Phantom Sniper

August 29, 1951 — 10:30 p.m. 
Scrivner’s Chili Dog Stand
East Olympic and South Atlantic
East Los Angeles

Nina Bice, a 25-year-old divorced mother of three toddlers, was drinking coffee with her fiancee, William Hannah at the Scrivner Chili Dog Stand when William heard a loud crack.  He assumed it was kids playing with leftover fireworks from the 4th of July, or a car backfiring.  He turned toward Nina and found her slumped over, a bullet behind her right ear.  She was dead.

Over the next eight months a mysterious shooter, dubbed the Phantom Gunman by newspapers, shot and wounded four women and a girl in a crime spree that terrified locals.

Evan Charles Thomas. [Los Angeles Examiner Photographs Collection, 1920-1961, USC]

On April 16, 1952, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies arrested twenty-nine-year-old railroad switchman. He told detectives, “I’m glad it’s over, it’s been bothering me.”

He claimed he didn’t intend to kill Nina. Like a wild west sharpshooter he tried to shoot the coffee cup out of her hands, but he missed. Evan’s pregnant wife Hester went into hiding and filed for divorce. Her father told reporters, “We’re trying to be calm about this. While we’re ashamed, we’re trying to hold our heads high.“ A reported asked if Hester planned to stick by her husband, to which her father replied, “Stick by him? Do you think any reasonable person would?”

With a perverse sense of pride, Evan lead investigators on a tour of his assaults. He told them that after he purchased the .22 rifle he prowled in his car searching for attractive women. He was a coward, inept in social situations, and probably sexually impotent. To gratify his urges, he hid in the shadows and acted out with violence and he found it gave him an erotic charge.  Evan masturbated at the scenes of his crimes.  He described for investigators how, following an attack, he would circle around in his car and find a vantage point from where he could watch all that his actions had wrought while he pleasured himself.

Lois May Kreutzer [Los Angeles Examiner Photographs Collection, 1920-1961, USC].

He led sheriffs to the Pico Rivera phone booth where, on August 27,  he shot Lois May Kreutzer, 21, in the back while she was called a doctor for her sick child. She was unaware of the cause of her pain and the seriousness of the wound. She believed a bee stung her, and she walked home.

Thomas took deputies to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd Walter in Norwalk, where he shot through the front window on August 28, the night before he shot Nina.

The bizarre tour took detectives to Downey, where on October 16, Patricia Ellen Bryant, 10, suffered a gunshot to her arm (breaking the bone) as she waited for the school bus.  Patricia was reading a book in front of her house when the attack occurred. Her dad was furious and threatened to punch Evan if he ever got close enough.

Deputies accompanied Evan to Pico Rivera where, on November 23, he shot Irma Megrdle in her left thigh while she was gardening in her front yard.

In the city of Garvey, Evan took deputies to the spot where he hid himself when he shot Audrey Murdock in the right side while she was ironing. Even though she was in agony, Audrey left the house to seek help.  She was in the hospital for ten days and left with the bullet still her. The doctors could not safely remove the slug.

Evan visited the chili dog stand and took detectives to his hiding place in the nearby alley from where he took the fatal shot. As per his routine, he then drove around the block, staked out a prime vantage point, watched the excitement, and  masturbated.

Joan Frances Hilles points to the window where the bullet entered. [Los Angeles Examiner Photographs Collection, 1920-1961, USC]

The final stop on Evan’s tour of terror was to the home of his near neighbor Joan Frances Hilles’ home in Los Nietos.  Evan recently spent the evening with Joan socializing, drinking beer, and watching TV.  Five minutes after he left her, a bullet shattered the living room window and whizzed past Joan’s head.

Evan Charles Thomas demonstrates for Sheriff’s investigators from where he took the shot at Joan Hilles. [Los Angeles Examiner Photographs Collection, 1920-1961, USC]

The Hilles’ considered Evan a hick.  On the night of the attempt on her life, Joan let him hang out with her because he brought the beer. Soon after firing the shot, Evan called the Hilles’ home to ask if Joan was okay. His called begged the question, how did he find out about the incident so fast?

Unable to control his curiosity, he did one of the dumbest things a perpetrator can do, he visited the scene and pestered investigators with questions. Detectives suspect the person who attempts to insert him or herself into an investigation. Charles was interested to the point of being obnoxious, and it was his intense interest that lead to his arrest. As soon as investigators turned their attention to Thomas, and he confessed to Nina’s murder and confirmed his identity as the Phantom Sniper.

Evan Charles Thomas in court with his attorney, John Oliver. [Los Angeles Examiner Photographs Collection, 1920-1961, USC]

During Evan’s trial, County Jail physician Dr. Marcus Crahan offered his professional opinion of Charles. He described him as a low-grade moron who was  fired from one job because he couldn’t use a cash register.  The Post Office let Evan go after he crashed his mail truck in 1948. Crahan told the court that Evan was a subnormal every man–a guy who watched wrestling on TV, drank too much when he fought with his wife, lusted after other women but was too shy to do anything about it, and argued with his in-laws.  Crahan’s description fit thousands of men in the early 1950s; however, the crucial difference between Evan and other men was he focused his frustrations in an anti-social direction.

Psychiatrist Dr. Edwin Ewart McNeil examined Evan and declared him sane. The primary reason for his diagnosis made sense.  Charles told him his overwhelming emotion before, during, and after the shootings was abject terror.

Evan Charles Thomas following his conviction for murder. [Los Angeles Examiner Photographs Collection, 1920-1961, USC]

The jury found Evan guilty of Nina Bice’s murder and sentenced him to die in the gas chamber.  The district attorney set aside six charges of attempted murder. Prosecutors were hedging their bets. In the unlikely event Evan slipped through a legal loophole on Nina’s murder, he had multiple charges waiting to be filed.

