Film Noir Friday: Out of the Past [1947]

Poster - Out of the Past (1947)_03

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.

 I was trolling the internet for a film for a film for tonight and I found OUT OF THE PAST, one of my all-time favorites! I’m not sure why it is suddenly available, but I plan to take full advantage of it.  This film is a perfect example of film noir–great script, incredible cast (Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, and Kirk Douglas) and fabulous director, Jacques Tourneur.  If you have never seen this before I suggest that you drop everything and spend approximately 97 minutes in film noir heaven (or perhaps more appropriately, hell).

Enjoy the film!

 TCM says:

In the small town of Bridgeport, California, gas station owner Jeff Bailey is tracked down by Joe Stefanos, a former business associate, who tells him that his boss, Whit Sterling, wants to see him the next morning in nearby Lake Tahoe. After he reluctantly agrees to meet with Whit, Jeff reveals to his trusting girl friend, Ann Miller, his recent past: Three years earlier, while working as a private detective in New York, Jeff, whose real name is Markham, and his partner, Jack Fisher, are hired by gambler Whit to find Whit’s girl friend, Kathie Moffat. According to Whit, Kathie shot him and then disappeared with $40,000 of his money. Assured by Whit that Kathie will not be harmed, Jeff locates her in Acapulco and immediately falls in love with her.

And that, my friends, is when the shit hits the fan.

Nothing to Live For, Conclusion

Alfred Wells wasn’t a sympathetic defendant; and it seemed unlikely that his frequent and profane outbursts in court, aimed specifically at his half-sister Violet Wells the object of his sexual obsession, would earn him points with the jury.

wells sobsHis demeanor completely changed from combative to uncontrollable sobbing when Dr. A.E. Gilbert, county autopsy surgeon, took the stand and began to describe in graphic detail the wounds that killed each of the three victims. Each one of the three had been shot in the back. As Dr. Gilbert testified, Alfred’s head fell forward and he wept. Was he weeping out of sympathy for the dead or the fact that his cowardice in shooting his victims in the back had been revealed in open court?

When Alfred was first arrested he claimed to have no recollection of the murders to which he later confessed. When he was called to testify he repudiated his confession. He explained that he had signed a confession but that, “I gave the Sheriff the kind of thing he wanted–cold turkey, with no holes to craw up in–but it was all phony baloney.” Yet the phony baloney confession fit the facts of the case perfectly.

Alfred’s fallback plan continued to be his convenient amnesia. He said that after Violet vanished he started drinking wine and smoking “loco weed” which left his mind a blank until he found himself in Nevada, a wanted man. Violet was so dumbfounded by Alfred’s testimony she nearly dropped her knitting.

violet knittingOnce the testimony had concluded, Chief Deputy District Attorney John P. Knauf passionately argued for the death penalty. “This is so aggravated a crime–with the defendant callously holding a victim’s young baby in his arm while he shot her in the back–that the death penalty should be inflicted.”

The best Theodore G. Krumm, Alfred’s attorney, could do in rebuttal was to assert that while he believed that his client was guilty of the murders, he also believed that the defendant had no memory of what he had done.

The jury of of five women and seven men deliberated for a mere 30 minutes before finding Alfred Wells guilty on all counts. Upon hearing the verdict he fell back in his chair. But he didn’t stay there. He jumped to his feet and shouted, “I can’t get a fair trial from the doctors here, so I am willing to leave my fate up to the higher court and the doctors at San Quentin.” It was a dumb move among the many that had characterized Wells’ life thus far. His attorney withdrew the insanity plea–thus virtually assuring that his client would perish in the gas chamber.

Alfred’s attempt to make a statement was cut off by Judge Leonard. District Attorney Jerome Kavanaugh, however, was allowed to speak, “It is regrettable this defendant hasn’t three lives we could ask for. If he could be sent into the gas chamber three times it would not atone for these heartless crimes. His worthless carcass is not worth anything compared to the lives of his three innocent victims. When and if the defendant is led into the gas chamber, society will lose nothing.”

