Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.
Tonight’s feature is a departure from our usual film noir fare — it’s THE TRIP starring Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Susan Strasberg and Bruce Dern. It was written by Jack Nicholson and directed Roger Corman. I think this is the perfect follow-up to the post about Diane Linkletter.
Paul Groves (Peter Fonda), a television commercial director, is in the midst of a personality crisis. His wife Sally (Susan Strasberg) has left him and he seeks the help of his friend John (Bruce Dern), a self-styled guru who’s an advocate of LSD. Paul asks John to be the guide on his first “trip”. John takes Paul to a “freak-out” at his friend Max’s (Dennis Hopper) pad. Splitting the scene, they score some acid from Max and return to John’s split-level pad with an indoor/outdoor pool. Paul experiences visions of sex, death, strobe lights, flowers, dancing girls, witches, hooded riders, a torture chamber, and a dwarf. He panics but John tells him to “go with it, man.” Would you trust John?
Emergency vehicles screeched up to the Shoreham Towers. Diane Linkletter was on the sidewalk, bleeding profusely from her head. She was still alive. A near neighbor, Jimmy George, witnessed Diane’s fall. He ran outside to see if he could render aid. She looked up at him but could not speak. Jimmy didn’t know what to do. Even if he had been a trained paramedic he could not have altered the outcome.
Diane was placed in an ambulance and rushed to the University of Southern California Medical Center. She was dead on arrival. The pretty girl with the bright smile, and future to match, was two weeks away from her 21st birthday.
Everyone wanted to know what had happened to Diane. Sheriff’s investigators began to piece together her last several hours to see if her death was a suicide, an accident, or a homicide.
The last person to see Diane was Edward Durston. Durston said he saw Diane on the day before her death. He said she was depressed and he was concerned about her. Following her date with Robert, she stopped in at Durston’s apartment. It was 3 a.m. She asked him to come by her place because she was going to bake cookies.
Durston told investigators that Diane had dropped acid that night. He said they talked for hours and she told him she was depressed. She went into her bedroom and telephoned her brother and, according to Durston, Diane seemed calmer.
Her calm demeanor is what fooled him, he said. He thought everything was fine until she walked into the kitchen, climbed onto the drainboard and into the window. Durston said he was frantic. He tried, but failed, to grab Diane’s belt. He said she went out the window and there was nothing he could do to stop her.
Durston’s account of events changed several times. He changing story made investigators suspicious, so they dug into his background. What they found gave them cause for concern.
The Tate/LaBianca murders were fresh in everyone’s mind and Durston was an early suspect in the slayings. Detectives asked Durston if he was willing to take a polygraph regarding the circumstances of Diane’s death and he agreed. The results were never made public.
Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski
At the same time Durston was grilled by Sheriff’s investigators, Diane’s father addressed reporters.
As you would expect, Art was devastated by Diane’s death. He told reporters he knew what killed her – LSD. It wasn’t until after the autopsy revealed that Diane had no drugs in her system that Art offered a revised version. He said that Diane experienced an acid flashback and that is what propelled her out of her kitchen window.
Building on a tale of dubious origin, the media added a few flourishes and the next thing anyone knew Diane Linkletter had gone out the window of her apartment, high on LSD, because she thought she could fly.
The story degenerated into a false, but often repeated, narrative of Diane’s life. According to various sources Diane was into heroin at 13 and her drug use continued at a mad and dangerous pace until her death. None of it was true. Did Diane experiment with drugs? If she did, it wasn’t a big part of her life.
Sheriff’s homicide detective, Norm Hamilton, interviewed Diane’s ex-husband Grant Conroy. Theirs was a whirlwind marriage and it seemed doubtful Grant could offer any substantive information, but he had to be asked.
Grant said Diane used LSD and speed while they were married. How he knew intimate details of her life is a mystery—Diane never lived with Grant. During their brief marriage she lived at home with her parents.
Detectives turned again to Durston. He was the last person with Diane. Could he have pushed her? They never found any evidence to suggest foul play. However, Durston was present at another mysterious death in 1985.
Actress Carol Wayne appeared regularly on TV shows during the 1960s and into the 1970s. Her biggest role was in sketches on the Johnny Carson Show. She always played a ditzy blonde. When Carson asked the network to reduce his show from 90 to 60s minutes, Carol’s role was over.
She began to abuse alcohol and cocaine and it is rumored that she became an escort for wealthy men. In January 1985 she accompanied Durston to a resort in Mexico. The couple reportedly had a disagreement and Carol went for a walk on the beach to cool off. When she didn’t return for their flight back to Los Angeles, Durston left without her. He left her bags at the airport with a note that she would come and pick them up. She never arrived.
Carol’s fully clothed body was found floating in four feet of water off the beach near the hotel where she and Durston stayed. There were no signs of foul play. People who knew Carol found it strange that she drowned. She was terrified of water.
