The Society Bootlegger Murder — Conclusion

Blanche Remington — Earle Remington’s sister.

Blanche Remington and her attorney Samuel H. French paid the District Attorney’s office a visit on April 28, 1923.  Blanche was terrified.  She told District Attorney Thomas Woolwine and Deputy District Attorney Asa Keyes that she was being shadowed by as many as four persons. She had first noticed her stalkers trailing her in an automobile immediately following Earle’s murder. Since then she could feel strange eyes on her no matter where she was.

During her meeting with Woolwine and Keyes, Blanche revealed what she knew of her brother’s finances in the few years prior to his death. According to Blanche, she had lent Earle money for various enterprises for many years.  Unfortunately, Blanche was familiar with Earle’s legal business dealings, but knew nothing about his bootlegging side line.  Woolwine told reporters, “Miss Remington arranged the conference through her attorney.  She believed that she might be able to help us in our investigation, but she has told me nothing that can be used in apprehending Remington’s slayer.”

Was Woolwine telling the truth about Blanche’s ignorance of her brother’s bootlegging scheme?  Or was he equivocating in the hope that it would prevent her from being targeted by people who might fear her disclosures?  Reporters turned up at Blanche’s home at 1365 ½ West Twentieth Street in attempt to get more information, but the frightened woman refused to divulge any details.

Three weeks following Blanche’s meeting with the District Attorney, prohibition agents and the Long Beach Police raided a major bootlegging outfit.  Eight men were arrested, two of whom were millionaires thanks to the Eighteenth Amendment.  The raid resulted in the seizure of 160 cases of whiskey, two trucks, four automobiles and a Japanese fishing launch. The authorities thought they could make a connection between the bootleggers and Earle’s murder.  Earle had allegedly conducted business with Claude V. Dudrey, one of the men being held on charges stemming from the raid.  Claude didn’t deny his association with Earle.  He admitted under questioning that he had attempted to get the lease on a building Earle was preparing to vacate.  He also admitted to having sold seven cases of booze to Earle.  But he adamantly denied any involvement in the murder.

There were reports of high-jacking, shootings and even piracy on the high seas linked to several members of the bootlegging ring but there was nothing to suggest that any of the men had been involved in Earle’s murder.

On April 30, 1923, after months of frustration and dead ends, the Los Angeles Times reported that a young woman, who remained nameless in the report, came forward with a story that everyone hoped would resolve the case. Unfortunately, the woman had not approached police with her tale. She had allegedly confessed to local defense attorney S.S. Hahn.  Hahn merely played the messenger. He met with Assistant District Attorney Asa Keyes and repeated what he had been told.

According to Hahn, the woman (whom Hahn described as an attractive 28-year-old brunette) said she and Earle had been lovers for more than eighteen months, but his interest in her began to wane.  She tried unsuccessfully to hold on to him. The woman told Hahn: “I loved Remington and expected him to marry me.  I first began to share his love more than a year and a half ago.  I had been married.  I knew he was married, but he promised that he would obtain a divorce and marry me.  For a year we were happy. He and I lived together for a time at the beach at Venice.  Then gradually his love seemed to cool.  He missed his appointments with me and I say less and Less of him.”

There was more:

“At first I suspected and then I knew that there were other women in his life.  It became more and more difficult for me to see him and finally I realized that he was out of my life.  I wanted to talk to him, but was unable to meet him.  Time after time I sought an interview with him at his office without success.  Then, on the day of the shooting I trailed him.  I saw him meet the other woman.  I followed them.  They had dinner together in a restaurant.  I waited outside while they dined and followed them to the Athletic Club (Los Angeles Athletic Club), where I lost track of them.  That day I carried with me a bottle of acid with which I planned to forever disfigure both of them.  After losing trace of them I got in touch with a man I knew I could trust and asked him to help me.  He brought another man with him.  With them I drove to the Remington home and waited for Earle.  I wanted to talk with him.”

According to the mystery woman she never got the chance to talk to Earle again.  She said she waited in the car for her two men friends to bring Earle to her.  She saw Earle drive up and then there was a scuffle. The evening quiet was shattered by two gunshots and the woman’s screams.

