Film Noir Friday: Obsession (aka The Hidden Room) [1949]

poster3 obsession the hidden room

Welcome!  The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.  Tonight’s feature is OBSESSION (aka THE HIDDEN ROOM) [1949] starring Robert Newton and Sally Gray.

Enjoy the film!

TCM says:

London psychiatrist Clive Riordan, royally fed up with the repeated affairs of his wife Storm, plots a seemingly ‘perfect’ revenge against her latest lover, American Bill Kronin. Catching them in the act, he marches Bill off at gunpoint; and from the viewpoint of Storm and the rest of the world, Bill simply vanishes. But there’s far more to the meticulously worked out plot than Clive’s victims suspect, with the end slowly preparing in his private laboratory. Enter a mild-mannered Scotland Yard man, who seemingly has no clue beyond a missing dog…

The Cleaver Widow, Conclusion

court clerk gun cleaver

Court Clerk enters gun and cleaver into evidence.

The findings in Jerry Ferreri’s inquest resulted in the arraignment of his widow, Betty, and one of their roomers, Allan Adron, a handyman, for murder. Allan was charged with firing two bullets into Jerry’s body, after which Mrs. Ferreri allegedly struck her husband 23 times about the head with a meat cleaver.

As evidence against the two defendants mounted a new twist in the case took everyone by surprise. Vincent D’Angelo, Jerry’s second cousin, and referred to in some of the newspaper coverage as “the dapper decorator” (he was a house painter), revealed that he was actually Charles Fauci. Why the alias? Well, Fauci was wanted in New York for grand larceny. and fake registration of a motor vehicle.

adron photo

D’Angelo, nee Fauci, told the cops that Betty hadn’t given a gun to Allan as she had originally stated. It was he who had loaded the gun and hidden it in his pocket up to a few seconds before it was used by Allan to shoot Jerry.

He said that he and Val Graham, another of the Ferreri’s roomers, were leaving the house to go out for coffee when they heard Betty scream. Fauci told investigators he had the gun because Jerry had attacked Betty with a fireplace poker earlier that evening and he feared more violence. Fauci drew his gun and tried to enter the house but the doors were locked. He ran to the window of Allan’s room and shouted:

“He’s murdering Betty, Allan. Go open the door.”

Allan opened the door and then, according to Fauci, the handyman snatched the gun from him and rushed back into the house locking the door behind him. When Allan arrived at the butler’s pantry he saw Jerry grappling with Betty, so he fired.

Under interrogation Fauci broke down and confessed to having wiped his fingerprints off the weapon when he returned to the house, and then later taking a drive out to Long Beach where he dropped the gun, holster and a box of unused cartridges for the .38 caliber revolver into the ocean.

Fauci made a point of telling the cops that if someone had not “taken care” of Ferreri, the playboy would have murdered his wife the night of October 26th.

Following his statement, the D.A. decided that Fauci should join Betty and Allan at the defendant’s table.

jerry smock and unidentifiedMeanwhile, cops were asking questions about Fauci’s alias: Who is Vincent D’Angelo? Where is he? Was he alive or dead? Did he ever exist? Fauci maintained that he and the real Vincent D’Angelo had driven to L.A. from New York. Once they arrived in the city, Fauci said that D’Angelo “turned the car over to me to use.”

But that story fell apart when the car was found in a local garage after the attendant recognized Fauci’s newspaper photos and identified him as the man he knew as D’Angelo. The cops wired New York for Fauci’s complete criminal record, and they wanted all information available on Vincent D’Angelo (provided he was real) and on the car.

Police attention was briefly diverted to what turned out to be a red herring in the form of a telegram. Supposedly Ferreri had been the recipient of a cryptic Western Union wire that bore the message: “The roses will bloom in December.” Huh? According to New York detectives, Ferreri had once collected $100 for dropping a dime on a member of the infamous Murder, Inc. hit squad. It was an interesting, but utterly worthless, piece of information given the fact that Ferreri’s wife and handyman were found in the butler’s pantry with the dead man, a smoking gun and a bloody meat cleaver. Ferreri’s murder was definitely not a mafia rub out.

betty faintsBut just because the mob didn’t get to Jerry first didn’t mean they wouldn’t have been thrilled to hear that he was dead; in fact someone (a mob enforcer?) may have planted a bomb in his car in an attempt to send him a message about an unpaid gambling debt.. About six weeks prior to his murder, late on the evening of August 31, 1948, Jerry reported that his car, a 1946 maroon Lincoln, had been stolen from in front of his house. Just a few hours later a muffled explosion was heard and the gutted car was found parked in front of 325 South Arden Blvd, a block from Jerry’s home. The Lincoln’s paint was blistered, its interior was ruined by flames and the rear section of the roof had started to cave in.

