Police are searching for "bandit queen" Rose Berk with renewed effort after today's arrest of one of her henchmen, Fred J. Cook. Berk (aka Rose Buckingham, aka Rose Burke) is suspected of masterminding more than half a dozen "feminine lure" robberies during the last week alone. During the course of these hold-ups, Berk pretended to be a helpless female seeking "assistance in starting a stalled automobile." She was perhaps particularly suited to this role because, "unlike the usual type" of bandit queen, Berk was described by police as "homely, awkward in her manner and so old-fashioned that she still wears her hair long."
However out of style she may have been, Berk evaded capture by the L.A.P.D. On April 13, 1927, she was behind the wheel of the getaway car when a group of hold-up men, Fred Cook among them, robbed the Seaboard National Bank on Wilshire Boulevard of $21,000. The hapless Cook was arrested two years later, when in August 1929, he was recognized on a visit to Rose Berk, then jailed in Indianapolis. Alas, her trail goes cold here—we'll never know if she finally bobbed her hair.
Modeling the "old-fashioned" look is one of the winners of the Times's Mary Pickford look-alike contest in 1924.
Fifteen-year-old Lloyd Alley, arrested today in Los Angeles, is said to have made statements "tantamount to a confession" of his involvement with the "Sacred School of the Great White Brotherhood," an Oakland-based "love cult" with branches in San Francisco, San Jose, Portland, Chicago, and Texas. At the same time the teenager was spilling the beans in L.A., San Francisco police raided the cult's Bay Area headquarters, where they found an "effigy of a woman with a sword piercing her heart, incoherent messages, cards bearing linked names of males and females and other equally weird evidence." Cultists are said to have "encouraged free love in its most exotic forms" in its attempts to breed a "superman" and "superwoman." "Mystical marriages" were arranged and "the sacred phallic laws" studied. Also in custody in Los Angeles is Russell Alley (Lloyd's father, cult name "Omar"). Cult founder and high priestess, Mrs. Gertrude Wright ("Zareda" to her followers), is being held in Oakland, along with her disciple, Irma Gibbs ("Ermengarde," a domestic in the Wright home). All were charged with contributing to the delinquency of minors: Lloyd Alley, plus two young women, Thelma Reid, 17, and Caroline Merwin, 18.
Lloyd Alley and Irma Gibbs both made confessions said to "be reeking with unprintable details," though the paper managed to squeeze in a mention of two "new Messiah" ceremonials Lloyd performed with Caroline Merwin. Caroline (whose stepmother's complaint set the raid in motion) was quite the little minx: when she appeared in juvenile court later in the week she relished telling the judge that she wore only "filmy underthings" during her initiation ceremony, and that her "vibration robes" were scanty as well. When she "admitted intimacies with Lloyd Alley," the two of them laughed until the judge admonished them to be quiet.
Times columnist Harry Carr thought the juicy case was nothing but "Bunk":
The attempt to paint these girls—and their beef-fed sheiks—as innocent, wide-eyed victims of a freak religion is enough to make anybody laugh.
Girls of this day and age are wise guys.
And any one of them knows that a so-called religious cult that involves being "initiated" in the presence of men with most of clothes off is merely an excuse for a debauch.
There is at least some hope for a girl who is frank enough to laugh.
Caroline Merwin was eventually released into her stepmother's custody. Lloyd Alley was remanded into the custody of the Juvenile Detention Home and was later made a ward of the court. In May 1927, a jury deliberated for ten minutes before it found Russell Alley guilty of contributing to the delinquency of minors. Gertrude Wright and Irma Gibbs flew the coop before they could be tried; they remain at large.
Late last summer, 21-year-old Evelyn Frances Taylor and her 22-year-old friend, Mrs. Bernice Clancy, visited the offices of Dr. W.E. Williams at 1548 West Sixth Street. Evelyn, it seems, was a girl in trouble—she was looking for what the Times referred to as an "asserted illegal operation." Williams provided one, but there were complications, and Evelyn Taylor eventually died from the botched abortion (exactly when was open to question—the Times gave three different dates during their ongoing coverage of the matter). When the State brought murder charges against Dr. Williams in October, Bernice Clancy became the star witness for the prosecution. After all, she had accompanied Evelyn Taylor on the fatal day, and, she told the grand jury, Williams explained the details of the operation to her.
