Film Noir Friday: Kansas City Confidential [1952]

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 KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL, starring John Payne, Coleen Gray, and Preston Foster. This film is said to have inspired Quentin Tarantino’s RESERVOIR DOGS.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

For over a week, retired Kansas City police captain Tim Foster watches the Southwest Bank and the flower shop next door to ascertain the timing of each business’s delivery trucks. Satisfied that each truck leaves at exactly the same time every day, he then assembles a trio of criminals to help him rob the bank of its deposit: Pete Harris, a gambling addict; Tony Romano, a ladies’ man; and Boyd Kane, a cold-blooded killer.

What could possibly go wrong?

The Acid Bride

Bernice Lundstrom of Chicago had done a lot of living in her 20 short years. On Valentine’s Day 1923, she eloped with Howard Fish, a member of a wealthy Chicago family. The couple had been hasty, and the marriage disintegrated. By September 1924, Bernice got a divorce and restoration of her maiden name. She was ready to find a new marriage-minded Windy City millionaire.

Photo is courtesy Los Angeles Public Library.

She turned her attention to Darby Day, Jr., son of a moneyed Chicago family. Following her divorce from Fish, Bernice and Darby wed. Darby Sr. gave the newlyweds a trip to New Orleans and Havana, and then installed them in an apartment.

Given the frigid temperatures in Chicago during winter, the newlyweds opted to move to California and buy a home in Beverly Hills. Soon afterward Bernice’s mother, Mrs. James E. Lundstrom, and her two other daughters, Carlyn and Dorothy, moved to Beverly Hills as well.

In early February 1924, the new Mrs. Day asked for a separate home. A strange request from a newlywed. Confused, Darby did not want to acquiesce to Bernice’s demand. She may have tried pouting and stomping her feet, but in the end, she told Darby if he didn’t buy her the home she wanted within two weeks, she would kill him. She didn’t follow through on the threat.

On February 23, Bernice upped the ante when she told Darby she took poison. If she would not kill him, maybe she’d teach him a lesson and kill herself. She made a show of taking tablets and, scared to death they were fatal, Darby ran into his mother’s room. Yes, Mrs. Day Sr. lived with the newlyweds. Mrs. Day Sr. asked Bernice what she’d taken and said she’d phone for a doctor.

Bernice told her mother-in-law not to worry, she’d taken a few aspirin because she wanted to frighten Darby. Then she got up and ran out of the house. Darby’s employer ran her to ground. He said he prevented Bernice from hurling herself off a cliff.

After a busy day of attempted suicides, Bernice appeared to have recovered her senses because Darby bumped into her later that night at a dinner party where they made up. At least for a few hours. By the next day, Bernice had gone again. She had errands to run, and one of them was a felony.

Darby Day. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library.

Bernice and her sister Carlyn stopped in at the Baldridge Drug Store at Sixth and Western and asked a clerk, W.J. Bowman, for a chemical that would remove warts. Bowman suggested nitric acid and told the young women that 15 cents worth ought to do the trick. The women bought 25 cents’ worth instead. Bernice gave her name as Mrs. K. Lane, 514 Manhattan Place, which Bowman entered in the poison register.

While Carlyn waited in the car, Bernice knocked on the front door of the Beverly Hills home. Mrs. Day Sr. answered the door.

Bernice said, “I want to see Darby.”

“You can’t come in. Not after the way you’ve acted.” Her mother-in-law responded.

Darby overheard the exchanged.

“Oh, let her come in, Mother.” Darby shouted as he rushed to the door.

Bernice took Darby by his arm and lead him down the driveway. She said, “I want to speak to you, honey.”

Bernice had driven to the home with her sister, Carlyn Lundstrom. As Bernice and Darby walked toward the car, Carlyn drove away.

Darby asked where Carlyn was going. Bernice said, “I don’t know. Let’s chase her.”

