The Murder Complex, Part 4

Thomas told anyone who asked him that the last time he saw Grace was on February 21, 1925. They had stopped at a roadhouse, the Plantation Grill, for drinks and dancing. National Prohibition may have been the law, but finding a cocktail was easy if you wanted one.

Entrance to speakeasy.

Thomas saw a group of people enter the café and recognized a woman named Nina. He had known her for several years. He spent some time chatting with her. Thomas said that Grace became jealous, and they argued. Rather than make a public scene, they left the roadhouse and continued their argument in the car until they reached Western and Eighth Street, where they made up. Instead of calling it a night, they went to the Biltmore Hotel, for the orchestra and dancing.

When they arrived at the Biltmore, Grace excused herself to go to the ladies’ room. Thomas waited, but she never returned.

Thomas reported Grace missing, and he also hired a private investigator. He maintained Grace had left for Paris or New York to seek a divorce. According to Thomas, she carried with her $126,000 in Liberty bonds. Thomas said Grace would return when she was ready. Then he went on with his life as if nothing had happened.

Biltmore Hotel

A couple of days after Grace disappeared, Thomas asked Patrick to accompany him to the Beverly Glen cabin because he said he needed to pour a concrete floor in the cistern which he claimed was leaking. Patrick welcomed any activity that would distract him from worrying about his mother. He mixed and poured the cement while Thomas smoothed it out.

Over the next few weeks, Thomas arranged parties and other social events for Patrick to “keep his mind off things.” Among the guests at the soirees was Thomas’ attractive young office assistant, Dorothy Leopold.

When Grace’s father Frank first got word that she was missing, he felt in his gut that something horrible had happened to her. He wanted to force a confrontation with Thomas, so he filed a legal request to become Patrick’s guardian. If the guardianship request was intended to fluster Thomas, it failed. Thomas said that it was up to Patrick to choose a guardian.

Patrick didn’t want his grandfather to be his guardian, so he named an attorney he knew to take charge of his legal affairs until Grace returned. As a further slap in the face to his mother’s family, Patrick stated his preference was to live with his stepfather.

Weeks went by with no sign of Grace. Then Patrick began receiving letters from her with New York postmarks. In the letters, she said that her family was keeping her from Thomas and that they knew where she was. Patrick felt torn between two opposing forces, which left him in a state of inner turmoil. He loved his mother’s family, but Thomas was good to him. He had even bought him a new Chrysler.

By June, Grace’s family, joined by her friends from the Ebell Club and trust company officers from the bank, appealed to District Attorney Asa Keyes to launch a sweeping investigation.

Original Ebell Club located in Figueroa. By C.C. Pierce & Co.

On June 12th, an investigation into Grace’s mysterious disappearance, spearheaded by the D.A., kicked into high gear. Los Angeles Police Department officers interviewed residents of Beverly Glen. Among those interviewed were Donald Mead and Kenneth Selby. The boys related to police what they had witnessed that February night. If Thomas had been creeping around in the cabin in total darkness, people might have found it odd, but it didn’t make him guilty.

Adjacent to the Young cabin was a well which supplied water to several surrounding cabins. Using a gasoline pump, the residents drew the water and piped it to the surrounding cabins. Residents told police it had been an open well until February, when Dr. Young had sealed it with a concrete floor. They found it strange that the water, which had always been pure, emitted a foul stench after Dr. Young installed the concrete floor. One resident said, “The water never began to smell until a few months ago. No, we cannot use it, not even for shower baths or for dishwashing. It is slightly discolored and when drawn, a yellowish smelling sediment settles in it. We have no idea what caused this sudden change in the water.”

The number of questions surrounding the Beverly Glen cabin prompted the police to initiate a search. The cabin held several intriguing clues; a one-ounce bottle of Novocain secreted near the fireplace and bloodstains in a bedroom.

Prior to the search, Thomas made a cryptic statement: “I hold the key to this situation, and I have burned my bridges behind me.”

While many still had doubts about what had happened to Grace, District Attorney Asa Keyes was not among them: “I am as certain as I am sitting here that Mrs. Young is dead—that she has been murdered. By whom she was slain, we do not know. That we are trying to determine.”

Following their search of the cabin, authorities broke up the concrete in the cistern and made a gruesome discovery.

NEXT TIME: Grace is found.

The Murder Complex, Conclusion

Thomas’ trial opened at 10 a.m. on August 17, 1925, in Judge Hahn’s court. His attorneys, Cooper, Collins & Shreve, had a fight on their hands. The District Attorney stated that he would settle for nothing less than the death penalty.

The gist of Thomas’ defense was that he had been insane at the time he murdered Grace. Ample evidence contradicted him.

Thomas showed friends portions of letters he insisted Grace wrote while she was missing. He was adamant that the letters proved she was alive and well, and had deserted him. The letters were frauds. Thomas had compelled Grace to write them, perhaps under the influence of alcohol or physical coercion. He had also obtained blank forms he might need and had her sign them.