Death penalty cases are automatically entitled to an appeal. Evan’s appeal revealed a jury made up of other subnormals. The defense attorneys based the appeal on the jurors’ inability to grasp the concept of lying in wait. The jurors actually believed a killer had to be prone on the ground when he fired.   The court denied the appeal.

The original Phantom Gunman was on death row, but a copycat popped up in July 1952 when several women were shot and wounded in the San Gabriel.

Evan Charles Thomas on his way to San Quentin to be executed for murder. [Los Angeles Examiner Photographs Collection, 1920-1961, USC]

January 29, 1954.  The State of California executed Evan Charles Thomas in the gas chamber at San Quentin for Nina Bice’s murder. His mother, in Akron, Ohio, told the press she blamed the Air Force for her son’s problems. She said, “They teach them how to use a gun, and when they get out and get into trouble, they do nothing to help.”

In a dreadful postscript, in September 1955, Nina Bice’s ex-husband Emory Bice, the father of her three children, was crossing a street in East Los Angeles when he was hit by a hit-and-run driver and killed. He left a young widow, Kathleen, to care for his three kids with Nina, and their two children together.

NOTE:  Thanks to Robert Harrison, a Deranged L.A. Crimes reader, who reminded me about this story.

Unhappy Holidays

The holidays are a time for family, and Sarah Marquez and her two-year-old son, Eric,  were looking forward to Christmas 1953 with more enthusiasm than ever.  Eric was too young to recall his parents ever living together, they separated when he was an infant, but if all went well on December 18th, the family would be reunited.

December 18th came—Sarah gathered up Eric and they left her parents home at 208 West 97th Street to join her husband Reginald at his apartment at 15732 ½ Paramount Boulevard. Sarah and Reginald filled their arms with tree ornaments, toy trains and other gifts designed to make Eric giddy with delight.

The get-together went well at first, then Reginald began drinking. Beer cans and liquor bottles piled up on the floor and Reginald’s mood turned ugly. Sarah tried to salvage the day, but it was impossible to reason with her husband. Unable to take Reginald’s bad temper any longer, Sarah drew Eric to her and demanded Reginald take them back to her parents’ home.

When they arrived at her door Reginald forced his way in and grabbed a knife from the kitchen. He waved the knife around and made threats terrifying enough to send her running for the bathroom.  She locked the door and waited for him to go.

Reginald refused to leave.  Instead he calmed and persuaded Sarah to come out so they could patch things up.  The attempt at reconciliation lasted only until Reginald saw a photograph of Sarah with another man, a mutual friend of theirs. The photo was taken during the period of their separation, but Reginald was not mollified. He became abusive and tore the photo into shreds.  He grabbed another knife and chased her around the house threatening to kill her. Sarah ran for the bedroom and slammed the door shut behind her.  In a blind rage, Reginald beat his fists against the door and then broke the knife against it.  He managed to force the door open and they took their struggle to the living room sofa.

In desperation Sarah grabbed at the cushions.  She fumbled around and found the .32 caliber automatic pistol Reginald gave her when he returned from the war. She fired six shots. Two of the slugs smashed into Reginald’s stomach and killed him. The other four rounds ricocheted around the room, fortunately none of them struck Eric who cowered in his crib.

Police from the Los Angeles Police Department’s 77th Division took Sarah to jail.

Eric’s maternal grandparents took Eric. The little boy had a lot of questions his grandparents didn’t want to answer, so they let him open his presents a few days early.

NOTE:  The Los Angeles Times did not report any further on the case. It is likely that Reginald’s death was considered self-defense.

 

 

 

Happy Birthday to Aggie Underwood & Deranged L.A. Crimes

Aggie hoists a brew c. 1920s.

Aggie hoists a brew c. 1920s. [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Aggie Underwood was born on December 17, 1902 and Deranged L.A. Crimes was born on December 17, 2012, so there’s a lot to celebrate today. We have so many candles on our birthday cake it will take a gale force wind to blow them all out.

It was Aggie’s career as a Los Angeles journalist that inspired me to begin this blog; and my admiration for Aggie and her accomplishments has grown in the years since I first became aware of her.

Aggie at a crime scene in 1946.

Aggie at a crime scene in 1946.

Aggie’s newspaper career began on a whim.  In late 1926, she was tired of wearing her sister’s hand-me-down silk stockings and desperately want a pair of her own. When she asked her husband Harry for the money, he demurred.  He said he was sorry, they simply couldn’t afford them. Aggie got huffy and said she’d buy them herself. It was an empty threat–until a close friend called out of the blue the day following the argument and asked Aggie if she would be interested in a temporary job at the Daily Record. Aggie never intended to work outside her home, but this was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.

In her 1949 autobiography, Newspaperwoman, Aggie described her first impression of the Record’s newsroom as a “weird wonderland”. She was initially intimidated by the men in shirtsleeves shouting, cursing and banging away on typewriters, but it didn’t take long before intimidation became admiration. She fell in love with the newspaper business. At the end of her first year at her temporary job she realized that she wanted to be a reporter. From that moment on Aggie pursued her goal with passion and commitment.

Aggie at her desk after becoming City Editor at the Evening Herald & Express.

Aggie at her desk after becoming City Editor at the Evening Herald & Express. Note the baseball bat — she used it to shoo away pesky Hollywood press agents. [Photo courtesy LAPL]

During a time when most female journalists were assigned to report on women’s club activities and fashion trends, Aggie covered the most important crime stories of the day. She attended actress Thelma Todd’s autopsy in December 1935 and was the only Los Angeles reporter to score a byline in the Black Dahlia case in January 1947. Aggie’s career may have started on a whim, but it lasted over 40 years.

