Kidnapping

A moment in time: Beth Short in the 1940 census

On April 10, 1940--seventy-two years ago today--a man named Edmund M. Hart walked the streets of Medford, Massachusetts in the county of Middlesex, knocking on doors and making inquiries about the people who lived behind them. He was the designated U.S. Census enumerator, and the personal information he gathered has just this month been placed online.

On Salem Street, at number 115, Hart recorded the particulars of three separate households.

The owner of the property (valued at $5000) was Myer Winer, aged 59. A widower, he lived with his sons Samuel (21) and Allen (19), his daughter Dorothy (29) and her husband Eli Reingold (30). The young people were all born in Massachusetts, Myer Winer in Russia. He was a tailor in a retail clothing store, earning $700 for the previous year (for only 18 weeks work).  Son-in-law Eli Reingold was employed as a clerk in a wholesale tea company, earning $1200 for the previous year (52 weeks). His wife, a stenographer for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, earned the same wage for her 52 weeks of work. Although the census did not ask, we know from other sources that theirs was a Jewish family. 

Paying $35 in monthly rent was Edwin F. Jones, 58, and his wife Minnie, 56. He was from Maine, she from Massachusetts, and both had been living in the same house for at least five years. Jones was a newspaper printer, with wages of $2350 for the previous year (47 weeks work). 

Beth Short 1940 census (detail)

It is the third and final family which draws our attention, for reasons having nothing to do with their quiet life in Medford, Mass. The head of the household is Phoebe Short, 39, native of Maine. She tells Mr. Hart that her family of six has been living in this place for at least five years, and pays $28 rent--$7 less than Mr. and Mrs. Jones, perhaps a reflection of Myer Winer's charity. Although unemployed, she has an unspecified income of more than $50, not from wages. This is, we assume, money provided to her by her estranged husband Cleo.

Living with Phoebe are five unmarried daughters. Virginia M. (19), is the only one seeking work outside the home, claiming 34 weeks unemployment through the end of March 1940. Her occupation is given as New Worker, meaning she had left school but had not yet secured any position. The other Short sisters are all in school: Dorothea (17), Elizabeth (15), Elenora (14) and Muriel J. (11). 

medford high school pc

Although history records that Phoebe Short's husband Cleo was still living, she identifies herself to the census as a widow. Maybe at this time, Phoebe really thought her husband was dead. Maybe she claimed to be a widow instead of admitting to a stranger that she had been abandoned. We do not know if the story she told Edmund Hart was the same one that she told her landlord and her daughters. The bare facts of the census record cannot reveal the nuances of any family's tragedy.

Phoebe's pretty daughter Elizabeth (15) is frozen in time by the census keeper's ink. She is still safe with the women who know and love her, still free to walk out the front door on a balmy day and turn west on the Salem Road, which is will not for some years be bisected by I-93, a highway which seems to have obliterated 115 Salem Street. Half a mile from her home, past the movie theater and the city hall, is the old Salem Street Burying Ground, a neglected cemetery dating to the late 17th century. Maybe she wandered there, among the winged skull markers and crumbling walls, and thought about her own mortality and imagined the joys her life would contain before the grave.  

winged skull

She's still a couple of years away from her ill-considered escape from the limited opportunities available to a poor, fatherless girl in the Boston suburbs. When she runs, she will go to California, to be reunited with Cleo Short. Their relationship will quickly fracture, and she will become a vagabond, moving often and forming short-lived, intimate relationships with strangers. She will travel from California to Florida, to Chicago, then west again. She will lie to her mother, and she will not look for work. She will sink into depressive obsession over a promising relationship cut off when the man dies in a plane crash. She'll make some foolish choices, and some stupid ones. 

And at 22, they will find her body cut into two pieces, naked and brutalized, in a vacant lot in Los Angeles. She will find posthumous fame as the beautiful victim of one of the most heinous unsolved crimes in American history. They will call her The Black Dahlia, leer over the terrible photographs, and they'll never stop talking about her. 

But for this moment, she is still frozen in time. The census taker knocks on the door, and wants to know: who is the head of this household? What are the names of the children, and their ages? 

Elizabeth Short is 15 years old, and it is springtime. The possibilities are limitless. And we are far away, and remembering a girl we never knew. 

Thank you, Joe Cianciarulo, for the detective work.

