No, No, Babette!

I research a lot of heinous crimes for this blog. But, sometimes, I tumble down a research rabbit hole and find a character who captures my imagination; then I follow them through their time in Los Angeles.

Each person is a thread in the fabric of the city. Which is how I came to Babette Fontaine. I tugged on a random thread. I saw an article about her and was fascinated. I would describe Babette as an entrepreneur who shared qualities with other transplants to Los Angeles during the 1930s and 1940s. Growing up in rural America, and coming of age during the Great Depression, Babette had nothing handed to her.

Conservative perceptions of women at the time dictated the employment available to them. Even programs in President Roosevelt’s New Deal restricted women.

They could not join the Civilian Conservation Corps, and other programs put them into housekeeping jobs. I imagine, as the daughter of a Kentucky miner, Babette preferred not to be stuck in front of a stove or behind a desk. She became a burlesque performer instead and traveled the east coast for a few years as a dancer.

I love women who defy the conventions and expections of their time. Babette was a rebel.

By the 1930s, American burlesque shows were unrecognizable from their 16th century English literary antecedents. Burlesque during the Great Depression was a training ground for many great comedians and actors whose careers took off in mainstream movies and television during the 1940s and 1950s. Dozens of legendary strippers, Sally Rand, Gypsy Rose Lee, and my favorite, Betty “Ball of Fire” Rowland, began their careers in the 1930s.

Chicago police arrested Sally Rand four times in a single day at the 1933 World’s Fair for her fan dance. Feathers, bubbles, and snakes became props for inspired dancers. Other dancers came up with their own signature acts.

SALLY RAND

In 1936, Babette Fontaine painted her body bronze in imitation of a statue, and became known professionally as the Bronze Venus. The gimmick made her a featured player in Parlez Vous Paree, a burlesque revue produced by Earl Taylor. Babette wasn’t the only woman to claim the Bronze Venus moniker.

JOSEPHINE BAKER, A TRUE BRONZE VENUS

Beginning in the 1920s, black mega-star Josephine Baker was called Bronze Venus. Baker didn’t need paint to glow like a work of art. Others to advertise themselves as Bronze Venus were Ha Cha San, Bobby Lynn, Collette, and La Tonda.

HA CHA SAN

Born to Burns and Maude Mccarty in rural Kentucky in 1916, Babette’s birth name may have been Dorothy. While Dorothy is an ideal name for a schoolteacher or housewife; Babette Fontaine looks better on a theater marquee.

The Parlez-Vous Paree show debuted in September 1936. It was a large production and featured scores of entertainers. They billed one as a stooge-like comedian. I wonder. Did he throw pies or chuckle nyuk, nyuk, nyuk?

A few months following the opening of the show, Babette’s name is prominently displayed in ads. The last mention of her is in November 1938.

Between November 1938 and January 1940, Babette vanished from show business. Then, suddenly, she resurfaced in multiple newspapers in a wire service interview. They described her as the head of a Los Angeles escort service.

Asked, “What would you pay for a date with your favorite movie star?” Babette had a ready answer. She said that if, by some miracle, she could deliver the “oomph girl” Ann Sheridan as a dinner partner to a lonely gent on New Year’s Eve, she would expect to get $1500. To put that into perspective, the 2022 equivalent amount is $30,585.00! If the lonely gentlemen would accept a second-best companion, Babette said she would offer either Dorothy Lamour, Hedy Lamarr, or Claudette Colbert for $750.

ANN SHERIDAN

Babette gave Greta Garbo a thumbs down as date material. Why? Because

she felt that men would be frightened of her.

GRETA GARBO

What if a woman needed an escort? Babette named Tyrone Power as the perfect date. Clark Gable, not so much. She said, “I am afraid he is a little too much of the aggressive type.”

TYRONNE POWER

In April 1941, a few months after Babette rated various Hollywood stars as potential dates for hire, she appeared in newspapers again. Operating an escort agency out of 726 South Wilton Place, she filed an injunction against Columbia Pictures Corp. The company planned to produce a film called “Glamour for Sale”.

