mary's blog

A Second Chance

March 19, 1927
Long Beach, CA

longbeachshootingFred and Lela McElrath had been married for 25 years, and raised three children together, now grown. But just as the couple should have been settling down into contented empty nesthood, a violent disagreement nearly destroyed it all.

Fred wanted to leave Long Beach for Freewater, Oregon, where they owned a ranch; however, Lela was determined to stay put. She moved out of their home at 45 Atlantic Avenue, and Fred spent nearly a week trying to track her down. On March 18, they finally agreed to meet at a neutral location, their daughter's home at 32 Neptune Place, and try to talk things through.

However, Lela refused to reconsider, and walked away from the argument. As she was descending the stairs in her daughter's house, Fred pulled out a gun and shot her twice in the back before turning the gun on himself, firing into his mouth. The shots didn't kill Lena, and when she was admitted to Seaside Hospital, it was assumed that she would recover. However, Fred was barely clinging to life, and in fact, police arriving on the scene initially believed him dead.

Today, things looked drastically different. A bullet was lodged behind Fred's left ear, but doctors expected that he would make a full recovery -- and in all likelihood, be left to stand trial for his wife's murder. The shots fired into his wife's back had punctured her right lung, and she was not expected to live. Authorities stood watch at Fred's bed, waiting to charge him either with murder or attempted murder.

Shockingly, the story has a moderately happy ending. On April 11, a frail Lena McElrath, appeared at her husband's preliminary hearing and was helped to the stand by her son, where she made an impassioned plea on Fred's behalf.

"I do not want to testify against my husband, nor do I want him prosecuted. I believe our trouble was caused as much by me as by my husband. I want to go back to him and begin all over."

Judge Stephen G. Long agreed she should have that chance, saying, "This is a very remarkable affair, but if both parties are willing to forgive and forget and to endeavor to patch up their broken lives, I think the kindest thing for this court to do is to give McElrath a chance."

The charge was dismissed, and the McElraths left the courtroom with their arms wrapped around each other. Lena's wounds were expected to heal completely with time, though Fred would be forever incapacitated by the bullet, still lodged near his spine.

The Sunday Paper

In the past two weeks, I've come to understand why Kim usually waits until Fridays to post her 1947p stories. Ever since this leap year, I've found myself with the Sunday paper, which, while jam-packed with Bullock's ads, real estate ventures, and fashion spreads (this week, an entire section devoted to shoes!), is rather short on crime and mayhem. After all, who wants to dwell on such things on the Christian day of rest?

And after the stories of the past two days, perhaps there's some sense in that. Unable to top the likes of baby farms and superman love cults, I suppose it's fair to say that I'm feeling a little blocked.

figlaxative

California fig laxative:  it "can't harm children."  If that's not a ringing endorsement, I don't know what is.

lewtendler

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And take a look at this plug for Jewish boxing legend Lew Tendler, as he prepares for his upcoming bout. Does the "S" stand for Southpaw or sexy?

You Know, For Kids

March 5, 1927

auntdolly

 

 

 

 

couponsBeginning in 1923, Aunt Dolly's Page occupied its own corner of the Junior Times, a Sunday supplement that urged young Angelenos to try their hands at blank verse, cartooning, and other feats of skill for fabulous prizes. There were also picnics, parades, community service projects, and a near-constant series of elections for the President of the Times Junior Club

Today, Aunt Dolly urged the youngsters to register for the Junior Jubilee, to be held at the Echo Park Recreation Center. Young readers were tempted with refreshments, a large band, a big show, sports, contests, monkey bars, and a parade.

Boys' coupons enlisted the tikes in a "best-decorated bike" race and parade, as well as a "Ride-the-Plank" contest, though the wording on girls' registration forms was equally odd: "I, (your name here) wish to enter your paper hat contest. I promise to parade at the Echo Park playground."

Nothing quite like a forced march in a paper hat to brighten up one's Saturday afternoon!

The persona of Aunt Dolly was gradually nudged from the Junior Times in the late 1920s, appearing only to write a serial entitled "Snoopy in Do-Do Land." The feature abruptly ended in 1931 -- perhaps Aunt Dolly got a buyout?

 

snoopy

"Why Do You Suppose They Had That Pick, Shovel, and Canvas?"

