The collapse of a major newspaper is fascinating to watch unfold, but any suggestion that this is an unprecedented media scandal the likes of which has never before been seen is, simply, balderdash. Take away the trapping of modern media tools, and the situation in the News of the World newsroom is revealed to have been nearly identical to what was happening in 1947 Los Angeles, during the investigation of the murder of Elizabeth Short, AKA The Black Dahlia.
The News of the World folded, not because it lacked readers, but in a desperate effort by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation to deflect political fallout from an escalating newsroom phone hacking scandal that included interfering in the investigation of the murders of children and spying on the families of dead soldiers and victims of terrorism.
Top British politicians appear to have had knowledge of these crimes and to have been intimately involved with some perpetrators. Further, editors have confessed to paying large sums to the Metropolitan Police for scoops on celebrities and crime victims. The scandal is an evolving thing, with fresh revelations coming by the hour.
Popular opinion holds that the entire working staff of the paper has been sacrificed to save the skin of former editor, current News Corporation chief executive, Rebekah Wade, an intimate of Murdoch and of Prime Minister David Cameron. Meanwhile, the entire affair is subject to passionate commentary by rival journalists, stalked celebrities and the scandalized public via Twitter and other social media.
But how does this relate to the Black Dahlia and 1940s yellow journalism?
For Rupert Murdoch, powerful and much-despised king of the yellow media, read William Randolph Hearst, whose Examiner was the best capitalized paper in post-war Los Angeles, and whose reporters did much more to further the Black Dahlia murder investigation than anyone else, including the detectives of the LAPD. For ruthless Murdoch editors Andy Coulson and Rebekah Wade, read Hearst’s top execs James Richardson and Aggie Underwood.
For the Metropolitan Police, implicated in the current privileged-information-for-cash scandal, read the Los Angeles Police Department, who were so deep in Hearst’s pocket that they didn’t balk when Examiner city editor James Richardson invited detectives to join reporters in the newsroom for the opening of murder victim Elizabeth Short’s missing luggage, which a reporter had located at the downtown Greyhound station and illegally purchased from the bag check desk. The evidence inside was promptly photographed for publication in the paper, and only then was handed off to detectives.
For Milly Dowler’s long-suffering parents, newly victimized by the news that their kidnapped daughter was not alive and deleting her own mobile phone messages in 2002, but rather her phone was being checked by News of the World hacks, read Phoebe Short, Elizabeth’s mother, tricked into telling a telephoning reporter all about her 22-year-old daughter with the ruse that Elizabeth had won a beauty contest. Only when she had nothing left to say did the reporter confess that in truth her daughter had been found naked and hacked in two in a vacant lot.
In both instances, 1947 Los Angeles and 2011 London, the motivation was the same: to sell newspapers, and advertising, by appealing to the most base instincts of the general public. Then as now, people are fascinated by stories of sex and violence, and willing to pay for the publication that gives them seemingly factual information they can’t get elsewhere. Reporters have always been able to justify their intrusions by laying their work on the altar of Truth. And unscrupulous publishers have always been willing to pay whatever it takes to hack into private lives of public people, to feed the information hunger.
As the dust settles in England over this latest manifestation of a very old story, the real question is why gossip is so powerful a thing, alluring enough to make fortunes and bring down empires. Why are we so interested in other peoples’ private lives?
October 12, 1927
Officer J.R. Reybuck had issues. Last summer, when he fought with his young wife, he thought he could resolve their troubles by choking her, snatching their baby son William, and running off to Yuma, Arizona, from which calmer perch he suggested she might join him and they could work everything out.
Lillian Reybuck had other ideas, and obtained a restraining order. She and her baby were living with her brother, Herbert, and mother, Mrs. Fred Hendricks at 914-and-three-fourths West Seventeenth Street, and that was where J.R. came today on one of his twice weekly visits. He was holding the child when he brought out his service revolver and shot his wife dead as she sat sewing in the front room. When her mother ran out of the kitchen, he took a couple of potshots at her. Mrs. Hendricks escaped out the door.
Reybuck unloaded a single shot through the left temple of baby William, killing him instantly. He then reloaded, leaned against the wall in front of his slain wife, and blew a hole through his brain.
He had blamed his mother-in-law for poisoning his wife against him.
July 6, 1927
Memo to Officer Fritzler of the Los Angeles police: next time you pull a guy over at Twelth and Main because you think he's driving drunk, don't tell him to drive you over to headquarters so you can throw him in the pokey.
Oh, everything might go just find as far as the police are concerned, but when you show up in Judge Wilson's court to defend the arrest, you'll be roundly chastised for letting someone you believed drunk remain in his car, because... Officer... the point of the drunk driving laws it to get drunks out from behind the wheel, not to turn them into chauffeurs for cops!
Since Fritzler clearly believed Fred Heegal was capable of driving safely through downtown traffic, and no test of drunkenness was given, the charges were dismissed, for this case and a similar one involving Officer Neff against C.A. Peterson.