The prosecution produced a surprise witness, George T. Guggenheim, a dealer in dental supplies. George had known Thomas for years. A few weeks following Grace’s disappearance, the doctor visited the dental supply office with a request.

“He had an envelope in his hand and asked me to mail it to New York to somebody that would mail it back to him.” George testified.

Thomas told George: “Somebody has been tampering with my mails and I’d like to have this letter sent to me from New York to play a joke on that feller.”

George didn’t mind helping a friend, so he mailed the letter Thomas had given him to his brother in New York.

The letters weren’t the only spurious documents in the case. Dorothy Leopold Mahan (she had married about a week before the trial started) said she had signed a blank document, not knowing what it was. The document was a power of attorney granting Thomas control over Grace’s money and property.

Attempting to make her a suspect, the defense sought to cast a sinister light on Dorothy’s relationship with Thomas. Under oath, they asked her if she had ever spent the night in Thomas’ home, and she replied, “Yes, I did. Three times. My mother was with me on each occasion.”

Being chaperoned by one’s mother is not conducive to an affair, and further questioning revealed that Dorothy had never had an intimate relationship with Thomas, nor did she want one. Her attitude toward her employer removed any conceivable motive she might have had to murder Grace.

Each day, more damning evidence against Thomas was exposed.

The prosecution planned to move the trial to the Beverly Glen cabin for a day to give the jury an opportunity to view the cistern that “served as Mrs. Young’s burial crypt.”

How would Thomas handle being confronted, in front of the jury, with the actual site of the murder and his wife’s tomb?

Following a grueling day in court on August 26th, the guards returned Thomas to his cell in Tank 9. Thomas informed his cellmates that he had experienced “tough breaks” during his day in court.

The inmates in Tank 9, including Thomas, played their nightly game of pinochle. Before returning to his cot, Thomas said: “I’m going to take a long ride tomorrow, boys.” They laughed because they believed he referred to the coming trip to the scene of the crime in Beverly Glen. Thomas told them not to be alarmed if they heard strange noises in his cell. “I’ve been having a severe attack of indigestion. I woke up last night and found myself choking and making bubbling noises. If you hear anything like that, don’t be alarmed.” 

The other prisoners had heard strange noises from Thomas’ cell before. He often shuffled around late at night muttering, and it seemed as if he was talking to someone.

At 6 a.m. on the morning of August 27th, Assistant Jailer Palmer called to Thomas to get up.

“All right,” Thomas replied.

O. F. Mahler, one occupant of Tank 9, awoke at 7 a.m. when a trustee delivered three breakfast trays. Mahler distributed them; one for himself, one to H. Foster, and one was for Thomas.

Thomas Young

Mahler entered Thomas’, but the doctor failed to stir. He wasn’t in his usual sleeping position. His feet were on the pillow and his head was at the foot of the cot. The single blanket was wrapped tight around his head; and only one hand was visible.

Mahler shook Thomas. There was no response. He shook him again. The body moved. Mahler jerked the blanket from Thomas’ head.

Thomas was dead.

His blue, swollen face caused his eyes to become distended. A garrote of radio wire, tightened with a small stick, was wrapped around his neck.

The murder complex had claimed its final victim.

The Murder Complex, Part 3

Thomas Young

Thomas complained often that Grace had wanted to “be the boss” ever since they had said their I dos, and he resented her for it. Thomas was sly, manipulative and had an unhealthy interest in the fortune Grace and Patrick had shared.

At least Thomas was a decent stepfather. He worked hard to ingratiate himself with Patrick, and he was successful. Patrick formed a strong attachment to Thomas. But while Patrick was becoming fonder of Thomas, Grace was growing fearful of him.

In late 1924 or early 1925, Grace asked her father, Frank Hunt, to meet with her. She went over to his apartment on Irolo Street and picked him up to go for a drive. She told him she didn’t want to have a private conversation anywhere but in her car. She thought Thomas had placed a Dictaphone in the house.

If Frank thought his daughter was being paranoid without cause, he changed his mind after he heard her out.

As they drove around, Grace told Frank of the indignities Thomas had forced on her. She told him of intimate photographs which Thomas had taken. He bullied her into posing in ways that sickened her. But Grace couldn’t see a way out. Thomas had threatened to kill her if she ever told anyone how he treated her. He had also threatened to take Patrick away or to have her committed to Patton State Insane Asylum. Grace knew Thomas well enough to be convinced that these were not idle threats.

Father and daughter devised a plan that would get her to safety, but in the end, their fear of Thomas’ retaliation immobilized them.

Frank hadn’t known about the photos, but he was aware of an incident which had occurred several weeks earlier–in fact, he and Grace had talked about it.

