Dog Spelled Backwards, Conclusion

clarke_arraigned_pichim in all sorts of schemes, most of which smacked of extortion. The cops thought that the scams were primarily small ones, until they uncovered evidence that John was attempting to merge several cults into a “spiritualist trust”. Among the plans he had for the trust were: Mexican distilleries, deals in bat guano, and investments in copper mines and oil stocks.  He planned to operate the trust out of a home offered for sale by Mrs. Dorothy Parry. John represented himself to Dorothy as the agent for a purchaser who could afford the asking price of $70,000 (equivalent to nearly $10M in 2016 dollars). But rather than putting Dorothy together with a buyer, John bombarded her with letters and poems. Dorothy told investigators: “The man’s persistence was so annoying that I had to move and asked my hotel not to give my forwarding address. But somehow Clarke managed to obtain it and followed me to this address. As the result of his visits I have been afraid to answer the door bell or go to the telephone.”

While continuing to pursue Dorothy, John was able to convince several more women to sign “soul contracts.” Helen Isabelle McGee’s contract read in part: “I agree with John Bertrum Clarke to enter with him into a higher spiritual development for at least two years. I will do everything possible to permit him to restore my full youth…and will be guided by him in both objective and subjective…”

love pirate caseSoul contracts and shady real estate deals were bad enough, but what about the  possibility that John had been involved in the suspicious deaths of two women with whom he had been involved?

The first death was that of John’s former housekeeper. Her body was found in the lake at Westlake Park across the street from the apartment John occupied at the time. Shortly before her death the unnamed woman had deeded a piece of property she owned in Ventura to John. He was questioned but subsequently released.

The second death was that of a 22-year-old girl. She was a student of the occult and at the time of her death she was helping John sell his books. It was rumored that the two had been lovers. She shot herself while in the vestibule of a local church–allegedly she was despondent over ill health. If John had played any part in her death it was never proved.

John flatly denied any knowledge of the drowned girl: “There is nothing to that story,” he said. According to him the story had originated at Patton State Hospital where he had been an inmate in 1920. He told investigators that the basis of the story was a play on his name. John explained that if you eliminated the first and fourth letters of his surname you were left with the word “lake”. Hmm. Really?

The hospital, originally known as Southern California Hospital for Insane and Inebriates, first opened its doors in 1893. Exactly why John had been confined in the hospital isn’t clear. At that time, and for many years after, it was a place where the seriously ill, or the seriously inconvenient, were confined. But he could have been there for any one of a number of issues–the place housed people suffering from mental disorders as well as physical ailments, specifically syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases.

John’s immediate problem, and the one for which he was in legal trouble up to his eyeballs, was the contributing charge. He came face-to-face with Clara Tautrim and her mother, Caroline, in the anteroom of the District Attorney’s office. They, along with Cecyle Duncan, had given their statements to D.A. Buron Fitts and Deputy D.A. Joos. John didn’t appear to be distressed by the presence of his accusers. In fact when they left he turned to Detective Berenzweig and said: “Give me credit for picking good looking ones.”

Only Clara Irene Berry seemed to be upset. Clara admitted that she’d been a party to luring the Tautrim girl to John’s apartment, but she denied knowledge of John’s real intentions.

D.A. Fitts questioned John, but the accused couldn’t be persuaded to stay on topic. When he was asked how many women he’d had love affairs with he said: “Most of them didn’t keep their dates, but when they didn’t show up I went out and got another. What I wanted to do was get a wife. I didn’t care if I had to marry her sixteen times. I wanted to transfer over to her my patents which will soon be in use by the government and which will bring me in $3000 a day.” John was returned to his jail cell.

Los Angeles Times, July 21, 1924

Los Angeles Times, July 21, 1924

John had several days’ growth of beard and was wearing the same soiled white suit when, on July 22nd, he was arraigned on the contributing charge. Clara Berry was arraigned as his accomplice. When she heard the charges against her she cried out: “No, no!”

