Film Noir Friday, on Saturday: Woman on the Run [1950]

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 WOMAN ON THE RUN, starring Ann Sheridan and Dennis O’Keefe.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

After San Francisco artist Frank Johnson witnesses the gangland murder of informant Joe Gordon while walking his dog, Inspector Ferris attempts to take him into protective custody. Afraid that he will be killed if he testifies against the murderer, Frank instead runs away. Ferris questions Eleanor, Frank’s estranged wife, about her husband, but she offers little help. Ferris does convince Eleanor, however, that Frank would be safer in police custody than alone on the streets. Later that night, Eleanor sneaks out of her apartment and goes to a nightclub in Chinatown. She is followed there by tabloid reporter Dan Leggett, who offers to pay her $1,000 for exclusive rights to Frank’s story.

Film Noir Friday: Between Midnight and Dawn [1950]

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 BETWEEN MIDNIGHT AND DAWN, starring Mark Stevens, Edmond O’Brian and Gale Storm.

TCM says:

Rocky Barnes and Daniel Purvis, two policemen working the night shift, have been partners since they served in the war together. Although Rocky believes that even criminals have some good inside, Daniel is more cynical. Daniel is particularly anxious to capture petty criminal Ritchie Garris, but is hampered by the fact that the victims of Garris’ strong-arm tactics refuse to testify against him. Rocky is more interested in the face that belongs to the sultry voice of the night dispatcher than he is in Garris and soon discovers that the attractive voice is that of Katherine Mallory, a policeman’s daughter and the captain’s secretary.

There are some cool shots of Los Angeles.

Judy Dull Should Be 83 Today

Too often we recall the names of killers, but not their victims. Today, on what should be her 83rd birthday, I am highlighting Judy Dull.

JUDY DULL

Judith Ann “Judy” Van Horn Dull turned nineteen on June 23, 1957. She had a 14-month-old daughter, Susan, and a soon-to-be ex-husband, Robert, who intended to keep custody of their little girl. A decent lawyer costs money, and Judy needed as much cash as she could scrape together for the coming battle.  

Judy lived at the El Mirador apartments at the corner of North Sweetzer and Fountain Avenues in West Hollywood.

EL MIRADOR

Most of the young women who inhabited the El Mirador during the summer of 1957 were still in diapers when the building’s most famous resident, actress Jean Harlow, died at age 26 in June 1937.

JEAN HARLOW

At least the building had a Hollywood provenance, which may have given the new crop of wannabes hope for the future.

Judy’s need for a quick buck prevented the usual Hollywood rounds to agents or cattle calls to appear as an extra in the latest western. The best and quickest way for an attractive blonde like Judy to make money was as a model. Modeling gigs ran the gamut from legitimate work for catalogs and harmless cheesecake photos to pornography.

Judy’s roommates, eighteen-year-old Betty Ruth Carver and twenty-two-year-old Lynn Lykels, were models, too. All three were in demand and they looked out for each other, trading gigs to keep the money flowing.

On August 1, 1957, Judy took a job that Lynn had to pass on. At 2 pm, when the photographer, a guy named Johnny Glenn, a geeky-looking guy with bat ears and horn-rimmed glasses, showed up to collect Judy for the job, she was reluctant to go with him. He overcame her reluctance by offering her $20/hour for a two-hour shoot. How could she say no?

At Judy’s request, Johnny left his telephone number with one of her roommates.

Johnny and Judy walked out of the El Mirador.

It was the last time anybody saw her alive.


NOTE: Harvey Glatman murdered Judy and two other women, Ruth Mercado and Shirley Bridgeford. There was not enough evidence to try him for Judy’s murder, but he was found guilty of murdering Mercado and Bridgeford. Glatman died in the gas chamber at San Quentin on September 18, 1959.

Satin Pumps: The Moonlit Murder That Mesmerized The Nation [Book review]

In Satin Pumps: The Moonlit Murder that Mesmerized the Nation (WildBlue Press, $13.49), screenwriter and author Steve Kosareff offers a unique perspective on one of Southern California’s most riveting domestic murders.

