B.C. — Before Covid, I thought about adding narrated
versions of Deranged L.A. Crimes blog posts to the site, but I never got around
to it; until now.
For a long time I have dreamed of adding another dimension to the blog. I want to provide a variety of ways to access content. I realize it may not always be convenient to sit down and read an entire post. Maybe there are times when you would like to listen to a Deranged tale.
As an experiment I’ve narrated a recent post, Dear Hattie, Part 1. I’ve posted it here, and I’ll post the audio version of the conclusion to Dear Hattie soon.
What do you think about the idea of audio versions of Deranged tales? Is it something you might enjoy? I’d love your input. If you critique my reading be gentle, I’m definitely not a professional.
With unexpected time on my hands, thanks to the Safer at Home order here in Los Angeles, I’ve turned my attention to all types of content and considered various ways to take my passion for crime in new and challenging directions.
Last year I taught a course, The Dark History of Los Angeles, for a community learning organization. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and would do it again in a heartbeat. The biggest problem with teaching a course in person is enrollment. There are only so many people you can cram into a room. With that in mind, I’ve started to develop a curriculum for a series of crime courses I will teach online.
I’m excited about the challenge of online teaching. Whatever changes occur in the post-pandemic world, online courses seem a safe bet. My debut course is a free mini-course, Serial Killers 101. I will let you know as soon as it becomes available.
Thanks again for supporting Deranged L.A. Crimes. I am grateful for every one of you.
D.C. Kent survived his self-inflicted wounds. The bullet
wound in his head was superficial and the gash in his throat healed. With no
chance of succumbing to his injuries, D.C. decided to lay the groundwork for his
Too bad D.C. wasn’t an actor or he would have known better than to break character in the middle of a performance. He pretended not to hear when someone spoke to him. He rolled his eyes and did everything but drool. Whenever someone took him by surprise, he dropped the pretense. The deputies in the jail ward at the receiving hospital saw through his act, and so did the trusties.
A clue to D.C.’s state of mind was obvious in his choice of a lawyer. An insane man would not care if he had a lawyer or not. D.C. cared enough to engage the services of one of the best criminal defense attorneys in the country, Earl Rogers.
Earl Rogers, admitted to the California bar in 1897, was an
attorney of uncommon skill. He appeared for the defense in seventy-seven murder
trials and lost only three. During one of
his most famous cases, “The Case of the Grinning Skull,” Rogers introduced the victim’s skull into
evidence to prove that what looked like a fracture caused by a violent blow
from a blunt instrument, delivered by his client, was, in reality, the result
of the autopsy surgeon’s carelessness with a scalpel. The jury acquitted Rogers’
If you think that “The Case of the Grinning Skull” sounds like
the title of a Perry Mason novel, you’re not far off. A decade after Rogers’ death in 1922, author
Erle Stanley Gardner resurrected Rogers in the character of Perry Mason.
Rogers visited D.C. in jail. D.C. was despondent, whiny, and in a state bordering on nervous collapse. He dropped his insanity act and asked Rogers to tell him if he had any chance of an acquittal. Rogers pulled no punches. He told D.C. he would have to get a grip on himself or the chances of him walking out of the courtroom a free man were zero to nil.
D.C. then asked Rogers about the worst-case scenario. What would happen if a jury convicted him? Again, Rogers leveled with his client. He told D.C. he might get from one to ten years in the penitentiary. D.C. collapsed. D.C.’s next question was about Rogers’ fee. Rogers had had enough of D.C.’s hand wringing and complaining. He said,
“Even if it costs you everything you have; it would be cheaper than going to the penitentiary.”
Rogers urged D.C. to be a man, not a coward. His plea fell on deaf ears.
While D.C. and Rogers talked, a patient was admitted to the
hospital. To treat the patient, someone
opened the large medicine cabinet near D.C.’s bed.
D.C. made a move to get up from his cot, but Special
Officer Quinn entered the room and D.C. sat back down. As Quinn turned to
leave, D.C. got up to follow him. He said he had to use the restroom.