From the murder scene the woman said she was driven by the killers to her aunt’s home where she lived for the first few weeks following the murder.  The woman confessed details of Earle’s murder to her aunt.  She didn’t share details of the murder with her friends, but everyone she knew shielded and aided her.  But, if S.S. Hahn was to be believed, the woman was so conscience stricken that she was ultimately compelled to seek the attorney’s counsel.

S.S. Hahn told reporters, “The woman came to me as a client and said she was wanted for the slaying of Earle Remington.  She said she would disclose the details of the murder if the District Attorney’s office would assure her she would be allowed liberty on bail pending the trial.  She was nervous, hysterical and exhausted.”

The D.A. wasn’t prepared to make the deal and S.S. Hahn refused to name his client if they couldn’t reach an agreement.

The Remington case stalled again in early May.  LAPD Captain Home said, “we are no nearer a solution of the mystery than we were two months ago.”

Two months turned into two years, then twenty. It has now been nearly 95 years since Earle was murdered in the driveway of his home.  Yet, there was a brief glimmer of hope when a WWI veteran, Lawrence Aber, confessed. His reason?  He said he was angry at Earle for selling liquor to veterans. It didn’t take long for the police to realize that Aber had lied. He wasn’t being malicious, he suffered from severe mental issues and he was in a hospital at the time of the slaying.

For several years following her husband’s death, Peggy Remington suffered a series of tragedies. She lost three brothers to various ailments including paralysis and Bright’s Disease.  And most of her money vanished due to “sharp practices of asserted friends.”  She was undeterred.  “It means I am going to work; I am going to be hostess of a country club at Rye, N.Y.” She smiled at reporters and said, “Oh, I’ll get along.”

Despite the dozens of suspects identified early in the investigation, detectives never got the break they needed to catch the killer(s).

It is always hard for me to reconcile myself to the fact that someone got away with murder.  In this case there were so many suspects it was dizzying.

So, I’m curious.  Who do you think murdered Earle?  Bootleggers?  Former business partners? An ex-lover?  Feel free to weigh in.

 

 

Justice Times Two, Conclusion

Three alienists, Drs. Benjamin Blank, Victor Parkin and Paul Bowers, were called on to determine Gray McNeer’s sanity. The doctors testified at a sanity hearing on October 29, 1934.  They said that they had examined Gray and found him to be sane. The jury concurred. Gray’s trial for Betty’s murder would resume despite his loud and incoherent courtroom outbursts.

The day following Gray’s sanity hearing, S.S. Hahn announced that his client would take the stand in his own defense.  Putting Gray on the stand was a risky move. If he was incapable of controlling himself at the defense table, how would he fare on the witness stand? On more than one occasion the trial had to be adjourned because Gray became hysterical.  How would Gray, still swathed in bandages and wheelchair bound, comport himself under cross examination?

mcneer takes standGray was scheduled to take the stand on November 2nd but he was too ill to appear in court.  The trial was delayed for a few days until it was decided that if Gray couldn’t come to court, the court would come to him.  The trial resumed at Gray’s bedside in the County Jail Hospital.

Gray testified that on the night of the Betty’s death he met her at the apartment of a mutual friend, Lucille Herner, and then they drove to an isolated spot in Glendale where they argued. It was in the midst of their argument, Gray said, that Betty pulled out a gun. He said he felt a heavy blow to his head and then didn’t remember a thing until he regain consciousness in the Glendale Police Station. It was there that he was informed that his Betty’s body had been found in the car next to him.mcneer guilty

The remainder of the trial was conducted in the hospital with Dr. Benjamin Blank in constant attendance to monitor Gray’s condition.  The case went to the jury late on November 7th.  At 10 p.m., after hours of deliberation, the jury was sequestered for the night.

On the evening of November 8th the jury returned with their verdict.  They found Gray guilty of second degree murder.  Gray began to babble incoherently, but settled down after a reprimand from the judge. Gray’s mother, Lola, said she had no plan to appeal the verdict.  S.S. Hahn said, “Mrs. McNeer is convinced that her son’s condition is such that the probably will not live to serve his sentence.”  The doctors disagreed.  They believed Gray would recover from the bullet wound.

gray folsomGray was taken to Folsom Prison to begin serving his sentence of from 5 years to life. Gray’s mother said there was no plan to file an appeal.  But plans change.

gray new trial

The bullet in his head was removed by San Quentin physicians, so Gray was in much better shape for his second trial than he had been for the first go ‘round.

