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?
March 10, 1927
Police received a tip that next to the home of Ray Foss in Bellflower, several people had been observed burying something that may have been the body of an infant. Thankfully, no bodies would be found. Police had discovered however, that Ray had an outstanding felony warrant from 1925 for operating a "baby farm" in Moneta (near Gardena). The fear of being nailed on the baby farm charge loosened his tongue, and Ray Foss began to relate a sordid tale of baby trafficking, illegal adoption, an alimony racket, bigamy, and narcotics addiction.
Ray told the cops that a woman being held in County Jail on forgery charges under the name of Minnie Williams was actually his wife, and that she had been the proprietress of the Moneta baby farm.
The baby farm had come to the attention of the authorities in 1925 when Minnie sold a baby girl to a woman who gave her name as Mrs. Johnson. The infant was found to be blind, and Mrs. Johnson returned the child and demanded a refund. The child later died. Mrs. Foss gave the woman $25 in cash, and in lieu of the remaining $35, she gave her another baby! Ray and Minnie fled a short time later to avoid standing trial.
During the next two years Minnie trafficked in babies, ran an alimony racket, and fed her drug addiction. She provided infants for women to carry into court when seeking alimony. Prior to being identified as Minnie Foss, she’d tried a variation of the alimony con in Judge Hardy’s court. Using the Williams alias, she made an emotional plea for probation on the forgery charge, alleging that she was about to become a mother. The court soon discovered that she was not actually Minnie Williams, and that she was wanted in the Moneta baby farm case. With the masquerade over, Mrs. Foss began to confess to Deputy District Attorney Costello.
Things got off to a strange start when Minnie was asked to state her name for the record. She told the Deputy DA that her last name was really Hines, not Foss. She said that she’d married Ray Foss when she was only 15 years old, and then met Clarence Hines in 1921. The three lived together in a ménage a trois until Foss left. Minnie claimed that she then married Clarence, but never went to the trouble or expense of divorcing Ray.
How did Minnie end up trafficking in babies? According to her, she was in fact, a "serial adopter". In 1922 she had noticed a newspaper ad about adopting a baby. She said that she went to the Mexican quarter near the Plaza and met with a couple who told her that they had a child they couldn't keep. Minnie took the baby home and passed him off to Clarence as his own child. She told him that the child had been born to her while she was away in Burbank!
Clarence may have been a very dim bulb, because over the next few years Minnie said that she brought home several other infants including a set of twins, and that she had informed him that he was the father! According to Minnie, Clarence never questioned her about any of the babies, so she continued to adopt.
Maybe Clarence wasn’t quite as gullible as Minnie had thought, however. When questioned by police, Clarence told a slightly different story. He said that he’d known that his wife sometimes placed “not wanted” babies. He also told investigators that he was aware of a black trunk which may have been used to store baby clothes or as a coffin for some of the unwanted babies. The trunk was later found at a home near Bakersfield that had once been occupied by Ray Foss.
When the trunk was examined by police it was found to contain baby clothes, a hypodermic needle, and a marriage license issued to Ray Foss and Minnie Magnolia Williams. Also found in the trunk were approximately twenty-four photographs of young girls and babies.
Even though Minnie said that she’d adopted the infants, the most likely scenario was that she occasionally kept unwanted babies born to women in her care. Where did all of the babies go? Police traced many of the children to foster parents who subsequently adopted them. Several infants remained unaccounted for.
Although there were many unanswered questions – particularly regarding the fates of the infants who could not be found, Deputy DA Costello dropped the baby farm charges because Minnie and Clarence had confessed everything to his satisfaction – including an addiction to narcotics for which Minnie was treated with Narcosan. The DA’s office couldn’t pursue the bigamy charges because the statute of limitations had run out.
Minnie pleaded guilty to issuing a fraudulent check and was given a sentence of from one to fourteen years in prison. Clarence received a similar sentence.
February 9, 1927
It’s a pretty simple scheme.
You own some stock. I approach and inform you that your stock is about to hit bottom. I suggest a trade—your stock for some of mine. The stock I’m offering you is about to go up, up, up, ya see. (Honestly, that’s the long and short of my plan; we swap my stock worth a penny for your stock worth a dollar—your greed does all the heavy lifting.)
When Mrs. Frances L. Derby of 502 North Ardmore was approached by some very nice men, she parted with 102 shares of John C. Frey & Assoc. worth $1,020, and 124 shares of California Guarantee Assoc. worth $498, and in exchange was given 4,700 shares of Silas Frank Mining. The Very Nice Men “talked down” her crummy old stock and represented the mining company stock as being worth $1 a share—when in fact it was worth 1 cent a share, or $47. Mrs. Derby was no ordinary rube, though, got wise, and alerted the authorities.
The aforementioned pleasant fellows being Leon F. Wessling, 36, and J. L. Johannes, 38. Detective Lieutenants Davis and Edwards of bunko detail say these two have, from their brokerage firm—a prestigious suite of offices in the Merritt Building—similarly swindled Los Angeles residents out of $75,000 in the past week.
According to Wessling and Johannes’ records, the duo finagled $18,000 out of one poor old widow alone.
Sad, true, but at least in a few years there’ll be a lot less stock to swindle.
December 31, 1927
Mrs. Evelyn Rosenkrantz has claimed in court that her dream to become the Queen of Holy City, California was reduced to ashes and bitter tears when the City’s self-anointed King, William E. Riker, retracted his marriage proposal. Evelyn is asking for $500,000 ($3.5 million USD 2007) in damages for breach of promise. The woman who would be Queen stated that William had sweet talked her in to posing as his wife. She said that they resided at a “love cottage” on 3679 Motor Avenue, Palms City.
