Welcome to Deranged L.A. Crimes. Ten years ago, I started this blog to cover historic Los Angeles crimes. I am not surprised that I haven’t even scratched the surface of murder and mayhem in the City of Angels.
I have been absent from the blog for a while, focusing on finishing my book on L.A. crimes during the Prohibition Era for University Press Kentucky. It’s not done yet, but I’m close. No matter, it is time to return to the blog. It is something I love to do.
Focusing my energy on the book, I failed to pay tribute to the inspiration for Deranged L.A. Crimes, Agness “Aggie” Underwood, on December 17, 2022, the 120th anniversary of her birth. If you aren’t familiar with Aggie, I’ve written about her many times in previous posts.
In 2016, I curated a photo exhibit at the Los Angeles Central Library downtown. The exhibit, for the non-profit Photo Friends, featured pictures from cases and events Aggie wrote about over the course of her career. I wrote a companion book, The First with the Latest!: Aggie Underwood, the Los Angeles Herald, and the Sordid Crimes of a City.
Aggie is a dame worth learning about. She is a legendary crime reporter, who worked in the business from 1927 until her retirement from the Los Angeles Herald in 1968. A force to be reckoned with, Aggie worked as a reporter until her promotion to City Editor of the Herald in January 1947, while covering the Black Dahlia case. She was the only Los Angeles reporter, male or female, to get a by-line for her reporting on the ongoing investigation.
On her retirement, she told a colleague that she feared being forgotten. That won’t happen on my watch. Thanks again, Aggie, for the inspiration. Deranged L.A. Crimes is dedicated to you.
Among the things I’ve learned over the years researching and writing about crime, is that people don’t change. The motives for crime are timeless: greed, lust, anger, betrayal, and jealousy are but a few.
What is different is crime detection. Science has come a long way. Detectives no longer use the Bertillon system to identify criminals—they use DNA. I think part of the reason I’m drawn to historic crime is the challenges overcome by former detectives and scientists. Despite the advancements in science, it is my belief that if it was possible to pluck the best detectives and scientists from the past and set them down in the present, they would still be great. I am amazed at the cases they solved.
I look forward to this new year, and to the challenges it will bring. I am so glad you are here, and I invite you to reach out if you have questions and/or suggestions.
According to Edith’s public defender, William Aggeler, a state of extreme melancholia brought about by physical ailments suffered since childhood, account for her accidental shooting of Linus Worden, causing his death.
Edith’s mother recounted for the seven men and five women on the jury a litany of illnesses and conditions afflicting her daughter. She testified that at seven months old, Edith had a serious case of pneumonia; she had an attack of spinal meningitis at three; at nine they found her unconscious in a rocking chair. She remained in bed for several weeks and was in such extreme pain she couldn’t bear to be touched without screaming in agony. When she finally got out of bed, she held her head in a twisted position. A lump developed on the right side of her neck and when she walked, she dragged her right leg and complained of constant head pain. At twelve, she suffered a spasm so severe that her hands couldn’t voluntarily unclench.
After her marriage, at seventeen, her husband found her one afternoon unconscious lying between the bed and the wall. In the ten years since then, she endured many similar attacks, even having one while in jail.
In November 1920, Edith’s mother noticed her daughter’s extreme moodiness. She testified the nervous condition manifested itself in Edith’s refusal to eat and her inability to continue to work in any capacity. In the fall of 1920, her mother found a revolver in Edith’s room and removed it. She gave the weapon to her husband.
As sad as Edith’s life was, she still shot and killed a man—and that is the story the prosecution would tell. Detective Kline testified to his conversation with Edith in the hospital. He asked her how she came to be shot. She answered, “It does not make any difference.” He informed her of Linus’ death, and she said, “I shot him, but I do not believe he is dead and will not believe it until my brother-in-law, Lee, tells me so.”
Edith insisted mutual despondency was the reason for the shooting. She claimed both she and Linus wanted to die. The mutual destruction motive flew in the face of Edith’s initial statement, “I couldn’t live without him, and I couldn’t get along with him.”
Edith’s mother testified for the defense; however, her father, Mr. Vosberg, was called as a prosecution witness. His duty to testify weighed heavily on him. He loved Edith. He recalled for the jury the events of the night of Linus’ death. He said he and Harvey Clarke, his son-in-law, relaxed inside the house while Linus and Edith sat outside in Linus’ car. When they hear four shots, both men sprang into action. They found Linus dying, and Edith seriously wounded.