The dead man seemed to have had a life complicated by an uncontrollable rage, multiple girlfriends, a wife he no longer loved, and a gambling problem; but when the law pared it down to the essentials it was still all about the three defendants in the case–jointly charged with murder.betty funeral

Betty was released from jail by court order to attend Jerry’s funeral, and the gray Sheriff’s car in which she rode stood apart from the black autos that formed the funeral cortege. The procession wound from the mortuary on the Sunset Strip to Holy Cross Cemetery. Betty sobbed as she stood by the freshly dug grave.

Betty’s father and brother arrived from the east coast to support her during the trial. Jerry’s family had also traveled from the east, but not to stand by Betty’s side–they were attempting to take possession of the Lucerne Blvd home and, incidentally, gain custody of her young son, Vincent.

By the end of November at least the cops had answers to some of their questions regarding Vincent D’Angelo. He was was a real person, not a figment of Fauci’s imagination, and he was discovered at his Brooklyn home.  He had reported that his car had been stolen, not loaned. Oh, and he was Fauci’s cousin! Blood isn’t always thicker than water and D’Angelo had a lot to tell the police about his shady relative.

He said that “no one in the family wants Fauci around.” The family? That may not have been quite as sinister as it sounded. It is possible that D’Angelo was referring only to his immediate family and not a larger criminal enterprise.

Betty was escorted by Deputy Marjorie Kellogg to her preliminary hearing, and as she entered the courtroom two of Jerry’s “friends”, Lorretta Burge and Floy Smock, glared daggers (or should that be cleavers) at her. Wow, you’d think that the two extremely attractive women would have had more pride than that.

Later in the day Betty was accosted by Loretta as she was escorted to the ladies’ room. Loretta muttered a derogatory statement to which Betty took umbrage; she was led away before the encounter came to blows.

girlfriends glare

Then poor Val Graham learned that he was to be the prosecution’s star witness, even though it was obvious that his heart was with the defendants. They didn’t hold it against him though, Betty planted a kiss on his cheek as she left the courtroom.

Betty entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, and her co-defendants followed suit. Trial was set for February 1, 1949.

Handyman Allan Adron stunned the trial watchers by withdrawing his plea of not guilty and entering a plea of guilty. He would be tried separately. Upon Allan’s change in plea Betty’s attorney immediately sought to have the man declared insane and incompetent to testify; however, Judge Fricke denied the motion.

In large part, Betty’s fate would hinge on whether her use of the cleaver was altogether in self-defense or whether she used it in a felonious assault on Jerry after he had fallen to the ground from the bullet wounds he had sustained.

In order to make her case for self-defense Betty was compelled to testify to the abuse she had suffered for years at Jerry’s hands. She frequently wept as she recounted the physical and mental torment she had endured. Jerry beat her often and he humiliated her by allowing her to discover him in bed with other women. Betty said she would occasionally find dainty undergarments, not her own, in their shared bedroom and Jerry would just laugh at her. Many times Jerry told Betty that if she really cared for him she would prostitute herself.

betty testifies

A few days into her trial Betty became so upset under cross-examination that she fainted and had to be taken out to the hallway of the courthouse to be revived. It was reliving some of Jerry’s abuses that had caused her so much distress. Back on the stand she testified not only to her own experiences with her husband, but to some of the horrendous stories she’d heard from friends about Jerry’s sadism.

She told the jury of five women and seven men:

“They said he used to string up dogs in the cellar and beat their brains out with a baseball bat. Then he would put them in a burlap bag and put them out at the front of his house.”

There was a neighbor that had a goat. He cut the heart out of the goat and took it home to his mother to she how she would act.”

