Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open! Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.
Tonight we’re going to take a deep dive into two movies based a story by W. Somerset Maugham. An actual murder in Kuala Lumpur in 1911, inspired Maugham to write THE LETTER. If you are interested in the crime that provided the inspiration, search for Ethel Proudlock.
First, we’ll check out Eddie Muller’s (the Czar of Noir), introduction to the 1940 version of the film for TCM’s Noir Alley.
The 1940 version stars Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall (who appeared in the 1929 version in the role of the lover). Directed by William Wyler, the movie opens with an unforgettable scene. The tension never lets up.
Leslie Crosbie, the wife of a British rubber planter in Malay, shoots and kills Jeff Hammond, and claims that she was defending her honor. To defend Leslie, her husband Robert sends for family friend and attorney Howard Joyce, who questions Leslie’s story.
The 1929 version of THE LETTER, stars Jeanne Eagels and Herbert Marshall. Jeanne Eagels’ life was tragically cut short by drug addiction. She was nominated posthumously for her work in THE LETTER.
Marooned on a rubber plantation in the East Indies, Leslie Crosbie turns to Geoffrey Hammond for the love and diversion that she does not find with her husband.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.’”
In her effort to prove that Clark Gable fathered her daughter, Gwendolyn, Violet mounted a vigorous media campaign. If you believed her story, he was the man who seduced and abandoned her 14 years earlier in a sleepy English village.
There was limited support for Violet’s fantastical tale. In fact, other than her immediate family (and even they weren’t enthusiastic), Violet’s only supporter was H. Newton, a Birmingham, England factory inspector.
In an interview with the London Daily Express, Newton confirmed that a man calling himself Frank Billings, who bore a striking resemblance to Gable, ran a poultry farm at Billericay “around 1918-1919”. The dates supplied by Newton were a few years earlier than Violet’s alleged affair.
Newton studied a photo of Gable and said,
“That either is Frank Billings or his double, even to the trick of folding one hand over the other. Yes, he has the same brow, nose, temples and twisted, cynical half-smile.”
Adding another layer of absurdity to the unfolding story was a penny postcard mailed from Tacoma, Washington. It read,
“Dear Sir—The lady is right—Frank Billings is the father of her child, but I am the man. Also am a perfect double for C.G.”
The perfect double from Tacoma did not come forward.
Several of Gable’s friends, acquaintances, and a former wife received subpoenas to appear in court. Among those supoenaed was Jimmy Fidler, a radio personality and journalist. Violet wrote to Fidler offering to sell him “for a price” the story of her affair with Clark Gable, the man she knew as Frank Billings.
Violet shared with Fidler her version of how Gable got his screen name. She wrote:
“In Billericay, Essex, England where I was wooed and won by a man known as Frank Billings, but who I now believe to be Clark Gable, this man told me of his love. I later learned, through pictures and a story in a film fan magazine, that he had changed his name to Clark Gable. It is my belief that he got his name in this way—our grocer, in Billericay was named Clark and he owned an estate he called The Gables. Hence Clark Gables.”
Yes, Violet frequently referred to the actor as Gables and was apparently unaware of his birthname, William Clark Gable.
The letters to Fidler weren’t the only ones Violet wrote. She attempted to correspond with Mae West, but West’s publicist, Terrell De Lapp, intercepted the missive during a routine vetting of Miss West’s incoming mail.
The letter received at Paramount Studio in January 1936 read:
“Dear Mae West—How would you like to be fairy godmother to Clark Gable’s child. Nothing could be more lovely than for you, Miss West, to be fairy godmother to my Gwendolyn, and put Clark Gable to shame.”
Despite Violet’s attempts to garner support from Fidler and West, and who knows how many others, Gable had no difficulty refuting her claims. He produced witnesses from the Pacific Northwest to prove that during the time he was allegedly impregnating his accuser, he was selling neckties and working as a lumberjack in Oregon.
Gable’s first wife, Josephine Dillon, was steadfast in her defense of her former spouse.
“Clark and I were married in December 1924. But I knew him the year before in Portland, Oregon when he attended my dramatic classes. To my knowledge, he has never been in England. It is sure he was not there in 1923 or 1924 when we were married, and, therefore, could not be the father of a 13-year-old girl born there at that time.”
Violet’s accusation was ludicrous, but on the plus side the trial afforded hundreds of women an opportunity to catch a glimpse of the man who would become The King of Hollywood. Secretaries and stenographers in the Federal Building held an impromptu reception for him. He autographed mementoes and chatted with them. They were in heaven.