A packed courtroom heard Edith testify on Monday, July 25. Physical suffering made her life wretched, and she tried several times to commit suicide. Two years after she married, she tried it again. “I had been reading spiritualist books.” [Note: spiritualism was enormously popular following WWI. So many people lost loved ones and desperately wanted to contact them in the afterlife.] Edith said she read The Gateway of Heaven. “It described the experiences of a woman on the other side. After reading it, I got a desire to go and see what was there.”
The death of her husband exacerbated her depression. “I used to walk the palisades at Santa Monica and fight the inclination to go over. I did not think it was right at that time; I had a greater understanding then than later. I got the desire in August 1920 to take my life.”
A friend of hers from Santa Barbara shot himself in the head. She thought it would be “a good way to do it.” She bought a gun in early November.
Even jail didn’t stop Edith from attempting suicide. She got a hold of a pair of scissors and tried to do herself in.
Edith described suffering debilitating symptoms every month. She lived on aspirin. Often, she shut herself away in her bedroom.
Was there a legitimate medical cause for Edith’s physical complaint and behavior? It is possible Edith suffered from Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). In the 1920s, the diagnosis didn’t exist. In fact, they didn’t add PMDD to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders until 2013, and it remains a controversial. Yet, the symptoms described by Edith fit the disorder. They also fit Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). Her first suicide attempt at fourteen lends credibility to a hormonal imbalance, but that is speculation.
It isn’t surprising that Edith’s trial became a battle of expert witnesses. Alienists on both sides offered an opinion on Edith’s mental state. The question of her sanity loomed large.
Defense witness, Dr. Allen, believed Edith was insane at the time of the murder. In fact, he referred to her case as one of “psycopathic (sic) personality.” He said, “In considering her mental state, it is necessary to view it in the light of the history of her case. In this case, there is a very marked history of abnormality, or eroticism. I don’t think this woman was at any time mentally normal. Because of her physical condition, she was predestined to become mentally unbalanced in a crisis.”
Dr. Allen’s conclusion isn’t surprising given how often women were characterized as hysterical and insane.
I’ll digress for a moment. Women’s menstrual cycle has a long history of being misunderstood. In fact, the word taboo comes from the Polynesian word tapua, which means both sacred and menstrual flow. Ladies, if we ever learn to harness it, menstruation is our super power. Why? Ancient Romans believed a woman’s monthly flow could turn new wine sour, wither crops, dry seeds in gardens, kill bees, rust iron and bronze. Dogs who taste the blood become mad—their bite poisonous. There is some good news. Hailstorms and whirlwinds are driven away if menstrual fluid is exposed to flashes of lightning.
Don your capes and prepare for battle. Now back to Edith.
Edith’s conflicting stories of the murder are troubling. At first, she said Linus wanted to die. During her trial, she said it was an accident. Before she and Linus went out for a drive on the fatal night, she slipped into a small room off the parlor. Linus noticed her come and go twice before he asked her about it. She said she would explain later. She didn’t tell him it was where she kept her revolver. He didn’t see her slip the gun into her coat pocket.
When they returned later and sat in Linus’ car, Edith said she kept thinking about taking out the gun and shooting herself. She communicated some of her unease to Linus. He said he would see her the next night. Making future plans doesn’t sound like a man ready to kill himself.
Edith continued her testimony, “All kinds of emotions went through me. I remember him turning away from me. He laughed and said: ‘You will be all right.’ I shook my head and felt the gun. The first thing I knew there was a flash. I saw his face in front of me. The report frightened me.”
Did Linus laughing at her trigger a rage?
The defense hoped the jury would believe Edith’s ill health made her mentally irresponsible for Linus’ death.
“Many people suffer from illness, including headaches, but it doesn’t justify taking a life,” argued the prosecution. The D.A. asked the jury not to be swayed by “technical insanity,” nor sympathy, but to administer the law as it is written.
It took the jury an hour and a quarter to acquit Edith.
The following day, shortly after 2 PM, police rearrested Edith at a downtown department store on an insanity warrant sworn to by Detective Sergeant Eddie King of the district attorney’s office. Accompanying him was future LAPD chief, Louis Oaks. [Oaks served from 1922 to 1923 until they showed the hard-drinking the door. It’s an interesting tale for another time.]
Was the D.A. a sore loser? Maybe. But he pointed out that the attacks of melancholia Edith suffered were a recurrent affliction, and a recognized form of insanity.
In early August, five physicians of the Lunacy Commission found Edith sane. While subject to depression, the doctors didn’t consider her a menace to society. However, they recommended six months of probation rather than confinement in an institution.