At Thomas’ request, Patrick had visited him in his office to have a tooth filled. Almost immediately following the procedure, Patrick became ill. His face swelled up to an abnormal size, and he was in excruciating pain. Frank believed Thomas had administered a slow-acting poison to Patrick to “get him out of the way,” and he didn’t think his grandson would survive for another thirty days.

After conferring with her father and in direct opposition to Thomas’ wishes, Grace brought in Dr. J. A. Le Deux, who saved Patrick’s life.

Was Patrick’s close call attempted murder? Neither Frank nor Grace wanted to say anything to him without proof.

Patrick was unaware of his mother’s and grandfather’s fears about his safety. He liked and trusted Thomas. Perhaps that is why, when Grace disappeared in February 1925, he didn’t question Thomas’ assertion that Grace had left him. And if Thomas said Grace would return, then of course she would. Wouldn’t she?

NEXT TIME: The lady vanishes.

The Murder Complex, Part 2

When Grace Hunt Grogran’s ex-husband, Charles, the Olive King, died on July 5, 1921, he left her, and their son Patrick, very well off. His estate, valued at $1.5 million, meant Grace could continue with her women’s club activities, and it secured Patrick’s future.

Beautiful and rich, Grace caught the eye of a dentist, Thomas Young. He pursued Grace until he won her. Grace knew nothing of Thomas’ past. If she had, things may have been much different.

GRACE GROGAN

Thomas Young, named after his father, was born on December 21, 1877. Thomas was the second of four children. He had an older brother, Alexander, and two younger sisters.

The Young family’s children had a trouble-free childhood in their quiet Franklin, Pennsylvania neighborhood. Why, then, did two brothers become criminals?

Alexander was the first of the brothers to turn toward the dark side. He died in a bizarre murder suicide on his honeymoon in Washington, Pennsylvania, on July 8, 1903. He served as pastor of the Presbyterian church in Edgemont, South Dakota, when he met a local schoolteacher, Grace Dunlap. They began a relationship and became engaged to be married.

Grace left her home on July 1, 1903, for the city of Lincoln, where she was supposed to have her eyes treated for an unspecified condition. Instead, she journeyed two thousand miles to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she and Alexander were married. The couple left after the ceremony for nearby Washington, Pennsylvania and checked into a hotel. Visitors and members of the hotel staff heard a commotion in the Young’s room during the night but did not investigate.

The next morning, when Alexander and Grace failed to appear as expected, staff opened the door to their room and found them dead. Grace lay on the bed. Alexander had shot her twice through the heart, then shot himself the same way. In one hand, Alexander clutched a .32-caliber revolver.

According to a newspaper account, Alexander was “a rascal in the fullest sense of the term.” He had “played crooked in a financial way in places where he was employed before going to Edgemont, South Dakota.” Alexander had a prior marriage, but he abandoned his wife and infant son, never bothering to get a divorce.

Within a year following Alexander’s death, Thomas experienced visitations from his elder brother. Thomas later described the visits:

“I would see my brother’s vision just as I dropped off to sleep. It always appeared in a large hall. And I was always in the back of the hall and he was always up in the right corner. I could tell it was my brother by his form.”

Alexander’s visits coincided with what Thomas thought of as his “murder complex,” a self-diagnosed condition he’d had since he was a child. The so-called murder complex was Thomas’ overwhelming desire to kill anyone who wronged him.

Throughout his life, he felt he was a loser, always picked on and beaten. The murder complex provided him with a vision of revenge and victory over his perceived tormentors.

His brother’s visits did not frighten Thomas, but they were unsettling. Alexander tried to speak, but he either failed, or he whispered, making it impossible for Thomas to hear him. Could he have been trying to warn Thomas about the murder complex, or was he encouraging it?

In 1910, Thomas moved from Pittsburgh to New Castle to practice dentistry. Later, he practiced in Ambridge and Washington, Pennsylvania before moving to New Mexico and then Texas. He moved from city to city, Alexander always in his dreams, in restless pursuit of something he could neither articulate nor outrun.

Thomas married twice before finally settling in Los Angeles — where he met Grace.

Grace and Patrick lived in an apartment in the Alvarado. The building was one of many built by her late husband.

People who knew of Thomas’ interest in Grace were a little surprised by Thomas’ audacity in courting a woman who was out of his league. She was beautiful. Thomas was average. He wasn’t a large man. His hair was receding, and he peered out from behind round glasses frames that perched his bulbous nose. Despite his physical shortcomings, Thomas made a good impression. He wasn’t lacking charm, and he always dressed impeccably.

Even if he had only a slender chance, Thomas dedicated himself to winning Grace’s love. Despite not being well off, he maintained a believable facade. He rented a suite of offices in a plush downtown building, hoping to impress Grace, who had a fortune at her command, with his successful dental practice. He put on a convincing show. The couple didn’t court for long before they were married.

