Poison—Everybody’s Doing It!

poisonJanuary 8, 1927
Los Angeles

Yesterday’s news told of poison booze victim Dennis Cavanaugh. Now it looks like everybody’s trying to get into the act. Take, for example, Mrs. Helen Delamere, who in court papers filed today claims that her husband, P.F. Delamere, has been trying to poison her for several years. First there was the time he tried to get her to eat some poisoned pie. Mrs. Delamare’s nurse wouldn’t let her—but when the nurse ate it (waste not, want not!), she became ill. When on several occasions Mrs. Delamere consumed chicken and soup prepared by her hubby, sickness followed. And when Mrs. D, her sister, and mother nibbled on sandwiches made by the sinister Mr. D—-you guessed it—-the ladies were seized by illness.

Even Aimee Semple McPherson has been gripped by the poison fad. Suspicion was aroused today when a man hurried into a downtown messenger bureau carrying a brown package tied with purple string addressed to the evangelist and marked “rush delivery.” The man then refused to leave the office until the package was dispatched. Due to his erratic behavior, the delivery service sent a messenger boy out with the package, but instructed him to double around the block. The sender (who paid in cash and did not state his name) followed awhile, then disappeared. In the interim, the police were called.

The officers immediately suspected “an infernal machine,” but when the package and a burning dynamite cap were placed side by side, nothing happened. The cops thereupon opened the box and discovered it was filled with candied figs—sweetmeats now suspected of being poisoned. They await analysis by the city chemist.

Pass the Bromo, Please

January 1, 1928
Los Angeles

A year ago prohibition agents observed that "last-minute calls for holiday cheer" skyrocketed on New Year’s Eve, so this year detective chief George Contreras and his men staked out area roadhouses. When "suspicious-looking characters" drove up, they were searched. Five flivvers were confiscated and thirty bootleggers arrested—and yet heads are splitting all over Los Angeles this morning for, despite the last minute roundup, the hooch flowed freely last night.

Indeed, by 7 o’clock this morning, the Coroner’s Office and Receiving Hospital listed two dead, eight critically—perhaps fatally—injured, and another seventy people slightly hurt in booze-fueled traffic accidents, including a pedestrian who was "partially scalped" in a hit-and-run at 39th and Vermont.

Over at 1827 W. 78th Place, Justus Gunn woke up after the party he and his wife hosted for their friends and discovered that his wife was missing. Gunn told police he "retired [or passed out?] as the guests were leaving" and didn’t notice the little woman was gone until this morning. Friends didn’t know where she was, and Gunn declared there had been "no quarrels or disagreements which might explain her sudden departure." There was no further mention of Mrs. Gunn in the pages of the Times, so whatever the cause of her disappearance, it probably wasn’t criminal.

More ominously, 14-year-old Florence Ellison left her father’s house (723 Bonnie Beach Place) yesterday afternoon to visit her mother (522 Clifton Street). Around 7:30 last night, Florence rang the doorbell at 620 South Wilton Place and told C.R. Morrison she was lost. Morrison drove Florence to the streetcar, gave her directions, then returned home and called Florence’s mother. But Florence never arrived.

Epilogue: Florence Ellison was found, fatigued and possibly drugged, on January 2. She told police that after becoming lost, she joined the New Year’s celebrations downtown where she met cabdriver Edmund D. Kearney at about midnight. They had drinks, and after a drive through Chinatown, Florence spent the night at his apartment. Kearney was held on suspicion of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. No information was given as to just how Florence spent New Year’s Day.

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.

A “Grisly Rendezvous of Death”

Marian Parker (1915-1927)

December 18, 1927
Los Angeles

This morning’s headline was set in the giant typeface reserved for only very good or very bad news. This time it was the latter: "Kidnaped [sic] Child Slain By Fiend." For three days now, Angelenos have followed the story of 12-year-old Marian Parker, lured away from Mount Vernon High School by a man who said her father was ill. The kidnapper demanded $1500 (close to $18,000 in 2007) for her safe return, and Marian’s father agreed to pay it.

The suitcase

Shortly after 8 o’clock last night, the kidnapper drove up to the agreed-upon meeting place. Marian’s small form was visible in the passenger seat. "Here’s your child," he told Parker. "Give me the money and follow instructions. She’s asleep now." The ransom changed hands; the criminal drove a short way and deposited Marian’s blanket-wrapped figure on the lawn at 432 South Manhattan Place. Perry Parker rushed to his daughter, scooped her up and—in a waking nightmare that must have haunted him for the rest of his days—discovered she was dead, her eyes wired or sewn open in a hideous simulacrum of life. A wire was bound so tightly around her neck that it cut deeply into her flesh; she had been disemboweled and her legs hacked off close to her body. The Times was filled with stories comparing the Parker case to Leopold and Loeb and a host of other grisly child murderers. Crowds of bloodthirsty thrill seekers (the Times estimated over 25,000) thronged past the Parker household at 1631 South Wilton Place (address helpfully supplied by the paper).

