Knife

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

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.

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.

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

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 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.

Another Sad Chapter in the Annals of Not-So-Bright Criminals

November 20, 1927
Los Angeles

There are criminal masterminds, and then there are men like William E. McLane. Around 2 o'clock this afternoon, McLane walked in the back door of his home at 901 Palm View Drive. "I came back to the house today to see how she was getting along," he told the police swarming his house. "She" was his wife, Ada May, and she wasn't getting along very well at all—in fact, she was dead. While they were less than impressed with his display of husbandly solicitude, detectives were happy to take McLane into custody after he confessed to Ada May's murder. Ever the helpful suspect, McLane then explained that, contrary to police speculation, the bloody pair of scissors found next to his wife's body was not in fact the murder weapon: he had used a Barlow knife, which he tossed into the night as he ran from the scene of the crime. The couple had been separated for about five months, and McLane recently received divorce papers from his wife. This, he told detectives, inspired him to attempt a reconciliation—an attempt which led not to the revival of their marriage but to a quarrel that resulted in the death of Mrs. McLane.

Ada May apparently held no such illusions of renewed connubial bliss; her body was found by a friend who came to check on her after she told him her husband had threatened her life on several recent occasions.

The Venice Slasher

October 31, 1927
Venice, CA
 
A gory scene unfolded at the Venice Police Station today as 23-year-old Eddie Berry burst through the front door with a slit throat and passed out on the floor.
 
An employee of the Venice Speedboat Company, Berry had been working on the Venice Pier when he was accosted by a woman packing a knife in her handbag.   The dame was Berry's sweet wife.  She began to argue with him, then drew out her knife and slashed him across the throat, narrowly missing his jugular vein.
 
Berry was taken to the emergency room for stitches, while police went out in search of the estranged wife.  However, the search was later dropped when Berry refused to press charges.
 
Okay, it's not much of a Halloween story, but it was this or the story of a few rowdy teens from the Redlands being sent to a YWCA dance to keep them from vandalizing property.  Plus, isn't "The Venice Slasher" a great name for a would-be murderess?

The Politics of Insanity

Crazed Headline

August 27, 1927
Pasadena

All it takes to be considered insane these days is to assert your First Amendment right to free speech…with a knife. Oppressed Cartoon

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…”.

Sacco and VanzettiWhether 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."

Death of the Tamale Lady

She was 52, a mother and grandmother, a vendor of tamales. She lived quietly on the east side of the L.A. River, in an ugly stucco apartment house with concrete all around. Then one Sunday night, as she came home after delivering an order of tamales, she was attacked in the street, stabbed twice and left to die just steps from her home. She was found quickly, but it was too late for any aid. Doña Rosa died, and no one but the killer knew who had done it, or why. Oh, there were rumors, there always are, but for most people on her street, life went on just as it had, just without Doña Rosa's tasty tamales or her soft smile.

This is not a story from 1927. "Doña" Rosa Cruz, wife of Joel Mejía, mother of Nancy, native of El Salvador, was murdered in Lincoln Heights on Sunday, July 22. As of today, this crime has received no coverage in the English language newspapers or broadcast media. It has not appeared on the LA Times' Homicide Report Blog. Detectives were in the neighborhood yesterday, asking questions and looking for an answer. And on the corner of Albion and Avenue 20, the people who loved Doña Rosa continue to gather, bringing fresh flowers and seeking comfort in community, on the open sidewalk where she walked on that last night.

On this blog we remember the forgotten dead from long ago, people who came to Los Angeles and found, not whatever improved life they were seeking, but too often an anonymous or notorious death. We should never forget that these people left families and loved ones, and that these crimes resonate in large ripples out over the decades, in those who knew the victim and far beyond. RIP Doña Rosa, and we hope peace can be found by those who loved her.

dona rosa memorial

A Never-Ending Story

July 31, 1927
Los Angeles

Florence C. Schuchart

A terrible scene greeted the eyes of sisters Florence and Thelma Schuchart (ages 18 and 23, respectively) when they returned home to 158 W. 52nd Place from the beach about 4:30 p.m. today. There, in a pool of blood on the bedroom floor, lay their mother, Florence C. Schuchart , 44, stabbed to death by the man who lay next to her with a butcher knife clutched in his hand, John C. Bowers, 45. Bowers, most recently of the Fair Hotel, 525-1/2 S. Main Street, apparently cut his own throat. (The Times referred to Bowers as "a friend of Mrs. Schuchart" but given he'd just killed her, I think we'll skip that locution.)

