Death of a Latin Lover, Part 3

Ramon Novarro’s funeral. [Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library]

LAPD Detective Lauritzen played it cagey with the press when they asked for details regarding the arrests of Paul and Thomas Ferguson. He said only that they had “physical evidence” of the brothers’ involvement in Ramon’s murder. The reporters interpreted Lauritzen’s comments to mean they found fingerprints at the crime scene. The County Grand Jury indicted the Fergusons and they arraigned the brothers in a Van Nuys courtroom.

Attorney Cletus Hanifin (second from left) confers with murder suspect Paul Ferguson (left) while another attorney talks with Ferguson’s brother and fellow suspect Thomas (second from right). [Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library]

Busted in early November, the brothers awaited trail in county lockup. Early in December new drama in the case erupted with a report that Paul attempted to gouge out his own eyes.  At first he told jailers other inmates attacked him, but they proved he injured himself. If he hoped to eradicate the vision Ramon’s murder from his memory, he should have plunged a knife into his heart. The general feeling was that Paul’s self-inflicted injuries were an attempt to garner sympathy.

The police found more than fingerprints at Ramon’s home. While Paul beat Ramon in another room, Thomas was on the telephone with his girlfriend of six months, Brenda Lee Metcalf. Brenda flew out to Los Angeles on the county’s dime to testify before the Grand Jury. She was a wealth of information about the night of the murder.

She testified that Thomas told her he and Paul were at Ramon’s house because the actor was going to get him into the movies—then he said no, it was Paul who Ramon was going to get into pictures. While he chain-smoked cigarettes and drank beer, Thomas told Brenda, “… he knew there was $5,000 somewhere in the house behind a picture.” Thomas and Paul had plans for Ramon’s money. Brenda said, “They would tie him up to find out where the money was.”  Brenda told Thomas not to get into trouble.  Brenda said, “He said no matter what happened, he wasn’t going to have nothing to do with it because he didn’t want to get in any trouble.”  The screams she heard in the background sound like trouble to her.  “He (Thomas) said he (Paul) was just probably trying to scare him or hit him with something.”

As the phone called neared an end, Thomas said, “Well, I better go now because I’m going to see what’s happening. . . I don’t want Paul to hurt Ramon.”

Another woman surfaced in the case, Paul’s estranged wife, Mary.  Mary identified the mysterious “Larry” – the name scrawled several places at the murder scene.  Larry was Paul’s brother-in-law, the person Paul blamed for his problems with Mary. Paul’s attempt to frame his brother-in-law was amateur hour, but then nothing about the crime was a stroke of genius.

Brenda received one last telephone call from Tom during his stay in Los Angeles. He telephoned her on November 2.  He said, “Well you know about Novarro.  He is dead.  When I bent down over him I saw he was dead and that if we have enough money, we’ll fly back.  Otherwise, we will have to hitchhike back.  Before they could leave Los Angeles County, they were in police custody.

On August 5, 1969, four days before the murders of Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger, Voytek Frykowski and Steven Parent at Tate’s rented home on Cielo Drive, Paul and Thomas were on trial for Ramon’s murder.

The jury of seven men and five women heard Deputy District Attorney James Ideman outline the State’s case in his opening statement. He said he would prove that the brothers tortured Ramon to death on October 30 while trying to discover a hidden cache of money.

Paul and Thomas did not differ from any of the other idiot criminals who murdered people they believed kept large amounts of cash at home.

Defendants Jack Santo (left), Emmett Perkins (center) and Barbara Graham (right) in court for the murder of Mabel Monohan.  [Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library]

On March 9, 1953, in Burbank, California, Barbara Graham, Emmett Perkins, Jack Santo, John True and Baxter Shorter invaded the home of Mabel Monohan, a widow. The gang believed she kept a large amount of cash in a safe for her former son-in-law, a professional gambler and local mob affiliate,  Tutor Scherer. The gang walked away with nothing but a ticket to the “green room” (San Quentin’s gas chamber).

Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, two ex-cons, made the same mistake in 1959 in Holcomb, Kansas.  They believed a cellmate when he told them one of his former employers, a farmer named Herb Clutter, was rich and kept his money in a home safe.  It was a tall tale, told by an idiot, to two other morons who believed it. Hickock and Smith executed Herb, his wife Bonnie Mae, and the couple’s two teenage children, Kenyon and Nancy. The killers walked away with fifty dollars in cash, a pair of binoculars and a transistor radio.  Hickock and Smith went to the gallows on April 14, 1965 on the grounds of Leavenworth prison.