In the hallway prior to testifying, Gable chain smoked and appeared a little nervous. He told reporters:
“It’s my first court appearance. I don’t know what to expect.”
In court, Gable testified that he did not recognize the woman in court.
For her part, Violet remarked sotto voce to her attorney:
“That’s him. I’d know him anywhere.”
Courtroom spectators, keen to see Gable face his alleged progeny, were disappointed when he wasn’t required to appear during her testimony.
Judge Cosgrave wasn’t well-pleased that Gwendolyn was subpoenaed to appear.
“I regret that this witness has to be called at all, and I insist that her examination be limited only to extremely necessary points bearing on the charges in the indictment.”
Gwendolyn had nothing substantive to a add to her mother’s scheme—the girl was Violet’s pawn.
The jury began deliberations at 3:40 pm on April 23, 1937 and returned with their verdict at 5:20 pm. They found Violet guilty of fraudulent usage of the mails.
As Gwendolyn attempted to console her distraught mother, reporters reached Gable by telephone. He said:
“Of necessity, the woman’s charges were false, in view of the fact that I have never been in England and had never seen her until the trial began. It is unfortunate, of course, the she must come to grief in this manner, particularly because of her children.”
U.S. Attorney Powell, who prosecuted Violet, was not as understanding as Gable.
“This woman should be made an example, that men of Clark Gable’s type cannot be crucified in such a manner.”
Powell went on to describe Clark’s ascent to stardom:
“Clark Gable has pulled himself up by the bootstraps, out of an obscure background. He worked as a lumberjack, longshoreman, struggling actor, to achieve the ambition which drove him on to a $250,000-a-year salary.”
Attorney Morris Lavine, who would handle Violet’s appeals, defended her.
“She was simply calling to her sweetheart. She was sincere,” he said.
It is doubtful that Morris Lavine believed a word Violet said, but he was an attorney known to go the extra mile for a client. Violet was lucky to have him as her appeals attorney. (Lavine’s life and career in Los Angeles is a topic I’ll cover in future posts. He was a fascinating man and the self-described “defender of the damned.”)
The appeal Lavine filed on Violet’s behalf was nothing short of brilliant. He contended that her letter did not fall within the statute concerning mail fraud.
The court agreed with Lavine and ruled in Violet’s favor in October 1937. They characterized Violet’s plan as “a scheme to coerce or extort and is a species of blackmail.”
If local authorities had filed on Violet for blackmail or extortion she would have done more time.
In February 1938, following the success of her appeal, Violet faced deportation. An action was filed on the grounds that she had overstayed her visa and that she committed a crime involving moral turpitude. Lavine told reporters that Violet would stay with a sister in Vancouver.
Gwendolyn did not accompany her mother to Canada. She was placed in a private school by a local religious organization and was required to remain there until June.
Was Violet a greedy blackmailer or a delusional dreamer? We’ll never know for sure.
Clark Gable received thousands of fan letters over the course of his decades long career. Violet’s letter was an unwelcome anomaly. The adoring letter written to him by Judy Garland in the movie Broadway Melody of 1938 was probably a more accurate depiction of the kinds of letters he received.
As Judy writes she sings, ‘You Made Me Love You.” She performed the song earlier, in 1936, at Gable’s birthday party. It is one reason she got the part in the film which helped launch her career.
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.
Aggie hoists a brew c. 1920s. [Photo courtesy LAPL]
Aggie Underwood was born on December 17, 1902 and Deranged L.A. Crimes was born on December 17, 2012, so there’s a lot to celebrate today. We have so many candles on our birthday cake it will take a gale force wind to blow them all out.
It was Aggie’s career as a Los Angeles journalist that inspired me to begin this blog; and my admiration for Aggie and her accomplishments has grown in the years since I first became aware of her.
Aggie at a crime scene in 1946.
Aggie’s newspaper career began on a whim. In late 1926, she was tired of wearing her sister’s hand-me-down silk stockings and desperately want a pair of her own. When she asked her husband Harry for the money, he demurred. He said he was sorry, they simply couldn’t afford them. Aggie got huffy and said she’d buy them herself. It was an empty threat–until a close friend called out of the blue the day following the argument and asked Aggie if she would be interested in a temporary job at the Daily Record. Aggie never intended to work outside her home, but this was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.
