The .25 Caliber Taxi-Dancer, Conclusion

Finding Lola was easy, two hours after the shooting she telephoned LAPD’s Hollywood Station from a drugstore at Sunset and Laurel Canyon and asked cops to come and get her. They obliged. Lola was booked at Hollywood Jail on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to commit murder.

00030174_lola mugWith Lola safely ensconced in the slammer, investigators poked around into her  background. They found out that her recent trip to Hollywood hadn’t been her first. She had lived briefly at 1259 Gower Avenue about 18 months prior to shooting Hansen. There was a photo of Lola, then a brunette, in the police files–she’d submitted the picture to obtain a taxi dancer’s license.

Lola had lucked out, Hansen survived the surgery that closed a gaping hole in his chest and appeared to be on the mend, but she was still going to be held to answer.

On July 18, 1949, the morning of her arraignment for attempted murder, Lola was being held in the woman’s seventh floor detention center in the Hall of Justice.  When Detective Sergeant C.C. Forbes unlocked the detention room to inform Miss Titus that her arraignment was imminent he found her completely naked, stretched out on her coat on the floor. Forbes took one look, beat feet, and shouted through the closed door for Lola to get dressed.

Seeking evidence in Mark Hansen's bathroom. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Seeking evidence in Mark Hansen’s bathroom. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Moments later Lola emerged from the room fully clothed in a pale blue satin dress–she posed for news photographers and was returned to the detention room until it was time for her arraignment. Detective Sergeant Forbes once again opened the door to find Lola nude. When asked why she had disrobed Lola said: “it’s hot in there.”

In a photo that was undoubtedly staged by the newspapers, Lola, in her blue satin dress, was snapped standing at the hospital bedside of her victim. You don’t see photos like that anymore!LOLA HANSEN HOSPITAL

In a move that surprised no one, Lola was ordered to stand trial in Superior Court for the shooting of Mark Hansen. Hansen, described as a 45-year-old night club and theater owner was actually at least a decade older. But hey, it’s Hollywood.

LAPD’s Chief of Detectives Thad Brown, brother of Finis Brown one of the principal investigators in the Black Dahlia case, questioned Lola about her reasons for going to Hansen’s bungalow. She said she had gone there to “have it out with him.”  As far as the cops were concerned, Lola was a disgruntled Hollywood hopeful who had failed to get a job as a strip-tease dancer. Hansen told the police that he had never discussed the Black Dahlia murder case with Lola and had told her only that “he couldn’t use her act in his night club.”LOLA IN CUSTODY

A jury of nine women and three men was chosen to determine Lola’s fate in Superior Judge William Byrne’s courtroom.  The first witness was a friend of Hansen’s, Dr. Louis Benson, who testified that he’d had to break into the house to render first aid.

Hansen’s testimony was oddly vague–he claimed that even though Lola was the only other person in the bungalow with him he hadn’t seen who shot him. He also testified that his acquaintance with Lola was entirely professional. When it was her turn Lola would tell a different story.

LAPD officer inspects gun used in shooting of Mark Hansen. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

LAPD officer inspects gun used in shooting of Mark Hansen. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

The Deputy District Attorney, John Hopkins, had hoped to use a wire recording of the dancer’s purported confession, but Judge Byrne ruled that because some of the jurors couldn’t hear it easily it couldn’t be used to present the State’s case. In lieu of the recording Detective C.C. Forbes, who had taken Lola’s statement, testified to what she had told him.

The taxi-dancer/stripper had spent a year, off and on, “knocking around Hollywood” trying to get a break. she’d met Mark Hansen during Thanksgiving in 1948 and, according to her, had moved into his home for about a week. Hansen’s testimony had implied that they were merely business acquaintances, but Lola told the judge that they had been intimate on numerous occasions: “I could recall every one of them if you had the time.”  At that point Judge Byrne’s gavel came down and he ordered the jury out of the courtroom so he could admonish Lola to answer only the questions that were asked.

On September 22nd the jury found Lola guilty of assault with a deadly weapon, not assault with intent to commit murder. Even with the lesser charge Lola could face one to fourteen years behind bars.

To say that Lola took the news of her conviction badly would be an understatement—she went completely bat shit crazy. She launched herself at Mrs. Dorothy Ellis, a female probation officer. Lola wasn’t pleased that Ellis had requested a court ordered psychiatric examination. Deputy Sheriff Josephine Uttke attempted to intercede, but she took a couple of nasty blows to her face before she was joined by two male deputies–the three of them were able to subdue the kicking and screaming dancer.

lola screamNever a dull moment on Planet Lola. It appeared that she had calmed down, so she was returned to her cell at the Hall of Justice to await sentencing. She called out to Deputy Sheriff Margaret Decker and demanded to be given a pencil and paper because she was going to write her will. “I’m going to commit suicide”, Lola told the deputy. Decker invested some time in trying to talk Lola out of her plan. Once again Lola seemed to be calm so Deputy Decker resumed her rounds. On her next  trip  past Lola’s 13th floor cell, Decker looked in on her charge. She saw Lola sagging from a noose she’d fashioned out of a cotton stocking and tied to a ventilator. Decker called for assistance and several male deputies from the 10th floor arrived to help cut Lola free. She was taken to a padded cell.