Darby jumped into his own car, and as he leaned over to shift the gears, Bernice flung the contents of a two-ounce bottle of nitric acid in his face.

Darby screamed.

Bernice burst into tears. She got out of Darby’s car. Her sister’s car slowed down, and she got in and took the wheel.

Henry Gale of the Beverly Hills police force, heard Darby’s cries for help, and saw Carlyn’s car speed away toward Los Angeles. On the way back to the city, Bernice drank poison.

As the sisters made their escape, Bernice’s mother-in-law called the police.

The search was on for the Acid Bride.

NEXT TIME — The Acid Bride’s story continues.

Film Noir Friday: Blonde for a Day

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 BLONDE FOR A DAY, and stars Hugh Beaumont and Kathryn Adams. Enjoy the movie!

IMDB says:

A newspaper reporter, Tim Rourke (Paul Bryar) keeps writing articles attacking the police department for its failure to solve a chain of murders, and this nearly leads to the reporter’s death. He calls in private-detective Michael Shayne (Hugh Beaumont), and Shayne turns up a blonde and a blackmailer.

The Murder Complex, Part 5

Chief County Investigator George Contreras supervised the disinterment of Grace’s decomposing body from her cement covered coffin in the cistern at her Beverly Glen cabin. News of the discovery spread, and soon morbid crowds paralyzed traffic in the Glen as they attempted to catch a glimpse of Thomas.

Dressed in a blue suit and appearing calm, Thomas, unaided, exited a car in front of the cabin. He was accompanied by Deputy D.A. Harold Davis and Investigator Charles Reimer.

“We want to talk this over a little,” Deputy District Attorney Davis told him. Since uncovering Grace’s body, the authorities had a lot of questions for Thomas. As soon as they arrived at the cabin, Thomas settled himself in a comfortable rocking chair, lit a cigar, and spoke.

Grace’s body found in cistern

He told the investigators, and the shorthand reporter talking notes, that his father was a chaplain at the Pennsylvania Penitentiary. Thomas also mentioned that he received his education at the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery and at Washington and Jefferson University.

Thomas recalled meeting Grace and courting her, culminating in their Santa Barbara marriage. According to him, on the day of the marriage, Grace told him she was to be the “boss of the family.”

Investigators were skeptical of Thomas’ account. They believed he had been laying plans for his “perfect crime” since the first day of his marriage, and that he had always planned to kill Grace and gain control of Patrick and the Grogan fortune. They revealed that a part of his plan included Thomas choosing a woman for Patrick to marry, killing Patrick, and then marrying the boy’s widow.

At first, Thomas said he could not recall how he had killed Grace. “I don’t know how I killed her,” he said. His pseudo loss of memory was, investigators felt, another calculated move by Thomas. They believed Thomas planned to feign insanity.

Davis wanted to know where Grace was killed. Was it in Thomas’ office or in his car? Or out on a lonely road, or at the cabin?

Prodded by Davis’ questions, Thomas said: “I don’t think we went to the office. How did I get her out of the office? How could I get her out of the office?”

Then he began an eerie mantra: “I don’t know how I killed her, I don’t know how I killed her, I don’t know how I killed her.”

“And you didn’t choke her to death?” Davis asked.

“I don’t think so,” he answered.

“And if you killed her when she was in the car, you didn’t kill her with gas, did you?”

“No sir,” Thomas replied.

“If you killed her with gas, you killed her at the office?”

“Possibly I did.”

“And if you killed her in the car, you choked her to death?”

“Yes.”

Thomas admitted to carrying a .38 caliber automatic pistol in the side pocket of his car on the night of the murder. The weapon was discovered by Investigator Reimer in Thomas’ dresser at the Kingsley Drive townhouse.

“Did you shoot her?” he was asked.

“No, I don’t think so. Was she shot?”

“What was the next thing you remember?”

“When she hit the bottom of the cistern, there,” he pointed toward the cistern. “I think I heard a thud.”

