Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, Milk Duds, a Coke, and find a seat.
Tonight’s feature is THE GLASS KEY ], starring George Raft, Edward Arnold, and Claire Dodd.
Based on the 1931 novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett, THE GLASS KEY was remade in 1942, and starred Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd.
Crime boss Paul Madvig, who has been running the city for ten years, decides to reform and joins the campaign to re-elect Senator John T. Henry, whose daughter, Janet, Paul hopes to marry. When bibulous gang member Walter Ivans kills a man in a car accident, Paul refuses to help clear him. Paul then threatens gangster Shad O’Rory, who runs a gambling house called the Four-Leaf Clover, that he is going to close down his club and clean up the town.
Six weeks into the Black Dahlia investigation and detectives had little to show for their efforts. Then, suddenly, it looked like they finally caught a break.
On February 26, 1947, a motorist, Clarence F. Gutchem, discovered a young woman on Willow Street in Long Beach. Lying on an embankment, it appeared she rolled there after being tossed from a car. She was partially nude and bound with strips of her underwear. Gutchem notified police.
They transported the girl to Seaside Hospital where doctors found bruises, scratches and a cigarette burn on her left wrist, but no signs of rape. She identified herself as Jacqueline Mae Stang, a seventeen-year-old student at Polytechnic High School in Long Beach. Detective Inspector C.J. Novotny arrived to take Jacqueline’s statement.
She described her attacker as a swarthy, middle-aged man; but she couldn’t recall much else. Doctors released her into her parents’ care.
The day following the attack, juvenile officer Margie Cale paid Jacqueline a visit. Jacqueline told the same story she gave Detective Novotny, but she added more details. She stated she was walking home from school at 6 pm when she noticed a man following her. Spooked, she ran, but the man caught up with her, grabbed her arm and pulled her into an alley. The man put a chloroformed leather glove over her mouth. She struggled, but lost consciousness. She came to and realized she was almost naked. Her attacker scratched her and blew cigarette smoke into her mouth. Jacqueline said, “he laughed fiendishly.” She was frightened she would die until a stray dog appeared and started barking. Startled, the man ran to his car and sped off.
Jacqueline’s account of her attack was harrowing. However, Margie’s experience with kids taught her to read between the lines, and she knew when they were lying. The pieces didn’t fit, and she didn’t believe a word of Jacqueline’s story.
Realizing Margie saw through her, Jacqueline confessed. She said, “I tied myself, I scratched myself and I burned myself.” Margie went to her boss, juvenile superintendent Joseph M. Kennick. Together, they went to Jacqueline’s parents.
What prompted Jacqueline to make up such a horrendous story and harm herself? The attractive teenager refused to answer. Detective Captain L. Q. Martin questioned some of Jacqueline’s school friends. The friends told Detective Martin Jacqueline seemed obsessed with details of the murder. They said Jacqueline asked them, “I wonder if I’d be expelled from school if I should be attacked?”
Newspaper coverage hinted that Jacqueline’s reason for the hoax may have had something to do with a football player. Was she trying to get his attention? Jacqueline remained tight-lipped.
Jacqueline’s confession came as a tremendous disappointment to police, who hoped they finally had a link to the Black Dahlia killer. Kennick said they would take her to Juvenile Court and hold her on a charge of giving police false information.
No further reports of Jacqueline’s misadventure appeared in the newspapers, so it is likely the juvenile court felt her self-inflicted wounds were enough punishment.
Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, Milk Duds, a Coke, and find a seat.
Tonight’s feature is JOHNNY APOLLO , starring Tyrone Power, Dorothy Lamour, Edward Arnold, and Lloyd Nolan.
After his father, a multimillion-dollar stockbroker, is indicted for embezzlement and sentenced to prison, Bob Cain Jr., feels betrayed and condemns the old man. He then quits college and begins to search for a job. Because of his father’s notoriety, however, Bob is denied job after job and is still unemployed one year later. When Mickey Dwyer, a notorious gangster who was sentenced on the same day as his father, is paroled from prison, Bob decides to visit Dwyer’s lawyer, Judge Emmett T. Brennan, to see if he can win a parole for his father. While waiting for the attorney, Bob meets “Lucky” Dubarry, Dwyer’s girl friend. After Brennan informs Bob that only money can win a parole, Bob assumes the name of Johnny Apollo and joins Dwyer’s gang in order to raise enough money to get his father out of jail.
