Welcome to Deranged L.A. Crimes. Ten years ago, I started this blog to cover historic Los Angeles crimes. I am not surprised that I haven’t even scratched the surface of murder and mayhem in the City of Angels.
I have been absent from the blog for a while, focusing on finishing my book on L.A. crimes during the Prohibition Era for University Press Kentucky. It’s not done yet, but I’m close. No matter, it is time to return to the blog. It is something I love to do.
Focusing my energy on the book, I failed to pay tribute to the inspiration for Deranged L.A. Crimes, Agness “Aggie” Underwood, on December 17, 2022, the 120th anniversary of her birth. If you aren’t familiar with Aggie, I’ve written about her many times in previous posts.
In 2016, I curated a photo exhibit at the Los Angeles Central Library downtown. The exhibit, for the non-profit Photo Friends, featured pictures from cases and events Aggie wrote about over the course of her career. I wrote a companion book, The First with the Latest!: Aggie Underwood, the Los Angeles Herald, and the Sordid Crimes of a City.
Aggie is a dame worth learning about. She is a legendary crime reporter, who worked in the business from 1927 until her retirement from the Los Angeles Herald in 1968. A force to be reckoned with, Aggie worked as a reporter until her promotion to City Editor of the Herald in January 1947, while covering the Black Dahlia case. She was the only Los Angeles reporter, male or female, to get a by-line for her reporting on the ongoing investigation.
On her retirement, she told a colleague that she feared being forgotten. That won’t happen on my watch. Thanks again, Aggie, for the inspiration. Deranged L.A. Crimes is dedicated to you.
Among the things I’ve learned over the years researching and writing about crime, is that people don’t change. The motives for crime are timeless: greed, lust, anger, betrayal, and jealousy are but a few.
What is different is crime detection. Science has come a long way. Detectives no longer use the Bertillon system to identify criminals—they use DNA. I think part of the reason I’m drawn to historic crime is the challenges overcome by former detectives and scientists. Despite the advancements in science, it is my belief that if it was possible to pluck the best detectives and scientists from the past and set them down in the present, they would still be great. I am amazed at the cases they solved.
I look forward to this new year, and to the challenges it will bring. I am so glad you are here, and I invite you to reach out if you have questions and/or suggestions.
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 BLACK FRIDAY, starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi.
Enjoy the movie!
As Dr. Ernest Sovac is ushered to the electric chair to die for the murder of his friend, Professor George Kingsley, he passes his diary to a waiting reporter, who reads the story of his crime: On Friday the 13th, Kingsley is run over by a car driven by hardened criminal Red Cannon. The professor suffers a severe concussion, and to save his life, Sovac transplants brain cells from the dying Cannon into Kingsley’s skull. As Kingsley recovers, his wife Margaret discovers that her formerly timid husband now flies into murderous rages.
Being a researcher is like being an explorer without a map. I set sail and go where the tides take me. It is one reason I love what I do.
On Thursday, I was at the Hall of Justice where I volunteer for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Museum. My current project is transcribing a 1895-1896 L.A. County Jail Register and entering the information into a searchable file. The register is a fascinating glimpse into the city and some of its more colorful, and criminal, inhabitants.
Besides entering the details of an arrest: date, suspect name, police officer’s name, type of crime, etc., I document cases when I can find information. There weren’t many murders, but there were plenty of other crimes which merited column space in the local newspapers.
I followed one miscreant right to the door of the Los Angeles County Workhouse about which, I confess, I knew nothing. I dug deeper and found photos of the interior and exterior of the building. Also, a photo and the name of the man in charge, Lt. Charles Dixon.
They officially designated the facility LAPD substation No. 2. Its territory comprised all of Boyle Heights and the entire northern district of the city.
Rumor had it that Lt. Dixon’s assignment was politically motivated. It was, some said, an exile not an opportunity. If Dixon played politics and lost, whose toes did he step on? Chief of Police Edward Kern assigned Dixon to the workhouse; so maybe Dixon crossed Kern and paid for it with a post in the boondocks.
I will dig further into the politics of the era but, meanwhile, I found Chief Kern to be an interesting character in his own right.
Kern’s background was as a teamster and as the chief of supplies for the U.S. Army’s campaign against Geronimo. Like many other former soldiers, Kern landed in Los Angeles.
In 1902, constituents elected him to represent the 7th district on the City Council. Reelected in 1904, he resigned after being appointed police chief–even though it appears he had no law enforcement experience.