Truman Capote with his bestseller, In Cold Blood. [Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library]

Truman Capote turned the sordid murders into a brilliant narrative in the mostly true account of the case, In Cold Blood.

Paul and Thomas made the same mistake as their predecessors, but would they pay the same price?

NEXT TIME: Paul and Thomas Ferguson pay for Ramon’s murder.

Peace. Love. Murder.

The argument has been made that 1968 was the most tumultuous years in modern U.S. history. It is tough to disagree. The year marked seismic shift in American life and nothing would ever be the same

The changes didn’t occur overnight, although it seemed that way. It was no accident that the changes coincided with the first wave of Baby Boomers hitting their teen years. The music of the late 1960s was as eclectic and schizophrenic as the time. A pseudo-group called the Archies had a smash hit with Sugar, Sugar, but the music that would come to define the era was flying under the radar of the Billboard Top 100. Woodstock changed that. A couple of notes into Jimi Hendrix’s version of the Star Spangled Banner and you knew the Earth had shifted on its axis.

The assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy in 1968 lit the fuse of the bomb that would blow society apart in what remained of the decade. The smoke and ash rained down throughout the 1970s and ripples from the initial explosion are felt today.

January 1969 gave subtle hints of things to come. Richard M. Nixon was sworn in as the 37th President of the United States on January 20, 1969. His election meant more young men would die in the jungles of Southeast Asia.  Elvis Presley recorded “Long Black Limousine” in Memphis, Tennessee which kicked off his comeback. Jimi Hendrix appeared on a BBC1 show, “Happening for Lulu” and Led Zeppelin released their debut album.  The BEATLES performed for the last time in public on the roof of the Apple building at 3 Saville Row in London.

Reflecting on 1969 is mind bending. Consider a year in which the U.S. put a man on the moon, and the era later dubbed the “Golden Age of Porn” (1969-1984)  began.  Sexuality explicit films shown in public on the big screen instead of on a bedsheet in someone’s dingy basement became reality with Andy Warhol’s 1969 film “Blue Movie.”  The only X-rated film to win an Oscar®, “Midnight Cowboy” was released. At the time the X-rating didn’t mean the film was hardcore porn, all it meant was that the subject matter was unsuitable for underage people.

No retrospective of the 1960s is complete without addressing the Hippie aka Flower Power movement which reached a zenith during the summer of 1967 in San Francisco. The Human Be-In at Golden Gate Park on January 14, 1967  paved the way for the Summer of Love. The local underground newspaper, the San Francisco Oracle, offered the following description of the Be-In:  “A new concept of celebrations beneath the human underground must emerge, become conscious, and be shared, so a revolution can be formed with a renaissance of compassion, awareness, and love, and the revelation of unity for all mankind.”  A beautiful sentiment. It was an illusion.

The people who wandered the streets of San Francisco during the summer of 1967 smoking dope, dropping acid, tucking flowers into their hair and anointing themselves with Patchouli oil didn’t know that the Hippie movement was already on life support and about to flatline.

The cancer of drug dealers, pimps and others preying on the naivete of lost children looking for love and acceptance in Haight/Ashbury grew into an inoperable tumor. One cell of the malignancy had a name which, in two years’ time would become infamous, Charles Manson.

Charles Manson in court. [Photo courtesy LAPL]

The summer of 1969 had a few of the trappings of the Summer of Love, and it turned into a nightmare of violence and terror when word of  murders of Sharon Tate, Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski, Steven Parent, Rosemary and Leno LaBianca hit newsstands in mid-August.

For the next few months, as we approach the 50th anniversary of the brutal Tate/LaBianca murders, Deranged L.A. Crimes will intermittently look at some of the crimes that made news during 1969.

So, put on your love beads, memorize the lyrics to “Fixin’ to Die Rag,” and don’t bogart that joint.   See you in the ’60s.

