Corpus Delicti, Part 3

Ewing Scott was likely the only person shocked by the court’s decision to make Evelyn’s bank the trustee for her estate. It still wasn’t clear how much of his missing wife’s money Ewing had managed to burn through before the plug was pulled on him.

Evelyn’s brother, Raymond, was satisfied with the outcome of the trustee battle — the bank was his nominee. Ewing’s attorneys were said to be plotting a new strategy to put him back in charge of the estimated $270,000 estate. But losing the trustee fight wasn’t Ewing’s most pressing problem. Rumors of a grand jury and possible indictments were looming large on the horizon.

Charles E. Beardsley, Ewing’s lawyer, was engaged in a pitched battle in the press with LAPD’s Chief William Parker. At the beginning of April, Beardsley fired another shot across Parker’s bow with an accusation that his privacy was being violated because he was being followed by police.  Beardsley said: “I was able to decoy two of these (undercover police cars) into a cul-de-sac alley behind the San Marino Police Department and have the San Marino police shake down the occupants.”  Beardsley was told that he was being followed by FBI agents, but he didn’t buy it.  He talked to an agent in charge in Los Angeles and was told that the FBI had no reason to tail him.

Beardsley asked Parker to explain publicly why he was spending taxpayer money to follow him around, but Parker didn’t take the bait.  All the Chief would say is that: “He (Beardsley) is talking about something of which I have no personal knowledge.  I have nothing to say until I do some more checking.”

While Parker and Beardsley traded barbs in the newspapers, District Attorney Ernest Roll issued his own statement on the case. He warned Ewing not to leave town without official clearance unless he wanted to face an unlawful flight to avoid prosecution charge. The elephant in the room was the fact that no charge had been made against Ewing.  The Chief and the D.A. may have had a charge in mind, but  Was Chief Parker referring to financial malfeasance, or murder? Both?

Roll also said that: “Definite and positive action will be taken on the return of Asst. Chief Dep. Dist. Atty. Adolph Alexander from the East.  This action will be in connection with our phase of the over-all investigation.  Mr. Alexander presently is investigating Mr. Scott’s handling of his missing wife’s trust funds.”

Would Parker’s admonition change Ewing’s mind about a business trip to the East? As far as Beardsley was concerned the LAPD and the DA better put up, or shut up. “We believe,” said Beardsley, “Mr. Scott is free to conduct his ordinary affairs.  If you tell me you want to take Mr. Scott into custody, I will have him appear at your office today.  Otherwise, I will assume you do not wish to take him into custody.  His leaving the State is not to avoid prosecution, as is clear from his willingness to appear at your office.”

Beardsley was about to get an answer to his question of what Ewing might be charged with.  During a trip to Washington, D.C. to attend the U.S. Attorney General’s national conference on parole, Chief Parker told reporters: “This hasn’t been published, but we found a partial (dental) plate and her (Evelyn’s) reading glasses behind a wall near the incinerator at the Scott’s house.”

Rumors that Evelyn might be holed up in Maryland were immediately quashed by Parker who said, “She was never here.”  Parker also hinted, none too subtly, that Evelyn Scott had met with foul play, “This looks like a case we’ll have to try without a body.”

Local coverage of the Scott case included a statement by Deputy Police Chief Thad Brown who said that two pairs of eyeglasses and a removable dental bridge belonging to Evelyn had been found by police during a search in the rear of the Scott home.  He told reporters: “They were buried at the base of the wall about six inches from the wall and covered with leaves and twigs.  It is hard, native soil at that point.”  The denture was identified by Evelyn’s dentist who also said that, as far as he knew, she didn’t have a back-up.

It was looking less and less like Evelyn had vanished of her own free will.

On April 10, after the police disclosed that Evelyn’s glasses and denture had been found in the back yard of her home. Ewing made his move. Officially, it was said that he had “taken a little trip to San Francisco.” Coincidentally, LAPD Deputy Chief Thad Brown had decided to visit the city by the bay as well.

Perhaps Ewing and Brown were taking in the sights of San Francisco or enjoying crab cakes at the pier. In Los Angeles Police Chemist Ray Pinker conducted tests on materials found in the incinerator at the Scott’s Bel-Air mansion.

With the possibility of hundreds of thousands of jewelry and cash missing from Evelyn’s estate, the police were hoping to find clues in a safe deposit box rented by Ewing under an assumed name in Westwood. They found nothing of consequence.

Ewing was subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury on April 24th.

The grand jury indicted Ewing on 13 counts, 4 of theft and 9 of forgery.  His constant companion was divorcee Marianne Beaman who seemed to have no problem consorting with a man who may have murdered his wife. Marianne even flatly refused to testify about out-of-town jaunts she and Ewing had taken. Her refusal to speak could lead to a contempt charge.

