Love, Death — Prison: Conclusion

anna_portraitWhen Aggie Underwood arrived at Tehachapi Women’s Prison in the spring of 1935 she interviewed all kinds of prisoners: murderers, thieves, prostitutes — some of them had been doing time for many years, like Emma Le Doux. Le Doux had started serving her sentence for murdering one of her husbands (Anna was a bigamist) when women were still being sent to San Quentin.  Other women, such as Anna De Ritas, had not been in Tehachapi for very long; in fact, Anna hadn’t even been in for a year when she approached Aggie to ask her if there was “something new” happening on the outside.

De Ritas was doing time in Tehachapi for the shooting death of her lover, Michelangelo Lotito.

De Ritas had been living with her husband and their four daughters, until she began an affair with wine salesman Michelangelo Lotito. Mr. De Ritas had left Anna in September 1934. Anna’s four young daughters were placed in a Burbank orphanage because Mr. De Ritas couldn’t care for them on his own, and Anna was too wrapped up in her affair with Lotito to give the girls a second thought.

About a month after the De Ritas’ marriage had disintegrated Lotito decided that he’d finished with Anna. One morning while she was out grocery shopping he wrote her a note in which he told her that their affair was ended, with the note he’d left her a check to cover the rent for their apartment at 1650 Echo Park Avenue for the remainder of the month.

Lotito had phoned his brother Frank to come over and help him move his belongings, and he had undoubtedly planned to be gone before Anna returned. Unfortunately he had miscalculated the length of time that Anna would be out — she wasn’t walking home as she usually did, she’d managed to catch a ride  with a friend of hers, Lola Martin.  Anna appeared just as he and his brother were about to drive away.


Anna would not accept that her affair with the wine salesman was over. She was devastated, and the couple began a protracted shouting match on the sidewalk in front of their apartment building. The distraught woman begged, pleaded, and then her rage began to build. How could he leave her, she wailed, when she’d sacrificed everything to be with him? Could Anna really have been that naive? When her lover refused to reconsider his decision to call it quits she raised the paper bag she was holding.  The bag contained a revolver with which Emma shot Lotito through the stomach. Frank saw the muzzle flash through the bag and watched in horror as his brother collapsed to the sidewalk. Frank disarmed her and called the police.

lotitoMichelangelo was taken to the Georgia Street Hospital where he was informed he was the 500,000th patient to receive emergency treatment there. Being number 500,000 wasn’t an honor that he would live to enjoy, Lotito died of the gunshot wound several days later.

anna_convictedAnna testified at her trial that Lotito had persuaded her to leave her husband and daughters, then spurned her. She said that when she confronted him outside of the apartment building they argued, but she denied that she had shot him in cold blood as Frank Lotito had testified. She said that she and Michelangelo had struggled for the gun and it accidently discharged.

The jury found Anna guilty of manslaughter and she was sentenced to from one to ten years in prison.

The L.A Times summed up Anna’s situation in this way: love, death — prison.

Love, Death — Prison

emma_full_lengthTwo of the women mentioned by Herald-Express reporter Aggie Underwood in her series on the lives of women doing time in Tehachapi were Mrs. Emma Le Doux and Miss Anna De Ritas.

Who were Le Doux and De Ritas, and what had they done to end up in the City of Forgotten Women?

Let’s look first at Mrs. Emma Le Doux. She had been in prison off and on for nearly three decades by the time Aggie saw her at Tehachapi in the spring of 1935. Emma had been convicted of murdering her husband, A.N. McVicar, by poison in Stockton, California in March 1906.

The case against Emma was very simple, the prosecution contended that she had poisoned McVicar to keep from being exposed as a bigamist. Apparently Emma had married McVicar a few years earlier in Arizona, then she moved to California where she fell in love with and married Le Doux.

