The Wilshire Prowler, Conclusion

bashor-doomed_picDonald Bashor, 27, confessed to dozens of local burglaries and to the bludgeon slayings of Karil Graham and Laura Lindsay. Under intense police questioning Donald didn’t admit to any further offenses, and as far as investigators could tell he’d revealed the extent of his crimes.

Deputy District Attorney Tom Finnerty issued a subpoena for Officer Donald C. Wesley, who had shot and wounded Bashor during his attempt to evade capture. Among the others called to appear before the grand jury were Detective Lieutenant Jack McCreadie, and autopsy surgeons Dr. Frederick Newbarr and Dr. Gerald K. Ridge.

Bashor was indicted on two counts of murder and two counts of burglary. The burglary charges stemmed from the looting of the apartment at 215 South Carondelet Street shared by Dorothy Cowan, Marcella Drews and Eunis Wingel. Lester E. Olson of 325 South Occidental Boulevard, was also burglarized by Bashor. Both crimes were committed about thirty minutes prior to the murder of Karil Graham.

The twenty-seven year-old killer pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and his trial was set for August 14, 1956 in Judge Allen T. Lynch’s court. Because of the insanity plea Bashor would undergo examination by alienists for the State and the defense before the trial.

There are often delays in murder trials and Bashor’s was no exception, it didn’t get underway until October 4, 1956.  The four alienists who examined Bashor deterined that he was sane when he committed the murders.

With the ultimate penalty on the table it was going to be a tough trial. But before the jury could be sworn in the defendant interrupted the proceedings to enter a guilty plea. Terrence Cooney, Bashor’s attorney, was as dumbfounded by his client’s move as was everyone else in the courtroom. Cooney didn’t want any part of placing a banana peel between his client and the gas chamber so he refused to go forward. Bashor fired him.

With Cooney still standing next to Bashor, Superior Judge Allen T. Lynch explained to the defendant that the law prohibits acceptance of a guilty plea in a capital case without benefit of counsel. Cooney must have decided to bend to his client’s will because Judge Lynch accepted the guilty plea. Along with the plea, Judge Lynch also accepted responsibility for determining Bashor’s sentence.

On October 16, 1956, Judge Lynch was ready to pronounce sentence. The courtroom was quiet as the judge began to speak. “This is the most difficult duty I have ever had to perform. For the last four days I have been able to think of nothing else. These were cruel, brutal killings. I find no mitigating circumstances.”

According to newspaper reports Judge Lynch appeared to have difficulty speaking. He paused for several long beats and then continued. “On counts one and three (the two murders) the court sentences you to suffer the death penalty. May God have mercy on your soul!”bashor-doomed

It took about a year for the California State Supreme Court to review the automatic appeal and affirm the death sentence in Bashor’s case.

On October 10, 1957, the night before his scheduled execution, Donald Bashor refused a last meal and then he slept from 1:05 a.m. to 7:05 a.m. When he awoke he had toast and coffee. He read a handful of letters he had recently received and then turned to the Bible.

Photograph by Edward Gamer / Los Angeles Times Senior Deputy George Coenen, left, and Sgt. Howard Earle, right, escort convicted killer Donald Keith Bashor on his trip to San Quentin, Oct. 25, 1956. Bashor's story was the basis of a "Playhouse 90" episode by Jules Maitland. Bashor's slaying of Graham also plays a prominent role in Jack Webb's "The Badge," a not terribly accurate book reissued in 2005.

Photograph by Edward Gamer / Los Angeles Times Senior Deputy George Coenen, left, and Sgt. Howard Earle, right, escort convicted killer Donald Keith Bashor on his trip to San Quentin, Oct. 25, 1956. Bashor’s story was the basis of a “Playhouse 90″ episode by Jules Maitland. Bashor’s slaying of Graham also plays a prominent role in Jack Webb’s “The Badge,” a not terribly accurate book reissued in 2005.

Unlike many killers, Donald Bashor seemed genuinely remorseful for the murders. His last words were: “I’m glad my crimes are coming to an end. I am sorry I cannot undo the horrible things I did.”

Gas began to fill San Quentin’s death chamber at 10:03 a.m. and at 10:12 a.m. Donald Keith Bashor was pronounced dead.

