Rehearsal for Murder

helen louise brunoBy early January 1953 Mrs. Helen Louise Bruno, an attractive 28 year-old waitress, was finished with her marriage to Philip. She filed for divorce and a restraining order.

Helen was fearful of Philip, and with good reason. She told her attorney, James Natoli, of a weird trip she had taken with her soon-to-be-ex the day after Christmas 1952.

The couple had gone out for dinner and afterwards they had taken a drive in a convertible coupe that Philip had rented in Los Angeles.

In the rear seat of the car Helen Louise noticed a brand new pick and shovel — but she didn’t think anything of it at the time. (Really? A pick and shovel in a RENTED car??? )

She told Natoli that she fell asleep during the drive and when she awakened she found that they were on the highway between Tijuana and Ensenada.

She demanded that Philip stop the car and head back to L.A., but Bruno produced a knife and told her that he was going to kill her.

Louise began to plead for her life, and as she did the significance of the pick and shovel finally dawned on her. Somehow she managed to talk Philip into putting the knife away and driving back to Los Angeles.

After hearing Louise’s harrowing story Natoli phoned the Wilshire Police Station. Officers told him that there was nothing they could do unless Bruno actually did something to harm his wife.

Louise figured she’d gotten lucky and that Philip had snapped to his senses; but all she really got was a reprieve.

Philip Bruno wasn’t an actor, he was a machinist, but he understood the importance of rehearsal, and that’s exactly what the impromptu drive to Baja had been — a dress rehearsal for murder.

rehearsal headline

On Saturday, January 17, 1953 Philip Bruno startled Hollywood police when he walked into the station and confessed to killing his wife. He said he had been brooding about the
crime all day. Then he made a statement.

Bruno told the cops that he and Helen Louise had argued in his car near Rosarita Beach at about midnight on January 17th. They fought over the terms of their divorce. Philip said that he didn’t object to the divorce per se but was opposed to the financial demands she had made.bruno held

At the height of their argument Philip snapped open his switch blade knife and stabbed her five times over the heart and once on the cheek. He threw the knife away, but couldn’t recall where.

Phillip crammed Helen Louise’s body into the rental car and abandoned it in the lot of the Commercial Hotel in Tijuana.

Philip said:

“After I wiped the blood off my hands I walked to the street and called a cab.”

He said he rode in the cab to the border, walked over to the U.S. side, and then took another cab to his home at 5640 Santa Monica Blvd.

Bruno arrived home at about 7 a.m. then spent the day brooding over the murder. At 10:30 p.m. he walked into the police station to surrender himself.

Philip Bruno had not only murdered his wife, but he had managed to create an international incident.

The U.S. didn’t want Bruno, and it appeared that Mexico didn’t want him either. Mexican authorities believed that he killed Helen Louise in California and driven her dead body across the border. Los Angeles County authorities said they were just holding Bruno for Mexico.

Bruno wouldn’t budge, he insisted that he’d killed Helen Louise in Baja — as an ex-con he knew that, unlike California, Mexico didn’t have the death penalty.

Two LAPD homicide detectives, Det. Lt. Jack McCreadle and Det. Sgt. Gil Encinas were dispatched to Tijuana to work with Mexican authorities to establish jurisdiction.

Baja California ultimately agreed to try Bruno for murder. Bruno would be returned to Baja from Los Angeles under a Mexico-United States extradition treaty that hadn’t been invoked since 1899.

bruno extradition

The treaty, proclaimed in April 1899, called for the two countries to mutually agree to deliver up any person connected or charged with crimes, including murder:

“Upon being informed by telegraph or otherwise that a warrant or other deposition in support of the charge has been issued…either government will hold the suspect for such time as may be practical, not exceeding 40 days.”

The legal wrangling and diplomatic machinations took months, but on May 6, 1953 Philip Bruno, described in the newspapers as the tattooed (he had 16) machinist, was turned over to Mexican authorities to be tried for murder.

bruno freedOn December 16, 1954, in Tijuana, Judge Mercedes Martinez Velila found the evidence insufficient to prove that Mrs. Helen Louise Bruno, 28, had been slain in Mexico and acquitted Philip Bruno of her murder!

Despite his confession and the ugliness of the crime, Philip Bruno walked away free and clear.