Judge Weyle said, “you have suffered enough.”
Following her acquittal, Edith resumed the use and spelling of her maiden name, Edythe Vosberg.
The 1930 census shows her living with her parents in a home at 858 N. Curson, in West Hollywood. She works as a stenographer in the motion picture industry. Her brother-in-law Harvey, and her brother Gayne (born Alfred D. Vosberg), worked as actors. Either of them may have helped her get the job. Her brother changed his name to Gayne Whitman after WWI to avoid the negative association with his German birth name. Gayne had a long career, from 1904-1957, he appeared in 213 films. On radio, he played the title role in Chandu the Magician and also worked as an announcer.
The 1933 city directory for Santa Monica, has Edythe working for the H.C. Henshey Company. Henshey’s was a major Santa Monica department store. Sadly, it went out of business years ago.
Edythe’s mother passed away in 1939. By the 1940 census, 49-year-old Edythe is living at 2630 St. George Street with her father and her nephew, 22-year-old Harvey Clark. The house is off Franklin Avenue, near the Shakespeare Bridge in Los Feliz.
In 1950, 56-year-old Edythe works as a record keeper for the city police department. It doesn’t say which city, she appears to be living in North Hollywood in the San Fernando Valley.
I don’t know what Edythe did from 1950 until her death in 1971. I know she never remarried, and never had any further run-ins with the law. She is buried at Forest Lawn in Glendale.
The Supreme Court is trampling women’s rights and there is no reason to believe it will stop. Can we expect to be deprived of voting rights? Will they force us to perform only those jobs deemed suitable for women? I, for one, believe this court has no lower bound. I await an apocalypse.
While I await said apocalypse, I divert my energy into research. It is my escape and my happy place. Anyway, during a recent search of old newspapers, I found several intriguing cases from 1921.
I’ll begin with Edith Lundberg.
The Los Angeles newspaper headlines for 1921, reflect nothing short of a female crime wave. On any given day, Edith Lundberg shares column space with Louise Peete (unmasked years later as a serial killer); Erie Mullicane, a young woman accused of killing her baby, and numerous other women facing the criminal justice system for a variety of crimes.
Born to Anna Marie Hart and William Allen Vosburgh (Vosberg) on June 29, 1891 in Illinois, Edith Mae Vosberg had an older brother, Gayne born in 1890, and a sister, Ethel, born 1895
Married, at 18 years-old, to Arthur Lundberg and widowed seven years later in 1916, Edith Lundberg’s life was not very different from other women her age. Many young women lost children, and husbands, before their 30th birthday. Luckier than some, Edith moved from Missouri to Santa Barbara, California, to live with her younger sister, Ethel. Ethel married Harvey Clark, a successful movie character actor. They welcomed Edith.
Situated a short distance from the beach, the Clark’s house at 322 West Mission Street must have made a pleasant change for Edith from the harsh mid-western winters, and the loneliness of widowhood. Even with its desirable location, it was a long commute to get to the movie studios, so sometime during 1920, the Clarks moved to Los Angeles, and Edith accompanied them. She moved in with her parents, who also fled the harsh midwestern weather. She found a job as a stenographer in the mechanical department of the Hall of Records.
In September 1920, she started dating Linus Worden, Jr., a local car salesman. Linus served in the motor transport corps during the war, earning his sergeant’s stripes. A post-war segue to working in auto sales seemed perfect for him.
Prior to meeting Linus, Edith resumed use of her maiden name. Linus and his family knew her as Miss Vosberg. She did not mention her widowed status. After five years alone, she may have preferred to put her sadness behind her and start fresh. Linus called on at least once a week. Edith’s mother believed the relationship was on a track to marriage, but the Wordens had a different take on it. They believed it was casual companionship. Both families agreed the pair enjoyed each other’s company.
On February 8, 1921, the couple went out for a drive. A couple of hours later, Linus’ car pulled up at the curb in front of the Vosberg home at 1227 West Twelfth Street. (The house is long gone.) In the house, her parents, and her sister and her brother-in-law, heard laughter and conversation from the car. After a momentary silence, four gunshots cracked. A agonized cry followed. Linus got out of the car, took a few steps toward the house and collapsed on the sidewalk.
F.E. Andreani, a near neighbor, heard the commotion and ran over to Linus to render aid. Linus said, “I’m shot.” Then stopped trying to speak. Andreani pulled the fallen man into his car and rushed him to the nearest receiving hospital, but Linus died before they could reach medical help. One bullet pierced his heart, and another lodged in his stomach.
