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 TRY AND GET ME! aka THE SOUND OF FURY, starring Frank Lovejoy, Kathleen Ryan, and Lloyd Bridges.
The film is based on the 1947 novel The Condemned by Jo Pagano, who also wrote the screenplay. The Pagano novel was based on events that occurred in 1933 when two men were arrested in San Jose, California for the kidnapping and murder of Brooke Hart. The suspects confessed and were subsequently lynched by a mob of locals. The 1936 film, Fury, directed by Fritz Lang, was inspired by the same incident.
Enjoy the movie.
Impoverished Howard Tyler decides to move his pregnant wife Judy and their young son Tommy from Massachusetts to the friendly town of Santa Sierra, California, to find his fortune working in the mines. Once there, however, Howard cannot find a job and the family’s poverty deepens to the point where Judy cannot even afford a doctor to monitor her pregnancy. In his desperation, Howard meets a petty thief named Jerry Slocum and is easily convinced to work for him, helping him to commit a series of robberies. Convinced that the town is experiencing an incipient crime wave, publisher and editor of the Santa Sierra Journal Hal Clendenning assigns featured columnist Gil Stanton to sensationalize the new trend.
Eddie Muller, the Czar of Noir, introuced this film for TCM’s Noir Alley, which he hosts. Check it out.
What’s a cold turkey pinch? In the 1930s, it was cop speak for an officer who made an arrest with no effort–no gathering of evidence, no investigation, nothing.
Thanksgiving Day on “The Nickel” (Fifth Street) in 1937 was desperate living personified. LAPD Detective Lieutenants Bailey and Olson sat in the Chicago Cafe at 209 Fifth and watched as drunks shuffled past, oblivious to those who would do them harm. Old Man Depression brought an abundance of misery, leaving The Nickel devoid of warmth, joy, and delicious aromas found in other city neighborhoods.
The detectives sipped their coffees and kept their eyes peeled for predators who preyed on helpless drunks. Known as drunk rollers, the vultures robbed Skid Row inebriates of their few possessions. A man, seemingly down on his luck, seated himself beside Bailey and said, “you wouldn’t mind staking a thirsty guy to a nickel beer would you.” After looking the stranger up and down, Bailey bought the man a brew.
Chicago Cafe at 209 Fifth Street c. 1937. [Photo is from Schultheis collection at the LAPL]
The man sat silently nursing his beer, then he turned to Bailey and pointed at a man in a booth who had obviously passed out. “Watch me,” the beer drinker said–then he walked over to the unconscious boozer and searched through his clothing.
When he returned to his seat he grinned at Bailey and Olson and said, “See what I got?” and held up a dollar bill. “Now I guess it’s my treat.”
“Yes, brother, I sure guess it’s your treat all right,” said Bailey as pulled out his badge and arrested his would-be benefactor. Bailey booked Jack Orchard, 35, at the City Jail on suspicion of robbery.
If you wonder what Jack Orchard’s Thanksgiving repast was like in the county slammer, they served prisoners veal turnovers w/cream gravy, mashed potatoes, sugar peas, combination salad, one doughnut and coffee. The jailers, however, got turkey with all the trimmings. Crime doesn’t pay.
May your Thanksgiving be happier than Jack Orchard’s (although he got a free beer.) Have a great Holiday and stay safe. Those Black Friday sales can be murder!
NOTE: I’ll pick up the rest of Aggie Underwood’s Tehachapi series in my next post.
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 AND THEN THERE WERE NONE . It is based on a 1939 Agatha Christie novel, and stars Barry Fitzgerald, Walter Huston, and Louis Hayward, Enjoy the film.
On a stormy Friday afternoon, Judge Francis J. Quincannon, Dr. Edward G. Armstrong, Philip Lombard, Vera Claythorne, General Sir John Mandrake, Emily Brent, William H. Blore and Prince Nikita Starloff are taken on a fishing boat to Indian Island, off the coast of Devon, England, for a weekend visit with the mysterious U. N. Owen. The eight passengers, who are all strangers, are greeted by butler Thomas Rogers and his wife Ethel, the cook, who reveal that they have not met their new employer. While eating in the dining room, the guests become intrigued by the centerpiece, which consists of ten figurines of Indian boys. Vera begins to recite the nursery rhyme about ten little Indian boys who are killed, and Starloff continues the rhyme in the parlor. Rogers then puts a record on the phonograph, as he was instructed to do, and the guests are astonished to hear Owen accuse them of various crimes that led to the deaths of others.