According to the prosecution Emma had persuaded McVicar to come to Stockton from Tuolumne county where he had been working in a mine. It doesn’t seem to have taken much effort for Emma to convince McVicar to stay with her for two days at a lodging house. McVicar and Emma were still husband and wife, maybe she told the doomed man that it was time to reconcile. It is more difficult to imagine what she told him she planned to do with the trunk that was delivered to her at the lodging house. Of course she may have simply told him she was packing it so she could travel with him and resume their marriage.

As it turned out McVicar didn’t have much time to ponder the reason for the trunk — he was dead within hours of its delivery.

Emma had the trunk taken to the Southern Pacific Railroad station and then attempted to have it sent to her home village in Amador county; however, the attempt failed and the trunk was put off the east bound train and returned to the baggage room in Stockton. The contents had ripened and soon caught the attention of a baggage man who became suspicious of its contents. Death has a distinctive aroma.

When the trunk was opened the doubled-up body of McVicar was discovered and Mrs. Le Doux became the sole suspect in his murder.

Emma had been married a few times, she seemed never to have obtained a divorce from any of her previous spouses, and at least one of her husbands had died under peculiar circumstances.

Multiple husbands, no divorces, and a reputation as a red-light girl would weigh heavily against Emma. She tried to shift the blame for McVicar’s death onto a man named Joe Miller. Emma claimed that Miller had dosed McVicar with carbolic acid, but Miller was likely an invention of Emma’s to escape the noose. Emma also tried to convince the authorities that McVicar had committed suicide, but they didn’t believe her.no_confession

Emma was tried for murder in Stockton in June 1906. The L.A. Times reported that “a remarkable feature of the case was the morbid curiosity of many women who thronged the courtroom…” The reporter clearly didn’t understand women. I would say that we women enjoy a lurid murder trial as much, maybe even more, than any man.  And speaking of women, a female newspaper reporter tried to score an exclusive interview with Emma by masquerading as her sister. It was a nice try, but the cops caught on to the ruse and she was sent packing.

The trial lasted for fifteen days, during which time the defense tried to show that Emma was so much smaller than McVicar that she would have found it impossible to stuff the corpse into a trunk. The prosecution countered with their theory that McVicar had died on the bed and it would have been easy for Le Doux to roll him into the trunk.

emma_laughsatdeathEmma did not take the stand on her own behalf, but later she stated that McVicar had died as the result of a debauch and not poison as the prosecution had insisted.

On October 19, 1906, Emma Le Doux was sentenced to be hanged for the murder of Albert McVicar. She showed no emotion when her sentence was pronounced, which confounded trial observers who must have been used to hysterical women. Emma was described as a puzzle, a woman who had never broken down, not even under the strain of a murder trial.

Emma’s death sentence was commuted to life in 1908. If others were surprised by it, Emma was not. She had always maintained that she would never be executed.  She was paroled a couple of times, but she couldn’t stay out of trouble. Emma was returned to prison for various parole violations, which is how she happened to be at Tehachapi in 1935 when Aggie arrived to write her articles. emma_paroled

It appears that Emma tried a couple of more times to win her freedom. In January 1937 it was reported that Emma was seeking parole once again, but I couldn’t find out whether or not she was successful.


NEXT TIME: Love, Death — Prison concludes with the story of Anna De Ritas.

Aggie and the City of Forgotten Women: Part 3


This is the third of a series of articles by an International News Service staff correspondent who was enabled to obtain the first comprehensive inside story of California’s unique all-woman prison.


Tehachapi, Cal., May 2 — Forbidden to read newspapers, their only source of information being occasional letters and visits by friends, the 145 women inmates of California’s “City of Forgotten Women,” Tehachapi, have one question that is always asked early during a visit.


“Something new?” It was the first question asked me by Mrs. Anna de Ritas, 39-year-old convicted slayer of her sweetheart Mike Lotito. The dormitory in which she is housed is by far the “happiest” sounding building of the prison group.  Anna de Ritas shot her lover to death.


