Film Noir Friday: The Second Woman [1950]



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 SECOND WOMAN starring Robert Young and Betsy Drake. Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

In flashback from a ‘Rebecca’-style beginning: Ellen Foster, visiting her aunt on the California coast, meets neighbor Jeff Cohalan and his ultramodern clifftop house. Ellen is strongly attracted to Jeff, who’s being plagued by unexplainable accidents, major and minor. Bad luck, persecution…or paranoia? Warned that Jeff could be dangerous, Ellen fears that he’s in danger, as the menacing atmosphere darkens.

A Thanksgiving Eve Date with the Gas Chamber, Conclusion

DITSON_WARDAfter shooting Bob Ward to death with a .38, Allen Ditson had to figure out what to do with the body. At least Carlos Cisneros was there to help him. Carlos began to dig a grave with his bare hands until Allen brought him a butcher knife from the car. Once the grave was ready Allen said that they would have to dismember Bob to prevent identification if someone should discover his remains. Using the butcher knife they removed Bob’s head and each arm at the elbow. They buried the remains and then tossed the head and arms into the truck of the car and drove back Allen’s store.

While Allen and Carlos were coping with the dead body, Keith Slaten turned up at the house of his friend Martha Hughes. He told her that he’d been in a fight and wanted to clean up his car. He was covered with blood and shaking like a leaf and Martha told him she didn’t believe he’d been in a fight.  He blurted out: “Well, God damn. All right, so we killed him.” Allen couldn’t keep his mouth shut either. The day after Bob’s murder he told Eugene Bridgeford everything that had happened after he pleaded illness and left.

What happened to Bob’s head and arms? Allen and Carlos took them to the home of Christine Longbrake a few days after the murder. Christine was an acquaintance of Allen’s and a couple of weeks before the crime she’d been in Allen’s shop and he’d told her that “there was someone they had to get rid of” because the man was trying to blackmail him.  Allen asked to use her garage as a place to get rid of the guy but she thought he was kidding. When Allen and Carlos turned up with two boxes Christine knew she couldn’t refuse any request they made. She stayed upstairs while the boxes were taken to the cellar. Allen knocked Bob’s teeth out with a hammer then placed what was left of him in the hole and then poured in a bottle of acid.  When the men came back upstairs Christine smiled nervously and said: “Is it somebody I know?” They smiled back and Allen said that she wouldn’t know him. Then he and Carlos drove out to Hansen Dam and tossed Bob’s teeth and dental plate into a gravel pit.DITSON_PIC

Christine hadn’t seen the last of Allen and Carlos. Not more than a few days after they’d buried the boxes in her cellar Carlos stopped by and told her everything. He even told her what was in the boxes underneath her house. Her nerves weren’t soothed when he told her that he could never kill a woman. In fact she was so unnerved that she told Allen she was going to move “…because I couldn’t stand living in this house …” Allen told her that if it bothered her so much he’d pay her rent if she’d just hang on a bit longer.

A bit longer turned out to be several months. In June 1960 Allen asked George Longbrake, Christine’s brother-in-law, if he would dig up the two arms and head under the house. George agreed and Allen bought him some aluminum foil so he could wrap up the bits of Bob that remained. Then, since it seemed the entire Longbrake family was involved anyway, Allen asked Wynston Longbrake, Christine’s husband, if he’d “help bury something.” Allen, Carlos, and Wynston drove from L.A. on Highway 99 to a place about 14 miles from Castaic Junction. He turned off the highway for about 100 yards. Carlos waited in the car while the other two carried the macabre foil wrapped packages out of sight, then dug a post-hole and buried them.

DITSON_CARLOSBecause Allen and Carlos were incapable of keeping quiet about what they’d done it was only a matter of time before the law caught up with them. The remaining gang members began to fear Allen more than they did the cops. On June 17, 1960 Keith Slaten went to the police and a few days later Eugene Bridgeford did the same. The statements were enough for the police to get a warrant to examine Carlos’ Cadillac–they found traces of human blood in the trunk. One day later the police conducted a similar examination of Keith’s Ford and found human blood on the upholstery. On June 28, “sometime after 1:00 p.m.” Allen and Carlos were taken into custody.