The horror continued today. While most of Los Angeles was still reading its morning papers, citizens aiding the police found five gruesome bundles on a lonely road in Elysian Park. The first contained Marian’s arms and legs; the last, found by "two small boys, carrying on the search," held her viscera. A blood-soaked suitcase previously discovered in the gutter at 620 South Manhattan place is believed to have held the child’s body. Then, late this evening, the police found an abandoned Ford roadster, license number 667-67. It is believed to be the automobile driven by the kidnapper to the meeting with Marian’s father.

A massive manhunt is underway for the fiendish killer.A "Grisly Rendezvous of Death"

Coffee, Tea … or Murder?

Coffee, Tea ... or Murder?

December 11, 1927
Hollywood

The death of motion-picture actor George Donald Bailey was announced this morning. The 63-year-old thespian complained of feeling ill yesterday. A doctor was summoned, but Bailey died within a few hours. The death certificate, signed by Dr. C.D. Baker (a friend of the deceased), stated the cause as heart disease.

The matter would seem to rest there, but this afternoon Bailey’s widow was visited by her daughter, Blanche Olivarias, and Blanche’s sister-in-law, Miss Tommy Olivarias. The women brewed a soothing pot of coffee, sipped from their cups, and immediately were gripped by nausea. Tommy, in particular, became violently sick and felt a choking sensation in her throat.

Unusual, you think, but this is where the plot thickens: “‘My husband clutched at his throat just prior to his death,’ Mrs. Bailey said. ‘He kept mumbling he was being choked to death'”—just after having a cup of coffee from the same fatal pot. Indeed, doctors say the only reason Tommy recovered was emergency treatment.

The county coroner requested a chemical analysis of Bailey’s organs. The coffee pot and whatever liquid remained in it were turned over to the county chemist. Results were expected sometime the following week.

Did heart disease kill George D. Bailey—or was it poison? Were his widow, daughter, and her sister-in-law victims of the same toxin? Alas, the Times never reported on the outcome of the autopsy or tests on the coffee pot.

Two Strikes … And The Wife Steps In

December 4, 2007
Los Angeles

Like many people, Mr. and Mrs. Harry Franklin of 181 Griffith Avenue like to have a little nip now and then, a simple pleasure made exceedingly difficult these dry days. Of course, there are ways of getting around the Volstead Act, but these often prove risky. Just what the cops were doing in the Franklin family bathroom on November 2, the Times didn’t reveal, but the lawmen discovered eleven pints of whisky there.

This week, the Franklins came before Municipal Judge Sheldon. In an unusual move, Ludie Franklin, Harry’s wife, asked to be substituted for her husband as the defendant in the case. Harry, it seems, had already been twice convicted on liquor charges. If found guilty a third time, the judge could send him up the river for year or two. Judge Sheldon agreed to this novel plan and Ludie went before the jury, who found her guilty as charged and sentenced her to forty days in the clink. Let’s hope Harry had a nice, dry celebration for her when she got out.

Mother Avenger

Hazel Hull

November 27, 1927
Los Angeles

Did you hear the one about the traveling salesman and the farmer’s daughter? Well, this time she wasn’t a farmer’s daughter—and the salesman ended up dead. Eleven days ago, 17-year-old Marie Hull went for a ride with Gordon J. Waters, 29, the salesman in question. When she returned home to 840 West 43rd Place, Marie tearfully told her mother that Waters had attacked her.

When Hazel Hull discovered Waters at her boarding house tonight, presumably to call on Marie, she was ready. When the salesman left the house, Hull rushed after him and pressed a .38 caliber revolver to his left side. She fired a single shot, then fled to her mother’s. Waters staggered to the intersection of Hoover Street and Vernon Avenue, where he collapsed. He died on the way to Georgia Street Receiving Hospital without making a statement.

Days of juicy reading followed. Booked into County Jail prior to the coroner’s inquest, Hazel Hull told reporters, "I am glad I killed him even though I hang for it. My little girl was sweet and good. I did the only thing I could to avenge her." Her ex-husband proclaimed his willingness to stand by his former wife’s side, and Marie asserted that if her mother "had not shot him I would have done so myself."

Meanwhile, Waters’s widowed wife of six months ("heavily veiled in a great pink chiffon drape that completely covered her head and shoulders," according to the Times) took issue with the Hulls’ insistence that her husband had been "a sheik" and "a rounder." She preferred to blame the other victim: "Marie Hull led my husband on. She knew he was married." This was a minority view, however; when the coroner’s jury announced their finding that Hazel Hull was justified in shooting her daughter’s attacker, applause broke out in the court room, and spectators rushed to shake Hull’s hand. The following day, Hull escaped a murder charge when the grand jury refused to indict her.

Despite the column inches it devoted to the case, the Times editorialized that "If Waters’s conduct was indefensible, there seems even less defense for that of Mrs. Hull" and likened the juries’ refusal to indict as an "indorsement [sic] of lynch law."

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 Check Is In The Mail

The Check Is In the Mail

November 13, 1927
Monrovia

A dead dancer,her restaurateur ex-husband, and a World War I flying ace: it was a cast of characters that wouldn’t be out of place in the pulpiest fiction. La Monte McGinnis, currently a Major in the Army Reserve and
"one of the earliest American aviators to see service with a famous French Flying squadron," was arrested today on suspicion of forgery and mail fraud.