In January 1909, Kern continued his public service as an appointee to the Board of Public Works. He lasted two months. Complaints that he was unqualified dogged him, and rather than be removed he quit in March of that year.
Kern battled personal demons and “was given to periodical drunken sprees.” In 1911, he admitted himself to the State Hospital for Inebriates in Patton, California on the advice of his physician, Dr. Sumner J. Quint. Quint became Kern’s legal guardian.
He was unwell when discharged from the hospital. The Los Angeles Times described him as “pitiful” and said “His face was unshaven, haggard and drawn.”
In 1912, Kern went to El Paso, Texas, ostensibly on business. On April 20th, a chambermaid found his body in the bathtub of the hotel where he was staying. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He left no note, but his revolver, a gift from friends in Los Angeles, lay beside his body.
NOTE: Writing this post, I am reminded of an early TV show, THE NAKED CITY, a police procedural set in New York. It always ended with the narrator saying, “”There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.”
The population of Los Angeles in 1895 was approximately 75,000. The above story has been one of them.
I’m pleased to announce that my story, The Lady Vanishes: The Mysterious Disappearance of Jean Spangler, will appear in Mitzi Szereto’s newest true crime anthology, The Best New True Crime Stories: Unsolved Crimes and Mysteries.
Coming September 15, 2022.
Available for pre-order now.
To whet your appetite for the story, I created this short video.
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 WOMAN ON THE RUN, starring Ann Sheridan and Dennis O’Keefe.
Enjoy the movie!
After San Francisco artist Frank Johnson witnesses the gangland murder of informant Joe Gordon while walking his dog, Inspector Ferris attempts to take him into protective custody. Afraid that he will be killed if he testifies against the murderer, Frank instead runs away. Ferris questions Eleanor, Frank’s estranged wife, about her husband, but she offers little help. Ferris does convince Eleanor, however, that Frank would be safer in police custody than alone on the streets. Later that night, Eleanor sneaks out of her apartment and goes to a nightclub in Chinatown. She is followed there by tabloid reporter Dan Leggett, who offers to pay her $1,000 for exclusive rights to Frank’s story.
According to Edith’s public defender, William Aggeler, a state of extreme melancholia brought about by physical ailments suffered since childhood, account for her accidental shooting of Linus Worden, causing his death.
Edith’s mother recounted for the seven men and five women on the jury a litany of illnesses and conditions afflicting her daughter. She testified that at seven months old, Edith had a serious case of pneumonia; she had an attack of spinal meningitis at three; at nine they found her unconscious in a rocking chair. She remained in bed for several weeks and was in such extreme pain she couldn’t bear to be touched without screaming in agony. When she finally got out of bed, she held her head in a twisted position. A lump developed on the right side of her neck and when she walked, she dragged her right leg and complained of constant head pain. At twelve, she suffered a spasm so severe that her hands couldn’t voluntarily unclench.
After her marriage, at seventeen, her husband found her one afternoon unconscious lying between the bed and the wall. In the ten years since then, she endured many similar attacks, even having one while in jail.
In November 1920, Edith’s mother noticed her daughter’s extreme moodiness. She testified the nervous condition manifested itself in Edith’s refusal to eat and her inability to continue to work in any capacity. In the fall of 1920, her mother found a revolver in Edith’s room and removed it. She gave the weapon to her husband.
As sad as Edith’s life was, she still shot and killed a man—and that is the story the prosecution would tell. Detective Kline testified to his conversation with Edith in the hospital. He asked her how she came to be shot. She answered, “It does not make any difference.” He informed her of Linus’ death, and she said, “I shot him, but I do not believe he is dead and will not believe it until my brother-in-law, Lee, tells me so.”
Edith insisted mutual despondency was the reason for the shooting. She claimed both she and Linus wanted to die. The mutual destruction motive flew in the face of Edith’s initial statement, “I couldn’t live without him, and I couldn’t get along with him.”
Edith’s mother testified for the defense; however, her father, Mr. Vosberg, was called as a prosecution witness. His duty to testify weighed heavily on him. He loved Edith. He recalled for the jury the events of the night of Linus’ death. He said he and Harvey Clarke, his son-in-law, relaxed inside the house while Linus and Edith sat outside in Linus’ car. When they hear four shots, both men sprang into action. They found Linus dying, and Edith seriously wounded.
