A Second Chance

March 19, 1927
Long Beach, CA

longbeachshootingFred and Lela McElrath had been married for 25 years, and raised three children together, now grown. But just as the couple should have been settling down into contented empty nesthood, a violent disagreement nearly destroyed it all.

Fred wanted to leave Long Beach for Freewater, Oregon, where they owned a ranch; however, Lela was determined to stay put. She moved out of their home at 45 Atlantic Avenue, and Fred spent nearly a week trying to track her down. On March 18, they finally agreed to meet at a neutral location, their daughter’s home at 32 Neptune Place, and try to talk things through.

However, Lela refused to reconsider, and walked away from the argument. As she was descending the stairs in her daughter’s house, Fred pulled out a gun and shot her twice in the back before turning the gun on himself, firing into his mouth. The shots didn’t kill Lena, and when she was admitted to Seaside Hospital, it was assumed that she would recover. However, Fred was barely clinging to life, and in fact, police arriving on the scene initially believed him dead.

Today, things looked drastically different. A bullet was lodged behind Fred’s left ear, but doctors expected that he would make a full recovery — and in all likelihood, be left to stand trial for his wife’s murder. The shots fired into his wife’s back had punctured her right lung, and she was not expected to live. Authorities stood watch at Fred’s bed, waiting to charge him either with murder or attempted murder.

Shockingly, the story has a moderately happy ending. On April 11, a frail Lena McElrath, appeared at her husband’s preliminary hearing and was helped to the stand by her son, where she made an impassioned plea on Fred’s behalf.

"I do not want to testify against my husband, nor do I want him prosecuted. I believe our trouble was caused as much by me as by my husband. I want to go back to him and begin all over."

Judge Stephen G. Long agreed she should have that chance, saying, "This is a very remarkable affair, but if both parties are willing to forgive and forget and to endeavor to patch up their broken lives, I think the kindest thing for this court to do is to give McElrath a chance."

The charge was dismissed, and the McElraths left the courtroom with their arms wrapped around each other. Lena’s wounds were expected to heal completely with time, though Fred would be forever incapacitated by the bullet, still lodged near his spine.

Just An Old-Fashioned Girl … Driving the Getaway Car

An Old-Fashioned GirlMarch 18, 1927
Los Angeles

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.

The New 1947project is here

Gentle reader, a fresh manifestation of 1947project has emerged. For the first time, our crime-a-day blog becomes a house-by-house survey, exploring the great lost downtown neighborhood of Bunker Hill. Join us On Bunker Hill to meet the people, homes and peculiarities that called this place their own.And for even more historic LA oddities with regular updates, visit our current blog In SRO Land, lost lore of the historic core.

It’s a Man’s World

 mans world headline

March 17, 1927
Bakersfield

Frustrated at being rejected for employment as a nurse by Kern Hospital, twenty-one year old Gladys Maryon Lindley came up with a plan – become a man!

Dressed in men’s clothing and answering to the name “Billyâ€Â, Gladys presented herself at Kern Hospital once again. Instead of seeking employment as a nurse, “Billyâ€Â applied for the job of a male orderly this time and was hired on the spot.

Gladys went undetected until three months later, when the secret of her identity was revealed by one of her former teachers. Recognizing “Billyâ€Â at the hospital, the teacher ratted her out to hospital administrators. Gladys – aka Billy – resigned immediately.

Perhaps naively, the LA Times reported that “a real desire to do hospital work was given as the explanation of the masqueradeâ€Â.

In the Line of Duty

March 16, 1927
Los Angeles

yummydownonthisIf the drys are gonna catch the wets, they’re gonna have to wet themselves. So to speak.

At the trial of John H. Wyncoop, former chief field agent for the boys of the California/Arizona Federal Prohibition Enforcement Department, Wyncoop said “I knew that if I had liquor in my possession I could more easily get bootleggers to believe that I was handling booze and therefore make it easier to arrest bootleggers.â€Â

Uh-huh.

Wyncoop is on trial because he turned twenty-nine bottles of liquor to his own use, instead of turning it into the government warehouse. Can’t those government know-nothings see that you need that hooch to go under deep cover? That he only took home that demon rum in the solemn performance of his duty?

(Convicted by a jury of illegal conversion, he was given a short term in the county jail.)

