Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.
Tonight’s feature is ADVENTURE IN MANHATTAN starring Joel McCrae and Jean Arthur.
To cover the theft of the Koor-Hal ruby, newspaper editor Phil Bane calls in ace crime reporter George Melville. George arrogantly predicts to his fellow reporters the next crime to occur and is proven correct, as always. When an accident takes place outside the pool hall where the reporters congregate, George follows a suspicious woman, Claire Peyton, whom he sees begging one moment, then exiting a store in fancy dress only minutes later. George forces her to have dinner with him, and during the meal, she explains that she left a cruel husband for another man and then left him. That evening, she explains, she is to be allowed to see her daughter for the first time in years, but upon arrival, at her ex-husband’s house she discovers only a coffin.
Bundled up against the chill of a cold wave that had held Los Angeles residents in its grip for several days, Mrs. Betty Bersinger and her three-year-old daughter Anne walked south on the west side of Norton in Leimert Park, a Los Angeles suburb. Midway down the block Bersinger noticed something pale in the weeds fifty feet north of a fire hydrant and about a foot in from the sidewalk.
At first Bersinger thought she was looking at either a discarded mannequin, or a live nude woman who had passed out.
It took a moment before Bersinger realized she was in a waking nightmare. The bright white shape in the weeds was neither a mannequin, nor a drunk.
Bersinger later recalled, “I was terribly shocked and scared to death. I grabbed Anne and we walked as fast as we could to the first house that had a telephone.”
Over the years several reporters have claimed to have been first on the scene of the murder. One person who made that claim was Will Fowler.
Fowler said he and photographer Felix Paegel of the Los Angeles Examiner approached Crenshaw Boulevard when they heard an intriguing call on their shortwave radio. It was a police call and Fowler couldn’t believe his ears. A naked woman, possibly drunk, was found in a vacant lot one block east of Crenshaw between 39th and Coliseum streets. Fowler turned to Pagel and said, “A naked drunk dame passed out in a vacant lot. Right here in the neighborhood too… Let’s see what it’s all about.”
Paegel drove as Fowler watched for the woman. “There she is. It’s a body all right…” Fowler hopped out of the car and approached the woman as Paegel pulled his Speed Graphic from the trunk. Fowler called out, “Jesus, Felix, this woman’s cut in half!”
That was Fowler’s story, and he stuck to it through the decades. He said he closed the dead girl’s eyes. But was his story true?
There is information to suggest that a reporter from the Los Angeles Times was the first on the scene; and in her autobiography, Newspaperwoman, Aggie Underwood said that she was the first.
After 74-years does it really matter? All those who saw the murdered girl that day saw the same horrifying sight and it left an indelible impression. Aggie described what she observed:
“It [the body] had been cut in half through the abdomen, under the ribs. The two sections were ten or twelve inches apart. The arms, bent at right angles at the elbows, were raised about the shoulders. The legs were spread apart. There were bruises and cuts on the forehead and the face which had been beaten severely. The hair was blood-matted. Front teeth were missing. Both cheeks were slashed from the corners of the lips almost to the ears. The liver hung out of the torso, and the entire lower section of the body had been hacked, gouged, and unprintably desecrated. It showed sadism at its most frenzied.”
The coroner recorded the victim as Jane Doe #1 for 1947.
Two seasoned LAPD detectives, Harry Hansen and Finis Brown, took charge of the investigation. During the first twenty-four hours officers pulled in over 150 men for questioning.
The most promising of the early suspects was a twenty-three-year-old transient, Cecil French. He was busted for molesting women in a downtown bus depot.
Cops were further alarmed when they discovered French had pulled the back seat out of his car. Had he concealed a body there? Police Chemist, Ray Pinker, found no blood or any other physical evidence of a bloody murder in French’s car. He was dropped from the list of hot suspects.
In her initial coverage Aggie referred to the case as the “Werewolf” slaying because of the savagery of the mutilations inflicted on the unknown woman. Aggie’s werewolf tag would identify the case until a much better one was discovered—the Black Dahlia.
This month is the seventy-fourth anniversary of the murder of Elizabeth Short–the Black Dahlia.
I will write about the case in the blog again this year, as I have every year since 2013. In addition to writing about the case, I am offering a webinar (see below) on four unsolved homicides (including Elizabeth Short) of women in Los Angeles during the 1940s.
The unsolved murders are tragic; but at least family members and other loved ones had a body to mourn and to lay to rest.