Jerry’s behavior as an adult, and particularly toward Betty, worsened–she described the nightmare of their life together:

“He was out most of the night and slept all day. Sometimes he would lock me in a closet and tell me to stay there. He would gag me. He would threaten to kill me and the baby even before the baby was born. He wished the baby would be dead all the time.” He would bring a girl up and I would hear them. He would tell me not to make a sound or he would beat my face. Then he would come back and expect me to feed him. To cook for him.”

Jerry beat his wife even on the morning before she went to the hospital to give birth to their son, Vincent:

“I put on a coat and went down to a cab. I told the cab driver to take me to a hospital, I was going to have a baby. He told me to get in. He said he’d take me but ‘don’t have the baby in the cab’.”

mil spurns betty picLaura Ferreri, Jerry’s mother, testified for the prosecution and it was obvious that she was attempting to repair her son’s tarnished image. She spoke of Betty in the bitterest of terms, saying that her daughter-in-law had once said that if she couldn’t have Jerry, nobody could.

Frankly, I wonder why ANYONE would have wanted Jerry.

On March 19, 1949 the jury acquitted Betty and her co-defendant Vincent Charles Fauci. Fauci had other charges pending both in L.A. and back east–but at least he’d beaten the murder rap. Betty was free to go.

The verdict hadn’t been a foregone conclusion–the foreman told reporters that the jurors started out 9 to 3 for acquittal. He said that by discussing the evidence the dissenters eventually came around.

Even though her in-laws had waged a fierce battle to take her son from her, Betty regained custody of Vincent following her acquittal–but she lost the house which was sold at auction.

As for the gun wielding handyman, Allan Adron, the Los Angeles Times didn’t report his fate, but it seems likely that since his original co-defendants were acquitted he would also be set free.

As for her life after the trail, Betty must have been an optimist because less than six months following her acquittal she remarried. The couple was married in the Wee Kirk o’ the Heather Chapel, Las Vegas. Her new husband was twenty-eight year old Jean Paul Roussos, the maitre de hotel at a local nightclub.

No word on how that union turned out.



The Cleaver Widow, Part 2

Jerry Ferreri

Jerry Ferreri

When Betty Laday married Jerry Ferreri in 1943 she had big plans–she believed that she was going to transform her handsome new husband from an indolent, skirt-chasing, playboy into a successful businessman. It never happened.

Jerry browbeat, and occasionally physically beat, Betty into complying with this plan, which required him to do nothing and live on whatever his parents and his wife could provide. Betty worked hard as a carhop and she made a pretty decent living, but what Jerry really wanted her to do was turn tricks. Yes, that’s right–Jerry told his wife if she really loved him she’d prostitute herself for him. Betty did not act on his employment suggestion and stuck with the carhop gig.

It was fortunate for Jerry that his father Victor was a successful politician in New Jersey’s Italian community (make of that what you will). When Jerry and Betty found a beautiful home on South Lucerne Blvd in L.A.’s Hancock Park/Wilshire District, the elder Ferreri’s ponied up the cash to purchase the $35,000 home [$434,857.00 in current U.S. dollars]. Not surprisingly, Betty’s carhop salary and Jerry’s lack of gainful employment wouldn’t have sealed the deal, so neither of them was on the mortgage, it was Jerry’s mother who appeared on the deed.

ferreri house pic

The house was large enough for Betty, Jerry, their 5 year old son Vincent and assorted friends and relatives. Among the residents at the home were Jerry’s cousin Vincent “Charley” D’Angelo (35); Marion James “Val” Graham (24), a professional singer; Allan Aldron (51) a live-in handyman, and Mrs. Maxine Gould (28), who also roomed at the mansion.

All of the residents of the house had heard and seen Jerry verbally and physically abuse Betty, and Charley had once prevented Jerry from harming little Vincent.

On the night of October 26, 1948 Val Graham and Charley D’Angelo witnessed Jerry pick up a fire place poker and attack Betty. Jerry was red-faced and screaming that he was going to kill her.

Graham said: “He had a poker in his hand. Before we could interfere he lunged at Betty with the poker. he swung it hard enough to have killed her if it had hit squarely, but she ducked and the steel bar only knocked her hat off and grazed the top of her head.

“He swung once more–hard. And again he missed. He had started a third swipe of the poker when Charley reached him and held his arm.”