It is ironic that the person most responsible for trashing Diane’s reputation was her father. With no verifiable evidence that Diane abused drugs, Art embarked on a nationwide anti-drug campaign using Diane as a tragic example of how drugs can kill.
Why was Art so keen to tarnish Diane’s reputation by alleging she was a drug user? The simplest explanation is that Art was in denial about Diane’s death and experiencing the pain and guilt that can come with surviving a loved one’s suicide. It isn’t unusual for the survivors to cast around for a scapegoat . Art chose drugs.
NOTE: If you or a loved one is contemplating suicide, please reach out for help.
“If you remember the ’60s, you really weren’t there.” Charlie Fleischer, comedian
The United States officially banned LSD in 1967. The government, media and parents all over the country relied on fear-based tactics to keep kids off drugs. It didn’t work.
Attempts to terrify young people into abstinence is nothing new. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) held that there was no such thing as “moderate drinking”. A small tipple always led to “an uncontrollable appetite” for more. They used the same approach regarding tobacco. Temperance Helps for Primary Teachers, offered a catchy verse meant to keep young men from smoking:
Say No! to tobacco, that poisonous weed.
Say no! to all evils, they can only lead
To shame and to sorrow, Oh, shun them, my boy,
For wisdom’s fair pathway of peace and of joy
Does the “Just Say No” message sound familiar? If you grew up in the 1980s, you’ll recall First Lady Nancy Reagan’s anti-drug campaign.
Well-intentioned doggerel was replaced by film. Watch how a cowboy’s experiment with marijuana turns him into a killer.
In the 1930s film, The Cocaine Fiends (a remake of The Pace That Kills) the ham-fisted anti-drug message is very clear. Small-town girls, beware. Big city men will get you hooked on coke and lead you down a bad road.
Thirty years didn’t change the sledgehammer approach to anti-drug messages for young people. The 1960s saw its share of propaganda. Drug users found the propaganda laughable.
Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) was criminalized in the U.S. by the government with the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. The act prohibits the manufacture, distribution, and possession of LSD without a license from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
If the possibility of a felony conviction didn’t deter people, maybe the stories circulated about LSD would scare them straight. A gruesome tale, the legend of the microwaved/baked baby made the rounds for a long time. There are variations, but the gist of it is this:
The parents of a newborn leave their child with a sixteen-year-old hippie-chick babysitter. They go to a party. A few hours later the mother phones home to make sure all is well. The girl reassures her that everything is great. She tells her “the turkey’s in the oven.” The mom hangs up, looks at her husband and says, “The turkey is in the oven? We didn’t have a turkey!” They go home. Maybe there is something wrong with the sitter.
When the couple arrives home the babysitter, high on acid, is sitting in a chair freaking out. The baby? The sitter, believing the baby was a turkey, popped the kid in the oven.
A film about LSD, produced and directed by the San Mateo Union High School District, came out in 1967. Ostensibly narrated by LSD himself, the film depicted screaming mental breakdowns and a variety of deadly accidents that could befall a person on acid.
The film carefully curates its message. Most of the horror stories associated with LSD use are apocryphal. LSD doesn’t cause death from chemical toxicity, but deaths caused by behavioral toxicity are documented.
You’ve heard this one before—a young woman drops acid and, believing she can fly, jumps from a window to her death.
Here is the true story that launched the myth.
On Halloween, 1948, a fifth child, a girl, was born to radio personality Art Linkletter and his wife Lois. The couple named the baby Diane. Her godfather was Walt Disney.
Art worked hard for everything he had. He was born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada on July 17, 1912. Abandoned as an infant, Art was adopted and raised by a preacher and his wife, Fulton and Mary Linkletter.
Art passed his adopted family’s teachings along to his own children and raised his family in a traditional environment. The kids were healthy and happy. For a peek into the Linkletter family dynamic, check out this commercial Art and his three daughters made for Kellogg’s Corn Flakes
Diane’s life was untroubled until her teenage years. Like most teens, she tested boundaries and struggled to find herself. Diane’s path to adulthood was complicated when she eloped at age 17 with Grant Conroy (seven years her senior). Diane thought she was pregnant, and Grant offered to “do the right thing.” When she discovered she was not pregnant, her parents had the marriage annulled. Diane and Grant never even lived together.
Diane moved into Shoreham Towers, a luxury building in West Hollywood. The building’s residents were older than Diane, so she made friends closer to her age in the neighborhood. One of Diane’s new friends was Ed Durston who lived with a roommate in a building across from hers.
On Friday evening, October 3, 1969, Diane went out with a friend, Robert Reitman, to a show at the Griffith Observatory. Robert dropped Diane off at her apartment about midnight and she joined a street party on her block.