Evelyn was not the first woman ever to have been disappointed by William. About 20 years ago, he fled to Canada to avoid bigamy charges. It was there that the former palm reader founded "The Perfect Christian Divine Way”. To achieve perfection, devotees adhered to a strict credo of celibacy, abstinence from alcohol, white supremacy and communal living. To make it easier for his disciples to concentrate on their spirituality, Riker required them to turn over all of their money and worldly possessions to him.
William and his followers returned to California and set up his “New Jerusalem” near Los Gatos. Surprisingly, he never got around to building a church in Holy City, but he did manage to construct a gas station (which sold “holy water” for over heated autos), restaurant, and an observatory where visitors could view the moon for ten cents. Located on the Santa Cruz Highway, Holy City became a tourist destination and was eventually bringing in over $100,000 ($1.2 million 2007 USD) annually. Tourists were lured by signs with such catchy slogans as: "See us if you are contemplating marriage, suicide or crime!" and "Holy City answers all questions and solves all problems!"
Things went so well that the city incorporated. There would eventually be a Holy City Post Office, newspaper, and radio station, KFQU. The radio station would lose its license in 1931 for “irregularities” (maybe it was the call letters).
Evelyn would lose her breach of promise suit, but she and William would tangle again in a couple of years.
In the spring of 1929 Evelyn was serving a life sentence in San Quentin for being a habitual criminal (her final conviction was for passing bad checks in Oakland). She swore in an affidavit that back in 1927 she had witnessed Riker strangle a Mrs. Margaret White to death in the cottage on Motor Avenue. Evelyn told the court that Mrs. White was another of Riker’s abandoned wives. Nothing would come of Evelyn’s affidavit, and she likely spent the rest of her life in prison.
Riker became known as “The Comforter” and made four failed attempts to become governor of California. He would be arrested in 1943 for his pro-German sentiments – he was writing letters of support to Adolf Hitler! Defended by well known attorney Melvin Belli, who constantly referred to his client as a “crackpot”, Riker managed to skate on the charges. The ungrateful crackpot would sue Belli for defamation of character, and lose.
Riker made it to the ripe old age of 93, when he shocked his few remaining followers by converting to Catholicism shortly before his death in 1966.
If you’re interested in owning a piece of California history, Holy City went on the market in 2006 with an asking price of $11 million. Maybe it’s still for sale.
October 25, 1927
Orville Clampitt cannot, it seems, stay out of trouble. First there was that business last year with the euphoniously-named Miss Lucille Swallow out Kansas way, and the San Francisco court martial the then-Army Chaplain (and "Beau Brummel of the Presidio") endured over accusations of "objectionable conduct" in violation of three of the articles of war. These charges were brought by the lady after she discovered that Clampitt, who was otherwise a delightful companion, was married with a quartet of kids.
"I forget when I first met Capt. Clampitt," Miss Swallow told reporters after eluding Army minders, "But he was awfully nice. He used to take me out for walks and to picture shows and to dinners. The question as to whether he was married never came up."
During the court martial, Miss Swallow produced love notes from the accused, and there was testimony that he had deliberately disguised his handwriting. But then several surprise witnesses appeared to claim Miss Swallow was "out to get" Mr. Clampitt because he'd refused her demands for money, and he was found not guilty.
He promptly retired to Santa Cruz, where he registered as "William Jones" in a hotel where a "Mrs. Jones" was also staying. It was bad publicity over this indiscrete act that resulted in Clampitt being dismissed from Army service, and the offer of a $50,000 motion picture contract for himself and his photogenic horse Red Head.
But no, said Clampitt, he wished only to return to Vancouver, where his wife and children waited. That was April. And today, he was picked up by Culver City police, following the arrest of boy burglar Spencer Farley, discovered in the act of looting the Schwartzkoph manse at 1725 Gardena Street, Glendale.
Farley told officers that his home address was Orville Clampitt's car, in front of Clampitt's home at 215[?] Silver Ridge Avenue, and that he was stealing so he could give gifts to Clampitt's 13-year-old daughter. It seems the whole family has relocated, in hopes of starting a new life. Clampitt stated he'd been hired as actor John Gilbert's double, a claim denied by Gilbert's studio.
When questioned, Clampitt admitted he was allowing Farley, 15, to live in his car, because the boy claimed his mother threw wild parties and refused to let him sleep at home. While he thought it weird that Farley wouldn't tell him where he lived, he was sympathetic to the boy's plight... at least until he discovered that the kid was taking his car out at night! Stolen golf clubs and various trinkets were seized from the Silver Ridge address.
Clampitt will be released tomorrow when it's determined he knew nothing of Farley's thefts. Henceforth he disappears from the public record save for an April 1929 theater review of his cameo in Edward Horton's play "The Hottentot," at the Majestic Theater. Red Head the horse had a leading role as the comic foil to Sam Harrington, who masquerades as the famous jockey who shares his name, and eventually must ride the fearsome Hottentot in a race. After each show, crowds gathered on Broadway to watch Clampitt ride Red Head, now mild as a merry-go-round pony, away from the theater and, we hope, home to his wife and kids.
September 3, 1927
Not all crimes are reported on the front page – and not all criminals are gun toting bandits. It may seem like a slow news day, but lurking on page six of the Los Angeles Times was this innocent looking advertisement for the diet drug Marmola. In the future the drug will be exposed as a possible killer!
Let’s hop into the time machine and travel to 1938... The public was fed up with products that promised the world, but delivered illness, disfigurement, and death. A Senate subcommittee was formed to investigate the outrageous claims of some over the counter medications. Following the subcommittee’s recommendations, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act on June 25, 1938.