Mid-century is at its zenith in 1959. The era is a pink and turquoise mix of future and past as decades old orange groves and strawberry fields give way to miles of modern tract homes in newly minted suburbs. The rows of cloned houses are an artifact of the explosion of growth in the area following WWII. During the summer, the neighborhoods smell like pool chlorine, backyard barbeques and Coppertone suntan lotion.

The reported suicide of television star George Reeves, known for his role as Superman, by gunshot, on June 16, 1959, obsesses his young admirers. Kids deal with the untimely passing of their superhero by making tasteless jokes to hide their discomfort. The following month, on July 18, the kids’ parents become obsessed with a different gunshot tragedy, the murder of thirty-six-year-old Barbara.

Phyllis Coates and George Reeves

Barbara and her husband, Bernard “Bernie” Finch, live the Southern California dream. He is a successful surgeon, who delivered author Kosareff, and he and Barbara and their son, live in a custom-built home on a hill in the San Gabriel Valley.

Handsome, in a sun-tanned country club way, Bernie is the son of local gentry. He is a spoiled child, an entitled adult and not a fan of sharing. If he and Barbara get a divorce, he can kiss a pot of money goodbye. He will pay alimony and child support. Rather than go through with a messy and costly divorce, Bernie concocts a plan.

Bernie’s desire to be single is motivated by his desire for his latest lover, his secretary, twenty-two-year-old Carole Tregoff. Being with the stunning redhead is all Bernie can think of.

Carole Tregoff (r.) and Dr. Bernard Finch (c.) talk in the courtroom as Carole’s lawyer, Rexford D. Eagan (l.), listens in. Finch and his girlfriend, Carole, were on trial for the murder of the doctor’s wife, Barbara Finch, who was shot to death on July 18, 1959. (Bettmann / Bettmann Archive)

The problem for Bernie is he is a surgeon, not a career criminal. His plan is clumsy, cruel, and dissolves under police scrutiny.

Satin Pumps tracks the byzantine course of the case through three trials. The story has enough sexual tension to cause Grace Metalious’ 1956 novel, Peyton Place, to spontaneously combust. The trial is as mesmerizing as Kosareff’s title declares. Courtroom seats are filled by journalist Dorothy Kilgallen, British spy novelist Eric Ambler, and writers for the Perry Mason television series.

Like Kosareff, I, too, grew up in Southern California, so getting his take on the case, first through his 7-year-old eyes, and later through his adult research, is a treat.  I recommend the book. Enjoy.

Policewoman of the Year, Conclusion

Florence Coberly testifies at the Parra inquest. (Photo courtesy USC Digital Archive)

In 1952, LAPD Policewoman Florence Coberly had a bright future in law enforcement. She helped take down a career sex criminal, Joe Parra, in a treacherous sting operation.

Florence stayed tough during the inquest following Parra’s shooting—even when his brother Ysmael shouted and lunged at photographers. She appeared on television and received honors at awards banquets all over town.

After three years of marriage, she divorced her husband Frank in 1955. We’ve heard countless times how tough it is to be a cop’s wife, but I imagine being the husband of a cop is not any easier. The unpredictable hours and the danger can be enough to send any spouse out the door forever.

We don’t really know what caused the Coberly’s marriage to dissolve. The divorce notice appeared in the June 29, 1955 edition of the L.A. Times, but it was legal information only and gave no hint of the personal issues which may have caused the couple to break up.

Florence with her back to the camera, befriends a lost girl c. 1954
[Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

With no further mention of Florence in the Times for several years, we can assume that her career was on track. Then, nearly six years after the Parra incident, on July 2, 1958, the Times ran a piece buried in the back pages of the “B” section under the headline: Policewoman’s Mother Convicted of Shoplifting.