Medford, 1880

Snow Davis, aka Harry Harpon, aka "The Sticker"

February 13, 1927
Chinatown 
 
dopeslayerThe headline read, "TORTURE DEN AND POISON PEN OF SUSPECTED DOPE SLAYER BELIEVED FOUND," and the story itself contained six missing girls, a basement torture chamber, and a "trick" pencil that could turn into hypodermic needle, chock full of poison, with the flick of a finger.
 
The villain was none other than Snow Davis, aka Harry Harpon, aka The Sticker, a dope fiend who'd done time on poison charges in three state prisons in as many years, and had twice been a murder suspect.
 
It's all quite a lot of build-up for a story that ultimately came to nothing. 
 
The Chinatown den was discovered when undercover agents heard groans in its vacinity.  Their report was passed along to the feds, who prompty raided the joint.  In addition to the "poison pencil," Snow Davis's known weapon of choice, they found piles of women's clothing and a stack of newspaper clippings from New Orleans.
 
However, any former inhabitants had fled.  Investigators had been hoping to link Snow to the January disappearances of six girls between the ages of 15 and 20, but it must have been wishful thinking.
 
Snow Davis, aka Harry Harpon, aka The Sticker, gets out of Los Angeles unscathed, and the Times never mentions him again. 

Was He The World's Most Understanding Husband?

Mrs. CarnevaleFebruary 5, 1927
Venice

The twisted tale of Avalona Carnevale began last December 8, when the 30-year-old housewife from Venice made a phone call to her jeweler husband, Vincent. She couldn't meet him in Los Angeles after all; he should take the street car home. And with that, she disappeared—-dressed in what was described as an expensive fur coat and wearing $1800 worth of jewelry (almost $22,000 today). Vincent waited two weeks, then reported her missing, along with her car.

Police originally suspected foul play. Then, on January 13, the Times ran excerpts from a letter Avalona had written to her parents the previous week. "Honestly, Mama dear," it read in part, "I have wanted so badly to let you know I am all right. As you know, I have been perfectly miserable the last few years and I was never contented. The climax came and I simply ran away from everything and everybody." She was happy now, living in Long Beach with "a real he-man" named Bob. Bob, in turn, enclosed a note telling Avalona's parents that she was "in safe and devoted hands."

Happy, safe, devoted—-it sounded perfectly peachy. Until today, that is, when Avalona made a statement to the police testifying that she had been lured from home by "a Barnes City circus employee" who kept her in such a state of constant intoxication that "she was by turns both unable and fearful to leave him." It started with a few drinks in the circus man's room. From there they went to a hotel in Culver City, where more alcohol was consumed. Her "mind was somewhat clouded from that moment on," she told police, but her drinking buddy eventually pawned one of her bracelets for $25, which he then spent on liquor. They went to San Francisco and later to Oakland. Avalona didn't contact police in those cities because the man beat her frequently, and she was afraid he would kill her if she tried to leave him. Eventually she did, seeking refuge in the home of Mr. and Mrs. A.M. Chisholm. Mr. Chisholm sent a telegram to Vincent Carnevale a week ago, informing him of his wife's whereabouts.

That letter to her parents, the one telling them how happy she was with her "he-man" in Long Beach? Avalona told police she "faintly remembered" writing it.

Her husband retrieved her from Oakland (both the car and the jewels were gone) a few days ago. "She is my wife; she is in my home—-that, I think is all the evidence you need of my intentions," Vincent Carnevale told newsmen.

It was a noble sentiment, but it turned out that Carnevale had signed and sworn to a divorce complaint on January 31—-the day after he received notice that his wife was in Oakland. But just as Avalona couldn't quite remember writing that damning letter to her parents, Vincent was sketchy about the divorce papers, which were filed with the court on February 7—-in error, according to Carnevale. "I did not mean to have the complaint filed," he told the Times. "I'd forgotten all about it in my worry and joy at finding her [his errant missus] again. As far as I'm concerned, the matter is now a closed book."

And so it remains.

The Greatest Show on Earth

December 29, 1927
Los Angeles

Angelenos have stellar opportunities for entertainment this week—the Brothers Marx are performing in Sam HarrisThe Cocoanuts at the Biltmore Theatre (why, and future Marx cohort Thelma Todd can be seen on screen in The Gay Defender at the Metropolitan!), and Jolson’s Vitaphone picture The Jazz Singer, whose thrilling sound production presages a new era for motion picture sound effects, had its magnificent grand opening last night at the Criterion…but where was everyone this week?  At the Pantages.

foxycaptors

The Fox in Captivity

December 25, 1927
Pendleton, Oregon

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.

