Spade Cooley [himself a wife killer]. Guy’s woeful voice and guitar accompaniment fit the spirit of his music, and in this remarkable album he has the power of a young white Leadbelly.”

One of the songs on the album was entitled: “Wishin’ She Was Here (Instead of Me)”. I imagine Charles spent some awful nights at Folsom fantasizing that Nina was locked up and that he was free.

Another of the songs on Charles’ album was an original composition, “Cold Gray Bars”, given to him by western swing star, Spade Cooley.  Cooley was doing time for the 1961 murder of his second wife, Ella Mae. Cooley had suspected Ella of repeated infidelities (never mind that he’d been serially unfaithful) so he beat her head against the floor, stomped on her stomach, then crushed a lighted cigarette against her skin to see if she was dead. When the cops arrived Spade claimed that Ella had fallen in the shower.

Upon his release from prison, Charles moved to North Carolina to work in his father’s law office. He and his dad had both wanted him to have a life out of the public eye, which he seems to have achieved.

As far as I’ve been able to discover Nina died in 1977 at age 57. I don’t know the cause of her death, but I’ll bet that it had nothing to do with a guilty conscience.  Charles Lee Guy Jr. died in 1996 after serving 14 years as a district judge.

I found this 2011 obituary for Charles:

“Charles Lee Guy III, 73, of Elizabethtown, died Saturday, June 18, 2011. Services: Funeral will be held in Boise, Idaho. Survived by: Sons, Donnie and Lee; daughter, Tanya Williams; stepmother, Mildred; sisters, Alicia Horne, Judy Angus, Betsy Horner and Natalie; brothers, Michael and John Angus and Robert and Richard; and six grandchildren. Lewis-Bowen Funeral Home of Bladenboro.”

I hope Charles had a happy and fulfilling life — I believe that he got a raw deal from his mother.

The Devil in Orange County

 

flower_power

Groovy, baby.

Beginning with the Summer of Love in 1967 the Baby Boomers felt that they were on to something profound — all you had to do was wear a garland of flowers around your head, smoke a few joints, flash the Peace Sign, and major changes in society would follow. If only it had been that simple.

bombing for peace If you were in your teens or twenties during that time, life was a contact high; everywhere you went it seemed like there was great music and free dope, but no high lasts forever. Eventually a decent buzz becomes harder to sustain.  At first you chase the high in the bright sunlight with energy and enthusiasm because it feels so damned good; but there comes a time when the high proves elusive — you catch glimpses of it as it disappears down deeper and darker alleyways.

Less than a year after the Summer of Love, on April 4,1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. People barely had a chance to process the pain and horror of his death when, on June 6,1968, Robert Kennedy was gunned down in the pantry of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. The Age of Aquarius was on life support.

Robert F. Kennedy

Robert F. Kennedy

The ultimate perversion of the hippie ethos occurred on August 9, 1969, with the cruel and senseless torture and slaughter of Sharon Tate and her unborn son, Abigail Folger, Wojciejk Frykowski, Jay Sebring, and Steven Parent. The next night, Leno and Rosemary LaBiana were brutally murdered. The cryptic blood-scrawled words “Rise”, “Pig” and “Healter (sic) Skelter” at the crime scenes had terrified everyone. Had Satan had taken up residence in Los Angeles?  Maybe Hollywood was Sodom after all.

A raid on the Spahn Ranch in mid-August 1969 by L.A. County Sheriffs uncovered stolen car parts, teen-age runaways, drugs and weapons. While the raid was being conducted Woodstock (“Three days of Peace & Music”) was in full swing on Yasgur’s farm in New York.

By December 2, 1969 the Manson Family was being exposed for what they really were, remorseless killers. The month of December had started out bad and it wasn’t going to get any better.

Hell's Angels attacking a concert goer at Altamont.

Hell’s Angels attacking a concert goer at Altamont.

The final fuck you to the hippie dreams of Flower Power came at a free concert at Altamont in Northern California on December 6, 1969. The concert was meant to be Woodstock West, but instead it became an ugly confrontation between the Hell’s Angels, who had been hired as security for the event, and the musicians and concert goers. The night ended with three accidental deaths and the stabbing death of Meredith Hunter.

Despite its early promise of peace & love, the ’60s had died a terrible death — bathed in blood, choking on shattered dreams and littered with acid casualties.

Maybe the ’70s would be better.