Linus’ wounds accounted for two shots. What about the other two? After shooting Linus, Edith held the pistol against her abdomen and shot twice. She made it to her parents’ porch before falling. At the hospital, Edith begged to die. She told the attending surgeons, “I couldn’t live with him and I couldn’t live without him. I made up my mind to kill him and I shot him.” She also muttered she and Linus “felt blue.” She said she planned to kill him and then herself.
As they waited for word on Edith’s condition, police began their investigation. They learned Edith purchased the gun at a pawnshop two weeks earlier. She used an assumed name.
Two days after the crime, Edith lay near death in the county hospital. Her motive remained unclear. One doctor, Edward H. Morrissey, president of the Los Angeles Association of Optometrists, theorized, “If this young woman quarreled with Worden, she undoubtedly did so because of the low ebb of her vitality caused her to be irritable. Any undue excitement which might have come while she was in this condition could have caused her to lose control of herself. The majority of criminals in our jails and inmates of our county farms are victims of defective vision.” An interesting theory, for sure. Dr. Morrissey based it on a report that Edith complained of a severe headache and problems with her eyesight the day of Linus’ murder.
Police had their own theory, which did not involve faulty eyesight. They believed Edith premeditated the murder because she purchased the revolver in advance. Another odd thing, Edith wrote, but did not mail, a letter to a friend in which she stated: “I have a strange feeling. If anything happens, I will come to you if I am allowed.”
Edith’s condition tread a thin line between life and death for days before doctors felt confident enough to declare her on the road to recovery. The news is enough for the District Attorney to file a murder charge against Edith. They move her from the county hospital to a bed in the county jail.
According to her attorney, T.E. Justice, (perfect name for an attorney, right?) Edith would plead insanity. Edith said, “I don’t know why I killed him. I loved him and he loved me, but we were both moody, subject to despondency and melancholy, and I did not feel that we would be happy married. I had planned for some time to take my own life, but had no intention of taking his. But I expect to pay the penalty, and now my chief worry is for his mother, for he was everything to her.”
Her difficult recovery postponed her preliminary hearing until April 5. Los Angeles Police Department Detective Sergeant Bean remained baffled by Edith’s conflicting statements. On one hand, she claimed she couldn’t live with Linus; other the other hand she could not live without him. In the next breath, she asserted the shooting was a terrible accident. She intended to kill herself, not to harm Linus. Maybe the trial would clarify her true motive.
On April 5, her attorney (soon to be replaced by a public defender) previewed Edith’s defense—chronic melancholia.
Founded in 1921, the Bureau’s celebration should have taken place last year but, like so many things, they put it on hold. It was worth the wait.
Nearly 500 people gathered at Pacific Palms Resort in the City of Industry to honor past and present detectives. I am honored to know a few of them personally.
During the 6+ years, I have volunteered with LASD’s museum, I’ve met, and worked with, a few of the department’s retired homicide investigators. Most notably, Frank Salerno and Gil Carrillo. You know them from the Night Stalker case in the mid-1980s.
They are among the most famous of the Bulldogs, but each of the investigators I’ve met is truly outstanding. I’ve learned that being a homicide investigator is a calling. It’s not a j-o-b. It takes intelligence, skill, and heart to deal with the cases that cross their desks daily.
A person I admire and respect is Ray Lugo. Ray has been a homicide detective for over 20 years.
An example of Ray’s bulldog attitude is the investigation into the 2006 murder of Iraq war veteran, 24-year-old Jesse Aguilar, found shot to death inside the trunk of his car, which was found on fire on Oct. 26, 2006, in the Los Angeles Riverbed near Paramount Boulevard in South Gate.
It took a decade to solve the case, and over twelve years before the killers went to trial. and to prison.
Jesse’s mother, Nancy, said,
“It’s been a relief that there’s going to be accountability. I want to look into the killers’ eyes. I want to see them.”
She said this about Ray Lugo,
“God sent Ray (Lugo) for this case because he never quits.”
It does not matter if they are working a case that is hours old, or decades old, they have the same determination to find a solution.
Bow WOW–A Brief History of the Bulldogs
How did the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau earn their nickname?
In a December 18, 1977 Los Angeles Times article by Myrna Oliver and Bill Farr.
