Police are searching for "bandit queen" Rose Berk with renewed effort after today's arrest of one of her henchmen, Fred J. Cook. Berk (aka Rose Buckingham, aka Rose Burke) is suspected of masterminding more than half a dozen "feminine lure" robberies during the last week alone. During the course of these hold-ups, Berk pretended to be a helpless female seeking "assistance in starting a stalled automobile." She was perhaps particularly suited to this role because, "unlike the usual type" of bandit queen, Berk was described by police as "homely, awkward in her manner and so old-fashioned that she still wears her hair long."
However out of style she may have been, Berk evaded capture by the L.A.P.D. On April 13, 1927, she was behind the wheel of the getaway car when a group of hold-up men, Fred Cook among them, robbed the Seaboard National Bank on Wilshire Boulevard of $21,000. The hapless Cook was arrested two years later, when in August 1929, he was recognized on a visit to Rose Berk, then jailed in Indianapolis. Alas, her trail goes cold here—we'll never know if she finally bobbed her hair.
Modeling the "old-fashioned" look is one of the winners of the Times's Mary Pickford look-alike contest in 1924.
February 28, 1927
Drivers in lonely climes like Topanga Canyon have recently been distressed when stopping to check on a "possum bandit" found napping in the middle of the road. Of course when the do-gooder leans over the prone figure, he leaps up with a gun, steals their valuables, and races off much faster than any marsupial.
Meanwhile, at 317 1/2 South Berendo, two dandified thieves of an agonizing refinement relieved Albert Zigman of $125 cash and $700 in jewels in his own apartment. The victim described one man as having kept his hands in his pockets while gazing at a picture on the wall, as the other flicked cigarette ashes from his lazy perch on the davenport. Shortly afterwards, they relieved neighbor Michael Kreel of his extraneous possessions before slipping off into the night with a yawn and a whip of their cashmere scarves.
February 8, 1927
The fourth in a series of bold daylight robberies of outlying classrooms has been reported at the Lillian School, near Holmes and Slauson Avenues. As a room full of terrorized seven-year-olds covered their ears and quaked, a tall, very slender negro relieved their teacher, Mrs. Ruth Hanna, of her handbag, which contained $20 cash. His weapon was neither gun nor knife, but his horrifying facility with curse words and threats. The criminal is suspected to be one William Tyler, known to police as "Stealing 24" and "The Apple Box Kid."
Meanwhile, in darkest Lankershim, Isabel Suaze, 15, is in hiding after hearing her parents' plans for the family to return to their former home in Arizona. The girl is such a California booster, she'd rather become a street urchin than leave L.A. Here's to a most discerning young lady!
February 4, 1927
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.”
February 3, 1927
It was another olla podrida fulla banditry in Los Angeles, which bubbled over and burned something fierce at El Molino and Ninth when a gent approached Frank Merlo, robbed him of $50 ($551 USD2006) cash and forced him to swap clothing.
Elsewhere, a truck containing $4,000 worth of cigars and tobacco, parked in front of the Glaser Brother’s establishment at 1028 Wall Street, just up and disappeared; a burglar capable of squeezing through a window not more than seven inches wide entered the Wrede Drug Company at 1327 Fairfax and made off with $200; persons unknown jimmied a rear door of Brunswig Drug at 4922 Santa Monica and btained $500 worth of cigarettes and delicious narcotics.
In residential news, Mrs. Elba Burdick was lightened of $1,000 worth of clothing, rugs and pesky jewelry that were cluttering up her place at 232 Carmelina Avenue; Nathan Lack now lacks one $600 diamond stickpin, formerly in residence at 831 South Harvard; Torato Nishlo was relieved of $500 in jewelry from 925 Hemlock; Dr. H. C. Hill of 806 Golden, also relieved of $500 in jewelry; Nathan Berger, of 2010 Brooklyn Avenue, also relieved of $500 in jewelry; and loot valued at less than $300 was pilfered from a dozen other residences, according to police reports.
Daylight is a good time to work as well—Sam Stone got his register rifled while looking the other way, Stone Furniture Company, 2711 Brooklyn Avenue.