Grace in the morgue.

After hours of sparring with investigators and just as he was about to be taken from the cabin to the Strother & Dayton funeral parlor to view Grace’s remains, Thomas said: “I’m glad she is dead. I am glad she’s dead, because I am free.”

It was 3 a.m. when Deputy D.A. Davis and his associates arrived at the funeral home with Thomas.

Thomas walked right up to Grace’s ravaged body and said: “It doesn’t look like her.”

Then Thomas swayed on his feet and collapsed.

“It was a little bit of a hand.” He mumbled.

Thomas was taken to the front office, where he sat with a vacant stare for several minutes before recovering himself. He wanted to unburden himself.

Thomas said that on the night of the murder, he and Grace stopped at the Plantation Grill, where they argued, then they went to his office where they got a bottle of liquor and got “lit up.” While they were at the office, Thomas picked up a tube of Somnoform, a heavy anesthetic, and concealed it in his pocket.

Grace fell asleep in the car as Thomas drove out to the cabin. When they arrived, Thomas put a mask over her face, administering the Somnoform until she quit breathing.

After giving Grace the drug, Thomas told investigators: “I put cotton in her nose, and then I took that rubber bag off the Somnoform.”

They found the bag from the tube of Somnoform stuffed into Grace’s mouth, which was initially mistaken for a rubber glove. Thomas had used the cotton and the rubber bag to make sure that Grace “wouldn’t start breathing again.”

Before dumping Grace’s body into the cistern, Thomas stole $140 from her purse and relieved her of her jewelry. He gave his assistant, Dorothy Leopold, the diamond ring Grace had been wearing, as well as several items of expensive clothing.

Dorothy knew nothing about the murder and, in fact, she was staunch in her support of Thomas. She told reporters: “Of course, at first I did not believe that the doctor had killed Mrs. Young. But after talking with Mr. Harris (of the Nick Harris Detective Agency), I was satisfied he (Thomas Young) knew more about it than he had related. The fact that she had not communicated with Patrick was pointed out to me by Mr. Harris, and I told him I would do everything I could to find out for him and the officers.”

Police allowed Dorothy to speak with Thomas and she asked him if he knew where Grace was. “Why don’t you tell them?” she said. To which Thomas replied: “I can’t.”

The most revolting part of Thomas’ confession was the glee he took in having Patrick assist him in pouring cement on Grace’s grave. He thought it was a “good joke.”

Of course, the investigators wanted to know what had motivated Thomas to murder Grace. He said he’d killed her because after their fight she had slapped him and broken his glasses. It was enough to activate the murder complex.

“Someone was always imposing on me, beating me, verbally or physically. Yes, I was always the goat,” Thomas said.

NEXT TIME: Thomas Young’s fate.

This entry was posted in the 1920s and tagged Charles Patrick GroganCharles ReimerGeorge ContrerasGrace Hunt Grogan YoungHarold DavisNick Harris Detective AgencySomnoform by Deranged. Bookmark the permalink.

The Murder Complex, Part 4

Thomas told anyone who asked him that the last time he saw Grace was on February 21, 1925. They had stopped at a roadhouse, the Plantation Grill, for drinks and dancing. National Prohibition may have been the law, but finding a cocktail was easy if you wanted one.

Entrance to speakeasy.

Thomas saw a group of people enter the café and recognized a woman named Nina. He had known her for several years. He spent some time chatting with her. Thomas said that Grace became jealous, and they argued. Rather than make a public scene, they left the roadhouse and continued their argument in the car until they reached Western and Eighth Street, where they made up. Instead of calling it a night, they went to the Biltmore Hotel, for the orchestra and dancing.

When they arrived at the Biltmore, Grace excused herself to go to the ladies’ room. Thomas waited, but she never returned.

Thomas reported Grace missing, and he also hired a private investigator. He maintained Grace had left for Paris or New York to seek a divorce. According to Thomas, she carried with her $126,000 in Liberty bonds. Thomas said Grace would return when she was ready. Then he went on with his life as if nothing had happened.