Attorneys for Marmola challenged the constitutionality of the law. They insisted that people had the, “inalienable right of self-medication”. The judge who reviewed the case disagreed stating that the legislation was enacted to, “make self-medication safer and more effective”. Marmola toned down its claims but remained on the market. Finally in the early 1940s the FDA, believing the drug to be dangerous, seized dozens of packets while they were in transit to La Crosse, Wisconsin. The drug went on trial in Madison, Wisconsin in 1943.
A young woman from Chicago came forward with a horror story that left courtroom watchers in tears. She told the judge that she had purchased Marmola because she was tired of her weight being the subject of cruel taunts by her classmates. Her excess pounds began to melt away, but she had also developed some nasty side effects. She hadn’t known that she was taking desiccated thyroid in toxic amounts. By the end of seven months she was vomiting regularly and her weight would eventually plummet to a cadaverous 50 pounds! At the time of the trial she was deathly ill with persistent symptoms of hyperthyroidism.
Due in large part to the girl’s testimony, Marmola was finally pulled from drugstore shelves.
Diet elixirs such as Marmola aren’t quaint artifacts of bygone days. Just spend any Saturday morning watching today’s television infomercials hawking diet drugs and quack devices, each promising to transform you from a flabby couch potato to a sculpted body beautiful.
August 19, 1927
All the noir hallmarks here: a destitute, starry-eyed country girl, the shifty grifter she befriends, a rube with some dough in his pocket, a classic con, the crummy apartment hotel and a dark city.
Anna Karrick, 22, ran away from her Illinois farm home to win fame in pictures, but found herself down and out.
At a dance, she met a nice guy, Phillip Linker, of 1327 West Fourth Street. She persuaded him to come back to her place at 532 South Fremont Avenue (one imagines it didn’t take all that much persuasion). Once there, in the hallway, thoughts of ingress dancing in Linker’s head, he is brained by a rolling-pin, wielded by one Jess F. Waller. Linker wakes up in a taxicab, lightened of seven dollars and other valuables.
Waller and Karrick are thrown into County and charged with robbery and ADW. Anna told the court today about her relationship with Waller, sure, but denied knowing he’d be there with her rolling-pin.
Sadly the Times didn’t see the need to print the trial’s outcome, and because there’s no Anna Karrick listed in imdb, we must sadly assume she never broke through Hollywood’s gates.
532 South Fremont (now site of Glossy Black Tower, left) may be long gone, but it was a fun place while it lasted. In May 1929, Filipino nationals Cal Blanco and Ceferino Sandries argued over women with some sailors from the USS Colorado, when Blanco announced, “I’m going to kill all you sailors,” and so sailor Clyde Forehand shot them both dead; July of 1929 saw a riot there involving thirty sailors and six women, at which two women and seven men were booked on suspicion of robbery; Jack Wilson and Clark Falcon, leaders of a gang of automobile plunderers, were arrested with their booty here in February, 1932; in September 1935 Robert Honchell, a 25 year-old taxi driver, was having a drinking party with his pal Edward Folder, a 29 year-old unemployed café worker, when a woman showed up with her infant daughter—Folder’s insistence on taking the child out for candy started a quarrel, and Folder ended up stabbed mortally in the chest by Honchell…you get the idea.
August 6, 1927
"A lie told often enough becomes truth." –Vladimir Lenin
On July 17, 1918, Bolshevik authorities, led by Yakov Yurovsky, shot Nicholas II and his immediate family in the cellar of the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg, Russia. Since then rumors have circulated that one of the Romanovs, Grand Duchess Anastasia, had miraculously survived assassination.
The woman in the photograph on the right is Anastasia Manahan aka Anna Anderson. Anna was a patient in a mental hospital in Dalldorf, Germany until another patient said that she recognized her as royalty. Anna would spend the next 57 years of her life claiming to be Anastasia. Neither her supporters nor her detractors would be able to substantiate Anna’s claim during her lifetime. Several years following her death, DNA tests would finally prove that she was not a Romanov.
May 3, 1927
Some call it extortion; we call it a rather clever short con. C.L. Jackson and R.W. Hedgreth, both 48 and old enough to know better, approached service station operators Harold K. Hemmingway and Norman Bliss in the guise of being Prohibition officers, and asked where 'round here one could wet one's whistle. After being informed of the details, Jackson and Hedgreth threatened to alert the real Prohibition men of the illegal info being spread, and demanded a pair of tires, gasoline and $25 cash to keep quiet. But Hemmingway noted the serial numbers on the bills and called the law, and the crooks were soon nabbed.
Justice U.E. White must not have thought much of the victims in the case, for he sentenced the men to six months in County Jail, which he promptly suspended for good behavior.
Meanwhile, in Reno, Nevada's first short residency divorce was granted to Sophia M. Ross of New York, who braved the desert winds and cultural drought for three months so she could be freed of her Albert, who ate mashed potatoes with his hands.
April 30, 1927
Nice funeral today for Harry “Mile-Away” Thomas at the Gulik Funeral Parlor. A few days ago Mile-Away—the gangster known for always having been a “mile away” from whatever crime for which he was arrested—was boosting bootleg hooch and a car from the garage of Ora Lawson, 1408 West Thirty-Fifth Street.
Officers responded to her call about a prowler, and when they arrived, acclaimed hijacker Thomas went for his piece. The cops opened up with a machine gun, a sawed-off shotgun and two large-caliber revolvers, and yet the twice-arrested-for-murder, “King of the Hi-Jackers” Mile-Away Thomas, filled with pounds of buckshot and slugs, ran from the garage straight at the cops.
Mile-Away had been in the news just this last February, implicated in the murder of stockbroker/bootlegger Luther Green at Green's home. Cops chased Mile-Away around Los Angeles for two weeks before arresting him and, while detectives said on the stand they were certain it was our boy, he was let go for lack of evidence.