And why should the film concern Babette? Because it depicted the escort business as shady, specializing in extortion, blackmail and other criminal activities. Babette took umbrage. She said she had operated an escort bureau in Los Angeles for two years and had never engaged in anything illegal. She worried her reputation would suffer if they released the film.

Babette withdrew her suit in September when producers at Columbia said that they would also show legitimate escort businesses in “Glamour for Sale.”

In a move similar to Babette’s lawsuit, in late 1941, burlesque star Betty Rowland sued Samuel Goldwyn Productions for using her well-known stage name, “Ball of Fire” as the title for his upcoming film starring Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper.

I AM SO LUCKY TO HAVE CHATTED WITH THE GREAT BETTY “BALL OF FIRE” ROWLAND. TO SEE BETTY IN ACTION, CLICK ON THE ABOVE PHOTO.

Several years ago, I asked Betty about her lawsuit. She winked and told me that the publicity was good for her and for the classic screwball comedy.

BARBARA STANWYCK’S “BALL OF FIRE” COSTUME IS A KNOCK-OFF OF ONE OF BETTY’S.

[Note: I’m pleased to report that as far as I know, as of this writing, Betty “Ball of Fire” Rowland is alive and well at 106! I hope she lives forever.]

Following the recall of Mayor Frank Shaw and the dismantling of his criminal empire in 1938, Los Angeles cracked down on vice. Regulations followed. One of the new regulations required escort bureaus to be licensed. Legislating morality is nigh impossible, but that never stopped a city, county, or a nation from trying.

A man seeking an escort sometimes expects more for his money than arm candy. If the woman is willing, they might make a deal without the agency’s knowledge. Of course, a crooked agency would encourage such arrangements and take a cut.

When Babette applied for a license in May 1941, she endured a grilling by the Police Commission. They wanted to know how much income tax she paid, what the girls charged and what she charged the girls.

According to Babette, she selected girls of good moral character, however, they were on “their own” after being introduced to the client. To me, that sounds like ass-covering 101. She said she charged the client $5. She then suggested to the client that he tip his date $5.

Babette claimed none of her girls ever had been arrested, and the only complaints she received about them came from police vice squad officers posing as clients. Sergeant John Stewart of the Central vice squad told a different story about one of Babette’s escorts. He and a few of his men operated an investigation out of the Biltmore and arrested one of the girls for “offering.”

Stewart, questioned about amounts paid to the escorts, said some demanded $50 from undercover investigators, others wanted $100 or more. A far cry from the five bucks Babette quoted.

Babette needed to prove she knew nothing of her escort offering undercover vice investigators a service not on the bureau’s official menu. She provided an alibi. She claimed she was out of town, or out of the office, when the girl was arrested. She played the sympathy card. The stress of the vice investigation caused her to suffer a breakdown. She fled to Dallas, Texas, for her nerves. Then she spent three days at the Hollywood Knickerbocker to further recuperate.

She produced receipts, which showed she was away when the girl was busted at the Biltmore. Babette also claimed a rival agency planted the girl to get her into trouble with the police.

The day after her license hearing, where she learned they postponed the renewal, Babette overdosed on sleeping pills in her car in a service station at Wilshire Boulevard and Detroit Street. She left a note, “Cards stacked—no use.” In her handbag she left a typewritten summary of her testimony to the Police Commission.

Babette claimed the police hounded her for not “playing nice,” and one vice cop in particular, who she nicknamed the “boogeyman”, followed her girls and clients, and prevented her from operating her business.

By July, Babette received the bad news. Her request for a license was denied. Babette’s attorney filed an appeal.

The drama kicked up a notch when, in February 1942, Babette claimed two men kidnapped and beat her.

She said two men followed her as she drove away from her home at 9038 Rosewood Avenue, Beverly Hills. Several blocks later, the men forced her car to the curb. A masked man got into her car and told her to follow his directions or “get a bullet in your back.”