The Devil in Orange County, Conclusion

THE PLEAS

In mid-July 1970 the Orange County Grand Jury handed down indictments against
Steve C. Hurd, 20, Arthur “Moose” Hulse, 16, Herman Taylor,18, Christopher “Gypsy”
Gibboney,17, and Melanie C. Daniels, 31, for their roles in the murders of Jerry Carlin and
Florence Brown.florence brown

At his arraignment, Steven Hurd entered a plea of innocent by reason of insanity. While being held without bail in Orange County Jail, Hurd complained about being kept in solitary confinement. He whined that he had no television and nothing to read.

Claiming satanism as his religion he asked for three books on the subject, but Superior Judge Samuel Dreizen nixed the request — but he did allow Hurd to have two sci-fi books.

Craig Hulse pleaded innocent and innocent by reason of insanity to the hatchet murder of Jerry W. Carlin. Craig’s attorney, Robert Green, petitioned for a separate trial for his
client. Green contended that Hulse couldn’t possibly get a fair hearing if he was tried for murder with his co-defendants because of “highly prejudicial” newspaper publicity. The judge agreed.

However, the motion to allow Craig to be processed as a juvenile was denied. He would
stand trial as an adult.

Christopher Gibboney unsuccessfully fought extradition from his home state of Oregon.
Gibboney petitioned to be processed as a juvenile but, like Hulse, he was ordered to
stand trial as an adult for the murder of Florence Brown.

Herman Taylor turned state’s evidence after the district attorney promised to reduce
his charges to two counts of accessory to murder. He was also promised a sentence
of one year in jail dating from his original arrest date, July 1, 1970. The deal was a no-
brainer for him and he took it.

THE SENTENCES

MELANIE DANIELSmelanie daniels

Melanie Daniels, the thirty-one year old waitress with a boyfriend in San Quentin, was already serving time in Orange County Jail on a drugs charge when, in September 1970, she was sentenced to two consecutive one-to-five year prison terms after she pleaded guilty to being an accessory in the murders. Dep. Dist. Atty. Martin J. Heneghan urged Judge Dreizen to impose the consecutive sentences saying:

“If there ever has been a case where consecutive sentences were warranted, this is it.”

STEVEN C. HURD

Steven Hurd was found insane and unable to assist in his own defense. He was incarcerated at Atascadero until such time as he was deemed fit to stand trial.

steve hurdIn December 1973 he was briefly found to be sane, but was re-confined in the state hospital by May 1974. One of the psychiatrists who examined Hurd declared him the most dangerous man he had ever seen.

Finally in 1975, the California Supreme Court ruled that Steven Hurd could stand trial while under the influence of powerful tranquilizers. Hospital doctors had pronounced him sane, but said he could function properly only if tranquilized.

hurd_005

Orange County jurors in the 1975 trial of devil-cult leader Steven Hurd listened to testimony at a Santa Ana gas station where attendant Jerry Wayne Carlin was murdered in 1970. [Photo courtesy of the O.C. Register]

A purported confession and other statements made by Hurd in 1970 were ruled admissible as evidence in his trial.

In mid-June 1975 Steven Hurd, self-professed devil worshiper, was found guilty of two
charges of first degree murder in the 1970 slayings. A jury of six men and six women deliberated for two days before arriving at the verdict. He was sentenced to two consecutive life terms.

At his subsequent sanity hearing, Hurd made frequent references to “my father, the
devil” as he proceeded to relate details of the murder of Florence Brown.

May 19, 1975. Steven Hurd , right, walks with an officer during the jury tour of the crime scene. [Photo courtesy of the O.C. Register]

May 19, 1975. Steven Hurd , right, walks with an officer during the jury tour of the crime scene. [Photo courtesy of the O.C. Register]

Hurd said that several days after Brown was stabbed to death in an orange grove he
disinterred her body from the shallow grave along Ortega Highway.

He told the court he removed the heart, burned part of it and ate the rest. He used
ashes and paper to make a “star of death” around the heart as part of a devil’s rite.
According to Hurd when he was finished the devil told him he was “proud of him”.

Hurd said “his father” told him he would die in 1977, but didn’t explain how or where. Of course the devil is a liar. Hurd would live beyond 1977 by 28 years.