Look closely and you can see Aggie's byline.

Look closely and you can see Aggie’s byline under “Night In a Motel”.  [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Over the past nine years I’ve corresponded with many of you and I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some of you in person. Your support and encouragement mean a lot to me, and whether you are new to the blog or have been following Deranged L.A. Crimes from the beginning I want to thank you sincerely for your readership.

There will be many more stories in 2022, and a few appearances too. Look for me in shows on the Investigation Discovery Network (I’ve been interviewed for Deadly Women, Deadly Affairs, Evil Twins, Evil Kin and many others.)  I am currently appearing in the series CITY OF ANGELS: CITY OF DEATH on HULU.

Kentucky University Press will publish my compilation of tales on L.A. crime during Prohibition. Title is TBA.

You can find my short story in the recently released anthology, PARTNERS IN CRIME, edited by Mitzi Szereto.

Whether it is on television, in the blog or some other medium I’m looking forward to telling more crime tales in 2022.

Happy Holidays and stay safe!

Joan

The Trick or Treat Murder

We expect goblins, ghosts, and ghouls to roam the streets on All Hallows Eve; what we don‘t expect is murder.

October 31, 1957 was a school night, kids scored their Butterfinger bars and homemade caramel apples and were home in bed by a decent hour.  Thirty-five-year-old Peter Fabiano, his wife Betty, and teenage stepdaughter, Judy Solomon, had just retired for the night. Peter’s stepson, Richard Solomon, had left earlier to return to his Navy base in San Diego. The family wasn’t expecting any callers when the doorbell rang shortly after 11 p.m.

Peter got out of bed and went to the door. Betty heard him say “Yes?” Then he said, “Isn’t it a little late for this?”   She heard, but didn’t recognize, two other adult voices, “One sounded masculine and another like a man impersonating a woman.” Then Betty hear a noise that “sounded like a pop.”  The noise brought her and Judy out of bed in a hurry. They ran to the front door where they found Peter lying on his back just inside the front door.

Judy ran two doors down to Bud Alper’s home.  Judy knew Bud was a member of the Los Angeles Police Department, assigned to the Valley Division. She banged on the door until Bud answered. Bud contacted Valley Division and several officers arrived within minutes to the scene of the shooting.

They transported Peter to Sun Valley Receiving Hospital where he succumbed to massive bleeding from the gunshot wound.

A fifteen-year-old boy witnessed a car leave the neighborhood at a high rate of speed around the time of the shooting. He had no other information for police.

Detectives found no spent shells, nor did they find evidence that the shooting was part of an attempted robbery.  Betty told them she and Peter married in 1955. Together they ran two successful beauty shops and as far as she knew he had no enemies.

Peter’s murder resembled a gangland hit, so the police dug into his background. Peter had a minor record for bookmaking in 1948–nothing that connected him to L.A.’s underworld.

Detectives interviewed friends and relatives of the deceased, but they offered nothing in the way of suspects.  A week later a confidential tip led detectives to a bizarre murder plot.

Goldyne Pizer, a 43-year-old widow, admitted to the slaying when arrested at her Hollywood home.  Goldyne told LAPD Detective Sergeants Charles Stewart and Pat Kelly, “It’s a relief to get it off my mind.”  She said a friend of hers, 40-year-old Joan Rabel, a former employee at one of Fabiano’s beauty shops, talked her into committing the crime.

Friends for four years, Goldyne and Joan planned the murder for three months. “All we talked about was Peter Fabiano.”  Joan described the victim as, “… a vile, evil man—one who destroyed all the people about him.  I developed a deep hatred for him.”

On September 21, Goldyne purchased a .38 special from a gun shop in Pasadena.  She told the man behind the counter she needed the weapon for “home protection.”  A few days later Joan drove Goldyne back to the shop where they picked up the gun with two bullets in it.  Joan paid for the gun, but Goldyne kept it until Halloween night when Joan picked her up in a borrowed car.

“Joan came over to my house with some clothing—blue jeans, khaki jackets, hats, eye masks, makeup and red gloves.  We dressed up, got in the car and drove to Fabiano’s home arriving there about 9 p.m.”

The women waited until the lights went out.  Goldyne said, “I rang once and when nothing happened rang again.” She brought the gun up with both hands and fired.

“I ran to the car and Joan drove to Mrs. Barrett’s home,” Goldyne said. [Joan borrowed Margaret Barrett’s car to commit the murder.]  “We left the car on the street, separated and walked to our homes. Joan said, ‘Forget you ever saw me’.”

The County Grand Jury returned indictments against Goldyne and Joan for Peter’s murder.  Goldyne wept as she told the Grand Jury of the weird killing. She explained Joan incited her to commit the murder of a man she didn’t know by picturing the victim as a “symbol of evil.”

Joan declined to testify.

Rather than face trial, on March 11, 1958, Goldyne and Joan pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and sentenced to 5 years to life in prison.

What about a motive?  Why did Joan want Peter to die? Simple.  Peter stood in the way of Joan’s plan to get much, much closer to Betty.  Before his death, Peter asked Betty to end her friendship with Joan, which she did.

The newspapers alluded to the motive. Reports described Joan as jealous of the Fabiano’s relationship—1957 readers did not need to have it spelled out for them. They understood the subtext.  Homosexuality was illegal in California—which may be why Joan accepted a plea deal.

A doctor who examined Goldyne characterized her as a passive person who became “a handy tool, or putty, in the hands of Mrs. Rabel.” The same doctor described Joan as “schizoid.”

I don’t know when Goldyne and Joan left prison–but I hope they spent a long time behind bars.

It appears Betty never remarried. She died in 1999.