Allen maintained his innocence, but Carlos appeared to be genuinely remorseful and he wanted to talk. In his 1959 book, The Compulsion to Confess, Theodore Reik said “There is … an impulse growing more and more intense suddenly to cry out his secret in the street before all people, or in milder cases, to confide it at least to one person, to free himself from the terrible burden. The work of confession is thus that emotional process in which the social and psychological significance of the crime becomes preconscious and in which all powers that resist the compulsion to confess are conquered.”DITSON_HEADLINE1

Allen’s protestations of innocence didn’t sway the jury of five men and seven women.  He was found guilty and sentenced to death. Carlos was also found guilty in Bob’s murder and sentenced to death. In early November 1962, with their executions imminent, Governor Brown presided over a clemency hearing. Carlos’ remorse saved him. His sentence was commuted to life.

Allen never admitted his guilt to the police, but he did confess to nearly everyone else he knew. On November 21, 1962, without requesting a special holiday meal, Allen kept his Thanksgiving Eve date with the gas chamber.

A Thanksgiving Eve Date with the Gas Chamber

November 20,1962. Thanksgiving was two days away, but 41-year-old Allen Ditson wasn’t looking forward to it. He wouldn’t spend the day gnawing on a turkey drumstick or fighting with a cousin to claim the last slice of pumpkin pie. In fact Allen wouldn’t have the classic holiday dinner at all, unless he requested it for his last meal. If Governor Brown didn’t commute his death sentence, like he had done for Allen’s pal Carlos Cisneros, he would be executed in San Quentin’s gas chamber on Thanksgiving Eve.

*  *  *

DITSON_HEADLINE1In 1959 Allen owned a small jewelry and watch repair shop at 7715 Hollywood Way in the San Fernando Valley. The former Kansas farm boy was the father of two, a WWII veteran and former pilot who had spent five years in uniform before being honorably discharged. When he was mustered out of the service he took courses in watch and jewelry repair then opened his own business. He worked long hours and he continued to take classes related to his trade. The time he spent away from home was hard on his marriage; so hard in fact that he and his wife separated. Even though they no longer lived together he saw his children “at least twice a week” and contributed to their support. His mother-in-law said “he’s been good to all of us.”

On the surface Allen’s life appeared completely normal, but it wasn’t. The seemingly average businessman had a secret, he was the mastermind of a gang of violent armed robbers. Under his direction the gang of about 15 men had netted an estimated $150,000 (equivalent to approximately $1.2 in current dollars) between January and October of 1959.

Like most gang leaders Allen had a lieutenant, his name was Carlos Gonzales Cisneros. According to court records Carlos lost his mother to tuberculosis and spent most of his infancy and childhood in foundling homes. He left school in 1950 when he was 17. He married, had four kids and worked at Lockheed as a sheet metal worker. He was 24-years-old and working the swing shift as a sheet metal worker at Lockheed when he met Allen. Allen was already running a gang and he slowly brought Carlos in. He began by telling the young man that “it would be nice to see him driving a Cadillac.” Eventually Carolos owned two Cadillacs.

Allen used skills he’d learned in the military to operate the gang. He was adamant that each member carry out his “assignment” with precision. If things went sideways and a gang member was busted he was to keep his mouth shut. Allen would see to it that he was provided with an attorney. Allen also made it clear that the penalty for being a “squealer” or a blackmailer was death.

During September and October 1959 a series of robberies were committed by Allen and Carlos and several gang members: Robert Ward, Keith Slaten, and Eugene and Norman Bridgeford.. During a robbery in October Robert “Bob” Ward failed his assignment. He was supposed to securely bind the store owners. He tied the man tightly, but the woman was able to free herself. Once freed the man grabbed his rifle and began shooting at the fleeing robbers. As they ran Eugene pitched the stolen cash box into some shrubs in an alley. Later that night Eugene and Carlos returned to retrieve the cash box and were busted on the spot. About a week later they made bail. During a meeting with Allen, Carlos and Eugene were informed that Bob was demanding money in exchange for keeping quiet about the gang.