In Judge Vicker’s court, Gray’s second trial began with testimony from police chemist Ray Pinker. Pinker testified that powder burns on Betty’s arms indicated that she was directly in front of the gun at the time the fatal shot was fired into her head. The powder burns were not consistent with a suicide.

Gray took the stand on November 21st.  He reiterated the story he had told at his first trial.  Gray said that he and Betty had taken an automobile ride and attempted reconciliation.  When she refused to return to him Gray said he suggested divorce. According to Gray, Betty became angry, pulled out a gun and shot him in the head.  He said even though he was gravely wounded he struggled with Betty for possession of the weapon. He lost the struggle and,that’s when Betty turned the gun on herself.

The trial was going along smoothly until Deputy District Attorney Wildey asked Gray to repeat a conversation he’d had with Betty right before the shooting.  Gray snapped: “I will not repeat it.  It’s all cut and dried. Go ahead and shoot what you have.  I refuse to testify further in this case!” Gray then grabbed his crutch and hobbled away from the witness stand, ignoring the judge’s order to answer the question. That was it for Gray.  He didn’t take the stand again. gray quentin

The case went to the jury of six men and six women who, just as the jury in the first trial, had to be sequestered.

When the jury returned, Gray was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. He’d rolled the dice on a second trial and come up snake eyes. His second sentence was harsher than the first.

In 1958, after 24 years in prison, Gray appealed again on the grounds of double jeopardy. The plea was rejected. Shortly afterwards he sought legal relief via habeas corpus. He wasn’t represented by S.S. Hahn because Hahn had died mysteriously in the swimming pool at his son’s cabin in Castaic. The two public defenders representing Gray were successful and he was ordered returned to Los Angeles for re-sentencing for the crime of second degree murder. I haven’t been able to find out what happened at the re-sentencing hearing.

Gray Everett McNeer died in Sacramento on July 27, 1964.

NOTE:  I’m going to try to find out what happened to Gray. If any of you find anything please let me know!

UPDATE 5/29/2017:  Many thanks to a reader, Katie, for letting me know that Gray McNeer committed suicide in Folsom prison in 1964.  With her information I found the following paragraph from the Long Beach Independent dated July 28, 1964:

mcneer

Justice Times Two, Part 2

A Coroner’s jury found Gray McNeer responsible for the murder of his wife, Betty.  The gun used in the murder and attempted suicide was a weapon Gray had stolen from Harry Harris, a friend of his.  Harris, a harbor guard, discovered his gun and some shells were missing after Gray’s visit the night prior to the shooting.  When detectives showed Harris the weapon, he identified it as his own.

Gray wasn’t able to appear at any hearings because he was in serious condition. On August 6th his attorney, S.S. Hahn, announced that Gray would appear in court that morning. The defendant was in bad shape as a result of the gunshot wound to his head. He was blind in one eye, deaf in one ear,  partially paralyzed and he still had a bullet lodged in his brain. Despite the gravity of his injuries, Gray appeared for his preliminary hearing before Municipal Judge Galbreth, just as S.S. Hahn said he would. The defendant’s head was swathed in bandages and he was in a wheel chair, but at least he’d made it.

mcneer and motherGray’s mother, Lola, remained at her son’s bed side and on August 24th it was reported that she had given her official consent for an operation to remove the bullet from his brain.  It isn’t clear why a man in his 30s would need his mother’s consent, but it may have been that he was in no condition to give it himself.  S.S. Hahn told the court that in his present condition Gray was in imminent danger of death and that, even if he survived, he might be become “an imbecile.”  The operation was given odds of 100 to 1 that it would succeed; but it was Gray’s only hope.

S.S. Hahn requested a continuance of the trial so that Gray could undergo the potentially lethal surgery.  The request was granted. But would any of the local surgeons be willing to undertake such a delicate procedure?  The answer was no.  Specialists at General Hospital declined to perform the surgery even though they agreed that Gray was doomed without it.  The same group of surgeons put Gray’s odds at less that 1000 to 1 for survival.

