Bessie’s Revenge

The beautiful neighborhood of Verdemont lies ten miles north of downtown San Bernardino. In 1925, nestled against the hills, it offered the perfect vantage point to witness San Bernardino’s growth and prosperity.

San Bernardino, E Street

Twenty-three-year-old Bessie Jones may have wished she could get out more, but her father worked as a Santa Fe railroad section foreman and was gone all day. Bessie cared for her invalid mother, and for her four-year-old daughter. She sometimes went down the hill to the A.B.C. root beer stand on Third Street to get a cold drink and socialize.

On one of her trips in 1924, she met Jack Croft, who worked at the stand. Several years her senior, he was nice looking and easy to talk to. She sometimes used the root beer stand as an excuse to bump into him. Bessie lost track of Jack for about a year, until one Sunday, when he and a friend, Bobby Cline, stopped in front of Bessie’s home. She went out to talk with them.

On Sunday, September 13, Bessie saw Jack outside the house talking to her father. He had a hat pulled low on his brow. At first, she did not recognize him—then he lifted the hat. He asked her what had she been doing, and she told him most of her days she spent at home with her mother and daughter. Jack said, “Let’s go down to the corner and get a coke.” Bessie told him she could only be gone for thirty minutes to an hour at the most. Jack said that was fine with him. “Go tell your folks you will be back in about an hour.”

Bessie got in Jack’s car and he drove down to the corner of Highland and Mt. Vernon, where a small grocery was attached to a soft drink place. He got out of the car and said, “I will be back in a few minutes, if you don’t mind waiting.”

Jack returned with a package of bottles. Bessie heard them clanging together. He got behind the wheel and started for Bessie’s place. When he got to Highland, he turned up a road and drove past farm houses to a quiet spot.

Jack pulled over. He took a bottle of Delaware Punch and a bottle of something that smelled like liquor to Bessie. Jack mixed them together and took a drink. He tried to get Bessie to take a sip, but she refused. She asked him to let her out of the car. He said no. He got out of the car, walked around to the passenger side of the car, and tried to pull Bessie out. She got away from him and slid under the steering wheel and hung on.

She saw a bottle at her feet and kicked it out into the dirt. Bessie faced Jack and asked him to let her go. He said, “Well, if you are really good to me.” Bessie got out and took a few steps. Jack said, “Are you coming back?” She said yes. Instead, she ran down the road as fast as she could, hoping to get to the main highway. She hit a dead-end in an orchard and turned around.

She saw the lights of Jack’s car coming and she ran. Bessie was not a match for Jack’s car. He pulled up beside her. “Bess, I’ll take you home. I will show you I am a real man. I will take you home.”

Bessie got back into the car. Jack drove down the road in the opposite direction of her home. Fed up, she demanded to be released and said she would walk home. Jack ignored her. He stopped the car and started fighting with her again. Bessie kicked, scratched, and bit him hard. He raped her. She thought he would drive away and leave her in the dirt. He did not. Bessie told him she would cause him trouble. He laughed and said a woman cannot cause a man any trouble.

Bessie got back into the car, and Jack headed toward her home. She told him he would have to explain to her parents, if they were still awake, why the one-hour trip to the root beer stand had turned into hours. He agreed. He would say he blew a tire.

When they pulled up in front of the house, Bessie ran inside. Bessie told her mother Jack “insulted” her in a nearby wash. She said, “I’ll fix him so he will never insult another woman if I can help it.” She grabbed her father’s gun and ran outside.

Jack sat in his car with the door open. Sneering, he asked, “Is your father asleep?” Bessie lifted gun and pulled the trigger. She said, “I fired at him. I only meant to hurt him for what he had done to me—I didn’t mean to kill him.”

Critically wounded, Jack started the car and drove nearly 100 yards before he collapsed and died. The car crashed into a telephone pole.