On Saturday morning, Dick Shephard looked out his bay window and watched in horror as a woman fell from the window of a sixth-floor apartment at the Shoreham Towers. She screamed, then hit the sidewalk with a sickening thud.
In October 1969 Susan Atkins, aka Sadie Mae Glutz, was booked on the Gary Hinman murder, moved to Sybil Brand Institute (SBI) the women’s jail for Los Angeles County, and assigned to Dorm 8000. She created a stir. She had that ridiculous alias and insisted on being called Crazy Sadie. If she hadn’t given it to herself, she would have earned the nickname—the other inmates thought she had a screw loose. She seemed happy to be in jail and would sometimes sing or start go-go dancing. Odd behavior in lock-up.
In the bunk opposite Susan’s was Ronnie Howard. Ronnie was in her early mid 30s. She was awaiting trial for forging a prescription.
Also, in the dorm was Virginia Graham. Virginia was about the same age as Ronnie and she was in for a parole violation.
Ronnie and Virginia had a history. They’d known each other for several years and worked as call girls together. They had more than that in common. Ronnie married Virginia’s ex-husband.
Virginia and Susan worked as runners, that means they carried messages for jail authorities. When they weren’t busy, they would sit and chat. In the evenings Susan would confide in Ronnie.
One day in early November, Virginia asked Susan how she ended up in the slammer. Common at the time would have been drugs, prostitution or bookmaking – that’s why Virginia’s jaw dropped when Susan admitted she was in for first degree murder.
Virginia thought Susan was wholesome looking, like a “babysitter” she said. She couldn’t reconcile the babysitter with the crime she said she committed.
Susan was bitter about her co-defendant, Bobby Beausoleil. She figured him for a rat. He wasn’t, but she didn’t know that. The squealer was another Manson Family member, Kitty Lutesinger. Kitty, jealous and vengeful, was the real rodent. Family girls vied with each other for Bobby’s affections. Nicknamed “Cupid,” Bobby was the bait Manson used to lure teenage runaway girls into the Family. Charlie was charismatic, but the guy was a troll. Not heinous, just not in Bobby’s league.
Virginia and Ronnie were accustomed to being locked up with women who committed non-violent crimes. Crazy Sadie’s attitude toward murder, even the murder of a woman 8 ½ months pregnant, was an anathema to them.
The jailbirds were torn, to snitch, or not to snitch. It is an easy choice for anyone who hasn’t spent time behind bars but, for two regular guests of the County, it was a conundrum. They realized the new generation of female criminals, represented by Crazy Sadie, committed acts of extreme violence as callously as their male counterparts, and it scared them into talking to the authorities.
Sheriff’s deputies ran a “pipe” chase on Atkins’ cell. What is a pipe chase? If you are a plumber, you know. For everyone else, a pipe chase is a vertical space enclosed by a chase, or false wall, for the purpose of hiding pipes—which makes it perfect for hiding a tape recorder and a deputy wearing headphones.
Before you get in a twist about Atkin’s right to privacy, she gave that up as soon as she got to lock-up. If she insisted on running her mouth, every word she uttered was fair game and could later be used against her. Bad news for Sadie. Great news for the law.
With Family members in custody, the case against them for the Tate/LaBianca slayings, and the murder of Gary Hinman, came together. The viciousness of the murders caused cops to speculate. If the Family could commit those crimes, what about the 30 unsolved murders in California in 1968? Seven of the murders occurred in Los Angeles County.
Among the unsolved cases in Los Angeles was Marina Habe’s murder and the murder of Jane Doe #59, stabbed 157 times. Both crimes involved a knife. Family members were familiar with knives. Most carried one—and knew how to use it.
Prior to her bone-headed decision to pull back from being the key witness for the prosecution, Susan over shared with anyone who would lend her an ear to garner favor. She revealed to a TV news team the approximate location of bloody clothing discarded following the Tate murders. The crew found three black t-shirts, one white t-shirt and three pairs of black jeans worn by the killers. Also found was the long barreled .22 caliber gun used to kill three of the victims.
The Tate/La Bianca murders were getting close to a slam-dunk for the prosecution. Would it be an overreach to pin some unsolved on the Family? Vincent Bugliosi didn’t think so.
On November 5, 1969, police responded to a call at 28 Clubhouse Avenue where they found the body of John “Zero” Haught, a Navy veteran, lying on a mattress, gun and holster nearby, and a single gunshot wound to his right temple.
John “Zero” Haught
Madaline Joan Cottage
The people at the scene told police that Zero shot himself playing Russian roulette. Madaline Joan Cottage, said she was lying next to him in bed when he noticed the gun. It contained one round. He spun the cylinder, put the gun to his temple and fired. If you aren’t familiar with Madaline, the Family nicknamed her Little Patty, sometimes Crazy Patty. She was the only eyewitness. Strange, isn’t it, that when later dusted for prints the weapon came back clean.