Too Many Cooks, Conclusion

Their failure to solve the June 22, 1947 murder of Bugsy Siegel still rankled members of the Beverly Hills Police Department.  None of them wanted to suffer the frustration of another high profile cold case.  They were committed to solving Katie Hayden’s murder and they weren’t above asking for help. Many of the smaller Los Angeles county police departments, like Beverly Hills, were unaccustomed to conducting murder investigations so they enlisted the aid of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department homicide bureau.

Rutherford Leon Bennett (R) and Nathaniel Smith (L). Photo courtesy of LAPL.

Despite his protestations of innocence, Rutherford Leon Bennett was a promising suspect. The Hayden’s had recently dismissed Rutherford as their cook when he failed to perform to their expectations. He said he phoned Samuel Hayden for a reference, but his call could have been interpreted as an attempt to extort money from his former boss for his firing.  Rutherford was arrested and booked on suspicion of murder. His roommate, Nathaniel Smith, was taken into custody but released after an intense interrogation proved that he had no part in the crime.

Rutherford submitted to a lie detector test. He passed, but that wasn’t enough to satisfy the police. There are people who can defeat a polygraph – maybe Rutherford was one of them. Police weren’t about to kick him loose unless or until they had a better suspect.

Margaret and Rutherford. Photo courtesy LAPL.

Peggy King, Rutherford’s replacement as the Hayden’s cook, was an obvious suspect because she was the only person in the house when Katie was murdered. But where was her motive?  She had only been in the Hayden’s employ for three days.

Police learned that Peggy was also known as (Mrs.) Margaret Moore.  Margaret was a relative newcomer to Los Angeles. She left her home in Houston, Texas in 1954 following a separation from her husband.  Her father, Samuel Johnson, was a prominent figure in Houston’s Baptist church community. Nothing in Margaret’s background marked her as someone capable of hacking her employer to death with a hatchet.   Still, police were obliged to subject her to the same scrutiny they gave Rutherford.

Detective Sergeant Ray Hopkinson of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s homicide bureau assisted in the investigation. He said that one of Margaret’s male friends, with whom she had recently quarreled, had been located and was able to account for his whereabouts. One more suspect eliminated.

The police weren’t entirely satisfied with Margaret’s description of events.  Since there was no one who could confirm or deny her story the police had to find another way to get at the truth. In her closet they found the dress that Margaret was wearing the day of the murder. It was spattered with what appeared to be blood. Even if the blood was Katie’s, it didn’t necessarily mean that Margaret was a killer.

Margaret’s alibi, that she had been vacuuming in another part of the house while Katie was being butchered, didn’t hold together when police realized that the killer would have had to pass Margaret to get to Katie.

Margaret had a date with the polygraph machine on February 11, 1955.  Investigators hoped that the polygraph, the ultimate truth or dare device in a murder investigation, would reveal Margaret’s lies — if she was telling any.  The former cook was questioned for over 90 minutes. The examiner concluded that Margaret was being deceptive in her answers.

Detectives used Margaret’s lies against her.  It didn’t take long for her to break down and confess. But why had she done it?

Margaret. Photo courtesy LAPL.

According to Margaret the murder was the result of a heated argument she had with Katie about how to bone a roast. Katie was supervising Margaret in the kitchen and lost patience with her. In a fit of pique Katie snatched the small ax Margaret was using out of her hands and attempted to give her a demonstration.

“I had gotten the ax to cut the bone in the roast.  During the argument Mrs. Hayden took the ax from me and tried to show me how to do it.”  Margaret said.

“She (Katie) continued arguing with me and then I took the ax from her and struck her on the head.  She didn’t fall after I struck her once and then I struck her again and again.  I don’t know how many times I struck her after that. . .”

Margaret may have lost count of the blows it took to shatter Katie’s skull, but Dr. Newbarr, who conducted Katie’s autopsy, said that the sharp end of the ax had been used to inflict 20 to 30 cuts to her head and face.  Then the butt end of the ax was used to fracture her lower left jaw and her upper left collarbone.

The vicious attack sent Katie to the kitchen floor in a bloody heap.  “I stood over her for more than 10 minutes,” Margaret said.  “I was dazed.”

She wasn’t too dazed to formulate a plan to escape detection. As Katie lay dying in a widening pool of blood, Margaret went upstairs and ransacked her employer’s room.  “I opened all the drawers in the dressers and scattered clothing about the floor to make it appear that someone had broken in the house,” she told detectives.

While Margaret was yanking out dresser drawers and throwing clothing around Katie’s room, the telephone rang.  The caller was one of Katie’s daughters, Rose Furstman.  Margaret answered the phone and told her that someone had come in and killed her mother.  Then she hung up.  Rose lived at 1041 Hilts Avenue in West Los Angeles, barely two miles away from her parents’ home.  It must have been an agonizing drive over to her parent’s home.

Margaret used the few minutes before Rose arrived to wipe her bloody hands clean with a dust rag.  She tossed the rag and the ax into the kitchen sink, then she began to scream.

Margaret’s unholy wailing drew the attention of the half a dozen landscapers that were in the Hayden’s backyard installing a sprinkler system. When they got to the kitchen they found Margaret standing near Katie’s body. There was blood everywhere.

Margaret’s explanation for the murder was that her nerves were on edge because her common-law husband of two years had left her. Margaret’s two-year relationship was nothing compared to the 49 years that Samuel and Katie had spent together. The couple would have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in August.

Margaret comforted by her brother, Milton Johnson. Photo courtesy LAPL.

Roy King, the man Margaret called husband, showed up at the Beverly Hills Jail to comfort her. Her brother, Milton Johnson, also came to the jail to show support.

