If you missed the webinar on Tuesday, January 26th, please view the recording. It’s a fun trip through fashion, history, and even a little crime.
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 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’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.
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.
Over the past six 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 2019, 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 several others.) I recently filmed an episode of Ice Cold Blood for the Oxygen Network, and I did a short sport for the podcast Hollywood & Crime, which will air in January. I may have a couple of local lectures scheduled too. You can also find me several times a year on Esotouric’s Bus Adventures crime bus. I’ll be co-hosting the Black Dahlia tour on January 5, 2019 and other tours throughout the year.
For several months I have been working on a book of true crime tales titled, Ways to Be Wicked, Volume 1, Los Angeles Crimes 1919-1949. I’ll keep you posted on the publishing date (best guess now is late January 2019).
Whether it is on television, in the blog or some other medium I’m looking forward to telling more crime tales in 2019.
Happy Holidays and stay safe!
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.
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.
As for Charles, did he ever quit kickin’ the gong around?*
Not that I know of.
* kickin’ the gong is 1930s slang for smoking opium.
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.
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.
NEXT TIME: Justice Times Two continues.
When I began this blog in December 2012, I arbitrarily chose to examine crime in Los Angeles during the years from 1900 to 1970. Now, however, I think it is time to expand the purview to include the decades of 1970, 1980 and 1990 to encompass all of the last century. In terms of crime in the City of Angels, the last three decades of the 20th Century are enormously interesting.
The 1970s have been called one of the most violent decades in U.S. history. Homicide rates climbed at an alarming rate and people felt increasingly vulnerable.
Hollywood contributed to popular culture, and helped fuel the debate on crime and punishment, with a slew of vigilante films like Dirty Harry and Death Wish. The films showed bad guys being blown away by impressively large weapons. It was cathartic, but not terribly realistic.
It was during the ’70s that the bogeyman got a new name when FBI Investigator Robert Ressler coined the term “serial killer”.
In 1978 convicted rapist and registered sex offender, Rodney Alcala, appeared on the Dating Game. Why wasn’t he more thoroughly vetted by the show’s producers? I have no idea. Even more astounding than his appearance was the fact that he won! The bachelorette who selected Rodney ultimately declined to go out with him–she found him “creepy”. He’s currently on California’s death row and is believed to have committed as many as 50 murders.
Some people joined cults where they banded together with like-minded folks for spiritual comfort and to retreat from the scary world-at-large. But there is not always safety in numbers, and evil can assume many guises. In 1978, over 900 members of the People’s Temple died in a mass suicide commanded by their leader, Jim Jones. The group was living in Guyana when they drank cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. The People’s Temple may have been founded in Indiana, but like so many other cults before them they established a presence in L.A.
A crack cocaine epidemic swept the country in the early 1980s. It decimated communities and cost many people their lives. Crack was inexpensive, easily accessible, and even more addictive than regular cocaine.
The 1980s gave rise to a “satanic panic” which resulted in some of most bizarre prosecutions we’ve seen in this country since the Salem Witch Trials in the 1690s. The McMartin Preschool abuse trial was the most costly ($15 million) ever in the U.S. and resulted, rightfully I believe, in no convictions.
Surprisingly, there was a decline in crime during the 1990s, and it has been attributed to a variety of factors including: increased incarceration; increased numbers of police, growth in income; decreased unemployment, decreased alcohol consumption, and even the unleading of gasoline (due to the Clean Air Act). Despite the decline, there was still enough murder and mayhem to make us uneasy.
Here in L.A. there was the murder trial of O.J. Simpson, the so-called Trial of the Century. If you remove fame, wealth, and race and reduce the crime to its basic elements you end up with nothing more than a tragic domestic homicide–the type of crime which is altogether too common everywhere–yet the case continues to fascinate.
Heidi Fleiss, the Hollywood Madam, made news in 1993. At her pandering trial actor Charlie Sheen divulged that he had spent in excess of $53,000 for services rendered by Heidi’s girls.