Under the headline “Sheriff’s ‘Bulldogs’ Hang in Where LAPD Doesn’t,” a veteran prosecutor is quoted, “You want to know why the Sheriff’s conviction rate is so much higher in homicide, not just last year, but for several years? It is because the guys from the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau are a bunch of bulldogs. From the time they are called to the murder scene, until we prosecutors get the case through the courts, they never let go and I mean on every murder case, not just the high publicity cases. They are routinely tenacious, and the investigator assigned to the case sticks with it until the end. There is no shuttling cases to somebody else like at LAPD. With the Sheriff’s people, if you need follow-up done, they are marvelous; they are super. They even give you their home phone number in volunteering to help out.”
In the same article, a defense attorney had this to say, “I can tell you that almost every defense attorney I’ve ever talked to would rather try a murder case LAPD than against the Sheriff’s people. The Sheriffs are just tougher.”
L.A.’s First Serial Killer & The Birth of the Bureau
It is interesting to note that the birth of the bureau directly results from the city’s first bona fide serial killer, James Bluebeard Watson.
Kathryn Wombacher, an unmarried seamstress, took a chance on love when she answered an ad in a local Spokane, Washington newspaper in 1919. The ad’s author, Walter Andrew, described himself as a man in his 30s—sensitive and caring, with good habits, a decent income, and a desire to marry. Kathryn immediately answered the ad. Their meeting went well and they married in November 1919.
It thrilled Kathryn to move with her new husband to Hollywood. There was a constellation of stars living in the area. She wondered if she would meet Charlie Chaplin or Mary Pickford.
Even more exciting than moving to Hollywood was the knowledge that she married a government secret agent. Walter’s work lost some of its luster for Kathryn when his absences from home became longer and more frequent. She suspected her new husband of infidelity.
She hired a private detective and together they uncovered Walter’s secret. His real name was James Watson. He was a bigamist, and a multiple murderer with no connection to the secret service. He killed at least 25 of his wives across the western U.S. and Canada.
There was no homicide bureau then. Sheriff Traeger investigated on his own. It was not a one-person job. At the successful end of the investigation, in 1921, Chief of the Criminal Division, Harry Wright, insisted that Sheriff Traeger create the Homicide Detail. That was the first step toward the modern bureau.
In the decades since the Bluebeard Watson case, Sheriff’s homicide bureau has tackled some of the most difficult, and bizarre, murders in the county’s history; and they continue to do amazing work.
Advancements in science have provided detectives with valuable tools, but no matter what the science, it will always take a detective’s insight and skill to put together a case.
Speaking with Mike Fratantoni, the Sheriff’s museum curator, we agreed that each generation of homicide detectives passes the torch to those who follow. It is a tradition of which the department is justifiably proud.
In early March 1927, twenty-year-old Tony Santi arrived at the Burbank Police Department to report an assault on his girlfriend, a fifteen-year-old Burbank high school girl, Mary Garard.
Tony sat in the station and related a bizarre tale to officers. Two weeks earlier, the couple drove out to a cabin in Kagel Canyon in the hills west of Roscoe. They wanted to prepare it for a party later that day. Tony said the cabin had no running water, so he went out to a stream to fill their bucket. He told Mary he would be gone for about fifteen minutes.
When he returned, he found Mary bound and gagged. He released her, and she told him what had happened. She said shortly after he left to get water, two men, reeking of alcohol, turned up at the cabin door. They asked her if she was alone and she told them no. She said her boyfriend was due to return any minute. Then, without warning, the men grabbed her arms. They bound her and stuffed a rag into her mouth to stifle her screams. They dragged her to a cot. One man produced a knife and, as Mary struggled, he cut into the flesh of her left shoulder the letters NR. The men said, “We are Night Riders. Let this be a lesson to you.”
Mary’s parents knew nothing about the assault until they arrived home from a trip to Colorado a few days later. Tony told police he was making the report against the wishes of Mary and her parents. They wanted the matter dropped.
Because the attack occurred in Los Angeles County territory, Burbank police referred the case to Captain William Bright of the Sheriff’s Department. Captain Bright told reporters that because Mary and her parents were unwilling to pursue the matter, he had no choice but to drop the investigation.
On the heels of Captain Bright’s announcement, Mary and her mother arrived at the Sheriff’s Department ready to swear out a complaint against the perpetrators of what newspapers referred to has a branding. Bright requested a John Doe warrant.
On the day following the Garard’s change of heart in the case, Mary and Tony appeared again in Captain Bright’s office. This time, they told him a different story.