She drove to 135th and San Pedro, where the men forced her from the car into a vacant lot. The thugs told her to “get out of town”, punched her on the jaw and knocked her out. When she revived, she had a gag in her mouth– her wrists and ankles tied. She struggled for an hour before freeing herself. Once freed, she walked into the street and flagged a passing motorist who took her to the Compton Police Station. Police reported Babette’s abductors had used her red lipstick to mark her forehead, cheeks and breasts with crosses. The significance of the red crosses is a mystery.

Babette had a flair for self-promotion. Was her kidnapping real? Without a description of her assailants, the police had nothing to investigate.

In early April, vice cops arrested Babette on morals charges in her home at 1769 S. Crescent Heights Boulevard. Arrested with her were Norma Clark and Harry Barker. Cops took the trio to Lincoln Heights Jail. They charged Babette with procuring and set her bail at $500. They charged Barker and Clark with resorting, and bail was set at $150 each.

Neighbors complained about suspicious goings-on at the bungalow and police staked it out for two nights before making the arrests.

Once her bail was posted, Babette made a beeline to her sister Colleen’s place at 2500 S. Hobart, where she was arrested while packing for a trip to Reno.

At first, Babette refused to appear in court. Then she changed her mind. She pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor procuring charge, and they immediately committed to jail for a medical exam (likely to screen for STDs) pending a probation hearing and sentencing. No word on how that turned out for her.

The Los Angeles Times offered a brief rundown of Babette’s escapades, beginning in 1941 and ending with her March 1943 arrest in Glendale after being found wandering along Brand Boulevard at 3:00 a.m. wearing only a white nightgown with gold trimmings.

This bizarre report ends the newspaper trail for Babette Fontaine—a fascinating and enterprising temporary Angeleno.

BROADWAY HOTEL, PORTLAND, OREGON

The last information I have for Babette is a marriage certificate. In Clark County, Washington, on January 28, 1946, Babette married Will Hayes—seventeen years her senior. Both gave as their address as the Broadway Hotel in Portland, Oregon.

Where they went and what they did as a couple following their marriage, I wish I knew. I hope Babette landed on her feet.

Film Noir Friday: The Great Guy [1937]

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 GREAT GUY, starring James Cagney and Mae Clark.

A little bit of trivia, thanks to TCM: This was James Cagney’s first film in more than 11 months because of litigation following the termination of his contract at Warner Bros.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

When Joel Green, head of the Department of Weights and Measures, is nearly killed in a car accident by corrupt politician Marty Cavanaugh, ex-prizefighter Johnny Cave replaces him. Facing a city-wide racket of faulty measures, Johnny fines merchants who are cheating the public and ignores the customary bribes and threats of Cavanaugh’s men. The night after he refuses a job offer from Cavanaugh, Johnny is abducted. He wakes up, stinking of alcohol, in the gutter with his hair dyed red.

Film Noir Friday: International Crime–The Shadow [1938]

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. Today’s feature is INTERNATIONAL CRIME–THE SHADOW starring Rod La Rocque and Astrid Allwyn.

Enjoy the movie!

IMDB says:

Lamont Cranston (Rod La Rocque), amateur criminologist and detective, with a daily radio program, sponsored by the Daily Classic newspaper, has developed a friendly feud that sometimes passes the friendly stage with Police Commissioner Weston (Thomas E. Jackson). He complains to his managing editor, Edward Heath (Oscar O’Shea), over the problems that have developed in his department since Phoebe Lane (Astrid Allwyn) has been hired as his assistant. He is advised to forget it since she is the publisher’s niece. During his broadcast about Honest John (William Pawley), a famous safe cracker who has served his time, Phoebe gives him a note that the Metropolitan Theatre is to be robbed at eight o’clock and she is so insistent that he adds it as his closing note.

Film Noir Friday, Saturday Matinee–Night Editor [1946]

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. Today’s feature is NIGHT EDITOR [1946] starring William Gargan, Janis Carter and Jeff Donnell.