San Bernardino deputy sheriffs arrested Bessie while they investigated further. They also needed the coroner’s jury report. Before the jury convened, deputies learned the dead man gave Bessie an alias. He was not Jack Croft. He was Albert Burress.

The coroner’s inquest was surreal. Bessie sat fewer than 20 feet from Albert’s body as she testified. In fact, they asked her to identify him as the man she shot. From the stand, Bessie described her growing rage as Albert drove her home following the assault. She admitted she planned to shoot him, and she was not remorseful. She said, “He got what he deserved.”

Today, Bessie might be on the hook for voluntary manslaughter. In 1925, the coroner’s jury listened with empathy to Bessie’s ordeal and reached the same conclusion as Bessie had. Albert deserved what he got. They ruled the shooting a justifiable homicide.

Death of a Gridiron Great, Conclusion

Former USC football idol, Johnny Hawkins, was arrested for burglary in the home of Biltmore orchestra leader, Earl Burnett. They found him in the living room holding a flashlight and listening to the radio. Hawkins immediately confessed to over two dozen residential burglaries over the period of a few months, and he told the police that he had committed the crimes because he was desperate for money, in part because his wife had major medical bills.

Hawkins was about the last guy anyone would expect to turn to crime. He had been the captain and quarterback of the USC football team. In fact, he was an all-around fine athlete playing football, baseball, and basketball with equal skill. He could have had a career in any of the sports in which he excelled, but the first couple of years following his graduation from college had proved difficult for Johnny.

Cops were baffled when Johnny led them to the attic of his parent’s Fullerton home and showed them his ill-gotten loot because he had tried to sell none of the items. If he desperately needed money, why would he have kept the loot?

Another odd wrinkle in the case came when it was discovered that about a week before Johnny’s arrest, one of his younger brothers, Jimmy, was taken into custody for grand theft.

In early June 1928, just days prior to Johnny’s arrest, Jimmy Hawkins stopped in at the home of Mrs. Betty Sheridan on Normandie Avenue. While Betty was on the telephone with her sister, Jimmy disappeared, taking with him $1500 worth of her jewelry. It isn’t clear how Jimmy became acquainted with Betty. She said she knew his father was a prominent citizen in Fullerton, but didn’t seem to know anything else about the young man or his background.

While he was cooling his heels in a jail cell, he got a visitor, Johnny. Johnny delivered a severe lecture to his sibling and convinced the younger man to return the stolen jewelry. The D.A. declined to press charges, and released Jimmy.

Unfortunately, Johnny’s encounter with the law didn’t go as well as his brother’s had. They charged him with thirty-one counts of burglary. If Johnny thought his life couldn’t get any worse, he was wrong. The law arrested Johnny’s brother, again. This time, it was as an accomplice.

The L.A. Times likened Johnny to Fagin, the receiver of stolen goods and leader of a group of thieving children in the Charles Dickens novel “Oliver Twist.” Not a flattering comparison, and it showed how far Johnny had fallen, at least in the eyes of the press.

Jimmy didn’t hold up well under interrogation, and he confessed. He shifted the bulk of the blame onto his older brother. He told cops when he became unwilling to continue the residential crime spree, Johnny became domineering and forced him to continue the illicit activities.

Johnny hired an attorney, Joe Ryan, who appeared to believe in his client. Hawkins confided in Ryan he was stealing because he was seized by an uncontrollable mania, which he believed had been caused by an injury to his head while playing football. He had a lump over his left eye that may have been the outward sign of severe brain trauma.

Johnny finally got a piece of good news when his brother Jimmy recanted his confession. Jimmy said,

“I was so sleepy. They (the cops) wouldn’t let me sleep for two nights and I didn’t know what I was signing.”

In August 1928, Johnny Hawkins appeared in Superior Court to plead guilty to five out of thirty-one counts of burglary and to apply for probation so he might avoid a prison term. Hawkins’ attorney, Joe Ryan, told the court that his client was under the care of Dr. Cecil Reynolds, a brain specialist, who intended to perform brain surgery to relieve pressure believed to have been caused by a football injury. The injury on which Johnny blamed his recent criminal tendencies.