While John and Clara were held in the county jail, each on $5000 bond, Chief Deputy District Attorney Buron Fitts held a press conference. He said: “The arrest of John Bertrum Clarke, ex-convict and former inmate of the asylum at Patton, undoubtedly removed a grave menace to the safety of the womanhood of Los Angeles. Under the guise of a minister of the Church of Cosmic Truth, Clarke planned in a systematic manner to prey on the girls and women of the city, evidence in our hands indicates. Neither the grey-haired woman nor the girl in her teens was immune from the menace. His conviction on a charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor is of the utmost importance to this community, and anyone possessing information regarding the activities of the man should place it in our hands at the earliest possible moment. Detectives Berenzweig, Hoskins and Harris, as well as Captain Plummer and Lieutenant Littell of the vice squad, deserve the highest commendation for their clever and untiring efforts in bringing Clarke before the bar of justice. Men of Clarke’s stamp are as dangerous in every respect as the ‘bad man’ who seeks his victim with a gun. They are certainly not worthy the same respect.”

John’s sanity, or lack thereof, was to be determined by the Lunacy Commission (no, I didn’t make that up). They heard from Clara Tautrim who described her interactions with the so-called love-pirate. She told of his promises to make her a motion picture star, and she also told them about the time he had grabbed her and kissed on on the neck. An overture she didn’t appreciate.

A doctor who had examined John testified: “He has been quiet and cooperative, but talkative. He has an exalted opinion of himself. He said he has discovered an automatic alphabet which enables him to communicate with God. He told me he is one of the greatest spiritualists in the world. He boasted that he had saved 40,000 persons from becoming insane. He says that he has invented an automatic mail sorting machine that has a human mind, and that he wrote President Coolidge about it.”

Another doctor, named Carter, testified: “He (John) was in the Psychopathic Hospital in 1919. Then he was sent to Patton where he stayed one year. His present actions indicate that he did not thoroughly recover at Patton from hi mental illness. He has proven himself a menace to be at large regarding his annoyance of children and a menace to himself.”

“He is a thorough case of dementia praecox,” declared Dr. Allen.

John loudly reiterated his demand for a jury trial. However he was soon bound for the Patton Asylum where, on November 16, 1924, he picked the look on his door and escaped. LAPD and the Sheriff’s Department were keeping an eye on his usual haunts on the chance that he would return to the city. He never turned up.

In early April 1925 District Attorney Asa Keyes learned that John was in Reno; however there was no legal procedure in place to extradite an insane person.  John may not have realized it but the Lunacy Commission had done him a favor.  If he’d he gotten his wish of a jury trial he may have been found guilty and sentenced to prison. It would have been much more difficult to escape from San Quentin than it was from the Patton Hospital.

John was in the wind for months before being discovered in Reno. Several weeks after that he was under arrest in Seattle, Washington. Police Chief Severyns contacted the LAPD and District Attorney Keyes for advice.

The situation was the same as it had been when John had been found in Reno–he couldn’t be extradited. As long as John stayed away from Los Angeles he could continue to operate his crack-pot schemes and cons with impunity; at least until he ran afoul of the law elsewhere.

I’ve found copies of some of John’s writings, but I haven’t been able to track him any further than 1925. I’d love to know what happened to him. If anyone knows please share.

Dog Spelled Backwards… Part 2


John Bertrum Clarke and Clara Berry

On July 19, 1924 the Los Angeles Times updated their readers on the status of the police investigation into John Bertrum Clarke: “The sordid activities of John Bertrum Clarke, author, minister of the Church of Cosmic Truth, and love pirate, unraveling gradually yesterday as police investigation went deeper into his life, included among other revolting incidents an attempt to enmesh a 15-year-old girl in the same maze of occult and physical domination that the man essayed with practically every woman with whom he came in contact.”