In her 1949 autobiography, Newspaperwoman, Aggie described her first impression of the Record’s newsroom as a “weird wonderland”. She was initially intimidated by the men in shirtsleeves shouting, cursing and banging away on typewriters, but it didn’t take long before intimidation became admiration. She fell in love with the newspaper business. At the end of her first year at her temporary job she realized that she wanted to be a reporter. From that moment on Aggie pursued her goal with passion and commitment.
Aggie at her desk after becoming City Editor at the Evening Herald & Express. Note the baseball bat — she used it to shoo away pesky Hollywood press agents. [Photo courtesy LAPL]
During a time when most female journalists were assigned to report on women’s club activities and fashion trends, Aggie covered the most important crime stories of the day. She attended actress Thelma Todd’s autopsy in December 1935 and was the only Los Angeles reporter to score a byline in the Black Dahlia case in January 1947. Aggie’s career may have started on a whim, but it lasted over 40 years.
Look closely and you can see Aggie’s byline under “Night In a Motel”. [Photo courtesy LAPL]
Over the past nine years I’ve corresponded with many of you and I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some of you in person. Your support and encouragement mean a lot to me, and whether you are new to the blog or have been following Deranged L.A. Crimes from the beginning I want to thank you sincerely for your readership.
There will be many more stories in 2022, and a few appearances too. Look for me in shows on the Investigation Discovery Network (I’ve been interviewed for Deadly Women, Deadly Affairs, Evil Twins, Evil Kin and many others.) I am currently appearing in the series CITY OF ANGELS: CITY OF DEATH on HULU.
Kentucky University Press will publish my compilation of tales on L.A. crime during Prohibition. Title is TBA.
You can find my short story in the recently released anthology, PARTNERS IN CRIME, edited by Mitzi Szereto.
Whether it is on television, in the blog or some other medium I’m looking forward to telling more crime tales in 2022.
Charles Henderson was high on opium when Los Angeles Police officers, lead by Detective Bean, raided his home/club room at 3631 Trinity Street. The cops weren’t looking for drugs, they were following up on a tip they’d received from a local hop head. The tipster, whom the police refused to name because they feared for his safety, had told them that he knew of at least four men who had been murdered by a gang operating out the Trinity Street house. According to the snitch, the gang was killing men in order to collect insurance policies which they had taken out on the men’s lives.
When Charles was coherent enough to make a statement to police, he scoffed at the idea of a murder house. Charles said, “You know anyone who has got the ‘habit’ ain’t got nerve enough to pull off a stunt like that fellow described. If a man ever did have any nerve he certainly loses all of it when he becomes an opium fiend. Why I couldn’t kill a chicken much less a human being.”
Charles spoke with the authority of a long-time hop head with a $9/day habit. That may not sound like much now, but in 1915, when Charles was buying dope, $9 was equivalent to $220.
Poster found here: https://bit.ly/2LgsRNh
Local police and Federal authorities had arrested Charles many times. His club room was a safe haven for opium users, and they were willing to pay for a refuge. The room made Charles a lot of money, but he set fire to most of it every time he filled a pipe.
“I have been smoking the pills for twenty years,” Charles told Bean, “and know the game all the way but I can’t believe there is any murders that can be traced to the fiends in this city.”
Charles had a point. When police raided his home/club room he was flying so high he hadn’t the will to to resist or flee.
He told Detective Bean that when the raid began he thought, “This ain’t no dream.”
He continued, “I have been one of the worst victims of the whole bunch. The other morning when you folks came and got me I was about the happiest man in the whole world. You know this stuff makes you feel that way. For a little while I didn’t know what you meant when you started to going through my house with all of them electric lights. They looked like shooting stars to me and I kind of thought that I was riding in an airship and that was the reason so many stars was so close to me.”
Captain Bean waited for Charles to resume.
“When I woke up here in jail and didn’t have no more opium it all came back to me. I realized then that I was just naturally arrested again. I tell you this comes hard on me. It costs me $9 every day to keep me dreaming right and of course I am no millionaire.”
“Gee, but I wish times was like they used to be. When I was down in Mexicali I used to get all the opium I wanted for $1.50 a day,” Charles reminisced.
“I have been tryin’ off and on for twenty years to get away from the habit but it don’t seem to be any use. In fact I don’t remember of a single man who ever quit the stuff for good who had smoked it as long as I have.”
There were no further reports regarding the murder house on Trinity Street in the Los Angeles Times, so we can only assume that Charles was right, the snitch had related one of his more sinister hop dreams to the cops.
Los Angeles has been home to some of the wiliest and most wicked criminals in the world. And where there are criminals there are attorneys to defend them. I’ll leave it to you to decide which group is worse.