Clancy began receiving written and oral threats. Then, as she stood on the back porch of her father's house one day in January, "a gloved hand closed over her face and mouth and she lost consciousness." Half an hour later, her father found her in the yard on the other side of the house. "A dish towel had been tied over her face and her feet bound." Clancy recovered from the attempted kidnapping.
Today, as the trial looms closer, Bernice Clancy collapsed in a faint at the home of Inspector Horn, where she has been living under guard. Apparently, "a lineman working on … the property made some joking remark to her, which she misinterpreted [or so says the Times]. She was unconscious for almost half an hour and it was necessary to call a physician to revive her," the Times reported. As a result, the district attorneys prosecuting the trial have ordered that she be held incommunicado "with instructions to not permit her to out on the street unless accompanied by an armed escort."
Update: Bernice Clancy testified without incident on March 9, 1927. On March 24, after twelve hours of deliberation, the jury found Dr. Williams guilty of manslaughter. His motion for a new trial was granted, but before it began, the original charge against him was thrown out on a technicality. The State of California wasn't done with Dr. Williams just yet, however; in June, he was listed as one of six physicians who were to appear before the State Board of Medical Examiners on charges of behavior "inimicable to their profession."
The sad story of Blanche and Grace Stauber was revealed today when the sisters, ages 44 and 51, respectively, landed in the poky after a trip to Judge Baird's court. It seems the college-educated spinsters fell on financially hard times after they moved to California in 1910 from their native Kansas. After their pleas to friends and family for monetary assistance went unheeded, Grace started forging checks. She did her best to keep knowledge of her wrongdoing from younger sister—they were daughters of a Methodist minister after all. But when Blanche inevitably discovered her sister's malfeasance, she made a pragmatic decision: they would "join forces in an effort to keep themselves above poverty" and, above all, avoid being separated from one another.
It worked like this. Blanche and Grace would move into a small town somewhere in southern California. They'd rent a house, and Blanche would write a check in the amount of $300 to $600 (roughly $3,600 to $7,200 in today's currency), drawn on a bank in another city. Grace would take the check to a bank in their new town, where she would open both savings and checking accounts, depositing half the check in each. Thus funded, the sisters went on a shopping spree, buying merchandise and often receiving change on their purchases. They'd be gone before the bank opened the following day.
Over the years, Blanche and Grace Stauber passed worthless checks to the total tune of about $25,000 (almost $300,000 today) in twenty-five different towns. The sisters "prayed frequently" for the success of their nefarious operations, prayers that appear to have been granted as they eventually opened a store in Palms to dispose of their hot items.
Judge Baird remanded the "elderly" sisters to General Hospital, where it was determined they were sane, though lacking in "moral appreciation." Blanche and Grace faced possible sentences of from two to twenty-eight years in San Quentin, but it was said their greatest fear remained being separated.
Update: Blanche and Grace Stauber were each sentenced to serve one year in County Jail for forgery and issuing checks without sufficient funds. They were also sentenced to five years' probation on a separate forgery charge. The sisters didn't go quietly: they "told probation officers they felt the church owed them a living" and only started passing paper when it didn't come through.
The Artful Dodger would have been nothing without his teacher, Fagin, but the Dare-Devil Club of Gardena didn't need anybody to train them in the techniques of thievery—they did it themselves. Indeed, the cops called their social club a "crime school." Today, on the cusp of the club's first "graduation," police arrested five of its officers, all between the ages of 10 and 14. The charges? Burglary. The enterprising young criminals first broke into the Gardena schoolhouse. They also plagued Gardena resident T. Tsuchiyare, breaking into his house on three separate occasions and stealing his Kodak camera, jewelry, even the money from his children's piggybanks. The boys are scheduled to appear before Judge Archibald next week. Further arrests are expected before then.