In the spring of 1935, reporter Aggie Underwood wrote a three-part series of articles for the Herald about women incarcerated in Tehachapi. Aggie maintained a relationship with the prison’s administration. They kept her informed about prisoner releases, and anything of interest to the Herald’s readers. Bad girls are undeniably fascinating.
The number of women committing violent felonies has risen since Aggie covered the crime beat. For many decades, women committing such crimes were an anomaly. Alienists (psychiatrists) and penologists offered various theories to explain their behavior.
In 1924, Sigmund Freud suggested menstruation reminded women of their inferiority and inflamed them toward revenge. Let that nonsense sink in for a moment. His theory is absurd and offensive, but we still accept variations of it today. We may characterize an ambitious woman as unfeminine or vicious. We may praise a man exhibiting identical traits for his business acumen and strength. Make no mistake, even in the 21st Century women are still competing on an uneven playing field.
There is an ongoing debate about the punishment of women, regardless of whether they were driven by homicidal PMS rage or something else. Throughout history, women have avoided the death penalty more often than their male counterparts.
In his 1931 criminology course, Dr. Paul E. Bowers said, “We hate to send a woman to the penitentiary, we hate to electrocute or hang women. We think it’s the wrong thing to do. Many women have been convicted of murder, but it is only rarely that women are hung or electrocuted for committing murder.”
One of the most notorious executions of a woman was the electrocution of Ruth Snyder in New York in 1928. She and her lover, Judd Gray, received death sentences for the murder of her husband. Tom Howard, a clever newspaperman for the Daily News, smuggled a small camera, strapped to his ankle, into the death chamber. At the crucial moment, he snapped a photo of Ruth in her death throes. The photo made front page news around the world. Snyder and Gray inspired James M. Cain’s novel, Double Indemnity, which became the eponymous film noir in 1944.
Perhaps because her own upbringing was as tough as many of the women she interviewed behind bars, the lives of female convicts intrigued Aggie. She didn’t romanticize their crimes, nor did she condone their actions. She empathized.
Below is the first part of Aggie Underwood’s series on the lives of the forgotten women of Tehachapi, as it appeared in newspapers in 1935.
Tehachapi, Cal., Apr. 30 —
Nestled in a range of snow-covered mountains, eight and one-half miles from the nearest town, is California’s home for forgotten women.
Here is Clara Phillips, the celebrated “Hammer Murderer”; Louise Peete, Nellie Madison, Josephine Valenti, Anna De Ritas, Burmah White and 140 others who ignored man-made laws and are spending long, long years in a miniature city of their own.
Ruler of this city surrounded by a high wire fence is Miss Josephine Jackson, deputy warden, who works under orders from the head of the state prison at San Quentin, James B. Holohan.
For 18 years she has been employed in California prisons, and for 18 years she has been caring for women whom the state has tagged “bad” and sent away to do penance behind prison walls.
Miss Jackson moved the first group of girls from San Quentin into Tehachapi in August 1933, and by November of the same year, they had transferred all the inmates of the state prison.
Life runs smoothly, and quietly, as the days go by with the only break in a monotonous existence being an occasional visit by some unexpected outsider.
The buildings which comprise the prison group are in an administration building, detention building, and two cottages.
All work in the prison is volunteer—none compulsory, and each inmate is given an opportunity to do the work she likes best.
Many of them prefer garden work, many laundry, many cooking, and table serving, many secretarial and some even beauty work.
There is no official chef at the state institution and the inmates have proven themselves splendid cooks, even to the extent of making all the bread that is used by the inmates.”
Six a.m. is regulation “get-up” time; 9 p.m. lights out.
Work on the various necessary duties is started immediately after breakfast and groups may be seen leaving the various buildings in which they are housed for the rabbitry, the chicken yard, the barn yard where there are several cows to be milked.
And, as groups gather around electric washing machines, or in the yard planting trees, or in the chicken yard tending the fowls, loud shouts of laughter may be heard ringing through the echoing mountainous section.
No supervisor stands over these 145 women to drive them to their tasks. No one waits around to scold or correct them. They are on an honor system to do their best work in their best manner, and according to Miss Jackson, this system succeeds remarkably.
Each building has a nicely furnished recreation room where the girls gather when their daily tasks are completed to play cards, checkers, sew or play the piano. But, because the architects failed to provide for an auditorium, there are no picture shows because there is no room large enough to seat all the inmates.
Just as Sing-Sing, an Eastern prison, has an outstanding men’s football team, so does Tehachapi have its baseball team.
In fact, two teams have been organized. Josephine Valenti, who gained prominence in Los Angeles when she was convicted of burning her small baby to death, is captain of one team and Pauline Walker, a colored girl, is captain of the second team.