A jury of eleven women and one man found Mrs. Gertrude Klearman, Florence’s fifty-three-year-old mother, guilty of shoplifting. It is embarrassing to have your mom convicted of shoplifting, and it is worse if you are in law enforcement. But it is orders of magnitude more humiliating if you are a police officer busted WITH your mother for shoplifting.

According to George Sellinger, an off-duty police officer working as a store detective to supplement his income, Florence and her mother stole two packages of knockwurst, a can of coffee, a package of wieners and an avocado–$2.22 worth of merchandise. The accusation could destroy Florence’s career.   

Florence seated next to her husband, Sgt. Dave Stanton.
[Photo courtesy USC Digital Archive]

At her misdemeanor trial Florence’s attorney, Frank Rothman, vigorously questioned Sellinger and got him to admit that he had not actually seen Florence stuff the food items into her purse. He pressured her to submit to a search outside the grocery store based on the scant evidence seeing her with packages in her hand. Rothman made the case for illegal search and Florence got off on the technicality.

LAPD in the late 1950s was touchy about any hint of scandal or misbehavior by its officers. During the decades prior to William H. Parker’s ascension to Chief, the institution watched as some of their number went to prison for graft and corruption.

While a package of knockwurst hardly rises to the standard of unacceptable behavior that had plagued LAPD earlier, just being arrested was enough to get Florence suspended from duty pending a Police Board of Rights hearing.

It couldn’t have been easy for Florence to sit on the sidelines and await the decision. Law enforcement wasn’t a 9-5 job for her, it was a career and one for which she had displayed an aptitude.

While Florence waited on tenterhooks for the Board of Rights hearing, her mother received either forty days in jail or a $200 fine (she paid the fine).

Florence’s hearing began on July 22, 1958, before a board composed of Thad Brown, chief of detectives, and Capts. John Smyre and Chester Welch. Even though a civilian court of law exonerated Florence, the board found her guilty and ordered her dismissed from LAPD.

Florence at the police board hearing. (Photo courtesy USC digital archive)

It was an ignominious end to a promising career, and I can’t help but wonder if there was more to Florence’s dismissal from the police force than the shoplifting charge.

In February 1959, Florence sued in superior court, seeking to be reinstated. She directed her complaint against Chief Parker and the Board of Rights Commission.

Florence denied her guilt in the shoplifting charge. She contended that the evidence applied only to her mother.  

It took several months, but in July 1959 Superior Court Judge Ellsworth Meyer sided with the LAPD and refused to compel Chief Parker to reinstate Florence.

I salute Florence for her no-holds-barred, kick-ass entry into policing in 1952; and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one last time that fantastic bandolier that dangled from her belt. I maintain my position that women police officers know how to accessorize.

If you want to know more about Florence, a reader kindly sent me a link to this LAPD press release.

MANY THANKS to my friend and frequent partner in historic crime, Mike Fratantoni. He knows the BEST stories.

NOTE: This is an update and revision of a previous post.

Policewoman of the Year–Part 1

March is nearly half gone and I’ve yet to commemorate Women’s History Month. Let me remedy that now with a post about Florence Coberly—a complicated and fascinating woman.

LAPD 77th Street Station

Officers at LAPD’s 77th Street station were fed up with the wave of assaults on women in their district—nearly 40 between April 2nd and late July 1952. The scumbag responsible for the attacks targeted lone women as they left street cars late at night.

To nab the guy, they set a trap with bait he could not resist, policewoman Florence Coberly.

Florence, in her mid-twenties and recently married, was new to the job. What she lacked in street experience, she made up for in her confident manner and academy training.

Policewoman Florence Coberly

Florence and another policewoman, Marie Little, acted as decoys while patrol officers and detectives cast a net that extended from Broadway to San Pedro Street, and from Manchester Avenue to 67th Street. They deployed officers on foot and in squad cars while the two policewomen attempted to lure the reptile out from under his rock.

