Murder

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

Downtown Los Angeles, 1946: Beth Short's last walk

Here's another amazing discovery from the good folks at the Internet Archive. This May 1946 night time process shot through Downtown Los Angeles was filmed by Columbia for the Rita Hayworth vehicle Down to Earth. In the picture, the actress portrays the ancient Greek Muse Terpsichore, who visits 20th century America to torment the Broadway producer who dares put on a show portraying the muses as man-crazy sluts, and Terpsichore herself as "just an ordinary dame." Sacrilege! 

It's a fitting theme for us here at 1947project. For while perturbed Terpsichore was no human female, we think she'd sympathize with the posthumous plight of Beth Short, Black Dahlia murder victim, brutalized before death by unknown assailants, and ever after subject to vile, false rumors. (No, she wasn't a prostitute. Our offshoot Esotouric offers a bus tour explaining who she really was.) 

Now thanks to Down to Earth, we have this gorgeous footage of the heart of Beth Short's post-war city, a bright, populated and thriving Downtown that is as lost to us as the cultures of the Inca or the Toltec. Click "play" and enter a place that positively thrums with energy. Marvel at the neon lights, the late-night coffee houses, the fur shops, the airline offices, the swimsuit-clad manikins, the drug stores, the theaters of Broadway (some open all night), the street life. Gasp at Clifton's Pacific Seas (demolished 1960, now a parking lot) and Clifton's Brookdale (still with us, but indefinitely closed for renovations), boggle at Alexander & Oviatt's bright-lit windows packed with the hautest of gentleman's couture, and laugh when you spy unmistakeable evidence of just how huge a star Miss Rita Hayworth was in the spring of 1946.

Beth Short spent the last half of 1946 living in Los Angeles, bouncing from cheap hotel to friends' couch and back again. Her social life centered on the nightspots of Hollywood and Downtown. This process footage contains a near-exact recreation of her final steps on the night she vanished: south along Olive Street away from the Biltmore Hotel, then left on Eighth Street, where we are rewarded with two astonishingly rare views of the Crown Grill, the last place she was seen alive. 

Knowing what we do, the stylized crown above the bar's entrance looks an awful lot like a death's head, doesn't it?

Screen grab, 1946 "Down To Earth" process shot

As a time travel portal, this clip rates among the finest. Blow it up big on your screen, sit back with a cup of something soothing, and be transported.

L.A. Crimes of Passion Revealed!

This Thurday at Central Library, LAPL reference librarians Greg Reynolds and Mary McCoy will be sharing ghastly stories of love gone bad in the City of Angels.

  • The mild-mannered Marie Tucker claimed her husband stabbed himself in the stomach while making a ham sandwich - was it an accident or murder most foul?
  • Who shot Fred Oesterreich in his home in 1922?  Was it his lusty wife, Dolly, or her live-in lover, secreted away in an attic love nest?
  • And why did Hattie Woolsteen really kill her married lover?

Find out this Thursday, and learn the true stories behind some of Los Angeles's most notorious crimes of passion. 

Los Angeles True Crime:  Crimes of Passion
Thursdays @ Central
Central Library, Meeting Room A
Thursday, Feb. 21, 12pm 

Everybody Has to Fall Some Time

Luther Green headline

February 4, 1927
Los Angeles

A police dragnet is closing in on the killers of Luther H. Green.  A member of the Los Angeles Stock Exchange, Green was slain outside of his home at 1053 Bonnie Brae, as he attempted to thwart the hijacking of his $10,000 [$120,710.34 current dollars] stash of pre-prohibition booze. He was able to fire a single shot from his rifle before being mortally wounded by the burglers.

According to Chief of Detectives Cline, six men have been implicated in the aborted liquor heist. It is believed that the ringleader of the failed raid may be the notorious crook, Harry “Mile-Away” Thomas. Mile-Away’s mouthpiece, Attorney S.S. Hahn, told cops that he had conferred with his client and, “…he was not only a mile away this time, but sixteen miles away”. Harry and several of his confederates would soon be arrested in connection with Green’s murder, but none of them would ever stand trial for the crime.