The film is based on a radio program of the same name, which ran from 1934 to 1948. Sponsored by Edwards Coffee, the program featured Hal Burdick as the “night editor”. Burdick received readers’ requests for stories, in a “letter to the editor” format, which he would tell on the program. Burdick played all characters in each episode. The radio series was adapted for Night Editor, a short-lived TV series on the DuMont Television Network in 1954, also hosted by Burdick.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

At the offices of the New York Star , Johnny, a troubled young reporter, slumps despondently at his desk. Johnny’s problems cause editor Crane Stewart to reminisce about another troubled young man he knew years earlier: Homicide detective Tony Cochrane dotes on his little son Doc, but is estranged from Martha, his unsophicsticated wife. Tony’s estrangement arises from his love affair with Jill Merrill, a cold-hearted socialite. Although Tony has tried to break off their relationship, Jill keeps him ensnared with her sexual depravity. While passionately embracing at the beach one evening, Jill and Tony see a car stop along the road and hear a woman scream. When a man jumps out of the car and flees, Tony is about to give chase when Jill reminds him that his involvement would expose their illicit affair.

Film Noir Friday–Sunday Matinee: Murder With Pictures [1936]

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 MURDER WITH PICTURES [1936] starring Lew Ayres and Gail Patrick.

Enjoy the film!

TCM says:

Stanley Redfield, defense lawyer for racketeer Nate Girard, who has been accused of murdering a man named Cusick, is murdered during a press party held to celebrate Girard’s acquittal. Among the suspects are two newspapermen, Phil Doane and I. B. McGoogin, and Meg Archer, a mysterious woman who appeared in town shortly after Girard’s release. Free from suspicion is ace news photographer Kent Murdock, who was in a nearby apartment arguing with his showgirl fiancé, Hester Boone, when the murder took place.

ENJOY THE MOVIE!

A Holiday Orgy of Crime

HOLIDAY ORGY OF CRIME

On December 26, 1930, readers of the Los Angeles Times awoke to the dismaying headline: “Holiday Brings Orgy of Crime”. Apparently, not all Angelenos with goodwill toward their fellow man or woman. The article was a litany of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day misdeeds that began with the shooting of a police officer.

Allen G. Adcock of the Hollenbeck Heights division during the early morning hours of Christmas Day. Officer Adcock had been directing traffic during a fire at Macy and Gelardo streets when a car containing two men ignored his command to halt and blew through the intersection at a high rate of speed. Apparently, Adcock “badged” a civilian, Earl H. Pfeifer, and commandeered the man’s auto to pursue the suspects. With Pfeifer at the wheel, Adcock stood on the running board of the car and held on for dear life. One of the fleeing men leveled his weapon at Adcock, who then whipped out his own pistol. The two men fired simultaneously and a bullet from the suspect’s gun struck a glancing blow on Adcock’s head, which knocked the cop off of Pfiefer’s running board.

Pfiefer stopped to render aid to the fallen policeman, and the suspects escaped. A subsequent investigation showed that the two suspects were bandits who had held up Irwin Welborn of West Twenty-ninth Street. They drove him out to Long Beach and then robbed him of $2 and his car.

At Pacific and O’Farrell Streets in San Pedro, someone slugged Zack Zuanich, a local poultryman, on the head with a wooden club. They took Zuanich to the San Pedro General Hospital in serious condition. The attacked appeared random.

00045695_los_feliz_bridge_orgycrime

Los Feliz Bridge (aka Shakespeare Bridge) [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Two cowardly bandits, turned rapists, dragged Maxine Ungeheur (20) and her younger sister Thelma (19) out of a car under the Los Feliz Bridge (aka Shakespeare Bridge) and savagely attacked them. The sisters were being driven home by Roland Oakley, a Griffith Park employee, following a Christmas Eve soiree. Oakley slowed his auto near the bridge, and the bandits stepped out from a clump of trees and threatened the girls and Oakley with guns. Oakley, under threat of death, stood helplessly by as the bandits ravaged the girls. The cops located clues at the scene, in particular a leather glove believed to have been worn by one attacker. Detective Lieutenants Hoy and Kriewald of the Lincoln Heights Division hoped that the clue would lead to the arrests of the men involved in the assaults.