Housed with her are Miss Thelma Alley, Hollywood actress, convicted of manslaughter in connection with an automobile accident; Mrs. Eleanor Hansen, who murdered the husband whom she charged failed to properly feed her and their daughter; Emma Le Doux, who has spent more than 20 years in state prisons for murder in Stockton.

thelma_alleyAnother interesting inmate of Tehachapi, and another really happy one, is Mrs. Trinity Nandi who has spent more than 17 years behind prison walls for murder. She is to be released in May, and she is full of plans for the future.

Since her removal from San Quentin to the Tehyachapi institution, Mrs. Nandi has been working in the rabbitry and has qualified as an expert. It is her hope to start a rabbit farm when she is released.

The women in Tehachapi are learning how to make themselves useful when they leave it.

The girl the nation read out as the “jazz baby,” Burmah White, the blonde bandit moll, wife of one of Los Angeles’ most notorious slain criminals, Thomas White, has vanished. The “tough,” cynical 19-year-old girl who entered the prison 16 months ago has been transformed into a quiet mannered, sad-eyed girl, her face framed in soft dark brown hair which she had let grow back to its natural color.

When Burmah first entered Tehachapi, she was full of ambition and conducted classes in commercial courses, Miss Josephine Jackson, deputy warden, says Burmah did a fine job of it. She taught oral English, typing, and dramatics to fellow inmates.

She fell ill for almost two months and during that illness her ambition and vivacity seemed to disappear.

“I’ve gone into it very thoroughly,” Burmah said softly, and sadly, after announcing that her interviewer was the first visitor she has had since last November. Her father, who was loyal to her throughout her arrest and trial, is dead now.

“The prison board can’t do a thing. The judge who sentenced me fixed that up and I just can’t see any sense in working hard every day when there’s nothing to work for. I can’t see any sense in hoping for the future, when there’ nothing to hope for. I can’t see any sense in training for work to do when I get out of here, because I’ll be an old lady then–maybe not old physically, but I know from what it’s already done to me that I’ll be hundreds of years old mentally.”

“You know,” she said, with a slightly cynical smile, “they tell me there’s civilization beyond them thar hills!”

“I was an example to the youth of this country when I was sentenced for the wrongs I had done. That was the sole purpose in giving me that stiff sentence–to set an example. I wonder if it has deterred any girls in Los Angeles from a life of crime–I doubt if it even made an impression on any of them,” she said bitterly.


I found she had been making a new blouse out of a bit of silk that she had managed to obtain. A particularly becoming blouse–peach colored, with a white lacing down the front.

“Oh, can you wear those things up here?” I asked her, and then she grinned her old grin and said, “Well, we can wear dark skirts and blouses on Sunday–only the blouses have to be white–but making it helped pass the time of day.”

NEXT TIME: Meet Anna de Ritas and Emma Le Doux, two of the women in the “happiest” cottage at Tehachapi.

Aggie and the City of Forgotten Women: Part 2


This is the second of a series on California’s unique women’s prison, which has bestirred national interest among sociologists and penologists. An International News Service staff correspondent was enable to obtain the first comprehensive “inside story” of the institution where Clara Phillips and other noted women offenders are now confined.


Tehachapi, Cal., May 1, 1935 — Eight months in the “death house!”

Eight months in which to sit in one tiny room, forbidden to talk to anyone except matrons–Eight months in which to remember–what?

nellie_madison_doom heard_headline_Page_1

Possibly the sound of six shots, ringing out in the still of night–six shots which ended the life of Eric B. Madison, movie studio cashier.

Eight months in which to hear over and over again, the voice of a judge saying “You are sentenced to hang by the neck until dead”.

That is the fate of Nellie B. Madison, comely widow, who is the only woman in California now under sentence to die on the gallows.

Just eight months ago last March 12, Nellie B. Madison entered Tehachapi prison and was placed in the “death cell.”

nellie_madisonThis “cell” is merely a room in the prison hospital. Architects who designed the state institution for woman at Techachapi omitted “death cell.” That’s another way this prison is different.