A packed courtroom heard Edith testify on Monday, July 25. Physical suffering made her life wretched, and she tried several times to commit suicide. Two years after she married, she tried it again. “I had been reading spiritualist books.” [Note: spiritualism was enormously popular following WWI. So many people lost loved ones and desperately wanted to contact them in the afterlife.] Edith said she read The Gateway of Heaven. “It described the experiences of a woman on the other side. After reading it, I got a desire to go and see what was there.”
The death of her husband exacerbated her depression. “I used to walk the palisades at Santa Monica and fight the inclination to go over. I did not think it was right at that time; I had a greater understanding then than later. I got the desire in August 1920 to take my life.”
A friend of hers from Santa Barbara shot himself in the head. She thought it would be “a good way to do it.” She bought a gun in early November.
Even jail didn’t stop Edith from attempting suicide. She got a hold of a pair of scissors and tried to do herself in.
Edith described suffering debilitating symptoms every month. She lived on aspirin. Often, she shut herself away in her bedroom.
Was there a legitimate medical cause for Edith’s physical complaint and behavior? It is possible Edith suffered from Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). In the 1920s, the diagnosis didn’t exist. In fact, they didn’t add PMDD to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders until 2013, and it remains a controversial. Yet, the symptoms described by Edith fit the disorder. They also fit Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). Her first suicide attempt at fourteen lends credibility to a hormonal imbalance, but that is speculation.
It isn’t surprising that Edith’s trial became a battle of expert witnesses. Alienists on both sides offered an opinion on Edith’s mental state. The question of her sanity loomed large.
Defense witness, Dr. Allen, believed Edith was insane at the time of the murder. In fact, he referred to her case as one of “psycopathic (sic) personality.” He said, “In considering her mental state, it is necessary to view it in the light of the history of her case. In this case, there is a very marked history of abnormality, or eroticism. I don’t think this woman was at any time mentally normal. Because of her physical condition, she was predestined to become mentally unbalanced in a crisis.”
Dr. Allen’s conclusion isn’t surprising given how often women were characterized as hysterical and insane.
I’ll digress for a moment. Women’s menstrual cycle has a long history of being misunderstood. In fact, the word taboo comes from the Polynesian word tapua, which means both sacred and menstrual flow. Ladies, if we ever learn to harness it, menstruation is our super power. Why? Ancient Romans believed a woman’s monthly flow could turn new wine sour, wither crops, dry seeds in gardens, kill bees, rust iron and bronze. Dogs who taste the blood become mad—their bite poisonous. There is some good news. Hailstorms and whirlwinds are driven away if menstrual fluid is exposed to flashes of lightning.
Don your capes and prepare for battle. Now back to Edith.
Edith’s conflicting stories of the murder are troubling. At first, she said Linus wanted to die. During her trial, she said it was an accident. Before she and Linus went out for a drive on the fatal night, she slipped into a small room off the parlor. Linus noticed her come and go twice before he asked her about it. She said she would explain later. She didn’t tell him it was where she kept her revolver. He didn’t see her slip the gun into her coat pocket.
When they returned later and sat in Linus’ car, Edith said she kept thinking about taking out the gun and shooting herself. She communicated some of her unease to Linus. He said he would see her the next night. Making future plans doesn’t sound like a man ready to kill himself.
Edith continued her testimony, “All kinds of emotions went through me. I remember him turning away from me. He laughed and said: ‘You will be all right.’ I shook my head and felt the gun. The first thing I knew there was a flash. I saw his face in front of me. The report frightened me.”
Did Linus laughing at her trigger a rage?
The defense hoped the jury would believe Edith’s ill health made her mentally irresponsible for Linus’ death.
“Many people suffer from illness, including headaches, but it doesn’t justify taking a life,” argued the prosecution. The D.A. asked the jury not to be swayed by “technical insanity,” nor sympathy, but to administer the law as it is written.
It took the jury an hour and a quarter to acquit Edith.
The following day, shortly after 2 PM, police rearrested Edith at a downtown department store on an insanity warrant sworn to by Detective Sergeant Eddie King of the district attorney’s office. Accompanying him was future LAPD chief, Louis Oaks. [Oaks served from 1922 to 1923 until they showed the hard-drinking the door. It’s an interesting tale for another time.]
Was the D.A. a sore loser? Maybe. But he pointed out that the attacks of melancholia Edith suffered were a recurrent affliction, and a recognized form of insanity.
In early August, five physicians of the Lunacy Commission found Edith sane. While subject to depression, the doctors didn’t consider her a menace to society. However, they recommended six months of probation rather than confinement in an institution.
