Domestic Violence

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 Venice Slasher

October 31, 1927
Venice, CA
A gory scene unfolded at the Venice Police Station today as 23-year-old Eddie Berry burst through the front door with a slit throat and passed out on the floor.
An employee of the Venice Speedboat Company, Berry had been working on the Venice Pier when he was accosted by a woman packing a knife in her handbag.   The dame was Berry's sweet wife.  She began to argue with him, then drew out her knife and slashed him across the throat, narrowly missing his jugular vein.
Berry was taken to the emergency room for stitches, while police went out in search of the estranged wife.  However, the search was later dropped when Berry refused to press charges.
Okay, it's not much of a Halloween story, but it was this or the story of a few rowdy teens from the Redlands being sent to a YWCA dance to keep them from vandalizing property.  Plus, isn't "The Venice Slasher" a great name for a would-be murderess?

Random Shots From Our 12-Bore

March 9, 1907
Los Angeles

The Insanity Begins

Led by I. Newerf and J.B. Dudley, the automobile owners of Los Angeles are fighting a new city ordinance that bans parking within 40 feet of downtown intersections. Newerf, the West Coast representative of Goodyear Tire Co., and Dudley, a car salesman, received citations for violating the law and have pleaded not guilty.

In April 1909, Dudley pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter after hitting street inspector Woodman J. Thomas on Broadway near 5th Street. He was sentenced to five years’ probation in March 1910.

Disgraced Woman

Hazel La Doux, a.k.a. Hazel Rogers, hid her face with a veil as she was tried on charges of forgery.

“Her downfall is said to be due to a man named William Rogers, an alleged Ascot tout who deserted her,” The Times says. “It is charged that Miss La Doux forged the name of Mrs. John Brink on a check for $120 and cashed it.”

La Doux told police that she and Rogers used a scheme in which she took a job with a reputable employer and passed clients’ information to her lover. La Doux said she worked at a department store in Oakland and a dentist’s office in Los Angeles, turning over names to Rogers, who forged the checks.

“She had been an honest woman, she said, until Rogers’ oily tongue and smooth ways captivated her and she became his mistress and then a thief,” The Times says.

He Paid $40

Restaurant owner Frank Flood stood over his wife, Annie, as she lay on the floor of their quarters at a Spring Street rooming house and said it would be worth the $25 fine just so he could beat her up.

In testifying against him, “She recited a story of shocking cruelty, saying that she had been mistreated, scorned and finally beaten by the man who promised to love, cherish and protect her,” The Times says.

Flood did not dispute any of the charges, refused to cross-examine her (a husband’s right in those days) and pleaded guilty to battery. “He admitted that he struck her and confessed to having assaulted her with his fist as she lay on the floor,” The Times says.

He paid $40 ($837.08 USD 2005).

Flood skipped town in September 1907. “He made the acquaintance of a fast sot and spent plenty of money, too much, in fact, for a man of his means. Late suppers at swell cafes cost Flood much cash. Then he became possessed of a desire to take long journeys in touring cars. He paid his bills with other people’s money, the new restaurant manager says, by levying on the cash drawer of the restaurant, which is owned by a company,” The Times says.

E-mail: lmharnisch (AT)

Court Briefs

Feb. 7, 1907
Los Angeles

A Child's Testimony

Charles Babbitt is sentenced to 30 days in jail on charges of domestic violence after the testimony of his 6-year-old son. “Papa hit me with a whip and it cut my head,” the boy said. “Then he hit mama.” “The man blinked his eyes and said that he did it because he was drunk” The Times says.

Ross' Widow Arrested

Mary Ross, whose husband was killed by Officer Hoover, is fined $50 after being arrested in a raid on a rooming house that was selling liquor without a license. Ross was among the women seized at the establishment of Mrs. Mary Cooper, 261½ S. Los Angeles St. William Ross, who fatally shot Officer C.A May, was buried in potter’s field, The Times says.

Fined for Blind Pig

Frank Stadler pleads guilty to running a blind pig called the Mechanics Club, 1466 Channing St., and is ordered to pay a $50 fine.

Chinese Lottery Case

E.S. Patton is sent to jail after failing to pay a $50 fine for selling Chinese lottery tickets. Patton is the first white man to be fined for such sales, The Times says.

A Familiar Face

Patrol officers recognized J.W. Mason, who had just gotten out of jail, and watched as he found “a drunken, well-dressed man and lured him into a doorway,” The Times says. He was given 20 days in jail for disorderly conduct.

E-mail: lmharnisch (AT)

A Love That Would Not Die

Nov. 22, 1907
Los Angeles

Weeping and heavily bandaged from where her drunk, enraged husband had shot her in the head, Ellen Larkin, 38, rose from her hospital bed, staggered to a nearby room and threw herself into the arms of her injured spouse. She covered him with kisses, vowing that she still loved him, and promised that he could come home as soon as he recovered from shooting himself and being nearly beaten to death with a baseball bat by their oldest son.

According to The Times, Jefferson B. Larkin, 45, a sometime teamster, horse player and

What's That on Your Shirt, Phelan?

June 29, 1907 - Los Angeles

Through the jail cell's bars, the officer asked, "Where did you get that blood on your shirt?"


E.H. Phelan, a barber at the Hotel Alexandria, said: "No, I did not beat my wife." He whispered: "She was drunk and fell down."

And the blood?

"Why--why-er, you see, she fell down in the backyard and I had to cart her into the house.

"Say, where's my bail? This ain't no place for a gentleman."

The beating of Mary Phelan shocked even the veteran police officers and court officials; it was the worst many of them had ever seen.