Steven C. Hurd died of a brain hemorrhage on May 28, 2005 in a hospital outside Mule
Creek State Prison in Amador County. He’d often stated that when he died he would
go to hell. When asked what he thought hell was like he said:

“Everything I need and want. No one to call me names; no one to laugh at me and no one to fuck with my head.”

Maybe Hurd’s vision of hell was accurate–I’ve never talked to anyone who knows. .

CHRISTOPHER “GYPSY” GIBBONEY

In May 1972, Gibboney pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for the slaying of Florence Brown. He may have been allowed to plead to a lesser charge because the witness against him, Herman Taylor, had gone missing.

By October 1971, Taylor had spent 15 months in jail for being an accessory in the killing of Florence Brown and the hatchet slaying of Jerry Carlin. Judge Byron McMillan thought that was sufficient time and placed him on five years’ formal probation. He was ordered into custody of the California Youth Authority (CYA) because he was on parole at the time the murders were committed. He later vanished from the CYA faciltiy, even though he had agreed to be a state witness against Gibboney.

The penalty for second-degree murder is five years to life in prison. Gibboney was
ordered into the custody of the CYA to begin serving his time.

I don’t know what happened to Gibboney after he was sentenced.

ARTHUR CRAIG HULSE

Craig’s trial began in February 1971. The death penalty was off the table because
Hulse was only 16 years old when the murder occurred. craig_photo

As previously stated, Herman Taylor turned state’s evidence after the district attorney promised to reduce his charges to two counts of accessory to murder.

At Craig’s trial, Taylor testified that he drove his car the night of the murder of Jerry Carlin. Taylor said that he waited in the car while Hulse, who had a hatchet tucked into the waistband of his pants, and Hurd went into the station.

The two forced Carlin to accompany them to the restroom at the back of the station and Taylor later said that he heard “a thumping noise that went on for quite a while.”

When the two returned to the car Hurd told Taylor how easy the robbery had gone and “how good a job Hulse had done.”

According to Taylor, Craig told Hurd to shut up because “he didn’t feel too good”. Taylor also said that Craig got sick to his stomach and vomited once they’d returned to the motel. After the murder Hulse said that he “tried to stay loaded most of the time” on reds and alcohol. That was as close to demonstrating remorse as Craig ever got.

Craig’s attorney’s, Robert Green and Michael Gerbosi, questioned Taylor about the
amount of drugs their client had taken prior to the killing. Taylor described Hulse as “a
stone cold red freak” — a guy who would take four to five reds five to six times in an
hour. However as far as Taylor could recall on the day of the murder Craig had taken
only two reds — he mixed them with water and injected them.

Taylor testified that he’d seen Craig shoot up before, everything from beer and wine to
medicine used on baby’s gums. Taylor said: “He just kept on fixing things.” After
shooting up Craig would sit for several hours or more, arms folded, staring off into
space.

Timothy Montag, the first of the group to be arrested in connection with the murders,
also testified against Craig. He told the court he stayed in Taylor’s motel room the night
of the murder, and the next morning was given a blue denim jacket he found on the
floor. The jacket, which had been given to Carlin by his sister, had some stains on the
back. Montag didn’t ask about them. He further stated that:

“There was a rabbit’s foot in the pocket, but I threw it away.”

On top of the damning statements made by Taylor and Montag, was Craig’s taped
confession to the cops. The confession was ruled admissible as evidence and his own
words buried him.

He had told the police that he “went kinda berserk” and kept hitting Carlin with a
hatchet because Carlin was “bugging him”. Craig said he didn’t recall what Carlin had
said, but he remembered that it made him angry and so he hit him with a hatchet.

In March 1971, after deliberating for about three hours, a jury of eight women and four
men found Arthur “Moose” Hulse guilty of first degree murder.

One of Craig’s attorney’s argued that:

“There was no premeditation and no evidence was presented that the robbery was planned, except for Taylor’s statements.”

A psychiatrist who had examined Craig diagnosed his condition as “pathological
intoxication”.

Craig’s mind may have been addled by drugs when he took a hatchet to Jerry Carlin, but he was found to have been legally sane at the time of the murder and sentenced to life in prison. He was also sentenced to five years in prison for being an accessory in the murder of Florence Brown. Craig began serving his time on March 31, 1971.