On November 6, 1959, Allen told Eugene that he had “decided that tonight would be the best night to get rid of Bob Ward” because he was “through being blackmailed by a no-good-son-of-a-bitch like him.” Allen had already paid Bob $100 but had no intention of giving him one dime more. Allen came up with a plan to “…get rid of him.” Allen stayed at the store and let Carlos and Eugene implement his plan to take care of Bob.

Carlos and Eugene drove to a liquor store to pick up a couple of pints of booze. They knew that Bob was a heavy drinker and thought that he would be “more amiable” with a few shots of booze in him. Then they went to the house Bob shared with fellow gang member Keith Slaten. Carlos parked the Cadillac on the street in front of the house. Keith had seen them pull up and went out to greet them.  Keith and Bob thought they were going to pull another robbery. The men piled into Keith’s Ford. Keith was behind the wheel, Bob was in the passenger seat, and Eugene and Carlos sat in the back. They spent about 45 minutes drinking. Carlos picked up a hammer from the floor of Keith’s car and brought it down on the back of Bob’s head. Bob fell against Keith and screamed: “Keith, help me. They are trying to kill me.” Keith had his own life to worry about and gave Bob a shove so he’d be an easier target for Carlos–then he ran into the house. Carlos called him back and said, “just take it easy and it’ll be all right.”

In the interim Bob had managed to get out of the car and was leaning against a tree when Carlos found him and beat him down to the ground. Carlos backed his car into the driveway and after delivering a few more blows to Bob’s head put him in the trunk of the car. Carlos and Eugene drove off and Keith followed them in the Ford. Carlos had driven about half a mile before Bob regained consciousness and started pleading from his confinement in the trunk to be released. He said he thought his eye had come out of its socket. Carlos told him to be quiet and then turned up the car radio so he wouldn’t be able to hear Bob call his name.

Now thoroughly rattled Carlos misjudged a turn, struck the curb with the front wheel of the car and blew a tire. He spotted a pay phone, gave Eugene some change and told him to call Allen and ask him to bring a spare tire and a heavy duty jack (after all it was a Cadillac with a man in the trunk). About an hour later Allen arrived with a friend of his, Leonard York. They changed the tire and then Carlos, with Bob still in the trunk, took off for the jewelry store. Eugene and Leonard rode with Allen back to the store. When they arrived they could hear unintelligible noises coming from the trunk of the Cadillac. Allen said they’d have to get rid of Bob before the neighbors heard him and called the cops. Eugene took Leonard home and then begged off the rest of the evening saying he was sick.

Allen took a .38 revolver from the store and he and Carlos drove Bob out to the Newhall Pass. Allen opened the trunk and ordered Bob to get out. Unaided, the seriously injured man got out and stood on his feet. He asked for a cigarette. Allen shot him in the chest. He fell, got up, and ran toward Carlos. As they rolled over an embankment Allen shot Bob in the back paralyzing him. Allen walked down the incline to see if Bob was finally dead. He wasn’t. He said, “Give me another one.” Allen knelt down beside him, pressed the .38 to his head and killed him.

NEXT TIME: Which will it be for Allen Ditson? A turkey dinner with more to come, or the gas chamber?

Happy Thanksgiving?

jail menu

Most people spend Thanksgiving week overeating turkey, stuffing and pie and overspending at the Black Friday sales. This week Deranged L.A. Crimes takes a look at the dark side of Thanksgiving. The robberies, burglaries, and occasional homicides. While they may not celebrate the holiday like the rest of us, the miscreants are only human and their bad behavior doesn’t mean that they don’t crave a sumptuous meal–even if it’s served to them in a jail cell.