According to detectives, Schuchart had been dead longer than Bowers and based on the disarray and bloodstains throughout the house, she struggled mightily for her life. Family members said that Schuchart recently tried to cut off a relationship with Bowers of several months' standing. Neighbors reported that Bowers, a traveling salesman who was reportedly "hard up and out of work," had previously threatened to shoot Schuchart.

A brief note addressed to Mary V. Busy of Riverside was found in a sealed envelope on the kitchen table. In it, Bowers declared his suicidal intentions.

Rest in peace, Florence C. Schuchart.

Not So Meek

June 21, 1927
Pasadena 

"Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen." -Raymond Chandler

Subject to what was described as "a subtle malady," Mrs. Katherine Dwyer, 50, stocky, determined, crept up behind husband George, Pacific Electric Railway gateman, as he stood at the kitchen sink eating his lunch at 184 Carlton Street, and neatly drew a razor 'round his throat.

Dwyer's gurgling drew the attention of housekeeper Miss Slade, who called George Spiegel of #146 for aid. Together they wrestled the blade away from Mrs. Dwyer, Miss Slade gaining a slash to the scalp for her trouble. Policeman A.O. Boyd arrived as the second victim was attacked, and promptly signed an insanity complaint, sending the lady the psychopathic ward of General Hospital.

George Dwyer may die. The couple had quarreled about their daughter, and Mrs. Dwyer, while never previously violent, had been treated for mental problems in the past.  

The Monkey Trial

gorillaman 

 

June 9, 1927
Hollywood

brandingstoryReaders may remember this recent post about an animal-mauled Hollywood boardtreader.  Now, encounter another actor attacked by beast—just as Bela Lugosi would one day meet a Brooklyn gorilla, 21 year-old actress Doris Williams (known on the stage as Doris Dore) has met her own New Yorker.

The anthropoidal New Yorker in question, all simian of structure and with “arms like a gorilla," broke in and attacked Doris this morning at her 1924 North Argyle apartment, who when she fought back, began slashing at her.  She fainted, and awoke in a pool of blood, to find the prehuman had carved seven examples of the letter “K” on her person.   

 

Ms.Doris

Doris met this preadamite character at a wild party in New York, where he forced her to sign some sort of “mysterious paper.”  Mr. Missingus Linkus then followed Doris across the continent, annoying her with threats and anonymous letters.

Doris had come to out West to portray Hester “Pregnant Out of Wedlock” Griffiths in Dreiser’s “American ‘Filthy Bedroom Scene’ Tragedy” in its Hollywood premier at the sunarc-laden January 17 grand opening of the Wilkes’ Vine Theatre.  

stumpspoliceWhich she did, her monkey-man close at heel, and after the show ended, knocked around and did whatever it is young ladies do in Hollywood.  Captain of Detectives Slaughter has been busy trying to piece the events of the evening of June 8/early morning of June 9 together:  Doris had been out with two married men (now sought for questioning), drinking it up at a local Italian place—she admitted to “feeling pretty good” when she returned but denied that these gents came back to her apartment with her—although other residents had complained to building manager Mrs. A. C. Black that they were disturbed by the loud noise and laughter emanating from within.  Doris’ neighbor describes that later, she heard Doris telephone in a local Western Union call:  “Come on over in a hurry.  Door unlocked.”  Said neighbor then recounts assorted door slammings, water runnings, medicine cabinet openings, and:  “I heard her put down the folding bed.  I next heard her walk out of her apartment and go down the stairs and open the front door.  A few minutes later I heard her running very fast back to her apartment.  Within a short time I heard a man talking with her.  His voice sounded to me like he was angry with her.  They remained there for a while and finally went out together.  I went back to sleep.”argyle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                               

 

(Above, Doris' apartment building, top center, across from the Castle Argyle.)

All grist for Detective Slaughter’s mill—the only thing lacking being corroborative evidence regarding Doris’ New York Gorilla story.  Compounding Slaughter’s doubts thereof is information received from Doris’ friend George Lamont, who told detectives that last week, out-of-work Doris wished to arrange some daring publicity stunt (which George had sagely advised against).

Despite his misgivings, Detective Slaughter declared “We are giving Miss Williams the benefit of the doubt until it is proven otherwise.  If she was attacked as she says she was we will do everything within our power to bring the guilty party to justice.”  

It is of course not our place to judge whether she was in fact visited by a penknife-wielding primate from the Empire State, or this was a case of Morton Downey swastika prefiguration.  Rather, we will leave it to our able readers to gaze at Ms. Williams’ visage and discern for themselves probable likelihoods.

gorillafear 

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