In June 1973 a sanity hearing was ordered for Hulse when the District Court of Appeal overturned a finding by Superior Judge Ronald Crookshank. Judge Crookshank had ruled that Hulse was sane at the time of Jerry Carlin’s murder. The sanity hearing didn’t change anything, Craig was again found to have been sane at the time of Carlin’s killing.

AFTERWORD

craig hulse photoWhen I began researching this case I had no idea what had happened to Craig Hulse. On the rare occasions when I thought about him I assumed that he had been paroled, but that’s not what has happened.

In October 2012 Craig was denied parole for the thirteenth time — he will be eligible again in five years.

When I picked Craig up hitchhiking in 1970 he seemed sad and lost, but not evil. Days later when I learned that he’d been arrested in connection with two brutal murders I couldn’t believe it.

When I told my brother Rick that I was going to write about Craig’s case he recalled an incident he hadn’t thought of in years. He said when they were about 12 years old Craig pulled his arm up behind his back until it was painful.  Rick told him to cut it out, and then he noticed a scary expression on Craig’s face — he enjoyed inflicting pain. Their friendship didn’t last much past that.

If he wasn’t already dead inside before June 2, 1970, the kid my family knew perished for all time as soon as he crushed Jerry Carlin’s skull with a hatchet. During the four decades that he’s been incarcerated Craig has, according to the Orange County D.A.’s Office, made no attempt to become a person who can live outside of prison walls. He will almost certainly die there.

The families of his victims bear the toughest burden — the husband and children Florence Brown left behind will always have a void where she should have been all these years. Jerry Carlin died before his wife had the chance to tell him that he was going to become a father.

 It is those people whose loved ones were taken from them that have my empathy and compassion.  Craig is where he belongs.

The Devil in Orange County, Part 3

transient heldCraig Hulse was still on the loose when Timothy Montag, 21, was arrested in connection with the murders of Jerry Carlin and Florence Brown. It wouldn’t take cops long to determine that Montag had no involvement in the two murders, but while in custody he provided the authorities with some useful information.

Timothy belonged to the same bunch of drifters and druggies that Craig hung out with. None of the group had a fixed address, they wandered around Orange County crashing wherever they could: open fields, abandoned cars and occasionally a cheap motel room. The de facto leader of the group was Steven Hurd.

Hurd and Montag had met in February 1969 in a Garden Grove apartment. Montag described the scene:

“There used to be an apartment in Garden Grove where…there was like a brotherhood in dope…kind of like a supermarket…anyone that wanted to do something just went ahead and did it, and if it sounded good to the other people they’d go along.”

The drifters continued to hang out together even after the apartment ceased to be their hang-out.The guys could usually be found near the intersection of Fairview Street and Trask Avenue in Santa Ana getting high, they called the area “The Block”.

The cops had lots of questions for Montag, particularly about the days of the two murders.Timothy related what he could recall.  He said that one member of their group had a car and on June 1st, the night before Jerry Carlin was killed, he and others from “The Block” drove to a motel room in Costa Mesa to party. Montag spent the evening getting wasted and so he “was in no shape to remember anything” and crashed in the room. At 1:15 a.m. June 2, Jerry Carlin was bludgeoned to death with a hatchet — his killers stole $73 from the service station till.

Later the next day members of the group piled into the car and headed south down the Santa Ana Freeway to Scotsman’s Cove, a beach between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach.

Along the way the car stalled on the freeway near the Sand Canyon off-ramp. Montag said:

“We tried to get the car started by crossing the wires on the solenoid, and like the car just wouldn’t kick. Then a Highway Patrol car pulled up behind us.”

The Highway Patrol car was soon joined by three other CHP units and two sheriff’s cars. Montag said:

“Everyone inside the car was popping…reds (Seconal) like mad. So the police rousted us and they found some reds in the car, but like they couldn’t prove whose they were so they cut us loose. Everyone went to the orange grove and crashed except me. I stayed in the car and the next morning I woke up…and hitchhiked back down to Garden Grove. Just as I was splitting I saw the tow truck move up to the back of the car.”

Police theorized that after Montag left a tow truck pushed the car onto Sand Canyon Ave where it was left abandoned on a side street.