When reached for comment on the verdict Violet Wells said that she was relieved that Albert was going to pay for what he’d done.

wells_mug_deadAll appeals on Alfred’s behalf were denied and on December 3, 1942 he was one day away from his execution. When jailers informed him that there was little chance for a reprieve or commutation Alfred said, “It’s all right with me, I haven’t anything to live for.”

Film Noir Friday: Rebecca [1940]

rebecca1Welcome! 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 REBECCA, adapted from a novel by Daphne Du Maurier and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. This 1940 classic stars Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine.

 TCM says:

Maxim de Winter, who is in Monte Carlo to forget the drowning death of his wife Rebecca, meets the demure paid companion of matronly socialite Edythe Van Hopper and begins to court her. The girl falls in love with Maxim and happily accepts when he asks her to be his wife. The bride’s happiness comes to an abrupt end when Maxim takes her to his grand seaside estate, Manderley. There she is tormented by the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, who continually reminds the young bride of the great beauty and elegance of the first Mrs. de Winter and undermines her attempts to assert herself in the household.

Enjoy the movie!


Nothing to Live For, Part 3

hunchback huntedAt 7:00 a.m. on May 11, 1941 the largest manhunt in the history of Southern California began. Under the command of San Bernardino Undersheriff, Jim Stocker, over 1000 volunteers were sent out to comb secluded canyons, desert areas and seldom traveled roads for Ray Wells, brother of Alfred Wells. Alfred, the “Hunchback Slayer”, had murdered his sister-in-law Jean and her friend Rose Destree. Jean and Ray’s baby daughter had survived only because of Rose’s courage–the young woman, although mortally wounded–had dragged herself to a nearby road to summon help.

Sheriff Shay of San Bernardino was convinced that Alfred had murdered Ray because he blamed him for helping his half-sister, Violet, escape his unwanted attentions. Alfred’s obsession with her had turned into emotional and sexual abuse and she feared for her life and the lives of their family members. Violet and her parents were hiding out at an unreported location under police guard.

The day after the manhunt had begun E.E. Thompson and O.E. Hawkins of San Bernardino were walking in the Verdemont district when Hawkins asked Thompson: “If you were a killer, where would you hide a body?” Thompson said he would go higher into the hills where the brush was thickest. They went up the hill and walked for about 30 minutes before they encountered the pungent odor of decaying flesh. They found Ray’s body where it had lain baking in the sun for almost four days. He had been shot in the back of the head.

wells search

Thompson and Hawkins first smelled, then saw, the body of Ray Wells. Wells had been shot in the back of the head.

While the fugitive was being hunted, an inquest was scheduled for May 13 in San Bernardino. There were three dead: Jean Wells, 24, David Raymond Wells, 24,  and Rose Destree, 17. All three had been shot several days before in the foothills near Cajon Pass about 12 miles from San Bernardino. On her deathbed, Rose said that she and Jean had been attacked by Alfred.

Beulah Cline who lived next door to Alfred’s tiny bungalow at 659 Kingman Avenue, testified that she had seen Alfred with Jean, Rose and the baby on the day of the murders. She saw the group leave together at about 6 p.m.   Alfred had returned alone a couple of hours later. He had spoken to Beulah saying: “I got to get a coat. I wrapped mine around the baby!” Then he said: “I haven’t got my job done yet, and I don’t want to be disturbed.” At the time Beulah had no idea what Alfred was talking about.

Once the coroner’s jury had heard all of the witnesses they determined that Ray Wells, Jean Wells and Rose Destree had died as the result of a “homicide at the hands of an unknown person.”