They play every Sunday with all the inmates gathering on the sidelines to do the rooting.
At present, the field isn’t much good, but the girls are gradually doing their own work and making a real diamond.
They have made their own uniforms—white blouses and black bloomers with red stripes down the sides, and, according to Miss Jackson, they welcome the opportunity to don these costumes and break the monotony of everyday life.
Each goes on in the same fashion, light tasks, few laughs—a drab life, for the 145 women who must pay for their transgressions of the law. yet Tehachapi represents notable changes in the American penal system and is being studied as a model.”
NEXT TIME: Agness Underwood’s series on the “city of forgotten women” continues.
NOTE: This is an updated version of a post from 2013.
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.
Today’s feature is ROAD HOUSE starring Ida Lupino, Cornel Wilde, Richard Widmark, and Celeste Holm.
At a seedy nightclub and bowling alley near the Canadian border, owner Jefty Robbins (Richard Widmark) is in love with his new cabaret singer, Lily Stevens (Ida Lupino), who only has eyes for Jefty’s best friend, bar manager Pete Morgan (Cornel Wilde). Although he tries to keep his distance, Pete soon falls for Lily’s charms. But when the couple tries to run away together, Jefty and jealous cashier Susie Smith (Celeste Holm) conspire to frame them for a crime they didn’t commit.
If you have hair, you have endured an inevitable bad hair day. But have you ever had a haircut so awful it drove you to violence?
Newlyweds Barbara and William Mihich struggled to adapt to married life. After getting married in Las Vegas in March 1956, they had already split up once by August. They argued about money, and they also argued about how often Barbara’s hair was in curlers. William became so incensed by Barbara’s beauty routine he cut her hair. Whether by consent or by force, Barbara ended up with a ragged looking pixie. William, a plumbing contractor, not a hair stylist, took too much off the top, the back, and the sides. Barbara was not pleased.
After the hack job on her tresses, Barbara met friends at a local bar for a few drinks and to cool off. She arrived home in the pre-dawn hours, even more pissed off than when she left. Still keyed up, she put a record on the player and turned up the volume. William objected to the music, and to the fact she had stayed out so late. The hostilities resumed.
Their argument spilled out to the front yard, where they raged at each other until Barbara bolted for the front door. Before William could catch up, Barbara locked him out. She grabbed a gun and shot through a window. The round ripped into a neighbor’s house and they called police. Other neighbors hid behind trees and cars to avoid being struck by a wayward bullet.
The first officer to arrive outside the Mihich home ducked for cover when four bullets struck his patrol car. He called for back-up. Reinforcements pulled up. Lights flashing and sirens blaring. They cautiously approached, and placed searchlights around the house to prepare for a siege.
Police lobbed cannisters of tear gas through the home’s broken windows. Screaming, rubbing her eyes, and choking, Barbara stumbled out of the smoke. They placed her under arrest and transported her to the Lincoln Heights Jail, where they booked her on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon.
William came to Barbara’s defense. “She wasn’t shooting at me. She was just shooting away her temper.” Maybe, but she wrecked the interior of their home, scared the shit out of the neighbors, and got herself into a major jam.
Barbara told police William beat her. “I just got mad at the world. I wasn’t shooting at anybody in particular.” No target required. Any of the over fifty rounds she fired at random from a shotgun, two 22-caliber rifles, and a 22-caliber pistol were potentially fatal.
Detectives asked her what caused her rampage. She said William told her he’d trim her hair because he was tired of seeing it in curlers. Describing the chop, she got mad all over again. “He trimmed it all right, and how! He went hog wild and gave me a butch haircut.”
William described the incident to reporters. “We were just having a little argument on the front lawn when she ran off in a huff. She dashed into the house and slammed the door. The next thing I knew, bullets started pouring out of the windows.”
They freed Barbara on $3000 bail ($34,00.00 in 2023 USD), to await trial. Rather than face a jury, she opted to appear before a judge. A jury would have seen the coverage where reporters described her as the “pistol-packing blonde from Van Nuys,” and “the Butch Hair Cut Woman.” Unflattering and prejudicial depictions to be sure.
Judge Allen T. Lynch treated her fairly. On December 28, 1956, he fined Barbara $300 ($3400 in 2023 USD), and placed her on five years’ probation.
Did Barbara embrace the pixie cut, or did she grow her hair to Rapunzel length? Did the Mihich marriage survive the hair cut incident? I honestly don’t know. The couple stayed out of the news after 1956.
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 THE TRUTH ABOUT MURDER (1946) starring Bonita Granville, Morgan Conway, Rita Corday, and Don Douglas.