But fret not people of Los Angeles! The bulls have pinched (another) gang of li’luns, ages 15 to 18, who now make the Alhambra pokey their new clubhouse. Their leader was busting into the home of an F. R. Lee on North Wilson when popped, and quickly gave up his younger cohorts—they of reputable local families—and location of purloined rugs, cameras, revolvers, and the black masks (cute—last year) they wore during their heists. The youth of these masked marauders may account for the ability to slip through Wrede Drug's tiny window. Unless it was those fabled fascistic interwar little people.
Poor Catherine Schmidt, a clerk at the Van De Camp bakery at 3601 Sunset, was robbed for the second time in a single week. The scar-faced stick-up man made off with $17, and Catherine recognized him as the same guy who'd rifled through her register just a few days previous.
Drug store owner Charles A. Elliott had already closed up shop when bandits struck, and was spared the indignity of having a gun waved in his face. However, his safe was cracked and $300 liberated, along with 22 pints of medicinal whiskey. Pharmacy grade -- nice!
John S. Smith was held up at Mulholland and Laurel Canyon, and dragged from his car. When the thugs discovered that Smith didn't have any money on him, they swiped his hat and coat and cut his ignition wires. Jack Olonglin was also stranded roadside when a carjacking pair set up a roadblock at Yale and Wilshire, and took $300 and two suitcases of clothing from him before disabling his auto.
K.E. Winters, laundry truck driver, was stalled at Avenue 37 and Dayton when he was set upon by another would-be robber. However, as Winters handed over the money, he whipped up a hard luck story about not being able to cover his bills as it was. His assailant took pity on him, and returned the money, saying, "Oh well. I guess I'm too soft-hearted to be a bandit anyway. Slip me enought to buy a bed and some eats and I'll let you go."
Can't believe that one worked, but nicely played, Mr. Winters.
January 28, 1927
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.
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.
January 21, 1927
Edward W. Xanders (aka Bert Best) was extradited from Portland, Oregon today to be tried for a series of robberies and burglaries committed in Los Angeles over the Christmas holidays.
Xanders spent most of the day with sheriffs, trading quips and calmly confessing to a litany of misdeeds. He admitted to burglarizing the home of John Lindley near Azusa (see photo), and he has also said that he and his crime buddy, Ray E. McCoy, robbed famed boxing manager Jack Kearns.
It was through his confession that police learned that Xanders and McCoy had stopped Kearns’ car on a lonely road near the beach. While the stick-up was in progress, a policeman had approached the car to see if the men needed assistance. McCoy jabbed a gun into Kearns’ ribs and told him to keep quiet, or die. Always the glib talker, Xanders chatted with the cop, offered him a cigar, and sent him on his way.
Xanders admitted to police that he had been in court a few times during 1926. He stated that he had been granted probation on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon. It was during that case that he had told the court that a childhood head injury had led him to a life of crime. According to his story, ever since he had received the blow to his noggin, he has had an irresistible urge to commit crime. Based on an alienist’s report, the judge recommended that Xanders, if willing, should undergo an operation to relieve pressure on his brain. Xanders declined to have the surgery.
With the nasty pressure still on his brain, it wasn’t long before Xanders was in court again. In making his plea for probation, he said that he’d been offered employment for two years on a ship headed for the South Seas. The judge felt compassion for the youthful crook and gave him four years of probation, on the condition that he would accept the job and sail off into the sunset (and out of this jurisdiction) for at least two years. Of course Edward never boarded the ship; he stayed in Los Angeles and continued his crime spree.
Edward is still a young man, and his penchant for crime may easily lead to another crack on the cranium. Maybe a second smack upside the head will put him on the straight and narrow.
December 30, 1927
Well-known automobile distributor Lawrence S. Ferguson, 20 San Gorgonio Drive, was called to the telephone today. A hoarse-voiced “Mr. Morris” declared that his auto had broken down five miles outside of town and that Lawrence’d better come quick. Apparently Lawrence always does as he’s told, because he hot-footed it out of town.
But the hoarse-voice chap wasn’t five miles outside of town; he had instead hightailed it over to Lawrence Ferguson’s home. Hoarsey and a buddy paid a visit to the abandoned Mrs. Ferguson, where they stuffed a large wad of chloroform-soaked cotton in her mouth and nostrils, knocking her out and, according to authorities, did so nearly permanently, which would have added murder on top of robbery, and making prank phone calls.