With Margaret’s confession in hand the cops breathed a sigh of relief. Their part was done. Now it was up to the courts to decide her fate.

There was talk of an insanity plea, so Dr. Marcus Crahan, County Jail psychiatrist, examined Margaret. After questioning her for 45 minutes Crahan said: “She is normal mentally.”

Margaret in tears. Photo courtesy LAPL.

With the confession and Dr. Crahan’s report against her, Margaret appeared before Judge Stanley Mosk and withdrew her earlier plea of innocent by reason of insanity and waived her right to a jury trial.  It was a smart move, she likely would have fared much worse with a jury than she did with Judge Mosk.  He heard the case without a jury and found Margaret guilty of second degree murder and sentenced to a term of from five years to life in state prison.

Too Many Cooks, Part 1

February 9, 1955

Beverly Hills, California

Half a dozen landscapers were hard at work installing a sprinkler system on the grounds of Samuel Hayden’s Beverly Hills estate at 817 North Whittier Street when they were startled by screams coming from inside the home.  Dropping their tools as they ran, the men followed the bloodcurdling shrieks to the back entrance to the kitchen.  The first man in door must have been horrified. 71-year-old Katie Hayden lay in a widening pool of blood. She had been beaten so badly she was barely recognizable. In the sink was a bloody rag and a small ax.

It wasn’t Katie who had screamed.  Peggy King, the Hayden’s new housekeeper and cook, was responsible for the cries which shattered the quiet morning and drawn the landscapers and neighbors from several doors away to the gruesome scene.

The police were called and within minutes Beverly Hills cops and an ambulance arrived.  Katie was taken to Beverly Hills Emergency Hospital and then transferred to Cedars of Lebanon Hospital for surgery.  She didn’t make it.  Katie’s health had been poor for the last couple of years and she didn’t have to the strength to survive the vicious attack.  Even a younger, healthier person would likely have succumbed.  Dr. Frederick Newbarr, the Coroner’s chief autopsy surgeon, said that the beating Katie had suffered was the most vicious he had ever seen.  The killer used the sharp end of the ax to inflict 20 to 30 cuts on her head and face; then used the butt end to fracture Katie’s left jaw and her upper left collarbone.

Who could have wanted Katie dead? She wasn’t a high-risk victim – she was a Beverly Hills housewife.

Investigators dug into the Hayden’s background.  Did Samuel, who had made a fortune as a real estate developer, have enemies who hated him enough to get to him through is family?

The Haydens had relocated to Los Angeles from Chicago in the mid-1940s and moved to Beverly Hills.  They began construction on the Whittier Street home during the summer of 1954 and were occupying it by December.  The $200,000 [equivalent to $1.8 million dollars in today’s currency] estate was their dream home. It was also less than 300 feet away from 810 N. Linden Drive where mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel had been shot to death in the home’s living room in June 1947.

Bugsy Siegel with his attorney Jerry Geisler. [Photo courtesy of LAPL.]

Siegel was a mobster and the Hayden’s were from Chicago, a city with a long history of mob activity.  Was there a connection?

The last thing the city wanted was another unsolved high-profile murder case. Because the house had been under construction and workmen had been in and out, the detectives had at least 50 people to interview.  The master bedroom had been ransacked, maybe the murder was a burglary gone wrong. What if someone knew that Katie had been diagnosed with cancer and assumed she had narcotics on hand? Pharmaceutical grade drugs would be a powerful inducement for someone.

Police didn’t find anything to corroborate mob involvement, and the interviews they had conducted in the early hours of the investigation hadn’t led to any blinding insights.  Even so, they turned up an interesting suspect. Three weeks prior to the murder 39-year-old Rutherford Leon Bennett had been dismissed from the Hayden’s employ when he failed to meet their standards for a cook.  Since Bennett claimed his primary skill was millinery, specifically creating hats for wealthy matrons, his culinary skills may have been lacking.

Bennett’s alibi was straight forward.  He told police that he was asleep at home when the murder was committed. But Bennett had supposedly telephoned Samuel following his dismissal and demanded two weeks’ severance pay. When the Hayden’s wouldn’t deliver did Bennett get mad enough to kill?  Bennett denied that he had pressured the Haydens for money.  He stated that his reason for calling was benign, he wanted permission to use them as a job reference.

Bennett’s roommate, 24-year-old Nathaniel Smith, verified Bennett’s alibi.  Smith said that he and Bennett had been out until 5 a.m. on the morning of the murder and that when they arrived home both had immediately gone to bed.  Another point in Bennett’s favor is that he didn’t own a car so getting to Beverly Hills from his home at 1403 West 39th Street would have been a challenge.  He could have used Smith’s car, but a police search of the vehicle revealed no bloodstains. Bennett’s clothing was also free of bloodstains.

The Beverly Hills police didn’t want to risk another high-profile failure.  They’d struck out on the Siegel murder in ’47.  They arrested their only viable suspect in Katie’s murder, Rutherford Leon Bennett.

Bennett, Smith and the Hayden’s maid of three days, Peggy King, were each scheduled to take a lie detector test.  Cops hoped for a revelation.

NEXT TIME:  False alibis and new clues.

 

 

 

Corpus Delicti: Epilogue

Ewing Scott was released from prison in 1974, still vehemently denying that he had murdered his wife Evelyn in 1955.

Over the years he had told anyone who would listen than he had been wrongly convicted. By 1980 he was living on Social Security in a downtown Los Angeles hotel. Better accommodations than a prison cell — but not nearly as plush as the Beverly Hills mansion he shared with Evelyn.

Ewing leaves prison.

In 1983, Diane Wagner, a Burbank writer who spent five years as a part-time reporter in the New York Times Los Angeles bureau, began researching the Ewing case. She wanted to write a book about the landmark case.