The entire branding incident was a hoax perpetrated by the young lovers. As a minor, Mary required her parents’ consent to marry. They refused. Mary and Tony then concocted the branding scheme so her parents would see the wisdom of granting her a full-time protector. Sheriffs arrested Tony for assault and held Mary as a witness. Tony appeared in Judge MacCoy’s court to answer for two statutory charges. They fixed his bail at $1000.
It took until July to unravel Mary’s and Tony’s lies, but investigators finally sorted it out. In Superior Judge Elliot Craig’s court, Tony pleaded guilty to one of two counts charging a serious offense. (I think we can read between the lines and assume that Tony and Mary had intercourse.)
Mary confessed it was she who carved NR into her left shoulder to convince her parents to allow her to marry. Mutilating yourself is not the best way to show maturity. Her parents were wise to turn her down.
Mary and Tony went to an extraordinary amount of trouble to be together. So, what became of them? A superficial search of ancestry.com shows they married after all in December 1927, and may have divorced in the late 1930s. The course of true love never did run smooth.
Edgar Allan Poe’s The Mystery of Marie Roget, is cited as the first murder mystery based on details of an actual crime. I am skeptical of firsts, but if Poe’s story is not the first, it is an early entry. It appeared in Snowden’s Ladies’ Companion in three installments, November and December 1842 and February 1843.
Behind Poe’s tale of Marie Roget is the murder of Mary Cecilia Rogers.
Rogers, a tobacco shop employee, became known as the Beautiful Cigar Girl. She disappears on October 4, 1848, and local papers report her elopement with a naval officer. She returns later, sans husband.
She disappears again on July 25, 1841. Friends see her at the corner of Theatre Alley, where she meets a man. They walk off together toward Barclay Street, ostensibly for an excursion to Hoboken.
Three days later, H.G. Luther and two other men in a sailboat pass by Sybil’s Cave near Castle Point, Hoboken. Floating in the water they see the body of a young woman. They drag it to shore and contact police.
According to the New York Tribune, Rogers is “horribly outraged and murdered”. Questions regarding Rogers’ death remain. It is alleged she ended up in the river following a failed abortion. The scenario is credible, in part, because her boyfriend committed suicide and left a note suggesting his involvement in her death.
I love it when a novel is based on a true crime. One of my favorites is An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser. Dreiser draws inspiration from a murder in the Adirondacks.
In 1905, Chester Gillette takes a job as a manager in an uncle’s skirt factory in Cortland, New York. It is there he meets factory worker, Grace Brown. They begin an affair and she becomes pregnant.
Chester is neither interested in being a husband, nor in being a father. He takes Grace on a trip to the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. Using the alias, Carl Graham, Chester rents a hotel room, and a rowboat.
Grace believes the hotel is where they will spend their honeymoon following a visit to the local justice of the peace. In anticipation of her new life with Chester, Grace packs all of her belongings in a single suitcase.
Chester’s suitcase is small. He is not beginning a life with Grace.
On July 11, the couple takes a rowboat out into the middle of Big Moose Lake. There is no marriage proposal. No wedding ring. He beats her over the head with his tennis racquet and pushes her overboard to drown.
On July 13, 1906, The Sun reports the tragic drowning of a couple in Big Moose Lake. Grace’s body floats to the surface the next day. The body of her companion, Carl Graham, is missing.
Fearing he is dead, police search for Carl. They soon learn the true identity of Grace’s companion. He is alive, well, and his name is not Carl. Police arrest Chester. He denies responsibility for Grace’s death. He insists she committed suicide. The bad news for Chester is none of the physical evidence supports his version of events.
The jury shows no mercy—they find him guilty and sentence him to death.
On March 30, 1908, they execute Chester in the electric chair at Auburn Prison in Auburn, New York.
March 4, 1932.
Soaked to the skin, bleeding from the head, and covered in bruises, seventeen-year-old Lois Wade stumbles into the road near Mountain Meadows Country Club in Pomona. A Good Samaritan takes her to Pomona Valley Hospital.
The hospital calls the Sheriff’s department, and deputies arrive to take Lois’ statement. She tells them a terrifying story.
She is is walking from downtown Pomona to her parent’s home at 349 East Pasadena Avenue, when a stranger pulls up alongside her and offers her a ride. She accepts, but rather than taking her home, the man stops his car on Walnut Avenue near an abandoned well and beats her.
Lois’ attacker forces her into the well and shoves her down witht a pole when she attempts to climb out. When Lois vanishes from his view, the man gets in his car and drives away.
The motiveless attack makes little sense, and deputies question Lois’ account. The next day, she revises her story.