Biltmore Hotel

A couple of days after Grace disappeared, Thomas asked Patrick to accompany him to the Beverly Glen cabin because he said he needed to pour a concrete floor in the cistern which he claimed was leaking. Patrick welcomed any activity that would distract him from worrying about his mother. He mixed and poured the cement while Thomas smoothed it out.

Over the next few weeks, Thomas arranged parties and other social events for Patrick to “keep his mind off things.” Among the guests at the soirees was Thomas’ attractive young office assistant, Dorothy Leopold.

When Grace’s father Frank first got word that she was missing, he felt in his gut that something horrible had happened to her. He wanted to force a confrontation with Thomas, so he filed a legal request to become Patrick’s guardian. If the guardianship request was intended to fluster Thomas, it failed. Thomas said that it was up to Patrick to choose a guardian.

Patrick didn’t want his grandfather to be his guardian, so he named an attorney he knew to take charge of his legal affairs until Grace returned. As a further slap in the face to his mother’s family, Patrick stated his preference was to live with his stepfather.

Weeks went by with no sign of Grace. Then Patrick began receiving letters from her with New York postmarks. In the letters, she said that her family was keeping her from Thomas and that they knew where she was. Patrick felt torn between two opposing forces, which left him in a state of inner turmoil. He loved his mother’s family, but Thomas was good to him. He had even bought him a new Chrysler.

By June, Grace’s family, joined by her friends from the Ebell Club and trust company officers from the bank, appealed to District Attorney Asa Keyes to launch a sweeping investigation.

Original Ebell Club located in Figueroa. By C.C. Pierce & Co.

On June 12th, an investigation into Grace’s mysterious disappearance, spearheaded by the D.A., kicked into high gear. Los Angeles Police Department officers interviewed residents of Beverly Glen. Among those interviewed were Donald Mead and Kenneth Selby. The boys related to police what they had witnessed that February night. If Thomas had been creeping around in the cabin in total darkness, people might have found it odd, but it didn’t make him guilty.

Adjacent to the Young cabin was a well which supplied water to several surrounding cabins. Using a gasoline pump, the residents drew the water and piped it to the surrounding cabins. Residents told police it had been an open well until February, when Dr. Young had sealed it with a concrete floor. They found it strange that the water, which had always been pure, emitted a foul stench after Dr. Young installed the concrete floor. One resident said, “The water never began to smell until a few months ago. No, we cannot use it, not even for shower baths or for dishwashing. It is slightly discolored and when drawn, a yellowish smelling sediment settles in it. We have no idea what caused this sudden change in the water.”

The number of questions surrounding the Beverly Glen cabin prompted the police to initiate a search. The cabin held several intriguing clues; a one-ounce bottle of Novocain secreted near the fireplace and bloodstains in a bedroom.

Prior to the search, Thomas made a cryptic statement: “I hold the key to this situation, and I have burned my bridges behind me.”

While many still had doubts about what had happened to Grace, District Attorney Asa Keyes was not among them: “I am as certain as I am sitting here that Mrs. Young is dead—that she has been murdered. By whom she was slain, we do not know. That we are trying to determine.”

Following their search of the cabin, authorities broke up the concrete in the cistern and made a gruesome discovery.

NEXT TIME: Grace is found.

The Murder Complex, Conclusion

Thomas’ trial opened at 10 a.m. on August 17, 1925, in Judge Hahn’s court. His attorneys, Cooper, Collins & Shreve, had a fight on their hands. The District Attorney stated that he would settle for nothing less than the death penalty.

The gist of Thomas’ defense was that he had been insane at the time he murdered Grace. Ample evidence contradicted him.