While awaiting a probation hearing, Johnny fainted. He fell to the concrete floor of the attorney’s room in the jail and received another serious head injury.

Despite the argument that his repeated head injuries had caused Hawkins to pursue a brief life of crime, there was no recommendation for probation, and Superior Judge Fricke sentenced the former college gridiron great to from five to seventy-five years in prison.

Given an opportunity to address the court, Johnny said, Don’t you think I would be a respectable citizen after all this trouble if I were given another chance?”

To which Judge Fricke replied, “I am sorry, but I am not certain that you would be.”

After the pronouncement of sentence, Johnny shook hands with his counsel, who was also a friend of his from his glory days at USC, then bowed his head and walked from the courtroom manacled to a deputy sheriff.

Nothing ever came of the brain operation that Johnny had hoped for.

Hawkins served twenty-nine months in San Quentin before they paroled him. For seven years following his release, he held a position in M.G. M’s art department; he even coached the studio basketball team to championships.

On May 22, 1939, thirty-seven-year-old Johnny Hawkins died of an apparent brain abscess. Dr. Louis Gogol, assistant county autopsy surgeon, stated that in his opinion the injury Johnny had received while playing football at USC was the probable reason for the string of burglaries that he’d committed eleven years earlier. He said that the previous injury was undeniably the cause of his premature death.

Death verified Johnny Hawkins’ innocence, yet shockingly, very little has changed. Other than repeated brain trauma, the risk factors for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) remain unknown. The disease can only be accurately diagnosed postmortem.

Death of a Gridiron Great, Part 1

Johnny Hawkins had the college sports career one can only dream of. He was a gridiron hero who was equally skilled at basketball and baseball. During the 1924 season, Hawkins was quarterback and captain of USC’s football team.

Despite his sports successes, Hawkins found the transition from Big Man on Campus to Joe Everyman a difficult one. Following his graduation from USC, he bounced from job to job.

By 1926, Johnny had settled into a career as head coach the South Pasadena military school, the Oneonta Academy. It thrilled Oneonta to have Hawkins on their coaching staff. They were so proud they took out a half-page ad in the L.A. Times to announce his hiring. But Hawkins’ career took a downturn that same year when the Hollywood Generals, a Pacific Coast Football League team he organized and played with, failed.

The death knell for Johnny’s post-college dreams of success came on an evening in mid-June 1928 when he was busted in the home of Earl Burtnett, leader of the Biltmore orchestra.

Clarence Thomas, a houseboy at the Burtnett home on South Catalina Street, spied a man entering the rear door of the house and promptly called the law.

LAPD Detective Lieutenants Steed, Green, and Mole of Wilshire Division answered the call and found Hawkins sitting in the living room listening to the radio.

Portrait of Earl Burtnett, director of the famous Los Angeles Biltmore. Photograph dated February 16, 1929. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Hawkins wasn’t a hardened criminal, and he confessed to dozens of burglaries. He told his interrogators that he desperately needed to raise money because his recent career as a real estate salesman had gone to pieces and his wife, Thelma (his college sweetheart), needed major surgery.

Hawkins said,

 “I know I’ve got it coming to me, but what torments me the most is the thought of my family and my wife’s family. I was driven to desperation by financial troubles.”

Johnny was with his parents in their Fullerton home while his wife was in Vancouver, Washington, for treatment. He said he waited night after night until his parents were in bed before going out to commit the burglaries, then returned home to stash the loot in their attic.

Police valued the recovered property at more than $35,000 ($622,482.16 in 2023 USD). It surprised them that Hawkins had stolen such a hodgepodge of high and low dollar items, including furs, old silverware, gowns, blankets, percolators, typewriters, lingerie, and jewelry.