For his part, John continued to declare his love for Cecyle Duncan, the police operative he had wed in a bogus ceremony he had conducted himself. Wearing a white serge suit, white shoes, and white hat, all of which were stained with grease and smudged with dirt, John declared his undying affection for Cecyle. He insisted that she was the love of his life and he couldn’t believe that she would betray him. John said: “…She is my real love. The marriage is entirely legal. It is my great work, my book, my work…”

The police searched John’s card and correspondence files (he, or more likely his assistant Cora, was a meticulous record keeper) and found a girl named Clara Tautrim, 946 Grattan Street. She was only 14-years-old in 1923 when she first met John. He was distributing his literature door-to-door and some of it looked interesting to her. On her first visit she was accompanied by an older female acquaintance and nothing untoward occurred.

sordid pursuitIn May 1924 John initiated contact with Clara and asked her to visit him at his South Fremont apartment. He said he could help her find a job. Clara stopped by his apartment on her way home from school. She’d barely put a foot in the door when he began to bombard her with his usual line of patter. She was his soul mate and together they would amass a fortune and live on a sumptuous estate in India. Wild-eyed and rambling, John grabbed Clara and kissed her–it was then that she became truly frightened. John, over 30 years her senior, wasn’t exactly Clara’s dream man. Besides he was behaving like a lunatic. Clarke’s big plan  was to make her a motion picture star. Clara wasn’t in the least bit starstruck and had no desire to pursue a career in show business. John refused to hear her out and began a letter to C.I. Berry.  Berry, he explained, was a male director and a big wheel in motion pictures. Of course the fictional director was none other than his favorite patsy and  faithful amanuensis, Cora Irene Berry Gillen.

Clara managed to disengage herself from John’s embrace and left, but not before he made her promise to return the next day. She did as she’d promised, but wisely brought her mother Caroline with her. John was briefly thrown off-stride when he saw Caroline but he soon recovered himself and pitched a few of his crackpot plans for Clara’s stardom to her disbelieving mother. He said that if Clara was entrusted to his care he would take her to India where she would be a princess. Caroline refused to part with her daughter, so John modified his plan to include Caroline. The three of them could go to India and live in the lap of luxury. When Caroline rebuffed him, John became distraught. He said that their refusal would mean he would never attain the power or recognition he deserved. As soon as they were able Caroline and Clara bolted from John’s apartment.

John’s ego was so massive that Caroline’s rejection didn’t dissuade him from his further pursuit of Clara. He called the Tautrim home repeatedly.  When the calls didn’t give him the results he wanted, he appeared on their doorstep. He arrived bearing a letter and $5 for Clara. He said if she would come to his apartment the next day he’d buy her a new hat. When he was told that Clara wasn’t at home he left the letter, but kept the $5.

John’s relentless pursuit of Clara ended only when her mother said she was going to call the police and have him arrested. Clara told investigators: “I was afraid of him. I did not know what he was talking about half the time, but I did not like to have him kiss me or put his hands on me. He told me he was going to take me to India to become a princess or something, and he was going to give me jewels and pretty things. When mother told him I could not go he said we had spoiled his plans to become a ruler of the world.”

The police thought that they had sufficient grounds to charge John with contributing to the delinquency of a minor but they couldn’t make it stick and had to cut him loose. If the goal was to see John behind bars the police would need more. Fortunately there was plenty of dirt to dig up on John.

love pirate dupesCaptain Plummer and Detectives Hoskins, Berenzweig, and Harris uncovered voluminous files consisting of cards, correspondence. The detectives found evidence that John had married at least three women in the month prior to his arrest. The mountain of documents proved that John had likely victimized thousands of women. John wasn’t discriminating, any woman with whom he came in contact was a potential victim. He had romanced or terrorized movie actresses, social workers, elderly women, and teenage girls.

The most astonishing revelation was a “soul slave contract” between John and Corinne Bradford Ko’Vert. Corinne’s stage name was Mary Savage (IDMB shows two film credits for her under Corinne Bradford). The contract was dated May 14, 1922 and signed by both parties and witnessed by Mildred Gillen, undoubtedly an alias for Clara I. Berry.