Thomas showed friends portions of letters he insisted Grace wrote while she was missing. He was adamant that the letters proved she was alive and well, and had deserted him. The letters were frauds. Thomas had compelled Grace to write them, perhaps under the influence of alcohol or physical coercion. He had also obtained blank forms he might need and had her sign them.

The prosecution produced a surprise witness, George T. Guggenheim, a dealer in dental supplies. George had known Thomas for years. A few weeks following Grace’s disappearance, the doctor visited the dental supply office with a request.

“He had an envelope in his hand and asked me to mail it to New York to somebody that would mail it back to him.” George testified.

Thomas told George: “Somebody has been tampering with my mails and I’d like to have this letter sent to me from New York to play a joke on that feller.”

George didn’t mind helping a friend, so he mailed the letter Thomas had given him to his brother in New York.

The letters weren’t the only spurious documents in the case. Dorothy Leopold Mahan (she had married about a week before the trial started) said she had signed a blank document, not knowing what it was. The document was a power of attorney granting Thomas control over Grace’s money and property.

Attempting to make her a suspect, the defense sought to cast a sinister light on Dorothy’s relationship with Thomas. Under oath, they asked her if she had ever spent the night in Thomas’ home, and she replied, “Yes, I did. Three times. My mother was with me on each occasion.”

Being chaperoned by one’s mother is not conducive to an affair, and further questioning revealed that Dorothy had never had an intimate relationship with Thomas, nor did she want one. Her attitude toward her employer removed any conceivable motive she might have had to murder Grace.

Each day, more damning evidence against Thomas was exposed.

The prosecution planned to move the trial to the Beverly Glen cabin for a day to give the jury an opportunity to view the cistern that “served as Mrs. Young’s burial crypt.”

How would Thomas handle being confronted, in front of the jury, with the actual site of the murder and his wife’s tomb?

Following a grueling day in court on August 26th, the guards returned Thomas to his cell in Tank 9. Thomas informed his cellmates that he had experienced “tough breaks” during his day in court.

The inmates in Tank 9, including Thomas, played their nightly game of pinochle. Before returning to his cot, Thomas said: “I’m going to take a long ride tomorrow, boys.” They laughed because they believed he referred to the coming trip to the scene of the crime in Beverly Glen. Thomas told them not to be alarmed if they heard strange noises in his cell. “I’ve been having a severe attack of indigestion. I woke up last night and found myself choking and making bubbling noises. If you hear anything like that, don’t be alarmed.” 

The other prisoners had heard strange noises from Thomas’ cell before. He often shuffled around late at night muttering, and it seemed as if he was talking to someone.

At 6 a.m. on the morning of August 27th, Assistant Jailer Palmer called to Thomas to get up.

“All right,” Thomas replied.

O. F. Mahler, one occupant of Tank 9, awoke at 7 a.m. when a trustee delivered three breakfast trays. Mahler distributed them; one for himself, one to H. Foster, and one was for Thomas.

Thomas Young

Mahler entered Thomas’, but the doctor failed to stir. He wasn’t in his usual sleeping position. His feet were on the pillow and his head was at the foot of the cot. The single blanket was wrapped tight around his head; and only one hand was visible.

Mahler shook Thomas. There was no response. He shook him again. The body moved. Mahler jerked the blanket from Thomas’ head.

Thomas was dead.

His blue, swollen face caused his eyes to become distended. A garrote of radio wire, tightened with a small stick, was wrapped around his neck.

The murder complex had claimed its final victim.

The Murder Complex, Part 3

Thomas Young

Thomas complained often that Grace had wanted to “be the boss” ever since they had said their I dos, and he resented her for it. Thomas was sly, manipulative and had an unhealthy interest in the fortune Grace and Patrick had shared.

At least Thomas was a decent stepfather. He worked hard to ingratiate himself with Patrick, and he was successful. Patrick formed a strong attachment to Thomas. But while Patrick was becoming fonder of Thomas, Grace was growing fearful of him.