Diane successfully located Ewing, who didn’t mind talking to an attractive young woman in the least, and asked him all the tough questions. She got the standard Ewing responses.  He told her that he had gone out for tooth powder on May 16, 1955 and when he returned, Evelyn was gone.

Diane interviewed Ewing several times but never got past the wall of denial, until August 5, 1984.  Ewing phoned and said that he wanted to see her one more time because he had something important to tell her.

Expecting nothing, but hoping for the best, Diane went to see Ewing. She brought her tape recorder with her, and she asked Ewing to state his full name and acknowledge that he was being recorded. Once the formalities were concluded, Ewing began to speak: “Well, I arrived in Las Vegas about dusk…” Then, to Diane’s amazement, Ewing confessed to killing Evelyn.

Ewing said that on May 16, 1955, he entered Evelyn’s bedroom with the mallet in his hand. Evelyn looked up and said: “But I haven’t done anything.”  Ewing told Diane, “I hit her in the head with a mallet, a hard rubber mallet. Just once. On the head, right on top.”

Ewing told Diane that he wrapped Evelyn’s naked body in a tarp and loaded it into the trunk of a 1940 Ford and drove into the desert six miles east of the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. He dumped the body into a sandy grave and then drove over it numerous times to cover his tire tracks.

The murder, digging the grave, and the drive to Vegas had taken a toll on Ewing. He “went to sleep in the car for awhile. Then I drove back to Los Angeles.”

Ewing expressed no remorse for the murder. In fact he bragged to Diane that he was smarter than the police and prosecutors because they never found his wife’s body. His arrogance defies comprehension. If he was so smart then how the hell did he end up in prison for two decades? Ewing also told Diane that Evelyn “deserved to die…she was a terrible person.” And once again he claimed that Evelyn had attempted to poison him. A claim that J. Miller Leavy, the prosecutor in the case, dismissed as completely ludicrous.

Had Ewing finally told the truth, or was the confession another lie like the hundreds he had told over the course of his life?

J. Miller Leavy believed Ewing told the truth when he said he killed Evelyn. But Leavy didn’t believe Ewing had hit Evelyn just once with a mallet, and he wasn’t convinced that Ewing had buried the body in the desert and not reduced it to ashes in the backyard incinerator.

Evelyn and Ewing Scott at the Queen Mary. [Photo found at the LA Daily Mirror blog]

There were several neighbors who recall seeing Ewing tending to a fire at the incinerator on that night in May, and they further remembered the awful stench produced by the smoke. Thirty years after the deed it hardly mattered how he had killed her or disposed of her remains. All that was important was that Ewing had fessed up to the crime.

But nothing was ever simple with Ewing.

About three months after Diane got Ewing’s confession on tape, Tom Towers, a reporter for the Herald Examiner, dropped in on Ewing who was bedridden in a Silver Lake convalescent hospital.

When Tom asked Ewing about Diane he said that she was his third wife and that they had honeymooned in South America.

Ewing also said that he hadn’t seen Diane’s book, “Corpus Delicti” but said that “the publisher is in trouble” for printing it. Tom Towers read to Ewing from the book and Ewing suddenly stopped him and demanded “What do you want?”

Tom wanted to know what had prompted Ewing to acknowledge the murder after three decades of protesting his innocence. Ewing said: “Acknowledge it? I’d be a damn fool to acknowledge it–they never found the body.”

On August 17, 1987, ninety-one year-old Ewing Scott died at the Skyline Convalescent Hospital in Silverlake. He was destitute and alone. His body was taken to the Los Angeles County Morgue where it lay unclaimed for more than a week after his death.

Ewing’s cremains are buried in a mass grave with the other unclaimed dead in Los Angeles County at Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights.

Evelyn’s remains have never been found.

Corpus Delicti, Conclusion

Ewing’s attorneys told reporters they were worried that their client had met with “foul play”. Both the police and the district attorney were convinced that Ewing’s convenient disappearance was a hoax.

District Attorney Ernest Roll said: “By this disappearing act he (Ewing) has apparently again avoided taking the stand and testifying under oath in one of our civil courts. It is further interesting to note that no missing person report has been filed with the Los Angeles Police Department in connection with Scott’s alleged disappearance.” Roll added that if Ewing didn’t appear for his next scheduled court appearance then, “proper legal steps will be taken to produce him.”

With $179,000 (equivalent to $1.5M today) of his missing wife’s assets unaccounted for,  and likely in his possession, Ewing could buy a ticket to anywhere in the world. In his case it would likely be a place with no extradition treaty with the U.S.

If his disappearance was voluntary, then he was in contempt of court in connection with the $6,000 judgement against him by the Wolfer Printing Company for the costs they incurred publishing his book, “How to Fascinate Men.”

Ewing’s recent companion, Marianne Beaman, might have been worried about Ewing after the sedan he’d been driving had been discovered in Santa Monica with bullet holes through the windshield. But her worry paled in comparison to that of Louis and Irving Glasser. The Glassers were the bail bondsmen who had guaranteed Ewing’s bail. If Ewing was a no-show, they’d be out the money.

So, was Ewing sitting on a distant beach sipping a cocktail with a colorful little umbrella in it; or was he dead and buried in an unmarked shallow grave along Angelus Crest Highway? Nobody knew for sure.

As in in many missing persons cases there were reported sightings of Ewing everywhere from Long Beach to Mexico. None of the sightings were verified.

On May 15, 1956, after Ewing failed to show up for his court appearance, District Attorney Roll requested bail in the amount of $100,000, but Superior Court Judge Herbert V. Walker had a better idea. He ordered Ewing’s original $25,000 bail forfeited and issued a bench warrant for his arrest.

