Brute Jealousy

May 31, 1927

If you needed proof of how the world has changed in 80 years, you need look no further than the news stories surrounding the police search for and arrest of Joe Hordeman, "elderly" war veteran and pipe murder suspect, and of Hordeman’s "December" romance with divorcee Victoria Woods, who he met at an "old folks dance" at the Sawtelle veteran’s home in late 1925.

joe hordeman the pipe slayer

Hordeman was enamored of Mrs. Woods and hoped to marry or go into business with her, but she found other men more fascinating. She enjoyed dancing, something Hordeman was not inclined to do with her, despite their initial meeting place. Recently she had befriended Emma O’Bell, who became her roommate and encouraged her friend’s active romantic life.

Hordeman couldn’t stand it. He bought a lead pipe and went to Mrs. Woods’ home at 109 Brooks Avenue when he thought two of her suitors would be in attendance. But he found only Mrs. Woods and Mrs. O’Bell, sitting on the porch. Incensed, he asked Mrs. Woods to go inside where they could discuss his concerns, and a raving argument erupted. Hordeman pulled out his pipe and beat her unconscious, then took a knife and neatly cut her Achilles tendons to ensure she would never dance again. He needn’t have bothered save for the symbolism; she died of her injuries. Mrs. O’Bell saw the attack through the window and rushed inside, and was herself badly beaten. Saved from injury was Mrs. Woods’ daughter, who had gone to Chicago the morning of the slaying to speak with her father about her parents reuniting.

catherine franklin the dishwashing witness

The whole horrible affair was witnessed by 15-year-old neighbor Catherine Franklin through her kitchen window, but the dishwashing girl was so traumatized that she did not immediately cry out, and the killer walked down the alley and escaped. He turned himself in the next day after registering at a Los Angeles hotel and mistakenly crossing the d in Ford, when he had meant to use the pseudonym Fort; he was convinced this error would lead to his quick arrest. At his trial in August, Hordeman, who had once claimed he dare not confess lest "the Klan" kill him for harming Mrs. Woods, suddenly changed his plea to guilty after Mrs. O’Bell testified, and was sentenced to one year to life in San Quentin.

The decrepit Hordeman was variously reported as being 52, 60 or 62, old lady Mrs. Woods 55.

All for Love

May 30, 1927 

murdersuicideThe troubled love affair between New York showgirl Evelyn Tatum and her estranged husband, artist Lawrence Mueller came to a violent end this morning at the Rosegrove Hotel at 532 S. Flower St.  Reunited for "one last week of happiness" before separating, Mueller strangled his bride while "All for Love" played on the phonograph, then hung himself with the hotel bedspread.  The events leading up to the tragedy were revealed through the stack of correspondence found alongside their bodies in the hotel room.rosegrovehotel

The couple met in Denver, quickly wed, and moved to El Centro where Mueller was employed as an artist for a sign company.  Tatum found life in El Centro stifling, and left Mueller for Los Angeles after two months of married life.  She was immediately cast as the lead in a Shelly Players Theater in Huntington Park, and was set to begin work ten days later.  Upon hearing Tatum’s news, Mueller sent a wire addressed to "My Golden Girl" that read, "Received you wire and at first I rejoiced with you.  It seemed that the solution to all our troubles was found and that at last we could be happy together."
However, Mueller began to overanalyze the situation, and concluded that since he would work days, and she nights, it was only a matter of time before another man seduced her.  "The first one that did, there would be another murder," he concluded, and wired that it would be best to "take myself out of the picture."

Tatum apparently agreed wholeheartedly, writing back: "It is best you forget the past two months and me.  Go alone to Chicago.  Have new friends and work.  We both realize for the present we cannot have happiness together.  We tried and I alone failed… Sorry."  Upon receiving this missive, the passionate Mueller raced to Los Angeles where he and Tatum were briefly reunited.  However, when it became clear that a reconciliation was not in the cards, Mueller killed her.

The hotel maid found Tatum sprawled across the bed in a filmy pink nightgown, and Mueller’s nude body hanging from the closet door lintel.  Their parents later claimed the bodies.

12 Angry Men and Women

May 30, 1927
wittenmeyerheadlineToday, 16-year-old Durward Wittenmeyer confessed to the murder of Fannie Weigel, the wife of a Pomona confectioner.  It was just a few days since his release from the Whittier State School, a reformatory.  The emotionally disturbed Wittenmeyer said that on his way home from the movies on May 28, he picked up an automobile spring leaf from a scrap heap, and "got a funny notion to hit someone."  He saw Weigel walking home from the confectionery story, laden with bundles, and struck her twice in the side of the head.  And what was the offense that had previously landed Wittenmeyer in juvie?  Throwing a rock at a woman’s head in 1924.