More than a decade prior to the invention of Teflon ®, the often busted but rarely convicted non-stick felon would be released on the charges stemming from the Green killing. His lucky streak would end on the evening of April 21, 1927. Harry would be caught in a sting and gunned down by the law as he attempted to steal an expensive automobile from a private garage at 1408 West Thirty-Fifth Street.

Riddled with machine-gun bullets, buckshot, and slugs from police revolvers, Harry staggered from the garage and collapsed in the arms of a uniformed officer. Mile-Away’s last words before he succumbed to his injuries were “Everybody has to fall some time.”

A Second Engagement

January 2, 1927
Los Angeles

FoeOBurch

The good people of Los Angeles were reminded today of a quieter, simpler time—a time known as "1921".  A magical time of Teapot Domes, and Tulsa Tumults, and shotgun blasts to the face.  We collectively remembered the sensational trial of Arthur C. Burch and Madalynne Obenchain, dismissed following jury disagreements, regarding the August 6, 1921 Beverly Glen shooting and .12 gauge buckshot that took apart J. Belton Kennedy’s head.  (And now, our obligatory Kennedy "Gaelic For Ugly Head" Kennedy evidence:  the shots were fired from a clump of bushes [California:  growing better grassy knolls since 1850]; the first shot missed; there was a beautiful woman at the scene, and mysterious tramps...anyway.)

TwoMenSeems that J. Belton’s father, John D. Kennedy, of 844 South Westlake, never got over the death of his son, or the exoneration of the accused.  So today the sixty two year-old is in court on the charge of assault and battery.  He headed over to the Terminal Warehouse Building on East 7th where Burch worked in the insurance game.  As Burch was innocently hauling some fire extinguishers from one place to another, he suddenly heard “I’ve been waiting a long time but now I’ve got you!” – and was then struck in the face and seized by the throat, but was rescued before he felt the last bit of life choked from him.  

Authorities were summoned, and said Kennedy the Elder, later, “The affair occurred when my emotions overcame me.  I have no regrets and will gladly account for my actions at the proper time and place.  When I went in the building no such idea entered my mind, but when I saw him [Burch] coming down the hall I could not restrain myself.
“This is the fist time I have met him fact to face since his trials for the murder of my boy.  At the sight of him I was seized with a frenzy and choked him until he began squealing and they came and separated us.”

“I believe he has some pathetic obsession toward me,” Burch declared.

Mrs. Obenchain, living in seclusion in Los Angeles, declined to comment on the matter. 

On February 21, John D. Kennedy changed his plea from not guilty to guilty and Municipal Judge Richardson gave him thirty days, suspended, with the caveat:  that if Kennedy saw Burch coming, Kennedy was to “go to the other side of the street.”

That, Kennedy said, he could do.

Second Time's the Harm

February 1, 1927
Whittier

Family annihilator George Hassell was convicted of killing his wife and her eight children by his late brother, and has an appointment with the Texas executioner shortly. While awaiting his last date, George recalled the wife he killed in Whittier in 1917 and the three children he buried with her beneath their little home at 236 South Whittier Avenue. There seemed no reason not to confess this, so today, with some direction from long-suspicious neighbor Myrtle Lark and a little more from the agreeable killer, Constable Bob Way crawled under the house and unearthed the body of an infant. Its mother and siblings soon followed, thus explaining the wretched odors that had long plagued the spot.

In slightly gayer news, the grand new Mayfair Hotel has opened in the Crown Hill district of Los Angeles, providing the ideal vantage point for a drunken oil company exec named Ray Chandler to hole up for days with his secretary while threatening suicide to all who'll listen.

Cop Killer

cop killer headline

January 28, 1927
Los Angeles

The hunt is on for a cop killer. Traffic Officer Parley Bennett was mortally wounded when he attempted to halt a robbery at Brodin Millinery Company. Bennett was attempting to pull out his revolver when he was shot by the bandit. His weapon discharged as he fell, but fortunately no one was injured by the stray slug. Officer Bennett was dead before he hit the floor.

Services for the slain officer would be held at the Brown Brothers Las Flores Chapel, 935 West Washington Street, and he would be interred at Evergreen Cemetery.

Parley’s widow, Elizabeth, received $1,000 [$12,071.03 USD 2007] worth of police insurance, and merchants on Los Angeles Street (where Bennett died) passed the hat and collected a total of $1,071 for the bereaved woman.