The two men managed to calm Jerry down a bit and persuaded him to leave the house. They told Betty that he probably wouldn’t return that night–but he did.

About 10 minutes after the scene in the living room, Allan Adron returned home from an errand and a few minutes after that Jerry was at the front door.

Charley and Val met Jerry at the door and told him they were going out for a cup of coffee, and they asked him if he wanted to join them but he said:

“No, I’ve got something to take care of.”

Graham and D’Angelo had just seated themselves in the car at the curb in front of the house when they heard two shots and then screams. They ran into the house and found Jerry lying mortally wounded on the floor of the pantry. Allan had shot the man and Betty had taken a meat cleaver and used it to hack Jerry twenty-three times.

The police arrived and took Betty and Allan to the station for questioning. Detectives then began to try to unravel Jerry’s complicated love life while police psychiatrist Paul de River (he was the psychiatrist in the Black Dahlia case) attempted to untangle “the complicated emotional pattern surrounding the Ferreris and to investigate the ‘other woman angle'”.

The cops had discovered that the dead man didn’t have one girlfriend, he had at least two. Motives for his murder were growing exponentially by the second.

An attractive twenty-eight year old blonde, Mrs. Loretta Salisbury Burge had been seeing Jerry for at least eight months prior to his death. The cops found Loretta through a mysterious telegram found at the Ferreri home–it was addressed to Jerry and asked for a rendezvous–it was signed “Three Deuces”. Loretta Burge lived at 222 North St. Andrews Place just a little more than one mile from Jerry’s home.

Loretta Burge

Loretta Burge

Jerry had kept the “three deuces” telegram and he’d also kept a red face powder compact that belonged to neither Betty nor Loretta. The compact was identified as the property of Miss Floy Smock, a twenty-one year old redhead and former model with whom Jerry had been seen in his car on the night of the killing.

Apparently Jerry liked to keep his women close because Floy, like Loretta, lived only blocks from his home.

When detectives asked Floy about Jerry she insisted that they had been very good friends, but that the relationship was “purely platonic”.

Because Floy had been riding around with Jerry in his car on the night of the murder investigators wanted her to provide a detailed recounting of their evening together.

Floy stated:

“On the night of the murder Jerry picked me up about 9 p.m. We drove around awhile. We drove up and down streets and I guess we passed in front of his house.”

Betty said that she had seen her husband driving up and down their street with “some woman”.

She continued:

“At about 10:20 p.m. we stopped by Jerry’s house. He ran inside. Then he came out again and drove me home. I guess it was about 10:35 p.m. then. He drove away, drove back…to that.”

“I can’t tell you any more now.”

Even though it seemed clear what had happened in the the pantry of the Ferreri home, cops know better than to take anything at face value. The coroner still had to weigh in on whether it was the gun shots or the meat cleaver that had ended Jerry’s life.

Would the widow and/or the handyman be charged with murder?

NEXT TIME: The Ferreri case continues with an inquest and a cousin by any other name.


Film Noir Friday: Too Late For Tears [1949]


Welcome!  The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.  Tonight’s feature is TOO LATE FOR TEARS [1949] starring Lizabeth Scott, Don DeFore and Dan Duryea.

It’s not a great print but it is definitely watchable–unfortunately none of the prints prior to the recent restoration are very good Bear with it though, it is a terrific film. Lizabeth Scott is a total badass; the epitome of the noir femme fatale. If you’re in L.A. and can get to the Egyptian Theater TONIGHT a restored print will be shown as part of the Film Noir Festival. If you miss this particular film don’t fret, the Film Noir Festival runs from March 21, 2014 — April 6, 2014.

For other news on Film Noir Los Angeles, check out Facebook.

TCM says:

One night on a lonely highway, a speeding car tosses a satchel of money, meant for somebody else, into Jane and Alan Palmer’s back seat. Alan wants to turn it over to the police, but Jane, with luxury within her reach, persuades him to hang onto it “for a while.” Soon, the Palmers are traced by one Danny Fuller, a sleazy character who claims the money is his. To hang onto it, Jane will need all the qualities of an ultimate femme fatale…and does she ever have them!