Behind Every Great Man…

onanism

 

 

March 16, 1927
Los Angeles

 

 

 

Clarence and Ona Brown were married in 1922, but now Ona wants a divorce. “When I married him,â€Â said Mrs. Brown, while weeping bitterly during her testimony before Judge Summerfield, “he was a second-rate assistant director, and I made a director out of him. That cost me my home, for he got to thinking so well of himself he attempted to boss the house. He went nearly a year without even speaking to me.â€Â

 

 

(She may have a point; see this page under "salary.")

 

Ona’s testimony was neither denied nor contested, and she won her decree.

 

 

Think of that the next time you watch "Garbo’s favorite director".

 

 

 

Grossery Shopping

TSgreengrocers

March 15, 1927
Los Angeles

Traditionally, the term greengrocer refers to a retail tradesperson who sells fresh fruits and vegetables. Should you be down on Temple Street, you might find grocer Edith Green to be a greengrocer of the green meat variety. Mmmm. Heck, even her Temple Street neighbor Abraham Margolis purveys criminally suspect comestibles.

Edith, at 922 Temple, and Abraham, at 937, were both charged with selling adulterated and contaminated foodstuffs. Stock amounting to $2,500 ($29,055 currentUSD) were ordered destroyed, she given thirty and he 180 days in the hoosegow, suspended on the condition that they clean up their act. And their stores.

As much fun as it would be to venture in to those structures now to see what eighty year-old smells lingered from the putrid pigs feet and bad borscht, we’ll have to content ourselves with visualizing such while whizzing under the one-ten:
templest

The Sunday Paper

In the past two weeks, I’ve come to understand why Kim usually waits until Fridays to post her 1947p stories. Ever since this leap year, I’ve found myself with the Sunday paper, which, while jam-packed with Bullock’s ads, real estate ventures, and fashion spreads (this week, an entire section devoted to shoes!), is rather short on crime and mayhem. After all, who wants to dwell on such things on the Christian day of rest?

And after the stories of the past two days, perhaps there’s some sense in that. Unable to top the likes of baby farms and superman love cults, I suppose it’s fair to say that I’m feeling a little blocked.

figlaxative

California fig laxative:  it "can’t harm children."  If that’s not a ringing endorsement, I don’t know what is.

lewtendler

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And take a look at this plug for Jewish boxing legend Lew Tendler, as he prepares for his upcoming bout. Does the "S" stand for Southpaw or sexy?

A Most “Pernicious, Revolting, Nefarious and Immoral” Love Cult

Love CultistsMarch 11, 1927
Los Angeles

Fifteen-year-old Lloyd Alley, arrested today in Los Angeles, is said to have made statements “tantamount to a confession” of his involvement with the “Sacred School of the Great White Brotherhood,” an Oakland-based “love cult” with branches in San Francisco, San Jose, Portland, Chicago, and Texas. At the same time the teenager was spilling the beans in L.A., San Francisco police raided the cult’s Bay Area headquarters, where they found an “effigy of a woman with a sword piercing her heart, incoherent messages, cards bearing linked names of males and females and other equally weird evidence.” Cultists are said to have “encouraged free love in its most exotic forms” in its attempts to breed a “superman” and “superwoman.” “Mystical marriages” were arranged and “the sacred phallic laws” studied. Also in custody in Los Angeles is Russell Alley (Lloyd’s father, cult name “Omar”). Cult founder and high priestess, Mrs. Gertrude Wright (“Zareda” to her followers), is being held in Oakland, along with her disciple, Irma Gibbs (“Ermengarde,” a domestic in the Wright home). All were charged with contributing to the delinquency of minors: Lloyd Alley, plus two young women, Thelma Reid, 17, and Caroline Merwin, 18.

Lloyd Alley and Irma Gibbs both made confessions said to “be reeking with unprintable details,” though the paper managed to squeeze in a mention of two “new Messiah” ceremonials Lloyd performed with Caroline Merwin. Caroline (whose stepmother’s complaint set the raid in motion) was quite the little minx: when she appeared in juvenile court later in the week she relished telling the judge that she wore only “filmy underthings” during her initiation ceremony, and that her “vibration robes” were scanty as well. When she “admitted intimacies with Lloyd Alley,” the two of them laughed until the judge admonished them to be quiet.

Times columnist Harry Carr thought the juicy case was nothing but “Bunk”:

The attempt to paint these girls—and their beef-fed sheiks—as innocent, wide-eyed victims of a freak religion is enough to make anybody laugh.

Girls of this day and age are wise guys.

And any one of them knows that a so-called religious cult that involves being “initiated” in the presence of men with most of clothes off is merely an excuse for a debauch.