Enjoy the movie!
Frustrated that her boss, District Attorney Lester Ashton, refuses to promote her to prosecutor, Christine Allen announces that she is quitting her job as the city’s lie detector administrator to take a position with her longtime friend, lawyer William Ames Crane. When Chris arrives at Bill’s office, however, she learns that the attorney has been drinking heavily and neglecting his work.
The beautiful neighborhood of Verdemont lies ten miles north of downtown San Bernardino. In 1925, nestled against the hills, it offered the perfect vantage point to witness San Bernardino’s growth and prosperity.
Twenty-three-year-old Bessie Jones may have wished she could get out more, but her father worked as a Santa Fe railroad section foreman and was gone all day. Bessie cared for her invalid mother, and for her four-year-old daughter. She sometimes went down the hill to the A.B.C. root beer stand on Third Street to get a cold drink and socialize.
On one of her trips in 1924, she met Jack Croft, who worked at the stand. Several years her senior, he was nice looking and easy to talk to. She sometimes used the root beer stand as an excuse to bump into him. Bessie lost track of Jack for about a year, until one Sunday, when he and a friend, Bobby Cline, stopped in front of Bessie’s home. She went out to talk with them.
On Sunday, September 13, Bessie saw Jack outside the house talking to her father. He had a hat pulled low on his brow. At first, she did not recognize him—then he lifted the hat. He asked her what had she been doing, and she told him most of her days she spent at home with her mother and daughter. Jack said, “Let’s go down to the corner and get a coke.” Bessie told him she could only be gone for thirty minutes to an hour at the most. Jack said that was fine with him. “Go tell your folks you will be back in about an hour.”
Bessie got in Jack’s car and he drove down to the corner of Highland and Mt. Vernon, where a small grocery was attached to a soft drink place. He got out of the car and said, “I will be back in a few minutes, if you don’t mind waiting.”
Jack returned with a package of bottles. Bessie heard them clanging together. He got behind the wheel and started for Bessie’s place. When he got to Highland, he turned up a road and drove past farm houses to a quiet spot.
Jack pulled over. He took a bottle of Delaware Punch and a bottle of something that smelled like liquor to Bessie. Jack mixed them together and took a drink. He tried to get Bessie to take a sip, but she refused. She asked him to let her out of the car. He said no. He got out of the car, walked around to the passenger side of the car, and tried to pull Bessie out. She got away from him and slid under the steering wheel and hung on.
She saw a bottle at her feet and kicked it out into the dirt. Bessie faced Jack and asked him to let her go. He said, “Well, if you are really good to me.” Bessie got out and took a few steps. Jack said, “Are you coming back?” She said yes. Instead, she ran down the road as fast as she could, hoping to get to the main highway. She hit a dead-end in an orchard and turned around.
She saw the lights of Jack’s car coming and she ran. Bessie was not a match for Jack’s car. He pulled up beside her. “Bess, I’ll take you home. I will show you I am a real man. I will take you home.”
Bessie got back into the car. Jack drove down the road in the opposite direction of her home. Fed up, she demanded to be released and said she would walk home. Jack ignored her. He stopped the car and started fighting with her again. Bessie kicked, scratched, and bit him hard. He raped her. She thought he would drive away and leave her in the dirt. He did not. Bessie told him she would cause him trouble. He laughed and said a woman cannot cause a man any trouble.
Bessie got back into the car, and Jack headed toward her home. She told him he would have to explain to her parents, if they were still awake, why the one-hour trip to the root beer stand had turned into hours. He agreed. He would say he blew a tire.
When they pulled up in front of the house, Bessie ran inside. Bessie told her mother Jack “insulted” her in a nearby wash. She said, “I’ll fix him so he will never insult another woman if I can help it.” She grabbed her father’s gun and ran outside.
Jack sat in his car with the door open. Sneering, he asked, “Is your father asleep?” Bessie lifted gun and pulled the trigger. She said, “I fired at him. I only meant to hurt him for what he had done to me—I didn’t mean to kill him.”
Critically wounded, Jack started the car and drove nearly 100 yards before he collapsed and died. The car crashed into a telephone pole.
San Bernardino deputy sheriffs arrested Bessie while they investigated further. They also needed the coroner’s jury report. Before the jury convened, deputies learned the dead man gave Bessie an alias. He was not Jack Croft. He was Albert Burress.
The coroner’s inquest was surreal. Bessie sat fewer than 20 feet from Albert’s body as she testified. In fact, they asked her to identify him as the man she shot. From the stand, Bessie described her growing rage as Albert drove her home following the assault. She admitted she planned to shoot him, and she was not remorseful. She said, “He got what he deserved.”