So, in this room on the second floor of the administration building, Nellie Madison sits day after day. She seems a quite different person from the Nellie Madison who amazed Los Angeles court attaches during her trial with her cool calm demeanor.

Her nattily tailored clothes are of course discarded for the regulation prison costume–blue denim dresses with a white pin stripe.

Her jet black hair, now greying, has grown from the trim modern bob until it almost reaches her shoulders.

“In Los Angeles, I was thoroughly benumbed by all that had happened,”she said after the first glad welcome of seeing someone whom she had seen in the outside world.

Gallows at San Quentin used from 1893 to 1942. [The images were taken from the San Quentin 150th Anniversary Commemorative Book, ©Turner Publishing Company, Paducah, KY, 2002]

Gallows at San Quentin used from 1893 to 1942.
[The images were taken from the San Quentin 150th Anniversary Commemorative Book, ©Turner Publishing Company, Paducah, KY, 2002]

“I couldn’t realized just what had happened to me, but now that I have been here–let’s see is it only eight months or is it ten years–well, I’ve begun to get all the confidence in the world that the State Supreme court will reverse my conviction.”

This was Mrs. Madison’s only interview since she has entered the state institution.

“It seems to me that one’s conscience would be the greatest punishment in the world,” she said.

“My conscience doesn’t bother me one bit, but I do feel the disgrace that I have brought on myself and my family. One’s past good name and character seem to mean nothing when a person gets into trouble, but it apparently doesn’t mean a thing.”

Mrs. Madison’s recreation consists of short walks on the grounds each day–in company with a matron and the letters she receives from friends.


NEXT TIME: In the third article of this series tomorrow, Miss Underwood tells of talks with other inmates, in this unique “City of Forgotten Women.”

NOTE: After this series wraps up I’ll delve into the cases of a few of the women mentioned by Aggie in her articles.

Aggie and the City of Forgotten Women: Part 1

Women in Tehachapi [Photo: UCLA Digital Archives]

Women in Tehachapi [Photo: UCLA Digital Archives]

In the spring of 1935, Aggie Underwood wrote a three part series of articles for the Herald-Express on the women incarcerated in Tehacahpi.  People have always been fascinated by the exploits of bad girls.


There’s been a rise in the number of women committing violent felonies in recent years, but for many decades women committing such crimes were an anomaly. Alienists (psychiatrists) and penologists offered various theories to explain why a woman might be driven to commit a violent crime.

In 1924, Sigmund Freud suggested that menstruation reminded women of their inferiority and inflamed them toward revenge.

His theory is absurd and offensive, but variations of it are still accepted today.  An ambitious woman may be characterized as unfeminine or vicious. A man exhibiting identical traits may be praised for his business acumen and strength. Make no mistake, even in the 21st Century women are still competing on an uneven playing field.


Whether a woman killed because she was in a homicidal PMS rage or not, there was an ongoing debate on the punishment of women. It is true that historically women have gotten away with murder. It is also true that society is relcutant to apply the death penalty to women.

In his 1931 criminology course, Dr. Paul E. Bowers seemed saddened by the fact that so few deserving women were executed. He said:

“We hate to send a woman to the penitentiary; we hate to electrocute or hang women.  We think its the wrong thing to do.  We have to admire Al Smith, when Ruth Snyder was convicted of killing the husband of this other woman. Al Smith didn’t given her a reprieve and allowed her to go to her electrocution, as she should have gone. Many women have been convicted of murder, but it is only very rarely that women are hung or electrocuted for committing murder.”

Dr. Bowers confused the facts of the case. Ruth Snyder and her lover, Judd Gray, were convicted and executed for the murder of her husband; but Bowers was not at all confused about his opinion regarding female murderers. He declared that they should be executed.

Aggie was intrigued by the stories of female convicts. Perhaps because her own upbringing was a tough as many of the women behind bars. She didn’t romantize their plights, nor did she condone their actions, but she empathized. 

