The Murder Complex–Part 1

Ohio native Grace Hunt was 17 when she married 41-year-old Charles Price Grogan in Los Angeles on April 5, 1902. It was an advantageous marriage for both. Charles basked in the glory of his triumphs, with the press dubbing him the “Olive King,” and a radiant Grace by his side, a queen befitting his grandeur. A few days prior to their fifth wedding anniversary, they welcomed a son, whom they named Charles Patrick Grogan.

Grace and Charles were married for over a decade before they separated. The difference in their ages may have sunk the marriage. Whatever their reasons, the couple had separated by the late 1910s and divorced by the 1920 census—at least that was how Charles declared his marital status. Grace, for the same census, gave her marital status as a widow. Why the discrepancy? Simple; divorce stigmatized women.

Grace was luckier than many women because California, at least in its laws, was more tolerant of divorce than other states. The State’s first divorce law in 1851 recognized impotence, adultery, extreme cruelty, desertion or neglect, habitual intemperance, fraud, and conviction of a felony as legitimate grounds for divorce.

Despite the law’s progressive attitude, divorce could ruin a woman, which is why many women found it easier to claim widowhood than risk suffering the loss of status if their divorce became public knowledge. It seems absurd to us now in these days of no-fault divorce and “conscious uncoupling” (a phrase coined in 2014 by celebrity Gwenyth Paltrow to describe her separation from her musician husband, Chris Martin), but divorce was not a simple matter when Grace and Charles called it quits.

The couple’s family and intimate friends would have known the truth, and the rest of local society may have acknowledged Grace’s widowhood with a nod and a wink and allowed her to continue her fiction unchallenged.

Grace’s claim to widowhood would edge closer to the truth when Charles died of apoplexy (internal bleeding—perhaps because of a stroke) on July 8, 1921.

The Olive King was a wealthy man who loved his only son. He bequeathed Patrick his entire fortune, estimated to be between $1 and $2 million dollars. Until he turned 25, Grace was to administer Patrick’s monthly allowance, which amounted to a princely sum of $800 per month. An agreement had been reached by Grace and Charles regarding their divorce. The couple agreed Charles would create a trust fund, not to exceed $50,000, for her maintenance. To put things into perspective, $50,000 in 1921 is equivalent to three quarters of a million dollars today. And Patrick’s monthly allowance is equivalent to about $12,000. A fortune like the one Charles left Patrick and Grace can attract the best people in society—it can also be a magnet for the worst of humanity.

In her 30s, Grace was beautiful, wealthy, and prominent. She would make a wonderful wife for the right man.

NEXT TIME: Grace meets a new man, as The Murder Complex continues.

Coming May 14, 2024–Of Mobsters and Movie Stars: The Bloody “Golden Age” of Hollywood

This gorgeous cover is the winner of the WildBlue Press cover contest. It evokes the glamour of old Hollywood, yet suggests the dark side of the city and the era.

Of Mobsters and Movie Stars is available for pre-order on Amazon for release on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. You will also be able to purchase the book in hardcover, paperback, eBook, and, coming soon, audiobook, on the Amazon and WildBlue’s websites.

My connection with many of you inspired me to tackle a book project. I can’t thank you enough for your support over the past 12 years. I’m looking forward to many more years here (and a few more books!) I’ll let you know about any book signings and interviews, so stay tuned. I’ve created some content for my author page on WildBlue, so please visit me there and sign-up to receive updates.

There are 37 stories in Of Mobsters and Movie Stars, including an early killer couple who went on a spree while Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were still in grammar school. One of the most shocking tales is about a man who plotted to kill his wife using two Diamondback rattlesnakes named Lighting and Lethal.

Many people have asked if Los Angeles had a mob. The answer is they had two. The earliest was headed by Joe “Iron Man” Ardizzone, an old-school gangster straight out of Central Casting. The other mob, orders of magnitude more powerful and insidious than Ardizzone’s, was the Hollywood studios. Using hired thugs called “fixers,” the studios wielded power over actors and politicians. When choreographer Busby Berkeley killed three people while driving drunk, the studio came to his aid. When director, and husband of Jean Harlow, Paul Bern, died under suspicious circumstances, the studio intervened.