Police interviewed others in the house. Among them Family members Bruce Davis, Sue Bartell and Catherine Gilles. Each told the same story.
During an interview of Leslie Van Houten at SBI later in the month, Sgt. Mike McGann told her about Zero’s death. He told her Bruce Davis was there, too. She asked if Bruce was playing the game.
McGann: “No, he wasn’t.”
Leslie Van Houten: “Zero was playing Russian roulette all by himself?”
McGann: “Kind of odd, isn’t it?”
Leslie Van Houten: “Yeah, it’s odd.”
Zero’s death occurred a month before Manson became front-page news. In the weeks prior to his final arrest, Manson was increasingly paranoid. He worried that someone, like Zero, would rat him out. Did Mason order Zero’s murder to tie up loose ends? We’ll never know. The case is still on the books as a suicide.
Vincent Bugliosi followed up rumors that Jane Doe #59 was a regular at Spahn Ranch and that she answered the phone at 28 Clubhouse on the day of Zero’s death. The rumors were never substantiated.
Jane Doe #59 was unidentified for 46 years until June 2015 when a friend of her family recognized her on a government run missing and unidentified persons site in the U.S. Jane Doe #59 had a name, it was Reet Jurvetson.
Jane Doe #59 morgue photo
Her identification answered some of her family’s questions. The biggest one remains to this day, who killed her, and why?
Was Reet ever connected to the Family. When asked about her, Charles Manson said no. But is that good enough?
Manson further denied knowing anything about murdered co-ed, Marina Habe.
Marina and Reet were found within yards of each other, months apart, off of Mulholland Drive—six miles from where Sharon Tate was slaughtered.
Coincidences occur. By some estimates thirty serial killers hunted human prey in Los Angeles during that time.
Could Marina and Reet have been victims of a serial killer?
Maybe someday we will learn the truth.
NOTE: Thanks to friend, Scott Michaels at Dearly Departed, for his interview of Virginia Graham. It’s quite remarkable.
Sheriff’s detectives couldn’t catch a break. Marina’s case went cold.
In August 1969, the news that five (*see NOTE below) victims were slaughtered at the Cielo Drive home of actress Sharon Tate and her husband, director Roman Polanski shook Angelenos worse than a 9-point earthquake. The brutal, some thought ritualistic, slayings of Tate, Abigail Folger, Voytek Frykowski, Jay Sebring, and Stephen Parent terrified everyone. Rumors that the murders were drug-related caused a panic among Hollywood celebrities. It wasn’t only the glitterati who felt their lives were in danger, average citizen flocked to gun shops and dog kennels seeking to protect themselves against an unknown evil.
Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski
People over 40 saw every long hair as a potential mass killer, and even hippies were paranoid of one another. The murders drove a stake through the heart of the Summer of Love. Was it only two years ago that baby boomers believed they could change the course of the world with beads and flowers?
The level of fear in the city ratcheted up several notches when Los Feliz residents Rosemary and Leno LaBianca were murdered. Eerie similarities between the Tate and LaBianca slayings gave the cops cause to believe they could be linked.
Who committed the cruel murders? Charles Manson, an ex-con conversant with the basic tenets of Scientology and an avid student of Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” had a gift for convincing rootless teenagers to follow him. He lured them into the desert. He painted mind pictures of free love and great dope. Had he convinced his followers to murder for him?
As investigators scrutinized the “Savage Mystic Cult” who lived in squalor in the desert, they considered the possibility that the Manson Family committed over seven murders.
What about Marina Habe? Someone stabbed the teenager to death. The killer, or killers, used a knife to butcher several of the victims at Cielo drive. Another link?
The unsolved homicide of a young woman, Jane Doe #59, whose body was found close to where Marina was found might the Family’s grisly handiwork.
On November 16, 1969, a teenager who was bird watching on Mulholland Drive discovered Jane Doe’s remains. The young man was gazing through binoculars, checking out the various species of birds that populated the area, when his eyes came to rest on the nude body of a woman.
Police arrived at the scene. The victim was young. She was pretty despite the 157 stab wounds to her neck and upper body. Defensive wounds on her hands and arms meant she fought hard for her life. She was dead about two days. Overkill suggested to detectives that the murder was personal. A spurned lover might be capable of such rage; or the killer could be a madman.
Los Angeles Police Department detectives investigated the murder of Jane Doe #59, with the same zeal as their counterparts in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department had done in Marina’s case. Both agencies hit a wall.
NEXT TIME: Who killed Marina Habe and Jane Doe #59?
*NOTE: Thanks to Cheryl, a reader who reminded me of a very important fact. There were six victims on Cielo Drive. We should remember Sharon’s and Roman’s son, Paul Richard Polanski.