BEHIND THE ORANGE CURTAIN

Orange County, California, a collection of quiet suburbs, has long had a reputation for political and social conservatism. The inhabitants of Orange County are described as living behind “The Orange Curtain” a play on the infamous Iron Curtain which once separated communist and capitalist Europe.

orange_groveI grew up behind the Orange Curtain in Garden Grove, a middle-class suburb close enough to Disneyland for my family to be able to watch the summer fireworks from our living room window. There were orange groves and strawberry fields near our home and the smell of orange blossoms, not easy to find anymore, brings back memories. The city’s claim to fame was as the home of the Garden Grove Community Church (the “drive-in” church) designed by the visionary architect Richard Neutra.

Garden Grove Community Church.

Garden Grove Community Church.

The first summer of the 70s was just beginning, and my brother’s best friend and I were driving around in my 1964 VW Beetle. We were headed home when we noticed Craig Hulse, whom we hadn’t seen in ages, hitch-hiking at the side of the road. I pulled over and Craig got into the car.

Craig was sixteen years old, a big kid, at least six feet tall and well over 200 lbs. We’d known him for years, he and my brother had gone to junior high school together. My brother is cursed with the Renner mouth — it’s an affliction I share — we seem to lack a necessary filter between the brain and mouth so we often say exactly what we’re thinking — and that isn’t always wise. A sense of humor and the ability to take a wicked joke at your expense was de rigueur in my family, but my brother’s quick wit and missing filter caused him a few problems in school.  However Craig, who had earned the nickname “Moose”, occasionally came to his rescue.

It was no surprise to find Craig hitch-hiking, everyone did in those days. We heard that he’d dropped out of school, run away from home and was heavy into Seconal and booze. Once he was in the car we asked him how he was doing and if he was okay. He said that things weren’t going well and that he was thinking about enlisting in the military to try to get his life in order. Enlisting would have had him on a plane to Vietnam before the year was over, but we figured maybe his life was bad enough to warrant drastic action. We dropped him off a few miles down the road and wished him well.

Days later, as the Manson jury was being selected, we heard that Craig had been arrested in connection with two brutal murders. One of slayings was rumored to have been part of a Satanic ritual.

The 70s were off to a scary start.

NEXT: Two murders and the dark side of an old friend.

Walter Collins: The Changeling, Part 3

christine00027492

Christine Collins [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

By mid-May 1928, Christine Collins had been going through the motions of living for weeks as she waited for word of her missing son Walter. Her job as a telephone operator kept her busy during the day, but at night all she could do was lie in bed and stare at the ceiling.

If Christine read the newspapers she may have seen a story about two boys who had gone missing from Pomona. The boys, Nelson and Lewis Winslow, had vanished after attending a meeting of the Pomona Model Yacht Club.

Nelson was described as: 10 years of age, light hair, blue eyes, 4 feet in height, dressed in a blue shirt and knickers. Lewis was described as: 12 years of age, 4 feet 3 inches in height, light hair, blue eyes, dressed in a regulation Boy Scout uniform — it was also noted that Lewis had a nervous temperament.

According to their family the boys had not been in any trouble and there was no reason for them to have run away from home.

Lewis and Nelson Winslow [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Lewis and Nelson Winslow [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Nelson and Lewis had been gone for a couple of weeks before the Winslows finally received a note from them written on a flyleaf torn from a book issued by the Pomona Public Library. The note said that they’d left Pomona and were off to Mexico to find gold. Pomona cops sent telegrams to border authorities asking them to detain the boys if they were found attempting to cross into Mexico.

winslow mexicoThere were no sightings of Nelson and Lewis at the border, and no further clues to their whereabouts surfaced. Mr. and Mrs. Winslow found themselves consigned to the same purgatory inhabited by Christine Collins.  They were all fearful of hope and ashamed of doubt, and each dawn brought renewed heartache.

Because the Winslow home was thirty miles east of the Collins’ Lincoln Heights bungalow, cops didn’t make a connection between Walter and the Winslow boys. The authorities also had no reason to connect the disappearances to the discovery of the headless body of a Latino boy found on a roadside in La Puente.