If you’re curious, and you know that you are, here’s the Thanksgiving Day menu for Los Angeles County Jail in 1919 as prepared by Captain George Ganagner and the jail chef:

Soup — Cream of Tomato
Celery Hearts
Ripe Olives
Garden Radishes
Baked fresh ham
Candied sweet potatoes
Combination salad — Thousand Island dressing
Spiced Plum Pudding
Fresh Apple Pie
French rolls — bread and butter

Among the people to enjoy the feast were Lewis B. Harris. Harris, convicted of looting the First National Bank of Artesia.  Harris was sitting in the slammer awaiting an appeal. Joining Harris was M.P. McDonald, wife killer, who was waiting to find out if he’d go to prison for life or hang; James Cameron, convicted of second degree murder waiting on his appeal; Matthew Joseph who pleaded guilty to a charge of second degree murder, and Mrs. Ella R. Kehr who was accused of assisting in the murder of a woman friend in Hotchkiss, Colorado.

Other diners included several suspected killers, a con-artist, an extortionist, and a forger. Can you imagine the dinner conversation?

Next time: More Thanksgiving mayhem.

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid [1982]


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 a comedic homage to noir: DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID starring Steve Martin, Rachel Ward and Carl Reiner.  Enjoy the movie!

IDMB says:

When a famous cheese maker dies in a freak car crash, his daughter (Rachel Ward) is convinced that it was no accident. She thinks he was murdered for his top-secret cheese recipes. To prove her theory, she hires detective Roy Reardon (Steve Martin). His quest to find out what happened to the missing man brings him face-to-face with movie legends, actors such as Humphrey Bogart, Alan Ladd and Burt Lancaster, via footage from classic film noir and crime films.

No Hands on the Clock [1941]


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 NO HANDS ON THE CLOCK starring Chester Morris and Jean Parker.  Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Private detective Humphrey Campbell informs his harried boss that not only has he tracked down the missing girl from his last case, but also married her. Before they can start their honeymoon, Campbell is dragged into another missing person case, which develops into a kidnapping related to a plague of bank robberies. By investigating a skein of blondes, redheads and brunettes, he invokes the suspicions of the Feds, as well as his jealous new bride.

The Maladjusted Black Sheep, Conclusion

welch at crime2Gerald Welch confessed to killing Dolores Fewkes claiming that it was a suicide pact gone wrong. Sheriff’s investigators, Detective Sergeant Charles Gregory and his partner, L.E. Case, took him out to the lonely picnic ground where the crime had occurred for a reenactment. The place was peaceful, tucked away in a grove of tall pine treees. The picnic bench where Dolores had been shot was stained with her blood and so was the sandy soil beneath it.

Gerald told the detectives that he and Dolores had stayed in the car for most of the night because it was so cold. Too cold to commit suicide? Gerald said: “It got a little warmer about 5 a.m. so we got out of the car and walked through the pines. Then I told her to sit down at the picnic table and she did–just like she was going to eat a picnic lunch. I told her to close her eyes and she did. Then I started to pull the trigger… I guess i started 15 times, because that takes a lot of courage… you know it takes courage. The first shot made just a hole, like a branding iron, and she screamed so I shot the bullet I had saved for me. She fell onto the table, screaming hard. I just couldn’t stand it…” When she started screaming Gerald took the butt end of the rifle and beat her with it until the weapon shattered in his hands.dolores_dad_testify

Gerald told the cops over and over that Dolores had agreed to the suicide pact, that she wanted to die with him. But her father, 38-year-old Ivan Fewkes, disagreed.  He said that her last day had been a happy one and that she’d shown no signs depression or unhappiness. She knitted a “…little butterfly” for her dress and was anticipating a vacation to Idaho. She was going to spend the evening with one of her girl friends in Long Beach, but she cancelled when she got a call from Gerald. Ivan recalled that Gerald: “…telephoned her and said he had a surprise for her and that it was very important that he see her. What was so important? Ivan said that Dolores and Gerald had: “…been working radio jingles together and Dolores thought may they had won. When Welch came for her and she asked about the surprise though, he told her that he’d have to tell her later.” The prize for the radio jingle contest was a new car–no wonder Dolores broke the date with her friend and agreed to go with Gerald.