The massive stake-out began on the evening of July 31st. Florence, dressed in a pencil skirt with a kick-pleat in the front, a short-sleeved white blouse and a pair of sweet little pumps, was an undeniably appealing target. She walked along the dark street swinging her white handbag in time with her gait like she hadn’t a care in the world.

As she walked along the sidewalk, a man accosted her and asked her to have a drink with him. He kept following her saying, “Would you like to have a little fun?” Florence brushed him off, “No, not tonight, Junior.”

The man disappeared and Florence kept walking. As she passed the darkened doorway of 8209 South San Pedro, the same man emerged and grabbed her. Stunned, Florence took one step backward. He grabbed her again, pulled her into the doorway and shoved a gun into her chest. He held her close with one arm. He said, “Don’t make no noise—I want to kiss you.” She told him he could.  She would do anything to keep him from finding the gun beneath her jacket in a holster at her waist.

Pretending to loosen her skirt, she reached for her police whistle. She put it to her lips and blew as hard as she could. The whistle blast signaled detectives concealed nearby that she was in trouble.

Her assailant demanded to know, “What the hell do you think you are doing?” Before she could answer, he slugged her on the jaw. Florence went down as the man continued to beat her.

Colleagues examine Florence’s injuries.

Two detectives, Frank Marz and Walter Clago, heard the whistle and screeched up in a squad car. They arrived in time to see the suspect flee the scene. Meanwhile, Florence pulled out her revolver and fired. One of her rounds pierced the assailant’s left lung.

Note the nifty little bandoleer dangling from Florence’s skirt. Policewomen knew how to accessorize! [Photo courtesy USC Digital Archive]

Detective Clago assisted Florence to her feet as Detective Marz set off in pursuit of the would-be molester yelling at him to “Stop in the name of the law!”. The admonition fell on deaf ears. Marz fired his service revolver five times at the suspect and missed each time.

Detective Marz saw the suspect head toward a car parked on 82nd Street. It was dark, yet Marz could make out the shadow of a man in the driver’s seat behind the wheel. The man didn’t wait for his passenger. With the crack of gunfire, the car sped off into the night.

Still photo from the film noir, THE BIG COMBO, 1955.

Detective Marz watched as the suspect lurched behind a house at 253 East 82nd Street. With a single round left in his revolver, Marz fired and the suspect collapsed.

Identified as Joe L. Parra, of 8465 South San Pedro Street, the dead man, recently paroled from San Quentin, did time for multiple counts of robbery, burglary and sex crimes. His arrest record was extensive. His most recent arrest was on a robbery charge the month before his death, but they had to kick him loose for insufficient evidence.

A bullet ends Joe Parra’s criminal career. [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

About an hour after Joe died in the debris-filled dirt near a couple of discarded metal signs, police located the wheelman, the person who abandoned Parra on 82nd Street. The getaway driver was seventeen-year-old Henry P. Parra, the dead man’s nephew.

Henry ‘fessed up pretty quickly and admitted that he went with his uncle several times on late night purse snatching raids. I doubt that the kid knew what else uncle Joe was up to on their midnight forays.

Florence received accolades for her role in ending Parra’s reign of terror. The newspapers credited Marz with firing the fatal round; but I have it on good authority that Florence delivered the kill shot.

Johnny Dugan, local L.A. television celebrity.

The camera loved Florence and she appeared in newspapers all over the county. A local TV show host, Johnny Dugan, had her as a guest on his show.

In February 1953, the Exchange Club named Florence “Policewoman of the Year”. She basked in the limelight.

In June 1954, the Los Angeles Policewoman’s Association honored her at a dinner-dance. The guest list included Sergeants Joe Friday and Frank Smith (Jack Webb and Ben Alexander) of the Dragnet series. The two fictional policemen shared the spotlight with LAPD’s Chief of Police William H. Parker and his wife.