Ewing’s difficulties were multiplying exponentially.  In addition to charges of forgery and theft, and his failed “How to Fascinate Men” book scheme, four employees of an automobile agency at 200 N Vermont Ave came forward and identified Ewing as the man who has bilked them out of an unspecified amount each for a bogus hair restorer.

Ewing had talked glowingly about the miracle cream to the follicle-challenged quartet. The men agreed to pose for “before” top-of-the-head photos and following a month of using the cream they were supposed to pose for “after” photos.  The head showing the most improvement would win a $35 prize.  The men had neither seen nor heard from Ewing for five years. Then they he popped up in the newspapers in connection with his wife’s disappearance.

On May 5, 1956, nearly a full year after her disappearance, Evelyn’s maroon 1948 coupe, which had been driven by Ewing, was discovered in front of 2214 Washington Ave, Santa Monica.  Neighbors said the car had been sitting in the same spot for several days. Police investigated and found a bullet hole through the windshield on the driver’s side. The bullet had been fired from inside the car and part of a lead slug was found on the seat, and the keys to the car were discovered beneath the floor mat.

Ewing wasn’t with Marianne Beamann (who lived in Santa Monica); and he wasn’t in Bel-Air either because his neighbors had not seen him for “several days.”

Where in the hell was Ewing?

NEXT TIME: The corpus dilecti case concludes.

Policewoman of the Year, Conclusion

Florence Coberly testifies at inquest. [Photo courtesy USC Digital Archive]

Florence Coberly testifies at inquest. [Photo courtesy USC Digital Archive]

In 1952 LAPD Policewoman Florence Coberly appeared to be a woman with a bright future in law enforcement. She had been instrumental in taking down career criminal and ex-con, Joe Parra. Parra had a history of sexual assault and he was shot and killed during an undercover assignment in which Florence had acted as a decoy. She had stayed tough during the inquest following Parra’s shooting when his brother Ysmael began shouting and then attempted to lunge at photographers. She had appeared on television and had been honored at various awards banquets all over town.

Yes sir, Florence’s star was shining brightly.

divorce_1955But (you knew that was coming, didn’t you) Florence’s personal life began to unwrap slightly when after only three years of marriage she divorced her husband Frank in 1955. We’ve heard countless times over the years how tough it is to be a cop’s wife, but I imagine being the husband of a cop is not much easier–the unpredictable hours and the danger could be enough to send any spouse out the door forever. But then we don’t really know what caused the Coberly’s marriage to dissolve. The divorce notice appeared in the June 29, 1955 edition of the L.A. Times, but it was legal information only and gave no hint of the personal issues which may have caused the Coberly’s to break up. Even if her marriage hadn’t made until “death us do part” at least Florence had her job.

Florence with her back to the camera, befriends a lost girl c 1954 [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

Florence with her back to the camera, befriends a lost girl c 1954 [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

There is no further record of her in the Times for several years following the fatal shooting of serial rapist Joe Parra in 1952, so we’ll have to presume that her career in law enforcement was on track. Then nearly six years after the Parra case, on July 2, 1958, the Times ran a piece under the headline: “Policewoman’s Mother Convicted in Shoplifting”; it was buried in the back pages of the “B” section and it told an interesting tale.

Mrs. Gertrude Klearman, the fifty-three year old mother of a policewoman, had been found guilty of shoplifting by a jury of eleven women and one man. The jury had spent only one hour and seven minutes in deliberation. As embarrassing as it would have been to have your mom convicted of shoplifting, it would have been so much worse if you were a cop–and orders of magnitude more humiliating if you were a cop busted WITH your mother for stuffing $2.22 worth of groceries into a handbag and walking out without making the necessary stop at the check-out stand.flo_mom

According to Police Officer George Sellinger, an off-duty cop supplementing his income by working as a store detective, the pair of women, one of whom you have undoubtedly guessed was Florence Coberly, had been accused of stealing two packages of knockwurst, a can of coffee, a package of wieners and an avocado.

Florence had remarried and not surprisingly she had married another cop, Sgt. Dave Stanton. But despite a change in her surname there was no mistake that the woman accused of shoplifting was none other than the former Florence Coberly, Policewoman of the Year.

Florence seated next to her husband, Sgt. Dave Stanton. [Photo courtesy USC Digital Archive]

Florence seated next to her husband, Sgt. Dave Stanton. [Photo courtesy USC Digital Archive]

Gertrude was found guilty, but Florence had been freed of the shoplifting charge during trial on a technicality involving unreasonable search and seizure.

At the misdemeanor trial her attorney, Frank Rothman, vigorously questioned Sellinger on the stand and finally got him to admit that he had not actually seen Florence stuff the food items into her purse. He had pressured her to submit to a search outside the grocery store based on the scant evidence of having seen her holding some packages in her hand. As far as Rothman and the law were concerned Sellinger’s reason for the search was seriously flawed and a legal no-no.