Judge Weyle said, “you have suffered enough.”
Following her acquittal, Edith resumed the use and spelling of her maiden name, Edythe Vosberg.
The 1930 census shows her living with her parents in a home at 858 N. Curson, in West Hollywood. She works as a stenographer in the motion picture industry. Her brother-in-law Harvey, and her brother Gayne (born Alfred D. Vosberg), worked as actors. Either of them may have helped her get the job. Her brother changed his name to Gayne Whitman after WWI to avoid the negative association with his German birth name. Gayne had a long career, from 1904-1957, he appeared in 213 films. On radio, he played the title role in Chandu the Magician and also worked as an announcer.
The 1933 city directory for Santa Monica, has Edythe working for the H.C. Henshey Company. Henshey’s was a major Santa Monica department store. Sadly, it went out of business years ago.
Edythe’s mother passed away in 1939. By the 1940 census, 49-year-old Edythe is living at 2630 St. George Street with her father and her nephew, 22-year-old Harvey Clark. The house is off Franklin Avenue, near the Shakespeare Bridge in Los Feliz.
In 1950, 56-year-old Edythe works as a record keeper for the city police department. It doesn’t say which city, she appears to be living in North Hollywood in the San Fernando Valley.
I don’t know what Edythe did from 1950 until her death in 1971. I know she never remarried, and never had any further run-ins with the law. She is buried at Forest Lawn in Glendale.
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.
Today’s matinee is an outstanding film noir from 1945, directed by Otto Preminger, FALLEN ANGEL. It stars Alice Faye, Dana Andrews and Linda Darnell.
One night, drifter Eric Stanton is forced to disembark a San Francisco-bound bus because he has not paid the full fare. Eric is let off in the small town of Walton, and when he goes to Pop’s, a local diner, he finds Pop distraught over the disappearance of his beautiful waitress Stella. Retired police detective Mark Judd assures Pop that Stella will return, and soon she does appear, much to Pop’s relief. Eric then leaves and, after seeing a poster for a show by “psychic” Professor Madley, convinces Madley’s assistant, Joe Ellis, that he is friends with the professor. Ellis confides that ticket sales have been slow due to the influence of Clara Mills, the former mayor’s daughter, who has been telling her friends not to attend. Seeing an opportunity to make money, Eric goes to the Mills house the next morning, and asks the cynical Clara to give the professor a chance. Clara dismisses Eric, saying that the professor is a charlatan, but her lovely younger sister June is intrigued by Eric, and tells Clara that Madley is merely trying to make a living. June convinces her sister to buy tickets to the show, and soon many of the townspeople follow suit.
The Supreme Court is trampling women’s rights and there is no reason to believe it will stop. Can we expect to be deprived of voting rights? Will they force us to perform only those jobs deemed suitable for women? I, for one, believe this court has no lower bound. I await an apocalypse.
While I await said apocalypse, I divert my energy into research. It is my escape and my happy place. Anyway, during a recent search of old newspapers, I found several intriguing cases from 1921.
I’ll begin with Edith Lundberg.
The Los Angeles newspaper headlines for 1921, reflect nothing short of a female crime wave. On any given day, Edith Lundberg shares column space with Louise Peete (unmasked years later as a serial killer); Erie Mullicane, a young woman accused of killing her baby, and numerous other women facing the criminal justice system for a variety of crimes.
Born to Anna Marie Hart and William Allen Vosburgh (Vosberg) on June 29, 1891 in Illinois, Edith Mae Vosberg had an older brother, Gayne born in 1890, and a sister, Ethel, born 1895
Married, at 18 years-old, to Arthur Lundberg and widowed seven years later in 1916, Edith Lundberg’s life was not very different from other women her age. Many young women lost children, and husbands, before their 30th birthday. Luckier than some, Edith moved from Missouri to Santa Barbara, California, to live with her younger sister, Ethel. Ethel married Harvey Clark, a successful movie character actor. They welcomed Edith.
Situated a short distance from the beach, the Clark’s house at 322 West Mission Street must have made a pleasant change for Edith from the harsh mid-western winters, and the loneliness of widowhood. Even with its desirable location, it was a long commute to get to the movie studios, so sometime during 1920, the Clarks moved to Los Angeles, and Edith accompanied them. She moved in with her parents, who also fled the harsh midwestern weather. She found a job as a stenographer in the mechanical department of the Hall of Records.