Cup of Sorrow

marion parker

December 24, 1927
Los Angeles

Dominating newspaper headlines for the past several days has been the slaying of twelve year old school girl, Marion Parker. Her killer, William Edward Hickman, is currently in Oregon awaiting extradition. He’ll return by train under heavy guard to Los Angeles, where he faces the death penalty for the horrific crime.

Long before newspapers were delivered to the doorsteps of most American homes, information was spread by song – and it’s a practice that continues to this day. Ballads have been written about floods, mining disasters, shipwrecks, and murder. Marion Parker’s tragic story inspired prolific song writer Reverend Andrew Jenkins of Atlanta, Georgia to pen the poignant “Ballad of Marian [sic] Parker”.

The Ballad of Marian Parker

'Way out in California,
A family bright and gay
Were preparing for their Christmas
Not very far away.

They had a little daughter,
A sweet and pretty child.
And everyone who knew her
Loved Marian Parker's smile.

She left her home one morning
For her school not far away.
And no one dreamed that danger,
Was lurking near that day.

But then a murdrous villain,
A fiend with heart of stone,
Took little Marian Parker
Away from friends and home.

The world was horror-stricken,
The people held their breath,
Until they found poor Marian,
Her body cold in death.

They hunted for the coward,
Young Hickman was their man.
They brought him back to justice,
His final trial to stand.

The jury found him guilty,
Of course they could not fail.
He must be executed
Soon in San Quentin jail.

And while he waits his sentence,
Let's hope he learns to pray
To make his black soul ready
For the great judgement day.

There is a great commandment
That says, "Thou shalt not kill"
And those who do not head it,
Their cup of sorrow fill

Hickmaniana

January 23, 1927
Los Angeles

hangingaround

Following up yesterday’s story about whether one Ray McCoy was lynched for looking too much like Edward Hickman…

The verdict of the Coroner’s jury?  Jail officials and other prisoners, all vindicated.  Nevertheless, it seems that Ralph “Ray McCoy” Fuller raised the ire of Angelenos in the grip of Hickman fever, whose Hickmanmania (Hickmania?  Hickmentia?) led an angry mob to chase down and beat Fuller something fierce, believing the twenty year-old to be Hickman, after Fuller robbed a store at 242 South Main and was chased two blocks on foot.

Fellow prisoner Fred Meadows told the Times that once in the hoosegow, the sullen and reserved Fuller was regarded as just another popped burglar.  Meadows related how he and the boys started playing “Sundown” in an outer tank and when he returned, Fuller had hanged himself with Meadows’ scarf.  (Must be nice to have scarves.  And pianos.)

In other lynching news, any and all information regarding Hickman’s departure and route from Pendleton (where he was exhibited in a cage like a circus animal) to Los Angeles County Jail is being kept under strict secrecy.  

damnyoufriedrich 

News of the Day

December 22, 1927
Los Angeles

Let’s put up our feet and see what’s gone on in the world this day.  Not much.  The odd curiosity or two.   
hemp
According to our concerned friends at the paper, it seems the Mexicans are making a menace of themselves, using flowers of the “hemp” plant as some sort of habit-forming drug (they’re such a resourceful people!).  Apparently the Imperial Linen Products Company has blanketed the Imperial Valley with the stuff.  Well, I’m sure the State will sort this one out to everybody’s satisfaction.

 

 

onelastcigOh dear, here’s another fellow who just couldn’t resist a final cigarette.  Seems J. B. Smith left the wife at his Glendale home and checked into the LaViolette Hotel on North Maclay in San Fernando.  He brought with him a stack of goodbye letters indicating his fears about going mad, and a loaf of bread—not for snacking, but for soaking in water and wadding into the wafty windows and drafty doors (my hat off again to the resourcefulness of our Southlanders).  Of course, no-one banks on the dang’d jets taking so long.  Thankfully J. B. also brought along a pack of smokes to pass the time…the hole blown in the wall was six feet in diameter.  J. B.'s smoldering remains lived long enough to say goodbye to his wife at the hospital, but not much longer than that.

ostrichmanAnd oh my, it seems one of my favorite attractions of the stage, Sidney Barnes the Human Ostrich, has expired in New Orleans.  After complaining of stomach pains, the Homo Struthio underwent an operation to remove a cigar box full of bolts, carpet tacks, razor blades, washers and nails from therein—Barnes did not emerge alive.  Guess growing up to be a carnival side can be rough, kids!

 mistakenidentity

And what do have we here…a Coroner’s inquest will be held at 1:30 today to determine whether Ralph McCoy, in City Jail on suspicion of robbery, actually hung himself in his cell or was killed by fellow prisoners—it seems McCoy bears (well, bore) a resemblance to one William Edward Hickman.