The Cleaver Widow, Part 1

betty ferreri

Betty Ferreri

In 1941, Elizabeth “Betty” Laday was attending college in New Jersey when she stopped by her parents’ cafe in New Brunswick on her way home. One of their best customers, Jerry Ferreri, was chatting up the cashier, Betty’s younger sister: “Why don’t you go out with me?” he asked

Betty stepped in right away with a bit of sisterly advice, “Don’t go out with that man” she said.  Her sister turned Ferreri down.  Whether Betty’s admonition to her sibling was based on a gut feeling about Jerry’s character or on the desire to see the man herself, Betty would have been wise to have heeded her own advice.

She would later recall:

“I’d skip classes to meet him.  I had a head for math and hoped to be a chemist.  When summer came my folds packed me off to Asbury Park, hoping I’d be over it by fall.  But Jerry followed me there and we eloped to New York and were married.”

“They had a three state search out for us, but in late fall we called and told my parents we’d be home for Christmas.  All was forgiven.”

Jerry wasn’t exactly burning with ambition; in fact he was a lousy breadwinner and couldn’t hang on to a job.  Betty thought she could change him.

Jerry Ferreri

Jerry Ferreri

“Jerry’s father was in politics and once I saw a ‘big man’ and got Jerry a civilian job with the Army.  But Jerry pleaded heart trouble, got a desk job and started giving major orders.  That ended that.  And that’s what he wanted.  He wanted me to keep him.”

In 1943, Jerry was arrested at his parents’ home on charges of assault and battery after he had attacked his wife; but Betty had him cleared. Her reason was simple; she didn’t want him to be able to use his record as an excuse for not working.  Jerry was arrested seven times in New Jersey on charges ranging from grand larceny auto to assault with intent to kill, and once he was arrested in New York City for forgery. The forgery rap earned him probation.

It was about that time that Betty discovered she was pregnant, so the Ferreri’s decided to move to Los Angeles to get a fresh start. As they were about to head west they grabbed a bite to eat at the train station; the waitress who served them wrote her phone number on the back of the check she handed to Jerry.  Betty wasn’t surprised: “Women just fell for him and even gave him money.  He was what you would call a great lover.” A great lover, maybe; a faithless and abusive husband, definitely.

Their move to Los Angeles didn’t change anything in the Ferreri’s marriage. Jerry continued to be unemployed, all the while suggesting ways in which Betty might support him–most of them pretty disgusting. The least objectionable, and one of the only legal options that Jerry gave her, was to find work as a carhop.

Betty did very well as a carhop; she brought in $400 a month (equivalent to $3882 per month in 2014 U.S. dollars).  But Jerry was still not satisfied and he told his wife he wanted a Cadillac. Betty bought one for him. During the first few years of their marriage she had learned an important lesson: “…when I gave him the things he wanted, everything went well”.

Betty’s tolerance of Jerry’s behavior could not last forever: “You can’t hate anyone unless you’ve loved them.” she said

On October 26, 1948 the Ferreri home erupted in violence and bloodshed.

NEXT TIME:  A meat cleaver and three deuces.

Film Noir Friday: The Glass Web [1953]

Poster - Glass Web, The_02

Welcome!  The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.  Tonight’s feature is THE GLASS WEB [1953] starring John Forsythe, Edward G. Robinson and Kathleen Hughes. Enjoy the film!

TCM says:

The ice-cold diva Paula ruthlessly exploits the guys she dates. While blackmailing the married Don with a recent one-night-stand, she has a secret affair with Henry, who works as researcher for the weekly authentic TV show “Crime of the Week”, which Don writes for. When Henry fails to help her to a role, she insults him deadly… and ends up dead herself. Now Don desperately tries to hide his traces, but Henry sabotages his efforts and suggests he write the unsolved murder case for next week’s show…

A Death on Mulholland Drive, Conclusion

slaying deniedBefore they even had a positive ID on the coyote ravaged body of a woman found on Mulholland Drive police were certain that it was Barbara Mauger, a young waitress who had run away from Philadelphia with her married lover, Russell Beitzel.  There was a wedding ring found on the corpse and numbers inside the ring led police to a pawn shop where they confirmed that a woman calling herself Mrs. Burnholme had signed the ticket; and there was a broken string of beads found near the body that matched a necklace known to have been worn by Barbara on the last day she was seen by her neighbors.