Please join me as I explore the entirety of 20th Century crime in Los Angeles.
Most people spend Thanksgiving week overeating turkey, stuffing and pie and overspending at the Black Friday sales. This week Deranged L.A. Crimes takes a look at the dark side of Thanksgiving. The robberies, burglaries, and occasional homicides. While they may not celebrate the holiday like the rest of us, the miscreants are only human and their bad behavior doesn’t mean that they don’t crave a sumptuous meal–even if it’s served to them in a jail cell.
If you’re curious, and you know that you are, here’s the Thanksgiving Day menu for Los Angeles County Jail in 1919 as prepared by Captain George Ganagner and the jail chef:
Soup — Cream of Tomato
Baked fresh ham
Candied sweet potatoes
Combination salad — Thousand Island dressing
Spiced Plum Pudding
Fresh Apple Pie
French rolls — bread and butter
Among the people to enjoy the feast were Lewis B. Harris. Harris, convicted of looting the First National Bank of Artesia. Harris was sitting in the slammer awaiting an appeal. Joining Harris was M.P. McDonald, wife killer, who was waiting to find out if he’d go to prison for life or hang; James Cameron, convicted of second degree murder waiting on his appeal; Matthew Joseph who pleaded guilty to a charge of second degree murder, and Mrs. Ella R. Kehr who was accused of assisting in the murder of a woman friend in Hotchkiss, Colorado.
Other diners included several suspected killers, a con-artist, an extortionist, and a forger. Can you imagine the dinner conversation?
Next time: More Thanksgiving mayhem.
By early August 1916, Cassie Boos and Naomi Ernst had been locked in mortal legal combat for weeks. Cassie had accused Naomi of attempting to extort money from her; Naomi accused Cassie of trying to steal her husband from her. Neither woman seemed willing to give an inch, at least if what their attorneys told the reporters was true.
E.E. Ernst, the man in the middle of the embarrassing skirmish, was trying to diffuse the situation, or maybe he was just trying to get released from police custody, when he signed an affidavit denying that he or his wife were involved in a plot to blackmail Cassie Boos, and he also vehemently denied that Mrs. Boos had made an effort to alienate his affection from his wife.
Naomi won the first round when Judge Richardson sustained the demurrer to the complaint against her, in which she was accused of attempting to extort $15,000 from Cassie Boos. The judge’s action automatically dismissed the charge; however, it was stipulated that the prosecution could, if it desired, file an amended complaint.
It is difficult to say who blinked first, but on August 16, 1916, the Los Angeles Times reported that Cassie’s attorneys, Morton, Behymer, Craig and Salzman stated that an agreement had been reached by the waring parties, and that Mrs. Boos was going to withdraw the criminal complaint she’d filed against Naomi.
Maybe a good faith sign from Cassie was all the incentive Naomi needed to drop her suit too. Naomi even went so far as to admit that she’d been misled and deceived by a few of Cassie’s enemies who urged her to bring the suit. Who the enemies were and how they came across Naomi wasn’t revealed in the papers. Naomi (as her mother had earlier advised her to do) agreed to return to Cassie the letters that she had written to E.E. during the summer of 1915.
By the end of August 1916, the combatants had negotiated a peace treaty–but it lasted for only a couple of months.
E.E. must have spent the time from August to October ruminating over the claims and counterclaims that had resulted in his arrest and seven day detainment in the City Jail–because on October 13, 1916 his attorney, Daniel M. Hidey, filed a false arrest suit against Cassie Boos on behalf of his client.
The newspapers took the opportunity to rehash some of the more humiliating moments of the alienation of affection claim against Cassie. To buttress her argument that Cassie had attempted to steal her spouse, Naomi had produced letters from Cassie to E.E. in which she addressed him as “The Duke of Catalina”, “My Sweetheart” and “My Dear”. A disclosure of this kind would have been bad enough for anyone, but for the wife of a wealthy and respected man it had to have been devastating.