The robbery part, incidentally, netted the robbers three diamond rings worth $1,800 ($19,854 USD 2006) plus a silver saxophone, some jeweled wristwatches, overcoats, the money hidden in the mattress (how many times do we have to tell you people?) (and not in the Bible, either) and Mr. Ferguson’s revolver. And his Stradivarius, valued at $400 ($4,411 USD 2006).
January 23, 1927
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.
November 24, 1927
Frank E. Foster once stared down the blazing Enfields and Richmonds of Johnny Reb, Bragg’s cannons and Forrest’s cavalry, but it took some punk kid from Long Beach to put him down for good.
That punk kid is Richard Robert Haver, 16, whose penchant for driving other people’s cars landed him in Chino, where police interviewed him today about a spate of Long Beach robberies last September. Sure, during one robbery he pushed an old man. Haver hasn’t been told that the old man died.
“I saw him coming, although it was dark,” Haver told Detective Sergeants Smith and Alyes. “At first I tried to avoid him by slinking back against the wall, hoping the man wouldn’t see me. But he grabbed me by the coat with both hands.” (Apparently the 85 y.o. Foster figured the whippersnapper wouldn’t be reconstructed.) “I kept pushing him into the screen porch where he slept. The door was open as I rushed for it and I pushed the man out of the way. He tripped on the steps and fell outdoors onto the sidewalk. Then I ran toward the front of the house and headed for the ocean. I’m sorry I pushed him so hard, now that I know he is an old man.” Haver’ll be sorrier once the authorities inform him that, on top of being popped for the eight homes he ransacked while the occupants slept (earning him the sobriquet "The Pants Burglar", in that he stole away with trousers in the night and emptied their pockets), he’s a murderer.
(Haver was sent to the State Reform School to remain until he turned 21, at which point the courts would again pass upon his case; the papers make no mention of that event or its outcome.)
In further news of the Boys in Blue, another Damn’d Yankee, this one in Spokane, has problems of another variety. “I’m living on borrowed time,” said Enoch A. Sears, 84, “far past my allotted three score and ten, and I only want peace and quiet.” He has filed for divorce from his wife of one year, and has departed his home, leaving it to his wife, 59, and her mother, 79. Enoch simply stated he was “too old to become accustomed to living with a mother-in-law.”
October 1, 1927
Police will be working twelve hour shifts until the men who robbed the Merchant’s National Trust and Savings Bank, at Fifty-Seventh Street and South Broadway, of $5000 ($59,746.26 USD 2007) are in taken into custody.
During the brazen daylight robbery, six unmasked bandits threatened more than forty bank employees and depositors with shot-guns and revolvers.
Witnesses told officers that the gunmen drew up behind the bank in a large, expensive black sedan. Five men piled out of the car and walked to the front of the building, while the driver of the getaway car pulled around and parked right in front of the bank doors.
Waving a shotgun, the first crook entered the bank. He made no attempt to halt several terrified bank patrons as they ran screaming from the bank seeking safety.
One of the men stood lookout on the sidewalk, while the remaining thieves rushed into the bank lobby brandishing their weapons and shouting at everyone to hold up their hands. Bank manager R.C. Elliott was struck by one of the gunmen and forced to lie on the floor. The other employees were unmolested, and the customers were not robbed. Two of the crooks jumped behind the counter and forced the tellers to lie on the floor. The men then pointed their weapons at the prone employees, and proceeded to empty the cash drawers. Having made their withdrawal, the gang fled to the waiting automobile which then careened north down Broadway at a high rate of speed.
One of the tellers, W. Ord, raced to his car and followed the fleeing bandits several blocks before losing sight of them in traffic at Forty-Sixth Street and South Broadway. He managed to obtain the license number of the car, which had been reported as stolen only a few nights ago.
Police have concluded from the gang’s modus operandi that they are from the east, and not among the locals currently wreaking havoc in a city-wide crime wave. The law won’t rest until the miscreants are brought to justice. So…if the bad guys are here on vacation, they’d better pick up a Hollywood snow globe and a crate of oranges, and head for home.