In late 1924 or early 1925, Grace asked her father, Frank Hunt, to meet with her. She went over to his apartment on Irolo Street and picked him up to go for a drive. She told him she didn’t want to have a private conversation anywhere but in her car. She thought Thomas had placed a Dictaphone in the house.

If Frank thought his daughter was being paranoid without cause, he changed his mind after he heard her out.

As they drove around, Grace told Frank of the indignities Thomas had forced on her. She told him of intimate photographs which Thomas had taken. He bullied her into posing in ways that sickened her. But Grace couldn’t see a way out. Thomas had threatened to kill her if she ever told anyone how he treated her. He had also threatened to take Patrick away or to have her committed to Patton State Insane Asylum. Grace knew Thomas well enough to be convinced that these were not idle threats.

Father and daughter devised a plan that would get her to safety, but in the end, their fear of Thomas’ retaliation immobilized them.

Frank hadn’t known about the photos, but he was aware of an incident which had occurred several weeks earlier–in fact, he and Grace had talked about it.

At Thomas’ request, Patrick had visited him in his office to have a tooth filled. Almost immediately following the procedure, Patrick became ill. His face swelled up to an abnormal size, and he was in excruciating pain. Frank believed Thomas had administered a slow-acting poison to Patrick to “get him out of the way,” and he didn’t think his grandson would survive for another thirty days.

After conferring with her father and in direct opposition to Thomas’ wishes, Grace brought in Dr. J. A. Le Deux, who saved Patrick’s life.

Was Patrick’s close call attempted murder? Neither Frank nor Grace wanted to say anything to him without proof.

Patrick was unaware of his mother’s and grandfather’s fears about his safety. He liked and trusted Thomas. Perhaps that is why, when Grace disappeared in February 1925, he didn’t question Thomas’ assertion that Grace had left him. And if Thomas said Grace would return, then of course she would. Wouldn’t she?

NEXT TIME: The lady vanishes.

The Murder Complex, Part 2

When Grace Hunt Grogran’s ex-husband, Charles, the Olive King, died on July 5, 1921, he left her, and their son Patrick, very well off. His estate, valued at $1.5 million, meant Grace could continue with her women’s club activities, and it secured Patrick’s future.

Beautiful and rich, Grace caught the eye of a dentist, Thomas Young. He pursued Grace until he won her. Grace knew nothing of Thomas’ past. If she had, things may have been much different.

GRACE GROGAN

Thomas Young, named after his father, was born on December 21, 1877. Thomas was the second of four children. He had an older brother, Alexander, and two younger sisters.

The Young family’s children had a trouble-free childhood in their quiet Franklin, Pennsylvania neighborhood. Why, then, did two brothers become criminals?

Alexander was the first of the brothers to turn toward the dark side. He died in a bizarre murder suicide on his honeymoon in Washington, Pennsylvania, on July 8, 1903. He served as pastor of the Presbyterian church in Edgemont, South Dakota, when he met a local schoolteacher, Grace Dunlap. They began a relationship and became engaged to be married.

Grace left her home on July 1, 1903, for the city of Lincoln, where she was supposed to have her eyes treated for an unspecified condition. Instead, she journeyed two thousand miles to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she and Alexander were married. The couple left after the ceremony for nearby Washington, Pennsylvania and checked into a hotel. Visitors and members of the hotel staff heard a commotion in the Young’s room during the night but did not investigate.

The next morning, when Alexander and Grace failed to appear as expected, staff opened the door to their room and found them dead. Grace lay on the bed. Alexander had shot her twice through the heart, then shot himself the same way. In one hand, Alexander clutched a .32-caliber revolver.

According to a newspaper account, Alexander was “a rascal in the fullest sense of the term.” He had “played crooked in a financial way in places where he was employed before going to Edgemont, South Dakota.” Alexander had a prior marriage, but he abandoned his wife and infant son, never bothering to get a divorce.