Through his attorney E.E. stated that he had suffered damages amounting to $60,796 (equivalent to $1.3M in today’s dollars) due to his false arrest. He had spent seven days in jail where he declared he was made ill after being subjected to a “third degree” interrogation by detectives. Further, according to E.E., Cassie knew he was innocent when she swore to the complaint charging him with blackmail.
Daniel M. Hidey submitted an itemized list of damages to the court:
“Seven days in jail, lost time at $3 day, $21; legal counsel, $150, securing above sum he sacrificed property valued at $300; seventy-five days lost by reason of arrest, $225; illness caused by “third degree” required medical services, $100; injury to feeling and loss of pride, $10,000; general damages, $25,000; punitive damages, $25,000.”
Cassie Boos’ attorney, Ona Morton, issued a unequivocal denial of the charges, alleging Cassie was the victim of a conspiracy to extort money from her.
Mr. Morton said:
“Mr. Ernst has no just claim against Mrs. Boos for false arrest and we will show that, by his own statements, Mrs. Boos was fully justified in causing his arrest on the charge she did. There was no malice in the charge.”
Unfortunately, there was no further mention of the Ernst vs. Boos lawsuit in the L.A. Times so I don’t know if E.E. emerged triumphant. My guess is that the lawsuit went nowhere; I can’t imagine that the L.A. Times would not have reported on such a large settlement, if there had been one.
I don’t know how E.E. and Naomi fared in the months and years following the lawsuits; but the Boos’ marriage survived another four decades beyond Cassie’s brief infatuation with “The Duke of Catalina”. Henry passed away at age 78 at his home on Plymouth Blvd in April 1957. He had retired in 1946. He was survived by his widow Cassie, brother Cyrus and four married sisters. Services for the cafeteria pioneer were conducted in Grace Chapel, Inglewood Park Cemetery.
In 1905 the four Boos brothers, Henry, Cyrus, Horace and John moved to Los Angeles from Moscow, Ohio with a dream of opening their own cafeteria. Cafeterias were a new concept in those days; in fact the term hadn’t even been coined until 1893 when John Kruger opened an eatery in Chicago modeled on European smorgasbords.
The brothers had worked in restaurants in New York and St. Louis and they were drawn to Los Angeles, as were so many others from the East and Midwest, because of its weather and the opportunity to create something completely new.
Angelenos loved the cafeterias, they offered a multitude of choices and, even better, you didn’t have to tip! By 1916 the brothers were operating four cafeterias downtown.
Cassie Altherr arrived in Los Angeles a few years after the Boos brothers. Cassie’s husband, William, trained and showed Shetland ponies and was involved in what was referred to as the “amusement” business–I read that to mean carnivals and/or circuses. William may have been good with horses, but he was a miserable husband. The pair had married in 1902 in Alton, Illinois, but the union lasted for only a few years before William deserted Cassie. At least he left her stranded in Los Angeles–not the worst fate that could have befallen her.
In September 1910, Cassie sought to divorce her spouse on the grounds of desertion. Cassie testified that William wasn’t a total deadbeat, he had sent her regular checks–usually accompanied by a terse note:
“Cassie, Please find enclosed check for $35.”
The judge asked her if that sort of abbreviated communication was typical of William’s correspondence, and she said that it was. The judge said:
“Well, they are brief and to the point, but they are not examples of the missive a man would send to his wife if he really cared for her.”
Cassie won her divorce.
Cassie remained in Los Angeles; and it isn’t clear how she and the cafeteria magnate met but they married on March 20, 1912. The wedding, a small affair, was covered the next day in the Society page of the L.A Times:
“Miss Cassie Altherr, daughter of Mrs. Mary Green of Kingsley Drive was married yesterday, to Henry Boos, a young business man of the city. Rev. J. M. Schaefle read the ceremony at the Hotel Alexandria, in the presence of twenty-four guests. The room was aglow with bride roses, and where the young people stood a forest of palms was effective.