Of course S.S. Hahn had a lot to say about the doctors’ refusal: “His mother wants that chance to be taken.  She wants to save her son and we are going to operate if it takes a court order to do it.”  The attorney found four brain specialists who were willing to volunteer for the surgery, but General Hospital balked.  Hahn said: “They tell us that nonresident physicians are not permitted to operate at the General Hospital and since the patient is charged with murder he cannot be removed from there.  Well, we will see what the courts have to say about that, too.” Judge Schmidt responded with a court order which permitted the outside physicians to perform the surgery on Gray’s brain.

Surgery was scheduled for September 8, 1934, but after he took a turn for the better the operation was put on hold indefinitely. Ten days later, Gray appeared in court once again. He was still bandaged and in a wheel chair. He entered a not guilty plea and he still publicly contended that Betty had shot him first and then killed herself.

McNeer and Hahn were in court on October 25th for opening statements. Gray was a pathetic sight. Would the jury be swayed in his favor even if they believed his misery was self-inflicted?  Hahn outlined his case for the jury.  He said that he was going to prove:

  • That Mrs. McNeer on three previous occasions had threatened to end her own life.
  • That several nights before the shooting, Mrs. McNeer went to the home of Harry B. Harris, special officer, at 1030 Hyperion Avenue, and sought to borrow his gun.
  • That the day before the shooting Mrs. McNeer called again at Harris’s home and remained there alone for some time.

Court adjourned when Gray collapsed and had to be returned to the County Jail Hospital.

The following day Gray was in court moaning, groaning and muttering incoherently. He yelled out: “You wouldn’t treat a yellow dog like you are treating me; why don’t somebody give me something?”  Following a few more outbursts, Judge Burnell addressed Gray: “You will have to keep quiet; this sort of thing will not be allowed at all, Mr. McNeer.  Thi sort of theatricalism has got to stop right now, and you might as well know it.”  Then the judge turned to Hahn and said: “Can’t you do something with your client, Mr. Hahn?”

mcneer and mother at trialHahn objected to the Judge’s admonition and there was a short recess.  Once back in the courtroom, Judge Burnell spoke to the jury:  “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I am making this statement to you at the suggestion and with the consent of counsel for both sides, the People and the defendant.  You, of course, could not help but observe the fact yesterday afternoon that the defendant was making more or loess noise, talking and groaning, and the Court made some remarks about ceasing the theatricals, or something of that sort.  That, of course, is something that you haven’t any business to pay any attention to, and I want you to entirely disregard it.  The defendant is here   on trial for one specific offense, and all the jury have any right to consider whatever is the evidence in the case and nothing else.  I know you will appreciate that and be able to do that, but for your information, in view of the apparent condition of the defendant, I am trying now to get hold of Dr. Blank, the jail physician, to come down here and tell us whether he thinks from his examination of the defendant there is any reason why the case should not continue. In other words, whether or not the defendant is in a condition physically and mentally that will preclude going ahead with the trial.  Until we hear from Dr. Blank, we will go ahead, and if there is any demonstration on the part of the defendant, you will disregard it.  You are not here to try anything except the facts in this case.”

Dr. Blank examined Gray and ascertained that he was in more pain than he had been in previously and that he was on sedatives continuously.  The doctor feared that Gray’s sanity was being affected and advised the judge to suspend the proceedings until a determination could be made.

The judge did exactly what Dr. Blank had advised him to do, and the trial was continued to October 29, 1934 at 10:00 a.m.  Gray’s sanity would be decided then based on an examination conducted by Drs. Benjamin Blank, Victor Parkin and Paul Bowers.

NEXT TIME: Will Gray McNeer’s trial continue

Justice Times Two, Part 1

Los Angeles has been home to some of the wiliest and most wicked criminals in the world.  And where there are criminals there are attorneys to defend them.  I’ll leave it to you to decide which group is worse.

Among the defense attorneys who practiced in the city, one of the most fascinating was Samuel Simpson Hahn.  Known as S.S. Hahn, which makes him sound like a luxury liner, Hahn was born Schrul Widelman on September 18, 1888 in Ternova, Besarubia, Russia.  He is believed to have arrived in the U.S. on June 30, 1906 and changed his name to Samuel Needleman.  Contrary to the persistent belief that xenophobic immigration agents arbitrarily changed the names of newcomers many people opted to change their surnames to adapt to their new lives in America.  In any case, by 1912 the newly minted Samuel Needleman had moved to Los Angeles and had changed his name one last time. He became Samuel Simpson Hahn.  That moniker stuck with him for the rest of his life.