The seemingly unrelated cases would come together in a perfect storm of horror in September 1928. It began when a young Canadian woman, Jessie Clark, decided to check up on her younger brother, 15 year old Sanford. She’d been worried about Sanford ever since he’d left with their uncle, Gordon Stewart Northcott, two years earlier. Jessie was concerned enough about her brother’s welfare to travel to Northcott’s ranch in Wineville, California to see for herself exactly what was going on.

northcott_ucla

Gordon Stewart Northcott [Photo courtesy of UCLA Digital Photo Collection]

Jessie spent a short time at the Wineville ranch, but it was long enough for her to confirm that her uncle was terrorizing and abusing Sanford — and it was just enough time for her uncle to assault her too. When she returned to Canada she told her mother, Winnefred, all about her terrifying visit to Wineville.  Her mother immediately dropped a dime on Gordon to U.S. authorities.

Northcott saw agents driving up the road to his ranch, so he told Sanford to stall them or he would shoot him. Sanford had had two years of reasons to believe that his uncle was capable of murder, so he did as he was told.

Gordon and his mother, Sarah Louise, fled to Canada, but were quickly busted in British Columbia. While extradition of the two fugitives was being sought, Sanford Clark was relcounting a tale of  sexual depravity and unimaginable brutality to the police. It was Clark’s statement that would connect his uncle to Walter Collins, and then to the Winslow boys, and finally to the unidentified headless boy who had been found in La Puente. Clark was also able to lead detectives to physical evidence of the sadistic slayings.

Among the evidence found at the farm was an aviation magazine, the paper from which matched that upon which a note from the Winslow boys had been written. Sanford led police to grave sites on the farm in the hunt for human remains.  The graves had been disturbed, and they had likely been emptied by Gordon and his mother Sarah and the contents burned in the desert sometime during the month of August.

Northcott's murder farm. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Northcott’s murder farm. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

The extradition of the fugitive mother and son was successful, and in December the pair arrived in Los Angeles to stand trial.

On December 3rd, Gordon Stewart Northcott confessed to the slayings of Nelson and Lewis Winslow and the headless Mexican boy. Sarah Louise Northcott confessed to the murder of Walter Collins.

NEXT TIME:  A fool for a client, a city changes it name, and the Wineville Chicken Coop murder case ends.

 

 

 

Walter Collins: The Changeling, Part 2

Walter Collins [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Walter Collins [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Nine year old Walter Collins disappeared from his Lincoln Heights neighborhood on  March 10, 1928. His mother, Christine, had spent the next five months hoping and praying for her son to return to her. On August 4, 1928 she received word that he’d been found alive on a farm in DeKalb, Illinois. What a relief! She’d be able to hold her boy in arms again.  Christine’s excitement must have been palpable as the train bearing Walter arrived at the station.walter found

Christine’s joy turned to shock and disbelief when the boy who stepped off the train didn’t look, sound, or feel like her child. The reunion that should have mended her heart, instead shattered it into a thousand jagged bits.

What a nightmare. Captain J.J. Jones of the LAPD insisted that the child was Walter — he was just a little worse for his harrowing experience. Had he really changed so much in five months? Of course not, a mother would know her own flesh and blood. All she could say was: “I do not think that is my boy”. That wasn’t what Jones had wanted to hear, and he wasn’t going to let Mrs. Collins get away with humiliating him or the LAPD. Jones strongly advised Mrs. Collins to take the boy home and “try him out for a couple of weeks.”  Try him out?

The boy who would be Walter -- Arthur Hutchins, Jr. [Photo courtesy LAPL]

The boy who would be Walter — Arthur Hutchins, Jr. [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Christine was so shaken by the public reunion and the relentless pressure being applied to her by the police that she acquiesced and took the strange boy home with her.

Of course police and doctors continued to question the boy about his kidnapping. They were anxious to identify his abductor.  How had he managed to get to Illinois, and had he escaped captivity or been released? The boy’s story wasn’t hanging together, and psychiatrists felt he was keeping a strange secret but they couldn’t pry it out of him.

For three weeks Christine made and effort to accept the boy as Walter, but how could she when she knew better?  She gathered her son’s dental records and accompanied by friends she returned the child to the Los Angeles Police Department.

Captain J.J. Jones was not pleased; in fact he was livid. He berated Christine and accused her of trying to humiliate the LAPD!  Jones knew exactly what to do with the stubborn woman, he had her committed to the psychopathic ward of the General Hospital for observation under a Code 12 internment.  Code 12 was invoked to jail or commit someone who was deemed difficult.