At the funeral today, upperworld and underworld hobnobbed, gawked at by the public throng, and Mile-Away’s lady friend, fellow carreer criminal Betty Carroll, swooned and collapsed for the collected. The cortege moved on to Forest Lawn, and the crowd dispersed.
Think of Mile-Away, won’t you, the next time you’re down near 35th and Normandie, where his ghost, bloodied but unbowed and his clanking not with chains but from a belly full of bullets, is charging at you with final terrifying resolution, coming to hi-jack your soul.
April 20, 1927
When evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, the anointed queen of Echo Park's Angelus Temple, went to Ocean Park Beach last May 18 and faked her own disappearance so she could run off with a boyfriend, even she could not have anticipated the hysteria that followed. For while her theological appearances were occasion for outpourings of public adoration, in vanishing, she moved into a new realm of fame.
Congregants promptly offered a $25,000 reward for the return of their favorite alive, though she was widely presumed drowned. Word of the reward passed like quicksilver among the community of professional divers, perhaps without the "alive" clause appended. One of these, Edgar Harrison, was already in town from Catalina to testify in an insanity case, and stopped off on his way home to take a dive off the end of amusement laden Lick Pier on May 25, where no sign of the missing woman was found. The water pressure exacerbated an attack of appendicitis, and Harrison died in agony. By the time Aimee stumbled out of the desert crying kidnap (a lie that was soon exposed), Edgar Harrison was in his grave.
Today, his widow Edna sat in court seeking $500 in death benefits that had been denied by the State Industrial Accident Commission, which claimed that Harrison was acting as a private citizen when he went diving for Aimee's reward. Edna countered that her husband was operating under orders when he received his injuries, and further that she had been receiving threatening letters, ostensibly from the City of Los Angeles, suggesting that she seek payment from McPherson and Angelus Temple, and leave the city out of it.
McPherson's mother Minnie Kennedy took the stand, and said she had known nothing of Edgar Harrison's dive until she was invited to attend his funeral, and that she had sent flowers and $500 to the widow, the latter which was returned. Edna countered that indeed $500 had been proffered, by two "impudent" representatives of the Temple, but that when she suggested they talk with her lawyer they had snatched the money away, called her "a bitter woman" and stalked off.
Edgar Harrison was survived by two young children, Edgar Jr. and Lois.
April 6, 1927
CONfidential to all garage managers: be on the lookout for a swell-looking swell of about 40 sporting diamonds on his fingers, checkered suit and a loud necktie, who pulls up in a swishy wagon spilling tales of his string of racehorses in TJ, the barn he's rented for them in town and how he'll be bringing the ponies up presently, and in the meanwhile, his car isn't running great, so can he hire a car and chauffeur to drive him back to LA, and meanwhile, can you cash this $135 check?
When this charmer stopped by Charles Maynard's Pioneer Tranfer Company garage, Maynard was dazzled by his line and said yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Now he's got a stolen car on his lot, a bad check in his register and a cranky chauffeur who, after waiting four hours for his client outside a Los Angeles hotel, drove back to Redlands to tell Maynard just what a dope he'd been. All that glitters, etc.
March 23, 1927
Notorious con artist Mrs. Mary Williams, aka Rose Mary Langhorn, has expired aged 65 in General Hospital while awaiting trial on charges that, shortly after making her acquaintance aboard the steamship Mongolia between Havana and L.A. last spring, she relieved Mrs. Marguerite Nonemacher of Highland, California of the burden of $3000 cash money, in exchange for some oil stock royalties which were certain to yield $10,000 shortly, and $500,000 in the longer term. Mrs. Nonebacher bit, and later squealed when not a nickel or a whisper was forthcoming from her shipboard pal or the phantom wells.
The APB that went out for the flim flam artist described a plump, cheery gal of later years, who was "full of conversation and bounced about the boat calling everybody 'honey' and 'dear.'"
"Sure I stole her money," said Mary whatever-her-real-name-is on her deathbed, but merely for "the fun of the thing." It all started when she was a rich young woman ruined after trusting other wealthy people, and so devoted her career to exacting revenge on other members of her former class. And who can begrudge her that?
The dying woman made a will naming a New York friend as her executor. But as California law forbids wills to be executed by non locals, she was instructed to think again. Not having many friends in California, and perhaps feeling indisposed to benefit Mrs. Nonemacher, Mary chose Chief Matron Vada Sullivan of the County Jail.
And that's why Matron is leaving work today to take a ride up to Ukiah, where Mary's strongbox was stored, to examine its contents and her bank accounts. Assuming all are well-stuffed, there will be numerous local souls benefiting from their proximity to the fading swindler, among them attorney M.W. Purcell ($1000), Father Vanderdoucht ($1000), three physicians ($1000 each) and nurse Florence McDaniel (a ranch).
above left: Matron in 1937, and it's pronounced Dee-KEY, sheesh.
Recommended viewing, Preston Sturges' The Lady Eve, our favorite filmic treatment of the shipboard swindler's art and love:
(See update below)
How pleased I was, during Sunset Junction week in late August, when the L.A. Alternative published an issue of their free weekly featuring my three-page pull-out crime map detailing the historic oddities and horrors of the Sunset Junction neighborhood. I heard from folks who attended the street fair that it was a big hit, with people walking around checking addresses and shuddering. (The Sunset Junction story can now only be seen right here at 1947project.)
A month after my story came out, publisher Martin Albornoz announced the paper was folding, but that he hoped to continue publishing online. Although at this point I was wondering where my payment was, I still dashed off a friendly email telling Martin that my husband Richard and I would be happy to meet with him and give him some ideas about how to pull this off, as we believed he and his writers had a lot to offer the community. He never replied.