Below is the first part of Aggie Underwood’s series on the lives of the forgotten women of Tehachapi just as it appeared in newspapers in 1935.

double indemnity_Snyder_chair

Ruth Snyder in the chair. A Chicago reporter snuck a camera into the death chamber strapped to his ankle and got the incredible photo.  As an aside, the Ruth Snyder/Judd Gray case inspired James M. Cain to write his powerful noir novel, DOUBLE INDEMNITY, which became the 1944 film.



Tehachapi, Cal., Apr. 30 —

Nestled in a range of snow covered mountains, eight and one-half miles from the nearest town, is California’s home for forgotten women.

Here are Clara Phillips, the celebrated “Hammer Murderer”; Louise Peete, Nellie Madison, Josephine Valenti, Anna De Ritas, Burmah White and 140 others who ignored man-made laws and are spending long, long years in a miniature city of their own.

Ruler of this city surrounded by a high wire fence is Miss Josephine Jackson, deputy warden, who works directly under orders from the head of the state prison at San Quentin, Warden James B. Holohan.

For 18 years she has been employed in California prisons, and for 18 years she has been caring for women whom the state has tagged “bad” and sent away to do penance behind prison walls.

Louise Peete, murderess. [Photo: UCLA Digital Archive.]

Louise Peete, murderess. [Photo: UCLA Digital Archive.]

Miss Jackson moved the first group of girls from San Quentin into Tehachapi in August, 1933, and by November of the same year all of the inmates of the state prison had been transferred.

Life runs smoothly, and quietly, as the days go by with the only break in a monotonous existence being an occasional visit by some unexpected outsider.

The buildings which comprise the prison group, are in an administration building, detention building and two cottages.

All work in the prison is volunteer–none compulsory, and each inmate is given an opportunity to do the work she likes best.

Many of them prefer garden work, many laundry, many cooking and table serving, many secretarial and some even beauty work.

There is no official chief at the state institution and the inmates have proven themselves splendid cooks even to the extent of making all of the bread that is used by the inmates.”


Six a.m. is regulation “get-up” time; 9 p.m. lights out.

Work on the various necessary duties is started immediately after breakfast and groups may be seen leaving the various buildings in which they are house for the rabbitry, the chicken yard, the barn yard where there are several cow to be milked.

And, as groups gather around electric washing machines, or in the yard planting trees, or in the chicken yard tending the fowls, loud shouts of laughter may be heard ringing through the echoing mountainous section.

No supervisor stands over these 145 women to drive them to their tasks. No one waits around to scold or correct them. They are on an honor system to do their best work in their best manner, and according to Miss Jackson this system succeeds remarkably.

Each building has a nicely furnished recreation room where the girls gather when their daily tasks are completed to play cards, checkers, sew or play the piano. But, because the architects failed to provide for an auditorium, there are no picture shows because there is no room large enough to seat all the inmates.

Just as Sing Sing, and Eastern prison, has an outstanding men’s football team, so does Tehachapi have its baseball team.

In fact, two teams have been organized. Joephine Valenti, who gained prominence in Los Angeles when she was convicted of burning her small baby to death, is captain of one team and Pauline Walker, a colored girl, is captain of the second team.

They play every Sunday with all of the inmates gathering on the sidelines to do the rooting.

At present the field isn’t much good, but the girls are gradually doing their own work and making a real diamond.

They have made their own uniforms–white bloues and black bloomers with red stripes down the sides, and, according to Miss Jackson, they welcome the opportunity to don these costumes and break the monotony of every day life.

Each goes on in the same fashion, light tasks, few laughs–a drab life, for the 145 women who must pay for their transgressions of the law. yet Tehachapi represents notable changes in the American penal system and is being studied as a model.”


NEXT TIME: Agness Underwood’s series on the “city of forgotten women” continues.