 

Billy Fields was an alias used by Arthur Hutchins, Jr. [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Billy Fields was an alias used by Arthur Hutchins, Jr. [Photo courtesy LAPL]

While Christine was being held in the psych ward, the boy who would be Walter finally confessed to having lied about everything. The shrinks had been right, the kid had been keeping a very strange secret — his real name was Arthur Hutchins, Jr. and he was a runaway.  When he realized that he bore a resemblance to the missing Collins boy he saw an opportunity to start a new life in Los Angeles and, if he was lucky, go to Hollywood to meet with his favorite cowboy star, Tom Mix.

Christine was released from the hospital ten days following the impostor’s confession.

Arthur’s confession had taken the investigation into Walter Collins disappearance back to square one. How in the hell were the cops going to get the case back on track?

A few weeks after Arthur’s confession, and Christine’s release from the psych ward, the Walter Collins case would take a monstrous turn.

NEXT TIME: The murder farm.

The Kidnapping of Mary Skeele

Mrs. Mary Skeele

Widespread lawlessness and violence characterized the U.S. in the 1930s: bank robberies, gangland killings, and kidnappings frequently made headlines. The most infamous kidnapping of the period was the 1932 abduction of twenty month old Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr. on March 1, 1932. But the Lindbergh baby was only one of many victims of ransom kidnapping.double_action_gang_193712

On February 5, 1933 Mrs. Mary Bosworth Skeele, 65 year old wife of Dr. Walter F. Skeele, Dean of USC’s College of Music, became the victim of a kidnapping. She was lured out of her home by a cruel hoax.

Mary received an anonymous telephone call informing her that her husband was in the North Side Emergency Hospital. The caller said:

“Dr. Skeele has been injured in an automobile accident. He has been taken to the North Side Emergency Hospital at 287 San Fernando Road. We’re coming in a car to take you there.”

While she waited for her ride to the hospital Mary phoned her son Franklin and told him where she was going and why. Then the call was interrupted — Mary said:

“A car has just stopped in front of the house and some one is knocking at the door. I suppose they’ve come to get me. I’ll meet you at the hospital.”

Franklin rushed to meet his mother at the hospital, but when he arrived he was perplexed to discover that no one answering his father’s description had been admitted. He waited a few minutes for Mary, then he telephoned the church where he knew that his father usually played organ on Sunday evenings.

Franklin was relieved when his father answered the phone, but after conversing for a few moments Dr. Skeele and his son realized that something was horribly wrong — Mary was in trouble — and they immediately notified the police. Arriving home, father and son found a 700 word ransom note — probably the most verbose ransom note ever written. The note had been typed but in some places words clipped from newspapers and magazines had been pasted between the typewritten lines. There were instructions to a drop-off location where $10,000 [equivalent to $178,589.23 current USD]  was to be placed in a cracker box left by the kidnappers. There was also an admonition not to play tricks, or there would be dire consequences.

The first major clue in the case was that the address on the envelope containing the ransom note had been cut from a page in the College of Music year book; and, even better, the year book had been mailed to a limited number of subscribers the week prior to the crime. The cops were also intrigued by the fact the word “daughter” had been replaced by “wife” in the ransom notes — maybe Mary hadn’t been the kidnapper’s first choice.

Sure enough, the police investigation revealed that Miss Isabel Smith, 29 year old daughter of Rev. and Mrs. Merle N. Smith, was to have been the first victim.

pasadena plot2The M.O. was virtually the same in both cases. Isabel had received a phone call, meant to lure her from the house, from a man purporting to be a representative from her father’s church:

“This is Mr. Johnson of the church. We are arranging a surprise party for your father and mother and there is to be a committee meeting tonight and we would like you to attend. We’ll pick you up.”

Isabel asked the man to hold the line for a moment. She turned to her aunt, Anne Wolfe, and told her about the man on the phone. Miss Wolfe was leery:

“Find out who he is. You won’t go until you are sure of his identity.”

The man who had phoned arrived a short time later at the front door to collect Isabel, but Anne wasn’t about to allow her niece to go alone. The two women accompanied “Mr. Johnson” to a medium sized sedan parked at the curb. Inside the car was a woman. Anne asked:

“Is this Mrs. Johnson?”

The woman in the car barely nodded in acknowledgement and buried her face in the fur collar of her coat, as if she was attempting to conceal her identity.

The man threw open both doors of the sedan and reached in the back for a lap robe. He grabbed Isabel’s arm to assist her into the car, but meanwhile the light rain that was falling had loosened the spirit gum by which “Mr. Johnson” had attached a false mustache to his upper lip!