Before anyone could stop him, D.C. sprang to the open
medicine case, threw back the doors and grabbed a bottle of carbolic acid. He poured
most of the bottle’s contents down his throat. Some of the caustic liquid
spilled down his shirt and burned him.
Deputies grabbed D.C. and carried him to the operating
room. He frothed at the mouth and writhed in agony, but said nothing.
A doctor was at D.C.’s side within 5 minutes. The doctor administered the antidote, but it
was too late. Ten minutes later, D.C. died.
Deputies searched the dead man’s cell and found a letter to
The letter read:
“Dear, Dear Hattie: I suppose that sounds queer to you. This is the longest time in seven years that I have not heard from you. Now I ask you if possible, to forgive me. Next, if possible, to assist me in my greatest hour of trouble.”
Unbelievable. D.C. had the unmitigated gall to beg Hattie, the woman he attempted to murder, to assist in his defense.
True to his character, D.C. continued:
“I am suffering the tortures of hell. I wish you could know one-half of my life in the last thirty days. Now, Hattie, I shall be plain with you and am going to ask you to return kindness for unkindness.”
The letter rambled along in a self-serving fashion to its
conclusion, which was a pathetic plea:
“Oh, I beg you, save me, for it is all with you. Think of me in jail, all covered with filth and lice; only beans and bread and treated like a dog. Save filthy me, I beg of you. Please tell Mr. Rogers your feelings in the matter.”
D.C. lied about the conditions in his cell and his treatment. Everyone who came in contact with him recalled him as, “troublesome, peevish, and fretting constantly because he could not do as he pleased.”
On the date scheduled for D.C.’s arraignment, Justice
Morgan dismissed the case because of the “death of the defendant by suicide.”
A former associate of D.C.’s paid to ship the body to Burlingame,
In his will, D.C. deeded Hattie his interest in the furniture
of the Columbia lodging house. Small
recompense for the agony she endured.
Hattie survived her wounds and married. George thrived. He served in World War I. Following the war, he became one of the first motion picture art directors. In 1924, he married Thelma Schmidt, and Hattie was there.
Late in the afternoon on June 29, 1935, George and veteran cameraman Charles Stumar left the Union Air Terminal in Burbank. They headed to a location near Triunfo where they planned to scout locations for an upcoming Universal Pictures film.
Stumar brought the plane in for a landing on an improvised field owned by the studio. It was twilight; the field was rough and uneven. Martin Murphy, a production manager for Universal, witnessed the crash. He telephoned the studio to report the accident and to let them know that he believed both occupants of the aircraft to be dead.
Upon hearing the news, Captain Morgan of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s aero detail hopped into his plane to survey the scene. When he arrived he confirmed everyone’s worst fears.
February 15, 1901/ Columbia Boarding House/South Broadway, Los Angeles
Hattie Wiley and her three-year-old son, George, stood in the kitchen and they talked as she fixed his lunch.
George heard someone and turned to see D.C. Kent, Hattie’s former fiancé and co-owner of the boarding house, enter the room. Hattie turned from the stove to face D.C. and they argued about her recent decision to end their relationship, both personal and professional. D.C. brought up a revolver he had concealed in his pocket, leveled it at Hattie. and fired three rounds. George, who stood between the two, escaped injury as the bullets whizzed over his head.
Stunned and bleeding, Hattie screamed and lurched into the hallway dripping blood. She collapsed on the floor and whispered, “My mother, my mother.”
George followed behind her. He cried, “Mommy, mommy, what is the matter?” She couldn’t respond.
Residents heard the commotion and crowded into the corridor. One chambermaid gathered her wits about her and phoned the police. Then everyone heard a sharp crack. Seconds later, D.C. reeled out of the kitchen, bleeding from his head. The blood ran down his face and soaked his shirt. He started toward his room at the top of the stairs.
Police arrived. The residents weren’t much help; they didn’t know what had happened.
An officer found D.C. in his room, He clutched a straight razor and stood over a washbasin filled with blood. Before the officer could intervene, D.C. brought the blade to his own throat and slashed. He stumbled against a trunk. The room was an abattoir.
