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 SHAKEDOWN (aka THE MAGNIFICENT HEEL) starring, Howard Duff, Brian Donlevy, Peggy Dow, Lawrence Tierney, and Bruce Bennett.
Enjoy the movie!
In a San Francisco train yard, photographer Jack Early hides a camera just before he is beaten by some men who are chasing him. Later, he retrieves the camera and takes the pictures to newspaper photo editor Ellen Bennett. She agrees to buy one, but Jack refuses to sell it unless they hire him for a week, at the end of which he vows to prove his worth.
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 the LADY OF BURLESQUE (aka THE G-STRING MURDERS) directed by William A. Wellman and starring Barbara Stanwyck and Michael O’Shea. While not a classic noir film, it is a murder mystery and, I think, it pairs nicely with the post on Betty Rowland.
LADY OF BURLESQUE is based on the novel The G-String Murders written by strip tease queen Gypsy Rose Lee. There have been claims that Craig ghosted the book, but I believe Ms. Lee did it on her own.
If you’re not familiar with Craig Rice, she wrote mystery novels and short stories, and is sometimes described as “the Dorothy Parker of detective fiction.” She was the first mystery writer to appear on the cover of Time Magazine, on January 28, 1946.
Before we roll the feature, let’s enjoy one of Gypsy Rose Lee’s dance routines–followed by a clip from a Tex Avery cartoon starring the lecherous wolf character.
S. B. Foss, owner of the Old Opera House on Broadway in New York City, promotes his new recruit, burlesque dancer Dixie Daisy, hoping that she will draw a large audience. Dixie’s performance draws cheers from the crowds and from comedian Biff Brannigan, who ardently admires Dixie even though she hates comics because of past experiences with them. When someone cuts the wire to the light backstage that signals the presence of the police, the performers are surprised by a raid, and pandemonium ensues. As Dixie flees through a coal chute, someone grabs her from behind and tries to strangle her, but her assailant escapes when a stagehand comes along.
Welcome to Deranged L.A. Crimes. Ten years ago, I started this blog to cover historic Los Angeles crimes. I am not surprised that I haven’t even scratched the surface of murder and mayhem in the City of Angels.
I have been absent from the blog for a while, focusing on finishing my book on L.A. crimes during the Prohibition Era for University Press Kentucky. It’s not done yet, but I’m close. No matter, it is time to return to the blog. It is something I love to do.
Focusing my energy on the book, I failed to pay tribute to the inspiration for Deranged L.A. Crimes, Agness “Aggie” Underwood, on December 17, 2022, the 120th anniversary of her birth. If you aren’t familiar with Aggie, I’ve written about her many times in previous posts.
In 2016, I curated a photo exhibit at the Los Angeles Central Library downtown. The exhibit, for the non-profit Photo Friends, featured pictures from cases and events Aggie wrote about over the course of her career. I wrote a companion book, The First with the Latest!: Aggie Underwood, the Los Angeles Herald, and the Sordid Crimes of a City.
Aggie is a dame worth learning about. She is a legendary crime reporter, who worked in the business from 1927 until her retirement from the Los Angeles Herald in 1968. A force to be reckoned with, Aggie worked as a reporter until her promotion to City Editor of the Herald in January 1947, while covering the Black Dahlia case. She was the only Los Angeles reporter, male or female, to get a by-line for her reporting on the ongoing investigation.
On her retirement, she told a colleague that she feared being forgotten. That won’t happen on my watch. Thanks again, Aggie, for the inspiration. Deranged L.A. Crimes is dedicated to you.
Among the things I’ve learned over the years researching and writing about crime, is that people don’t change. The motives for crime are timeless: greed, lust, anger, betrayal, and jealousy are but a few.
What is different is crime detection. Science has come a long way. Detectives no longer use the Bertillon system to identify criminals—they use DNA. I think part of the reason I’m drawn to historic crime is the challenges overcome by former detectives and scientists. Despite the advancements in science, it is my belief that if it was possible to pluck the best detectives and scientists from the past and set them down in the present, they would still be great. I am amazed at the cases they solved.
I look forward to this new year, and to the challenges it will bring. I am so glad you are here, and I invite you to reach out if you have questions and/or suggestions.
“There is no killer type. Slayers range all ages, all sexes. . . Homicide is expected from the hoodlum, the gun moll, the gulled lover. It isn’t from the teenager, the . . . sweet old lady, the fragile housewife, the respectable gent who is the proverbial pillar of society.“
“They kill with pistol, rifle, or shotgun; with the blade . . . with poison; with ax, hatchet or hammer; with cord or necktie; with fake accidents; with blunt instruments or with phony drownings.“
“Killers do not run true to form. What they have in common is killing.”