"While Mrs. Phelan was visiting with a neighbor about 4:30 o'clock yesterday afternoon, Phelan appeared at the home of J.H. Bradley, 1560 E. 51st St.," The Times said. "He walked into the room where she was seated and leaped toward her. Grasping his wife's hair, Phelan began to drag her from the room.

"Screaming for mercy, Mrs. Phelan pleaded to her husband to desist, but he paid no heed to her cries. Twice, he turned upon her, raising a club which he carried as though to strike her. Mrs. Bradley was too much terrified to interfere but when Phelan had dragged his wife down the steps, she ran to a telephone to call for assistance.

"Once out of the house, Phelan began to drag his wife along. Suddenly he struck her a brutal blow in the face and she sank down. Two men saw Phelan knock his wife down when he had dragged her halfway up the steps and as she arose, extending her arms to him in humble supplication, he kicked her in the face. Then he kicked his wife up the steps, across the porch and into the little house.

"Neighbors ran to their homes seeking arms and formed a rescuing party. In the meantime Patrolmen Hickock and Hickock had been detailed from the University Station on motorcycles and arrived soon after the little mob of enraged neighbors had formed.

"Looking through a window leading into a front room of the Phelan house, one of the officers saw Phelan on top of his wife with both hands grappling her throat. He seemed to be prompted by a fiendish delight and was working his hands as he choked the breath out of his half-conscious wife. At this sight, the patrolmen dashed for the front door.

"Phelan heard them coming and ran to open the door. As they showed their stars, the officers forced their way past him. One of them arrested Phelan, who coolly informed the police that his wife was drunk and had fallen and injured herself.

"In a pool of blood, Mrs. Phelan lay on a couch. Streams of blood were trickling from more than a dozen lacerations. When she faintly opened her eyes and saw her husband a prisoner, she vainly sought to rise, but fell back with a low gurgle--blood was choking her. When her mouth had been washed out, she gasped:

"'Oh, thank God, thank God! You have saved my life. In another minute he would have killed me!' Then she fainted."

And then the work truly began. Officers had to restrain the neighbors from lynching Phelan as investigators examined the trail of blood from the Bradleys' home. Someone looked for the broomstick that had finally broken in half as Phelan used it to beat his wife, whose bloody clothes were mostly ripped from her body by the beating.

The Times said: "Her lips were cut and bruised. Both eyes were bruised and blackened so that she could scarcely see. Her nose had been broken and her head was smeared with blood. On the woman's back were nearly a score of bruises and lacerations. Her breast was bruised and cut and from a wound in her abdomen blood was flowing freely. On her arms and limbs, great welts as large as a man's wrist stood out plainly."

And at the hospital, barely able to speak because of the beating, her body nearly shattered, Mrs. Phelan pleaded with officers: Don't prosecute my husband, he's my only means of support.

Phelan drew a minimal sentence because his wife refused to testify against him and had it not been for the neighbors' accounts, he wouldn't have been prosecuted at all.

"It is a pity that we have no felony charge to prefer against this man," the prosecutor said. "He has been in the Police Court before on the same charge and the woman at that time tried to shield him. If we could secure the woman's promise to testify against the husband we might file a felony complaint, charging assault with intent to commit murder."

Phelan sentenced to six months on the chain gang, but instead became a trusty at the University Station, where he served as a gardener. After public disgust over his light treatment, he was given one of the worst jobs at the jail: cleaning the hobos' bedding. And Mayor Harper personally ordered that Phelan be put on the chain gang.

Upon his release, The Times said: "Phelan has lost considerable weight since going on the gang. He does not look as prosperous as he did three months ago. Incidentally, he will be accorded no farewell reception by his fellow prisoners, who hate him because of his bullying ways."

It's impossible to tell what happened to the Phelans once he was released. In one of those quirks of history, we find a Mary and Edward H. Phelan in Whittier. But they are apparently unrelated to the battling Phelans who moved to Los Angeles from Boston two years earlier.

Note that Google Earth shows the Phelan home still standing and that it's near the site of the S.L.A. shootout on the other side of Compton Avenue.


To the Moon, Alice!


May 17, 1907

Los Angeles

The Le Canns continued their spat in court after Mrs. Le Cann showed Judge Chambers a piece of skin she said was torn from her lip when her husband, Fred (also listed as Ferdinand), shoved her as she was calling the police.

"He threatened to kill me and I'm afraid to death of him," she testified.

The husband cross-examined the wife (apparently that's how things were done in 1907), demanding: "Who gave you those diamond earrings you were wearing that day?"

Mrs. Le Cann refused to answer and the quarrel resumed until it was squelched by the judge in dismissing the case.

In the meantime, Charles Richmond was fined $40 ($820.94 USD 2005) for beating his 18-year-old wife and is facing a trial June 5 on charges of disturbing the peace.

"The husband cross-questioned his wife yesterday while she was on the witness stand. He tried to make the woman admit that he has been kind and attentive to her," The Times said. "She was poorly dressed and seemed to fear the man. She declined to testify in his favor and the court found Richmond guilty."

* * *

Anna Larson of Boyle Heights pleads not guilty to slashing a burro with a knife... J.W. Church is fined $10 for speeding after he struck stenographer K.M. Spooner with his auto at 3rd Street and Broadway... M.J. Lester is fined $10 for beating his son Rial, 13, so badly that he was covered with welts and had to be treated at the Receiving Hospital. The Times identifies Lester as being black.

Attacked by Mule

W.S. Stanton of N. 117

Pigs' Feet

Anthony Kallan likes pigs

Syndicate content