While the fallen officer was being mourned, more that 150 policemen searched in vain for his slayer. Chief of Detectives Cline stated that the search for Parley’s killer would continue indefinitely.

Although 250 suspects would be taken in for questioning, none of them would be positively identified by witnesses to the shooting. There would be the usual sightings of men answering the description of the desperado, but each suspect would ultimately be released. Eventually the leads would dry up, and Officer Bennett’s murder would remain unsolved.

Local Man Sets Record

January 20, 1927
Los Angeles

A short notice in the paper today about Sidney (or Sydney) Adams who, on August 2, 1925 (most likely) mortally shot his wife Annie in their home at 1234 East Twenty-First Street.

august25Despite there being a chance for a difference—Adams steadily asserted that the woman committed suicide—on October 12, 1925 it took a Los Angeles jury a record twenty-five minutes to send him to the gallows.  (This being in part or wholly dependent on Adams’ race seems obvious—writ large as he’s routinely described as the “giant negro,” a term of which Times seems unusually fond.)

Hangings were on the mind of all Californians as executions ushered in C. C. Young’s gubernatorial regime. The previous four years of Friend Richardson’s governorship were marked by constant rejections of eleventh-hour appeals for executive clemency; in a show of consistency Young had five executions in the first five weeks of his stewardship and saw that each one went through unchallenged.  

payspenalty

There were six sitting in San Quentin’s death row when S. C. Stone  joined the bunch on January 6, 1927—making it lucky number seven.  Adams’ departure today took it back down to six.

Sailor's End

January 15, 1927
Los Angeles

The body of a young man, dressed in sailor's togs, was found today by four children playing in an open field near Eighteenth Street and Point View Avenue. The youngsters reported their gruesome discovery to the police, who identified the man as Henry Von Bulo.

Von Bulo was the third member of a love triangle gone tragically wrong. (Do they ever end happily?) Last month, Curran C. Samuels, age 40, shot his wife, then turned the gun on himself. He died. The missus, though pierced by a bullet that entered her ear and exited her mouth, survived. While in the hospital, Mrs. Samuels told detectives that her husband had probably killed her friend, Henry Von Bulo. She even led them on an unsuccessful search of the vicinity in which his body was eventually found. Mrs. Samuels believes that Von Bulo was killed on December 15, as he did not keep an appointment in Long Beach on that day. Three days later, Mr. Samuels shot his wife near Rossmore Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard "where she was engaged as a box-lunch saleswoman."

Despite the fact that Von Bulo was dressed in sailor's clothing and Mrs. Samuels's assertion that he was a member of the merchant marine, Von Bulo's stepfather declared that the young man had purchased the uniform and shoes last month in Oakland. He also suggested that his stepson might be the victim of a "bootlegger's war," but declined to further elaborate.

Is a Woman Ever Really Sorry?

shotbywife 

January 13, 1927
Los Angeles

mabelGeorge and Mabel Drummond had nothing if not a tempestuous wedded life.  Married ten years, hitched when George was fifteen and Mabel twenty-one, their stormy union included many a sterling instance, including the time a jealous Mabel held George in a chair at gunpoint for three hours while she threatened to shoot him with every passing moment.

Today, after the usual morning argument in their Alhambra home, George announced he’d had his fill, and moved his stuff out to go shack up with…a widow.  Tonight Mabel followed George to 335+1/2 West 42nd Street, where George was involved with one Mrs. Helen Salyer. 

Along for the ride Mabel had taken her old friend the pistol.

In fairness, Mabel did, on the sidewalk in front of Helen Salyer’s house, give George one last chance, asking him to come back to her.  George approached and said, firmly, no.  With that, Mabel shot him in the stomach; the force of the blast turned him around and Mabel shot him again in the back.  Mabel walked back to her car, got in, and sat calmly there until authorities arrived.  

helenMabel was arrested by Detective Lieutenants Brown and Adams of University Station, who found her composed, and that she could only comment that if she couldn’t live with him, no-one could.  When asked if she felt any regret, she replied:

“Is a woman ever really sorry?”