The quote is from my favorite Los Angeles crime reporter Aggie Underwood, from her 1949 autobiography, NEWSPAPERWOMAN, and she knew what she was talking about.
During her career as a reporter, Aggie covered nearly every major crime story in the city. Law enforcement respected her and occasionally sought her opinion regarding a suspect. They even credited her with solving a few crimes.
Cops and journalists have a lot in common. Both professions rely on intuition guided by experience and intelligence. They see the worst that humanity has to offer, but no matter what they witness, they strive to maintain their objectivity.
Inspired by Aggie, I began this blog in 2012 and wrote her Wikipedia page. In 2016, I curated an exhibit at the Central Library on Aggie’s career and wrote the companion book.
Join me on November 17, 2020 at 7pm PST for the webinar and you will meet one of the most fascinating women in Los Angeles’ history.
On March 10th, B.C. (before Covid) I was interviewed by Dave Schrader for his wonderful radio show, MIDNIGHT IN THE DESERT. We talked for 3 hours about historic Los Angeles crime.
When I first agreed to do the interview I wondered how we would fill the time. By the 2 1/2 hour mark I knew we’d never be able to cover everything. The time flew. Dave is a terrific host and I recommend that you check out his show. I hope to make a return visit sometime during the summer.
Dave’s area of expertise is the paranormal, but he also has an interest in crime. Here’s a little more about Dave:
Dave Schrader has been one of the leading voices of the paranormal since 2006 when he launched his wildly popular talk show, Darkness on the Edge of Town on Twin Cities News Talk – Minneapolis’s top-rated AM talk station.
The show grew to become one of the station’s most successful shows and most-downloaded podcasts, expanding Schrader’s reach globally. Seeing an opportunity, Schrader moved his show to Chris Jericho’s network of shows on PodcastOne, where he further expanded his worldwide audience.
Yesterday was the 117th anniversary of Aggie Underwood’s birth. In her honor the Central Library downtown is hosting a party on Saturday, December 21, 2019 at 2 pm.
I will speak about Aggie and her many accomplishments from her time as a switchboard operator at the Record to her groundbreaking promotion to city editor at the Evening Herald and Express. And yes, there will be cake.
Aggie inspired me to create this blog and her Wikipedia page on December 12, 2012. Aggie loved the newspaper business as much as I love writing for the blog and connecting with all of you.
Deranged L.A. Crime readers are an impressive group. They include current and former law enforcement professionals, crime geeks (like me), and the victims of violent crime. I have even been contacted by a serial rapist (a despicable scumbag).
Each December I reflect on the year that is ending and make plans for Deranged L.A. Crimes. In 2020, the blog’s reach will extend to encompass all of Southern California, which includes the following counties: Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Kern, Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Imperial.
I look forward to new stories, personalities and challenges.
Please join me as we enter the Roaring Twenties. This time, no Prohibition.
November 22, 1969, a man living in the Pico Union district found the mutilated
bodies of Doreen Gaul, 19, and James Sharp, 15 in an alley between Arapahoe
Street and Magnolia Avenue, south of 11th Street.
naked except for a string of multicolored beads—hippie beads—de rigueur for
teenage girls in 1969. James wore a corduroy jacket, striped T-shirt and black
Levis—the uniform of teenage boys.
stabbed Doreen and James between 50 and 60 times each. Seventeen of the stab wounds inflicted on
Doreen were near her heart. She was raped. Their right eyes were cut out. The
overkill recalled the brutality in the Tate/La Bianca murders in August, but police
uncovered no link between Doreen and James and the other victims.
autopsy, the coroner concluded that Doreen was a recent arrival in Los Angeles
because her lungs were smog free. The coroner was right, Doreen came to Los
Angeles from Albany, New York a few months earlier to study Scientology. James
was also a recent arrival to Los Angeles. He traveled west from Crestview, a
St. Louis, Missouri suburb. He came to
study Scientology, too. In fact, their study of Scientology was the only thing linking
founded in 1950 by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, was attractive to
Baby Boomers, teenagers in the 1960s, who sought spiritual guidance in non-traditional
religions, communes, and radical political ideologies.
For those of you unfamiliar with the basic tenets of Scientology, Thetan is “an immortal spiritual being; the human soul.” An audit is conducted by a Scientology minister or minister-in training using an electropsychometer (E-Meter) to locate and confront areas of spiritual upset. For Scientologists the E-Meter is a religious artifact used as a spiritual guide.