Within a year following Alexander’s death, Thomas experienced visitations from his elder brother. Thomas later described the visits:

“I would see my brother’s vision just as I dropped off to sleep. It always appeared in a large hall. And I was always in the back of the hall and he was always up in the right corner. I could tell it was my brother by his form.”

Alexander’s visits coincided with what Thomas thought of as his “murder complex,” a self-diagnosed condition he’d had since he was a child. The so-called murder complex was Thomas’ overwhelming desire to kill anyone who wronged him.

Throughout his life, he felt he was a loser, always picked on and beaten. The murder complex provided him with a vision of revenge and victory over his perceived tormentors.

His brother’s visits did not frighten Thomas, but they were unsettling. Alexander tried to speak, but he either failed, or he whispered, making it impossible for Thomas to hear him. Could he have been trying to warn Thomas about the murder complex, or was he encouraging it?

In 1910, Thomas moved from Pittsburgh to New Castle to practice dentistry. Later, he practiced in Ambridge and Washington, Pennsylvania before moving to New Mexico and then Texas. He moved from city to city, Alexander always in his dreams, in restless pursuit of something he could neither articulate nor outrun.

Thomas married twice before finally settling in Los Angeles — where he met Grace.

Grace and Patrick lived in an apartment in the Alvarado. The building was one of many built by her late husband.

People who knew of Thomas’ interest in Grace were a little surprised by Thomas’ audacity in courting a woman who was out of his league. She was beautiful. Thomas was average. He wasn’t a large man. His hair was receding, and he peered out from behind round glasses frames that perched his bulbous nose. Despite his physical shortcomings, Thomas made a good impression. He wasn’t lacking charm, and he always dressed impeccably.

Even if he had only a slender chance, Thomas dedicated himself to winning Grace’s love. Despite not being well off, he maintained a believable facade. He rented a suite of offices in a plush downtown building, hoping to impress Grace, who had a fortune at her command, with his successful dental practice. He put on a convincing show. The couple didn’t court for long before they were married.

When did Thomas’ façade of a successful dentist and loving husband crack? Did Grace realize the man she had married wasn’t who she thought he was?

NEXT TIME: Thomas’ dark side emerges.

The Murder Complex–Part 1

Ohio native Grace Hunt was 17 when she married 41-year-old Charles Price Grogan in Los Angeles on April 5, 1902. It was an advantageous marriage for both. Charles basked in the glory of his triumphs, with the press dubbing him the “Olive King,” and a radiant Grace by his side, a queen befitting his grandeur. A few days prior to their fifth wedding anniversary, they welcomed a son, whom they named Charles Patrick Grogan.

Grace and Charles were married for over a decade before they separated. The difference in their ages may have sunk the marriage. Whatever their reasons, the couple had separated by the late 1910s and divorced by the 1920 census—at least that was how Charles declared his marital status. Grace, for the same census, gave her marital status as a widow. Why the discrepancy? Simple; divorce stigmatized women.

Grace was luckier than many women because California, at least in its laws, was more tolerant of divorce than other states. The State’s first divorce law in 1851 recognized impotence, adultery, extreme cruelty, desertion or neglect, habitual intemperance, fraud, and conviction of a felony as legitimate grounds for divorce.

Despite the law’s progressive attitude, divorce could ruin a woman, which is why many women found it easier to claim widowhood than risk suffering the loss of status if their divorce became public knowledge. It seems absurd to us now in these days of no-fault divorce and “conscious uncoupling” (a phrase coined in 2014 by celebrity Gwenyth Paltrow to describe her separation from her musician husband, Chris Martin), but divorce was not a simple matter when Grace and Charles called it quits.

The couple’s family and intimate friends would have known the truth, and the rest of local society may have acknowledged Grace’s widowhood with a nod and a wink and allowed her to continue her fiction unchallenged.

Grace’s claim to widowhood would edge closer to the truth when Charles died of apoplexy (internal bleeding—perhaps because of a stroke) on July 8, 1921.