EPILOGUE

There was something about Donald Keith Bashor that set him apart from many other killers. It may have been his movie star good looks, or it may have been the fact that he  sought atonement for his crimes in the gas chamber. Whatever it was, Bashor’s story became an episode of the prime time TV series PLAYHOUSE 90 in 1958.  Bashor was portrayed by Tab Hunter and the episode was narrated by former Los Angeles Mirror columnist Paul Coates. The highly rated episode was directed by Arthur Penn who would later direct such great films as The Miracle Worker and Bonnie & Clyde.

The episode was not without behind-the-scenes drama. One of the sponsors for the  episode, entitled “Portrait Of A Murderer”, was the Southern California Gas Company. They wanted to eliminate Bashor’s trip to the gas chamber from the script. Producer Martin Manulis flatly refused and the episode aired as written.

Donald Bashor’s story also claimed the attention of ten-year-old James Ellroy.  In 1958, his father gave him a copy of THE BADGE written by TV cop Jack Webb who portrayed Sgt. Joe Friday on DRAGNET. Bashor’s case is the first one covered in the book. In large part it was THE BADGE that inspired Ellroy to become a novelist. It definitely sparked his interest in Los Angeles crime.  Now it’s time for a shameless plug — I was fortunate to work with James Ellroy, Glynn Martin, Megan Martin, Nathan Marsak, and Mike Fratatoni on the book LAPD ’53. The book project was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.

EXTRA CREDIT

First, let me direct you to a clip from James Ellroy’s CITY OF DEMONS (2011) in which he glibly recounts the Bashor case.

Next, a far more serious scene from the PLAYHOUSE 90 production of PORTRAIT OF A MURDERER

Here’s to a Deranged 2016!

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HAPPY NEW YEAR!      [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

  So, what’s in store for Deranged L.A. Crimes in 2016?  I’m glad you asked.

It’s nearly time to wrap up The First with the Latest!: Aggie Underwood, the Los Angeles Herald, and the Sordid Crimes of a City — the photo exhibit I’m curating at Central Library downtown. It opened in August and the official closing date is January 10th (I have been told it may be up until the 17th, but don’t count on it).  If you haven’t visited the History and Genealogy Department where the exhibit is on display I urge you to do so.  If you can’t make it in person you can purchase the companion book (same title as the exhibit) in the Library’s bookstore or via Amazon.

The First with the Latest! Exhibit Screen SaverOf course it pleases me no end that the exhibit received some very good press. It was the subject of an article by Tanja M. Laden for Atlas Obscura, and another by Christina Rice for the Huffington Post. I was interviewed about the exhibit by Steve Chiotakis for Which Way, LA? on KCRW, a local NPR station. It is gratifying for me to play a part in renewing interest in Aggie’s life and introducing her to a new audience. Her 1949 autobiography Newspaperwoman is in such demand that it is wait-listed at Los Angeles Public Library. Not bad for for a book published over 60 years ago.

There is one accomplishment that has been attributed to Aggie which needs to be addressed; and that is the claim that she was the first woman to become city editor of a major U.S. newspaper.  It simply isn’t true. Journalist and historian Larry Harnisch discovered two women who preceded Aggie and he wrote about them in his Daily Mirror blog. It’s important to note that Aggie never made the claim about herself.  While she didn’t refute it (who would?) she said that she had neither the time nor the inclination to verify it.  I still consider Aggie to be a ground breaking journalist–you don’t have to be the first to be the best.

Det. Sgt. Ned Lovretovich

Detective  Ned Lovretovich, LASD. Here being examined after an attempt was made on his life as he testified in court.

Over the next year I plan to include tales featuring some of the outstanding detectives who have served with the Sheriff’s Department and with the Los Angeles Police Department in the past.  I was inspired to pursue the topic after attending the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau’s holiday party a few weeks ago. Detectives in law enforcement today have one of the most difficult and gut-wrenching jobs on the planet.  I will devote some of this coming year to honoring them by delving into the history of some of their predecessors.

Since the blog debuted on December 17, 2012 I have written over 400 posts, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of historic crime in L.A. One thing is for certain, I’ll never run out of material. In addition to being fascinated with detectives, I’ve run across several defense attorneys who were every bit as colorful as the men and women they represented and I am looking forward to telling some of their stories over the next year too.