Here is the document in full:

“I, the undersigned, Corinne Bradford Ko’Vert, hereby make a voluntary contract and agreement with John Bertrum Clarke to do what he tells me to do in a business and social way for a period of one year from May 14, 1922 to May 14, 1923. I will see him during this time when practical every day by appointment and will keep him informed in full of all my engagements in business and social life, and will make no radical changes without consulting him. I will make every effort and resolve to keep control of myself and my temper, and I will do every practical possible thing to win a favorable reception and large salary or income in the motion-picture business.

“I will take the best care of my health, keep regular hours and habits of eating, sleeping, etc. I wll abstain from all use of habit forming drugs, intoxicating liquors, and tobacco, except when the actual picture work during acting requires the smoking of cigarettes.

“I shall be very careful of my public or semi-public activities and endeavor to maintain a good public reputation.

“I will make no contract with any person, persons or corporations that would interfere with my carrying out the above agreement with Clarke.

“In witness whereof I affix my signature this day of May, 1922.”

In addition to the contract detectives found two notes totaling $460 (equivalent to $6517.88 in 2016 dollars). Apparently Mary found the contract too restrictive because she wrote John a note amending its conditions:

“To see you every day as you wished takes very nearly the whole afternoon, leaving not time for other matters. I will see you when it is possible, and we will have to let it go at that. I am so sorry not to have been in to see you, but after returning home the other day I thought things over and came to the realization we were wasting a lot of perfectly good time and getting nowhere.”

Mary successfully avoided reporters but they found her husband, Frederick Ko’Vert, in his dance studio at 3790 Denker Avnue. The couple had an unusual marriage. Frederick was a well known female impersonator and evidently Mary was equally well known as a male impersonator. With so much in common you’d think that they would have gotten along but according to Frederick: “We never lived together and separated the day after our marriage.” In fact their divorce had recently become final. He said he’d never heard anything about John and had no idea who he was.

Reporters had no problem finding John, he was in the City Jail. He had no reservaations and talked freely about the contract: “Miss Bradford was brought to me by her mother. I have known Mrs. Bradford for several years. The girl had been working very hard. She was to be starred in a play and was to be made a motion picture star. She was disappointed, discouraged and betrayed in a business way by the people she trusted. So she came to me for spiritual and mental help and for business advice. The contract was the result.” What about the $460? John said the money was to pay for his assistance and he made no profit.

John’s papers didn’t only reveal the soul slave contract. Detectives found correspondence that showed he was attempting to establish an enormous spy network so he could capitalize on confidential information he received from hundreds of his clients from a wide variety of fields. The motion picture business in particular had the potential to make John a fortune. He had set his sights on an attorney, Herman L. Roth–but before John could get a dime from him the attorney was convicted and sentenced to San Quentin for extortion.

The newspapers reported daily on John’s misdeeds. It appeared that there was no end to the schemes he had concocted to separate gullible people from their money. The sexual misconduct was disturbing, but what if the man the press was calling a “Love Pirate” had actually been responsible for the death of two women?

 NEXT TIME:  Two suicides?

Dog Spelled Backwards…

The Great Eleven Club cult leaders, May Otis Blackburn and her daughter, Ruth Wieland

The Great Eleven Club cult leaders, May Otis Blackburn and her daughter, Ruth Wieland.

On Monday, March 31, 1930 TIME magazine ran an article entitled “California Cults”. The rise of cults in California, and elsewhere in the world, was just one of the ways in which people responded to the devastation and loss of life suffered during World War I.

TIME told its readers that: “Agnosticism and atheism are on the rise.” The article continued: “Thousands of persons dissatisfied with the faiths of their fathers, seek new spiritual footholds. This, as always in such troubled times, there is a flourishing of cults, of religious novelties and new fashions in faith. Flowery, sun-drenched California, where Nature exhibits herself in mystical opulence, where plenty of people have plenty of money, where there are many invalids contemplating eternity, is particularly propitious for this flourishing.”

Those seeking enlightenment are occasionally vulnerable and can be easy prey for the greedy, cynical, and deviant among us. When the search for truth starts costing you a bundle and/or the leader of your sect appears more interested in groping your physical body than in nurturing your spirit, call the cops.