The Devil in Orange County, Part 2

BLOOD TRAIL

A trail of blood led from the late 1960s into the new decade of the 1970s: the 1968 assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy; the stabbing death of Meredith Hunter at a December 1969 rock concert in Altamont, California; the August 1969 bizarre and brutal slayings of Sharon Tate, Abigail Folger, Wojciech Frykowski, Jay Sebring, Steven Parent, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca; the November 1969 revelation of the My Lai Massacre by American troops of hundreds of civilians in a Vietnamese village; and the killing of 4 unarmed students at Kent State University by the Ohio National Guard during a protest of the U.S. government incursion into Cambodia.

John Filo's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of Mary Ann Vecchio, a 14-year-old runaway kneeling over the body of Jeffrey Miller minutes after he was shot by the Ohio National Guard.

John Filo’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of Mary Ann Vecchio, a 14-year-old runaway kneeling over the body of Jeffrey Miller minutes after he was shot by the Ohio National Guard.

It seemed as though the world was on fire and everyone and everything was about to be consumed in a massive conflagration.

Columnist Art Seidenbaum wrote an editorial, The Wind of Fear, for the L.A. Times in which he described the summer of 1970:

“It (fear) swirls and grows around multiple murders. It whistles in the wake of terrorist bombings. It gusts along the roads for hitchhikers and drivers alike.”

In his annual report for the year 1969 J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the FBI, stated that while the population of the U.S. had increased only 13% during the previous nine years, the crime rate had increased by 148%. It was a terrifying statistic.

Despite the crime and chaos all around, life appeared to be quiet and safe in Garden Grove, California during the first half of 1970 — but appearances can be deceiving.

JERRY CARLIN

carlin beating deathAt approximately 2 a.m. on June 2, 1970, the body of Jerry W. Carlin was found beaten to death in the restroom of the Richfield Service Station at 3724 Westminster Avenue. The murder was discovered by David Miller, a driver for Southland Ambulance Service. Miller had made a routine stop at the gas station when he found Carlin face down on the blood smeared floor of the restroom. It was the third time Jerry Carlin had been robbed that month. Carlin was only 20 years old, a newly-wed, and he died not knowing that he was going to become a father.

A reward in the amount of $2,000 (approximately $12,000 in current dollars) for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons who murdered Carlin was offered by someone who asked to remain anonymous.

FLORENCE NANCY BROWN

Two weeks after she’d gone missing, the body of thirty-one year old El Toro School teacher, Mrs. Florence Nancy Brown, was discovered by a hiker in a shallow grave 50 feet off Ortega Highway near El Cariso, about 19 miles southwest of Elsinore.body found

Mrs. Brown had been reported missing on June 4th by her husband, Ralph, after she had failed to return home following a routine errand. It was clear to investigators that Mrs. Brown had been killed elsewhere before being buried off of the Ortega Highway. The Riverside County coroner’s report disclosed Mrs. Brown had died of multiple stab wounds in the chest. The weapon used by her killer was believed to have been a large hunting knife or bayonet, and the victim’s right arm had been severed and her heart and lungs removed. Her wedding and engagement rings, a wristwatch and a number of oil company credit cards had been taken.

Cops didn’t yet know that the two killings were connected, but they would soon get a tip that would reveal the names of the possible killers.

THE KILLERS

craig_photoBy the 1st of July 1970 arrests had been made in connection with the murders of Jerry Carlin and Florence Brown. One of the alleged perpetrators was a 20 year-old transient, Steven Hurd — the other person who was arrested was an old acquaintance of my brother’s, 16 year-old Arthur Craig Hulse, the boy who had my brother’s back in junior high school, and the same the guy that my brother’s best friend and I had picked up hitchhiking shortly before we heard about the murders!

I had never thought of Craig as anything but a kid with an unhappy home life. He wasn’t the brightest of the assorted misfits and oddballs who hung out at our home while my brother and I were growing up, but that had never mattered to any of us. All you had to do to be accepted in our circle of friends was simply be yourself, contribute to the conversations if you wished, be able to take a joke at your expense and respect our home.

In our short lives my brother and I had known people who went had gone down a bad road. Some of the people we had known had died of drug ODs and suicide, others had survived minor brushes with the law, but no one and nothing had prepared us for the summer of 1970.

At first it was impossible to conceive of Craig as someone capable of killing, but then the tale of the two slayings started to unfold; and it was grotesque.

NEXT TIME:  Jerry Carlin, Florence Brown and their killers.