Disappearances haunt the living. Did the person leave by choice, or were they taken against their will? As the years pass, the unanswered questions echo in lonely rooms. Broken hearts never quite mend.
In 1949, two very different women vanished in Los Angeles.
On August 19, 1949, forty-eight-year-old socialite, Mimi Boomhower, known as the ‘Merry Widow’, disappeared from her Bel-Air home. When police arrived for a welfare check, the lights were on and a salad was left out on the dining table. One of Mimi’s dresses was laid out on her bed. Her car was still in the garage and there was no sign of a robbery.
Jean Spangler, a twenty-six-year-old dancer, model, and actress, left her home at 5pm on October 7, 1949. She was supposed to meet her ex-husband to discuss child support payments and then she was expected to be at a night shoot for a film. Jean didn’t arrive at either of her appointments.
At 7pm on Tuesday, January 12, 2021, we’ll discuss the homicides, disappearances, and why Los Angeles was such a dangerous place for women in the 1940s.
Jay William Campbell’s day job was milkman, but he loved to fly. On December 31, 1951, he and his 7-year-old daughter, Judy, drove from their Van Nuys home to the San Fernando Airport. As a special New Year’s Eve treat, Jay planned to take Judy for a plane ride. They’d been up together before and she thoroughly enjoyed it.
Judy was the image of her mother, Mary. Mary wasn’t along for the plane ride though—Jay had not mentioned it to her. When he left with Judy all he said was “Be ready at 4:30, I’ll take you and Judy out for dinner.”
Mary was encouraged by Jay’s attitude—things were looking up for 1952. It was a relief to see him interested in a family outing. They recently came through a rough patch in their marriage; in fact, a few weeks earlier she was ready to go to Reno for a divorce.
Mary didn’t want to end their marriage She loved Jay and wanted to work things out. In recent days they seemed to be putting their problems behind them. Maybe they could get back the love they had when they were first married.
They started out like many young couples did in the 1940s. Jay was already registered for the draft when they married in June 1942. The U.S. entered the war in December 1941, and it was only a matter of time before Jay would be in the service. Rather than be drafted into the army, Jay enlisted in the navy.
It isn’t clear when Jay’s emotional problems began, but they were severe enough by 1943 for the navy to discharge him as a psycho-neurotic.
Mary described Jay’s state of mind. “He was up in the clouds one day and down in the dumps the next. He was always in an emotional turmoil.”
Theirs should have been the perfect post-war family, but Jay couldn’t resolve his problems. He was, according to Mary, “…a worrier by nature.” But Jay’s worrying took a troubling turn. He was paranoid and jealous. He was convinced Mary was cheating on him with a family friend named Chet.
Mary denied the affair and tried to soothe Jay’s fears. In mid-December she wrote him a note and packed it with his lunch. The note read:
Jay Dearest–I gave you a reason to doubt my love for you and now I have to do something to chase away the doubt. I couldn’t live without you at my side where you belong. I’ll always want to be yours and please dear be as you are and don’t change. I really love you.
At 4:30 Mary heard a small plane over house. Jay hadn’t mentioned taking Judy for a plane ride, but he had mentioned dinner at 4:30. He could be buzzing the house, he’d done it before.
Mary stepped outside but didn’t recognize the aircraft; even so she had a premonition. As she watched the small plane appeared to stop for a second in sky; then it spiraled downward. The plane ripped into several 4800-volt power lines. The neighborhood was plunged into darkness. The only light came from the burning plane which smashed into the playground of Judy’s elementary school across the street.
Mary’s premonition came true. Fireman had to cut the twisted metal away from Jay and Judy’s bodies before they could pull them out. They died on impact. Among Jay’s personal effects was a color photo of Mary and Judy. The photo was a Christmas gift.
What happened? Why did the plane go down? Jay was a competent pilot; he’d had a commercial license for 3 years. Was there a mechanical failure? The answer was in a note found in the glove compartment of Jay’s car.
The note was addressed to Mary and it read:
It seems that the price one has to pay for happiness isn’t so easy to pay. I have lost everything so that you may start anew. You have lost me and every part of me today, including Judy. Can you ever tell yourself that Chet was worth it all? Please pay Mort Kamm about $600 for his airplane. Keep telling yourself that everyone gets over everything. It may help you, but I doubt it. I have always loved you even if you haven’t loved me. Don’t ever live a lie again.
Your Jay and Judy.
The deaths were officially listed as suicide and murder.
Funeral rites were conducted in Wee Kirk o’ the Heather at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale on January 5, 1952. Judy was buried with the doll she received as a Christmas present from her mom and dad.
Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. We are celebrating the holidays with holiday themed noir movies.
Tonight’s feature is CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY, starring Deanna Durbin and Gene Kelly.
After receiving his commission on Christmas Eve, Lt. Charles Mason learns that Mona, his longtime girl friend, has married another man. When his plane from North Carolina to San Francisco is forced by bad weather to land in New Orleans, the heartbroken Charles meets alcoholic reporter Simon Fenimore, who takes him to a brothel run by Valerie De Merode. There Charles is introduced to hostess/singer Jackie Lamont, and agrees to take her to a midnight mass. After the church services, the two go to a diner, where Jackie tells Charles that her real name is Abigail and that she is the wife of convicted murderer Robert Manette.
Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.
We are celebrating the holidays over the next few days with holiday themed noir movies.
Tonight’s feature is MR. SOFT TOUCH, starring Glenn Ford, Evelyn Keyes, John Ireland, Beulah and Percy Kilbride.
At Christmas time in San Francisco, Joe Miracle steals $100,000 from the River Club, which he used to own. After evading his pursuers, Joe hides out with Victor Christopher, the brother of his dead partner Leo, and Victor’s wife Clara. Clara has purchased a berth for Joe on the next ship leaving the city. The ship, however, will not depart until the following night. While Joe is trying to decide where he will hide until then, the police demand to search the apartment. At first Joe believes they are looking for the stolen money, but learns that they want to arrest Victor for disturbing the peace and beating Clara. When the police mistake Joe for Victor and arrest him for the night, Joe believes that his problems are solved, but Jenny Jones, a social worker, persuades the judge to give Joe a suspended sentence.
On December 15, 1927, twelve-year-old Marion Parker, daughter of Perry Parker a prominent banker, was abducted from Mt. Vernon Junior High School.
The kidnapper went directly to the office of Mary Holt, the school’s registrar. The young man told her that Perry Parker was seriously injured in an automobile accident and was calling for his youngest daughter. Times were different then; Holt never asked the man for his identification, nor did she ask him what he meant by the youngest daughter since Marion was a twin, separated in age from her sister Marjorie by minutes.
The demeanor of the young man erased any doubt that Mary Holt had about his character or intent. He insisted that he was an employee at Parker’s bank. When police questioned her later, Holt said the man seemed sincere because he was quick to suggest that if she doubted his word, she should phone the bank.
If only she had.
William Edward Hickman, who nicknamed himself ‘The Fox’, murdered and mutilated the girl. The crime made him the subject of the largest manhunt in Los Angeles’ history until the 1947 murder of Elizabeth Short.
Who was William Edward Hickman, and why did he kidnap and murder and innocent child?
Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open for a mid-week noir matinee. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.
Today’s feature is BLACK ANGEL starring Dan Duryea, June Vincent, Peter Lorre and Broderick Crawford.
Has-been alcoholic songwriter Martin Blair goes to Los Angeles exclusive Wilshire House apartments to visit his estranged wife, popular singer Marvis Marlowe, but is refused entrance by the doorman per Marvis’ instructions. Martin sends up a gift of a small heart brooch and, while waiting outside the building, overhears a man receiving permission to see Marvis. Despondent, Martin goes to a bar to get drunk, then, as he often does, his friend Joe takes him home to his apartment and locks him in for the night. After midnight that same night, musician Kirk Bennett goes to see Marvis and, finding her apartment door unlocked and hearing her recording of “Heartbreak” playing, goes inside to wait.
Below is the webinar schedule for the remainder of December 2020. Deranged L.A. Crimes webinars will be dark from December 23, 2020 through January 11, 2021.
If you missed the UNSOLVED HOMICIDES OF WOMEN IN LOS ANGELES DURING THE 1940s in November, a brand new version will be offered on January 12, 2021.
January 2021 marks the 74th anniversary of the murder of Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia. It is fitting that we look at that crime and some of the other unsolved murders of women during that deadly decade.
My other passion in life, besides true crime, is vintage cosmetics ephemera, and fashion. On January 19, 2021, the topic is HAIR TODAY, GONE TOMORROW: HOW THE BOB CHANGED HISTORY. You’ll learn about the history of the bob hairdo, a style that has endured for over 100 years. This is my opportunity to display some of the girlie treasures from my vast collection.
Crime topics for 2021 will include: Harvey Glatman: The Glamour Girl Killer and Attic Sex Slave: The Strange Affair of Dolly Oesterreich and Otto Sanhuber.