E-Meters are more sophisticated today than they were in 1969 when they were nothing more than a galvanometer with two tin cans attached—not unlike many quack devices marketed before and since to the gullible.
Drug Administration stepped in when L. Ron Hubbard made unsubstantiated claims
about the E-Meter’s medical capabilities.
In a Court of Appeals decision, still in effect today, every E-meter must bear a warning that states, “The E-Meter is not medically or scientifically useful for the diagnosis, treatment or prevention of any disease. It is not medically or scientifically capable of improving the health or bodily functions of anyone.”
mainstream press characterized Scientology as a “cult” and a “mystical,
quasi-scientific organization.” The organization cooperated with the Los
Angeles Police Department at first, but dragged their feet when asked to
provide a comprehensive membership list. LAPD Det. Lt. Earl A. Deemer wanted to explore
any possible connection between the murders of Doreen and James and a Jane Doe
slaying from several months before. The marked similarities in the three
murders struck Deemer as more than a coincidence. He described the crimes to
reporters: “All three victims were stabbed, and their wounds appeared to be the
work of a ‘fanatic’. None of the three
was slain where the bodies were found. The Jane Doe of the previous killing
wore hippie-like attire which resembled that in which Miss Gaul had been seen and
which is favored by many young females in the organization [Scientology].”
to talk to Hubbard personally about the membership list, but the Scientology
leader was adrift at sea, literally. He was on his private yacht to avoid a
hefty tax bill that awaited him on land.
On behalf of Scientology Rev. Natalie Fisher, resident agent of the organization quartered at 2773 W. Temple Street stated, “This organization has no facts or information regarding the circumstances of the crime, but we are doing everything in our power to assist law enforcement agencies to see that justice is done.”
of the young victims were devastated by their loss. James’ father was a prosperous
salesman and he permitted James to leave high school to study Scientology in
friends said that following her graduation from a parochial high school in the
spring of 1968, she became a devotee of Scientology. Her switch from Roman
Catholicism surprised her friends, but not her father. He described Doreen as a
“. . . good kid, but an emotional kid.
She was always looking for green grass and rainbows.”
investigation into the random slayings continued but police never located the
place where Doreen and James were murdered. Solving a crime without locating the place
where it happened is challenging. Police
never solved the infamous Black Dahlia case in 1947 either. The victim in that case, 22-year-old
Elizabeth Short, was murdered in a place they never found and her dismembered
body was dumped in a weedy vacant lot in Leimert Park.
stated that there was no clear connection between the slayings of Doreen and
James and 11 unsolved murders (including the five Tate murders) committed in
the county since January 1969.
teenagers traveled to Los Angeles seeking spiritual enlightenment, why did they
end up brutalized and discarded in an alley? Were Doreen and James the victims
of a serial killer? Did a member or
members of the Manson family kill them as some suspect? Fifty years later we have no answers, and we may
never get them, the case remains unsolved.
If the police had any viable leads on the Tate/La Bianca
murders they weren’t sharing them with reporters.
On September 10, 1969, the Los Angeles Times ran an
ad which offered a reward of $25,000 (over $170k in current USD) for
information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons who
murdered Sharon Tate, her unborn son, and the other victims at the Cielo Drive
Roman Polanski and friends of the Polanski family would pay
the money. The friends included Peter
Sellers, Warren Beatty and Yul Brynner.
JOYCE HABER & THE FRIENDS OF THE POLANSKI’S
On September 22, 1969, Los Angeles Times gossip
columnist Joyce Haber had a few tidbits to share about what she described as
the “Tate Case Chatter.”
Haber said that Roman Polanski was back in town after a
trip to New York where, according to her, he was “. . . kicking it up in and
from his home base, a suite at Manhattan’s Essex House on Central Park
She continued, “The kicks included trips to Oh, Calcutta!, off-Broadway’s groovy, naked revue, and to such jivy joints as Elaine’s, a haunt for the literary-cum-anything set.”
Elaine’s restaurant on the Upper East Side of New York
City, near the corner of 2nd Avenue and East 88th Street,
was a hangout for everyone from Norman Mailer to Mia Farrow and Woody
Allen. Elaine’s closed in 2011, following
the death of the proprietress, Elaine Kaufman. In an interview, Allen said that
he was “crushed” and that “despite the unrelenting bad food I went there every
night for decades.”