February 28, 1927
Van Nuys, CA

Today, Dr. Burt Fullmer was savagely attacked, after being lured to a cabin in the Princess Auto Camp near Van Nuys. When Fullmer entered the cabin, he was bludgeoned in the head by Dr. J.H. Balzer, while Mary Wade stuck him in the arm with a hypodermic needle full of morphine. Fullmer fought them off, and the three rolled out the cabin door where they attracted the notice of neighboring campers.

Responding officers discovered a shovel, rope, and canvas in the cabin, and charged Balzer and Wade with suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon and assault to commit murder.

And you'll never guess the motive for the attack. No, seriously. You will never guess it.

The attack on Fullmer was the latest in a series of power plays between warring factions of a splinter sect of the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

Fullmer had recently been excommunicated from the Seventh Day Adventist Church, along with many others, for following the teachings of Mrs. Margaret Rowan, a self-proclaimed prophet who, the Times says, "rather startled the world by predicting its sudden finish two years ago."

The excommunicated started the Seventh Day Adventist Reformed Church. However, the fledgling church ran into trouble in a hurry.

As President and Treasurer of the church, Fullmer found himself at odds with Rowan. He said, "I began to suspect that maybe things weren't just right after her prediction failed to come true... I began investigating Mrs. Rowan's activities and the things that developed caused a split in our ranks." Fullmer claimed he had dirt on Rowan, and her followers intended for it never to come out. "They were planning to kill me. Why do you suppose they had that pick, shovel, and canvas for if it wasn't to bury me?"

In turn, Balzer claimed that Fullmer had been trying to wrest control of the group and had embezzled the church's funds. Balzer said, "We were driven to the limits of desperation by this man. His persecution has been terrible."

Blessed with foresight, Mrs. Rowan skipped town right around this time, prompting a statewide search as police sought her in connection with the beating. A week later, she surrendered to police, and stood trial with Wade and Balzer. The three were found guilty, and sentenced to 1 to 10 at San Quentin.

Today's Adventure: Tarzan and the Incompetent Burglars

February 20, 1927
Reseda, CA

"The entire affair is shrouded in mystery," said D'Arnot. "I have it on the best of authority that neither the police nor the special agents of the general staff have the faintest conception of how it was accomplished. All they know, all that anyone knows, is that Nikolas Rokoff has escaped." -- from The Beasts of Tarzan

Lord Greystoke bellowed with rage to discover that, while his humble creator, Burroughs, was quite suddenly called away to Ogden, Utah, his offices had been burgled. It seemed that nothing had been taken, all the papers and the small bit of cash that Burroughs kept onhand remained undisturbed.

However, the office's lovely French doors had been jimmied open, and the hinges on the safe battered, as if by a hammer. Surely this had the stink about it of Nikolas Rokoff, recently escaped from a French prison, and bent on avenging the man whose testimony had locked him away!

And then, Lord Greystoke dropped his jaw in horror. He should have realized! Of course, the bungled burglary was no more than a diversion, meant no doubt, to distract him from Rokoff's more sinister designs. Greystoke burst through the ruined French doors of Burroughs's office, and raced home to determine whether his archenemy had kidnapped his wife and son. Again.

L.A. Crimes of Passion Revealed!

This Thurday at Central Library, LAPL reference librarians Greg Reynolds and Mary McCoy will be sharing ghastly stories of love gone bad in the City of Angels.

  • The mild-mannered Marie Tucker claimed her husband stabbed himself in the stomach while making a ham sandwich - was it an accident or murder most foul?
  • Who shot Fred Oesterreich in his home in 1922?  Was it his lusty wife, Dolly, or her live-in lover, secreted away in an attic love nest?
  • And why did Hattie Woolsteen really kill her married lover?

Find out this Thursday, and learn the true stories behind some of Los Angeles's most notorious crimes of passion. 

Los Angeles True Crime:  Crimes of Passion
Thursdays @ Central
Central Library, Meeting Room A
Thursday, Feb. 21, 12pm 

Snow Davis, aka Harry Harpon, aka "The Sticker"

February 13, 1927
Chinatown 
 
dopeslayerThe headline read, "TORTURE DEN AND POISON PEN OF SUSPECTED DOPE SLAYER BELIEVED FOUND," and the story itself contained six missing girls, a basement torture chamber, and a "trick" pencil that could turn into hypodermic needle, chock full of poison, with the flick of a finger.
 