Before D.C. could slice his throat a second time, the officer punched him. Dazed, D.C. dropped the razor. The cop grabbed D.C.’s arm and tugged him into the hallway. D.C. glanced over his shoulder at Hattie, who was still on the floor bleeding. George stood near her and wept, he begged his mother not to leave him.
An ambulance transported D.C. to a nearby receiving hospital where a doctor stitched him up. D.C., who had been mute during the ride from the boarding house, suddenly blurted out, “I’m sorry I didn’t succeed.” Then retreated into a silent sulk.
A reporter came to interview D.C, but he would not, or
could not, speak.
Hattie went to the California Hospital where a friend of
hers, Dr. C.G. Stivers, examined her. The prognosis was grim. She suffered
three serious gunshot wounds. Two of them entered her chest, and a third went
through the fleshy part of her arm. The bullets that entered her chest
deflected into her liver.
While they waited to see if Hattie would live or die, detectives began their investigation.
When he was younger, D.C. was a well-to-do businessman in Burlingame, Kansas. For whatever reason, he turned to alcohol. Once he started drinking he couldn’t stop. At some point, D.C. summoned the strength to vanquish his demons. He pulled himself together and made a fortune in the dry goods business.
Material success didn’t satisfy him. D.C. was restless and told his wife that he was miserable in Kansas. He wanted to move away and start fresh–without her. He told her to consider herself a widow, and he walked out.
He moved to Oklahoma, and later to Los Angeles where he got into the real estate business and bought the Columbia boarding house with Hattie.
Local newspapers speculated about the couple’s relationship. That they were engaged, or had been, and were living under the same were roof suggested an intimacy that could ruin Hattie’s reputation.
Mr. Harrison, Hattie’s father, took offense at the rumors and tried to set the newshounds straight. He said,
“My daughter’s character is above reproach as anyone who knows her will agree, and although she and Kent lived in the same house for several months, there was never a whisper of anything improper between them. They were engaged to be married, but Hattie broke it off. She told me she learned that D.C. was immoral. She said he had grown repulsive to her, and that she did not love him. Knowledge of this, coupled with an insane jealousy, undoubtedly prompted him to attempt her murder.”
Mr. Harrison then explained how his daughter knew D.C.
“D.C. was a friend of Wiley, my daughter’s divorced husband, and at various times lived with her and her family, both in Oklahoma and at Tropico, in this State. About two years ago Hattie rented a ranch from D.C. in Tropico. He boarded with she and her husband, and the latter’s mother. After Hattie’s divorce she lived for a time in East Los Angeles. Last April she came to our home at Tonawanda, New York, returning in September to Los Angeles, where she immediately joined D.C. in the purchase of the lease and fittings of the Columbia lodging house. My wife and I lived at the place with them, and there was never anything improper between them. D.C. agreed that Hattie should conduct business at the lodging house while he would devote his attention to his real estate business. He failed to carry out this agreement and spent most of his time at the house. He was insanely jealous of Hattie and would become angry when any other man talked with her.”
As D.C.’s jealousy increased and became more out of control, the Harrison’s sent Hattie to Long Beach for a week. She returned home determined to sever her ties to D.C.
Hattie was unaware that while she was in Long Beach. D.C. hired a private investigator to shadow her. The P.I. observed Hattie with a man and they seemed enamored of each other. D.C. was enraged by the news — he decided to seek revenge.
Dr. C.G. Stivers performed a laparotomy on Hattie. A laparotomy is a surgical procedure in which the doctor makes an incision in the abdominal cavity. The doctors opened Hattie up and traced the two bullets lodged in her chest to assess the damage. A lengthy operation to remove the bullets would kill her, so they left well enough alone.
Despite the earlier dire prognosis, Hattie rallied. She regained
her strength and doctors felt confident that, barring anything unforeseen, she
While Hattie recovered, D.C. paced the floor of his room in the jail ward of the receiving hospital. His biggest fear now was that he would go to prison for the attempt on Hattie’s life.