District Attorney Roll read California Penal Code Section 32 aloud in the courtroom. He intended to drive home his point that anyone who “harbors, conceals or aids a principal … with the intent that said principal may avoid or escape from arrest, trial, conviction or punishment…” would be in an enormous amount of trouble with the law.

If Ewing was missing under his own steam, a likely accessory would be Marianne Beaman, and the police and the district attorney intended to hold her feet to the fire. They had a list of questions that she would be required to answer if she wanted to remain a free woman. One of the questions had to do with a few gifts given to her by Ewing. Items of clothing that had belonged to Evelyn.

A credible sighting of Ewing came from Bishop, California where he had allegedly spent the nights of May 2, 3, 4 and 5. Chief of Detectives Gordon Bowers of the Sheriff’s Department said he had alerted law enforcement entities from Los Angeles north to the Canadian border.

Ewing remained at large through the rest of 1956. On April 15, 1957, eleven months after Ewing had vanished, a man who gave his name as Lewis E. Stewart was arrested in Windsor, Ontario, Canada just across the Detroit River from Detroit. Mr. Stewart strongly resembled Ewing Scott.  And what a coincidence — his initials were the same.

Lewis Stewart was quickly confirmed to be the fugitive Ewing Scott and was confined to a cell on the fifth floor of the Wayne County Jail. As always, Ewing was impeccably dressed and vocal on the topic of his innocence in the death of his wife. “I’m the goat,” he said. “They are trying to make me take the rap for somebody else. I am innocent. I am being prejudged. I do not want to go back to California.”

Ewing was charming and friendly during his interview until a reporter asked him point-blank if he had murdered his wife. Scott replied, “That is an asinine question. It is just plain ridiculous and stupid. It is the last thing I would want to do.”

Ewing unsuccessfully fought extradition to California, and by mid-May he was returned to Los Angeles.

Ewing’s attorney filed a plea to dismiss the murder charge against him, but the judge wasn’t having it. Ewing’s trial for the murder of his wife was set for mid-September.

As Ewing awaited trial he spent a lot of his time attempting to sell his story to the movies. He wanted $200,000 for the tale and he claimed he planned to spend a significant portion of the sum to “follow up on a number of hot leads on the whereabouts of Mrs. Scott.”  According to Ewing Evelyn was missing, not dead.

As far as any possible film, the charming, sophisticated and good looking English actor, Ronald Colman, seemed to Ewing to be the obvious choice to portray him on the big screen. Who would play Evelyn? Ewing wasn’t so sure. “As far as Mrs. Scott goes, I don’t know who would be exactly right. perhaps an older Peggy Lee, or Mary Astor. I’d have to see the woman first.” After further thought, Ewing said about the as yet unnamed actress, “I do know that she’ll have to be smart, dignified and rather good looking–and definitely not the wisecracking type.” Okay. I guess Joan Blondell wouldn’t be considered — although personally I think she would have been a fantastic choice.

Ever the optimist, Ewing said he had no desire to portray himself in the film. He was, of course, certain that he would be free to accept the role if offered and not pacing the yard at San Quentin, or awaiting execution on death row instead of sitting in a canvas director’s chair with his name emblazoned on the back.

The district attorney’s decision to prosecute Ewing for Evelyn’s murder when her body had not been found was an enormous risk. Ewing was the first person in California to face such a trial, making his case one for the books.

Despite the lack of a physical body, Deputy District Attorney J. Miller Leavy, was confident that the corpus delicti of murder could be established. There was a mountain of compelling circumstantial evidence to bolster the State’s case. Leavy was not only certain of a conviction, he asked for the death penalty.

One of the highlights of Ewing’s trial was a visit, by the jurors, to the Beverly Hills home he and Evelyn had occupied. Of particular interest to the jurors was the backyard incinerator where the remains of women’s clothing were found, and also the spot where Evelyn’s denture and eyeglasses had been discovered. One of the female jurors opened the door to the incinerator and peered in — although what she expected to find wasn’t clear.

The defense attempted to cast doubt on the murder charge by claiming Evelyn had been spotted living on the East Coast, but they fell far short of refuting the prosecution’s robust case.

On December 21, 1957, the jury in the Ewing Scott murder trial returned a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree for the slaying of Evelyn Scott. Ewing showed no emotion as the verdict was read.

Several days later, following four hours of deliberation, the jury returned with their sentence: life in prison.

The jurors who agreed to speak with reporters said that they had tried to find a way to acquit Ewing but “we just couldn’t.”  The evidence of Ewing’s greed, manipulation, and the physical evidence of Evelyn’s glasses and denture, and the ashes of clothing, were too great to overcome. Nobody bought his contention that Evelyn was a drunk who left home of her own volition.

Ewing appealed his conviction.  The appeal was denied.  He also had the balls to petition for $600 per month so that, according to him, he could pay to mount an investigation into Evelyn’s disappearance. In February 1963, Ewing was legally denied his request to share in Evelyn’s estate.

In 1974, seventeen years after his conviction for Evelyn’s murder, Ewing was granted parole.  He refused to leave prison. His reason for refusal was that he felt accepting parole would be tantamount to accepting guilt for Evelyn’s murder.

Still vociferously denying his guilt, Ewing was released from prison in 1978.

NEXT TIME: Corpus Delicti Epilogue

Corpus Delicti, Part 3

Ewing Scott was likely the only person shocked by the court’s decision to make Evelyn’s bank the trustee for her estate. It still wasn’t clear how much of his missing wife’s money Ewing had managed to burn through before the plug was pulled on him.