The villain was none other than Snow Davis, aka Harry Harpon, aka The Sticker, a dope fiend who'd done time on poison charges in three state prisons in as many years, and had twice been a murder suspect.
 
It's all quite a lot of build-up for a story that ultimately came to nothing. 
 
The Chinatown den was discovered when undercover agents heard groans in its vacinity.  Their report was passed along to the feds, who prompty raided the joint.  In addition to the "poison pencil," Snow Davis's known weapon of choice, they found piles of women's clothing and a stack of newspaper clippings from New Orleans.
 
However, any former inhabitants had fled.  Investigators had been hoping to link Snow to the January disappearances of six girls between the ages of 15 and 20, but it must have been wishful thinking.
 
Snow Davis, aka Harry Harpon, aka The Sticker, gets out of Los Angeles unscathed, and the Times never mentions him again. 

Anything for a Bust

February 6, 1927
 
rumsquad Over the weekend, the District Attorney's crackerjack Prohibition task force proved beyond the shadow of a doubt their devotion to the cause.
 
Then again, after the theatrical busts they staged, it's also possible that rum squad head George Contreras and his men simply craved adventure, danger, or an excuse to wear women's clothing.
 
The fun started when Contreras and two of his agents entered a home while dressed as telephone repairmen.  When they were unable to find the hooch inside, they flung open the chicken coop in the backyard, and were greeted by three full-grown lions.
 
Yes, three full-grown lions.  In a chicken coop. 
 
All three men promptly vaulted over the fence, and sought shelter across the street.  Here, they discovered A. Hernandez's 25 gallon still, and arrested him.
 
The lions were pets, they later discovered, though "not particularly fond of strangers." 
 
After the lion incident, Contreras dressed two more of his agents up in women's clothing and took them joy-riding to 217 E. 61st St..  Here, he pulled up to the home of a suspected moonshiner, Raymond Manley, and asked for "some liquor for the girlfriends."  When Manley brought out a bottle, police raided the place and discovered an enormous still, 180 gallons of whiskey, and 39 barrels of mash.
 
So, to sum up:  a man crafts a tasty beverage by hand, and goes to jail for his trouble, while the man who raises adult lions, in a chicken coop, no less, walks free.  And our rum squad seems to enjoy playing dress-up a little more than the average adult probably should.
 
Up is down, left is right.  Sheesh.

Does Not Necessarily Result in Better-Smelling Bandits

January 30, 1927
Los Angeles, CA
 
banditry 
Today was a good day to be a bad guy in Los Angeles, and a profitable one, too.  Calls to police flooded in from the terrorized, the carjacked, the held-up, and the home invaded, for a total of 16 robberies and 30 burglaries in a single day.

Poor Catherine Schmidt, a clerk at the Van De Camp bakery at 3601 Sunset, was robbed for the second time in a single week.  The scar-faced stick-up man made off with $17, and Catherine recognized him as the same guy who'd rifled through her register just a few days previous.

Drug store owner Charles A. Elliott had already closed up shop when bandits struck, and was spared the indignity of having a gun waved in his face.  However, his safe was cracked and $300 liberated, along with 22 pints of medicinal whiskey.  Pharmacy grade -- nice!

John S. Smith was held up at Mulholland and Laurel Canyon, and dragged from his car.  When the thugs discovered that Smith didn't have any money on him, they swiped his hat and coat and cut his ignition wires.  Jack Olonglin was also stranded roadside when a carjacking pair set up a roadblock at Yale and Wilshire, and took $300 and two suitcases of clothing from him before disabling his auto.

K.E. Winters, laundry truck driver, was stalled at Avenue 37 and Dayton when he was set upon by another would-be robber.  However, as Winters  handed over the money, he whipped up a hard luck story about not being able to cover his bills as it was.  His assailant took pity on him, and returned the money, saying, "Oh well.  I guess I'm too soft-hearted to be a bandit anyway.  Slip me enought to buy a bed and some eats and I'll let you go."

Can't believe that one worked, but nicely played, Mr. Winters.

Demon Liquor

January 23, 1927
Pasadena, CA 
 
latourW.H. Latour, a 71-year-old night watchman at the Lamanda Park Citrus Packing Plant in Pasadena, was propped up with a bottle of white lightning when he caught Tom Clark working on his car on the plant grounds.  When Latour told him to leave, Clark nodded, and prepared to set off on his way.