Haber’s tone regarding Polanski’s unique manner of grieving the loss of his family was
disapproving. Understanding the intimate mechanics of how different individuals
cope with loss is for someone with more knowledge on the topic that I have; but
I find Polanski’s choice of venues for grieving very odd. Would most people
faced with such a traumatic loss socialized in the way Polanski did? I wonder.
When reading Haber’s column, you must consider the source. It was a gossip
column – she inherited the gig from Hedda Hopper. Haber had a reputation for snarky comments. In
fact, there are people who blame her indirectly for Jean Seberg’s suicide in
Seberg ,an internationally known and admired actress, was a
staunch supporter of civil rights and often gave money to the NAACP, Native
American groups, and two gifts to the Black Panther Party.
During the late 1960s the FBI ran a Counterintelligence
Program (COINTELPRO ) and targeted individuals and groups they identified as
subversive. Their tactics were abhorrent.
Outright lies used to destroy people for their politics.
On May 19, 1970, Haber’s column was used to smear Jean
Seberg. The actress, referred to as Miss A in the column, was Jean Seberg. Anyone
familiar with Hollywood at the time would have recognized the characterization.
NEWSWEEK also printed the rumor.
The rumor was that the child Seberg carried wasn’t her
husband’s, Romain Gary, but Raymond Hewitt’s (a member of the Black
Devastated by the rumor, Seberg went into premature labor
and lost her baby daughter. At the funeral Seberg laid the baby in an open
casket so that reporters could see for themselves that the infant was white.
Seberg was blacklisted and her career suffered. So did her mental health. She was depressed
for years. The FBI continued their
surveillance and harassment, which did nothing to ease her stress.
On September 8, 1979, nine days after she disappeared from
her Paris apartment in the 16th arrondissement, her body was found wrapped in a blanket in the back
seat of her Renault. Police found barbiturate’s
and a note which said that she could no longer live with her nerves.
is interred in the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris.
MANSON FAMILY UPDATE – FALL, 1969
Charles Manson relocated to Barker Ranch in Death Valley. Charlie and family members Atkins, Krenwinkel, and Watson must have felt invincible. They got away with murder.
The big story in Los Angeles on August 12, 1969 was the release of nineteen-year-old William Garretson, the caretaker at the Cielo Drive estate where five people and the unborn son of Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski murdered a few days before.
William Garretson (center)
William was the only survivor of the slaughter which made him suspect number one. Police arrested William at the point of a shotgun and grilled him for hours. He agreed to take a polygraph test and passed. Inspector Harold Yarnell said: “There is not sufficient evidence to hold Garretson. There is no reason to suspect him.”
Wearing a deer-in-the-headlights expression, William’s attorney, Barry Tarlow, escorted him through the lobby of LAPD’s administration building. The nineteen-year-old, who appeared on the verge of tears, declined to answer any of the barrage of questions called out to him by eager news reporters. He let his lawyer do the talking.
Tarlow told reporters his client said goodnight to Steven Parent at 11:30 p.m. Friday, then went back inside the guesthouse to listen to his stereo. He wasn’t aware of anything until LAPD officers kicked in his door and took him away on Saturday morning.
William shared an address with Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski, but they lived on different planets. Sharon and Roman were in the movie industry; they were among the “beautiful people.” Roman’s big break came in June 1968 with the release of “Rosemary’s Baby.” His career as an A-list director was underway.
Still a teenager, William wasn’t sure what he wanted out of life. He spoke to his mother of an interest in acting, but his aspiration was as common as a cold and easier to catch when living in L.A. Thousands of young people flock to the city seeking stardom – they have been coming here since the 1910s. Far from hanging out with the beautiful people, William had more in common with “Hollywood Blvd drifters, hitchhikers, and drugstore cowboys,” many of whom he brought home with him when they needed a place to crash.
Police wanted to speak to members of both groups – killers defy social strata. William offered names of people he knew, but he didn’t believe any of them capable of the murders.
William’s release featured prominently on the front page of the Los Angeles Times, but there was another intriguing and disturbing story on page 3. The double murder in Los Feliz of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca.
Leno, 44, and Rosemary, 37, were stabbed to death Sunday in their home at 3301 Waverly Drive. The killing of the couple was similar in many to ways to the murders of Sharon Tate and her friends on Saturday. Police Sergeant Bryce Houchin said, “There is a similarity in the slayings. But whether it’s the same suspect or a copycat, we just don’t know.”
Sgt. Houchin appeared open to the idea that the murders could be connected, but in their official statements LAPD wouldn’t go that far.