September 25, 1927
"A carnival of crime" took place in Los Angeles between last night and early this morning, the undisputed high point of which was a shootout at the Elks' Club. Shortly after dawn, two men walked into the venerable lodge located at Sixth and Park View. One of them carried a black traveling bag, but neither of them sought lodging for the night. Instead, they pulled a gun on the cashier and asked, in the best time-tested bandit fashion, for him to "stick 'em up." The man with the bag then walked behind the counter and forced open the safe, placing wads of cash and silver coinage into his portmanteau.
The thieves had retreated about halfway across the lobby when night watchman Charles Swaverly appeared at the top of the stairway to the second floor, his rifle aimed squarely at the bad guys. "Throw up your hands," cried Swaverly, whereupon the man carrying the money bag dropped to his knees and raised one hand above his head. "Both hands," replied the cool-headed defender of the Elks, upon whose recollection of the incident we must depend.
The bagman dropped his booty and raised his other hand, while his partner took cover behind a column. When Swaverly ordered him to come out with his hands up, he sent a bullet whizzing past the night watchman's right ear. Swaverly and the gunman spent the next minute shooting up the Elks' Club lobby. When Swaverly stopped to reload, the robbers hightailed it, leaving the bag of loot behind. By the time he made it outside, the getaway car was too far away for Swaverly to identify its make or model.
In this morning's Times, it all sounded a bit like a Fairbanksian fantasy, but the police were clear: thanks to Swaverly's gunslinging, the Elks recovered thousands of dollars.
September 24, 1927
What’s wrong with the dames in this town? When they aren’t powdering and painting their faces, they’re at petting parties, drinking in blind pigs, or dancing the night away doing the black bottom or the kinkajou. Now it seems that they are also morphing into gun molls. According to police, several female stick-up artists are currently menacing Los Angeles residents, and at least two of them are red-heads.
With so many women bandits prowling the streets and preying on the unwary, competition for the title of Robber Queen is fierce…the most recent contender for the crown is Patricia Sullivan, aged 23. Miss Sullivan and a male companion were taken into custody by Officers Reid and Garner in front of her apartment building at Tenth and Western.
Patricia was transported to the county jail where she was booked on suspicion of robbery. Her accomplice has been identified as 27 year old shoe salesman, Alvarado Contreras, of 1132 West Thirty-First Street. The two have avowed their innocence but Miss Sullivan closely resembles the description of the lady crook given to police, from her toes right up to her auburn tresses.
Detective Lieutenant Smith and Captain Kallmeyer of Wilshire Division are arranging for the victims of Her Royal Heistness to come to down to the station to positively identify her as the woman who terrorized them.
Patricia’s reign as Robber Queen was short-lived…she was only Queen for a Day.
August 27, 1927
All it takes to be considered insane these days is to assert your First Amendment right to free speech…with a knife.
According to night watchman F.M. Winchester, he was making his rounds when a man confronted him shouting, “Down with America! Sacco is dead!” The agitated man then lunged at him with a shiv.
The aptly named Winchester fired three shots above the man’s head, at which time the stranger turned and ran off into the night. The shots drew a crowd of on-lookers and police to Miller’s Alley near Marengo Avenue.
Detective Sergeants Cheek, Mansell, and Officer Armer followed the trail of the alleged lunatic, who was subsequently identified as Elias Soto Hernandez. The suspect was arrested at 230 East Union Street and transported to the County Hospital in Los Angeles on suspicion that he may be insane.
Hernandez was protesting the execution in Massachusetts of Italian born anarchists and convicted murderers, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. Their executions on August 23rd followed two trials of dubious fairness. Both trials were presided over by Judge Webster Thayer who displayed a blatant bias against the defendants. During the second trial, defense motions made by California attorney Fred Moore were frequently denied by the Judge who said, "No long-haired anarchist from California can run this court!" Thayer was also overheard referring to Sacco and Vanzetti as, “…those anarchistic bastards…”.
Whether or not the men were guilty of robbery and murder remains a topic for debate. What is certain is that their case was the culmination of the first so-called “Red Scare” which began amid the violence, chaos, and political unrest circling the globe during World War I.
World wide protests had failed to save the condemned men from the electric chair, but fifty years later on August 23, 1977, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis (who became the democratic presidential nominee in 1988) issued the proclamation that the men had been treated unjustly and that "any disgrace should be forever removed from their names."