Besides all the other mayhem occurring in and around the city, there was a spate of holiday burglaries for cops to contend with. Two men were discovered plundering a store on Huntington Drive by Officers Cooke and Carter, and a citizen, A. Burke. Upon being found out, the two crooks attempted to high-tail it to freedom. Officer Cooke fired at the fleeing suspects and the citizen, A. Burke, unloaded a charge of birdshot from his shotgun. Both suspects dropped to the ground, but one of them scrambled to his feet and made good his escape. Officers captured the other crook and he gave his name as Bernave Palacios. They held him on suspicion of burglary.

Two bandits held up Benjamin Caldron in his South Western Avenue flower shop on Christmas morning robbed him of $110.

The Ungeheur sisters were not the only women who were victims of rape, or attempted rape, over the Christmas holiday. Mrs. Dorothy Loustanau was walking near the corner of Ninetieth Street and Avalon Boulevard when a man drove an automobile up to the curb and leaped out. Snarling that he would beat her to death if she resisted, he clapped his hand over her mouth and pinioned her arms while he attempted to force her into his car. Dorothy struggled desperately and stayed out of the car. Her attacker, enraged at his victim for putting up a fight, tried to drag her into a vacant lot, but Dorothy broke free and screamed for help. Her assailant fled the scene.

Lillian Rosine, of 1322 Cherokee Avenue in Hollywood, was driving down Las Palmas Avenue with a friend, Earl Marshall, when a bandit leaped onto the running board of her car. The bandit produced an automatic weapon and commanded Lillian and Earl to stick up their hands. Lillian became furious with the brazen bandit and instead of complying with his order, she leaned in front of Earl and shoved the bandit in the face!

Thrown off balance, the crook fired, and the round grazed Earl’s head, inflicting a four-inch wound in his scalp. Lillian screamed and stomped down hard on the gas. The bandit tumbled off of the running board, stood up, and then walked nonchalantly up Selma Avenue. Lillian dashed to the Hollywood Receiving Hospital a few blocks away, where doctors treated and dressed Earl’s wound. The bandit remained at large.

Hollywood Receiving Hospital c. 1936 [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Hollywood Receiving Hospital c. 1936 [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

I’ll wrap up the orgy of crime with the murder of Jose Lopez (45). Lopez died in Georgia Street Receiving Hospital from wounds received in an attempted hold-up and fight. Lopez’s friend, Jose Ayala, told the cops that two men accosted him and Jose early Christmas morning and beaten with clubs. Ayala did his best to describe the killers, but a blow to the mouth knocked him unconscious early in the struggle.

I hope that your holiday is going better than the unfortunates in the above post. Be well, happy, and stay safe. — Joan

An American Tragedy in Pomona–Conclusion

Frank’s chances for an acquittal are dismal, but then his attorney mounts a defense, blaming Lois for the beating that nearly killed her.

Attorney H.A.J. Wolch drops a bombshell in court when he reads excerpts from a June 29, 1931 letter written by Lois and sent to Frank’s wife, Ione

“Dearest Ione:

“You are probably wondering why I should write to you, are you not? I don’t exactly know myself.”

“Honestly ‘Yonnie,’ I didn’t know you cared so much until I read a certain letter. No one could write a letter like that without plenty of reason.

“I’m sure Frank loves me. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t hesitate a moment to send him back to you, ‘Yonnie.’ You yourself know how it is to be uncertain, but I’m not anymore.”

“I’m afraid you’ll think that the real reason for my writing this letter is to gloat over him. No, I wouldn’t do that. I just couldn’t I just want you to know how I feel about this thing. I want to tell you how I love Frank.”

“I can’t hate you, not even if I try and I have tried…”

“I hope I have not said anything that can be taken any way but the right way. I don’t want to hurt you and I don’t want Frank to hurt you.”

Wolch questions Lois about her relationship with Frank during the six months prior to the attempt on her life. She professes her love for Frank and admits writing to Ione. She also admits to dating other boys. The subtext of the cross-examination is clear—Lois is easy.