Today, Bessie might be on the hook for voluntary manslaughter. In 1925, the coroner’s jury listened with empathy to Bessie’s ordeal and reached the same conclusion as Bessie had. Albert deserved what he got. They ruled the shooting a justifiable homicide.
Los Angeles has long given refuge to those seeking religious freedom. Among the groups who settled in Boyle Heights, east of downtown, were Russian Molokans. Molokans are a dissenting sect of the Russian Orthodox Church. Similar in some ways to Quakers and Mennonites, Molokans are pacifists and shun alcohol. Think Quaker or Mennonite, and you’ve got the idea.
Thirty-five-year-old Peter Pivaroff, born in 1918, in Arizona, to Molokan parents, may have strayed from the core beliefs of his faith. In 1943, he enlisted in the military. By early November 1954, he was on a serious bender.
On Monday, November 8, Peter experienced chest pains. The pain got so bad his wife, June, took him to Lincoln Heights Receiving Hospital. They admitted him at 11 p.m. for treatment of a heart ailment and alcoholism. Hours later, his condition continued to deteriorate. They transferred Peter to Lincoln Hospital at 443 S. Soto Street for muscular spasms of his heart. Doctors took x-rays of his chest. When the x-rays disclosed a 3-inch-long needle in his heart, they were stunned. Peter died at 3:00 a.m. The attending physician at the hospital refused to sign a death certificate. The presence of the needle was alarming.
Autopsy surgeon, Dr. Frederick Newbarr, said they found a second puncture mark between the seventh and eight ribs and it was, “undoubtedly by the same instrument.” The puncture was about two inches deep. Dr. Newbarr called Peter’s case, “one of the most unusual cases I have seen in thousands of autopsies.”
Police Lt. Fred Laughlin said the lab would conduct microscopic tests to see “if something like a thimble or a pair of pliers were used to push the needle into the heart.” Homicide detectives R. L. Clodio and William Ojers took June to the Hollenbeck Station for questioning. She had little to offer. She said Peter gave her no explanation for his pains. “It was almost like he had amnesia.”
How did the needle get into Peter’s chest?
One explanation came from his ten-year-old daughter, Diana. She said she borrowed a long needle from a neighbor in October to work on a Halloween costume; then it went missing. Diana said the needle from Peter’s chest resembled the one she misplaced. Is it possible Peter landed on it and was so inebriated he never noticed?
The murder theory took a backseat when they discovered a doctor at Lincoln Hospital made the second puncture. Police speculated Peter’s history of alcohol abuse may have caused him to kill himself.
At the coroner’s inquest, Dr. Qualia testified he treated Peter for coronary thrombosis. When the treatment failed to produce results, the doctor called in experts for a consultation. They ordered x-rays, and that is when they saw the needle. It was not driven into his chest, entered from the armpit and pierced the center of his left breast and penetrated skin tougher than most other parts of the body.
Dr. Qualia said, “The tiny spot where the needle went in looked like a mole or a freckle. There was no bump or other surface indication that it had penetrated the skin.
The coroner’s jury determined Peter’s death was a homicide committed by a person or persons unknown. The police had no viable suspect. June testified about Peter’s out-of-control drinking and said he sometimes beat her. June had a motive.
To clear herself, June voluntarily submitted to a lie detector test. Lt. Fred R. Loflund, in charge of detectives at Hollenbeck Division, said June answered all questions honestly. She had no idea how the needle got into Peter’s chest.
Despite passing the lie detector test, the coroner’s jury urged police to find Peter’s killer. Investigators insisted Peter either committed suicide or unintentionally jabbed the darning needle into his heart while drunk.
With the police and the coroner’s jury at odds over Peter’s death, the district attorney’s office weighed in. Deputy District Attorney Aaron H. Stovitz said the facts did not warrant “under any circumstances the issuance of any criminal complaint.” He said the investigation did not reveal a suspect. He left the door open for the future by stating if evidence turned up later, they would “reconsider the matter.”
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 FLAXY MARTIN starring Virginia Mayo, Zachary Scott and Dorothy Malone.
Enjoy the movie!
After Caesar, one of gangster Hap Richie’s henchmen, commits a murder, Hap orders his lawyer, Walter Colby, to obtain Caesar’s release from jail. Tired of defending criminals, Walt wants to leave Hap’s organization, and to prevent this, Hap recruits singer Flaxy Martin, with whom Walt is in love. Flaxy convinces Walt to wait until they have saved more money before quitting his job, and he agrees to work for Caesar’s release.