Like a 1927 Veronica Mars, Thelma Sharp, the 17-year-old daughter of a Pomona police detective, helped police pin down the murderer.  Working as an usher at the movie theater, she’d seen Wittenmeyer the night of the murder, and knew of his previous antics.  When police followed up on her lead, they found Wittenmeyer’s distraught father in the midst of soul-searching.  The man burst out, "My boy killed that woman.  I have been beside myself since yesterday afternoon when I made him confess to me… I took cleaning fluid and tried to clean the blood off his clothes yesterday afternoon."
Without emotion, young Wittenmeyer confessed to the police.  A judge declared Wittenmeyer an unfit subject for juvenile court, and he was set to stand trial as an adult.  A psychiatric evaluation found the boy emotionally unstable, but sane.  However, a team of alienists for the defense begged to differ.  Wittenmeyer suffered from a hereditary form of psychosis, they said, and the boy’s father testified that his wife was known to have hallucinations and that once, she’d been found wandering naked in an orange grove.  Supervisors of the reform schools where Wittenmeyer had previously been an inmate testified to his erratic behavior while in custody.  Throughout the proceedings, the boy seemed oblivious, amusing himself by arranging blotters on a table.

As the prosecution and defense rested, the jury was instructed to return one of four verdicts:  not guilty, guilty of first degree murder, guilty of second degree murder, or guilty of first degree murder with the recommendation of a life sentence.  Although deliberations were expected to be speedy, the jury was deadlocked after the first day with a single hold-out for a not guilty verdict, while the remaining 11 jurors stood in favor of the harshest sentence.

After 33 hours, Judge Fletcher Bowron threatened to replace the jurors unless they returned a verdict by noon the next day.  However, the jury’s vote now stood at 10-2, with another juror in favor of acquittal.  The foreman emerged periodically to ask Bowron whether a recommendation for leniency would be granted, and what the sentence was for second-degree murder.  Bowron refused to answer his questions, saying that ultimately, the boy’s sentence was none of their concern.

Finally, after 55 hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict that found Wittenmeyer guilty of murder in the second degree, which carried a sentence of 5 years to life, making the boy eligible for parole in 1932.  Acquittal would have sent Wittenmeyer to a state mental facility, so while he did not receive the treatment he needed, the jury’s decision at least spared the teenager from life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.  Or did it?

As of November 1949 (the last mention I could find of him), Wittenmeyer was still serving time in San Quentin, having been denied parole on at least four occasions.

The Real Black Dahlia on the BBC’s Pods and Blogs show

Tim Coyne of The Hollywood Podcast rode along on The Real Black Dahlia crime bus tour and prepared a cool little piece for BBC 5’s Pods and Blogs program (or programme, if you will) explaining Beth Short and our fascination with 1947 LA and the odd characters in her orbit to a nation that doesn’t know the case.

Here’s a link to the MP3 of Tim’s interview with Nathan and me. 

“Judge Colt’s Eye Growing Dim”

San Bernardino County
May 29, 1927

Old Judge Colt and his jury of six failed to render a decision today, as two miners dueled to a draw in downtown Goffs, California. In a scene reminiscent of a dime novel, prospectors Joe Larrieu and John A. Kousch took their quarrel over claim ownership to the street in front of the Goffs hotel. According to Deputy Sheriff Jack Brown (who "flivvered" 30 miles from Needles to investigate the affair), the duelists readied themselves, took aim, and fired. Larrieu fell first, but the bullet wounds in his foot and left leg didn’t stop him from shooting Kousch in the thigh.

Alas, when the smoke cleared, the combatants weren’t the only injured parties. A bystander, hotelkeeper Mrs. Nell Richardson, received a bullet through the shoulder. (It was impossible to determine who shot Mrs. Richardson, but it should be noted that she was the former Mrs. Kousch.) Neither Larrieu or Kousch wished to make a complaint against the other, and Mrs. Richardson declined to complain against either of them. In spite of this genteel turn of events, assault charges and jail time were anticipated for the duelists.

Crimebo and Pals on Saturday’s Pasadena Confidential tour

Nathan Marsak and Crimebo the Clown

above: Nathan Marsak and Crimebo the Clown prepare for the debut performance of The Jack Parsons Story as presented by the Crimebo Players. Weird Sex! Rocketships! Space Creatures! Warlocks! Sex Slaves! Is this the Pasadena the Chamber of Commerce wants us talking about? Hmmm…. maybe not. But we sure had fun.   

The Crimebo Players present The Jack Parsons Story: The Goddess Babalon

Below, a visit to Mitchell Books, where John Mitchell held us rapt with tales of real and fictional murder.

John Mitchell fascinated Crimebo with his OJ theory in Mitchell Books

Book Club: Nobody Reads in LA

Event: Weds, Jun 13 2007,  6:30-8:00pm

In anticipation of our upcoming Esotouric bus adventure John Fante: Dreams of Bunker Hill, we will be hosting the inaugural meeting of the Nobody Reads In L.A. book club at Lost Souls Cafe in downtown Los Angeles. The book under discussion: John Fante’s classic tale of a downtown writer’s struggles, Ask The Dust. Buy your copy at Metropolis Books around the corner from Los Souls, say you are a friend of Bandini’s, and get 10% off the cover price.