In her testimony, Lois confirms her meeting with Frank on February 18, 1931. She says they discuss “getting a doctor,” but abortion is illegal in 1931 and the danger of permanent disability or death is a consequence the expectant mother faces alone.

Ten days later, Lois said, Frank tells her they have an appointment with a doctor. The doctor could be anyone from a licensed physician to a drunken quack working out of a dirty backroom office. 

On March 4, they meet for the last time. Frank attacks her.

Frank takes the stand in his own defense and relates a self-serving account of the crime.

“When she told me she was going to my wife, little baby and my parents, and tell them I was responsible for her condition, well, I just flew off the handle, picked up a stick, hit her three or four times over the head, struck her on the jaw with my fist and left her there.”

The railroad tie he used to batter Lois is hardly “a stick”, and when he says he “left her there” he neglects to say he threw her into an abandoned well and expected her to die.

Wolch kept the kid gloves on during his examination of his client. Frank said he met Lois and Ione at about the same time. Lois lived in Pomona, and Ione in Glendora. He saw each of them about twice a week.

“What was your feeling for both Ione and Lois?

“I cared for Ione very much. I liked Lois, too. In September I made up my mind. I loved Ione…, so we went to Las Vegas and got married. We came home that night to my folks and the next day I took her to Glendora.”

Wolch asks Frank when he next meets with Lois. Frank says, “The following night.”

He describes Lois’ reaction to his marriage.

“Lois was heartbroken and deeply moved over my marriage to Ione. She asked me to get a divorce.”

Frank chuckles, then continues.

“Already she wanted me to get a divorce and marry her. I told her I couldn’t even think of it.”

Frank refuses to consider divorcing Ione; however, he continues to see Lois. They meet frequently from the time of his marriage until December, when they get together only once.

When they resume their affair in January, Lois asks Frank to get her some quinine. Quinine in large doses may induce an abortion, but it is not a sure thing. A pregnant woman who takes quinine risks renal failure. Babies who survive quinine exposure in the womb can be born deaf or suffer other side-effects. Both mother and child can die because of taking quinine.

Frank blew off Lois’ request to get the abortifacient, claiming he does not know what she wants with the over-the-counter drug.

According to Frank, Lois asked for quinine again in early February. This time he asked her why.

“I asked her what she wanted it for and she said she was expecting a baby, ad something had to be done. I said I was sorry and asked her who was responsible, and she didn’t answer. Again, she asked me to divorce Ione and marry her, and again I told her I wouldn’t consider it.”

Frank describes his March 4th meeting with Lois.

“I met her on March 4, about 6:30 p.m. We drove around a bit. I told her I couldn’t get a doctor. Finally, we parked the car on the outskirts of Pomona. She said she was going to blame me. Something had to be done or she would make trouble. I loved my wife very much, and the baby had just come. I had entirely overcome the conflict of the earlier months. I loved Ione, not Lois.”

When testimony concluded in early May, the jury faced conflicting versions of the March 4 attack.

Lois’ version, corroborated by her injuries, is gut-wrenching. The prosecution calls the attack “deliberate and brutal.”

Frank’s defense portrays Lois as a scheming home wrecker—no better than she ought to be.

In the last hours of the trial, Deputy District Attorney Cooper points out parallels between the case against Frank and the incidents in Theodore Dreiser’s novel, An American Tragedy. Cooper reads extracts from the book. 

The jury finds Frank guilty of attempted murder and statutory rape.

Before passing sentence, Judge Bowron has a few words for Frank:

“You are fortunate in that you are not here for the purpose of receiving the extreme penalty. The evidence and circumstances show that you planned to do away with Lois Wade because she was about to become a mother.”

Frank gets one to fourteen years in prison.

In a strange twist, probably orchestrated by a quick thinking reporter or a newspaper city editor, Frank, Ione, and Lois meet in jail a few hours before the prison train leaves for San Quentin. A photo shows the threesome holding hands and, supposedly, putting the past behind them.

Lois leaves without making a statement.