Among the defense attorneys who practiced in the city, one of the most fascinating was Samuel Simpson Hahn. Known as S.S. Hahn, which makes him sound like a luxury liner, Hahn was born Schrul Widelman on September 18, 1888 in Ternova, Besarubia, Russia. He is believed to have arrived in the U.S. on June 30, 1906 and changed his name to Samuel Needleman. Contrary to the persistent belief that xenophobic immigration agents arbitrarily changed the names of newcomers many people opted to change their surnames to adapt to their new lives in America. In any case, by 1912 the newly minted Samuel Needleman had moved to Los Angeles and had changed his name one last time. He became Samuel Simpson Hahn. That moniker stuck with him for the rest of his life.
S.S. Hahn with a witness in Aimee Semple McPherson’s trial. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]
On July 22, 1915, having passed his exam, Samuel Hahn was admitted to the California State Bar and for the next four decades he defended some of the most notorious criminals in the city. Hahn’s client list reads like a Who’s Who of local crime. Among those who sought his services were serial killer Louise Peete and naughty evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson.
Hahn didn’t limit his practice to felons. Following WWII there was a sharp uptick in divorces. Starry-eyed couples who married in the heat of passion during wartime found themselves dreading the prospect of thousands of dreary days in each other’s company. In 1945, LIFE Magazine featured Hahn in an article on divorce mills. Interestingly, he appears to have met his second wife, Mary Monroe, when she came to him to dissolve her marriage.
I intend to write more about S.S. Hahn in the coming months. I find his career worthy of multiple posts. He was disbarred as a young attorney in the 1910s, possibly for suborning perjury, but appears to have won an appeal to restore his license. His death by drowning in a backyard swimming pool in 1957 was ruled a suicide, but it was highly suspicious. I’ll get to more of Hahn’s life later—I think you’ll find it compelling.
Today I’m going to cover a 1934 case from the Hahn files in which he defended a man accused of murdering his wife.
Shortly before midnight on Wednesday, June 27, 1934, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Kilborane of 4919 Bemis Street were driving on a lonely stretch of dirt road between the Southern Pacific tracks and the Los Angeles River. They were about 200 feet West of the intersection of San Fernando Road and Colorado Boulevard when they noticed a car. It isn’t clear what caught the attention of the couple but they decided to investigate. They found a woman sitting upright and dead on the passenger side. Seated next to her behind the steering wheel was a man. He was severely wounded and semi-conscious. Both had suffered gunshot wounds to the head.
Police identified the victims as Gray (Grey) Everett McNeer and his estranged wife, Beatrice (Betty) Helene Harker McNeer. While fighting for his life in the General Hospital Gray managed a brief statement in which he laid the blame for the shootings on his dead wife. Unfortunately for Gray the physical evidence suggested a far different scenario.
There were a couple of major problems with Gray’s statement. First, Betty had been shot three times in the head and second, she was right handed. Even a contortionist would have found it difficult to shoot herself on the left side of her head if she was right handed. Besides, if Betty was the shooter why would she leave her intended victim moaning and alive? Wouldn’t she have made certain he was dead before she turned the gun on herself—three times? Detectives were convinced Gray was a killer and placed him in the prison ward of the hospital—not that he was capable of taking it on the lam. Doctors weren’t convinced that he would make it through the night.
With Gray in the hospital, Detective Lieutenants Sanderson and Hill of the police department began their investigation into the backgrounds of the McNeers.
At 33 years of age Gray already had an extensive criminal record. The 1930 Federal Census lists Gray as an inmate in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary where he was a machine operator in the pants factory. He was in prison for his part in the robbery of a paper company in Oklahoma City. If his life since his release from prison was any indication of his future plans he had no intention of going straight, ever. At the time of the shooting Gray was wanted for questioning in a recent string of robberies in Los Angeles.
Betty was 29 when she died and she had been married and divorced twice before she tangled with Gray. She was 19 when she married a wealthy Altadena inventor, E.P. Pottinger. They divorced after two years and Betty wed Arthur Nollau who owned a knitting mill at 1409 West Washington Boulevard. The marriage to Nollau also lasted roughly two years. Twenty-four months seemed to be limit of Betty’s attention span for marriage. In the days prior to her death she had filed for divorce from Gray to whom, you guessed it, she had been married for approximately two years.
Gray’s condition appeared to be improving; which meant that the ex-con would likely be indicted for his wife’s murder. In that case he would require the services of an attorney.