Sheriff’s investigators first believed someone kidnapped Marina. They, and her parents, waited for a ransom demand. The wait ended almost as soon as it began with the discovery of Marina’s body in the heavy brush down a 30-foot embankment in the 8800 block of Mulholland.
Associated Press index card for Marina Habe
Sheriff’s homicide investigator, Lieutenant Norman Hamilton, told reporters they could not tell if her killer threw or carried Marina down the slope. Marina still wore the brown capris, white turtleneck sweater and a brown coat with fur cuffs that she wore when she left John Hornburg’s house for her mother’s home.
There were no obvious signs sexual assault. An autopsy, conducted by coroner Thomas Noguchi, determined Marina’s cause of death as exsanguination and found no evidence of rape. The small amount of cash in Marina’s wallet seemed to rule out robbery as the cause of her abduction and murder.
Her car, left in her mother’s driveway, had the emergency brake pulled up. Investigators said that it took great strength to get the brake into that position and it was doubtful that Marina could have done it on her own.
Lt. Hamilton speculated that her killer (s) abducted Marina and intended to rape her, but she resisted. According to Hamilton, In recent weeks Eloise’s neighborhood, located three blocks below Sunset Boulevard, was the scene of several recent rapes.
The autopsy revealed that Marina’s killer (s), cut her throat, severing her left carotid artery, and stabbed her multiple times in the chest. She suffered two black eyes inflicted by a fist and someone beat her with a “small blunt object.” She bled to death. Despite no physical evidence of forcible rape, detectives felt Marina’s death was an attempted sex crime.
Her parents and 350 others mourned the pretty coed at her funeral. Marina converted to Catholicism in 1966 and they held a requiem Mass for her in the Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Beverly Hills. Father Acton, who knew Marina in life, said, “We wonder about a society, the products of which can be a large in our midst and capable of such heinous crimes. There you have the perfect formula for bitterness, resentment, hatred, perhaps despair. This we must guard against.”
Church of the Good Shepherd, Beverly Hills
Sheriff’s Lieutenant Harold White joined in the hunt for Marina’s killer (s). He said, “We’re tying very hard. But we have turned up nothing that is even remotely interesting. There are all kinds of things to check out, but there’s nothing conclusive.”
White told reporters they assigned six homicide investigators to the case full-time and 20 deputies were also working the case. Despite their best efforts, Marina’s case went cold.
NEXT TIME: Is Marina’s murder connected to a Jane Doe case, and is Charles Manson involved?
Nineteen-sixty-eight was one of the must tumultuous years of the 20th Century. Globally, it began with the Tet Offensive. Tet is the beginning of the lunar new year and the most important date on the Vietnamese calendar. It was then that the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong launched surprise attacks on cities throughout South Vietnam. It was a turning point in the Vietnam War, which dragged on for another several years. Student and labor protests during May in Paris and throughout France during the month of May tore the country apart.
In the U.S. hopes for the future died on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel on April 4th in Memphis and in the Ambassador Hotel pantry in Los Angeles on June 6th with the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.
New Year’s Eve 1968 began the countdown to a better year, at least that is what everyone hoped.
Mulholland Drive, the 21-mile long, mostly two-lane road that follows the ridgeline of the eastern Santa Monica Mountains and the Hollywood Hills, is a scenic route that offers breathtaking views of the San Fernando Valley to the north and Hollywood and beyond to the south. There is scant foot traffic along the road, too many blind curves and a narrow footpath make it tricky to navigate. But the views are spectacular, so on New Year’s Day a couple from Playa del Rey decided it was too nice to stay in their car.
It was 2 pm, and the couple walked along a fire road off Mulholland where they discovered a woman’s handbag. The bag contained a small amount of cash. The couple turned the purse over to the police.
Marina Habe (Credit: LAPD)
Police tentatively identified the bag as belonging to Marina Elizabeth Habe. Seventeen-year-old Marina had disappeared from the driveway of her mother’s West Hollywood home at 8962 Cynthia Street about 3:00 am on Monday, December 30, 1968. The young woman was home for Christmas vacation from the University of Hawaii where she was a freshman studying to be an artist.
Marina’s father and mother were divorced when she was a child. Her father, the author Hans Habe, was living in Zurich, Switzerland. As soon as he got word of Marina’s disappearance he hopped a plane for Los Angeles.
Hans Habe, (Békessy János) 13.08.1968. Ascona (Photo by Karoly Forgacs/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
Eloise Hardt, Marina’s mother, was an actress whose most recent film GAMES, starred Simone Signoret, James Caan and Katharine Ross.