In September 1920, she started dating Linus Worden, Jr., a local car salesman. Linus served in the motor transport corps during the war, earning his sergeant’s stripes. A post-war segue to working in auto sales seemed perfect for him.
Prior to meeting Linus, Edith resumed use of her maiden name. Linus and his family knew her as Miss Vosberg. She did not mention her widowed status. After five years alone, she may have preferred to put her sadness behind her and start fresh. Linus called on at least once a week. Edith’s mother believed the relationship was on a track to marriage, but the Wordens had a different take on it. They believed it was casual companionship. Both families agreed the pair enjoyed each other’s company.
On February 8, 1921, the couple went out for a drive. A couple of hours later, Linus’ car pulled up at the curb in front of the Vosberg home at 1227 West Twelfth Street. (The house is long gone.) In the house, her parents, and her sister and her brother-in-law, heard laughter and conversation from the car. After a momentary silence, four gunshots cracked. A agonized cry followed. Linus got out of the car, took a few steps toward the house and collapsed on the sidewalk.
F.E. Andreani, a near neighbor, heard the commotion and ran over to Linus to render aid. Linus said, “I’m shot.” Then stopped trying to speak. Andreani pulled the fallen man into his car and rushed him to the nearest receiving hospital, but Linus died before they could reach medical help. One bullet pierced his heart, and another lodged in his stomach.
Linus’ wounds accounted for two shots. What about the other two? After shooting Linus, Edith held the pistol against her abdomen and shot twice. She made it to her parents’ porch before falling. At the hospital, Edith begged to die. She told the attending surgeons, “I couldn’t live with him and I couldn’t live without him. I made up my mind to kill him and I shot him.” She also muttered she and Linus “felt blue.” She said she planned to kill him and then herself.
As they waited for word on Edith’s condition, police began their investigation. They learned Edith purchased the gun at a pawnshop two weeks earlier. She used an assumed name.
Two days after the crime, Edith lay near death in the county hospital. Her motive remained unclear. One doctor, Edward H. Morrissey, president of the Los Angeles Association of Optometrists, theorized, “If this young woman quarreled with Worden, she undoubtedly did so because of the low ebb of her vitality caused her to be irritable. Any undue excitement which might have come while she was in this condition could have caused her to lose control of herself. The majority of criminals in our jails and inmates of our county farms are victims of defective vision.” An interesting theory, for sure. Dr. Morrissey based it on a report that Edith complained of a severe headache and problems with her eyesight the day of Linus’ murder.
Police had their own theory, which did not involve faulty eyesight. They believed Edith premeditated the murder because she purchased the revolver in advance. Another odd thing, Edith wrote, but did not mail, a letter to a friend in which she stated: “I have a strange feeling. If anything happens, I will come to you if I am allowed.”
Edith’s condition tread a thin line between life and death for days before doctors felt confident enough to declare her on the road to recovery. The news is enough for the District Attorney to file a murder charge against Edith. They move her from the county hospital to a bed in the county jail.
According to her attorney, T.E. Justice, (perfect name for an attorney, right?) Edith would plead insanity. Edith said, “I don’t know why I killed him. I loved him and he loved me, but we were both moody, subject to despondency and melancholy, and I did not feel that we would be happy married. I had planned for some time to take my own life, but had no intention of taking his. But I expect to pay the penalty, and now my chief worry is for his mother, for he was everything to her.”
Her difficult recovery postponed her preliminary hearing until April 5. Los Angeles Police Department Detective Sergeant Bean remained baffled by Edith’s conflicting statements. On one hand, she claimed she couldn’t live with Linus; other the other hand she could not live without him. In the next breath, she asserted the shooting was a terrible accident. She intended to kill herself, not to harm Linus. Maybe the trial would clarify her true motive.
On April 5, her attorney (soon to be replaced by a public defender) previewed Edith’s defense—chronic melancholia.
Master criminal Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) is trying to control the rogue actions of one of his men, while also planning one last big heist before retiring. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Hanna (Al Pacino) attempts to track down McCauley as he deals with the chaos in his own life, including the infidelity of his wife (Diane Venora) and the mental health of his stepdaughter (Natalie Portman). McCauley and Hanna discover a mutual respect, even as they try to thwart each other’s plans.
Heat is based on the true story of Neil McCauley, a calculating criminal and ex-Alcatraz inmate who was tracked down by Detective Chuck Adamson in 1964.