When did Thomas’ façade of a successful dentist and loving husband crack? Did Grace realize the man she had married wasn’t who she thought he was?

NEXT TIME: Thomas’ dark side emerges.

The Murder Complex–Part 1

Ohio native Grace Hunt was 17 when she married 41-year-old Charles Price Grogan in Los Angeles on April 5, 1902. It was an advantageous marriage for both. Charles basked in the glory of his triumphs, with the press dubbing him the “Olive King,” and a radiant Grace by his side, a queen befitting his grandeur. A few days prior to their fifth wedding anniversary, they welcomed a son, whom they named Charles Patrick Grogan.

Grace and Charles were married for over a decade before they separated. The difference in their ages may have sunk the marriage. Whatever their reasons, the couple had separated by the late 1910s and divorced by the 1920 census—at least that was how Charles declared his marital status. Grace, for the same census, gave her marital status as a widow. Why the discrepancy? Simple; divorce stigmatized women.

Grace was luckier than many women because California, at least in its laws, was more tolerant of divorce than other states. The State’s first divorce law in 1851 recognized impotence, adultery, extreme cruelty, desertion or neglect, habitual intemperance, fraud, and conviction of a felony as legitimate grounds for divorce.

Despite the law’s progressive attitude, divorce could ruin a woman, which is why many women found it easier to claim widowhood than risk suffering the loss of status if their divorce became public knowledge. It seems absurd to us now in these days of no-fault divorce and “conscious uncoupling” (a phrase coined in 2014 by celebrity Gwenyth Paltrow to describe her separation from her musician husband, Chris Martin), but divorce was not a simple matter when Grace and Charles called it quits.

The couple’s family and intimate friends would have known the truth, and the rest of local society may have acknowledged Grace’s widowhood with a nod and a wink and allowed her to continue her fiction unchallenged.

Grace’s claim to widowhood would edge closer to the truth when Charles died of apoplexy (internal bleeding—perhaps because of a stroke) on July 8, 1921.

The Olive King was a wealthy man who loved his only son. He bequeathed Patrick his entire fortune, estimated to be between $1 and $2 million dollars. Until he turned 25, Grace was to administer Patrick’s monthly allowance, which amounted to a princely sum of $800 per month. An agreement had been reached by Grace and Charles regarding their divorce. The couple agreed Charles would create a trust fund, not to exceed $50,000, for her maintenance. To put things into perspective, $50,000 in 1921 is equivalent to three quarters of a million dollars today. And Patrick’s monthly allowance is equivalent to about $12,000. A fortune like the one Charles left Patrick and Grace can attract the best people in society—it can also be a magnet for the worst of humanity.

In her 30s, Grace was beautiful, wealthy, and prominent. She would make a wonderful wife for the right man.

NEXT TIME: Grace meets a new man, as The Murder Complex continues.

The Murder Complex–Prologue

Thursday, February 19, 1925

Night had fallen by the time Donald Mead and Kenneth Selby started home following a school baseball game. The twelve-year-old boys walked in companionable silence. After dark, only; a coyote’s howl could be heard. Then, the boys heard the rumble of a car engine. That was unusual. Beverly Glen was a quiet, semi-rural enclave about twenty miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles; the place where many well-to-do Angelenos owned get-away cabins. On an impulse, the boys dove into a stand of bushes near a small bridge moments before the car’s headlights would have illuminated them. They intended to spy on whomever had the audacity to intrude on their domain.

View showing a car on unpaved Sunset Boulevard between Carolwood and Delfern Drives in Beverly Hills, with three palm trees in the background. This is in the general location of Beverly Glen. c. 1925

Keeping still, the boys watched a lone driver back a sedan up to the front steps of a cabin and turn off his headlights. The boys knew the cabin belonged to Dr. Thomas Young, a Los Angeles dentist, but they could not positively identify the driver due to the darkness. He seemed to be male. Maybe it was the doctor. No matter, the boys enjoyed their spy game. From their vantage point, they watched the man drag a large, heavy box draped in a dark-colored cloth from the car. Donald and Kenneth whispered to each other that the box must be awfully heavy, as they saw the man hunched over and struggling to lift it. Did it contain a king’s ransom of gold and silver? Or did the box contain the corpse of a desperado?

The man wrestled the box onto the landing and dragged it inside the cabin. The boys thought it odd that he never turned on the cabin lights. When he reappeared on the veranda, he scanned the area. Satisfied that he was alone, he returned to his car and retrieved a gunny sack. It was large, its contents a mystery to the boys. The sack must not have been as heavy as the box because the man slung it over his shoulder. He disappeared into the cabin again. A few minutes later, he returned empty-handed. Then he got into his car and drove away.