While the search for Alfred continued William Stroud, a neighbor of the wanted man, was arrested for selling a firearm to a paroled convict. Alfred had paid for the gun with $1 and a box of groceries. It was also revealed that Alfred was so filled with hate that he had modified the bullets into dum-dums (expanding rounds) believing that by doing so they would be sure to cause death. The little man was no genius. Cutting “X’s” in a bullet to create a dum-dum is difficult. Maybe it is easier when you are filled with rage. Alfred also rubbed the homemade dum-dums in garlic in the belief that even if he didn’t kill his victims out right they would die of poison. Rubbing bullets in garlic is the stuff of legend. Mafia hit men were thought to do it and it sounds scary as hell. The truth is that you’d need more garlic than just a coating and even then it’s highly unlikely that you could deliver a lethal dose that way. Oh well, his pre-rampage ritual probably made him feel empowered.

Alfred was still at large at the end of May, three weeks after the murders. The Los Angeles Times referred to his crimes as a “savage orgy of hate.” It would be difficult to argue with that.

wells_custodyOn June 6 in a hobo jungle in Spokane, Washington, Alfred was busted on a charge of carrying a concealed weapon. He’d been rousted in a routine check of suspicious characters. He tried to deny his identity, claiming to be Alfred H. Blake from Trout Creek, Montana, but given his distinctive appearance his denial was an exercise in futility. He finally copped to being Alfred Wells but he refused to confess to the murders—in fact he said if he had committed the murders then he didn’t recall them. “I don’t remember a thing about any triple killing. I remember leaving my car in Las Vegas and I knew that I would be wanted for car theft and for parole violation. I gave my name as Alfred Blake when picked up by Spokane officers, but I told them later that night I was Alfred Wells and that they would find I was wanted for parole violation They told me I was wanted for three murders. I don’t remember anything about that.”  He would later confess.

wells screamsPrior to his trial, which began on October 21, 1941, Alfred made an escape attempt using a gun he had carved out of soap. Alfred had probably been inspired by the story that John Dillinger had used a gun carved out of soap (or wood) to escape from jail. Alfred also tried to kill himself twice while in custody. Despite his desperate attempts to avoid trial, Alfred made it to court. His attorney, Theodore G. Krumm, entered pleas of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity on behalf of his client. The first witness called was Violet Wells, the object of Alfred’s lust and the alleged motivation for his murderous rampage. According to the Los Angeles Times as Violet began to describe how they “entered their unnatural relationship” Alfred leaped to his feet, raised both fists above his head and screamed, “You dirty __ __ __!” He was subdued by Sheriff’s deputies. They handcuffed him to a belt which was buckled around his waist. A 10 minute recess was called as Alfred continued  screaming. “I’ll make her tell the truth! I’ve got something to say. She said she’d do just what she is doing; that she would do anything or say anything or swear anything to put me in the gas chamber.”

alfred and violetAs Violet resumed her sordid testimony, Judge Leonard halted the proceedings. “If there is anyone in the courtroom under 21, he or she will leave at once. Those who do not leave will have their names turned over to the juvenile authorities for investigation.”

Violet told of Alfred’s threats to harm her, their family members or himself if she didn’t accede to his demands. “He was always turning on the gas, grabbing a butcher knife and threatening to kill himself or some of the rest of us–or some other damn fool thing…” She said that Alfred had forced her to share his bed. “I wouldn’t have crossed him–I knew better. He wouldn’t have hurt me. He’d hurt somebody else…he hated Jean–there wasn’t anything under the sun he didn’t call her–the same things as he called me.”

violet weepsViolet Wells Davis, Alfred’s stepmother, took the stand and testified how the defendant had “always been like a son to me.” She had permitted her daughter to live with Alfred as his housekeeper. When family members realized what was re,ally going on they got Violet out of the house.  That’s when Alfred came completely unhinged.

NEXT TIME: Will the jury of five women and seven men convict Alfred?