One of the ugliest incidents of studio power was the attempted cover-up of the brutal rape of a young actress at a studio hosted event. The victim refused to be silent and, as far as I’m concerned, is the Godmother of the #metoo movement.

I posted excepts from Mobsters and Movie Stars on WildBlue. Below is one of them.


Excerpted from The Torso Murder

“William Pettibone, Ray Seegar, Floyd Waterstreet, and Glen Druer explored the muddy river bank for hidden treasures on May 18, 1929. The boys noticed something that looked like a turtle shell or strange prehistoric fish 150 feet from the bridge in the city of Bell. One boy took a stick and poked it into an end of the bony structure and held it aloft for the others to gape at. The boys spent a few minutes before realizing their treasure was a human skull.

With the head impaled on a stick, the boy ran up to the roadway. He waved it around until a female motorist stopped. The horrified woman kept it together long enough to drive to a public telephone where she called Bell’s Chief of Police. Chief Smith and Motor Officer Steele met the woman and the group of boys near the river. The woman declined to give her name. Smith’s officers told Captain Bright about the grisly find. Bright accompanied Deputies Allen, Brewster, and Gompert to the scene. While deputies searched the area, an enormous crowd of curious on-lookers gathered.

The initial autopsy yielded nothing which could identify the deceased. At least the skull still had several extant teeth, which made an identification possible. Local newspapers printed the photos and drawings of the teeth and distributed them to dentists.

With limited remains, the experts needed to perform a miracle. Amazingly, they did just that.”

The Murder Complex–Prologue

Thursday, February 19, 1925

Night had fallen by the time Donald Mead and Kenneth Selby started home following a school baseball game. The twelve-year-old boys walked in companionable silence. After dark, only; a coyote’s howl could be heard. Then, the boys heard the rumble of a car engine. That was unusual. Beverly Glen was a quiet, semi-rural enclave about twenty miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles; the place where many well-to-do Angelenos owned get-away cabins. On an impulse, the boys dove into a stand of bushes near a small bridge moments before the car’s headlights would have illuminated them. They intended to spy on whomever had the audacity to intrude on their domain.

View showing a car on unpaved Sunset Boulevard between Carolwood and Delfern Drives in Beverly Hills, with three palm trees in the background. This is in the general location of Beverly Glen. c. 1925

Keeping still, the boys watched a lone driver back a sedan up to the front steps of a cabin and turn off his headlights. The boys knew the cabin belonged to Dr. Thomas Young, a Los Angeles dentist, but they could not positively identify the driver due to the darkness. He seemed to be male. Maybe it was the doctor. No matter, the boys enjoyed their spy game. From their vantage point, they watched the man drag a large, heavy box draped in a dark-colored cloth from the car. Donald and Kenneth whispered to each other that the box must be awfully heavy, as they saw the man hunched over and struggling to lift it. Did it contain a king’s ransom of gold and silver? Or did the box contain the corpse of a desperado?

The man wrestled the box onto the landing and dragged it inside the cabin. The boys thought it odd that he never turned on the cabin lights. When he reappeared on the veranda, he scanned the area. Satisfied that he was alone, he returned to his car and retrieved a gunny sack. It was large, its contents a mystery to the boys. The sack must not have been as heavy as the box because the man slung it over his shoulder. He disappeared into the cabin again. A few minutes later, he returned empty-handed. Then he got into his car and drove away.

 The boys could barely contain their curiosity. Who was the man? Why was he being so secretive? They waited a few minutes before leaving their hiding place, and then they walked over to the cabin. In the dirt near the cellar door was a sack marked “Lime.” They also found some “funny smelling stuff” that made them “sick at smelling it.”

After poking around the cabin for a few more minutes and finding nothing, Donald and Kenneth headed home. They didn’t give the strange man another thought until the police questioned them six months later.

NEXT TIME: The Murder Complex continues.