Nor did Martin reply to my repeated emails, as the weeks ticked away with no sign of the $250 payment for the feature. I sent a certified letter demanding the money, which went uncollected. So I finally phoned and left a message, which resulted in the following email on November 27:
Yes, I am aware that you stopped publishing. In fact, you may recall
that I emailed you offering to advise you about your online options,
but received no reply.
Nonetheless, I wrote a story several months prior to the LAA closing,
and am owed $250 for it. I would appreciate your putting me high on
the list of people to be paid. I will extend the courtesy of
additional three weeks to you before pursuing other options. Please
ensure I receive payment by December 18.
I heard from Michele that Lesley thinks she remembers sending me a
check. So it is possible that you have already tried to pay me and the
check was lost in the mail. I would appreciate your checking on this,
and recutting the check if that is the case.
I would also appreciate it if you would mail me a stack of copies of
the issue with my cover story. Bulk rate is fine.
Thanks, and best regards,
It has been three weeks since I last heard that "in a few weeks" you
would be writing checks, and there has been no sign of payment for my
cover story, nor of the copies of that issue that I asked for.
Are you prepared to make good on this debt now, or must I go forward
with the plan for publicizing the non-payment and filing in small
claims court that I spelled out previously [in the certified letter that I later emailed to Martin]?
Please spare us both any additional bother and awkwardness and send me
$250 now, or let me know exactly when you will be doing so. I am
willing to work with you, but not to wait indefinitely for payment,
especially if you don't keep me informed of the situation.
Why is it that the only way I can get you to communicate with me is to
send out a mass email and post on my blog? You have had several weeks
in which to respond to my polite request for information on when I
would be paid, and you've ignored me. You never mentioned bankruptcy.
You actually said you would be sending checks out within several
weeks, which did not happen, so I emailed you again, waited two days,
and then went public.
I'm very appreciative of the support of the local press for the
1947project, and am always willing to give time and assistance to
reporters who have questions. But I worked for two weeks writing and
researching a huge story for your paper, which is something very
I wish you only the best, and hope that you will see fit to honor your
promise to pay for this story. And it would be quite a nice gesture of
goodwill if you were to send me those extra copies of my feature that
I have asked you for several times.
I will update the blog entry with any good news you can send, which
should be an added incentive to you to do the right thing.
Original post: The editors of the L.A. Alternative contacted me a few weeks back, asking if I had any ideas for a way to mark the Sunset Junction street festival by looking back at the area's criminal past. The result: a cover story featuring a pull-out crime map designed by Heidi Fikstad in which 29 of the more notable criminal happenings of the neighborhood are encapsulated for your edification. You can pick up a paper copy anywhere in L.A. this week, or check it out online here. I very much hope that you enjoy, Kim
Update: since editor Martin Albornoz chose never to pay me for the Sunset Junction crime map that ran in the L.A. Alternative, yet continues to run ads for L.A.'s dopest attorney, hot roomates and male dating services alongside the digital version, I'm going to host my own archival copy right here at 1947project. The art is by Heidi Fikstad from images from my personal collection.
The Horrifying, Bizarre, Unnatural History of Sunset Junction
As illustrated by the Map of Infamy
The strange and unusual multitude of murders, suicides, robberies, car crashes, ukelele beatings, firefighting pups and other odd factual tidbits from the historic era of today’s Sunset Junction.
By Kim Cooper
Los Angeles is older than she looks-225-and her memory banks are piled high with forgotten oddities that were once big news. To celebrate the Sunset Junction street fair, we wanted to revive some of those memories via a crime geek’s digging through the historic L.A. Times. Just like your grandpa might remember when those fools blew their gun shop up every time he tools past in his flivver, you might raise a mental toast to Jac Zinder when driving Sunset Boulevard around November. These memory maps are the soul of our city; we lose so much when they fade. Here is a smattering of historic oddities, to make it a richer neighborhood for whippersnappers of all ages. May all the dead ones rest in peace.
1. 3709 Sunset: August 15, 1950- Max Blakeley’s gun shop erupted in flames and careening bullets after an employee making a movie prop rifle telescope ignited a box of blank cartridges with acetylene torch sparks. The building was destroyed by a series of explosions, followed by a high intensity fire that melted the burglar bars “like limp bananas.” Several people inside suffered bullet wounds and smoke inhalation, but somehow no one in the rush-hour traffic along Sunset was hurt. Blakeley told firemen that there had been 85,000 rounds of ammunition and a large quantity of black powder on the premises. Shot through the right shoulder, he estimated his stock losses at $100,000. Also damaged in the incident were a florist, beauty shop, liquor store, dry cleaners and a dress shop, encompassing 3701-3719 Sunset. (Three years later, Blakeley struck and killed a pedestrian near the intersection of Sunset and Edgecliffe.)
2. Sunset at Edgecliffe: Thanksgiving night, 1994- Fuzzyland club promoter, DJ and musician Jac Zinder, passenger in a car traveling on Sunset, is killed in a head-on collision with a drunk driver who crossed into oncoming traffic while driving without headlights.
3. 3719 Sunset: December 1968- A flower power pigeon has made itself at home in a flower shop. It spends much of each day flying with friends, then zooms in the back door between 3:00 and 3:30 p.m. to nap. The proprietors leave birdseed in a bowl in its favorite niche, and have to duck when opening the door in the morning because the beast is so anxious to soar.
4. 3724 Sunset: April 23, 1930- Larry Steere of this address got into an argument with three strangers in an L.A. restaurant, but agreed to give the surly fellows a ride to Rosemead. The 35 year old was discovered unconscious in his car at Rosemead and Foothill, alongside the apparent weapon: a smashed ukulele. October 6, 1940- The new alien registration law had Harry Cahill, 60, terrified. The Finn’s papers weren’t in order, and he was certain he’d be deported to the country he left as a boy. Far easier, it seemed, to hang himself in his apartment closet, leaving the poignant note, “I haven’t any other place to go.”