By July 1924 John Bertrum Clarke, leader of the Church of Cosmic Truth, had a good thing going. He answered ads in local newspapers placed by women who were desperate for employment, usually as stenographers or typists. He conducted interviews in his apartment at 425 South Fremont near 6th Street and his modus operandi was nearly always the same. The first few minutes of the interview were about business, but then quickly developed into a marriage proposal followed by a ceremony in which John was both the groom and the officiant. After the bogus ceremony concluded the groom would attempt, and occasionally succeed, in sexually assaulting the applicant/bride.

Finally the mother of one of John’s underage victims contacted the LAPD and they began an investigation into his activities. They set the hook with bait they knew John would find irresistible–an ad in the Los Angeles Times that read: “Young girl would like typing to do at home or will work at office or private residence. Prices reasonable.” It wasn’t long before John contacted the applicant. He wasn’t aware that the job hopeful was Cecyle Duncan, a police operative. He wrote to her a couple of times, even sending her love poems, before turning up in the flesh at the bungalow court on South Union Avenue where she was staying. She invited John in and he quickly abandoned all pretense of offering her a job. Instead he launched into a bizarre tale from his youth.

Headline reads:

Headline over photo of Cecyle Duncan reads: “Ends Cult Head’s Marriage Orgy”

He said that when he was a child he was seriously bitten by a dog. His father was so irate over the incident that he forced John to kill the offending canine. John described the scene: “As the dog expired his spirit was released and entered my breast, which made of me a god. Dog spelled backward is ‘god’. Sometime when man reaches true understanding and comes to appreciate the significance of words spelled backward he will discover that he has been worshiping dogs these many centuries.”

John had explored the hidden meanings of various words spelled backwards in his text The Chart of the Mind.  Copies of John’s works are still available–however, I don’t own any. So, without a copy of the tome in front of me I can only imagine what other words seized his imagination. I’ll bet one was: Lived/Devil. My personal favorite is Desserts/Stressed, but I doubt that the combo would lend itself to a sinister or cosmic interpretation.


Bogus certificate of marriage.

Cecyle was rightfully concerned by John’s behavior–the dog story alone would be cause for pause (paws?). She became even more uncomfortable after he hurled himself at her feet, smothered them in kisses, and declared her his soul mate. He said that an aged female seer in India had prophesied that he, in tandem with his soul mate, would rule the world. Cecyle managed to escape his further attentions by accepting an autographed copy of his book and promising to meet him later that evening at his apartment.

She immediately informed her LAPD handlers of the appointment. She would definitely need back-up. As agreed she went to John’s apartment while Captain of Police Plummer and several detectives waited outside for her signal. The detectives began to get nervous when they’d been waiting for a while without word, so rather than risk Cecyle’s safety they broke down the door. Their timing was impeccable—John was making a move on his bride. The crazed man interrupted his assault while he attempted, unsuccessfully, to grab Detective Lieutenant Hoskins’ pistol.

Cecyle had quite a tale to tell the detectives. Apparently John had performed a ceremony which he claimed made them husband and wife. The unwilling bride was presented with a marriage certificate, an engraved wedding ring of inferior quality bearing the inscription “J.B.C. to C.A.D”., a pair of cheap earrings, and a comparably inexpensive brooch. The sham ceremony was attended only by John, Cecyle, and Clara Irene Berry, thought to be a former secretary of the cult. She was arrested outside the apartment house after she had gone to John’s room to sign the marriage certificate.

With John in custody the investigation into the Church of Cosmic Truth was beginning in earnest. Police wanted to know how many women had been victimized by the false prophet.

NEXT TIME:  Revelations about John’s past and a  “soul slave” pact.

NOTE:  My friend, and Esotouric Bus Adventures crime buddy, Kim Cooper, was so fascinated by the tale of The Great Eleven cult (see photo at beginning of post) that she wrote a book about it: THE KEPT GIRL. If you’d like to know more about Kim and her book, read my interview with her here.