Founded in 1921, the Bureau’s celebration should have taken place last year but, like so many things, they put it on hold. It was worth the wait.
Nearly 500 people gathered at Pacific Palms Resort in the City of Industry to honor past and present detectives. I am honored to know a few of them personally.
During the 6+ years, I have volunteered with LASD’s museum, I’ve met, and worked with, a few of the department’s retired homicide investigators. Most notably, Frank Salerno and Gil Carrillo. You know them from the Night Stalker case in the mid-1980s.
They are among the most famous of the Bulldogs, but each of the investigators I’ve met is truly outstanding. I’ve learned that being a homicide investigator is a calling. It’s not a j-o-b. It takes intelligence, skill, and heart to deal with the cases that cross their desks daily.
A person I admire and respect is Ray Lugo. Ray has been a homicide detective for over 20 years.
An example of Ray’s bulldog attitude is the investigation into the 2006 murder of Iraq war veteran, 24-year-old Jesse Aguilar, found shot to death inside the trunk of his car, which was found on fire on Oct. 26, 2006, in the Los Angeles Riverbed near Paramount Boulevard in South Gate.
It took a decade to solve the case, and over twelve years before the killers went to trial. and to prison.
Jesse’s mother, Nancy, said,
“It’s been a relief that there’s going to be accountability. I want to look into the killers’ eyes. I want to see them.”
She said this about Ray Lugo,
“God sent Ray (Lugo) for this case because he never quits.”
It does not matter if they are working a case that is hours old, or decades old, they have the same determination to find a solution.
Bow WOW–A Brief History of the Bulldogs
How did the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau earn their nickname?
In a December 18, 1977 Los Angeles Times article by Myrna Oliver and Bill Farr.
Under the headline “Sheriff’s ‘Bulldogs’ Hang in Where LAPD Doesn’t,” a veteran prosecutor is quoted, “You want to know why the Sheriff’s conviction rate is so much higher in homicide, not just last year, but for several years? It is because the guys from the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau are a bunch of bulldogs. From the time they are called to the murder scene, until we prosecutors get the case through the courts, they never let go and I mean on every murder case, not just the high publicity cases. They are routinely tenacious, and the investigator assigned to the case sticks with it until the end. There is no shuttling cases to somebody else like at LAPD. With the Sheriff’s people, if you need follow-up done, they are marvelous; they are super. They even give you their home phone number in volunteering to help out.”
In the same article, a defense attorney had this to say, “I can tell you that almost every defense attorney I’ve ever talked to would rather try a murder case LAPD than against the Sheriff’s people. The Sheriffs are just tougher.”
L.A.’s First Serial Killer & The Birth of the Bureau
It is interesting to note that the birth of the bureau directly results from the city’s first bona fide serial killer, James Bluebeard Watson.
Kathryn Wombacher, an unmarried seamstress, took a chance on love when she answered an ad in a local Spokane, Washington newspaper in 1919. The ad’s author, Walter Andrew, described himself as a man in his 30s—sensitive and caring, with good habits, a decent income, and a desire to marry. Kathryn immediately answered the ad. Their meeting went well and they married in November 1919.
It thrilled Kathryn to move with her new husband to Hollywood. There was a constellation of stars living in the area. She wondered if she would meet Charlie Chaplin or Mary Pickford.
Even more exciting than moving to Hollywood was the knowledge that she married a government secret agent. Walter’s work lost some of its luster for Kathryn when his absences from home became longer and more frequent. She suspected her new husband of infidelity.
She hired a private detective and together they uncovered Walter’s secret. His real name was James Watson. He was a bigamist, and a multiple murderer with no connection to the secret service. He killed at least 25 of his wives across the western U.S. and Canada.
There was no homicide bureau then. Sheriff Traeger investigated on his own. It was not a one-person job. At the successful end of the investigation, in 1921, Chief of the Criminal Division, Harry Wright, insisted that Sheriff Traeger create the Homicide Detail. That was the first step toward the modern bureau.
In the decades since the Bluebeard Watson case, Sheriff’s homicide bureau has tackled some of the most difficult, and bizarre, murders in the county’s history; and they continue to do amazing work.
Advancements in science have provided detectives with valuable tools, but no matter what the science, it will always take a detective’s insight and skill to put together a case.
Speaking with Mike Fratantoni, the Sheriff’s museum curator, we agreed that each generation of homicide detectives passes the torch to those who follow. It is a tradition of which the department is justifiably proud.