5. 3725 Sunset: November 22, 1934- Alex Vielmas just wanted to empty the till and patrons’ pockets at Nick Sands’ cafe, but he ended up with a jaw full of lead when Sands whipped a gun from the register and blasted away at the would-be robber as he menaced seven customers and the cook with the old finger-in-the-pocket routine. Vielmas fled the scene but was captured a block away by officers who followed the trail of gore to a stack of lumber, behind which he was attempting an amateur dressing. Almost three years later, Emmett Lee Baldwin, 20, lost his bankroll at the fights and fixed on the cafe as a good place to replenish his funds. To the barkeep he snarled, “Dish out the dough!” while waving a nickel-plated revolver. Then Baldwin told the man to come around the bar and fleece the patrons. At this indignity, unemployed machinist Emil Heyden balked. “No punk can talk to me like that,” he observed, rising. And before said punk could react, Heyden had Baldwin locked in a jiu-jitsu hold, disarmed and cracked over the head with his own gun. Down in the E.R., the woozy hood sang like a lark, listing his crimes (59 hold-ups, including a near-fatal liquor store shooting on Melrose) and fingering accomplice Bob O’Connor, who snapped, “You’re a rat. I just furnished you a car and gave you a place to live-what did you get me into this for?” “Bob, what could I do? They had me dead to rights. I just told the truth.”
6. 3728 Sunset: February 8, 1959- Traveling east on Sunset, Arthur R. Forsyth, 23, clips a light pole and loses control of his car, which crashes into the front of the liquor store here. Forsyth is killed.
7. 3814 Sunset: This was the home of Kentucky Boy III, the brave and clever Airedale doggy who, in 1929, famously snapped his lead and raced two blocks down Hollywood Boulevard towards a burning movie studio. His master Robert Milton Byrne summoned fire engines and an adjacent theater, packed with patrons, was saved. In 1932 a juvenile cowboy orchestra serenaded the pup on the steps of City Hall as he was presented with one of 19 medals he would receive. Kentucky Boy died, aged 15, in September 1937, leaving his master unprotected. On June 23, 1939, the 65-year-old Byrne was found dead in his bungalow, victim of a brutal hammer attack. Evidence suggested the man might have lingered in a confused and bloodied state for as long as two days before dying, just 10 feet from the phone. Concerned neighbors peeked in a window, saw blood, then called police. A table was set as if for breakfast for two, and in the sink a carpenter’s hammer had been wiped of fingerprints. Byrne had seven skull fractures, a serious eye injury, and was covered in abrasions possibly caused by multiple falls. Some partial fingerprints were found in the house, and sent to the FBI in hopes of finding a match. Neighbors reported Byrne often entertained strange young men, so the pool of suspects seemed limitless, but police expressed particular interest in speaking to the 6-foot, 200 pound man seen with Byrne on the evening of June 19. In late July, police picked up and released Emacora F. Foschia, 30, on suspicion of Byrne’s murder, and the following January they questioned taxi driver Knud Troelsen, 46, who was picked up for a robbery and discovered to have a collection of female clothing in his home. Troelsen protested that he was being persecuted for his labor activities. The slaying appears to have gone unsolved.
8. 3900 Sunset: November 9, 1928- A bald-headed man with a mouth full of golden choppers held up the California Bank today, with the aid of a less dramatic-looking associate, to the tune of $4,000. This is the fifth robbery at this particular branch in 18 months, including a notable incident last November, when a dapper (yet toothless) youngster appropriated $3,000 and fled in a stolen green limousine. (Shaken tellers showed no preference for gold teeth over missing ones.)
9. 4013 Sunset: December 26, 1960- Two suicide attempts by Sheridan Kimmel, a 24-year-old writer, were thwarted today. First, his stomach was pumped of 60 barbiturates. Later Officer D.E. Davis stopped Kimmel from jumping off the roof when he grabbed him under the pretense of handing over a cigarette, then took the woozy man back to Central Receiving Hospital for a second pumping. Kimmel, a Korean war vet with a plate in his head, was upset because his wife, Marjorie Cameron, was refusing to let him see their daughter. (Cameron had a long and fascinating career as a Thelemite magician, avant-garde film star and visual artist.)
10. 4017 Sunset: May 9, 1936- Despondent over ill health, taxidermist Joseph Colburn, 60, shot himself in his brother’s shop, surrounded by hundreds of beady eyes of the creatures he had stuffed.
11. 4212 Sunset: December 1931- More than 100 local businesses are donating food to the Jail Cafe, which offers free meals to about 1,000 needy women between 9 a.m. and noon daily, prepared by charitably-minded ladies from the westside. August 22, 1955- You won’t hear comic songbird Barbara Heller trill her Judy Garland parody, “I was born in a booth in a bar on Main Street, L.A.” at the Cabaret Concert Theater any more, now that Muriel Landers has dragged Heller into court claiming exclusive rights to lampoon “Born in a Trunk,” and asking $50,000 damages. Miss Heller says the songwriters gave her the tune in appreciation for her kindness and past loans, while Landers counters she bought the number outright, and made it her theme song. In the hall outside Superior Judge Hanson’s chambers, a scrappy Heller said she’s already working on a parody of her parody, “Born on a bunk in a junk in the middle of the China Sea.” (Two years later, the rivals were in a variety act together at Ben Blue’s nightclub.)
12. 4240 1/2 Gateway Avenue: November 17, 1927- When the cops busted in looking for Harold Thatcher, a suspect in September’s sensational $73,000 payroll robbery at the Bureau of Power and Light, they discovered his wife Mabel, 19, near death in a gas-filled room. Harold was found sleeping elsewhere in the house. Rushed to the hospital, Mabel admitted attempting suicide due to illness. The irony of her life being saved as her husband was arrested was not lost on officers or the Thatchers.