Hollywood Love Triangle: Part 2

raymond_mackaye_kellyThe circumstances of Ray Raymond’s death may have been successfully covered up if not for local newshounds who got wind of the fight and his subsequent death. They called on the Coroner and began asking for details, but he couldn’t tell them a thing – Raymond’s death had not been reported to him!  Dorothy’s $500 payment to Dr. Sullivan had clearly been worth every cent.

Coroner Frank Nance at his desk. [LAPL photo]

Coroner Frank Nance at his desk. [LAPL photo]

Coroner Nance called the hospital where Raymond had died, and was informed that not only was Ray deceased his body had been removed by an undertaker!

Nance followed up and located Raymond’s body at a Hollywood mortuary.  He immediately claimed the body to perform an autopsy.

Not surprisingly, Coroner Nance’s findings didn’t agree with those of Dr. Sullivan — and Dr. Nance had harsh words for both Paul Kelly and Dorothy Mackaye.

He said: “Fortifying himself with four or five drinks — probably to brace up his bully courage — Kelly deliberately went into Raymond’s home for the purpose of beating him. I am also informed that Mrs. Raymond was in Kelly’s apartment when he left his home for the purpose of going to her home to beat up Raymond and it is my belief that it was due to her influence that Kelly went to Raymond’s for the sole purpose of attacking him.”

I agree with Coroner Nance.

Dorothy Mackaye collapsed three times at the grand jury inquiry into Ray’s death.  At one point she fell to the marble floor with enough force to render her unconscious for ten minutes. She must have become light-headed after finally being compelled to tell the truth about the day of the beating. Her original story had been that she’d gone out to get Easter eggs for her daughter and to go to a dressmaker. The truth was that she and one of her so-called chaperones, Helen Wilkinson, had been at Kelly’s apartment drinking and had been present when he phoned Ray.


Mackaye summed up her day of testimony before the grand jury by saying: “It has been a terrible ordeal. Why, oh, why, do they have to do all this to me? I would be all right but my nerves are shot to pieces. I hope I won’t have to go through all this again very soon.”

Dorothy had no words of sadness or remorse for Ray’s miserable death. In true Hollywood diva fashion, it was all about her.

In Kelly’s statement to the cops he said he’d purposely called Ray to demand an apology. Seems pretty ballsy to demand that Ray retract statements about Kelly’s relationship with Dorothy — statements which were true. Kelly also told cops was that he went to Raymond’s home “to give him the threshing that was coming to him”.  Kelly wouldn’t make any other statements except to profess his love for Dorothy.

Witnesses stated that Dorothy was still at Kelly’s apartment when he returned after viciously beating Ray, and apparently the couple retired to a rear room and conferred in secret for nearly thirty minutes — obviously to get their stories straight.

It wasn’t only Kelly and Mackaye who were in deep trouble following Ray’s death.  Dr. Sullivan, the physician who had determined that Raymond had died of natural causes, was being taken to task as well. In the District Attorney’s office the day following the grand jury hearing, Dorothy Mackaye came to Dr. Sullivan’s defense. She said:

mackaye_sullivan“I have absolute faith in Dr. Sullivan’s statement that Ray’s death was due to natural causes. He [Raymond] hadn’t been well for some time and we had been afraid of a nervous breakdown.” She continued: “Mr. Kelly I have known for years. I knew him as a youngster in New York when he was first starting out. My feeling for him has always been, and is, I suppose, a sort of sisterly love.”

Mackaye admitted that she and Ray hadn’t been happy for some time and had discussed divorce, but they hadn’t gone through with it due to financial concerns. Oh, and any talk of a future marriage with Kelly had been done “in a joking manner”.

Paul Kelly was indicted for the murder of Ray Raymond, and Dorothy Mackaye was indicted for concealing facts in the case.

NEXT TIME: Hollywood Love Triangle: Part 3

Hollywood Love Triangle


Dorothy Mackaye — the center of the triangle.