Oh yeah.  Hickman.  Some mention in the paper about him, too.

vaunted thanksfoild

sadfasdfasylummotherfurorfasherimgadfadqueerquirksleepsmosherconfessionescapedattackflaw2flightouttaindictmentsdfasdf hicktaked

 auto

 

 guns

Find The Fox!

December 20, 1927
Los Angeles

As police scour the Bellevue Arms apartment*of "Donald Evans" (an alias for Marion Parker's purported slayer Edward Hickman, otherwise known as The Fox), they find portions of a chocolate cake, broken golf clubs, and dirty dishes suggesting a hurried departure. Marion's father Perry, upon discovering that the suspect is a former employee at his Seventh and Spring Street bank who he dismissed on fraud charges, says that the voice on the telephone demanding the $1500 ransom was similar to Hickman's peculiarly blasé speech patterns when discussing his offense, but that at no time did he believe the young man meant harm to him or his family.

Little Marion's outraged body lies in the morgue, a tiny, heartbreaking bundle with her missing limbs, hollowed core and unseeing eyes sewn open in doll-like pretence of life. In one small mercy, the Parker's neighbor is the Autopsy Surgeon, and it's this Dr. Wagner who makes the identification and pieces his little friend together from the parts that are brought in, wrapped in newspaper, from where they were scattered in Elysian Park.  

The reward for The Fox' capture has swelled to $62,400, with new pledges from outraged citizens, radio stations and fraternal organizations arriving hourly. Will The Fox be snared, or will he slip away to menace other cities, other daughters? Tune in tomorrow to find out!

*attention, modern readers: the Bellevue Arms is the partly boarded up, expansive brick apartment building flush against the 101 freeway heading north out of downtown. The Fox' lair was upstairs in the middle rear of the Western, burned-out wing. If you decide to visit, you'll come via Sunset Boulevard, and via... MARION.

"I Never Would Have Let Marion Go..."

December 19, 1927 
 
maryholtSuperintendent of Schools Susan Dorsey spoke out on behalf of Mary Holt, registrar at the Mt. Vernon Junior High, saying, "I spoke with Mrs Holt, and am satisfied that I would have acted as she did if I were confronted with the same circumstances."

Holt excused Marion Parker from school on Thursday, December 15 when a slender man came to the desk and asked for "P.M. Parker's youngest daughter," saying that her father had been in an automobile accident.  Holt hesitated, knowing that Marion was a twin.  However, the man persisted, saying, "I am an employee at the bank where Mr. Parker is chief clerk, and if there is any doubt in your mind, here is the bank's telephone number.  You may call there."

Convinced, Holt sent an office assistant to get Marian from class.  "Marion was nervous and excited when I told her that her father had been injured.  The news completely broke up a little Christmas party the children were having in their room, and Marion had some of the refreshments in her hands when she came into the room.  But at once she forgot about everything but her father."

Marion was excused from school, and left with the man who would, three days later, end her life.

After the kidnapping, Holt said, "Oh, I can think of many things I could have done now.  I never would have let Marion go but for the apparent sincerity and disarming manner of the man."

Private funeral services for 12-year-old Marion Parker were held today at the Little Church of Flowers at Forest Lawn Cemetery, after which her body was cremated.  The search for her killer continues, with police and citizens as far away as Denver and Portland on the lookout for the Fox.

thefox 

A "Grisly Rendezvous of Death"

Marian Parker (1915-1927)

December 18, 1927
Los Angeles

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.

The suitcase

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.A "Grisly Rendezvous of Death"

The calm before the storm

December 14, 1927
Los Angeles

The holiday is nearly upon us, and all across the city, citizens are Christmas mad. The Pacific Electric Hollywood car stalled, halfway through the First Street tunnel, and when the wire fell down and sent sparks arcing across the darkened windows, scads of package-laden shoppers panicked and stampeded, despite attempts by train staff to calm them. Several passengers suffered bruised knees, ankles and backs.