But then, Latour became convinced that the car was trying to attack him, and pulled a gun on it.  After firing two shots at Clark's car, Latour raised his arm to wave off the terrifying apparition and fired again -- directly into his own hand.

Elsewhere in Los Angeles today, another man paid a less gory price for intemperance.

soberEarlier this month, police were called to Mt. Washington Dr. following reports of a dead body slumped in a car along the side of the road.  But James Proffit wasn't dead -- only dead drunk, and "there were several dead soldiers around him in the form of empty bottles from which the spirits had fled."

Today in court, Proffit had some interesting things to say for himself.  "It's the holidays and festivities that get me in trouble," Proffit told Municipal Judge Turney.  "I was in jail at Thanksgiving for being drunk, and it was the same thing at Christmas and New Year's.  I wouldn't be here now, but my brother got married, and of course, I was there as a guest."

Turns out, Proffit had forgotten his duty to drive the newlyweds home from the reception.  When he swerved off the road and got them all stuck in the mud, the bride and groom decided to walk the rest of the way home, leaving Proffit to fend for himself.  Proffit was fined $200.

William Wrigley's Ocean Marathon

January 16, 1927
Palos Verdes Peninsula, CA
 
georgeyoung
In 1919, the heavily insured William Wrigley Jr. bought a controlling interest in the Santa Catalina Island Co., and sought to promote his lovely little island getaway.  And what better publicity stunt for the Roaring 20s than a contest of endurance?  Yes, a winter swim from Catalina to Point Vicente would be just the thing for those flagpole-sitting, dance marathoning types.
 
Wrigley offered a prize of $25,000 to the first man to finish the January 15 channel swim, and $15,000 to the first woman. 
 
The Wrigley Ocean Marathon attracted over 100 competitors, including a 17-year-old Canadian boy named George Young.  Young held several Canadian swimming records, but was too poor to afford a ticket to Los Angeles.  He did, however, have a friend with a motorcycle, and together they made the long haul from Toronto.  The bike broke down in Arizona, where Young was picked up by a honeymooning couple, who drove him the rest of the way.
 
His perserverance paid off.  Around 3am on January 16, after swimming for nearly 16 hours, Young was declared the winner of Wrigley's challenge.  In fact, he was the only competitor to finish the race.  With water temperatures hovering in the 50s, over 2/3 of the contestants dropped out after just a few hours.
 
Young caused a stir when he emerged from the surf in the nude.  The modest Young said, "We put a covering of graphite over the grease before I put on my bathing suit to help keep out the cold... I had taken off my bathing suit when I was two and one half miles from Catalina, and I forgot that grease and graphite were my only covering as I rose out of the water."
 
Two women, Margaret Hauser of Long Beach and Martha Stager of Portland, OR, were awarded prize money, despite not completing the race.  Only a mile from the finish line, Hauser was pulled from the water by her husband/trainer after 19 hours and 26 minutes, making her the contestant who lasted the longest.  When Wrigley heard the news, he said, "Shucks!  That's too bad.  Give them each $2500 for their remarkable attempts."
 
Sadly, Young's career fell apart soon after the race.  His manager turned down a $250,000 movie offer, believing he could get more money.  But there weren't any other offers, and Young never again recaptured his glory he enjoyed as "The Catalina Kid."
 
Those interested in the endurance contests of the era may also enjoy Geoff Williams's new book, C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race, which recounts the misadventures of the 199 men who ran from Los Angeles to New York City in 1928.

The Very Rich Are Different from You and Me

January 2, 1927
 
lifeinsurance 
 
The Spectator, a national insurance magazine, today made public the names of individuals in the United States with life policies valued at over $1 million.  Twenty-six Angelenos made the list, including:  Gloria Swanson and John Barrymore, with $3 million dollar policies each, Joe Schenck and Norma Talmadge, with $1.25 million in coverage apiece, and Will Rogers, Mary Pickford, and Charlie Chaplin rounding out the Hollywood luminaries on the list.
 
Owner of Catalina Island and chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr., George, Victor, and Alfred Machris of Wilshire Oil, and department store owner J.G. Bullock also made the list.  However, the distinction of most-insured Angeleno goes to producer Jesse Lasky, with a policy valued at $5 million (roughly $60 million USD 2007).

The "Sack Murder" of San Fernando

December 26, 1927
San Fernando, CA

boundwomanThe body of an unidentified woman was discovered off of Mulholland St. (now called Foothill Blvd.) in San Fernando today.