Luncheon was served from a table, enhanced with a beautiful centerpiece of bride roses. A three months’ trip through Florida, Cuba and the East will be enjoyed before making this city their home.”
Only a few weeks into their honeymoon Cassie and Henry, along with the rest of the world, would hear the news that the luxury vessel Titanic had gone down in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic Ocean just four days into her maiden voyage. They must have felt fortunate knowing that, even if they had wanted to, they would never have been able to make it to Southampton, England in time to take the cruise.
The newlyweds returned from their extensive trip in June and eventually made their home in a palatial mansion on Gramercy Place.
Other than an occasional mention in the society pages the Boos appear to have led a quiet life. But this is Deranged L.A. Crimes, so you know that quiet domesticity never lasts.
On June 24, 1916, LAPD detectives Raymond and Canto, and a private detective named Blair, went to the small home of Naomi and Erwin Ernst at 1321 1/2 W. 25th Street. The Ernst home was about two miles and two million light years away from the Boos mansion.
The police had a warrant issued by Judge Richardson to arrest Naomi and Erwin for being members of a blackmail gang that was said to have extorted large sums of money from well-known businessmen and their wives over the course of about six months. A complaint had been signed by Cassie Boos alleging that the Ernsts had attempted to extort money from her.
Naomi told the detectives that the charges against she and Erwin were absurd. She said she wasn’t a blackmailer at all, in fact she was a wronged woman. She said she was going to name Mrs. Boos in a $50,000 alienation of affection (heart balm) suit.
Erwin, who was cooling his heels in the City Jail, was more than willing to talk about what he considered to be a misunderstanding. He backed up Naomi’s claim that neither of them were blackmailers; however, he said that his wife had recently come into possession of some overly friendly letters sent to him the previous summer by Mrs. Boos, and therein was the problem.
Apparently, in August 1915 Erwin had been employed by the Catalina Excursion Company as a boatman and he had met Cassie and several of her wealthy friends when they hired the boat he piloted for an outing. It may only have been a day cruise, but apparently Erwin made quite an impression on the ladies.
“I met Mrs. Henry Boos and several other ladies on an excursion and extended every courtesy; these ladies seemed to appreciate the kindness extended to them and I later received several letters from them manifesting their interest in me and their intention to help me.”
Erwin claimed that he and Naomi had separated a couple of months prior to his meeting Cassie, so there was no way that the cafeteria owner’s wife could have been responsible for alienating him from Naomi. He maintained that the correspondence from Cassie was innocent, and certainly not intended to rupture his already rocky marriage.
By December 1915, Naomi and Erwin had resolved their differences and resumed their marriage; that was until the letters surfaced. Like most daughters in a similar situation, Naomi sought the counsel of her mother, Mrs. L.C. Osborne, a former Long Beach osteopath.
Mrs. Osborne protested her daughter’s innocence to the detectives and recalled her advice to her offspring:
“When my daughter obtained those letters from her husband, last December, I advised her to take them to Mrs. Boos and have it out with her and return them without resorting to any legal action.”
Good advice that had fallen on deaf ears.
Cassie’s attorney’s tried to spin the case as an egregious attempt by two sinister individuals to perpetrate a crime against their client:
“We regret exceedingly that there has been any publicity of this case. The facts unquestionably show that a certain coterie of people deliberately planned and purposely acted to extort money by blackmail from our client. We are prepared to prove this beyond any question from many sources.”
“Unfortunately, blackmailing in Los Angeles is becoming a fad.”
“In this instance they (the alleged blackmailers) have found one who has been strong enough to meet the light of publicity full in the face, for the sake of exposing the attempt that has been made to extort money from her, and the authorities, after a careful investigation are now bringing justice to the instigators of this nefarious plot.”
Nefarious plot? Maybe. Maybe not.
The attorneys for both sides traded barbs in the newspaper, but it was tough to tell who was in the right. Were Naomi and Erwin blackmailers–was Cassie a home wrecker; and who would emerge victorious once the smoke cleared?
NEXT TIME: The Boos Cruise continues.