Eloise Hardt. Columbia Pictures promo shot c. 1941
Marina was last seen by John Hornburg, 22, her date on Sunday night. John was a longtime friend of the Habe’s. John and Marina joined two other couples, Dennie Boses, 25, Wendy Kleiner, 18, Norman Elder, 22, and Laurie Kramer, 18, for an evening at the Troubadour where comedian Larry Hankin was performing.
Troubadour c. 1957 (Photo courtesy DWP)
According to John, he and Marina, and the other two couples, left the Troubadour at 11:30 pm. John drove Marina to his home at 13326 Sunset Blvd, Brentwood, where she parked her car. Marina changed out of her date outfit into brown capris and a white turtleneck sweater. The two hung out for a few hours and Marina left for her mother’s home at 3:15 am.
Eloise heard loud exhaust blasts in her driveway and got out of bed to see what was going on. She saw a black car and a man running toward it yelling “Go.” The man jumped into the car and it sped away. Marina’s car was parked in the driveway, but the girl was gone.
From the moment they entered the case, LAPD kept mum about the weapon used to batter Ramon Novarro to death. However, at trial the prosecution revealed the sad fact that Ramon was beaten with a cane, a memento from one of his films. It couldn’t have been more personal, nor more poignant.
Deputy District Attorney James Ideman said he intended to show that Paul and Thomas Ferguson tortured Ramon to death while trying to find out where he hid his money. Ideman described how the 69-year-old former film heartthrob was beaten and then taken into a shower and revived so he could be questioned further.
The seven man, five woman jury listened to Ideman’s description of Ramon’s violent end at the hands of the young hustlers who accepted his hospitality, and then left him on his bed with his hands tied behind him, to drown in his own blood.
Photograph caption dated July 28, 1969 reads, “Paul Robert Ferguson confers with attorneys at opening of murder trial. Richard Walton, left, and Dorothy Montoya represented accused at beginning of jury selection.” [Photo & caption courtesy LAPL]
Forever in need of money, Paul telephoned Ramon on the day of the murder and introduced himself as a relative of Ramon’s acquaintance, Larry (Paul’s brother-in-law). Paul arranged to see Ramon that evening. He arrived with his brother Thomas and following dinner and drinks they demanded money. Ramon was wealthy, but never kept large sums at home, in fact, that night he had $45 in his wallet.
The prosecution’s case hinged on three points: (1) fingerprints, (2) the fact that it was impossible for Ramon to have written the name “Larry” with his hands tied and (3) Thomas’ telephone call to his girlfriend in Chicago from Ramon’s house.
As far as anyone could tell, the brothers intended to blame each other for Ramon’s murder. The main points in their strategy were: (1) blame the other brother and (2) mental illness.
Lawyer Cletus Hanifin, right, with murder suspects Tom (left) and Paul Ferguson. Photograph dated September 25, 1969. [Photo & caption courtesy LAPL]
Victor Nichols, a real estate investor and friend of Paul’s, testified that Paul and Thomas came to his Hollywood apartment after midnight on October 31. They weren’t trick-or-treating, they were in trouble. According to Victor, Paul said: “Vic, I’d like to see you . . . we are in some trouble. Tom hit Ramon . . . Ramon is dead.”
Victor gave Paul a cup of coffee to sober him up as Tom slept on the sofa. Victor’s guests made him nervous. He didn’t want to be involved in a murder. After Paul finished his coffee, Victor suggested he awaken Tom and leave. When Victor asked, “How could you do such a thing?” Thomas replied: “I hit him several times very hard and he is dead.”
Victor gave them $8 for cab fare and sent them on their way.
Paul took the stand and gave his version of the night of the murder. He said he went into Ramon’s bedroom and found him lying on the floor. He was covered in blood and his hands were tied behind him. “I touched him on the shoulder. He felt starchy . . . tight, like paper . . . “, said Paul.
From his chair at the defense table, Thomas starred daggers at his brother and shook his head as if he couldn’t believe the lies coming out of Paul’s mouth.
Paul claimed he wanted to phone the police, but Thomas vetoed the plan and suggested they stage a robbery. His attorney asked Paul why he would go along with Thomas’ plan, he answered, “Stupidness.”
Paul’s attorney asserted his client had no reason to kill Ramon because he thought the actor was a “nice guy”, and because Ramon said he might become a “superstar”. Paul said, “He (Novarro) said I could be a young Burt Lancaster or another Clint Eastwood.”
By the time Ramon met the Fergusons, Paul already had a minor career in the seedier side of show business. He was a nude model, and may have appeared in porno films. Ramon knew nothing about Paul’s career, but perhaps he saw a reflection of himself in the good looking younger man.
The trial continued with the brothers blaming each other for the murder. Paul insisted he slept during the crime because he downed a fifth of vodka, some beer and tequila. Until Thomas awakened him and said, “This guy is dead” he was oblivious to Ramon’s screams and cries for help. How did Paul take the news of Ramon’s death? He said he was “just plain sad.” Thomas’ attorney asked Paul, “Why were you sad if you didn’t do it?”