Ione tells reporters, “I intend to wait for him.”

She didn’t.

An American Tragedy in Pomona–Part 1

MARY CECILIA ROGERS

Edgar Allan Poe’s The Mystery of Marie Roget, is cited as the first murder mystery based on details of an actual crime. I am skeptical of firsts, but if Poe’s story is not the first, it is an early entry. It appeared in Snowden’s Ladies’ Companion in three installments, November and December 1842 and February 1843.

Behind Poe’s tale of Marie Roget is the murder of Mary Cecilia Rogers.

Rogers, a tobacco shop employee, became known as the Beautiful Cigar Girl. She disappears on October 4, 1848, and local papers report her elopement with a naval officer. She returns later, sans husband.

She disappears again on July 25, 1841. Friends see her at the corner of Theatre Alley, where she meets a man. They walk off together toward Barclay Street, ostensibly for an excursion to Hoboken.

Three days later, H.G. Luther and two other men in a sailboat pass by Sybil’s Cave near Castle Point, Hoboken. Floating in the water they see the body of a young woman. They drag it to shore and contact police.

According to the New York Tribune, Rogers is “horribly outraged and murdered”. Questions regarding Rogers’ death remain. It is alleged she ended up in the river following a failed abortion. The scenario is credible, in part, because her boyfriend committed suicide and left a note suggesting his involvement in her death.

GRACE BROWN

I love it when a novel is based on a true crime. One of my favorites is An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser. Dreiser draws inspiration from a murder in the Adirondacks.

In 1905, Chester Gillette takes a job as a manager in an uncle’s skirt factory in Cortland, New York. It is there he meets factory worker, Grace Brown. They begin an affair and she becomes pregnant.

Chester is neither interested in being a husband, nor in being a father. He takes Grace on a trip to the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. Using the alias, Carl Graham, Chester rents a hotel room, and a rowboat.

Grace believes the hotel is where they will spend their honeymoon following a visit to the local justice of the peace. In anticipation of her new life with Chester, Grace packs all of her belongings in a single suitcase.

Chester’s suitcase is small. He is not beginning a life with Grace.

On July 11, the couple takes a rowboat out into the middle of Big Moose Lake. There is no marriage proposal. No wedding ring. He beats her over the head with his tennis racquet and pushes her overboard to drown.

On July 13, 1906, The Sun reports the tragic drowning of a couple in Big Moose Lake. Grace’s body floats to the surface the next day. The body of her companion, Carl Graham, is missing.

Fearing he is dead, police search for Carl. They soon learn the true identity of Grace’s companion. He is alive, well, and his name is not Carl. Police arrest Chester. He denies responsibility for Grace’s death. He insists she committed suicide. The bad news for Chester is none of the physical evidence supports his version of events.

CHESTER GILLETTE

The jury shows no mercy—they find him guilty and sentence him to death.

On March 30, 1908, they execute Chester in the electric chair at Auburn Prison in Auburn, New York.

LOIS WADE

March 4, 1932.

Soaked to the skin, bleeding from the head, and covered in bruises, seventeen-year-old Lois Wade stumbles into the road near Mountain Meadows Country Club in Pomona. A Good Samaritan takes her to Pomona Valley Hospital.

The hospital calls the Sheriff’s department, and deputies arrive to take Lois’ statement. She tells them a terrifying story.

She is is walking from downtown Pomona to her parent’s home at 349 East Pasadena Avenue, when a stranger pulls up alongside her and offers her a ride. She accepts, but rather than taking her home, the man stops his car on Walnut Avenue near an abandoned well and beats her.

Lois’ attacker forces her into the well and shoves her down witht a pole when she attempts to climb out. When Lois vanishes from his view, the man gets in his car and drives away.

The motiveless attack makes little sense, and deputies question Lois’ account. The next day, she revises her story.

Her attacker is not a stranger as she originally claims; he is her nineteen-year-old married lover, Frank Newland.

Deputies Killion and Lynch arrest Frank at his home at 918 South San Antonio Street, Pomona. They book him on a charge of assault with intent to commit murder. Frank denies the attack.