There's naught but sadness at 4528 Amber Place, where the John Vernon Rosses mourn the death of their only child, John Vernon, Jr., aged 4. Mother was working days and father nights in downtown shops, to save enough to give the tyke his best Christmas ever, while a neighbor, Mrs. J.W. Loyal of 4600 Topaz Street watched the babe. When mother called for him around 1pm, he was dead in his cot, victim of some mysterious internal hemorrhage. An autopsy was ordered, but if any cause of death was found, it was never reported in the papers.

And down on Wilton Place, the Parker Twins, Marion and Marjorie, whisper together about what to give their father Perry for his birthday tomorrow. They cannot know that tomorrow Marion will be kidnapped from her school by The Fox, and that despite the ransom Perry pays, she will never come home again.

Grapes of Wrath

 

ledintotrapsteen

November 11, 1927
Los Angeles

Mrs. Marie Steen was minding her own beeswax tonight in her home at 8619 Grape Street, when a short, heavy-set man appeared at her door.  He informed her that her husband had been in an accident, and that she’d better board the eastbound R car, go to the end of the line and meet the man who’d take her to her husband.  Marie did as she was told, and at the end of the car line was met by a man in a new automobile who took her north on Eastern Avenue.  When they reached an isolated spot, he, for reasons unknown, ripped her dress open at the neck, struck her over the head, and threw iodine in her face.

She was treated at Gardens Hospital and returned home.

Mrs. Steen certainly looks like she can take care of herself.  On the other hand, Grape Street can be a pretty rough place.

More Tales from the Tinderbox

This Weekend Last
Los Angeles

Running around, hosting the Dahlia tour on Saturday and taking photos of the trash incinerator in the backyard of the house next to Greene and Greene’s Merrill House on the Pasadena Heritage tour on Sunday, left me precious little time to blog, but don’t think I was totally shirking my responsibilities to you, dear reader.  I still found time to put my feet up and flip through the paper, and on seeing Joan’s posts this morning, was reminded of a couple tales…

Re:  She Who Must Be Obeyed, perhaps Frederick Mason should’ve married Mary Agnes Morgan:

mute

As James P. Morgan told it to Judge Bowron, the first twelve years of their marriage went along just swell, until one day in Agnes was struck dumb.  She moved her effects to another room, and from there shuffled about in silence, cooking meals and soundlessly accepting her meager Saturday allowance.  James finally asked for a divorce on the charge of desertion.  Quipped Bowron, “Most extraordinary—never heard of the like.  I know men who would say you were blessed beyond imagination.”  

And oh, the joys of sweet, innocent youth.  You’ve read about the pyro predilections of Joan’s Bakersfield brats—let’s throw kidnapping into the mix.

hazelsworld

You know, in your neighborhood, were an infant to be kidnapped, everyone would go apeshit, and there’d be feds everywhere, and News Chopper 5, and so forth.  Over in Boyle Heights, they just sigh, and trudge over to Hazel Oden’s house, 2706 Wabash Ave.  It seems that Hazel, eight, one of thirteen children, suffers from a mother complex that compels her to steal any tiny infant she sees unguarded; she will nurse and rock the baby for a time and presently forget all about it.  (Just like a real mother—how cute!)  Policewoman Georgia Robinson had to make the trudge on the 21st to go fetch one Estella Richmond, two months of age, who was sleeping in her buggy outside her home one moment and was wheeled off to Hazel’s the next.  Hazel has been sent to Juvenille Hall for observation, where she will be examined by psychiatrists to determine whether or not her impulses may be controlled.

Unfortunately, it would be another forty-six years before Hasbro introduces BabyAlive

Stormy Marriage for a Stormy Night

October 12, 1927
Los Angeles

Officer J.R. Reybuck had issues. Last summer, when he fought with his young wife, he thought he could resolve their troubles by choking her, snatching their baby son William, and running off to Yuma, Arizona, from which calmer perch he suggested she might join him and they could work everything out.

Lillian Reybuck had other ideas, and obtained a restraining order. She and her baby were living with her brother, Herbert, and mother, Mrs. Fred Hendricks at 914-and-three-fourths West Seventeenth Street, and that was where J.R. came today on one of his twice weekly visits. He was holding the child when he brought out his service revolver and shot his wife dead as she sat sewing in the front room. When her mother ran out of the kitchen, he took a couple of potshots at her. Mrs. Hendricks escaped out the door.

Reybuck unloaded a single shot through the left temple of baby William, killing him instantly. He then reloaded, leaned against the wall in front of his slain wife, and blew a hole through his brain.

He had blamed his mother-in-law for poisoning his wife against him.

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