Nico, Mary, Kim and Richard will arrive at 6:30 to jump start the event, and we officially begin at 7:00.

Crack that spine, and we’ll see you there!


Forget About it Hollis, It’s No Name Canyon

May 27, 1927
Inyo County

“The Owens Valley is worthless to the White Man.”
                     —United States Surveyor A. W. Von Schmidt, 1856

Well, A. W. was no man with a vision.  William Mullholland, now there was a man with a vision.  He saw a great city, abloom in the desert…

But blooms wither without water.  And the Owens Valley, the “the Switzerland of California,” whose magnificent Owens Lake is full of that juicy Sierra Nevada runoff, has plenty.  

There could be few endeavors more challenging than starting a company more venal and corrupt than the Los Angeles City Water Company, but Mullholland and his buddy Frederick Eaton—the Mayor—did so when they disbanded the LACWC and drummed up something called the LA Department of Water and Power in 1898.  Whence came the three decades for which everything that pretty fountain in Los Feliz stands:  the secret land deals with Teddy Roosevelt to screw the Owens Valley farmers out of an aqueduct; the bribery to then buy those same water rights; the purchasing (with a syndicate of pals, like Times publisher Harrison Gray Otis) of tracts in the San Fernando Valley when, unbeknownst to all, that water would then go to irrigate (guess where?) the San Fernando Valley; the Times manipulating rainfall totals to create a false drought and publishing scare articles to push more public bond issues to buy this cabal more water, ad nauseum.

On May 21, 1924, with their aforementioned Owens Lake a dusty salt flat, the farmers rebelled; a group of forty masked armed ranchers seized and opened the aqueduct’s Alabama Gates and dynamited part of the system north of Lone Pine.  On May 14, 1926, a hole was blown in the structure south of the Alabama Hills spillway.

Which brings us to this day in 1927.  It’s the cool of the early morning, 2:30am, and Tom Spratt and his nephew Lew, aqueduct employees, are huddled in their hut.  They’re doing their best to look after that portion of the aqueduct that runs along No Name Canyon…little did they know the telephone wires were being cut.  Then four men entered.  Unmasked, but armed.  “We’ll take you for a walk,” said one.  “There’s going to be a dynamiting here.”
And was there.  Two cases of blasting gelatine were floated down into the siphon with time fuses and the blast, at the low point of the siphon, tore the pipe in two, and the water, at capacity flow of 375 feet per second, blew out 450 feet of iron pipe, at nearly ten feet in diameter.  And with that the gentlemen departed.

The papers took great pains to assure the public that while 500 acre-feet of water had been lost, there would be no shortage to the city.  More importantly, there would be great pains taken to apprehend these “blacklegs” who perform “guerrilla warfare,” “prompted, it is assumed, by real or fancied grievances of Owens Valley residences against the water department.”


Mullholland, when asked if he had any comment, said he could not do so adequately without using unprintable words.  The Board of Water and Power Commissioners posited that “the motive for this outrage is not definitely known, but reasonably may be suspected as connected with the efforts of certain landowners in Owens Valley to force this board to buy their lands and pay exorbitant prices therefore.”

Added Councilman Criswell, “These vandals are being supported and encouraged by Los Angeles Corporations and by a Los Angeles newspaper.”  Councilman Colden declared the dynamiting “an act of Bolshevism that should be punished” and “an attack on the rights of every Los Angeles citizen.” 


And what becomes of this story, you ask?  Well.  On the very day—March 12, 1928—that 67 year-old Owens Valley rancher Perry Sexton confesses on the stand and describes in detail how he blew up the No Name Siphon, William Mullholland’s greatest and most hubristic achievement met its fitting end.

Marriage, 1927 Style

unusual agreement

May 28, 1927

"I guess the only way to stop divorce is to stop marriage."Will Rogers

Everyone is familiar with the Boy Scout motto, Be Prepared, but newlyweds Grant Dewlaney and Ethel Hornaday have prepared themselves for marriage in a way that no Boy Scout ever could have imagined. divorce filings

Grant and Ethel hope to spend the rest of their lives together in blissful tandem harness, but what if the unthinkable happens and they fall out of love like the ten couples who filed for divorce today in Los Angeles?

In the event that their love does not endure, the pragmatic pair has taken an unusual step to avoid future battles over the house, furniture, and the family Ford. Prior to their marriage ceremony they filed an agreement with the Los Angeles County Recorder which may inspire other modern couples to do the same.

The contract states that if Ethel ever files for divorce she will accept a settlement of $500 ($5939.25USD 2007) to pay for an attorney, her separate maintenance and any other of her expenses. If Ethel files for divorce before their first wedding anniversary, she has agreed to accept the sum of $300 ($3563.55USD 2007).

Will this type of agreement ever catch on? Only time will tell.