January 15, 1927
The body of a young man, dressed in sailor's togs, was found today by four children playing in an open field near Eighteenth Street and Point View Avenue. The youngsters reported their gruesome discovery to the police, who identified the man as Henry Von Bulo.
Von Bulo was the third member of a love triangle gone tragically wrong. (Do they ever end happily?) Last month, Curran C. Samuels, age 40, shot his wife, then turned the gun on himself. He died. The missus, though pierced by a bullet that entered her ear and exited her mouth, survived. While in the hospital, Mrs. Samuels told detectives that her husband had probably killed her friend, Henry Von Bulo. She even led them on an unsuccessful search of the vicinity in which his body was eventually found. Mrs. Samuels believes that Von Bulo was killed on December 15, as he did not keep an appointment in Long Beach on that day. Three days later, Mr. Samuels shot his wife near Rossmore Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard "where she was engaged as a box-lunch saleswoman."
Despite the fact that Von Bulo was dressed in sailor's clothing and Mrs. Samuels's assertion that he was a member of the merchant marine, Von Bulo's stepfather declared that the young man had purchased the uniform and shoes last month in Oakland. He also suggested that his stepson might be the victim of a "bootlegger's war," but declined to further elaborate.
December 25, 1927
It's a blue Christmas for the family of Marian Parker this year, though they may take some pleasure in the knowledge that accused killer William E. Hickman tried to kill himself today—both times conveniently in front of a guard (Hickman was planning an insanity defense). The child murderer celebrated the holiday in a Pendleton, Oregon jail cell, prior to being transported back to Los Angeles for trial. Guards reported that Hickman roused himself from hours of lethargy by tearing pages from a bible and scattering them on the floor. He then asked for a handkerchief, and when his jailer obliged, quickly knotted it around his throat and pulled tight. The guard rushed into the cell, where Hickman climbed to the top of his bunk and attempted to dive headfirst to the concrete floor. The State of California went on to accomplish what Hickman failed to on October 19, 1928.
December 18, 1927
This morning's headline was set in the giant typeface reserved for only very good or very bad news. This time it was the latter: "Kidnaped [sic] Child Slain By Fiend." For three days now, Angelenos have followed the story of 12-year-old Marian Parker, lured away from Mount Vernon High School by a man who said her father was ill. The kidnapper demanded $1500 (close to $18,000 in 2007) for her safe return, and Marian's father agreed to pay it.
Shortly after 8 o'clock last night, the kidnapper drove up to the agreed-upon meeting place. Marian's small form was visible in the passenger seat. "Here's your child," he told Parker. "Give me the money and follow instructions. She's asleep now." The ransom changed hands; the criminal drove a short way and deposited Marian's blanket-wrapped figure on the lawn at 432 South Manhattan Place. Perry Parker rushed to his daughter, scooped her up and—in a waking nightmare that must have haunted him for the rest of his days—discovered she was dead, her eyes wired or sewn open in a hideous simulacrum of life. A wire was bound so tightly around her neck that it cut deeply into her flesh; she had been disemboweled and her legs hacked off close to her body. The Times was filled with stories comparing the Parker case to Leopold and Loeb and a host of other grisly child murderers. Crowds of bloodthirsty thrill seekers (the Times estimated over 25,000) thronged past the Parker household at 1631 South Wilton Place (address helpfully supplied by the paper).
The horror continued today. While most of Los Angeles was still reading its morning papers, citizens aiding the police found five gruesome bundles on a lonely road in Elysian Park. The first contained Marian's arms and legs; the last, found by "two small boys, carrying on the search," held her viscera. A blood-soaked suitcase previously discovered in the gutter at 620 South Manhattan place is believed to have held the child's body. Then, late this evening, the police found an abandoned Ford roadster, license number 667-67. It is believed to be the automobile driven by the kidnapper to the meeting with Marian's father.
A massive manhunt is underway for the fiendish killer.
December 11, 1927
The death of motion-picture actor George Donald Bailey was announced this morning. The 63-year-old thespian complained of feeling ill yesterday. A doctor was summoned, but Bailey died within a few hours. The death certificate, signed by Dr. C.D. Baker (a friend of the deceased), stated the cause as heart disease.