Russell’s denials were having little effect on the cops; he was behaving like a guilty man. He told conflicting stories about Barbara’s whereabouts and he’d given away some of their household items, and had mailed a package of her clothing to a fictitious address in Arizona. Why on Earth would an innocent man do something like that? Beitzel appeared to be on the verge of a move—in fact he seemed to have developed an interest in learning the Spanish and Chinese languages because several books on both were found in his bedroom.

A break in the case came when Rex Welch, the police chemist, tested a hair sample found on some of the Mauger girl’s clothing, the clothing that had been sent to Arizona, and it appeared to be a match for the hair on the body of the young woman in the brush on Mulholland Drive. The chemist was willing to testify that based on the hair analysis the body he had examined was that of Barbara Mauger.beitzel science

The coroner also issued an appeal to all local dentists to check their files from September 1927 to June 24, 1928 for a record of dental work for Mrs. Barbara Burnholme, the name under which Mauger had been living with Beitzel. The body had three teeth which contained temporary fillings and others that had cavities which indicated further dental work was needed.

The evidence against Russell was stacking up, and LAPD detectives continued to probe their chief suspect with questions regarding Barbara’s whereabouts.

Beitzel stuck to his story that he and Barbara had gone out for a Sunday drive and that they’d had a squabble. He said Barbara got out of the car in a huff and refused to ride home with him so he left her and never looked back. What sort of person drives off and leaves a pregnant woman on a lonely stretch of road at dusk?  He could have given her a while to cool off and then returned to fetch her, but he never did; and when the cops questioned him he didn’t seem to be particularly concerned about her welfare.

mauger pixInvestigators located B.T. Redell, the driver of a private rental limousine, who identified Beitzel as the passenger he took to Mulholland Drive on July 1, only one week after the murder; but even when he was confronted with the chauffeur’s story Russell remained a cool customer, he vehemently denied ever meeting Redell and he met every accusation with a denial.

For his part, Redell recalled every minute of the ride out to the hills. He said that Beitzel had hired him shortly after noon on July 1st at the intersection of Fifth and Broadway.

According to Redell:

“He (Beitzel) was nervous when he first got the car and told me that he had a cache of liquor in the hills. He said he wanted to check it over.”

On the face of it, it was a plausible story. Prohibition was still in effect in 1928 so the notion that a man might have a few cases of illegal hooch hidden in a remote spot wasn’t enough to make the limo driver bat an eye.

Beitzel directed Redell to a brush covered spot along Mulholland and told him to pull over; then he exited the car then walked away from the road into some underbrush.

Redell said:

“He came hurrying back in about twenty minutes and was more nervous than ever. He told me to drive away as fast as possible and while we were driving he smoked cigarette after cigarette and kept looking back over his shoulder. He said someone had found his liquor and was after him.”

Following the odd drive out to the alleged booze cache, Beitzel directed Redell back to Fifth and Figueroa where he paid the driver $9, and then walked north.

It didn’t seem to matter how many details Redell recalled about his his interaction with Beitzel, the suspect never blinked.

In the long run it wouldn’t matter whether Russell blinked or not because the D.A. was confident that he had enough to successfully prosecute him for Barbara’s murder. In fact the D.A. briefly considered charging him with the death of Barbara’s unborn child, whose tiny bones had been found near its mother, but decided that the additional charge might result in a legal tangle.

The Grand Jury agreed with the D.A. and after hearing only a few witnesses they handed down an indictment for first degree murder—a charge which carried a possible death penalty.

While in jail awaiting trial Russel wrote to Barbara’s father, Henry Mauger, Russell expressed his belief that  she was still alive:

“Dear Harry:  I don’t know how you feel toward me for what has happened but I know you do not believe I killed Barbara.  I loved Barbara too much—too much to hurt her, anyway.  I still love her and I do not believe she is dead.”

Beitzel’s letter arrived in the post at almost the same moment as the Mauger’s received a telegram from the LAPD requesting that they come out to identify their daughter’s remains.

Upon their arrival in L.A. the Mauger’s were taken to the place where the body presumed to be Barbara’s was found—the couple wisely refused to look at photos of the woman’s   body and of the baby bones found nearby.