He mulled over his options. There wasn’t much he could do –
other than feign insanity.
I was interviewed recently about the Black Dahlia case by Penny Griffiths-Morgan for her Haunted Histories podcast which originates in the U.K. (I have provided a link to the episode below.) I find it intriguing that a 73-year-old Los Angeles murder mystery has drawn global interest. What is it about the case that resonates with people even today?
It must be
the Hollywood connection.
contemporary article I have read about the case has described Elizabeth Short
as an aspiring actress or starlet, which makes her murder the ultimate
Hollywood heartbreak story with a violent twist.
are two stories here. One is the myth of the Black Dahlia, a fictional
character based on the life of Elizabeth “Beth” Short.
story, and the one I believe to be true, is that of a depressed, confused, and needy
young woman looking for marriage.
The myth has
been repeated so often it is accepted as true, but by mythologizing Beth’s story
we have largely ignored the real person at its heart.
We have lost
sight of the troubled young woman who came to California to find her father—not
to break into the movies.
The tragedy in Beth’s life is not that she didn’t achieve Hollywood stardom, she never sought it. There is no credible evidence that she went out on a cattle call, spoke to an agent, or asked any of her acquaintances, the ones with Hollywood ambitions, to get her an audition.
Beth was looking for what most people her age in the postwar period longed for—marriage and a home. She vigorously pursued the romantic vision of a husband in a uniform with shiny brass buttons and a bungalow with a white picket fence.
Judging by an undated letter she received from Lieutenant Stephen Wolak, she didn’t hesitate to press for marriage. Wolak’s letter reads in part,
“When you mention marriage in your letter, Beth, I get to wondering. Infatuation is sometimes mistaken for true love. I know whereof I speak, because my ardent love soon cools off.”
response to Beth’s letter is a frank assessment of their relationship—which in
his estimation was not serious. You can gauge
her desperation from his response.
How many other
men in uniform with whom Beth corresponded received letters with suggestions of
A depressed and lonely young woman with daddy issues looking for love by sacrificing her pride isn’t the stuff of novels or movies.
Beth’s tragic life saddens us and makes us uncomfortable; but the myth of the Black Dahlia is an epic tale worthy of a Greek tragedy.
I imagine in the years to come we will continue to hold fast to the myth. It is one hell of a story.
About 12:20 p.m. on January 9, 1947, Elizabeth Short and
Robert “Red” Manley left the motel where they had spent the night.
What did Beth and Red talk about during the couple of hours that it took them to drive back to Los Angeles from San Diego? Red noticed some scratches on her arms and asked her about them. She spun a tale of an “intensely jealous” boyfriend – an Italian “with black hair who lived in San Diego”, and claimed that it was he who had scratched her. In truth the scratches were probably made by Beth herself, the result of itchy insect bites. Beth lied to Red a few times more before their day together ended.
Red and his wife Harriet had been having problems. There were so many adjustments to being married with a child, and Red wondered if they were meant to be together.
In the way that only a spouse on the verge of cheating can do, he justified his interest in Beth in his own mind by considering it a “love test”. If he remained faithful to his wife, despite the temptation of being near a beautiful woman, he would conclude that his marriage was meant to be.
Following a platonic night in a motel room, Red’s marriage was certified as made in heaven. But he had a problem; he’d been out of touch for a couple of days. How would he explain his lack of communication? Any guy capable of devising a ridiculous love test could easily come up with an excuse for being incommunicado for a couple of days.
In my mind’s eye I see Beth and Red seated across from each
other on the bench seat in his Studebaker, each lost in thought. Beth may have
been wondering what she’d do once she hit L.A. Maybe she’d
go to friends in Hollywood. If she was lucky someone would have an empty
bed for her. Her immediate difficulty was Red. How would she get away from the
well meaning guy for whom she felt nothing?
Once they arrived in the city, Beth told Red that she needed to check her luggage at the bus depot. He took her there and Beth was ready to wave good-bye to him and be on her way – but he wouldn’t leave. He told her that he couldn’t possibly leave her in that neighborhood on her own. She insisted that she would be fine, but he wouldn’t hear of it.