There is at least some hope for a girl who is frank enough to laugh.

Caroline Merwin was eventually released into her stepmother’s custody. Lloyd Alley was remanded into the custody of the Juvenile Detention Home and was later made a ward of the court. In May 1927, a jury deliberated for ten minutes before it found Russell Alley guilty of contributing to the delinquency of minors. Gertrude Wright and Irma Gibbs flew the coop before they could be tried; they remain at large.

Baby Farm

 

March 10, 1927
Bellflower

baby farm headline

Police received a tip that next to the home of Ray Foss in Bellflower, several people had been observed burying something that may have been the body of an infant. Thankfully, no bodies would be found. Police had discovered however, that Ray had an outstanding felony warrant from 1925 for operating a "baby farm" in Moneta (near Gardena). The fear of being nailed on the baby farm charge loosened his tongue, and Ray Foss began to relate a sordid tale of baby trafficking, illegal adoption, an alimony racket, bigamy, and narcotics addiction.

Ray told the cops that a woman being held in County Jail on forgery charges under the name of Minnie Williams was actually his wife, and that she had been the proprietress of the Moneta baby farm.

The baby farm had come to the attention of the authorities in 1925 when Minnie sold a baby girl to a woman who gave her name as Mrs. Johnson. The infant was found to be blind, and Mrs. Johnson returned the child and demanded a refund. The child later died. Mrs. Foss gave the woman $25 in cash, and in lieu of the remaining $35, she gave her another baby! Ray and Minnie fled a short time later to avoid standing trial.

During the next two years Minnie trafficked in babies, ran an alimony racket, and fed her drug addiction. She provided infants for women to carry into court when seeking alimony. Prior to being identified as Minnie Foss, she’d tried a variation of the alimony con in Judge Hardy’s court. Using the Williams alias, she made an emotional plea for probation on the forgery charge, alleging that she was about to become a mother. The court soon discovered that she was not actually Minnie Williams, and that she was wanted in the Moneta baby farm case. With the masquerade over, Mrs. Foss began to confess to Deputy District Attorney Costello.

Things got off to a strange start when Minnie was asked to state her name for the record. She told the Deputy DA that her last name was really Hines, not Foss. She said that she’d married Ray Foss when she was only 15 years old, and then met Clarence Hines in 1921. The three lived together in a ménage a trois until Foss left. Minnie claimed that she then married Clarence, but never went to the trouble or expense of divorcing Ray.

How did Minnie end up trafficking in babies? According to her, she was in fact, a "serial adopter". In 1922 she had noticed a newspaper ad about adopting a baby. She said that she went to the Mexican quarter near the Plaza and met with a couple who told her that they had a child they couldn’t keep. Minnie took the baby home and passed him off to Clarence as his own child. She told him that the child had been born to her while she was away in Burbank!

Clarence may have been a very dim bulb, because over the next few years Minnie said that she brought home several other infants including a set of twins, and that she had informed him that he was the father! According to Minnie, Clarence never questioned her about any of the babies, so she continued to adopt.

Maybe Clarence wasn’t quite as gullible as Minnie had thought, however. When questioned by police, Clarence told a slightly different story. He said that he’d known that his wife sometimes placed “not wantedâ€Â babies. He also told investigators that he was aware of a black trunk which may have been used to store baby clothes or as a coffin for some of the unwanted babies. The trunk was later found at a home near Bakersfield that had once been occupied by Ray Foss.

baby farm trunk

When the trunk was examined by police it was found to contain baby clothes, a hypodermic needle, and a marriage license issued to Ray Foss and Minnie Magnolia Williams. Also found in the trunk were approximately twenty-four photographs of young girls and babies.

Even though Minnie said that she’d adopted the infants, the most likely scenario was that she occasionally kept unwanted babies born to women in her care. Where did all of the babies go? Police traced many of the children to foster parents who subsequently adopted them. Several infants remained unaccounted for.

Although there were many unanswered questions – particularly regarding the fates of the infants who could not be found, Deputy DA Costello dropped the baby farm charges because Minnie and Clarence had confessed everything to his satisfaction – including an addiction to narcotics for which Minnie was treated with Narcosan. The DA’s office couldn’t pursue the bigamy charges because the statute of limitations had run out.

Minnie pleaded guilty to issuing a fraudulent check and was given a sentence of from one to fourteen years in prison. Clarence received a similar sentence.