Mr. Mauger said:

“Our only hope is that justice will be done.  If Beitzel did this awful crime, then he should be punished.   If the evidence proves that he did not do it, I still will believe that he was indirectly responsible for her death. If justice is done, that is all I can ask.”

Local wildlife is brutally efficient in reducing  the flesh and blood of a human body to bones, and there were so few bits of flesh left clinging to the corpse that the Mauger’s made the identification of their daughter through their knowledge of her dental work and from the general shape and structure of her skull.

Beitzel’s trial began with a fight over whether or not a large photo of the victim’s remains would be displayed in the courtroom—the D.A. won the skirmish and everyone in the courtroom was privy to the revolting photo.

Another black mark against Beitzel was his attorney’s badgering of Barbara’s father over his identification of her remains.  Mr. Mauger was visibly shaken during his testimony saying: “This is a terrible ordeal for me.”

After deliberating for less than one hour the jury of five women and seven men returned to the courtroom to deliver their verdict. They found Russell Beitzel guilty of first degree murder and offered no recommendation for leniency, which meant that the convicted man would hang.

Beitzel was sentenced to die on the gallows on November 30, 1928; however, the condemned man appealed his sentence which resulted in a delay while the California Supreme Court decided whether or not to grant a new trial.  On April 17, 1929 the Supreme Court denied Beitzel’s appeal and he was re-sentenced to hang—his new date with the gallows was August 2, 1929.

In a desperate eleventh hour attempt to save himself from the noose, Russell Beitzel stated that he had obtained new evidence which suggested that Barbara Mauger was alive and had returned to the east coast.  He also contended that the body found in the Hollywood Hills was not that of his former lover. Beitzel’s plea was sufficient to motivate L.A.’s District Attorney, Buron Fitts, to re-examine the case on the slight chance that someone else had murdered Barbara after Russell had left her–or that the body wasn’t hers at all.

According to Beitzel the reason that Barbara was in hiding and would not come forward had to do with pending charges against her for embezzlement for money she had stolen from the Philadelphia department store where she and Russell had been co-workers.  Barbara’s father disputed the claim of embezzlement and, in fact, the department store had only filed charges against Beitzel.

Governor Young reviewed the findings in Beitzel’s case and was convinced that the man was guilty of murder and that his execution should go forward.

Convicted murderer, Russell Beitzel getting a shave in prison as other inmates look on, Los Angeles, Calif., 1928. [Photo courtesy of UCLA Digital Collection]

Convicted murderer, Russell Beitzel getting a shave in prison as other inmates look on, Los Angeles, Calif., 1928. [Photo courtesy of UCLA Digital Collection]

Described as cheerful, Russell St. Clair Beitzel spent his last hours on death row listening to his phonograph and studying Spanish and ancient history through the University of California extension courses he had been taking.  The L.A. Times slyly noted that the condemned man would be unable to complete the advanced courses for which he had recently registered.

As he ascended to the gallows Russell smiled at the crowd of approximately 30 people who had come to watch him die. He joked with the hangman and asked him if he wanted to make “a couple of practice drops” before going through with the actual execution–the hangman declined.  A black hood was placed over Beitzel’s head and a rope was tightened around his neck.  The trap was sprung at 10:04 a.m. and he was pronounced dead fourteen minutes later.

Among Beitzel’s bequests was a letter to his former death row cell mate, Antone Negra. The letter said.

“Dear Tony–Love and kisses from the next world.  It won’t be long now.  Had telegram from Polly yesterday.  My smile is still with me and can’t be wiped off. My best wishes for your success.  Good-by Old Pal.”

In three postscripts Beitzel added:

“Tell the boys hello for me.

“Has Northcott** moved yet?

“Nice place here.  Plenty big enough for my handsprings, croquet, fox trotting or spin-the-plate”.

Despite his assertion that his smile couldn’t be wiped off, I’ll bet that when the trap opened up and sucked him into hell his grin was replaced by a tortured grimace.

**Gordon Stewart Northcott was tried and convicted for the torture murders of young boys in the infamous Wineville murder case. The case formed the basis for the 2008 film “The Changeling”.  Northcott was hanged at San Quentin on October 2, 1930.

Film Noir Friday: Shoot to Kill [1947]


Welcome!  The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.  Tonight’s feature is SHOOT TO KILL [1947] starring Russell Wade and Susan Walters. Enjoy the film!

