I’m pleased to announce that my story, The Lady Vanishes: The Mysterious Disappearance of Jean Spangler, will appear in Mitzi Szereto’s newest true crime anthology, The Best New True Crime Stories: Unsolved Crimes and Mysteries.
Coming September 15, 2022.
Available for pre-order now.
To whet your appetite for the story, I created this short video.
On June 22, 2021, Writer’s Bloc and Chevalier’s Books hosted a virtual event celebrating the publication of James Ellroy’s new novel, WIDESPREAD PANIC.
I was thrilled to participate on a panel with James Ellroy, John Anderson, Grant Nebel and Zoe Dean.
John Anderson and Grant Nebel are Ellroy scholars and enthusiasts who created the Ellroycast, and have written extensively about pop culture, film, and television. Zoe Dean is an award winning short story writer of crime fiction.
I’ve known James for years, and was one of several people who worked with him on the book, LAPD ’53.
If you missed Ellroypalooza, or would like to see it again, here it is for your viewing pleasure.
His parents once found him with a string tied around his penis, the loose end of which he had placed in a drawer, he was leaning backwards so that the string pulled taught. He was four years old.
Their son’s behavior alarmed his parents, but his indulgent mother, Ophelia, believed he would grow out of his peculiar habits. His father Albert hoped that discipline would straighten the boy out. His parents faced bitter disappointment. Nothing and no one would prevent Harvey from pursuing his pleasures.
Puberty is a confusing time, perhaps more so for a young man whose fantasies and desires don’t include holding hands at the local malt shop, or pinning a corsage on a prom dress. Not that he could have done those things even if his desires had been more typical — Harvey was painfully shy around girls and he was further handicapped by looks that earned him the nicknames “Weasel” and “Chipmunk”.
If Harvey was going to have a sex life, he was going to have to build it on nocturnal home break-ins, stolen lingerie and a length of rope.
Join me for an in-depth examination of Harvey Glatman’s life and crimes.
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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.
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 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.
Louise Peete had a sketchy past. Acquitted of murder in Texas, she sought a fresh start in Los Angeles. In 1920, Louise met wealthy middle-aged mining executive Jacob Denton. Jacob was a widower, having lost both his wife and child in the recent influenza epidemic. Louise quickly sized him up as a man she could charm.
She wooed him non-stop for several weeks but he refused to marry her. Louise concealed her annoyance and ordered Jacob’s caretaker to dump a ton of earth into the basement of the home because, she said, she planned to raise mushrooms. One of Jacob’s favorite foods.
Jacob disappeared on May 30, 1920.
Louise concocted an outrageous story for people who came by to call. She said Jacob argued violently with a “Spanish-looking woman” who chopped off his arm with a sword! Who was gullible enough to buy her explanation? Evidently, everyone. If pressed, Louise said Jacob survived the horrific amputation, but he was so embarrassed by his missing limb that he’d gone into hiding. If pressed further, Louise said that not only had Jacob lost an arm, he’d also lost a leg! She allayed everyone’s concerns by telling them he’d come out of hiding once he had learned to use his artificial limbs.
Jacob was missing for a few months before his attorney became suspicious. He phoned the cops and asked them to search the house. After digging for about an hour in the basement they uncovered Jacob’s body. All four limbs were intact, but he had a bullet in his head.
Investigators had questions for Louise, but couldn’t locate her. They finally found her and she returned to L.A. to face justice.
On February 8, 1921, a jury sentenced Louise to life in prison for Jacob’s murder.
Louise filed motions for a new trial to no avail. She spent 18 years in prison. Did Louise leave prison a changed woman?
Join me as I delve into the mysterious life and vicious crimes of Louise Peete.
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 evidence, no investigation, nada. Read on.
Thanksgiving Day on “The Nickel” (Fifth Street) in 1937 was grim. Thanks to Old Man Depression, misery was on the menu. The street lacked all the warmth, joy, and delicious aromas present in other neighborhoods in the city.
LAPD Detective Lieutenants Bailey and Olson pulled the holiday shift. They sat in the Chicago Café at 209 Fifth and watched as drunks shuffled past oblivious to those who saw them as easy prey.
The detectives sipped their coffees and kept their eyes peeled for predators. Drunk rollers were the vultures who robbed Skid Row inebriates of their few possessions.
A man, 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.
The man sat quietly nursing his beer, then he turned to Bailey and pointed at a man in a booth who had passed out. “Watch me”—then he walked over to the unconscious boozer and rummaged through his pockets.
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 he pulled out his badge and arrested 35-year-old Jack Orchard, their would-be benefactor, for robbery.
May your Thanksgiving be much happier than Jack ‘s (although he got a free beer!)
Norris Stensland was a member of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department from the early 1920s until his retirement in 1951. During those three decades, he worked on many of the most sensational crimes in county history.
Single-handed he captured a fugitive cop-killer, for which he received a diamond studded badge. He was in shoot-outs, interviewed killers, grieving parents, and delinquent children.
When he wasn’t catching crooks, Norris was a keen inventor with an interest in forensic science. His most spectacular invention was a camera gun. It must be seen to be believed.
Was Norris Stensland a law enforcement Renaissance man? I believe he was.
The bespectacled lawman’s unassuming appearance lulled many felons into a false sense of security, but he didn’t earn the nicknames The Human Bloodhound, Sherlock and Little Satan for nothing.
Join me as I uncover facts about the life and career of this legendary Los Angeles lawman.