Ramon in the tub.
“I was just sad because Ramon was dead . . . I had just had two weeks of bad luck and now I was thrown into this thing . . . I wanted to know why everything was happening,” Paul responded.
What was the bad luck plaguing Paul? His job sucked and his wife left him. Small problems compared to a man’s life. Paul admitted under oath that he considered suicide rather than face trial, but he rejected the idea. Asked why, Paul said, “I want to live.”
Neither Paul nor Thomas would admit to the murder, each blamed the other. There was some evidence to suggest Thomas was pressured by Paul and his mother to take the blame and he gave it a half-hearted try. As a juvenile he could not be sentenced to death.
On Wednesday, September 17, 1969, Paul and Thomas Ferguson faced the jury. If the plan was to save Paul from the gas chamber, it worked. Paul and Thomas received life sentences for first degree murder.
Prison agreed with Paul. Maybe it provided the structured environment he lacked on the outside. He was on the prison’s radio station and found his voice through creative writing. In 1975, he won a P.E.N. award for a short story, “Dream No Dreams.”
Thomas’ incarceration did not go well. He was constantly in trouble and spent much of his time in solitary for attempted escapes and other infractions of prison rules. It is easy to get drugs in prison, and Thomas got strung out on coke and glue.
Paul and Thomas never saw or spoke to each other again after they were released in 1976.
Parole wasn’t the start of a new life for either brother. Thomas was busted for rape in 1987. He spent four years in prison. When he did not register as a sex offender he was busted again. On March 6, 2005, Thomas went to a Motel 6 and cut his throat. He didn’t leave a note.
By 2012, Paul was once again in prison. This time it was for rape. Unless he wins an appeal, he can look forward to 60 years in a Missouri prison.
Ramon Novarro’s funeral. [Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library]
LAPD Detective Lauritzen played it cagey with the press when they asked for details regarding the arrests of Paul and Thomas Ferguson. He said only that they had “physical evidence” of the brothers’ involvement in Ramon’s murder. The reporters interpreted Lauritzen’s comments to mean they found fingerprints at the crime scene. The County Grand Jury indicted the Fergusons and they arraigned the brothers in a Van Nuys courtroom.
Attorney Cletus Hanifin (second from left) confers with murder suspect Paul Ferguson (left) while another attorney talks with Ferguson’s brother and fellow suspect Thomas (second from right). [Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library]
Busted in early November, the brothers awaited trail in county lockup. Early in December new drama in the case erupted with a report that Paul attempted to gouge out his own eyes. At first he told jailers other inmates attacked him, but they proved he injured himself. If he hoped to eradicate the vision Ramon’s murder from his memory, he should have plunged a knife into his heart. The general feeling was that Paul’s self-inflicted injuries were an attempt to garner sympathy.
The police found more than fingerprints at Ramon’s home. While Paul beat Ramon in another room, Thomas was on the telephone with his girlfriend of six months, Brenda Lee Metcalf. Brenda flew out to Los Angeles on the county’s dime to testify before the Grand Jury. She was a wealth of information about the night of the murder.
She testified that Thomas told her he and Paul were at Ramon’s house because the actor was going to get him into the movies—then he said no, it was Paul who Ramon was going to get into pictures. While he chain-smoked cigarettes and drank beer, Thomas told Brenda, “… he knew there was $5,000 somewhere in the house behind a picture.” Thomas and Paul had plans for Ramon’s money. Brenda said, “They would tie him up to find out where the money was.” Brenda told Thomas not to get into trouble. Brenda said, “He said no matter what happened, he wasn’t going to have nothing to do with it because he didn’t want to get in any trouble.” The screams she heard in the background sound like trouble to her. “He (Thomas) said he (Paul) was just probably trying to scare him or hit him with something.”
As the phone called neared an end, Thomas said, “Well, I better go now because I’m going to see what’s happening. . . I don’t want Paul to hurt Ramon.”
Another woman surfaced in the case, Paul’s estranged wife, Mary. Mary identified the mysterious “Larry” – the name scrawled several places at the murder scene. Larry was Paul’s brother-in-law, the person Paul blamed for his problems with Mary. Paul’s attempt to frame his brother-in-law was amateur hour, but then nothing about the crime was a stroke of genius.
Brenda received one last telephone call from Tom during his stay in Los Angeles. He telephoned her on November 2. He said, “Well you know about Novarro. He is dead. When I bent down over him I saw he was dead and that if we have enough money, we’ll fly back. Otherwise, we will have to hitchhike back. Before they could leave Los Angeles County, they were in police custody.
On August 5, 1969, four days before the murders of Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger, Voytek Frykowski and Steven Parent at Tate’s rented home on Cielo Drive, Paul and Thomas were on trial for Ramon’s murder.