About 3 p.m. Florence Brown, driving her Pontiac station wagon, came down the Sand Canyon off-ramp from the northbound Santa Ana Freeway. She was only 200 yards from her destination, a PTA meeting.

Her assailants forced their way into her car and made her drive a few miles west on Sand Canyon to an orange grove. It was there she was repeatedly stabbed by Steven Hurd.

Hurd said he’d killed Brown because she:

“looked at me like I was a tramp, and she called me a bum.”

Following the slaying Steven Hurd, Christopher “Gypsy” Gibboney and Herman Taylor put Brown’s body into her station wagon,and then went back to pick up the rest of their gang of losers. The drifters then callously drove around with Brown’s body in the car.

Det. Lt. Richard Drake of the O.C. Sheriff’s said:

“They drove around the rest of the day–even stopping at Santa Ana to drop off some personal items–with the body in the station wagon. “Then later that night, they drove the station wagon down south (south of Santa Ana) again to get rid of the body.”

Upon investigation police thought it likely that the mutilation of Brown’s body occurred at the Riverside county burial site, and that it was Hurd who had removed the parts for use in a Satanic ritual. Brown’s heart and lungs had been cut out and her right arm had been severed. In addition, three ribs had been removed from her back and strips of flesh had been cut from her upper right leg. The body parts were never found and the cops feared the unthinkable, cannibalism.

cannibalism

Det. Lt. Drake said:

“There was something about the way in which the woman’s body had been mutilated which made us ask some unusual questions.”

After burying Mrs. Brown’s body in a shallow grave the group, which included a drugged out waitress, Mrs. Melanie C. Daniels, 31, reassembled and drove north.

weird trek satan slaying

Hurd wanted to see the man he called “the chief devil”. According to Hurd’s attorney Steven was not referring to the head of the Church of Satan, Anton LaVey.

For his part, LaVey was dismissive of many of the so-called devil worshipers of the time and referred to them as: “kooks and creeps who are out of their minds on drugs.”  Maybe LaVey wasn’t Hurd’s chief devil, but I can’t imagine Steven passing up an opportunity to see LaVey’s documentary film SATANIS, released in March 1970.

satanis

The drive up north was particularly bizarre. Hurd was on a mission to visit with the chief devil, whoever he was, and Melanie Daniels wanted to visit a boyfriend of hers who was doing time in San Quentin. Daniels actually got as far as the gate of the prison where guards turned her away.

The group drove Florence Brown’s car south again where they abandoned and then torched the station wagon in Los Gatos. The drifters split up there, each hitchhiking back to Orange County where they were arrested.

murder suspects

Because the band of drifters included three juveniles, Craig “Moose” Hulse (16), Herman Taylor (17), and Christopher “Gypsy” Gibboney, the Orange County D.A. had to decide if the young killers would be tried as adults. Another issue for the law was whether or not the criminals in the case were sane enough to stand trial.

NEXT TIME: Case wrap-up.

Film Noir Friday: The Hitchhiker [1953]

hitch-hiker-poster2My posts this week have been about a personal experience. Years ago my brother’s best friend and I picked up a hitchhiker — he was a guy we knew but hadn’t seen in a while. When we picked him up we didn’t know that just days later he would be arrested in connection with two murders.

I’ll be wrapping up the series The Devil in Orange County over the next day or so.

Meanwhile, it is Film Noir Friday, and tonight’s feature is THE HITCHHIKER, starring Edmond O’Brien, Frank Lovejoy, William Talman and directed by Ida Lupino. The tagline for the film was great: “There’s death in his upraised thumb!”

From Wikipedia:

Critic John Krewson lauded the work of Ida Lupino, and wrote, “As a screenwriter and director, Lupino had an eye for the emotional truth hidden within the taboo or mundane, making a series of B-styled pictures which featured sympathetic, honest portrayals of such controversial subjects as unmarried mothers, bigamy, and rape…in The Hitch-Hiker, arguably Lupino’s best film and the only true noir directed by a woman, two utterly average middle-class American men are held at gunpoint and slowly psychologically broken by a serial killer. In addition to her critical but compassionate sensibility, Lupino had a great filmmaker’s eye, using the starkly beautiful street scenes in Not Wanted and the gorgeous, ever-present loneliness of empty highways in The Hitch-Hiker to set her characters apart.

ENJOY THE FILM!