Musical comedy star Ray Raymond met actress Dorothy Mackaye in 1921 while performing in BLUE EYES on the Broadway stage.  Raymond fell hard; he dumped his wife and married Dorothy.  The pair had a daughter, Valerie, and together they moved to Los Angeles in the late 1920s to get into films.

Paul Kelly

Paul Kelly – Killer

Dorothy Mackaye met Paul Kelly in New York in 1917 when both were appearing on stage, and they became friends. It isn’t clear if the friendship became a love affair in NY, or if the sparks didn’t fly until Paul Kelly arrived in Los Angeles in 1925.

In any case, Ray Raymond was suspicious of his wife’s friendship with Kelly, and he demanded that Dorothy stop seeing him.  She refused. She continued to insist that her relationship with Paul was platonic; but Ray wasn’t buying it. She said that whenever she met with Kelly she always had someone with her to act as a chaperone.  Raymond didn’t doubt for a moment that Dorothy’s “chaperones” would lie for her.

On April 16, 1926 Dorothy Mackaye and her one of her “chaperones” were drinking prodigious amounts of gin at Kelly’s apartment. After several cocktails and some encouragement from Dorothy, Kelly decided to have it out with Raymond. He telephoned, and then minutes later showed up on the doorstep of the Raymond home.

maid_headlinemackaye_maidEthel Lee, the Raymond’s maid, opened the door for Kelly who stormed into the house and confronted the much smaller man. Paul shouted: “I understand that you have been saying things about me.” Ray denied the accusation and attempted to defuse the situation by offering Kelly a seat, but Kelly was drunk and spoiling for a fight.

According to Ethel, Ray told Kelly: “I can’t fight. I’m fifty pounds underweight, and I’ve been drinking.” “I’ll beat you” Paul said. Then he punched Ray three or four times. Ethel told cops that Mr. Raymond got up but that Kelly grabbed him and put one hand behind his neck and beat him with the other, then threw him to the couch.

Raymond was no match for Kelly who was at least 6 ft tall and weighed about 200 lbs.  In fact the maid stated that Raymond was just a punching bag for Kelly and had put up minimal resistance.


At left is Valerie Raymond, 4 years of age, daughter of musical comedy star who witnessed fight in home and, at right, Mrs. Raymond (Dorothy Mackaye) answering questions aked by Detective Lieutenant Condaffer.

Four year old Valerie Raymond was a witness to the savage beating and continued to cry and beg for her dad to come to her.

Dorothy, who said she’d been out running errands, arrived home at about 9 pm. But she didn’t take her badly beaten husband to a hospital, even as he continued to suffer from his injuries. By 7 am the following day Raymond was in extremely serious condition.

Finally, late in the afternoon on the day following the beating Dorothy phoned a doctor who made a house call to assess Ray’s condition. What the doctor found was a man in excruciating pain with bruises covering his body. Ray was transported to a hospital where he died of his injuries.

In what was obviously an attempt to keep the ugly event under wraps Dr. Sullivan, who had attended Ray, consulted with other physicians who determined the cause of death was “nephritic coma” — the result of an inflammation of the kidneys.  In other words, natural causes!

Dorothy Mackaye paid Dr. Sullivan $500 (approximately $6500 in current U.S. dollars) for his “services”!

Welcome to Hollywood.

NEXT TIME: The love triangle case continues.

L.A.’s Bonnie & Clyde – Burmah & Thomas White


During the summer of 1933, while Bonnie Parker & Clyde Barrow were on the lam in the midwest, Los Angeles newlyweds Burmah White, a nineteen year old hairdresser  and her husband  twenty-eight year old Thomas, an ex-con, were also on the run.

Most newlyweds don’t spend their honeymoon on a crime spree, but Burmah and Thomas were not most newlyweds.

The lovebirds perpetrated ten stick-ups – seven in a single evening (netting them about $220); but the worst of their crimes was the shooting of a popular elementary school teacher, Cora Withington, and a former publisher, Crombie Allen.