DRAGNET — Pictured: (l-r) Jack Webb as Sgt. Joe Friday, Ben Alexander as Officer Frank Smith — Photo by: NBCU Photo Bank

Florence had every reason to expect more star-studded evenings in her future. Who knows, with such an auspicious beginning she could end up with an enviable spot in the LAPD hierarchy. With just over 100 women on the force, there wasn’t much female competition in the ranks in those days.

But wait a minute; you know this is Deranged L.A. Crimes and nobody’s good luck lasts forever. Right?

NEXT TIME: Policewoman of the Year stumbles.

NOTE: This post is a revised version of a 2014 post.

The First with the Latest! Aggie Underwood, Crime Reporter

Aggie interviews a tearful dame.

“There is no killer type.  Slayers range all ages, all sexes. . . Homicide is expected from the hoodlum, the gun moll, the gulled lover.  It isn’t from the teenager, the . . . sweet old lady, the fragile housewife, the respectable gent who is the proverbial pillar of society.

They kill with pistol, rifle, or shotgun; with the blade . . . with poison; with ax, hatchet or hammer; with cord or necktie; with fake accidents; with blunt instruments or with phony drownings.

Killers do not run true to form.  What they have in common is killing.”

The quote is from my favorite Los Angeles crime reporter Aggie Underwood, from her 1949 autobiography, NEWSPAPERWOMAN, and she knew what she was talking about.

During her career as a reporter, Aggie covered nearly every major crime story in the city. Law enforcement respected her and occasionally sought her opinion regarding a suspect. They even credited her with solving a few crimes.  

Cops and journalists have a lot in common. Both professions rely on intuition guided by experience and intelligence. They see the worst that humanity has to offer, but no matter what they witness, they strive to maintain their objectivity. 

Inspired by Aggie, I began this blog in 2012 and wrote her Wikipedia page. In 2016, I curated an exhibit at the Central Library on Aggie’s career and wrote the companion book.

Join me on November 17, 2020 at 7pm PST for the webinar and you will meet one of the most fascinating women in Los Angeles’ history.

Film Noir Friday: Bunco Squad [1950]

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 BUNCO SQUAD starring Robert Sterling, Joan Dixon, Ricardo, Cortez, and Dante.

IMDB says:

Told in semi-documentary style, this film deals with a little-known section of the Los Angeles Police Department which is assigned solely to checking on the activities of fortune tellers, swamis, palmists, and other occult societies.

The primary story has L.A. police detectives Steve Johnson and ‘Mack’ McManus tracking down a wave of suicides they think have been influenced by a swindler-murderer Anthony Wells. The latter runs a pretentious house staffed with occultists across the board, and is trying to embezzle from Jessica Royle, a wealthy widow whose son was killed in action in World War II. Johnson uses his fiancée/actress, Grace Bradshaw, as an undercover operative to get inside information.

MIDNIGHT IN THE DESERT –A CONVERSATION ABOUT HISTORIC LOS ANGELES CRIME

MY INTERVIEW WITH DAVE SCHRADER ON MIDNIGHT IN THE DESERT

On March 10th, B.C. (before Covid) I was interviewed by Dave Schrader for his wonderful radio show, MIDNIGHT IN THE DESERT. We talked for 3 hours about historic Los Angeles crime.

When I first agreed to do the interview I wondered how we would fill the time. By the 2 1/2 hour mark I knew we’d never be able to cover everything. The time flew. Dave is a terrific host and I recommend that you check out his show. I hope to make a return visit sometime during the summer.

Dave’s area of expertise is the paranormal, but he also has an interest in crime. Here’s a little more about Dave:

Dave Schrader has been one of the leading voices of the paranormal since 2006 when he launched his wildly popular talk show, Darkness on the Edge of Town on Twin Cities News Talk – Minneapolis’s top-rated AM talk station.

The show grew to become one of the station’s most successful shows and most-downloaded podcasts, expanding Schrader’s reach globally. Seeing an opportunity, Schrader moved his show to Chris Jericho’s network of shows on PodcastOne, where he further expanded his worldwide audience.

You can find Dave on MIDNIGHT IN THE DESERT.