dolores_funeral3A few days following her death the 16-year-old was placed in an open casket surrounded by several large floral wreaths. Her funeral was held in North Long Beach and she was laid to rest in Rose Hills Memorial Park, Whittier. At least Gerald’s request to a judge to be allowed to attend her funeral had been denied. Her parents and surviving siblings were suffering enough without having to share one of the worst days of their lives with Dolores’ killer.

Despite his confession to Pasadena police, when it came time for Gerald  to enter a plea at his arraignment he plead not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity.  Superior Judge Thomas L. Ambrose then set the case for trail June 10 before Judge Charles W. Fricke.

On June 10 Gerald appeared in court in good spirits. He sat at the defense table and spoke to newsmen: “I guess I got all fouled up from reading too many books. I’m a victim of my own miscalculations. I really don’t need an attorney (Charles M. Astle), but my father hired him to see I get a square deal. The worst I can get–death–is just what I want.” Charles Astle told Gerald he would most likely get a life term and be free in 25 years. Gerald protested: “That isn’t what I want. Why don’t they give me a gun? then I could shoot myself and join Dolores in heaven.” Apparently no one told Gerald that he was a poor candidate for wings and a harp.

About 2 years prior to the murder Gerald had served three months in the Navy before being medically discharged. He volunteered an explanation to reporters: “It was a maladjustment or something like schizophrenia.” Describing himself he said: “I guess I was kind of a black sheep. I’d worked all my life and Dolores and I were going to get married. Then I got fed up with things and we decided that marriage wasn’t for us.”

gerald_guilty2The all-day hearing in Judge Fricke’s court began with Gerald pleading guilty to murdering Dolores. The judge read letters written by Dolores to Gerald. One of them was a poignant reminder of Dolores’ youth. Her declaration of love was surrounded by biology class doodles and it read: “I told you once that I could never love another guy and I still mean it. What good is loving a guy when he doesn’t love you enough to care whether he hurts you or not?” Like most high school girls in 1947 she dreamed of marriage. Among her notebook scribbles she had practiced signatures “Mrs. Jerry Welch,” Mrs. Dolores Welch” and “Mrs. G.S. Welch.” Fraught with the expected teenage angst, another of Dolores’ letters to Gerald read: “I’ll tell you what I expected of you. I wanted you to see me as much as possible, to think about me as much as I do you–to not want to go anywhere without you, but it was impossible. These few things would have kept me happy, happy just to know that you don’t enjoy doing things without me. I guess it didn’t work out. I don’t know what you are going to do, but as for me, I’ll probably go on living in a rut, going to school, then to college. I’ll never ever be seen with another one unless it is you. Unless you think you want me bad enough to make me happy, I’ll wait for you forever if I have to. Yours forever, Dolores”

Her letters to Gerald were exactly what you would expect from a 16-year-old girl, but in none of them did she say that she wanted to die with him. She saw herself going off to college, albeit in a state of misery due to a broken heart, but she was thinking of her future not picking out a dress in which to be buried.dolores

Judge Fricke ruled that the crime was murder in the first degree and sentenced Gerald to life in prison. Gerald responded to the verdict saying: “I’m terribly disappointed about the verdict but I expected it. I think it’s a dirty trick. No one can understand what happened. I just want to join Dolores so we can be happy together. At the first opportunity I am going to rectify the judges sentence.”

As far as I’ve been able to tell Gerald never made good on his threat to take his own life. Did anyone really believe that he would? I searched for him in prison records but have had no luck so far. It’s like he’s a ghost. My guess is he did 25 years, give or take, just as his attorney had predicted. Some time in the late 1960s or early 1970s he walked away from prison a free man.