LAPD in the late 1950s was still understandably touchy about any hint of scandal or misbehavior by its officers. During the decades prior to William H. Parker’s ascension to Chief, the institution had watched as many of its members were accused (some even convicted) of all manner of graft and corruption.

While a package of knockwurst hardly rises to the standard of bad behavior that had plagued LAPD earlier, just being arrested was enough to get Florence suspended from duty pending a Police Board of Rights hearing.

It couldn’t have been easy for Florence to sit on the sidelines and await the decision that would have such an enormous impact on her future. Law enforcement wasn’t just a 9-5 job for her, it was a career and one for which she had displayed an aptitude.

While Florence waited on tenterhooks for the Board of Rights hearing, her mother was sentenced to either forty days in jail or a $200 fine (she paid the fine).

Florence’s hearing began on July 22, 1958 before a board composed of Thad Brown, chief of detectives, and Capts. John Smyre and Chester Welch. Officer Sellinger repeated the testimony he had given at the trial and despite the fact that the shoplifting charges against Florence had been dismissed in a court of law, the board found her guilty of the same charge and ordered her dismissed from LAPD.

This photo may have been misidentified in the USC Digital Archive. I believe it to be the Police Board hearing.

This photo may have been misidentified in the USC Digital Archive as Florence’s misdemeanor trial. I believe it to be the Police Board hearing.

It was an ignominious end to a career that had shown such early promise, and I can’t help but wonder if there was more to Florence’s dismissal from the police force than the shoplifting charge.

In February 1959, Florence filed suit in superior court seeking to be reinstated. Her complaint was directed against Chief Parker and the Board of Rights Commission. Florence stated that she had been dismissed from the LAPD on a charge that she had, with her mother, shoplifted groceries from a San Fernando Valley market. Florence denied her guilt and contended that the only evidence in the case may have been applicable to her mother alone.

flo_firedIt took several months, but in July 1959 Superior Court Judge Ellsworth Meyer sided with the LAPD and refused to compel Chief Parker to reinstate Florence.

I haven’t discovered any further mentions of Florence in the newspaper. I’m curious to know how her life played out and what became of her in later years. As it is with so many of the tales covered here in Deranged L.A. Crimes there is no satisfactory conclusion. Of course I can always hope that a member of her family will see the story and contact me.  It has happened before.

Meanwhile, I salute Florence for her no-holds-barred, kick-ass entry into policing in 1952; and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one last time that fantastic bandolier that dangled so daintily from her belt–as I said before lady cops knew how to accessorize.

NOTE: Many thanks to my friend and frequent partner in historic crime, Mike Fratantoni. He knows the BEST stories.

 

Dead Woman Walking: Louise Peete, Finale

louise_testifying

Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, UCLA.

Louise Peete’s trial began on April 23, 1945.

Louise had never denied burying Mrs. Margaret Logan’s body in a shallow grave at the deceased woman’s Pacific Palisades home, but she told several colorful stories about how Logan ended up dead in the first place.

As in her first murder trial for the slaying of Jacob Denton over twenty years earlier, Peete claimed to be broke and was assigned a public defender, Ellery Cuff. Cuff had an uphill battle, the evidence against Peete was compelling.admits burial

For the most part Louise sat quietly as the prosecution drew deadly parallels between the 1920 murder of Jacob Denton and the 1944 murder of Margaret Logan; however, she disrupted the trial during testimony by police chemist Ray Pinker. From the witness stand Pinker testified to a conversation between Louise and LAPD homicide captain Thad Brown. (In 1947 Thad Brown’s brother, Finis, would be one of the lead detectives in the Black Dahlia case.)

peete halts testimonyPinker said that prior to the discovery of Mrs. Logan’s body in a shallow grave in the backyard of her home, Brown had faced Peete and said: “Louise, have you blow your top again and done what you did before?” To which she replied: “Well, my friends told me that I would blow my top again. I want to talk to Gene Biscailuz (L.A. County Sheriff).” Louise spun around in her chair at the defense table and shouted “That is not all of the conversation.” Her attorney quieted her.

Pinker testified to how he had found the mound covering Mrs. Logan’s body. He said that he had observed a slight rise in the ground which was framed by flower pots. The cops didn’t have to dig very deep before uncovering Margaret Logan’s remains. When Louise was asked to face the grave she turned away and hid her face with her handbag.camera shy peete

All of Pinker’s testimony was extremely damaging to Peete’s case. In particular he said he tested a gun found Mrs. Peete’s berdroom, and when he tested the bullets they were consistent with the .32 caliber round found lodged beneath the plaster in the living room of the Logan home.