At some point in the past (detectives
didn’t say just when), McGinnis met Mr. and Mrs. S.S. Schwartz in New York. Schwartz owned a restaurant; his wife, Tommasine Fabri, was a "French dancer." After the Schwartzes divorced, Fabri moved to Los Angeles where she seems to have become reacquainted with McGinnis. The change of climate was supposed to help her regain her
health, but Fabri died in August. She had been receiving payments from her ex-husband. McGinnis apparently saw no reason to chase this cash cow away by telling Schwartz of his ex-wife’s death. Instead, he signed Fabri’s name to "numerous requests" for money sent to Schwartz. According to detectives, Schwartz in turn mailed his dead
ex-wife $1800 (approximately $22,000 in 2007 dollars).

Several weeks ago, friends stopped into Schwartz’s New York eatery and informed him
of Fabri’s death. Schwartz hightailed it to Los Angeles, where he initiated the search that ended with McGinnis’s arrest.

McGinnis admitted writing the letters to Schwartz, but said it was at Fabri’s
request. "Before Miss Fabri died she asked me to look after her little girl until such time as I could get in touch with her
grandparents in Paris, France." Fabri apparently left no address for them; McGinnis claimed to have contacted the "prefecture of police in Paris" concerning their whereabouts but received no
reply. "The money I received from Schwartz for Renee’s living and school expenses were due Miss Fabri anyway," he claimed. "She told me that she had loaned Schwartz money to start the restaurant business in New York. When they were divorced Miss Fabri asked for her money but agreed to accept a certain amount each month. . . . Miss Fabri told me this shortly before she died and asked me to send for the money and use it for Renee."

In case his sterling qualities as a protector of little girls failed to move police, McGinnis then stated he was a disabled war veteran, who contracted tuberculosis as a result of being gassed overseas. The case was turned over to Federal authorities for further investigation.

We’re a Happy Family—No, Really!

Virginia Lee Corbin

November 6, 1927
Hollywood

Mrs. L.A. Corbin, 45, was rushed to the police receiving hospital today after she telephoned her neighbor and declared, “I have just swallowed enough poison to kill ten men!” While doctors labored to save Mrs. Corbin’s life, her 17-year-old daughter, former child star and current film ingénue Virginia Lee Corbin, told police she was ready to sign an insanity complaint against her mother. Mrs. Corbin had “taken all the money I’ve made in pictures,” Virginia Lee told detectives. “Mother wanted more money tonight and I wouldn’t give it to her; besides, she wouldn’t let me go out. I guess that’s the reason for all this. Let’s get it over with. If she acted this way before, she’ll do it again.” An ambulance took Mrs. Corbin to General Hospital’s psych ward, while a Times reporter snapped a photo of disgruntled looking Virginia Lee leaving the Georgia Street Police Station.

Two days later, Virginia withdrew her complaint. “She didn’t know what she was signing when she signed the complaint,” explained her adopted sister, Ruth Miehle. “Police Mystified by Action” read the Times sub-head that day; detectives noted that that Virginia had questioned them at length about the ramifications of signing the complaint, and went so far as to ask them to sign the document as complaining witnesses. Virginia herself was conspicuously unavailable for comment, so Ruth explained further: “There is absolutely nothing to the statements that Virginia is angry at mother over money matters.” Virginia’s assertions to the contrary, Ruth reported, were “misstatements by the police. But the police were equally certain that the statements had been made,” reported the Times. At any rate, Mrs. Corbin was moved to the relative comfort of the Rosemeade Sanatorium.

A Happy Family

On November 9, the Times ran a photo of a smiling Virginia and Ruth on either side of their wheelchair-bound mother. “The family life of Virginia Lee Corbin once more is announced as harmonious,” wrote columnist Harry Carr shortly thereafter. “The loving daughters have not only released their mother from danger of going to a cell for the insane, but they have been publicly photographed chucking her under chin. I just don’t see the connection, but I have a feeling that chucking one’s relative’s under the chin is a public indication that you didn’t mean what you said—or something. At any rate, during the long winter evenings that family have much to talk about.” Or not—for despite the apparent reconciliation, Virginia petitioned the court for and was a granted a guardian. She also established a trust fund as a “first step toward recuperating asserted financial losses” due to “maternal extravagances.”

Mrs. Corbin recovered from her suicide attempt. The Corbin family contained to display a flair for drama. In 1929, the Times reported that Virginia was missing, possibly kidnapped, before she showed up on a train bound for New York City. Five years later, Mrs. Corbin instigated a search for Virginia and her family after hearing of “reports” in the British press that they were stranded in Belgium. Again, they were safe in New York.

Virginia Lee Corbin continued to act in smaller and smaller roles. “When the talkies began to displace the silent films, I decided an English accent would be a great help,” she told the press in 1930. Nevertheless, by 1936 the Times included her in an article devoted to the “Many Forgotten Names” of the previous decade. Her first marriage ended in divorce when her broker husband accused her of “habitual drunkenness.” Whether or not it was true, Corbin lost custody of both her sons. She died in 1942 of either heart disease or tuberculosis. She was only 32 years old.