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.
Update redux: A number of the featured crimes have been folded into a new Esotouric crime bus tour, so climb aboard the Echo Park Book of the Dead if you'd like all the juicy details.
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.