13. 4384 Sunset: January 30, 1942- Spiritual seekers can no longer visit the little shop on the Boulevard to satisfy all the questings of their souls, since Charlotte Jean Le Nord, 25-year-old crystal gazer, fired a bullet through the breast of her “adopted” mother, palmist Mme. Lorraine (née Celeste Frank), 50. The older woman fell dead on the floor of the combined kitchen/dressing room in back of the white frame structure, the scent of incense mingling with the coppery stench of warm blood, beside a dresser topped with a shrine to the ashes of the dead woman’s husband. Her killer placed a pillow under the victim’s head, then drove to the police station to confess.
Charlotte explained that the pair had met in a Michigan department store several years ago. Mme. Lorraine told Charlotte she looked just like her dead son, and asked her to come live with her and her husband. They traveled the country performing a spiritualist act as a trio. When Mr. Frank died last September, Charlotte stayed on, telling fortunes on Sunset while Mme. Lorraine read palms in a downtown shop.
Charlotte said she’d been drinking all day to appease a cold, and had parked her car on Sunset instead of in its space behind the building. Mme. Lorraine upbraided her for this, and Charlotte pulled out the .32 caliber revolver she’d previously hidden from the older woman, citing fears that the bereaved widow might kill herself. And then, the unthinkable.
Charged with murder, Charlotte panicked when she learned her trial would be held on the seventh floor-Mme Lorraine’s unlucky number, and the hour of her death. She sobbed uncontrollably on the witness stand, describing how she had “playfully” pointed the gun at her beloved benefactress and said, “Bang!” after the older woman snapped, “I could wring your neck!” The gun went off, despite Charlotte having, she swore, removed all but two bullets at the bottom of the chamber. She strongly denied police conjecture that they were playing Russian roulette in emulation of a film or that they had a suicide pact. A munitions expert testified that the weapon was defective, allowing the cylinder to spin without the trigger being pulled.
The jury of nine men and three women accepted Charlotte’s profession that the death was accidental, and acquitted her after an hour’s deliberations, calling it “a tragic but unavoidable accident.” Because folks just pointed guns at each other and said, “Bang!” all the time in 1942, but that didn’t mean any harm was intended.
14. 4400 Sunset: April 12, 1952- A spectacular fire gutted the Akron Army & Navy Store warehouse this afternoon, causing $100,000 in damages and sending Fire Captain Earl McKee to the hospital after he fell through the roof and fractured an elbow. Several thousand spectators watched as sixty firemen from ten companies failed to stop the enormous blaze, but kept it from spreading to an apartment house on Virgil Avenue or the ladder shop next door. Curiously, business continued as normal in the surplus store, while the overstock burned down the block.
15. 4415 Sunset: January 4, 1920- Celebrated inventor Dr. Harry Barrington Cox (”the father of the dry cell battery”) called journalists to his laboratory and announced today a revolutionary advance that will preserve fruits and vegetables indefinitely, without the use of ice or chemicals. Cox has found a way to harness the power of the Earth, the same energies that keep food fresh on the vine or branch, even after they’ve been harvested. He proved it by displaying perfectly fresh oranges, peas and other fruits which he swore had been picked more than a year before. This discovery, the product of two years of research, Cox offers to California and the world as a New Years gift. More research is necessary to confirm the findings, but Cox says as long as the food is placed in an ordinary can, with metal wires creating a circuit to earth or water, and a little bit of the good doctor’s top-secret “vitalizer” at the bottom, extended preservation is a certainty, and the world will be immeasurably improved.
16. 4419 Sunset: January 21, 1929- When officers of the LAPD gun squad raided this home they discovered $1,500 in illegal whiskey, plus evidence of a complicated bunko scam. Arrested were Joe Besso, 42, and Gino Cesare, 57. Also seized from Cesare was a wallet containing several hundred dollars in real money and significantly more in counterfeit bills and rolls of newspaper of the type swindlers use to stuff poor boxes in immigrant communities. Victims of recent poor box scams are being urged to visit Central Police Station to see if either yegg looks familiar.
17. 4443 Sunset: November 11, 1947- Somebody has it in for radio shop owner Ted Wells, who got little work done today while dealing with the fallout of this weisenheimer’s idea of fun. First there was the $1,000 TV set supposedly ordered by a downtown bar. Ted lugged the bulky machine up the tavern steps, only to discover no one had called. Back at the store, taxis arrived on the hour, seeking phantom fares. The Fire Department showed up looking for a fire, followed by seven LAPD cars responding to a call of a stabbing. Phoned by a reporter, Wells expressed befuddlement as to the identity of his tormentor, then excused himself to answer the door.
18. 4473 Sunset: April 18, 1971- Christopher Russell, a 29-year-old transient, emerged from the all-night adult cinema where a robbery alarm had just been pulled, and took a revolver from his back pocket. When he ignored police orders to halt, Officer R. L. Bassett shot him twice in the chest. He was taken to County USC in critical condition; the gun was a plastic toy.
19. 4480 Sunset: August 17, 1924- This is the home of Harry Lowe, who, while picnicking with his family near Mint Canyon, discovered a suspicious burial site and alerted the Sheriff on his return to civilization. Deputies returned to the remote site, where they disinterred the remains of a monkey.