A surprising consequence of the blog, surprising to me anyway, has been the correspondence I’ve received from family members of the victims and perpetrators I’ve written about. If there anyone who believes that a murder committed decades ago doesn’t continue to affect family members, even if they were too young to recall the crime, or weren’t born when it was committed, I’ve got news for you–there is no end to the pain. I’ve learned that the best thing I can do is to provide an open ear. The people who contact me just need someone to listen. Some of what they tell me is so difficult to deal with that I have to fight the urge to run away. The reason I don’t run is because I believe that the person who contacted me needed someone with whom to share the burden. It’s a small thing that I can do and it is my hope that each of the people who has reached out to me has found some measure of peace.

My personal plans for 2016 mirror my professional plans. Because I love what I do there’s virtually no separation between work and play for me. I spend a lot of time on this blog, but I also spend time volunteering at the Los Angeles Police Museum in Highland Park. Last year I was involved in creating the Museum’s first book LAPD ’53 by James Ellroy and Glynn Martin. To be a part of the book team (working alongside James Ellroy–are you kidding?!) was an amazing experience and I’m proud that the book spent 4 weeks on the L.A. Times Bestseller list!  I’ve learned a lot working with the museum’s Executive Director, Glynn Martin. He is the ideal steward for the place. I’ve been there for over six years and hope to be there for many more.

In addition to working with the L.A. Police Museum, I volunteer with the Sheriff’s Museum too.  Lately I’ve been shadowing the estimable Mike Fratantoni, learning all I can about the rich history of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Mike is the department’s historian and is a walking encyclopedia of Deranged L.A. Crimes. There are major changes in the works for the Sheriff’s Museum. I’ll keep you posted.

Elizabeth Short

The 69th anniversary of L.A.’s most notorious unsolved murder, the slaying of Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia, is coming up. As I have for the past few years I’ll begin a series of posts on January 9th–the day she vanished.

I hope you’re looking forward to another year of Deranged L.A. Crimes as much as I am.

Best wishes for the new year.

Joan

 

A Cell of One’s Own, Part 1

At about 5 p.m. on Friday, January 19, 1935, Vera Woodman was in her Boyle Heights apartment when she heard a sound. She wasn’t sure what had caused the noise, but it sounded like a gunshot and it had come from next door–226 North Bailey Street–the home of Edith Eufala Norwood, widow and treasurer of White Memorial Church.

Vera walked over to Eufala’s house and tried the door but then she hear a key turn in the lock. There was no further sound so Vera thought that perhaps her neighbor was not in the mood for company and she returned to her apartment.

eufala_picThe next day William Norwood, who worked as the registrar as the White Memorial Hospital down the street from his mother’s house, dropped by to see her. When he entered the house he noticed it was extremely quiet. He called out but there was no answer. He went into the kitchen and that where he found his mother. She was dead, but there was nothing to suggest foul play until she was examined at the morgue.

Eufala had been wearing a bulky sweater at the time of her death and it had concealed a fatal bullet wound to her brain. The police had the how, now they needed to discover who and why.

Good police work means shaking the trees until something happens. A tried and true method is to knock on doors and question friends, family, and neighbors of the deceased. In this case the neighbors had seen more than they had realized.

Dora Byler, a nurse at White Memorial Hospital, found a handbag belonging to Isa Lang, a former boarder in Eufala’s home. It was on the sidewalk about a half-block from the murder scene. Other neighbors said they had seen Isa, shortly before 5 p.m. on Friday, she was carrying a bundle and hurrying away from the Norwood home.

White Memorial Hospital

White Memorial Hospital

When detectives caught up with Isa she admitted that she had stopped by Edith’s home on Friday, but she said it wasn’t as late in the afternoon as witnesses had stated. She’d arrived at 3 p.m. and found the door open but her former landlady was not at home. Isa said that she packed the remainder of her belongings and left without ever having seen or spoken to Eufala. isa_headline

A Coroner’s inquest was held at 1:30 p.m. on January 23 and all of the neighborhood witnesses, subpoenaed by Captain B.W. Thomason, testified. The prime suspect in the slaying, former school teacher Isa Lang,  took the stand too. She emphatically denied being at Edith’s home at the time of the murder, she said she had been there at least two hours prior to when the gunshot had been heard. No one came forward to corroborate her story and Isa’s denials fell on deaf ears. The jury found that she had shot Edith with homicidal intent.