Film Noir Friday — Sunday Matinee: Michael Shayne, Private Detective [1941]

michael-shayne-posterWelcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open for a Sunday matinee. Your faithful proprietor was otherwise engaged this past Friday night at ’53 Fest at the Los Angeles Police Museum! The special event featured James Ellroy and Glynn Martin reading from the museum’s new book “LAPD 53”.  Also on the bill was Nathan Marsak, architectural historian and all around swell guy. Nathan introduced and discussed a film from the museum’s archives, narrated by none other than Chief William H. Parker, about the Police Administration Building which would later bear his name. Yours truly introduced and discussed a crime scene walk-through film on the “Croquet Mallet Murder”, also from the archives. The film was originally shown to jurors at the trial of Edward Richard Fredericks–the case is featured in “LAPD ’53”.

Now it’s time to grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Today’s feature is MICHAEL SHAYNE, PRIVATE DETECTIVE based on the novels by Brett Halliday. The film was directed by Eugene Forde and starred Lloyd Nolan, Marjorie Weaver, Joan Valerie and Elizabeth Patterson.

As the movie poster suggested: “Laugh and thrill with fiction’s favorite new sleuth.”

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Hiram Brighton, the racing commissioner, hires detective Michael Shayne to watch his daughter Phyllis, a compulsive gambler, while he is away in New York. Shayne is also offered a job by Larry Kincaid to collect money from Harry Grange, a gambling racketeer who welched on a bet, but Shayne declines his offer. Soon afterward, Shayne comes face to face with Grange when he finds him feeding Phyllis money to play the roulette wheel.

Nothing to Live For, Part 2

Alfred Wells shot Rose Destree once under her heart and a second time in the abdomen. As soon as she heard Alfred pull away in the car, Rose began a slow, painful crawl back toward the road. She tried to coax 13 month old Hester Violet away from her mother but the child refused to budge. Every few minutes Rose stopped crawling long enough to catch her breath so that she could scream for help.

It took four hours for anyone to come to Rose’s aid. Lester Bellah, B. Bjorkman and his son Lars, heard the screams and found Rose near death. They discovered Hester Violet in the arms of her deceased mother. Deputy Sheriff Bill Lungstrom was the one to reach down to pick up the baby, but she clung to her mother without making a sound. Lungstrom later said: “I’ll be a long time forgetting that.” Rose was transported to a hospital where she had surgery to remove one of the bullets. As soon as she awakened from anesthesia she told San Bernardino County Undersheriff James W. Stocker that she believed that the dead woman, Albert’s sister-in-law Jean Wells, had not only known Violet’s whereabouts but had actually driven her to Escondido to keep her from Albert.

rose destreeRose’s condition was critical but she continued to provide information to Undersheriff Stocker in the hopes that she could prevent Albert from killing anyone else. She also described her ordeal in excruciating detail to Stocker. She said that after being shot: “I fell to the ground and I lay perfectly still on my side, in spite of the terrible pain. I peeped past my arm and saw Al put the baby in Jean’s arms and start turning back toward me. I shut my eyes instantly and lay as still as I could. He looked us both over a few times, with the gun still in his hands, and then turn away. Then I heard him crashing his way through the brush toward the road.”

hester wellsStocker located Violet in Escondido where she was hiding out with her parents. He urged the family to go to the police station for protection. Other members of Albert’s family were assigned police guards around the clock until Albert was either captured or killed. Norman Wells, one of Albert’s brothers, was found at Sunny Slope Ranch in Rialto where he was an employee. He was holding a shotgun across his knees: “Al better not come around here,” he told the officers. Norman need not have worried, Albert was fixated on finding Violet and he thought his brother Ray, Jean’s husband, knew where she was hiding. Albert showed up at Ray’s house, showed him Jean’s note and, believing she was still alive, Ray left with Albert.

wells-abandon-autoOn the evening of May 9, Special Agents found the 1932 black Ford coupe in a garage in Las Vegas near the Union Pacific route between San Bernardino and Salt Lake City. The agents feared that Ray Wells had met the same fate as his wife.