S.S. Hahn with a witness in Aimee Semple McPherson's trial. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

S.S. Hahn with a witness in Aimee Semple McPherson’s trial. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

On July 22, 1915, having passed his exam, Samuel Hahn was admitted to the California State Bar and for the next four decades he defended some of the most notorious criminals in the city.  Hahn’s client list reads like a Who’s Who of local crime.  Among those who sought his services were serial killer Louise Peete and naughty evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson.

Hahn didn’t limit his practice to felons. Following WWII there was a sharp uptick in divorces.  Starry-eyed couples who married in the heat of passion during wartime found themselves dreading the prospect of thousands of dreary days in each other’s company. In 1945, LIFE Magazine featured Hahn in an article on divorce mills.   Interestingly, he appears to have met his second wife, Mary Monroe, when she came to him to dissolve her marriage.

HAHN_MARY MONROE

I intend to write more about S.S. Hahn in the coming months.  I find his career worthy of multiple posts.  He was disbarred as a young attorney in the 1910s, possibly for suborning perjury, but appears to have won an appeal to restore his license. His death by drowning in a backyard swimming pool in 1957 was ruled a suicide, but it was highly suspicious. I’ll get to more of Hahn’s life later—I think you’ll find it compelling.

Today I’m going to cover a 1934 case from the Hahn files in which he defended a man accused of murdering his wife.

Shortly before midnight on Wednesday, June 27, 1934, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Kilborane of 4919 Bemis Street were driving on a lonely stretch of dirt road between the Southern Pacific tracks and the Los Angeles River. They were about 200 feet West of the intersection of San Fernando Road and Colorado Boulevard when they noticed a car.  It isn’t clear what caught the attention of the couple but they decided to investigate.  They found a woman sitting upright and dead on the passenger side. Seated next to her behind the steering wheel was a man.  He was severely wounded and semi-conscious. Both had suffered gunshot wounds to the head.

betty mcneerPolice identified the victims as Gray (Grey) Everett McNeer and his estranged wife, Beatrice (Betty) Helene Harker McNeer. While fighting for his life in the General Hospital Gray managed a brief statement in which he laid the blame for the shootings on his dead wife. Unfortunately for Gray the physical evidence suggested a far different scenario.

There were a couple of major problems with Gray’s statement.  First, Betty had been shot three times in the head and second, she was right handed. Even a contortionist would have found it difficult to shoot herself on the left side of her head if she was right handed. Besides, if Betty was the shooter why would she leave her intended victim moaning and alive?  Wouldn’t she have made certain he was dead before she turned the gun on herself—three times? Detectives were convinced Gray was a killer and placed him in the prison ward of the hospital—not that he was capable of taking it on the lam.  Doctors weren’t convinced that he would make it through the night.

gray mcneerWith Gray in the hospital, Detective Lieutenants Sanderson and Hill of the police department began their investigation into the backgrounds of the McNeers.

At 33 years of age Gray already had an extensive criminal record.  The 1930 Federal Census lists Gray as an inmate in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary where he was a machine operator in the pants factory. He was in prison for his part in the robbery of a paper company in Oklahoma City.  If his life since his release from prison was any indication of his future plans he had no intention of going straight, ever.  At the time of the shooting Gray was wanted for questioning in a recent string of robberies in Los Angeles.

Betty was 29 when she died and she had been married and divorced twice before she tangled with Gray.  She was 19 when she married a wealthy Altadena inventor, E.P. Pottinger. They divorced after two years and Betty wed Arthur Nollau who owned a knitting mill at 1409 West Washington Boulevard.  The marriage to Nollau also lasted roughly two years.  Twenty-four months seemed to be limit of Betty’s attention span for marriage.  In the days prior to her death she had filed for divorce from Gray to whom, you guessed it, she had been married for approximately two years.

Gray’s condition appeared to be improving; which meant that the ex-con would likely be indicted for  his wife’s murder.  In that case he would require the services of an attorney.

NEXT TIME:  Justice Times Two continues.

 

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