Beth had a few minutes while she checked her bags to conjure up a plan to ditch Red. When they returned to his car she told him that she needed to go to the Biltmore Hotel to wait for her sister, Virginia. It was a lie. Virginia was in Oakland, hundreds of miles to the north.
Red drove her several blocks back to the Biltmore Hotel. The main lobby was on Olive Street, directly opposite Pershing Square. Beth thanked Red. He had been a gentleman. He’d paid to have taps put on the heels and toes of her pumps, and of course he’d paid for meals and the motel room. She thought that he would drive off and leave her, but once again he said that he didn’t feel comfortable just putting her out of the car.
He parked, and the two of them waited in the Biltmore’s lobby for a couple of hours. Finally, Red realized he couldn’t wait any longer. He said he had to go. She told him she would be fine and that she expected her sister to arrive at any moment.
Red left her at approximately 6:30 p.m. Beth watched him go – gave him a few minutes, and then she exited the hotel and turned south down Olive Street.
She may have been headed for the Crown Grill at Eighth and Olive. She’d been there before and perhaps she hoped to bump into someone she knew; after all, she needed a place to stay.
When asked if they’d seen Beth, most of the patrons were reluctant to talk to the police. By day the bar catered to the lunch crowd, lots of men escorting women who were not their wives. By night the clientele was mostly gay men. Because homosexuality was illegal there were only a few places where men could meet.
No one who was will to talk could say for sure that Beth had been in the bar on the 9th — and if she was there, no one saw her leave.
No one would ever see Elizabeth Short alive again.
On October 13, a paragraph in the Los Angeles Times’
Southland section covered a raid on a “Hippie Commune” in Death Valley National
Park twenty-one miles west of Badwater, CA. The raid, conducted by sheriff’s
deputies, national park service rangers and the CHP, turned up several
sawed-off shotguns, handguns, rifles, and ammunition. The raid went off without a hitch which, given
the number of weapons found, is a small miracle.
Fifteen people were arrested. A scruffy little man named
Charles Manson was among those taken into custody. A Sheriff’s deputy dragged
him out of the 12×16-inch cupboard in which he was hiding.
The raid had nothing to do with the August murder spree
which took the lives of seven adults and Sharon Tate’s unborn son. Manson
wasn’t yet a suspect. The raid was all about the auto theft ring operated by the
While Manson sat in jail on the auto theft charges, did some
free members commit murder on his behalf?
Manson’s paranoia about squealers had already resulted in Donald
“Shorty” Shea’s murder on August 26.
The following five cases have connections to the Manson
Family. Some of the connections are
compelling, others are peripheral.
On November 5, John “Zero” Haught was found in his Venice
Beach home with a single gunshot wound to his head after losing a game of
Russian Roulette. At least that is the story told by witnesses Catherine Gillies,
Bruce Davis, Sue Bartell, and Madaline Joan Cottage “Little Patty” – all of
them Manson family members.
Each witness was interviewed separately and recounted Zero’s
death. Investigators thought the accounts sounded rehearsed. They were
suspicious, but couldn’t prove a thing.
When Leslie Van Houten learned of Zero’s death, she made it
clear she didn’t buy the Russian Roulette story. She was incredulous that he was playing the
deadly game by himself as the witnesses stated. An anonymous man told a newspaper
reporter he was there when the shooting occurred, and that one girl had pulled
the trigger. The man was never
identified and the death is officially a suicide.
On November 7, an early morning walker discovered the
mutilated bodies of teenagers Doreen Gaul and James Sharp. The victims were
stabbed so many times that police thought they were shot gunned to death. The overkill
was like the Tate/La Bianca murders and there is a Manson/Scientology/The
Process (a cult) connection. But without proof the murders remain unsolved.
Reet Jurvetson, known for over 40 years as Jane Doe 59, was
another victim of random violence in 1969. Years after her death Manson was
asked about Reet. He said he didn’t know
her and knew nothing about her murder. Was he telling the truth?