Rather than sentence her to one to fourteen years in prison, Judge Byrne committed Lola to the State Hospital at Patton after the court ordered shrinks pronounced her legally insane. Lola didn’t take the news of her commitment to a mental hospital any better than she’d taken her guilty sentence. She immediately began screaming expletives at Judge Byrne and her attorney, Mark Rothman. Sheriff’s deputies R.N. Anderson and Gladys Culler dragged Lola from the courtroom.

On November 30, 1949, Beverly Alice Bennett, aka Lola Titus, was escorted by Sheriff’s Deputies Ann Anderman, E.H. Keegan, and M.J. Leggee to begin her indefinite stay at Patton. If Lola ever became sane enough to win her release from Patton it didn’t make the news.  Like so many other Hollywood hopefuls before her, Lola  vanished into obscurity.

The .25 Caliber Taxi-Dancer

BROWNHANSENFNL_RESIZEOn January 15, 1947 the body of twenty-two year old Elizabeth Short was discovered in a Leimert Park vacant lot.  There were scant clues in the case and LAPD homicide detectives Finis Brown and Harry Hansen were hoping for a break.

Ten days later some of Short’s belongings were found in a trash dump at 1819 E. 25th Street. Among the items found were a black patent leather purse, one black shoe, and a brown leather address book which contained more than 75 names. The “little brown book” book had the name Mark M. Hansen (no relation to Harry) stamped on the cover.

Hansen, an attorney and night club owner, was a self-made man. He was a Danish immigrant, who had arrived in the U.S. in 1910 and who, by the 1930 census, was a theater proprietor. By the late 1940s he was part-owner of the Florentine Gardens, a popular Hollywood night spot, and had business interests in several movie theaters.  Detectives grilled Hansen about his relationship with Beth Short, particularly how she came to have the leather address book. Hansen’s explanation was that Beth Short must have taken it from his desk sometime during November 1946. Beth had access to his desk because she was one of several young women who had rented rooms in Hansen’s home at 6024 Carlos Avenue (located behind the Florentine Gardens).

00007090_florentine gardens exterior

Photo courtesy of LAPL

Among the women who had lived at the Carlos Avenue address was Ann Toth, a bit player in the movies. Toth was an acquaintance of Short’s and like everyone else who had known the dead girl she had been questioned by the police. There wasn’t much Toth could tell investigators about Beth who, like so many other young women in post-war L.A., had no fixed address.

Anna Toth

Photo of Ann Toth from http://www.theblackdahliainhollywood.com/

Detectives dug deep into Hansen’s story and determined that he was telling the truth about the last time he’s seen Beth. No one, particularly a successful businessman, was looking for the kind of publicity that attends a horrific murder like Beth’s. Hansen must have breathed a sigh of relief when he was cleared of any involvement in the crime.

For the next couple of years the club owner, described by the L.A. Times as a “man-about-town”, continued to run the Florentine Gardens and bed chorus girls. He was a married man but he and his wife, Ida, had been estranged for about two decades.

For most of 1948 and into 1949, Hansen had been routinely pestered for a job by a blonde dime-a-dance cutie from Oakland, Lola Titus. Lola’s real name was Beverly Alice Bennett, and she had been working as a stripper and taxi dancer in Oakland when she got the notion to hop on a bus for L.A. to hook-up with Mark Hansen. Lola’s sudden decision to leave Northern California was precipitated by an argument she’d had with her mother. Her mom strenuously objected to her daughter’s lifestyle. Lola would later tell investigators: “I made up my mind that he (Hansen) was either going to love me, marry me or take care of me or I was going to kill him.”

Lola had another reason for traveling to L.A.–she believed that Hansen was behind rumors that she had killed the Black Dahlia. The rumors were all in Lola’s head because her name had never been mentioned in connection with the case.

Lola boarded a bus from San Francisco to Hollywood on Thursday, July 14, 1949. She’d packed the essentials: nude photos of herself and the .25 automatic she’d purchased several months before in an Oakland pawnshop. On Friday morning she turned up on Hansen’s doorstep with the gun in her pocket and her nude photos tucked under her arm. She knocked on the door of the bungalow and while she waited she debated whether to shoot him as soon as he opened the door or to wait until she got inside. She opted to wait.

Once Hansen had invited her in,  Lola showed him the nude photos of herself. Hansen decided to compare the photos to the real girl, and he “auditioned” the blonde dancer in the back bedroom.  Following the audition Hansen went into the bathroom and began to shave with his electric razor. Lola figured it was as good a time as any to shoot him. She went into the front room where she’d left her coat, pulled the gun out of the pocket and went to the bathroom where she shot him once. The wound was a through and through. The bullet missed Hansen’s heart by 7/10 of an inch and lodged in the bathroom wall. Lola then pulled on her clothes and left.LOLA HEADLINE

Although he was severely wounded Hansen managed to get to the telephone. He phoned a business associate who called for a doctor. As he was being rushed to the hospital in an ambulance Hansen said that before Lola pulled the trigger she had called him a “goddam cop lover”.

NEXT TIME: Lola calls the cops.

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.