In the days following the discovery of Elizabeth Short’s body, crumpled up confessions given by every sad drunk and deranged publicity seeker littered the local landscape. Most of the confessors were men. But even though none of the women who confessed were guilty, the cops thought maybe a woman had committed the murder. After all, L.A. has its share of female killers.
The Herald ran side-by-side photos of three homicidal women arrested in L.A. Louise Peete (one of only four women ever executed by the State of California) was a serial killer. Police arrested her for murder in the 1920s. Found guilty, she served eighteen years in San Quentin. A few years after her release, she committed another murder for which she paid with her life.
Winnie Ruth Judd committed two murders in Arizona. Police arrested her in L.A. when a trunk containing the dismembered remains of Hedvig Samuelson and Anne Le Roi leaked bodily fluids in the baggage claim section of a local train station.
In 1922, Clara Phillips (aka “Tiger Girl”) murdered Alberta Meadows, the woman she suspected was a rival for her husband’s affections. She struck Meadows repeatedly with a hammer, and then, in a fit of adrenalin fueled rage, she rolled a 50 lb. boulder onto the torso of the corpse.
The possibility of a woman murdering Short wasn’t far-fetched. The Herald featured a series of columns written by psychologist Alice La Vere. La Vere previously profiled Short’s killer as a young man without a criminal record, but she was open to the killer being a woman. In fact, she abruptly shifted gears from identifying a young man as the slayer to enthusiastically embracing the notion of “… a sinister Lucrezia Borgia — a butcher woman whose crime dwarfs any in the modern crime annals.”
La Vere was an expert for hire, and if the Herald editors had asked her to write a profile of the killer as a mutant Martian alien, she’d likely have done it. Still, she made a few insightful comments in her column. “Murderers leave behind them a trail of fingerprints, bits of skin and hair. The slayer of ‘The Black Dahlia’ left the most telltale clue of all–-the murder pattern of a degenerate, vicious feminine mind.”
Even more interesting was La Vere’s exhortation to police to look for an older woman. She said, “Police investigators should look for a woman older than ‘The Black Dahlia.’ This woman who either inspired the crime or actually committed the ghastly, unspeakable outrage need not be a woman of great strength. Extreme emotion or high mental tension in men and women give great, superhuman strength.”
One thing I find interesting about La Vere’s profile of a female perpetrator is that she said the woman would be older than Short. In recent years, an older woman became an integral part of a theory about the murder.
It is a theory put forward by Larry Harnisch. Harnisch, formerly of the Los Angeles Times, wrote an article for the paper on the fiftieth anniversary of Short’s death. In the years since, he has done a lot more digging into the case and has unearthed an important connection between the body dump site near 39th and Norton, and two medical doctors. One doctor, Walter Alonzo Bayley, lived in a house just one block south of the place where Betty Bersinger found Elizabeth Short’s body. At the time of the murder, Bayley was estranged from his wife; however, she still occupied the home. Bayley left his wife for his mistress, Alexandra Partyka, also a medical doctor. Partyka emigrated to the U.S. and wasn’t licensed to practice medicine, but she assisted Bayley in his practice.
Following Bayley’s death in January 1948, Partyka and Dr. Bayley’s wife, Ruth, fought over control of his estate. Mrs. Bayley claimed Partyka was blackmailing the late doctor with secrets about his medical practice. Secrets damning enough to ruin him.
There is also a link between Bayley’s family and Short’s. In 1945, Dr. Bayley’s adopted daughter, Barbara Lindgren, was a witness to the marriage of Beth’s sister Virginia Short to Adrian West at a church in Inglewood, California, near Los Angeles.
Larry discussed Dr. Bayley in James Ellroy’s “Feast of Death”. [Note: Be forewarned that there are photos of Elizabeth Short in the morgue.]
A woman could have murdered Elizabeth Short. Could the woman be Alexandra Partyka? The chances are that we’ll never know–or at least not until Larry Harnisch finishes his book on the case.