Crombie was teaching Cora how to drive his new car. They were stopped at a light when a car driven by a young blonde woman pulled up alongside them, and a man brandishing a gun jumped out of the vehicle.  The bandit pointed his weapon at Cora’s head and said: “Shell out, sweetheart; and that goes for you, too, bo.” Just as Cora and Crombie were handing over their valuables there was an explosion – it was a gunshot – and it tore through Miss Withington’s left eye, came out near the right eye and ripped a hole in Allen’s neck.  Despite his injury, Allen memorized the license plate number of the bandit’s car!

crombie_burmah_lula lane_cop_violet dillon2

Left: Crombie Allen, retired publisher (right) testifying before Deputy Coroner Montfort at the inquest. Allen identified White as the man who robbed him and Miss Cora Withington, shooting the latter. He could not identify Mrs. White. Right–Mrs. Burmah White, widow of the dead bandit; Policewoman Lula Lane, and Mrs. Violet Dillon, sister of the dead man, at the inquest.

Both victims would survive their gunshot wounds, but the schoolteacher would be permanently blinded.

Chief of Police James Davis immediately instituted a blockade in an attempt to snare the bandits.

LAPD Chief Ed "Two Gun" Davis

LAPD Chief Ed “Two Gun” Davis

The blockade consisted of random stops and searches of pedestrians and vehicles, particularly during the wee hours of the morning when, according to Davis, “the more callous criminals are abroad.”

Chief “Two Gun” Davis wasn’t a big fan of the 4th Amendment. He’d said that constitutional rights were of “no benefit to anybody but crooks and criminals.”

Davis would use a similar blockade strategy later, in 1936, in an attempt to stem the tide of Dust Bowl refugees from Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, and Arkansas.

Whatever his shortcomings, Davis wasn’t wrong about callous criminals working in the city – they appeared to be everywhere. Masked robbers broke into the home of a cop and robbed him at gunpoint; while across town a woman in her 50s held up a rooming house manager who was showing her an apartment.

While the LAPD continued to hunt the Whites, teachers and parents at the Third Street School established a fund to aid Cora Withington, who would not be able to return to teaching because of her injuries.

Things would end badly for the newlyweds.whitedeath

The cops located their car in a parking lot adjacent to an apartment at 236 S. Coronado Street.  An officer dressed in a mechanic’s uniform staked out the vehicle and watched as Burmah got into it and drove it into a garage while her husband held the door open for her.  Two officers entered the hallway of the apartment and confronted Thomas White, who made the mistake of attempting to shoot it out rather than surrender. He died after taking two bullets through his heart.

While Thomas White was dropping to the floor dead, Burmah was on another floor attempting either to commit suicide or escape by hurling herself out of a window.  Police grabbed her before she could jump and took her to jail.

Aggie Underwood interviews mourner at funeral of evangelist Aimee Semple Macpherson. [LAPL Photo]

Aggie Underwood interviews mourner at funeral of evangelist Aimee Semple Macpherson. [LAPL Photo]

Burmah’s lack of remorse and abrasive demeanor earned the nineteen year old widow a guilty conviction on eleven felony counts and she was sentenced to a term of from 30 years to life.

At her sentencing Judge Bowron said that Burmah had been “an accomplice in the heartless and wanton shooting of Miss Withington and Crombie Allen”, and that her deliberate intent demonstrated how “utterly abandoned and ruthless she is despite her years”.

Burmah began serving her time at San Quentin, but was ultimately transferred to the Women’s Prison at Tehachapi. Herald-Express reporter, Agness “Aggie” Underwood, interviewed Burmah in prison and described her as “slightly defiant, cynical, and egotistical”. A few years in Tehachapi would mellow Burmah considerably.tehachapi_opening1932

Burmah was denied parole a few times before she was discharged on December 1, 1941, just days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. She’d served less than eight years for her part in the 1933 crime spree.  Upon her release, Burmah vanished from public view.

NEXT TIME: A Hollywood love triangle ends in death.