The matter would seem to rest there, but this afternoon Bailey's widow was visited by her daughter, Blanche Olivarias, and Blanche's sister-in-law, Miss Tommy Olivarias. The women brewed a soothing pot of coffee, sipped from their cups, and immediately were gripped by nausea. Tommy, in particular, became violently sick and felt a choking sensation in her throat.
Unusual, you think, but this is where the plot thickens: "'My husband clutched at his throat just prior to his death,' Mrs. Bailey said. 'He kept mumbling he was being choked to death'"—just after having a cup of coffee from the same fatal pot. Indeed, doctors say the only reason Tommy recovered was emergency treatment.
The county coroner requested a chemical analysis of Bailey's organs. The coffee pot and whatever liquid remained in it were turned over to the county chemist. Results were expected sometime the following week.
Did heart disease kill George D. Bailey—or was it poison? Were his widow, daughter, and her sister-in-law victims of the same toxin? Alas, the Times never reported on the outcome of the autopsy or tests on the coffee pot.
November 27, 1927
Did you hear the one about the traveling salesman and the farmer's daughter? Well, this time she wasn't a farmer's daughter—and the salesman ended up dead. Eleven days ago, 17-year-old Marie Hull went for a ride with Gordon J. Waters, 29, the salesman in question. When she returned home to 840 West 43rd Place, Marie tearfully told her mother that Waters had attacked her.
When Hazel Hull discovered Waters at her boarding house tonight, presumably to call on Marie, she was ready. When the salesman left the house, Hull rushed after him and pressed a .38 caliber revolver to his left side. She fired a single shot, then fled to her mother's. Waters staggered to the intersection of Hoover Street and Vernon Avenue, where he collapsed. He died on the way to Georgia Street Receiving Hospital without making a statement.
Days of juicy reading followed. Booked into County Jail prior to the coroner's inquest, Hazel Hull told reporters, "I am glad I killed him even though I hang for it. My little girl was sweet and good. I did the only thing I could to avenge her." Her ex-husband proclaimed his willingness to stand by his former wife's side, and Marie asserted that if her mother "had not shot him I would have done so myself."
Meanwhile, Waters's widowed wife of six months ("heavily veiled in a great pink chiffon drape that completely covered her head and shoulders," according to the Times) took issue with the Hulls' insistence that her husband had been "a sheik" and "a rounder." She preferred to blame the other victim: "Marie Hull led my husband on. She knew he was married." This was a minority view, however; when the coroner's jury announced their finding that Hazel Hull was justified in shooting her daughter's attacker, applause broke out in the court room, and spectators rushed to shake Hull's hand. The following day, Hull escaped a murder charge when the grand jury refused to indict her.
Despite the column inches it devoted to the case, the Times editorialized that "If Waters's conduct was indefensible, there seems even less defense for that of Mrs. Hull" and likened the juries' refusal to indict as an "indorsement [sic] of lynch law."
November 20, 1927
There are criminal masterminds, and then there are men like William E. McLane. Around 2 o'clock this afternoon, McLane walked in the back door of his home at 901 Palm View Drive. "I came back to the house today to see how she was getting along," he told the police swarming his house. "She" was his wife, Ada May, and she wasn't getting along very well at all—in fact, she was dead. While they were less than impressed with his display of husbandly solicitude, detectives were happy to take McLane into custody after he confessed to Ada May's murder. Ever the helpful suspect, McLane then explained that, contrary to police speculation, the bloody pair of scissors found next to his wife's body was not in fact the murder weapon: he had used a Barlow knife, which he tossed into the night as he ran from the scene of the crime. The couple had been separated for about five months, and McLane recently received divorce papers from his wife. This, he told detectives, inspired him to attempt a reconciliation—an attempt which led not to the revival of their marriage but to a quarrel that resulted in the death of Mrs. McLane.
Ada May apparently held no such illusions of renewed connubial bliss; her body was found by a friend who came to check on her after she told him her husband had threatened her life on several recent occasions.