Born in a small New Mexico town in 1902, Jeanne Axford came of age during the Roaring ‘20s. Perfect timing for the free-spirited girl. She married at 17 to David Wrather and they had a son, David, Jr.
In 1922, after training in New Mexico, Jeanne worked as a nurse in Amarillo, Texas. Marriage didn’t suit her. She and David divorced in 1924; she won custody of their son.
In 1925, Jeanne married again. That marriage, too, failed. There are rumors that Jeanne acted in film, but I could not find her listed in the Internet Movie Database—even under an alias—so she may have appeared in uncredited roles. Whether she appeared in movies or not, Jeanne had an interesting Hollywood connection. She worked as a private nurse for Marion Benda Wilson, Rudolph Valentino’s last date, possibly his last love. Known as the “Woman in Black,” for many years, Marion put flowers on Valentino’s grave.
Sometime between 1925 and 1931, Jeanne learned to fly and earned the moniker, “Flying Nurse.” She worked for a large oil company in South America, flying from one oil field to another, caring for workers. She became a member of the Women’s Air Reserve, and the 99 Club, an organization of women aviators.
Either an optimist, or a glutton for punishment, Jeanne married for a third time in Dallas, Texas on October 8, 1931, two days after her 29th birthday, to Curtis Bower. It took the couple five weeks to realize their mistake. The dissolution of her marriage earned Jeanne another nickname, “air-mail divorcee.” The divorce papers, prepared by her attorney, Allan Lund, went via air to Juarez, Mexico for filing. A new law in Mexico provided for a final decree by proxy. Neither Jeanne nor Curtis needed to appear in court.
On July 5, 1932, Jeanne’s mother, Oma Randolph, went to police to file a missing person report. Jeanne left home the morning of June 27 to drive to the Mexican border where she planned to board a private plane for Mexico City.
The week following the missing person report, Jeanne cabled her mother from Mexico City. “I can’t understand the worry I have caused in the United States by flying to Mexico. I am flying back for the Olympics. I assure everyone that I am okeh.”
Jeanne kept a low profile for the next several years. She married in 1944 for the fourth and final time to a former Marine, Frank French.
It isn’t clear when Jeanne began to abuse alcohol, but by the mid-1940s, she fought demons she could not control.
On February 10, 1947, less than a month after housewife Betty Bersinger found Elizabeth Short’s bisected body in a Leimert Park vacant lot, Hugh C. Shelby, a bulldozer operator, found the badly beaten, nude body of a woman in a field near the Santa Monica Airport. The Herald immediately put out an extra edition with the headline: “Werewolf Strikes Again! Kills L.A. Woman, Writes B.D. on Body.”
Within a couple of hours, police identified the victim of the “Werewolf Killer” as forty-five-year-old Jeanne French.
Someone savagely beat Jeanne. She suffered blows to her head, probably administered by a metal blunt instrument—likely a socket wrench. As bad as they were, the blows to her head were not fatal. Jeanne died from hemorrhage and shock due to fractured ribs and multiple injuries caused by her killer stomping on her. There were heel prints on her chest. It took a long time for Jeanne to die. The coroner said that she slowly bled to death.
Mercifully, Jeanne was unconscious after the first blows to her head so she never saw her killer take the deep red lipstick from her purse, and she didn’t feel the pressure of his improvised pen as he wrote on her torso: “Fuck You, B.D.” and “Tex.” Police looked for a connection between Jeanne’s murder and Elizabeth Short’s death; but they found nothing.
Jeanne was last seen seated at the first stool nearest the entrance of the Pan American Bar on West Washington Place. The bartender told police Jeanne sat next to a smallish man with a dark complexion sat on the stool next to her. The bartender assumed they were a couple because he saw them leave together at closing time.
On the night before she died, Jeanne visited Frank at his apartment and they’d quarreled. Frank said Jeanne, who was drunk, started the fight, then hit him with her purse and left.
Jeanne’s twenty-five-year-old son, David, came in for questioning. As he left the police station, he saw his step-father for the first time since he’d learned of his mother’s death. David confronted Frank and said: “Well, I’ve told them the truth. If you’re guilty, there’s a God in heaven who will take care of you.” Frank didn’t hesitate. He looked at David and said: “I swear to God, I didn’t kill her.”