A week following the inquest Isa confessed to Deputy District Attorney Arterberry that she was guilty. She told him that after the murder she returned to her new boarding house at 120 South Boyle Avenue. The next day she went to Manhattan Beach and threw the revolver into the ocean. The gun had belonged to the dead woman and was kept in a living room closet.

isa_confessionThe confession was important, but everyone wanted an explanation. What was the motive? Evidently the two women had had several petty quarrels, and during one of them Eufala ordered Isa to leave the house permanently. Isa found a new place on South Boyle Avenue and on January 18, the day of the murder, she had returned to retrieve the rest of her personal belongings. Moving is hungry work and Isa said that by the time she got to her old digs she needed sustenance.  She pulled open the icebox door and found an delicious looking avocado sandwich. She was just about to take a bite when Eufala came in and took umbrage with Isa’s appropriation of her lunch. Eufala made a grab for the disputed treat and Isa became “insanely angry”.

Denied lunch and in a rage, Isa rushed to the closet where she knew the revolver was kept. She grabbed the weapon and when Eufala saw what was happening she turned to flee; and that’s when Isa took aim and fired. The bullet struck Eufala in the back of the head. She died instantly and collapsed on the kitchen floor

Only a madwoman would commit murder over a sandwich, at least that is what Isa’s defense contended. What would a judge and jury make of an insanity plea?

NEXT TIME: A Cell of One’s Own concludes.

Many thanks to my friend and fellow historian Mike Fratantoni. He finds the most deranged cases.

 

A Visit From The Sheriff

Ching-ching-a-ling! Ching-ching-a-ling!
Are those sleighbells I hear?
No.
It’s gunfire…

COX_CHRISTMAST’was the week before Christmas, December ’54
David Cox’s house was filled with violence, mayhem and smashed crockery galore.

David’s Downey neighbors awoke to ruckus and clatter,
and wondered just what in the hell was the matter.

It must be that S.O.B. Cox, they concluded —
a few beers in his belly and he’s completely deluded.

They turned away from their windows and went back to their beds,
where they pulled the covers up over their heads.

David had arrived home three hours late,
with booze on his breath and his eyes filled with hate.

His wife, Billie, had made a modest request
for $25 to buy each of their girls a new dress.

cox_photo4

“Mary and Katherine don’t need presents, you frivilous bitch!”
David picked up a lamp and smashed it to bits.

He ripped out the windows, wood frames and plaster,
then sped off in his truck leaving behind a disaster.

cox_photo5

Later that evening when David came home
he drove his truck into a fence, then lurched around drunk and alone.

cox_photo1

Hello! Anyone home? He shouted to the empty house.
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

His children were frightened and his pregnant wife was alarmed,
she tooks the kids to her mother’s so they wouldn’t be harmed.

The Norwalk Sheriff’s station was called, and deputies rushed to the scene.
David was wielding a shotgun and he looked pretty damned mean.

“Drop your weapon!” the deputies shouted calling David by name.
But Cox opened fire and the cops did the same.

cox_photo3

Sgts. Lovretovich and Piper stood over David who was collapsed on the lawn.
He’d taken multiple rounds — he was deceased, he was gone.

Why didn’t he do as we said, they pondered aloud; to behave as he had —
he must have been crazy, he must have been mad!

david cox

David’s drinking and anger had cost him his life,
he’d never again see his friends, children, or wife.

Christmas was dismal for the Cox family that year.
Instead of baby dolls, buggies and bears named Ted,
there was a casket, flowers and tears to be shed.

No doubt about it, David Cox had acted a fool.
A moron, an idiot, a jackass, a tool.

Neighbors were heard to exclaim, ere Deputies drove out of sight.

Don’t screw with the Sheriffs, they’ll put up a fight.

 

NOTE:  I wrote this poem last year and I thought it would be fun to make it a holiday tradition.

I took very few liberties with this deranged holiday tale. I put words in the mouths of the victim and the cops, but otherwise the details are as they appeared in the  Los Angeles Times report of the incident.  It pleases me no end that one of my favorite Deputy Sheriffs of the era, Ned Lovretovich, played a role in this story. His career continues to fascinate me.

I couldn’t do justice to A VISIT FROM ST. NICHOLAS by Clement Clarke Moore which provided the inspiration for this post, but it was fun just the same.

Many thanks to Mike Fratantoni for turning me on to a great story–he knows them all.