November 13, 1927
A dead dancer,her restaurateur ex-husband, and a World War I flying ace: it was a cast of characters that wouldn't be out of place in the pulpiest fiction. La Monte McGinnis, currently a Major in the Army Reserve and
"one of the earliest American aviators to see service with a famous French Flying squadron," was arrested today on suspicion of forgery and mail fraud.
At some point in the past (detectives
didn't say just when), McGinnis met Mr. and Mrs. S.S. Schwartz in New York. Schwartz owned a restaurant; his wife, Tommasine Fabri, was a "French dancer." After the Schwartzes divorced, Fabri moved to Los Angeles where she seems to have become reacquainted with McGinnis. The change of climate was supposed to help her regain her
health, but Fabri died in August. She had been receiving payments from her ex-husband. McGinnis apparently saw no reason to chase this cash cow away by telling Schwartz of his ex-wife's death. Instead, he signed Fabri's name to "numerous requests" for money sent to Schwartz. According to detectives, Schwartz in turn mailed his dead
ex-wife $1800 (approximately $22,000 in 2007 dollars).
Several weeks ago, friends stopped into Schwartz's New York eatery and informed him
of Fabri's death. Schwartz hightailed it to Los Angeles, where he initiated the search that ended with McGinnis's arrest.
McGinnis admitted writing the letters to Schwartz, but said it was at Fabri's
request. "Before Miss Fabri died she asked me to look after her little girl until such time as I could get in touch with her
grandparents in Paris, France." Fabri apparently left no address for them; McGinnis claimed to have contacted the "prefecture of police in Paris" concerning their whereabouts but received no
reply. "The money I received from Schwartz for Renee's living and school expenses were due Miss Fabri anyway," he claimed. "She told me that she had loaned Schwartz money to start the restaurant business in New York. When they were divorced Miss Fabri asked for her money but agreed to accept a certain amount each month. . . . Miss Fabri told me this shortly before she died and asked me to send for the money and use it for Renee."
In case his sterling qualities as a protector of little girls failed to move police, McGinnis then stated he was a disabled war veteran, who contracted tuberculosis as a result of being gassed overseas. The case was turned over to Federal authorities for further investigation.
September 25, 1927
"A carnival of crime" took place in Los Angeles between last night and early this morning, the undisputed high point of which was a shootout at the Elks' Club. Shortly after dawn, two men walked into the venerable lodge located at Sixth and Park View. One of them carried a black traveling bag, but neither of them sought lodging for the night. Instead, they pulled a gun on the cashier and asked, in the best time-tested bandit fashion, for him to "stick 'em up." The man with the bag then walked behind the counter and forced open the safe, placing wads of cash and silver coinage into his portmanteau.
The thieves had retreated about halfway across the lobby when night watchman Charles Swaverly appeared at the top of the stairway to the second floor, his rifle aimed squarely at the bad guys. "Throw up your hands," cried Swaverly, whereupon the man carrying the money bag dropped to his knees and raised one hand above his head. "Both hands," replied the cool-headed defender of the Elks, upon whose recollection of the incident we must depend.
The bagman dropped his booty and raised his other hand, while his partner took cover behind a column. When Swaverly ordered him to come out with his hands up, he sent a bullet whizzing past the night watchman's right ear. Swaverly and the gunman spent the next minute shooting up the Elks' Club lobby. When Swaverly stopped to reload, the robbers hightailed it, leaving the bag of loot behind. By the time he made it outside, the getaway car was too far away for Swaverly to identify its make or model.
In this morning's Times, it all sounded a bit like a Fairbanksian fantasy, but the police were clear: thanks to Swaverly's gunslinging, the Elks recovered thousands of dollars.
September 18, 1927
“A huge bowl of punch made from high-proof bootleg whisky” stood at the center of a drunken brawl that left one man near death and another on the lam early this morning. When an employee of the automobile wrecking plant located at 10636 Hawthorne Boulevard arrived for work around 8:00 a.m. today, he found Inglewood real estate developer H.C. Mitchell lying in a pool of blood at the back of the garage. Though badly wounded, Mitchell identified plant owner A.H. Van der Mark as his assailant. Officers have yet to verify that Mitchell, who remains in critical condition at Milton Hospital with gunshot wounds to his right lung and leg, is a former official of the Ku Klux Klan. Meanwhile, Van der Mark has disappeared.