Her attacker is not a stranger as she originally claims; he is her nineteen-year-old married lover, Frank Newland.
Deputies Killion and Lynch arrest Frank at his home at 918 South San Antonio Street, Pomona. They book him on a charge of assault with intent to commit murder. Frank denies the attack.
As Lois lay in serious condition in the hospital, the D.A. revises charges against him to include statutory rape. Because of the severity of Lois’ wounds and her inability to appear in court, Judge White resumes Frank’s hearing at Lois’ hospital bedside.
Within a month of the attempt on Lois’ life, Frank goes to trial. Local newspapers pick up on the similarities between Frank and Lois and the characters in Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy.
Future Los Angeles mayor, Fletcher Bowron, sits on the bench. Public interest in the trial is high and draws an enormous crowd—the largest since the 1929 rape trial of theater mogul Alexander Pantages.
The trial begins on April 28; Lois takes the stand, and the courtroom hangs on her every word.
Lois is low-key and demure as she testifies to her ordeal.
“By prearrangement we met on a corner in Pomona. We went in his roadster to the Mountain Meadows Country Club, where he drove off the road and stopped the car. We sat in the car for a half-hour; yes, we kissed and loved. He then suggested that we walk over to an old windmill and abandoned well nearby.”
“We looked in the well and then suddenly he turned around and struck me over the head with a club. I fell to the ground. He struck me eight or ten times more and kicked me several times.”
Frank grabs Lois by the feet and drags her, struggling and screaming ten feet to the well. No match for Frank, he overpowers her and throws her in the well.
Lois lands in twenty-five-feet of water. She bobs to the top, and fights for her life. Frank uses a railroad tie to shove Lois under water. A photo of Deputy W.L. Killon, puts the size of the weapon into perspective.
Convinced Lois is dead, Frank gets into his car and drives away.
Lois claws herself up the wall of the well. She crawls over the edge, tumbles onto the ground, then rises and lurches into the street to summon help. A man stops his car to render aid. Amazingly, Lois’ Good Samaritan is a doctor.
Dr. Roy E. St. Clair testifies to finding Lois in the road.
“I was driving to Pomona on the Mountain Meadows Road about 8:30 p.m. last March 4 when I heard a cry and the lights on my car picked up the figure of Miss Wade standing with her right arm out-stretched. I backed up my machine, and she came to the door and said ‘Take me to a doctor.’”
The following tale is especially terrifying for me. Maybe it was my childhood reading of the Edgar Allan Poe story, The Premature Burial, that has given me an absolute terror of being buried alive. Maybe I had a previous life in Victorian England where their fears of being buried alive reached hysterical levels.
Assuming I predecease him, I’ve instructed my husband to allow me ripen before disposing of my body. Seriously. I know that of the fates likely to befall me, premature burial is way down on the list. This is one of those fears that resists common sense.
I know I’m not alone because clever Victorians devised various methods to avoid premature burial, like the safety coffin. No. I am not making this up.
Some coffins, like the one below, allowed the incarcerated victim to wave a flag, ring a bell, and to speak through a tube that reached to the surface to let passersby know someone alive was inside. In fact, such a coffin may be the origin of the saying, “saved by the bell.”
Enough about my personal fears—and forgive my digression. Let’s get to the story of Marie Billings who faced my biggest terror and lived to talk about it.
Late in the afternoon of May 9, 1928, Marie Billings answered a knock on her front door. A man stood waiting for her. He was tall, about 6’ 4”, and wore a dark suit with a grey pinstripe. He said he was a real estate salesman and interested in purchasing the home she shared with her husband, Howard, a local manufacturer.
Marie and Howard didn’t plan to sell their home at 5911 Allston Street in Montebello. Even so, she figured that there was no harm in listening to the salesman’s pitch. The two began a conversation and he followed her in to the house.
Without warning he slugged her over the head with a club he must have had concealed. Marie struggled in vain. Her attacker ripped her clothing and bound her with an electrical cord. Rendered helpless, she felt a silk stocking wind around her throat as the man choked her into unconsciousness. The stocking was removed from her neck and used to gag her. She was wrapped in a blanket and carried to his car, a Ford coupe.
He drove her about eight miles to Turnbull Canyon in Whittier. Marie lay unmoving in the dirt. The man bent down and felt her pulse. She was still alive, so he beat her with an iron bar to finish her off.
Satisfied that she was dead, he covered her with dirt, brush, and leaves. He drove away.