According to Johnny, he never carried a weapon, a fact borne out by the arresting officers. Johnny had a flashlight, jimmy, ice pick, pass keys, and was wearing white gloves when the police found him in the Burtnett home.

It was strange enough that the football idol had perpetrated a series of at least 25 residential burglaries, but it was stranger still that never attempted to dispose of the loot. He purportedly committed the thefts for a few months, but all the items, except a suitcase full of “presents” for his wife, were traced.

If he was in dire need of cash, as he’d said, then why didn’t he borrow money from his folks or his in-laws? Perhaps the former gridiron star was too proud to ask for help. The alternative, having his name splashed all over the local newspapers, was even more humiliating.

What was going on with Hawkins? Why would he jeopardize his freedom and his reputation in such a stupid way?

NEXT TIME: A unique defense strategy.

Film Noir Friday: The Letter [1929 & 1940]

Welcome!  The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open! Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.

Tonight we’re going to take a deep dive into two movies based a story by W. Somerset Maugham. An actual murder in Kuala Lumpur in 1911, inspired Maugham to write THE LETTER. If you are interested in the crime that provided the inspiration, search for Ethel Proudlock.

First, we’ll check out Eddie Muller’s (the Czar of Noir), introduction to the 1940 version of the film for TCM’s Noir Alley.

The 1940 version stars Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall (who appeared in the 1929 version in the role of the lover). Directed by William Wyler, the movie opens with an unforgettable scene. The tension never lets up.

TCM says:

Leslie Crosbie, the wife of a British rubber planter in Malay, shoots and kills Jeff Hammond, and claims that she was defending her honor. To defend Leslie, her husband Robert sends for family friend and attorney Howard Joyce, who questions Leslie’s story.

The 1929 version of THE LETTER, stars Jeanne Eagels and Herbert Marshall. Jeanne Eagels’ life was tragically cut short by drug addiction. She was nominated posthumously for her work in THE LETTER.

TCM says:

Marooned on a rubber plantation in the East Indies, Leslie Crosbie turns to Geoffrey Hammond for the love and diversion that she does not find with her husband.

Did a Woman Kill the Black Dahlia?

Elizabeth Short aka The Black Dahlia [Photo courtesy LAPL]

In the days following the discovery of Elizabeth Short’s body, crumpled up confessions given by every sad drunk and deranged publicity seeker littered the local landscape. Most of the confessors were men. But even though none of the women who confessed were guilty, the cops thought maybe a woman had committed the murder. After all, L.A. has its share of female killers.

Louise Peete in court. [Photo: UCLA Digital Archive.]

The Herald ran side-by-side photos of three homicidal women arrested in L.A. Louise Peete (one of only four women ever executed by the State of California) was a serial killer. Police arrested her for murder in the 1920s. Found guilty, she served eighteen years in San Quentin. A few years after her release, she committed another murder for which she paid with her life.

Trunk containing remains of Winnie Ruth Judd’s victims.
Winnie Ruth Judd

Winnie Ruth Judd committed two murders in Arizona. Police arrested her in L.A. when a trunk containing the dismembered remains of Hedvig Samuelson and Anne Le Roi leaked bodily fluids in the baggage claim section of a local train station.

In 1922, Clara Phillips (aka “Tiger Girl”) murdered Alberta Meadows, the woman she suspected was a rival for her husband’s affections. She struck Meadows repeatedly with a hammer, and then, in a fit of adrenalin fueled rage, she rolled a 50 lb. boulder onto the torso of the corpse.

Clara Phillips

The possibility of a woman murdering Short wasn’t far-fetched. The Herald featured a series of columns written by psychologist Alice La Vere. La Vere previously profiled Short’s killer as a young man without a criminal record, but she was open to the killer being a woman. In fact, she abruptly shifted gears from identifying a young man as the slayer to enthusiastically embracing the notion of “… a sinister Lucrezia Borgia — a butcher woman whose crime dwarfs any in the modern crime annals.”