(With no defense offered other than the “unwritten law,” on May 19 she was ordered held to Superior Court for trial by Municipal Judge Rosencranz on charges of assault with intent to commit murder.  She told the court “I shot him because I loved him” and reiterated “sure I shot him—if I couldn’t live with him I wasn’t going let anyone else live with him.”  The jury, out an hour, gave her a full acquittal on May 24.)

Why Didn't God Accept Cain's Sacrifice? Because He Wasn't Abel.

January 5, 1927
Albany, New York
aliveandwell
Cain is alive and well (jeepers, the life span of these antediluvians) in the land of Nod York, East of Eden, or at least Schenectady…seems that one Harry Cain was engaged in a phone call, and was having some trouble making himself understood to the person on the other end of the line.

Finally the landlady came to the rescue.  “CAIN,” she shouted into the telephone, “C-a-i-n.  You know, the man that killed his brother.”

That set off the other party on the phone all right…murder!  The police were summoned and Harry Cain was in jail in a matter of minutes.  It took hauling the landlady in some time later to explicate the whole mess.

Still, I’d keep an eye on that Lamech character.

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

Christmas Cheer in a Razorblade

monroy

December 27, 1927
Los Angeles

Carlos Monroy, 35, was that precarious combination, a glazier and lush, and the missus no longer wished to live with him. So Anita, 29, took Carlos Junior, 10, and moved in with mama, Antonia Barron of 626 East 36th Place, while Carlos stayed with his mother and brother at 2915 New Jersey Street.

It being Christmas, Carlos found himself missing his family, and dropped by the Barron home, with a bottle of whiskey and a long line of apologies. Anita didn't want to hear it. She intended to be divorced, and further, she and her sister Leonora were going downtown to shop. Would he please leave?

Anita went to the bathroom, and Carlos followed her in, where he drew a razor from his coat pocket and slashed at her throat. Anita ran, bleeding and screaming, through the spare bedroom and into the dining room. Carlos finished her off there, then turned the blade on himself. Their son and the Barron women were witnesses to the carnage, then called for aid, though it was far too late for anything but tears.

The "Sack Murder" of San Fernando

December 26, 1927
San Fernando, CA

boundwomanThe body of an unidentified woman was discovered off of Mulholland St. (now called Foothill Blvd.) in San Fernando today.

Her hands were bound across her chest with twine.  Her knees were bent, and her feet tied to her back with a length of cord.  Her body had been wrapped in canvas.  She had been struck in the forehead with a blunt instrument; however, a preliminary autopsy revealed that the blow was not hard enough to have killed her.  Most likely, she was knocked unconscious by her assailant, tied up, then left to die of exposure.

The dead woman was approximately 45 years of age, and was found wearing a black crepe dress, "cheap cotton underwear," and hose.  Her shoes had been removed.  She had false upper teeth and a scar.  She had been drinking the night she was beaten and left to die.  She had been dead for approximately 24 hours before she was found, and lay in the San Fernando morgue for four days until she was identified as Amelia Appleby of 229 N. Hobart Blvd.

The fourth wife of a wealthy Chicago inventor, Appleby had inherited a $1 million estate upon his death, taken the money, and moved to California.  She was not well-liked by her late husband's family, nor by her Los Angeles neighbors, who described her as "eccentric" and "a troublemaker."  However, she did have one friend who cared enough to tell police what she knew.  Prior to her death, Appleby was known to keep company with a "doctor" named Charles McMillan, 57.  Appleby had confided to her friend that she feared McMillan would kill her if she refused to marry him.

McMillan was rounded up at his 531 S. Western Ave. apartment, where police found him poring over a stack of Appleby's personal papers.  They later found more of her personal items, including her diamond jewelry, in McMillan's possession.  Police investigators later found two versions of Appleby's will, one which left her estate to McMillan, and another which left it to a long-lost daughter, although her relatives claimed that she'd never had a child.  Neither will was signed, and both were strongly suspected to be forgeries.

The evidence against McMillan was circumstantial, but strong.  The stolen papers and jewels, a blood-stained jacket, the forged will, and the fact that he was the last person to be seen with Appleby were enough to convince jurors of his guilt.  McMillan was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison on February 24, 1928.

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.

Syndicate content