 The boys could barely contain their curiosity. Who was the man? Why was he being so secretive? They waited a few minutes before leaving their hiding place, and then they walked over to the cabin. In the dirt near the cellar door was a sack marked “Lime.” They also found some “funny smelling stuff” that made them “sick at smelling it.”

After poking around the cabin for a few more minutes and finding nothing, Donald and Kenneth headed home. They didn’t give the strange man another thought until the police questioned them six months later.

NEXT TIME: The Murder Complex continues.

The Face on the Barroom Floor

During Prohibition, people drank whatever they could get their hands on—often poor-quality juice. Shady characters distilled booze in basements and warehouses. They cared about nothing but money. Manufacturing overnight whiskey made from “…refuse, burned grain or hay or any old thing that will sour” posed a danger to people’s physical and mental health. After several cocktails containing a noxious blend of chemicals, a person might be capable of anything.

A native New Yorker, Edward P. Nolan came to Los Angeles to make his fortune in the budding film industry. He was luckier than most Hollywood hopefuls. During 1914 and 1915, he appeared in short subjects with Charles Chaplin, Mabel Normand, and Marie Dressler. His most noteworthy appearances were in The Face on the Barroom Floor and Between Showers (1914). He may not have worked in film between 1915, appearing in Hogan’s Wild Oats and 1920, when he appeared opposite Leatrice Joy and James O. Barrows in Down Home.

What Nolan did for a living during the five years between acting gigs is anyone’s guess, but by 1922 he was in the LAPD and had risen to the rank of Detective Lieutenant. Law enforcement was not a reach for him. After all, he played a policeman in several movies.

On June 16, 1931, Nolan made a dramatic arrest of an extortionist, George Freese. Freese sent anonymous death threats to A. H. Wittenberg, president of the Mission Hosiery Mills. Pay $700, or die.

Freese instructed Wittenberg to hand the pay-off over to a taxi-cab driver-messenger who would then deliver the cash to him.

When the extortionist phoned with details, Nolan took notes and planned. He prepared a dummy package, and when the cab driver appeared outside the Wittenberg home, Nolan concealed himself in the auto and told the driver to proceed to the rendezvous point. Detective Lieutenants Leslie and McMullen followed in a police car.

Freese waited at the corner of First Street and La Brea Avenue to collect the money. As he accepted the dummy package, Nolan grabbed him.

Freese confessed without hesitation. He held a grudge against Wittenberg because six months earlier, Wittenberg turned him down for a salesman’s job. Freese said he needed the money because his family had fallen on hard times. A common predicament for people during the Great Depression.

The next day, Nolan and his 36-year-old divorced girlfriend, Grace Murphy Duncan, celebrated Nolan’s success in the Wittenberg case at the Hotel Lankershim. The couple spent a lot of time at the hotel while Nolan sought a divorce from his wife, Avasinia. Once the divorce was final, Duncan, and Nolan planned to marry.

HOTEL LANKERSHIM c. 1925

At 6:30 pm on the evening of June 17, 1931, Mrs. Helen Burleson, visiting from San Francisco, left her upper floor room, and headed to Nolan’s room on the second floor. She wanted to consult with him on a private matter. When she stepped into the room, she saw Nolan and Grace. Drunk. The lovers quarreled. The shouting reached a crescendo, and Nolan shoved Duncan out of the room. Then threw her coat into the hallway after her.

Grace and Helen went to Helen’s room, where they discussed Nolan’s violent behavior. Grace wanted to inform on him to the LAPD brass, but Helen talked her out of it.

While Grace and Helen talked, a trio of traveling salesmen, Robert V. Williams, Dan Smith, and Jimmy Balfe, went up to Robert’s room to catch a ball game on the radio. Robert said, “After a while, the lights went on in a room across the light well and we saw two women enter the room. Smith said he recognized Mrs. Burleson, and he telephoned to her room and asked her if she wanted to come over and listen to the radio. Mrs. Duncan was with her, and I don’t believe the two were in the room five minutes before Nolan burst in.”

“The ball game had ended, and I had dialed some music. It was about 10:30 o’clock. Mrs. Duncan and I were dancing. Nolan walked right up to her and said, ‘What do you mean by making up to this fellow?’ He pushed her over on the bed. Then he turned to me and said, ‘I saw you kissing her.’ Then he hit me. I staggered back into the bathroom.”

In a drunken rage, Nolan shoved Williams onto the bathroom floor.

Nolan shouted obscenities and waved his service weapon around. Williams stayed in the bathroom and locked the door. The other occupants of the room fled into the hallway, where they watched through the doorway as Nolan beat and kicked Grace. The woman’s screams were loud enough to bring Floyd Riley, a bellboy, up to the 8th floor. He didn’t want to confront Nolan, either. He said, “He looked like a wild man to me. His eyes gleamed, and he cursed incoherently. I could smell liquor on his breath.”

