Ex-Burlesque Dancer Found Dead

burlesque dancer dead_edit

As the days, months and years ticked by the Black Dahlia case grew as cold as an Arctic blast. In late October 1949 the cops received an anonymous telephone tip that a woman had been murdered in a downtown hotel, and that her killer was the same person who had murdered Elizabeth Short.

LAPD investigators rolled to the scene and what they found was sad, but it wasn’t murder. Upon examining her body Dr. Frederick Newbarr, county autopsy surgeon, determined that the woman had been badly beaten but that the beating had not been fatal. She’d been done in by a serious liver ailment caused by her heavy drinking.

Detectives searched  the dead woman’s handbag and they found an ID card and other papers that revealed her to have been Mrs. Lucille Bowen, a former dancer in a Main Street burlesque house.

The Follies on Main Street.  [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

The Follies on Main Street. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Also in Lucille’s handbag were a couple of police business cards; one of them belonged to Officer C.O. Smith and on its back was written “Lucille Bowen, a good friend of mine. Any courtesy extended to her will be appreciated.” A second card belonged to Officer R.E. Myers, it was apparently signed by him and had a similar inscription.

The cards were issued during the time that Smith was on the Central Division Vice Squad and Myers was assigned to administrative vice. By October 1949 Officer Smith had moved up the chain of command and was in charge of the vice unit at LAPD’s University Division. When quizzed by reporters Smith stated that he didn’t recall Lucille and he doubted the card was his.  Myers had made detective, however reporters couldn’t reach him for comment.

Get_out_of_jail_free The two cops may not have recalled Lucille, but personally I have little doubt that the cards belonged to them, particularly since they’d worked vice. The business cards were probably never intended for use as “courtesy cards”; and I think it is likely that Lucille came into possession of the cards and then simply wrote on the backs of them. Lucille may have considered the cards to be talismans that could protect her from arrest, but if that’s what she believed she had been misinformed. Courtesy cards weren’t equivalent to a Monopoly “Get Out of Jail Free” card and wouldn’t have been much use to her.

According to the hotel room clerk Ralph Myers (as far as I know he was no relation to the cop) Lucille had registered for a room the night before with an unidentified man — they’d signed in as Mr. and Mrs. James Johnson.

Interior of Skid Row Hotel. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Interior of Skid Row Hotel. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Police records revealed that years prior to her pitiful death Lucille had come to L.A. as Rena Lucille Hodge, a strikingly beautiful dancer from Oklahoma City with big Hollywood dreams. Like so many girls before her Lucille’s dreams had died hard, crushed in the crucible of Main Street burlesque joints.

The LAPL database doesn't call her out, but I believe the woman in the center is none other than Betty "Ball of Fire" Rowland. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

The LAPL database doesn’t call her out, but I believe the woman in the center is none other than Betty “Ball of Fire” Rowland. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

In December 1944 she was busted on Main Street with nine others on charges of contributing to the delinquency of minors by staging a lewd show. By the time her body was discovered in a Skid Row hotel Lucille had been reduced to life on “The Nickel” (Fifth Street) chasing her dreams with enough liquor to destroy her liver. It would have been easy for her to find male companionship in the dark bars along Skid Row  — men who might listen to her stories of a movie career that never materialized for a few minutes before they would beat and use her.

The "Nickel" (Fifth Street) at night. [Photo courtesy of LAPl]

“The Nickel” (Fifth Street) at night. [Photo courtesy of LAPl]

Lucille’s death had not provided LAPD detectives with a much needed lead in the Black Dahlia case. In the nearly three years since Short’s murder a solution to the crime was still out of reach.

8 thoughts on “Ex-Burlesque Dancer Found Dead

  1. …there was another woman,Jeanne French,found dead in a vacant lot weeks after the” Black Dahlia”…not cut up like her,but badly beaten,and with a message scrawled on her abdomen “F**k you BD”(Black Dahlia?) and signed Tex…there were footprints on her,and surrounding the body,but it remains unsolved…criminology has advanced so far in the last 10-20 years that a lot of cold cases have been solved,but sadly technology can only stretch so far…i think it would take a time machine to solve some crimes outside the reach of modern forensics,but one can only hope that the perpetrators got their measure of equal justice in the end

    • Devlin, yeah — I’m familiar with French’s case and cover it on Esotouric’s The Real Black Dahlia bus tour. I am of the opinion that most people pay for their bad deeds in this life. I guess I base that on my own experiences; I’ve never gotten away with anything and stopped trying ages ago to put anything over on anyone. Agreed, modern technology has limits and even with DNA you need a suspect.

  2. These stories of girls from all corners of the U.S. coming to LA for a better life are all so sad. I wonder just how many homicides were committed between 1940 and 1950 against women that were never solved in LA. It’s very sad.

    • Sherry, there were enough unsolved homicides of women during the 40s to cause the 1949 LA County Grand Jury to launch an investigation into law enforcement’s handling of the cases. I’ll have to check the stats for unsolved homicides but I believe then, as now, a woman is more likely to be murdered by a “loved one” than a stranger and I think those types of crimes are somewhat easier to solve. You’re right though, so many tragic stories and dreams unrealized.

  3. I agree that a woman is more likely to be killed by a loved one. These unsolved murders during that time have anything to do with police corruption? Did they not have the man power or training or was it just out of control?

    • Sherry – it’s just my opinion but I don’t believe that the unsolved murders were a result of police corruption. The real corruption in L.A.’s law enforcement at the time was in the vice units which became the target of a grand jury investigation and fodder for the newspapers from about 1949 through the very early 1950s. As an agency LAPD has never had the kind of man power needed to cover such an enormous area. I believe that the unsolved murders were primarily stranger killings, which even in 2014 are challenging to solve. If there were exceptions I’d imagine them to be of the kind where the cops were sure they knew who did it, but didn’t have enough physical evidence to make a case.

  4. I so look forward to your new posts. As a kid I used to bug my parents to buy me the latest issue of True Crime and Real Detective magazines. I would devour it from cover to cover. I wish I still had them, I could make some extra cash selling them on eBay. I also got hooked on shows like Naked City and Dragnet. Growing up in the Washington DC area we had plenty of murder and mayhem to read about in the local newspapers.

    • Jay – thank you so much for your kind words. I try to keep the blog true to the spirit of those wonderful old crime magazines (I have copies of some of them myself — and, yeah, I bought them mostly on ebay!) It seems like there’s a dark side to the history of every big city and small town in America. I’m glad that you found the blog and I’ll do my best to keep the deranged tales coming. Best – Joan

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