Eyewitnesses told different stories, but all agree the shooting occurred after a long night of heavy drinking at Van der Mark’s home (also the site of the wrecking plant). Mr. and Mrs. Charles Proctor told police the party was in full swing when they arrived, with guests freely partaking of the whisky punch. By 3:00 a.m., only the couple, Mitchell, Van der Mark, and Grace Haynes (a widow and the “asserted sweetheart of Van der Mark”) remained. Everything was rosy until Van der Mark allegedly told Mitchell that the latter’s habit of reporting bootleggers to the authorities “would make no difference in their regard for each other.” Apparently these were fighting words, for a scuffle began shortly thereafter. The combatants were separated, but Van der Mark returned with a .22 caliber rifle. The fight recommenced, three shots rang out, Mitchell fell to the kitchen floor, and the Proctors skedaddled. Police believe Mitchell then walked from the kitchen to where he was found in wrecking plant. Neither of the Proctors was held after making their statements.
Grace Haynes, on the other hand, is being held in County Hospital as a material witness. She claims the severe bruising about her head and body was caused by Mitchell, who she says arrived at the party looking for trouble. He had several fistfights with partygoers smaller than himself, including Van der Mark, who wound up knocked out—and presumably unable to avenge his lady’s honor. Haynes’s brother (he wasn’t there, but the Times was happy to interview him anyway) says his sister told him Van der Mark was passed out, not knocked out, but either way, “He was cold when Mitchell pitched into another member of the party and this man got a rifle and shot him.” And who was this man with the rifle? Why, none other than Mr. Charles Proctor. Haynes also told her brother that while everybody else at the party was more or less blotto, she herself was completely—totally!—sober.
To recap, of the five people present at the end of last night’s wild party, three claim Van der Mark shot Mitchell, one claims Proctor did the deed, and the fifth hasn’t been seen since the incident occurred.
In perhaps not unrelated news, the Times reports that the state now holds sixth-place in the nation for the number of “feeble-minded” persons admitted to institutions this year—or, as a headline summed up: “CALIFORNIA IDIOTS GAIN IN NUMBERS.”
September 4, 1927
The public stenographer was used to all sorts of crazy jobs, but the one that arrived in the mail last week was a new one for sure. She was to type up, and send to a number of prominent citizens, an appeal for $1500 from a purportedly destitute woman who promised to kill herself if the money was not received by the following Wednesday. The letter was signed “Madame XYZ.” It was all too weird for the stenographer, who turned the request over to police.
Today, an anonymous note showed up at the Central Police Station identifying Madame XYZ as Eunice McMullin of 2674 South Vermont Avenue. Clues given in the note led detectives to the conclusion that McMullin is really Mrs. Frank A. Martin. The 40-year-old Mrs. Martin has been missing since last week, according to her husband, who also said she tried to kill herself three years ago in Oakland.
XYZ/McMullin/Martin was clearly no criminal mastermind; the note, which used her real address, also included details of a railroad accident Martin suffered in 1913. And asking a public stenographer to send her extortion letters? Pure bush league.
Postscript: Police closed the case the following day, after the still-missing Madame XYZ contacted her husband and promised not to take her own life. Detectives noted that Mr. Martin was “not at all concerned” over his wife’s threats of suicide (an attitude apparently shared by the LAPD where Madame XYZ’s attempt at blackmail was concerned).
His wife wanted the money, Mr. Martin revealed to the Times, to “establish a new religious movement.” Neighbors, on the other hand, reported that they hadn’t noticed an upsurge in religious activities by either of the Martins, who were “in a strained financial condition”—or so said the neighborhood busybodies.
The story ended two days later, when Madame XYZ dropped a letter in her husband’s mailbox stating she would return to him only if he joined her in founding her sect. Alas, no details were given concerning the new religion, and, as police reiterated, given Mr. Martin’s “confidence that no harm will befall his wife,” the case was at a standstill.