June 16, 1927
Chemist Fred Paguilnati had been minding his own business in his home at 1528 Redondo Boulevard when local law enforcement came by for a visit. Which was understandable, since Fred’s chemistry business was less about mixing Bromos and more about tending to his 200 cases of assorted liquors, at his home bootlegging operation (complete with full bottling plant). Proprietor Fred had driven the coppers away with a gun but they’d come back with full force and broken down the door. And so before Municipal Judge Stafford went Fred, where today he was told he could pay $500 ($5,975 USD2005) or take fifty days. He took the fifty days. Ah, this, just a day like any other, here in Volstead-era Los Angeles.
To our left, Fred's house, center, as perhaps a Prohis Chopper might see it.
In related news…yes, we all know that Prohibition turned ordinary people into criminals, and gangsterism left corpses stacked liked cordwood on our streets, but let’s discuss something serious for once—stick this in your if-it-ain’t-one-thing-it’s-another file:
The article notes, just as one example, that cigarette comsumption was up 400%. Thanks a lot, Wayne Wheeler, for turning us into a nation of fat, toothless, wheezing, cancer-ridden sclerotic emphysemics.
March 9, 1907
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.
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.
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Feb. 7, 1907
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.
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Feb. 3, 1907
About 1 a.m. on a dark corner at East Adams and South San Pedro, the hard, shabby life of William Ross ended when he said, “What in hell are you fellows up to?,” drew a pistol and shot plainclothes Officer C.A. May.
May and his partner, J.M. Hoover, were walking east on Adams when they encountered Ross, described as a “rather roughly dressed man.” Earlier in the evening, Hoover and May, who were working plainclothes as part of a crackdown on burglaries in the area, investigated an incident at 223 E. Jefferson Blvd., where L.C. Kelker had reported that two men were on his front porch.
The officers warned the two men to leave, but did not arrest them as there appeared to be no criminal intent, The Times says. One of the men started into the house, threatening to get a gun and “do” the officers, but May and Hoover left without taking any action.
Later that evening, May and Hoover encountered Ross and suspected he might have been one of the men they encountered outside Kelker’s home. May threw back his coat to reveal his badge and said: “We want to know who you are and what you are doing here at this time of night.”
Ross said: “What in hell are you fellows up to? My name is Ross and I live just around the corner.” Then he stepped back, drew a pistol and shot May in the shoulder or the chest.
He fired at Hoover, who ducked and shot Ross in the forehead.
Police found some papers on Ross’ body, a little money and newspaper clippings from the Herald, one about a suicide attempt by Mrs. Mary Ross of 383 or 583 Central Ave. over domestic problems and a legal notice of Mrs. Mary Ross suing William Ross for divorce.
May was taken to Clara Barton Hospital, where he initially showed progress, although doctors were unable to locate the bullet.
Investigators eventually found Ross’ room at the Good Samaritan Mission, a homeless shelter at Ord Street and San Fernando near the Plaza, but there were no stolen items or any other evidence that he had been committing burglaries. Police also learned that he had been employed at one time at Pacific Carriage Works, 122 S. San Pedro.
May was sent home to 2139½ S. Los Angeles St. to recover, but the wound became infected and he returned to the hospital. Doctors were unable to locate the bullet and May died Feb. 28, 1907, with his wife and two brothers at his side.
The Times says he “expressed remorse that it had been necessary for the officers to shoot the man, but he said it was a case of kill or be killed.”
As a National Guard member and a veteran who had served in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War, May was given military honors in a funeral at Pierce Bros. Mortuary at Flower and 8th Street. A funeral procession consisting of police officers and National Guard troops escorted his casket to 1st Street and Spring, where they boarded streetcars for the interment at Evergreen Cemetery.
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January 4, 1907
Patrolman Sanders arrived at 2521 West Temple Street today to investigate complaints that a bull terrier had been a naughty dog.
He was met at the house by a woman who insisted the dog was quite friendly and most quiet. “I’ll show you,” said the woman, who opened the door…and with one bound the pooch leapt upon the patrolman, tearing his coat sleeve and trouser leg. When Sanders drew his revolver, the fearless canine took the muzzle in his mouth and began a protracted game of tug o’ war with the interloper.
Sanders kicked the dog away, and the woman gathered the pup up in her arms and bore him away, weeping hysterically, crying “I’ll have you fired from the force you brute!” To which the tattered Sanders replied “Go ahead—do anything but please don’t let that dog out again!”
The Times does not report on any further outcome of this encounter.
Dec. 31, 1907
His name was W.H. Reynolds and the old watchman for E.H. Howard Contracting had laid out all night after being beaten up and thrown in the weeds by two robbers who said they were garbage men looking for the closest dump.
A woman who saw the assault contacted the University Station and police searched all night in the area around Alameda Street and Washington Boulevard, where Reynolds lived in a small, ragged tent. It wasn
Dec. 22, 1907
As Police Capt. Flammer approached Yuma, Ariz., to take custody of George White, he noticed the smoke of hundreds of campfires made by hobos burning old railroad ties.
The hobos, Flammer learned, were avoiding Yuma because the marshal meted out hard justice to vagrants, as he warned in posters all over town. But Flammer also learned all those homeless men were heading for Los Angeles.