Grace rolled over onto her stomach, but the beating continued. At one point, Smith yelled at Nolan to stop, but was told to, “mind your own business.” Addressing no one in particular, he declared, “I’ve done everything for this woman. I’ve paid for her room, bought her food, and paid installments on her car.”

In his mind, his financial contributions entitled him to beat her. The terrified witnesses watched as he drew his revolver and beat her over the head until she stopped moving. Then he fired two shots into the floor. Grace did not flinch. She was dead.

Once Nolan’s rage subsided, Wilson, Balfe, Smith, and Riley cautiously approached him. He allowed himself to be escorted to his second-floor room. He muttered the entire way that he loved Grace, but her battered body told a different story—one of uncontrollable jealousy, rage, and bad booze. After arriving at his room, he downed several more glasses of gin, then he passed out on the floor.

Nolan was charged with murder.

Grace’s two daughters, Edna (17) and Mary Jane (14) visited “Daddy” Nolan in jail. Sobbing in grief or self-pity, Nolan wrapped his arms around the girls. The girls told officers he was always good to them. A judge denied Nolan permission to enter an insanity plea, and jury selection began on November 9th. With several eye-witnesses to the fatal beating, it didn’t seem Nolan had much of a chance to beat the rap. Helen testified Nolan was in a frenzied rage when he cornered Grace.

Attorneys for Nolan tried twice more to get permission to enter an additional plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, but the judge denied the motions. When the insanity plea went nowhere, Nolan took the stand and said that he had no memory of anything after he threw Grace out of his room.

Following four hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced Nolan to life. He was lucky; the prosecution wanted him to hang.

Nolan entered San Quentin on January 9, 1932. He gave his profession as prop man. Disgraced cops are not welcome If he was smart, Nolan never mentioned his decade on the Los Angeles Police Department to his cellmates.

On February 1, 1932, the State Board of Prison Terms and Paroles denied Nolan’s request for release. The Board informed him he would have to serve 10 calendar years before they would review his application again.

They released Nolan in early March 1942. He did not enjoy his freedom for long. He died on July 20, 1943 in a VA facility in San Francisco.

Black Dahlia: January 26, 1947 to February 15, 1947

Beth Short’s family buried her at Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California. The cemetery is located 375 miles north of the vacant lot in Leimert Park, where Betty Bersinger found her, and 3,000 miles away from Medford, Massachusetts, where her journey began.

Law enforcement worked around the clock to find the killer. On January 25th, as Beth’s family laid her to rest, a police search of a trash dump at 1819 East 25th Street in Vernon turned up one of her shoes and her handbag. Police carefully handled the items to preserve possible fingerprints. Because he saw her last, detectives called on Red Manley to identify the items.

Robert Manley identifies Beth’s purse and shoe

Without hesitation, Red told them the handbag smelled of the perfume Beth wore when he drove her from San Diego to the Biltmore on January 9th. He recognized the shoe from a pile of shoes presented to him by police. Feeling the heel of each shoe, Red stopped at a black right pump. He held it up and said, “This is it! I’m sure of it.” The shoe was the only one with double taps—heel and toe. Red paid to have an additional pair of new taps put on the heels of Beth’s shoes when they left San Diego. Beth loved hearing the tap, tap, of her toe and heel hitting the pavement as she walked.

Detectives thought the shoe and purse might be the same as those reported by Robert Hyman. He said he saw them in a trash can in front of his café at 1136 Crenshaw Blvd, about two miles from 39th and Norton. Trash collectors took the can before police arrived; but they traced the load to the Vernon dump. Hyman could not identify the bag and shoe.

Meanwhile, LAPD Capt. Jack Donahoe ordered extra officers to sift through the contents of a cryptic envelope mailed to the Examiner. On January 22, James Richardson, the paper’s editor, received an anonymous call. The man told Richardson he had items belonging to Beth. He thought they would “spice up” the case. Two days later, the Examiner received a call from the post office regarding a peculiar package. Someone, likely the killer, soaked the package in gasoline and addressed it “To The Los Angeles Examiner and other newspapers.” The package contained personal documents, pictures, Beth’s birth certificate, and a 75-page address book in brown leather.

Publicity-seekers, and sad mental cases, contacted police. Police received many communications through the mail. The first, the gasoline-soaked package, was almost certainly authentic. The others included a letter intercepted in Pasadena. Enclosed in the improvised envelope, a note cut and pasted from newspaper headlines, read, “Dahlia killer cracking. Wants terms.” Another letter, not considered authentic, read, “We’re going to Mexico City—catch us if you can.”

One note had a message scrawled in ink. In bold, capital letters, it read, “Here it is. Turning in Wednesday, Jan. 29, 10 a.m. Had my fun at police.” The note was signed “Black Dahlia Avenger.” The Avenger was a no-show. He sent a follow-up note to the Los Angeles Times. The note read, “Have changed my mind. You would not give me a square deal. Dahlia killing was justified.”