Isabel got one look at the cockeyed ‘stache and said:

“I don’t know you. I’m not going with you. And besides, your mustache is slipping.”

Isabel pulled her arm free of the man’s grip, and both she and Anne made a dash for the house. They ran inside, slammed the front door, and then heard the “Johnson’s” sedan roar off into the night.

Isabel and Anne had just had a close encounter with two of the most inept kidnappers in the history of Los Angeles.

NEXT TIME: Mary in captivity.

The Acid Bride

Men become accustomed to poison by degrees. 
–Victor Hugo

bernice

Bernice Lundstrom of Chicago had managed to do a lot of living in her 20 short years. On Valentine’s Day 1923 Bernice eloped with Howard Fish, member of a wealthy Chicago family. The couple had been hasty, it must have been the roses and champagne, and the marriage quickly disintegrated.  By September 1924 Bernice had obtained a divorce and restoration of her maiden name. She was ready to find a new marriage-minded Windy City millionaire.

She turned her attention to Darby Day, Jr., son of another moneyed Chicago family. Immediately following her divorce from Fish, Bernice and Darby were wed. Darby Sr. gave the newlyweds a trip to New Orleans and Havana, and then installed them in a Chicago apartment.

It can be bitterly cold in Chicago during the winter, so the newlyweds came out to California and bought a home in Beverly Hills. Soon afterward Bernice’s mother, Mrs. James E. Lundstrom, and her two other daughters, Carlyn and Dorothy, moved to Beverly Hills also.

For reasons of her own, in early February 1924 the new Mrs. Day began to ask for a separate home. She may have tried pouting and stomping her feet, but she finally told Darby that if he didn’t buy her the home she wanted within two weeks, she would kill him.  She didn’t follow through on the threat. She tried a different tactic to get her way.

On February 23, Bernice upped the I-want-a-separate-home ante when she told Darby she’d taken poison. If she wasn’t going to kill HIM, maybe she’d teach him a lesson and kill HERSELF. She made a show of taking tablets and, scared to death that they were fatal, Darby ran into his mother’s room (yes, Mrs. Day Sr. was living with the newlyweds – a recipe for disaster).  Mrs. Day Sr. asked Bernice what she’d taken, and told the young woman she’d phone for a doctor.

Bernice told her mother-in-law not to worry, she’d only taken a few aspirin because she wanted to frighten Darby – and then she got up and ran out of the house.  She was run to ground by Darby’s employer, who said he’d managed to prevent Bernice from pitching herself off of a cliff!

After a busy day of attempted suicides, Bernice appeared to have recovered her senses because Darby bumped into her later that night at a dinner party where they made up, at least for a few hours.  By the next day Bernice had gone again. She had errands to run, and at least one of them was a felony.carlyn

Bernice and her sister Carlyn stopped in at the Baldridge Drug Store at Sixth and Western and asked a clerk, W.J. Bowman, for a chemical that would remove warts. Bowman suggested nitric acid and told the young women that 15 cents worth ought to do the trick. The women bought 25 cents worth instead (hmm, sounds like a HUSBAND SIZED WART).  Bernice gave her name as Mrs. K. Lane, 514 Manhattan Place, which Bowman dutifully entered into the poison register.

UIG-920-05-0-587-26703-8 - © - BuyenlargeUIGWhile Carlyn waited in the car, Bernice knocked on the front door of the Beverly Hills home she shared with Darby and her mother-in-law.  Mrs. Day, Sr. answered the door, but refused to let Bernice enter. She told the young woman to leave and not to return until she’d calmed down.   Bernice said she’d go, but not before she was allowed to see Darby alone. When Darby stepped out on to the porch, Bernice said “Look at me honey”, and when he did she hurled acid in his face. Some of the acid splashed back on Bernice, but she ran for the car in which her sister Carlyn was waiting.

Bernice took the wheel of the car and drove like a maniac away from the mayhem she’d caused. Bernice’s driving was so erratic that Carlyn began to fear for her life. In fact she was so terrified she finally managed to convince Bernice to relinquish the wheel.

While the sisters were making their escape, Bernice’s mother-in-law dropped a dime on Bernice.

The search was on for the Acid Bride.

NEXT TIME — THE STORY OF THE ACID BRIDE CONTINUES