Police booked Frank for murder, then they cleared him. His landlady told police she could verify Frank was in his apartment at the time of the murder. His shoe prints failed to match those found at the scene of the crime.
Cops had few leads. They found French’s cut-down 1929 Ford roadster in the parking lot of a drive-in restaurant, The Piccadilly at Washington Place and Sepulveda Blvd. Witnesses said that the car was there at 3:15 on the morning of the murder, and a night watchman saw a man leave it there. The police never accounted for Jeanne’s whereabouts between 3:15 a.m. and the time of her death, which the coroner estimated to be around 6 a.m.
Police rousted scores of sex degenerates, but they eliminated each as a suspect. Officers also checked out local Chinese restaurants after the autopsy revealed that Jeanne ate a Chinese meal shortly before her death.
Jeanne’s slaying became known as the “Red Lipstick Murder” case. Like the Black Dahlia case, it went cold.
Three years later, following a Grand Jury investigation into the many unsolved murders of women in L.A., the District Attorney assigned investigators from his office to look into the case.
Frank Jemison and Walter Morgan worked on Jeanne’s murder for eight months, but they never closed it. They came up with one hot suspect, a painter who worked for the French’s four months prior to the murder. He said he dated Jeanne several times. The cops discovered the painter burned several pairs of his shoes—he wore the same size as the ones that left marks on Jeanne’s body. He seemed a likely suspect until he didn’t. Police cleared him despite his odd behavior.
There were so many unsolved murders of women in the 1940s that in 1949, the Grand Jury launched an investigation into the failure of the police to solve the cases.
Like the murder of Elizabeth Short, there have been no leads in Jeanne French’s case in decades. Two more women on the list of unsolved homicides of women during the 1940s.
Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, Milk Duds, and a Coke and find a seat.
Tonight’s feature is STREET OF CHANCE, starring Burgess Meredith, Claire Trevor, Louise Platt, and Sheldon Leonard. The screenplay is based on a Cornell Woolrich novel, The Black Curtain. There are dozens of movies based on Woolrich novels and stories. Among them, one of my favorites, REAR WINDOW, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. If you’ve never read Woolrich, I suggest you try him. I read an article in which they described him as “the twentieth-century crime fiction’s most eloquent chronicler of death and despair.” It is an accurate description. He also wrote under the pseudonyms William Irish and George Hopley.
One afternoon, Frank Thompson is knocked unconscious by wreckage falling from a building on Tillary Street in New York City. When he revives, Frank is seriously disoriented although unharmed. Frank soon discovers that his apartment has been rented out for a year and his wife Virginia has been living on her own elsewhere. Frank confronts Virginia, who is shocked to see the husband who disappeared without explanation a year earlier. Virginia is thrilled to reunite with Frank, who has no memory of the past year, and he returns to his regular life. Soon, however, he is haunted by the appearance of Joe Marucci, a threatening looking police detective who follows Frank everywhere, and eventually breaks down the door to the apartment to arrest him
Every high-profile murder case gets its share of false confessors. The police have no choice but to check them out, no matter how ludicrous the claim is. It is frustrating for investigators to travel down dead-ends, but they never know from where, or from whom, a break will come.
In late January 1947, two female confessors contacted LAPD detectives to confess their guilt. Minnie Sepulveda telephoned LAPD’s University Station from a bar. She said, “I just stabbed a girl. I killed Elizabeth Short.” They quickly dismissed her claim. Police also dismissed Emily Williams’ confession. Williams, a former WAC, suffered from an undescribed mental ailment.
The confessions kept coming.
Thirty-three-year-old Daniel Voorhees of Phoenix, Arizona, telephoned the LAPD homicide squad room and told them he murdered Elizabeth Short. He said he would surrender to them at the corner of 4th and Hill downtown. At first, he refused to elaborate on his claim. Detective Lieutenant Charles King, with Dr. Paul De River, police psychiatrist, postponed a lie detector test until Voorhies recovered from his “bewildered and befuddled” state.