The Olive King was a wealthy man who loved his only son. He bequeathed Patrick his entire fortune, estimated to be between $1 and $2 million dollars. Until he turned 25, Grace was to administer Patrick’s monthly allowance, which amounted to a princely sum of $800 per month. An agreement had been reached by Grace and Charles regarding their divorce. The couple agreed Charles would create a trust fund, not to exceed $50,000, for her maintenance. To put things into perspective, $50,000 in 1921 is equivalent to three quarters of a million dollars today. And Patrick’s monthly allowance is equivalent to about $12,000. A fortune like the one Charles left Patrick and Grace can attract the best people in society—it can also be a magnet for the worst of humanity.

In her 30s, Grace was beautiful, wealthy, and prominent. She would make a wonderful wife for the right man.

NEXT TIME: Grace meets a new man, as The Murder Complex continues.

Coming May 14, 2024–Of Mobsters and Movie Stars: The Bloody “Golden Age” of Hollywood

This gorgeous cover is the winner of the WildBlue Press cover contest. It evokes the glamour of old Hollywood, yet suggests the dark side of the city and the era.

Of Mobsters and Movie Stars is available for pre-order on Amazon for release on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. You will also be able to purchase the book in hardcover, paperback, eBook, and, coming soon, audiobook, on the Amazon and WildBlue’s websites.

My connection with many of you inspired me to tackle a book project. I can’t thank you enough for your support over the past 12 years. I’m looking forward to many more years here (and a few more books!) I’ll let you know about any book signings and interviews, so stay tuned. I’ve created some content for my author page on WildBlue, so please visit me there and sign-up to receive updates.

There are 37 stories in Of Mobsters and Movie Stars, including an early killer couple who went on a spree while Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were still in grammar school. One of the most shocking tales is about a man who plotted to kill his wife using two Diamondback rattlesnakes named Lighting and Lethal.

Many people have asked if Los Angeles had a mob. The answer is they had two. The earliest was headed by Joe “Iron Man” Ardizzone, an old-school gangster straight out of Central Casting. The other mob, orders of magnitude more powerful and insidious than Ardizzone’s, was the Hollywood studios. Using hired thugs called “fixers,” the studios wielded power over actors and politicians. When choreographer Busby Berkeley killed three people while driving drunk, the studio came to his aid. When director, and husband of Jean Harlow, Paul Bern, died under suspicious circumstances, the studio intervened.

One of the ugliest incidents of studio power was the attempted cover-up of the brutal rape of a young actress at a studio hosted event. The victim refused to be silent and, as far as I’m concerned, is the Godmother of the #metoo movement.

I posted excepts from Mobsters and Movie Stars on WildBlue. Below is one of them.


Excerpted from The Torso Murder

“William Pettibone, Ray Seegar, Floyd Waterstreet, and Glen Druer explored the muddy river bank for hidden treasures on May 18, 1929. The boys noticed something that looked like a turtle shell or strange prehistoric fish 150 feet from the bridge in the city of Bell. One boy took a stick and poked it into an end of the bony structure and held it aloft for the others to gape at. The boys spent a few minutes before realizing their treasure was a human skull.

With the head impaled on a stick, the boy ran up to the roadway. He waved it around until a female motorist stopped. The horrified woman kept it together long enough to drive to a public telephone where she called Bell’s Chief of Police. Chief Smith and Motor Officer Steele met the woman and the group of boys near the river. The woman declined to give her name. Smith’s officers told Captain Bright about the grisly find. Bright accompanied Deputies Allen, Brewster, and Gompert to the scene. While deputies searched the area, an enormous crowd of curious on-lookers gathered.

The initial autopsy yielded nothing which could identify the deceased. At least the skull still had several extant teeth, which made an identification possible. Local newspapers printed the photos and drawings of the teeth and distributed them to dentists.

With limited remains, the experts needed to perform a miracle. Amazingly, they did just that.”