Daniel Vorhees, a transient in his thirties, surrendered to the police at Fourth and Hill Streets. He said he “couldn’t stand it anymore.” Detective Charles King and Dr. Paul De River, a police psychiatrist, agreed to wait until Voorhees recovered from his “bewildered and befuddled state” before giving him a lie detector test. Police cleared Voorhees.

By February 1st, police said they were giving up trying to contact Beth’s killer through letters and appeals. Sick pranksters sent anonymous notes, some from as far away as the Bronx, and signed them “Black Dahlia Avenger.” 

A local newspaper received half a dozen Black Dahlia messages in one mail delivery—one with postage due. An exhausting number of fortune tellers, spiritualists, mediums, and even clergymen wrote to police with their own solutions of the crime.

In the two weeks since the murder, hundreds of police door-knocked thousands of doors in a futile search for the crime scene. Several false confessors were detained and released.

The women of Los Angeles lived in fear.

NEXT TIME: A suspect and another murder.

Black Dahlia Investigation: January 17–January 25, 1947

On January 17, 1947, newspapers stopped using the werewolf murder headlines and started calling Elizabeth Short the Black Dahlia. Aggie Underwood chased down leads until, out-of-the-blue, her editor benched her. Sitting on the sidelines while the biggest murder case in decades unfolded drove Aggie crazy. She needed to be in the field, not sitting in the newsroom working on an embroidery project.

Then, without warning, Aggie was once back on the case. They gave her no explanation, but she didn’t care. She had just a minute to get back up to speed when they called her into the manager’s office. They benched her again, but this time, they gave her a reason. They promoted her to city editor of the Evening Herald and Express.

Aggie Underwood–City Editor

Some people believe Aggie’s promotion was a conspiracy to remove her from the case. Why? Because she knew too much. That is nonsense. Whatever she knew, she reported; and while she was no longer in the field, she oversaw the city room and all its reporters.

Police interviewed anyone acquainted with Beth. Harold Frank Costa 31, Donald Leyes 22, Marvin Margolis 27, and William Robinson, 25, admitted to knowing her in Hollywood–living, but they had nothing of substance to offer, and none of them was a suspect.

On January 18, Edward Glen Thorpe became a suspect when George Bennett claimed to have overheard him say, “I forgot to cut the scar off her leg,” while they traveled on a northbound bus in Merced. Police cleared Thorpe.

Also on the 18th, Beth’s mother, Phoebe Short, and her daughters, Eleanore, Dorthea, and Muriel, arrived in Los Angeles. They stayed for a few days, then took a United Air Lines flight to Berkeley to join Virginia West; the sister Beth told Red Manley she was going to meet at the Biltmore. She had not seen Virginia in several years.  

Reporters and police interviewed the Frenches in San Diego, where Beth spent the last month of her life. According to them, Beth spent most of her time writing letters. She claimed to look for work, but there is no evidence she did.

When detectives searched Beth’s suitcases, they found a telegram from Mrs. Matt Gordon, Sr. of Pueblo, Colorado. Dated August 22, 1945, it read, “Just received word from War Department that Matt killed in crash. Our deepest sympathy is with you.”

Matt, a major, served with the 1st Fighter Squadron 2nd Air Command. During his time in the service, Matt received the Silver Star Medal, Air Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, and Bronze Star. He died a few weeks before the official end of WWII.

Beth told many lies, but her feelings about Matt were real. He clearly felt something for her, too, or his mother would never have sent her such a personal telegram. Unfortunately, Beth wore out her welcome with Matt’s family by asking for money.

Major Matt Gordon

Police identified a photo of Joseph Gordon Fickling they found in Beth’s belongings. They located him in Charlotte, NC. In a phone call, Fickling told investigators an airline employed him since Nov 9, 1946 and knew nothing about Beth during her last few weeks. Like several other people in her life, Fickling sought to distance himself from the high-profile murder.

When police called on Beth’s father, Cleo Short, he said he hadn’t seen her in four years. “I want nothing to do with this. I broke off with the mother and the family several years ago. My wife wanted it that way. I provided a trust fund for their support when I left. Five years ago, Elizabeth wrote to me. I sent her some money, and she came out here. We set up housekeeping in Vallejo. But she wouldn’t stay home. In 1943, I told her to go her way, I’d go mine.” Cleo never provided for his family. He fled when his miniature golf business went belly-up, and he never looked back. He was a miserable man, bitter and uncaring. His family deserved better.

Heartbroken and exhausted, Phoebe appeared fragile as she testified at the inquest. When asked when she was first notified that her daughter died, Phoebe blurted, “She was murdered.”

On January 25, the Los Angeles Times reported on Beth’s funeral in Oakland, CA. “Fog swirled about her hillside grave as Elizabeth Short was buried today with only her relatives to mourn the 22-year-old victim of a mutiliation slaying.”