The prosecution’s case was going to be difficult to refute. It must have been a tough call for the defense when they decided to allow Louise to take the stand. Louise could be volatile and unpredictable.

Louise testified that Mrs. Logan had phoned her to ask if she’d keep house for her while she was working at Douglas Aircraft Company. Louise went on to say that when she arrived at the Logan home she found Margaret badly bruised, allegedly the result of Mr. Logan kicking her in the face.

pinker bulletMr. Logan would be unable to refute any of Louise’s allegations because he had died, just days before, in the psychiatric hospital where he was undergoing treatment. Logan had been committed to the hospital by Louise, masquerading as his sister!

Logan’s death was a boon for Louise and she took full advantage of it by blaming him for his wife’s death. Louise was asked to recreate her story which had Arthur Logan shooting and battering his wife, but she appeared to be squeamish. When she was shown the murder gun and asked by the judge to pick it up to demonstrate how Arthur Logan had used it to kill his wife, Louise said: “I will not take that gun up in my hand.”

Louise’s attorney tried valiantly to contradict the evidence against his client. Would the jury believe him and acquit her?

In his summation District Attorney Fred N. Howser addressed the jury:

“Mrs. Peete has violated the laws of man and the laws of God. She killed a woman because she coveted her property. Any verdict short of first degree murder would be an affront to the Legislature. If this crime doesn’t justify the death penalty, then acquit her.”

The jury of 11 women and 1 man found Louise Peete guilty of the first degree murder of Margaret Logan. With that verdict came a death sentence.peete guilty

Judge Harold B. Landreth pronounced the sentence:

“It is the judgement and sentence of this court for the crime of murder in the first degree of which you, the said Louise Peete, have been convicted by the verdict of the jury, carrying with it the extreme penalty of the law, that you, the said Louise Peete, be delivered by the Sheriff to the superintendent of the California Instution for Women at Tehachapi. There you will be held pending the decision of this case on appeal, whereupon said Louise Peete be delivered to the warden of the State Prison at San Quentin to be by him executed and put to death by the administration of lethal gas in the manner provided by the laws of the State of California.”

peete guilty picIt was reported that Louise took her sentence “like a trouper”.

On June 7, 1945, Louise Peete began her journey from the L.A. County Jail to the women’s prison at Tehachapi to wait out the appeals process.

Louise lost the appeals which may have commuted her death penalty sentence to life in prison. On April 9, 1947 an eleventh hour bid to save her life was made to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court denied the appeal.

Louise would die.

A crush of reporters spent time with Louise on her last night; among them was, of course, Aggie Underwood.

Aggie had interviewed Louise numerous times over the years, and she managed to get at least two exclusives. In her autobiography, NEWSPAPERWOMAN, Aggie devoted a few pages to her interactions with Louise, which I’ll share:

“With other L.A. reporters, I interviewed her there for the last time before she was taken to San Quentin to be executed April 11, 1947.”

“Like other reporters, I suppose I was striving for the one-in-a-million chance: that she would slip, or confess either or both murders, Denton’s in 1920 and Mrs. Logan’s on or about May 29, 1944.’

Louise would not slip; but Aggie gave it her best try. Interestingly,  Aggie said that she never addressed Louise as anything but Mrs. Peete.  Why? Here is her reasoning:

“I called her Mrs. Peete. A direct attack would not have worked with her; it would have been stupid to try it.  She knew the homicide mill and its cogs.  She had bucked the best reporters, detectives, and prosecutors as far back as 1920, when, as a comely matron believed to be in her thirties, she had been tagged the ‘enigma woman’ by the Herald.”

“So I observed what she regarded as her dignity. Though I was poised always for an opening, I didn’t swing the conversations to anything so nasty as homicide.”

And in a move that would have occurred only to a woman, Aggie spent one of her days off finding a special eyebrow pencil for Louise:

“…with which she browned her hair, strand by strand.  I didn’t go back to jail and hand it to her in person.  Discreetly I sent it by messenger, avoiding the inelegance of participating in a utilitarian device to thwart nature which had done her a dirty trick in graying her.  Royalty doesn’t carry money in its pockets.”

About Louise, Aggie said:  “She wasn’t an artless little gun moll.”  No, she wasn’t.

Lofie Louise Preslar Peete was executed in the gas chamber on April 11, 1947– it took about 10 minutes for her to die. She was the second woman to die in California’s gas chamber; two others would follow her.

she buried them all

Peete is interred in the Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles.

NOTE: On March 9, 1950 the DRAGNET radio program aired an episode called THE BIG THANK YOU which was based on Louise Peete’s cases. Enjoy!

http://youtu.be/5ddEOaa4w50

NEXT TIME: Dead Woman Walking continues with the story of the third woman to perish in California’s lethal gas chamber, Barbara Graham.