Marie awoke and realized she was in a grave. HER grave. She resisted the urge to scream. Unable to breathe, she fought her way to the surface. She had just enough strength to free herself.
Badly beaten, Marie crawled two hundred yards to a nearby road. In her arms she carried the bloody blanket in which she was wrapped by her kidnapper. Her restraints trailed behind her.
She reached the road and flagged down a car driven by by W. J. Collins, a taxi driver. Collins drove her to the Murphy Memorial Hospital in Whittier.
Medical staff phoned the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Under the direction of Captain William Bright, an investigation into Marie’s assault and attempted murder began.
Marie recovered enough to be interviewed by detectives. She gave a chilling account of her battering at the hands of a man she said seemed familiar. He was the same real estate agent who visited her home a year earlier.
Claude Peters of the homicide squad interviewed Mrs. Robert D. Ellis, who lived within a block of the Billings home. Based on Marie’s description of her attacker, Mrs. Ellis thought she recalled seeing him. She said, “I saw a man leaving the Billings house two or three days before the attack. He was carrying a large package and got into a Ford coupe and drove away.”
Based on the scant evidence they possessed, the sheriff’s department introduced an interesting theory of the crime that included a second suspect. They suggested that two accomplices battled to the death over Marie’s $500 diamond ring.
Alternatively, a second man may have witnessed the crime and attempted a rescue, which ended in his own death and burial.
Howard, Marie’s husband, began his own investigation. He visited the makeshift grave and found a piece of torn clothing with a powder-burned bullet hole. He delivered the potential evidence to Captain Bright.
In a search of the Billings home, deputies found a length of pipe with one clear fingerprint on it. They hoped that it would lead them to a suspect—it did not. Tantalizing bits of evidence that led nowhere.
The case went cold. Detectives never found a second grave, and the identify of Marie’s attacker stayed a mystery.
This is one of those cases that will remain an itch I can’t scratch. I can only imagine how much it bothered the investigators who worked it at the time.
The man who attacked Marie was a sadistic monster. Did he commit other crimes? We will never know.
Due to an audio glitch on February 9th, this webinar has been rescheduled to February 16, 2021 at 7 pm.
Please join me for one of the wackiest, and most deranged, love stories in L.A.’s history.
There is always some madness in love. — Friedrich Nietzsche
On the evening of August 22, 1922, at about 10:30 pm, Fred Oesterreich and his wife Walburga, nicknamed Dolly, returned to their home at 858 North La Fayette Place after visiting friends in the Wilshire district.
The couple engaged in a bitter argument as they crossed the threshold of their home; however, it was not unusual for the heavy-drinking apron manufacturer and his wife to shout at each other. After over 25 years of marriage each was armed with a vast stockpile of grievances to hurl with deadly accuracy at the other.
Their evenings customarily ended when the combatants retired to their separate quarters to lick their wounds; but this night ended like no other before it. Moments after arriving home, Dolly found herself locked in her upstairs bedroom closet screaming for help. Fred lay dead in a pool of his own blood on the floor downstairs near the front door.
Publicly, the police attributed Fred’s murder to burglars. Privately, they were skeptical of Dolly’s account. With detectives unable to substantiate their suspicions with hard evidence—Fred’s case went cold.
In 1930, Fred’s killer came forward and revealed a bizarre tale of sex, murder, and attics.
Join me on Tuesday, February 16, 2021 at 7 p.m. Pacific time for a webinar about the strangest love affair in L.A.’s history.
If you can’t watch the live presentation, it will be recorded and available on demand via BigMarker.
On December 15, 1927, twelve-year-old Marion Parker, daughter of Perry Parker a prominent banker, was abducted from Mt. Vernon Junior High School.
The kidnapper went directly to the office of Mary Holt, the school’s registrar. The young man told her that Perry Parker was seriously injured in an automobile accident and was calling for his youngest daughter. Times were different then; Holt never asked the man for his identification, nor did she ask him what he meant by the youngest daughter since Marion was a twin, separated in age from her sister Marjorie by minutes.
The demeanor of the young man erased any doubt that Mary Holt had about his character or intent. He insisted that he was an employee at Parker’s bank. When police questioned her later, Holt said the man seemed sincere because he was quick to suggest that if she doubted his word, she should phone the bank.
If only she had.
William Edward Hickman, who nicknamed himself ‘The Fox’, murdered and mutilated the girl. The crime made him the subject of the largest manhunt in Los Angeles’ history until the 1947 murder of Elizabeth Short.
Who was William Edward Hickman, and why did he kidnap and murder and innocent child?