Body of Alberta Meadows — victim of Clara Phillips’ wrath. [Photo courtesy of UCLA]

La Vere was an expert for hire, and if the Herald editors had asked her to write a profile of the killer as a mutant Martian alien, she’d likely have done it. Still, she made a few insightful comments in her column. “Murderers leave behind them a trail of fingerprints, bits of skin and hair. The slayer of ‘The Black Dahlia’ left the most telltale clue of all–-the murder pattern of a degenerate, vicious feminine mind.”

Even more interesting was La Vere’s exhortation to police to look for an older woman. She said, “Police investigators should look for a woman older than ‘The Black Dahlia.’ This woman who either inspired the crime or actually committed the ghastly, unspeakable outrage need not be a woman of great strength. Extreme emotion or high mental tension in men and women give great, superhuman strength.”

One thing I find interesting about La Vere’s profile of a female perpetrator is that she said the woman would be older than Short. In recent years, an older woman became an integral part of a theory about the murder.

It is a theory put forward by Larry Harnisch. Harnisch, formerly of the Los Angeles Times, wrote an article for the paper on the fiftieth anniversary of Short’s death. In the years since, he has done a lot more digging into the case and has unearthed an important connection between the body dump site near 39th and Norton, and two medical doctors. One doctor, Walter Alonzo Bayley, lived in a house just one block south of the place where Betty Bersinger found Elizabeth Short’s body. At the time of the murder, Bayley was estranged from his wife; however, she still occupied the home. Bayley left his wife for his mistress, Alexandra Partyka, also a medical doctor. Partyka emigrated to the U.S. and wasn’t licensed to practice medicine, but she assisted Bayley in his practice.

Following Bayley’s death in January 1948, Partyka and Dr. Bayley’s wife, Ruth, fought over control of his estate. Mrs. Bayley claimed Partyka was blackmailing the late doctor with secrets about his medical practice. Secrets damning enough to ruin him.

There is also a link between Bayley’s family and Short’s. In 1945, Dr. Bayley’s adopted daughter, Barbara Lindgren, was a witness to the marriage of Beth’s sister Virginia Short to Adrian West at a church in Inglewood, California, near Los Angeles.

Larry discussed Dr. Bayley in James Ellroy’s “Feast of Death”. [Note: Be forewarned that there are photos of Elizabeth Short in the morgue.]

A woman could have murdered Elizabeth Short. Could the woman be Alexandra Partyka? The chances are that we’ll never know–or at least not until Larry Harnisch finishes his book on the case. 

Happy New Year!

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.

Aggie Underwood

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.

Class on the Bertillon system c. 1911

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.

Best to all of you in the New Year.

Joan

Female Trouble, Conclusion

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.”

Seance c. 1920

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.

The coincidentally named Dr. Wordens female pills for women. Advertising for the pills read: Thousands of women suffering from the nerve and health-racking ailments peculiar to their sex have been restored to full health and strength by this great remedy after they despaired of ever being well and strong again.

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.”

EPILOGUE

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.

Henshey’s

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.

Female Trouble, Part I

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

The Vosbergs: Anna, Gayne, Ethel, Edith, William

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.

Harvey Clark

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.

Looking northwest: Hall of Records, County Courthouse, Hall of Justice. In the foreground, construction begins on City Hall c. 1927

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.

NEXT TIME: Edith on trial.

A Salute to the Bulldogs

A Celebration

On June 2, 2022, I attended the banquet to celebrate the centenary of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Bureau.

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.

GIL CARRILLO & FRANK SALERNO

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.

Bulldog Attitude

A person I admire and respect is Ray Lugo. Ray has been a homicide detective for over 20 years.

JESSE AGUILAR

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.”

RAY LUGO

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.

BLUEBEARD WATSON ESCORTED TO CELL

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.

Going Forward

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.

Thanks for all you do, Bulldogs!

Love Hoax

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.

BURBANK POLICE

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.