Voorhees said he arrived in town on January 15 and checked into a hotel at 1012 E. Seventh Street at 10:45 a.m. He checked out the next day. He said he met Short on Hill Street “two weeks ago” (about the time of the murder) and took her for a ride on a Wilshire bus. He claimed he dated Short in 1941. Not only was she a 16-year-old schoolgirl in 1941, she didn’t arrive in Los Angeles until 1943. In his confession note, Voorhees misspelled his alleged victim’s last name. Police, who never actually believed his ramblings, released him.
Marvin Hart, a thirty-five-year-old physical culture instructor, didn’t learn his lesson from the war-time mantra, “Loose Lips Sink Ships.” The drunk chatterbox told a taxicab driver, “Get me out of here; I have just killed a man.” The driver picked Hart up on Wilshire near the Los Angeles Country Club and drove him to a rooming house at 1842 N. Cherokee Street in Hollywood. The same building in which Short lived for a time. Rattled, the taxi driver went to the police and gave his statement.
Detectives brought Hart in for questioning. That he lived in the same building as Short and took her out a few times piqued their interest. They asked him to explain nis torn coat. “I had a fight with my girlfriend. We were at a party in West Los Angeles last night, and I guess I got pretty drunk.”
Hart was a bone-headed blabbermouth, but he wasn’t a killer.
LAPD Vice Squad officers arrested Altadena resident Hugh Torbert Jr., on April 17, after trailing him and a female companion to a downtown hotel. While the officers waited for the perfect moment to break down the door and make a bust, they overheard Torbert tell the woman with him he knew Short, but didn’t want to get involved in the investigation.
Captain Jack Donohoe, head of LAPD’s homicide detail, checked into Torbert’s background. Torbert was in the Army and served at Camp Cooke, where Short worked at the Post Exchange. Tantalizing bits of information; leading to another blind alley.
One confessor made front page news. Joseph Dumais.
The February 8, 1947 edition of the Herald, announced that the army had the Black Dahlia’s killer in custody.
The Herald story began with a definitive statement. “Army Corporal Joseph Dumais, 29, of Fort Dix, N.J., is definitely the murderer of the Black Dahlia, army authorities at Fort Dix announced today.”
Dumais, a combat veteran, returned from leave wearing blood-stained trousers with his pockets crammed full of clippings about Short’s murder. According to the Herald, Dumais made a 50-page confession in which he claimed to have had a mental blackout after dating Elizabeth Short in Los Angeles five days before Betty Bersinger discovered the body.
The good-looking corporal seemed like the real deal. He told the cops, “When I get drunk, I get pretty rough with women.” Unfortunately, when police checked his story against known facts, the confession didn’t hold up. The Army sent Dumais to a psychiatrist.
Time passed, and the investigation faded from the headlines. So, too, did the steady stream of confessors.
On November 8, 1950, a thirty-five-year-old movie bit player and member of the Screen Actor’s Guild, Max Handler, became the twenty-fifth person to confess to murdering Elizabeth Short (one man confessed four times).
Handler phoned LAPD homicide and said he was “cracking up.” In his signed confession, he said, “I killed the Black Dahlia girl, for which I am sorry.” He said he didn’t recall committing the murder.
Detectives revealed that a man resembling Handler and a young woman resembling Short were seen together in a Hollywood bar and at a motel on or about the date of her murder, January 15, 1947.
One clue gave detectives hope. In Short’s purse, found several days after her murder, was the business card of a local real estate company. The same company Handler worked for.
Police abandoned a lie detector test because Handler was so distraught, they knew they would never get an accurate reading.
After several days in police custody, Handler recanted his confession. He said the reason he confessed is he wanted police protection. From whom?
According to Handler, “A lot of little men with violins have been chasing me around. I wanted police protection. I knew they’d only laugh at me if I’d tell them about the men with the violins. So, I figured out another way to get the protection I needed.”
Detective Lieutenants Harry Hansen and Ed Barrett, referred Handler for a sanity test before the county Lunacy Commission.
The personal demons that caused Handler to confess to the Black Dahlia murder didn’t keep him from appearing in movies. He had an interesting career. He appeared in many B movies, but he also turned up in productions like The Asphalt Jungle, From Here to Eternity, and my favorite, Crime Wave. His last film credit, in 1960, is for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Handler died in 1993.
Even seventy-six years after the murder, people still phone LAPD about the case.