TCM says:

During a high-speed car chase with the police, Marian Langdon Dale, her husband Lawrence, the newly elected district attorney, and Dixie Logan, an escaped murderer and crime boss, crash, and Larry and Logan are killed. Later, reporter George “Mitch” Mitchell visits Marian at the hospital and asks her to explain how she and Larry ended up in Logan’s car.


And therein lies the tale…


Tune in tomorrow for the conclusion of the deranged tale: A DEATH ON MULHOLLAND DRIVE!

A Death on Mulholland Drive, Part 2

Barbara Mauger

Barbara Mauger

On Thursday, August 2, 1928, a pair of Boy Scouts were hiking in the area of Stone Canyon above Mulholland Drive. They were curious about the buzzards circling in the sky above them. The scouts didn’t need to possess special wildlife badges to know that buzzards are generally the bearers of bad news for some unfortunate creature, so they took their concerns to Howard Rygaard, a Ranger at City Fire Patrol Station #1.  Upon investigation Rygaard found the nude, badly decomposed and partially dismembered body of a woman. The ranger phoned the police.

The condition of the woman’s body made an immediate identification impossible–she had been ripped apart by coyotes. Detectives found a couple of small clues at the scene: a broken strand of beads, a wedding ring, and shell casings from a .38 caliber revolver.

The detectives began their investigation with the wedding ring in which there was a number  that led them to a pawn shop on South Main Street. The ring had been had been pawned by a woman who identified herself as Mrs. Barber of 841 Golden Avenue. Then they located a missing persons report dated July 23, 1928 in which they found an interesting anonymous tip involving a man named Barber. The tipster said that Barber and his pregnant wife had been seen leaving together in a rented car, apparently to go for a Sunday drive, but when Mr. Barber had returned hours later he was alone.

Buried in the police report was the tipster’s name, Mrs. Gertrude Riebling of 1215 North Avenue 54 in Highland Park. Mrs. Riebling didn’t  know the Barbers–she’d heard the story from a friend of hers who was a neighbor of the missing woman and decided to contact the law.

LAPD Detective Lieutenants Condaffer, Sanderson and Stevens traced Mr. Barber to an engineering firm on Mateo Street where they took him into custody for questioning. He had been employed at the firm for only a few months and not under the name Barber–his co-workers knew him as Russell Burnholme.

During questioning Russell revealed that his surname wasn’t Barber and it wasn’t Burnholme either–he was actually Russell St. Clair Beitzel, a YMCA leader and college graduate from Philadelphia. The police followed up their chat with Russell with a few very enlightening telephone calls to the City of Brotherly Love.

principals in love tragedy

Barbara Burnholme was actually Barbara Mauger, a nineteen  year old waitress whom Russell had met while the two were working at Blauner’s Department Store in Philadelphia. Oh, and there was a Mrs. Beitzel but it wasn’t Barabara. Cops spoke with Jean Mellinger Beitzel, Russell’s legal wife and the mother of his four and five year old sons. Jean said that Russell had deserted her about a year earlier for the Mauger girl, and he’d stolen $300 from the department store’s safe to finance his new life. Jean intimated that marriage and fatherhood had weighed heavy on Russell and that was why he’d fled.

When the cops confronted him with a deserted wife, two kids and a $300 theft, Russell ‘fessed up. But he steadfastly maintained his innocence in Barbara Mauger’s death and kept repeating: “I did not kill her.”  His protestations of innocence were becoming harder for the police to believe because they were turning up a compelling amount of circumstantial evidence in Barbara’s murder, and all  of it pointed directly to Russell.slaying denied

The cops undoubtedly hoped to wrench a confession from Russell when they drove him out to the scene of Barbara’s death (at least they believed it was Barbara, the badly decomposed and mutilated body had not yet been positively ID’d), but according to a newspaper account the suspect was “calm, indifferent and even at times laughing, despite the stench and grewsomeness (sic)”.

In another effort to shake-up the suspect, the cops drove him to the undertaker’s parlor in Van Nuys where the mutilated remains were being held. Russell looked down at the corpse and said: “It looks as though it may have been her.”

NEXT TIME: Science leads to an identification of the dead body on Mulholland Drive as the case against Russell Beitzel continues to build.