On August 12, 1969, reporter Bruce Russell wrote:
Whispers that a psychotic killer was after wealthy resident of isolated homes in the Hollywood hills continued after the murder of Miss Tate and the four others was followed a day later by that of a rich supermarket owner and his wife in a plush home 12 miles away.
IN BOTH SETS of slayings the word “Pig” was smeared in blood at the murder scene, hoods covered the heads of males slain and women had cords around their throats.
Police have showed that the two bloodbaths were unconnected. They said the more recent murders of a grocery chain owner Leno La Bianca, 44, and his wife Rosemary, 37, were those of a psychotic cashing in on the publicity of the so-called Tate murders.
But fear-stricken Hollywood residents rushed to buy guns yesterday for self-protection.
Hollywood glitterati panicked. They ripped the names and numbers of their drug dealers out of their little black books and waited for the killer’s arrest so life could return to normal.
No one, except some Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department homicide investigators, gave a thought to the gruesome killing that pre-dated the August rampage, the murder of Gary Hinman.
It was a few minutes into August 9, 1969, and Mrs. Seymour Kott of 10170 Cielo Drive heard a series of claps. She couldn’t identify the source or location of the noise and so she went back to sleep.
Winifred Chapman, maid for director Roman Polanski and his wife actress Sharon Tate, arrived at their home at the far end of Cielo Drive at 8:30 a.m. to begin work. The quiet street is a cul-de-sac between Beverly Glen and Benedict Canyon. Birds chirping, a dog barking or the occasional coyote call are about the only sounds you hear; but there was an unnatural quality to the stillness that morning.
Winifred saw a white two-door Rambler sedan in the driveway. She didn’t recognize the car and approached it with caution. She saw a young man behind the wheel slumped over toward the passenger seat. There was blood on his shirt and his left arm.
As she continued toward the sprawling home she found the body of Voytek Frykowski on the front lawn.
Under a fir tree, about 20 yards away, she found Abigail Folger’s bloody body.
The horror followed Winifred into the living room. Sharon Tate, 8 ½ months pregnant and dressed in her bra and bikini bottom, had a bloody nylon cord wrapped around her neck. The cord looped around a beam in the ceiling. Someone tied the other end of the cord around Jay Sebring’s neck and placed a black hood on his head.
Terrified, Winifred ran to a neighbor’s home for help. Fifteen-year-old Jim Asim was preparing to leave when she stopped him screaming, “there’s bodies and blood all over the place!”
Victims being transported to morgue
Asim, a member of Law Enforcement Troop 800 of the Boy Scouts, called the police. Moments later six LAPD black and whites roared up Cielo Drive to its end where there is a wire gate outside the Polanski residence. Guns drawn; the officers entered the property. They heard a dog howling behind a guest house and a man’s voice shouted for it to be quiet.
Wire gate outside Polanski residence.
In the guest house, nineteen-year-old William Etson Garretson looked up to see his doorway crowded with police. They had shotguns trained on him. He was still half asleep, dressed only in pin-striped bell-bottoms. He did not understand why the cops were there.
After several hours of questioning, they took Garretson into custody and arrested him on suspicion of murder. As the only living person on the premises he was the obvious suspect. Yet there was no physical evidence tying him to the deaths.
Police in Garretson’s hometown of Lancaster, Ohio, told LAPD investigators the kid had committed one offense of little consequence. He received a two-year suspended jail sentence in 1967 for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Mary Garretson, his 42-year-old mother, told police her son left home in October 1968 “without saying goodbye but had written saying he hoped to return home soon.”
William Garretson (center)
Garretson was a quiet kid and lacked the personality to take control of five adults and viciously murder them.
Garretson didn’t even work for the Polanski’s and had only a vague notion of who they were. He lived in the guest house and kept to himself. The property owner, Rudy Altabelli employed him as a caretaker
In Europe when he received the news of the slayings, Altabelli offered no reason for the murders.
Someone cut the telephone lines into the home, which suggested a plan. There was no weapon at the scene except for pieces of a pistol grip.
It was 1969, so it was no surprise that all the victims wore “hippie type” clothes – their mode of dress was enough for the police to search for drugs. They found none. As far investigators could tell nothing appeared to be missing – which ruled out robbery as a motive.
They found evidence of a struggle and wondered; why had not one of the five victims escaped the carnage?
As LAPD detectives followed scant leads to dead-ends, talk on the street was of the upcoming Aquarian Exposition in White Lake, New York. Many people from L.A. planned to make the trek. Billed as three days of peace and music, the festival promised to be amazing. The younger generation had a chip on its shoulder and something to prove. Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. Fuck Nixon. Fuck the War. Life is beautiful, man.