On the day of the funeral, a local newspaper summed up the status of the investigation. “Nine days of intensive investigation still left police detectives today without any tangible clues in the mutilation killing of 22-year-old Elizabeth Short.”

NEXT TIME: Beth’s purse is found, and the Black Dahlia Avenger sends a postcard.

Red Manley and the Black Dahlia

In his 1991 autobiography, Reporters: Memoirs of a Young Newspaperman, Will Fowler recalled one of his colleagues, Baker Conrad, had noticed a telegram among Elizabeth Short’s belongings. The Examiner’s editor, Jim Richardson, dispatched Fowler to the address on the telegram, 8010 Mountain View Avenue in South Gate.

When Fowler arrived at the bungalow court, a strikingly beautiful young woman greeted him. Her name was Harriette Manley. Fowler let her believe he was a cop.

During their conversation, Harriette said her husband phoned her from San Francisco after he saw his name in the newspapers in connection with Elizabeth Short’s murder. Red reassured Harriette that he’d had nothing to do with the slaying. He said he “loved her more than any man ever loved his wife.” 

At 10:00 pm on January 19th, two LAPD sergeants, J.W. Wass and Sam Flowers, staked out the home of Red’s employer in Eagle Rock. When the suspect’s sedan pulled up, the officers approached him with their guns drawn. An Examiner photographer was there to capture the arrest.

Robert ‘Red’ Manley

The next day, Aggie Underwood interviewed him. Red needed no encouragement to unburden himself. He told her how he’d picked Beth Short up on a San Diego street corner. How they had spent an “erotically uneventful” night in a motel and how he eventually dropped her off at the Biltmore Hotel on January 9th.

Red finished his tale with a heartfelt statement. “I’ll never pick up another dame as long as I live.”

Aggie believed Red and shared her gut feelings with the police. Red was forthcoming in his interview. Aggie knew he wasn’t a killer. Red was a frightened man with goofy ideas about love, marriage, and fidelity.

“I was only trying to test my love for my wife,” he said as he sought to explain his brief escapade with Beth Short.

Red said he first saw Beth standing on a street corner in San Diego while on a business trip ten days before Christmas. “She looked cute, so I thought, well, I’ll make a little test and see if I’m still in love with my wife, or whether I could ever fall for anyone else.”

According to Red, he and Harriette, married for just 14 months, were going through a “readjustment period.” He said they had a “few misunderstandings, but nothing important.”

He swore up and down that Beth was the only woman he picked up since his marriage. When he approached her that day, Beth was coy. “She turned to me and said, ‘Don’t you think it’s wrong to approach a girl this way?’” Wrong or not, she got into his car within a minute or two. Before he dropped her off in Pacific Beach, where she was couch-surfing at the home of Elvera and Dorothy French. they sat in his car and talked. He asked her if she would go out to dinner with him. “That would be nice,” she said.

Red drove back up the highway and rented a motel room. He picked Beth up that evening and they went to a nightclub and danced until midnight. Afterwards, they stopped at a drive-in for a snack. He said they talked for a few minutes in front of the French home. Red kissed her goodnight, but said she was a little cold.

He didn’t see her again until January 7, on his next trip to San Diego. He wired ahead to let her know he would be in town. They went nightclubbing again. Then they stayed together in a motel on their way back to Los Angeles.

Red’s story, and his demeanor, convinced Aggie he was not a killer, but that didn’t mean she let him off easy.

If there was one thing that Aggie detested, it was a sob sister. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a sob sister is a female journalist who writes overly sentimental copy. That sort of journalism was never Aggie’s thing. She said, “A sob sister could have wept with and over Manley, interpolating, editorial gushes to prove what a big bleeding-heart beat in her breast. To hell with that. I’d rather have a fistful—an armload—of good solid facts.”

Her armload of facts made Aggie’s interview with Red Manley riveting. In fact, her city editor, who normally cautioned her to keep her copy short, let the entire interview run without a ton of photos. He knew a great interview when he read one. Aggie was the only Los Angeles reporter to get a by-line in the Dahlia case.

Why, then, amid the covering of the murder, was Aggie yanked off the story? With no warning or explanation, Aggie found herself benched. The city editor let her cool her heels in the newsroom without a thing to do. 

Aggie spent a couple of miserable days at her desk, bored out of her mind. Then she got pissed-off enough to fight back. She didn’t get huffy or raise her voice. She brought in an embroidery project. In no time, the other newsroom denizens were snickering. One newswoman, Caroline Walker, said, “What do you think of that? Here’s the best reporter on the Herald, on the biggest day of one of the best stories in years—sitting in the office doing fancy work!” 

The next day, they reassigned Aggie to the story—only to pull her off a second time. What the hell was going on?

NEXT TIME: The Black Dahlia case continues.