The jury of seven men and five women heard Deputy District Attorney James Ideman outline the State’s case in his opening statement. He said he would prove that the brothers tortured Ramon to death on October 30 while trying to discover a hidden cache of money.
Paul and Thomas did not differ from any of the other idiot criminals who murdered people they believed kept large amounts of cash at home.
Defendants Jack Santo (left), Emmett Perkins (center) and Barbara Graham (right) in court for the murder of Mabel Monohan. [Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library]
On March 9, 1953, in Burbank, California, Barbara Graham, Emmett Perkins, Jack Santo, John True and Baxter Shorter invaded the home of Mabel Monohan, a widow. The gang believed she kept a large amount of cash in a safe for her former son-in-law, a professional gambler and local mob affiliate, Tutor Scherer. The gang walked away with nothing but a ticket to the “green room” (San Quentin’s gas chamber).
Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, two ex-cons, made the same mistake in 1959 in Holcomb, Kansas. They believed a cellmate when he told them one of his former employers, a farmer named Herb Clutter, was rich and kept his money in a home safe. It was a tall tale, told by an idiot, to two other morons who believed it. Hickock and Smith executed Herb, his wife Bonnie Mae, and the couple’s two teenage children, Kenyon and Nancy. The killers walked away with fifty dollars in cash, a pair of binoculars and a transistor radio. Hickock and Smith went to the gallows on April 14, 1965 on the grounds of Leavenworth prison.
Truman Capote with his bestseller, In Cold Blood. [Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library]
Truman Capote turned the sordid murders into a brilliant narrative in the mostly true account of the case, In Cold Blood.
Paul and Thomas made the same mistake as their predecessors, but would they pay the same price?
NEXT TIME: Paul and Thomas Ferguson pay for Ramon’s murder.
Over 40 years had passed since Ramon’s star burned brightly in Hollywood’s firmament but during the 1950s and 1960s he was still working, mostly in character roles on TV. His was a high-profile case and LAPD wanted it solved. The department assigned two additional two-man teams of homicide investigators to work on the case.
While LAPD tugged on threads, they made results of Ramon’s autopsy public. Someone bound Ramon with an electrical cord so there was no way for him to extricate himself and seek help. Ramon died as the result of “suffocation because of massive bleeding because of the fracture of the nose and laceration of the lips and mouth.” He choked on his own blood.
In their coverage, newspapers omitted the vile message written in bold capital letters in brown eyebrow pencil on the bedroom mirror: US GIRLS ARE BETTER THAN FAGITS (sic faggots) . Another clue, made public, was the name LARRY written in ink on the bed sheet next to Ramon’s body. The ligatures around his wrists and ankles made it impossible for Ramon to write the name himself. Was it a red herring planted by the killer?
Although it may have been an open secret in certain circles, Ramon kept his homosexuality under wraps for his entire career. There were dozens of good reasons for keeping his private life private – chief among them, state sodomy laws made gay relationships illegal. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the laws were overturned.
It may have been the fear of exposure that led Ramon to numb himself with alcohol for decades. During the 1940s he was arrested for driving under the influence. Police found dozens of empty liquor bottles in the trash outside his home, which meant he forever grappled with his demons.
Ramon leaves jail after paying a fine for drunk driving. [Los Angeles Times, October 30, 1941]
Why the word “fagits” on his mirror? Was the killer lashing out and that was the only insult he could think of to hurl at the dead man, or was he privy to Ramon’s secret life? At least that aspect of his life wasn’t splashed all over the front pages of the local newspapers. The reporters used the common subtext of the time, describing Ramon as a “lifelong bachelor.” It wasn’t the same as blatantly outing him, but rather a nod and a wink to those who could read between the lines.
On November 3rd, mourners from all walks of life visited the Cunningham and O’Connor Mortuary, 850 W. Washington Blvd. to pay their respects to the man who epitomized the glamor of a bygone age.
Just a few days following Ramon’s interment at the Calvary Cemetery in East Los Angeles, police arrested two brothers for the brutal murder. Paul Robert Ferguson. 22, a housepainter and Thomas Scott Ferguson, 17, a recent run away from the Midwest.
The police possessed evidence implicating Paul and Thomas within a short time of the murder, but they kept quiet about it until they could make an arrest. Lieutenant Jerry Lauritzen played it cagey when asked about the evidence, but it was thought fingerprints helped identify the suspects. Cops staked out an apartment in Gardena where the brothers were seen, but they never turned up. Police caught up with them at a location in Bell Gardens and arrested them there.
Apart from clothing Paul and Thomas stole to replace the bloody garments they wore at the time of the murder; nothing was missing from Ramon’s house. If nothing was taken, then what reason did they have to batter Ramon to death?