Evelyn’s brother, Raymond, was satisfied with the outcome of the trustee battle — the bank was his nominee. Ewing’s attorneys were said to be plotting a new strategy to put him back in charge of the estimated $270,000 estate. But losing the trustee fight wasn’t Ewing’s most pressing problem. Rumors of a grand jury and possible indictments were looming large on the horizon.

Charles E. Beardsley, Ewing’s lawyer, was engaged in a pitched battle in the press with LAPD’s Chief William Parker. At the beginning of April, Beardsley fired another shot across Parker’s bow with an accusation that his privacy was being violated because he was being followed by police.  Beardsley said: “I was able to decoy two of these (undercover police cars) into a cul-de-sac alley behind the San Marino Police Department and have the San Marino police shake down the occupants.”  Beardsley was told that he was being followed by FBI agents, but he didn’t buy it.  He talked to an agent in charge in Los Angeles and was told that the FBI had no reason to tail him.

Beardsley asked Parker to explain publicly why he was spending taxpayer money to follow him around, but Parker didn’t take the bait.  All the Chief would say is that: “He (Beardsley) is talking about something of which I have no personal knowledge.  I have nothing to say until I do some more checking.”

While Parker and Beardsley traded barbs in the newspapers, District Attorney Ernest Roll issued his own statement on the case. He warned Ewing not to leave town without official clearance unless he wanted to face an unlawful flight to avoid prosecution charge. The elephant in the room was the fact that no charge had been made against Ewing.  The Chief and the D.A. may have had a charge in mind, but  Was Chief Parker referring to financial malfeasance, or murder? Both?

Roll also said that: “Definite and positive action will be taken on the return of Asst. Chief Dep. Dist. Atty. Adolph Alexander from the East.  This action will be in connection with our phase of the over-all investigation.  Mr. Alexander presently is investigating Mr. Scott’s handling of his missing wife’s trust funds.”

Would Parker’s admonition change Ewing’s mind about a business trip to the East? As far as Beardsley was concerned the LAPD and the DA better put up, or shut up. “We believe,” said Beardsley, “Mr. Scott is free to conduct his ordinary affairs.  If you tell me you want to take Mr. Scott into custody, I will have him appear at your office today.  Otherwise, I will assume you do not wish to take him into custody.  His leaving the State is not to avoid prosecution, as is clear from his willingness to appear at your office.”

Beardsley was about to get an answer to his question of what Ewing might be charged with.  During a trip to Washington, D.C. to attend the U.S. Attorney General’s national conference on parole, Chief Parker told reporters: “This hasn’t been published, but we found a partial (dental) plate and her (Evelyn’s) reading glasses behind a wall near the incinerator at the Scott’s house.”

Rumors that Evelyn might be holed up in Maryland were immediately quashed by Parker who said, “She was never here.”  Parker also hinted, none too subtly, that Evelyn Scott had met with foul play, “This looks like a case we’ll have to try without a body.”

Local coverage of the Scott case included a statement by Deputy Police Chief Thad Brown who said that two pairs of eyeglasses and a removable dental bridge belonging to Evelyn had been found by police during a search in the rear of the Scott home.  He told reporters: “They were buried at the base of the wall about six inches from the wall and covered with leaves and twigs.  It is hard, native soil at that point.”  The denture was identified by Evelyn’s dentist who also said that, as far as he knew, she didn’t have a back-up.

It was looking less and less like Evelyn had vanished of her own free will.

On April 10, after the police disclosed that Evelyn’s glasses and denture had been found in the back yard of her home. Ewing made his move. Officially, it was said that he had “taken a little trip to San Francisco.” Coincidentally, LAPD Deputy Chief Thad Brown had decided to visit the city by the bay as well.

Perhaps Ewing and Brown were taking in the sights of San Francisco or enjoying crab cakes at the pier. In Los Angeles Police Chemist Ray Pinker conducted tests on materials found in the incinerator at the Scott’s Bel-Air mansion.

With the possibility of hundreds of thousands of jewelry and cash missing from Evelyn’s estate, the police were hoping to find clues in a safe deposit box rented by Ewing under an assumed name in Westwood. They found nothing of consequence.

Ewing was subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury on April 24th.

The grand jury indicted Ewing on 13 counts, 4 of theft and 9 of forgery.  His constant companion was divorcee Marianne Beaman who seemed to have no problem consorting with a man who may have murdered his wife. Marianne even flatly refused to testify about out-of-town jaunts she and Ewing had taken. Her refusal to speak could lead to a contempt charge.

Ewing’s difficulties were multiplying exponentially.  In addition to charges of forgery and theft, and his failed “How to Fascinate Men” book scheme, four employees of an automobile agency at 200 N Vermont Ave came forward and identified Ewing as the man who has bilked them out of an unspecified amount each for a bogus hair restorer.

Ewing had talked glowingly about the miracle cream to the follicle-challenged quartet. The men agreed to pose for “before” top-of-the-head photos and following a month of using the cream they were supposed to pose for “after” photos.  The head showing the most improvement would win a $35 prize.  The men had neither seen nor heard from Ewing for five years. Then they he popped up in the newspapers in connection with his wife’s disappearance.

On May 5, 1956, nearly a full year after her disappearance, Evelyn’s maroon 1948 coupe, which had been driven by Ewing, was discovered in front of 2214 Washington Ave, Santa Monica.  Neighbors said the car had been sitting in the same spot for several days. Police investigated and found a bullet hole through the windshield on the driver’s side. The bullet had been fired from inside the car and part of a lead slug was found on the seat, and the keys to the car were discovered beneath the floor mat.

Ewing wasn’t with Marianne Beamann (who lived in Santa Monica); and he wasn’t in Bel-Air either because his neighbors had not seen him for “several days.”

Where in the hell was Ewing?

NEXT TIME: The corpus dilecti case concludes.