December 1, 1969, Joel Pugh, estranged husband of Sandra
Good, was found dead in a London hotel room.
His wrists and throat were cut. No suicide note was found. Was it a
coincidence that Bruce Davis was in the UK at the time of Pugh’s death?
In recent years, the LAPD has said that as many as a dozen
murders may be linked to Manson and the family. While decades of dust gather on
the open case files, at least the Tate/La Bianca murders are solved.
We can thank now-deceased Susan Atkins for busting the case
wide open. The hippie girl who looked like a babysitter to her Sybil Brand
Institute cellmates told them some horrific stories that they, at first,
figured were bullshit. But after Susan described in gruesome detail Sharon
Tate’s last moments, without showing remorse, the inmates went to the jail
authorities to turn her in.
If not for Susan, the perpetrators of the August murders may
not have been identified for many more months.
On December 1, 1969, LAPD’s Chief Edward Davis held a press
Standing behind 15 microphones, Chief Davis announced the
official end of the case.
“I am Edward Davis, chief of police of the City of Los
Angeles. Today warrants have been issued for the arrest of three individuals in
connection with the murders of Sharon Tate Polanski, Abigail Anne Folger, Voytek
Frykowski, Steven Earl Parent and Thomas John Sebring.”
He explained that the same people were also involved in the
murders of Leno and Rosemary La Bianca.
“The development of information from the two separate
investigations, the Tate and La Bianca cases, led detectives to the conclusion
that the crimes in both cases were committed by the same group of people. At one time two lieutenants and 17 men were
working on only the Tate case. The Tate
investigators interviewed 625 people, some four and five times each.”
Chief Davis referred to a break in the case that occurred
two weeks prior to the warrants. He didn’t mention her by name, but he meant
Also not mentioned by name was the first victim of the
summer murder spree, Gary Hinman. Chief Davis referred only to the “Topanga
Canyon murder case.”
Chief Davis wrapped up the press conference as a late arrival,
Mayor Sam Yorty, took the stage.
“Sorry, I got here so late,” said the mayor. “The city
government and the Police Department are very grateful to the news media for
the cooperation we have had . . . many people could have damaged our case if
they hadn’t been so cooperative . . .”
The round-up of the Family members implicated in the
murders was underway. The case against them was solid enough to bring to the
December 5, 1969, Susan Atkins testified before the Los
Angeles grand jury. Prosecutors got first degree murder indictments against
Manson, Watson, Krenwinkel, Van Houten and Kasabian.
December 21, 1969, Leslie Van Houten talked to cops about
her possible cooperation. One week later she recorded a confession with attorneys,
but decided against cooperating with prosecutors.
By Christmas 1969, Manson and his co-defendants, Tex
Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten were in jail
facing capital murder charges.
With Manson and his band of murderous nomads behind bars,
Angelenos breathed a sigh of relief. The ‘60s ended on a miserable note. They thought
the ‘70s would be better. They were wrong.
During the 1970s the risk of homicide increased six-fold
from the 1950s, and by the early 1980s the term serial killer began to turn up
in mainstream media reports.
There’s a great double feature on Movies! tonight, THE STREET WITH NO NAME and WHITE HEAT. Two of my favorite films noir. If you don’t have the channel (it is 13.3 in my L.A. neck of the woods) here, for your viewing pleasure, is The Street With No Name starring Richard Widmark, Mark Stevens, Lloyd Nolan and Barbara Lawrence.
Ignore or read the subtitles — in any case, enjoy the movie!
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 SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT  starring John Hodiak, Richard Conte, Nancy Guild and Lloyd Nolan.
After a World War II injury, George Taylor’s (John Hodiak) memory of his life is fuzzy, to say the least. In an effort to reverse his amnesia, he tracks down alleged murderer and thief Larry Garter, from whom he received a letter. Along the way, he meets lounge singer Christy Smith (Nancy Guild) and police inspector Donald Kendall (Lloyd Nolan). They aid him in the search for Garter and his stolen loot, but all find themselves mired in a much bigger mystery than they anticipated.