As Lois lay in serious condition in the hospital, the D.A. revises charges against him to include statutory rape. Because of the severity of Lois’ wounds and her inability to appear in court, Judge White resumes Frank’s hearing at Lois’ hospital bedside.

Within a month of the attempt on Lois’ life, Frank goes to trial. Local newspapers pick up on the similarities between Frank and Lois and the characters in Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy.

Future Los Angeles mayor, Fletcher Bowron, sits on the bench. Public interest in the trial is high and draws an enormous crowd—the largest since the 1929 rape trial of theater mogul Alexander Pantages.

The trial begins on April 28; Lois takes the stand, and the courtroom hangs on her every word.

LOIS WADE

Lois is low-key and demure as she testifies to her ordeal.

“By prearrangement we met on a corner in Pomona. We went in his roadster to the Mountain Meadows Country Club, where he drove off the road and stopped the car. We sat in the car for a half-hour; yes, we kissed and loved. He then suggested that we walk over to an old windmill and abandoned well nearby.”

“We looked in the well and then suddenly he turned around and struck me over the head with a club. I fell to the ground. He struck me eight or ten times more and kicked me several times.”

Frank grabs Lois by the feet and drags her, struggling and screaming ten feet to the well. No match for Frank, he overpowers her and throws her in the well.

Lois lands in twenty-five-feet of water. She bobs to the top, and fights for her life. Frank uses a railroad tie to shove Lois under water. A photo of Deputy W.L. Killon, puts the size of the weapon into perspective.  

DEPUTY KILLION POSES WITH RAILROAD TIE USED TO BATTER
LOIS WADE

Convinced Lois is dead, Frank gets into his car and drives away.

Lois claws herself up the wall of the well. She crawls over the edge, tumbles onto the ground, then rises and lurches into the street to summon help. A man stops his car to render aid. Amazingly, Lois’ Good Samaritan is a doctor.

Dr. Roy E. St. Clair testifies to finding Lois in the road.

“I was driving to Pomona on the Mountain Meadows Road about 8:30 p.m. last March 4 when I heard a cry and the lights on my car picked up the figure of Miss Wade standing with her right arm out-stretched. I backed up my machine, and she came to the door and said ‘Take me to a doctor.’”

NEXT TIME: A strange ending.

The Cold Turkey Pinch

What’s a cold turkey pinch? In the 1930s,  it was cop speak for an officer who made an arrest with no effort—no gathering evidence, no investigation, nada. Read on.

cold turkey pinch

Thanksgiving Day on “The Nickel” (Fifth Street) in 1937 was grim. Thanks to Old Man Depression, misery was on the menu. The street lacked all the warmth, joy, and delicious aromas present in other neighborhoods in the city.

LAPD Detective Lieutenants Bailey and Olson pulled the holiday shift. They sat in the Chicago Café at 209 Fifth and watched as drunks shuffled past oblivious to those who saw them as easy prey.

The detectives sipped their coffees and kept their eyes peeled for predators. Drunk rollers were the vultures who robbed Skid Row inebriates of their few possessions.

A man, down on his luck, seated himself beside Bailey and said: “you wouldn’t mind staking a thirsty guy to a nickel beer would you.”  After looking the stranger up and down, Bailey bought the man a brew.

Chicago Café at 209 Fifth Street c. 1937 [Photo is from Schultheis collection courtesy LAPL]

The man sat quietly nursing his beer, then he turned to Bailey and pointed at a man in a booth who had passed out.  “Watch me”—then he walked over to the unconscious boozer and rummaged through his pockets.

When he returned to his seat he grinned at Bailey and Olson and said: “See what I got?” and held up a dollar bill. “Now I guess it’s my treat.”

“Yes, brother, I sure guess it’s your treat all right,” said Bailey as he pulled out his badge and arrested 35-year-old Jack Orchard, their would-be benefactor, for robbery.

May your Thanksgiving be much happier than Jack ‘s (although he got a free beer!) 

Have a great Holiday and stay safe.