20. 4413 Camero: December 19, 1922- Although it means giving up a $250,000 legacy dependent on her marrying within her Protestant faith, Mrs. Olga Crane Lynch, 18, today escaped from her father’s home where she had been held captive since confessing her September 1st elopement with Catholic T.J. Lynch. She smuggled a note out to her husband who asked the district attorney to intervene. Called to City Hall, Olga’s father claimed his daughter had gone to San Francisco for six months “to see if she really loves him. I understood that Lynch had acquiesced in this arrangement.” Moments later, the girl was brought in by Detective George Contreras, and raced into her husband’s arms. “I am of age, I love my husband, and I am going to live with him!” she declared. Her father told her to go to blazes, and he and his wife stomped out. The young Lynches plan to go to New York.
21. Sunset at Micheltorena: December 20, 1914- D.C. Porter visits police to complain about the jitney bus that struck his horse and buggy today, pushing man and beast about 100 feet before dashing them roughly to the pavement. Porter estimated the bus was traveling a potentially deadly 25 mph, and says the driver drove on another half block before striding back to curse at the man and horse tangled in wreckage, demanding Porter reimburse him for the smashed headlights on his machine. (It is unclear if this was the same unlucky D.C. Porter who, in 1908, purchased a revolver from a shop at 313 South Main and accidentally discharged it, causing powder burns to the face of a clerk, damaging two showcases and shattering the plate glass window.)
22. Micheltorena & Effie Street: September 5, 1926- Piloting a stock Packard 8, Frank Randall set a record on the Micheltorena grade of 58mph, having turned off Sunset at a full clip. He was then “pulled over” by LAPD motorcycle speed squad officers Snider and Goldy, who gave Randall a souvenir speeding ticket to commemorate the planned record attempt. Six years later, the makers of the Essex Terraplane used the same grade to prove the hill-climbing power of their vehicle, reaching a top speed of 39.5 mph from a standing start, in high gear, with two passengers.
23. 1600 block of Micheltorena: January 27, 1922- Four days after he was found gravely wounded on the ground on the Micheltorena hill, doctors removed one of two slugs from his brain and motion picture cameraman Paul Cramer was able to tell detectives that his mother-in-law Mrs. Mattie Hannon had shot him. It seemed Mrs. Hannon was upset that Cramer and her daughter had moved from her house at 1504 Golden Gate Ave. into their own home. The woman accosted Cramer outside the new place at 1135 North Hoover and solicited a ride. Along the way she pretended to have lost her keys, and while Cramer was looking for them, she unloaded a .32 into his head; four bullets penetrated, two entering the brain, and Cramer knew no more. After the bed-ridden Cramer made his statement, Mrs. Hannon was taken into custody and informed that she would be charged with murder should he die. Winifred Cramer (known on screen as Jean Marlow) declared she would not visit her mother until her husband recovered, which doctors said he would. Mattie Hannon was found guilty of attempted murder and served a year’s sentence. Fifteen months after the shooting, Winifred divorced Paul, charging cruelty. The marriage left him two lifelong keepsakes: a deafened ear and a bullet in the jaw.
24. 3516 Crestmont: January 21, 1937- Dr. Albert F. Zimmerman, ear, nose and throat specialist, enjoyed one final midday meal with his wife before descending into his basement bathroom where, gazing into the mirror, he fired two shots. One pierced the wall, the second his skull. The dead man had been sickly and depressed about financial problems.
25. 1406 Manzanita: April 11, 1924- “Sure, my buddies and I stole gas from William Hill’s gas tank,” admits Charles Duncan Brotemarkle, “But we had nothing to do with hitting him over the head with that claw hammer.” So is the claim of the Hollywood High ROTC sergeant, 16, discovered with a garage full of stolen automotive accessories behind his grocery store manager father’s house at 972 Hyperion. Hill’s brother Joe says otherwise, having seen Brotemarkle strike the vicious blow, and the lad is in Juvenile custody on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon.
26. 3318 Descanso: October 2, 1945- Memo to treasure hunters: when pitching the notion of joining an expedition to locate $10,000,000 in Mexican treasure hidden by Pancho Villa, be sure the lady you met on a streetcar and asked to become your secretary/companion is not already employed by the LAPD Bunco Squad. Such was the misstep of Arthur Stuchal of this address, popped on suspicion of swindling.
27. Vendome Street between Bellevue and Silverlake: March 17, 1928- Mary E. Spangler had a cement block dam constructed behind her home on Vendome Street for use as a bridge. As the waters of the local stream began to spread, panicked neighbors sought legal redress, and all were called before Municipal Judge Bush. A visit to the scene and testimony from a city engineering inspector were sufficient to produce a verdict of guilty, and the lady was fined $25 and ordered to undo her beaver-work before the rainy season. She promptly appealed.
28. 4118 N Reno: March 10, 1926- Jesus Fernandez, formerly of this address, got one last moment in the sun today when his casket was unearthed from its plot in Calvary Cemetery and its lid cracked, all to appease the mania of his sister Mrs. Mary Burke. Ever since the 16-year-old meningitis victim’s body was hustled into the General Hospital morgue, Mary has been insisting that his body had been snatched for purposes of dissection. She claimed the family was refused an opportunity to view Jesus, and that his pallbearers had heard something rolling in the coffin. Deputy D.A. Fitts arranged for the exhumation, which revealed a perfectly ordinary burial. Mrs. Burke was apparently still upset that her father and another brother had been autopsied at General Hospital.
29. 1404 Westerly: February 23, 1941- E.D. Cassidy, hotel clerk, 36, phoned his sister Helen in Yuma and told her, “I’m going to die within a few minutes. I’m washed up. I’ve turned on the gas. Good-bye, sis. A lot of love.” She called her local Sheriff once the line was clear, and a police teletype message was rushed to L.A.’s City Hall. A call went out to radio cars in the vicinity, and Detective Lieutenants Parry and Brown responded within 10 minutes of Cassidy’s hanging up. They rushed the unconscious man to Georgia Street Receiving Hospital; he is expected to survive.