Tragically, Rose succumbed to her wounds. San Bernardino Sheriff E.L. Shay asked the LAPD to send out a short-wave broadcast with a description of Alfred to all major U.S. cities. The broadcast gave a physical description of Alfred and included additional information: “Fingerprint classification one over one, T over R, six over eight. Has receding forehead, prominent ears. Suspect has .38-caliber Hopkins & Allen NP hammerless revolver, three-inch barrel, Serial R6334.”

The police desperately wanted to find Albert. It was likely that he was guilty of three murders–unless Ray was found alive.  If he had successfully hopped a freight train he could be anywhere.

NEXT TIME: Will Albert Wells be found?

Nothing to Live For, Part 1

By May 1941 Alfred Wells had been in trouble with the law for most of his 31 years. In 1927 he was sentenced to from 18 months to three years in Pittsburgh, PA for robbery, and in September, 1934, he was arrested while robbing a gas station in Fullerton, CA. He served five years of a five to life sentence in San Quentin before he was paroled on November 24, 1939. Over the next couple of years he was busted for vagrancy and various other petty crimes, but nothing big enough to send him back to prison.

wells_mug 1935_resize_cropAlfred was neither the brightest guy, nor was he the most articulate, so his go-to behaviors for problem solving were threats and violence. He had learned his people skills at home as a kid. His stepfather used to restrain him while his half-brother, Ray, savagely beat him. He was the perfect size for a punching bag (4′ 10 3/8″ according to his prison records), and he was slightly hunchbacked. He was described as having “very dark brown or black hair, a knot on back just above waist, very pronounced hunchback, limps when walks, leans forward and to left when walks, knife wounds left side of abdomen, left hip and back.” With no report of a traumatic injury to his spine, Alfred’s hump may have been the result of congenital kyphosis. If there was any medical help available for the condition at the time neither Alfred nor his family could have afforded it.

Not long after his parole Alfred moved to San Bernardino. Most of his family lived there and no matter what they had done to him at least they were blood.  He asked his stepmother, Violet Wells Davis, if his 19 year old half-sister, Violet, could work as his live-in housekeeper. She agreed and when Violet went to live with Alfred nobody thought anything of it. None of the family knew that Alfred had become obsessed with Violet and that he immediately coerced her into a sexual relationship. Alfred threatened to kill family members and/or himself if Violet ever left him. The incestuous relationship was kept a secret for nearly a year before relatives finally became aware of what was happening and, without saying a word to Alfred, spirited away the object of his obsessive lust to her parent’s home in Escondido. When he learned that Violet had disappeared, and nobody would admit to knowing where she had gone, Alfred went berserk.

On May 7, 1941Jean Wells, Ray’s wife, their 13 month old daughter, Hester Violet, and a house guest, 17 year old Rose Destree, drove Alfred out to the Devore brush lands, ostensibly for a job at a chicken ranch. When they arrived at a secluded spot Alfred forced the two women from the car  and then confronted them with a gun. He demanded to know the whereabouts of Violet, but neither woman would talk. Alfred then demanded that Jean write a note to Ray–it read: “Honey, Al is holding Rosie and the baby and me. He wants Violet returned to him. I think it is better that you do what he says and go with him, and then you can come to us.” Jean must have sensed she had little time left so she added a postscript: “Don’t forget our slogan, Dear–I love you always.”wells_jean_picAlfred pocketed the note and held the baby in the crook of his left arm. Then he jammed his .32 caliber revolver against Jean’s chest and pulled the trigger. She died where she fell. He turned the weapon on Rose and fired. She collapsed on the hard, sandy ground, just as Jean had done. Altogether Alfred fired four shots, two into each of his victims. He placed Hester on Jean’s chest. Even if she lived through the night, Hester faced a horrible death the next day–the temperatures were expected to reach triple digits.

Satisfied with his handiwork Alfred turned away from his victims, got into the car, and drove away. He was determined to locate Violet.

NEXT TIME: Alfred’s search for Violet, and his deadly rampage, continues.