Her hands were bound across her chest with twine.  Her knees were bent, and her feet tied to her back with a length of cord.  Her body had been wrapped in canvas.  She had been struck in the forehead with a blunt instrument; however, a preliminary autopsy revealed that the blow was not hard enough to have killed her.  Most likely, she was knocked unconscious by her assailant, tied up, then left to die of exposure.

The dead woman was approximately 45 years of age, and was found wearing a black crepe dress, "cheap cotton underwear," and hose.  Her shoes had been removed.  She had false upper teeth and a scar.  She had been drinking the night she was beaten and left to die.  She had been dead for approximately 24 hours before she was found, and lay in the San Fernando morgue for four days until she was identified as Amelia Appleby of 229 N. Hobart Blvd.

The fourth wife of a wealthy Chicago inventor, Appleby had inherited a $1 million estate upon his death, taken the money, and moved to California.  She was not well-liked by her late husband's family, nor by her Los Angeles neighbors, who described her as "eccentric" and "a troublemaker."  However, she did have one friend who cared enough to tell police what she knew.  Prior to her death, Appleby was known to keep company with a "doctor" named Charles McMillan, 57.  Appleby had confided to her friend that she feared McMillan would kill her if she refused to marry him.

McMillan was rounded up at his 531 S. Western Ave. apartment, where police found him poring over a stack of Appleby's personal papers.  They later found more of her personal items, including her diamond jewelry, in McMillan's possession.  Police investigators later found two versions of Appleby's will, one which left her estate to McMillan, and another which left it to a long-lost daughter, although her relatives claimed that she'd never had a child.  Neither will was signed, and both were strongly suspected to be forgeries.

The evidence against McMillan was circumstantial, but strong.  The stolen papers and jewels, a blood-stained jacket, the forged will, and the fact that he was the last person to be seen with Appleby were enough to convince jurors of his guilt.  McMillan was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison on February 24, 1928.

"I Never Would Have Let Marion Go..."

December 19, 1927 
 
maryholtSuperintendent of Schools Susan Dorsey spoke out on behalf of Mary Holt, registrar at the Mt. Vernon Junior High, saying, "I spoke with Mrs Holt, and am satisfied that I would have acted as she did if I were confronted with the same circumstances."

Holt excused Marion Parker from school on Thursday, December 15 when a slender man came to the desk and asked for "P.M. Parker's youngest daughter," saying that her father had been in an automobile accident.  Holt hesitated, knowing that Marion was a twin.  However, the man persisted, saying, "I am an employee at the bank where Mr. Parker is chief clerk, and if there is any doubt in your mind, here is the bank's telephone number.  You may call there."

Convinced, Holt sent an office assistant to get Marian from class.  "Marion was nervous and excited when I told her that her father had been injured.  The news completely broke up a little Christmas party the children were having in their room, and Marion had some of the refreshments in her hands when she came into the room.  But at once she forgot about everything but her father."

Marion was excused from school, and left with the man who would, three days later, end her life.

After the kidnapping, Holt said, "Oh, I can think of many things I could have done now.  I never would have let Marion go but for the apparent sincerity and disarming manner of the man."

Private funeral services for 12-year-old Marion Parker were held today at the Little Church of Flowers at Forest Lawn Cemetery, after which her body was cremated.  The search for her killer continues, with police and citizens as far away as Denver and Portland on the lookout for the Fox.

thefox 

Beware of the Goat

December 12, 1927
Glendale, CA
 
deaththreatsThree Glendale families found interesting missives in their mailboxes this week, and they weren't no holiday wishes.

The Van Pelt family received a note reading:  "You are to be killed tonight at 10pm sharp."

The Westons were warned, "Highway bandits will rob your house tonight."

And then, the cryptic letter received by the Simingtons:  "Beware of the goat.  He is watching you."

Today, Glendale police revealed that two bored 12-year-old girls named Dorothy Alman and May White were responsible for the threats which kept the neighborhood "on the verge of nervous spasms for several days."

 
The two said they wrote the letters on a lark.  Today, these shenanigans would probably get a kid put on some kind of watch list, but in 1927, the preteen terrors were turned over to their folks.  The detectives on the case didn't report the particulars of how the girls' parents responded to the news, but said that "it sounded like a-plenty."
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