Whistle While You Work

June 12, 1927
Los Angeles

Is there anything more quaint than a peanut wagon, its operator on life’s downward slope yet cheerfully awaiting only a word from you to scoop up a paper sack of delicious, salty goobers? This was the face that 72-year-old Victor Tartas presented to the world—-until recently.

To the untrained eye, the steady stream of customers at the peanut stand bore testimony only to the elderly Tartas’s business acumen and pleasant personality. But Sergeant Adams of the Los Angeles Police Department detected something peculiar in the peanut vendor’s manner: if an approaching customer whistled once, Tartas responded with a single blast of the peanut cart’s horn. Two whistles were met with two toots on the horn. A quick investigation revealed several pints of whiskey nestled beneath a false bottom in the wagon.

Despite evidence to the contrary (twenty gallons of moonshine, a small still and a “quantity” of mash were found at the peanut vendor’s home at 2118-1/2 Brooklyn Avenue), Tartas pleaded not guilty. Jury trial was set for September 13, 1927. Bail was fixed at $1,000–which, it must be stated, wasn’t peanuts.

Scarlet Letters


June 5, 1927

The headlines turned her story into a cliché: a young woman from the Midwest commits suicide by swallowing poison after the Hollywood star machine chews her up and spits her out. But 22-year-old Patricia Marshall’s death today was a bit more complicated than that.

For one thing, though she took part in amateur dramatics back home in Missouri and worked as a film extra since her arrival in Hollywood three years ago, Patricia aspired to a career in business. Until recently she had been a student at the Hollywood Secretarial College.

Then there were the letters in her room. In one, written about a week before she died but never sent, the young woman made a declaration she was ultimately unable to keep: “There are so many suicides in Hollywood one must wear armor and make a vow against self-extinction—in suicide by poison.” In addition to this and a note addressed to her mother (“You are to forget me. Never think of me.”), there were several missives to and from various men. When police contacted one of them, insurance man Harry Rosenberg of Washington, D.C., he called himself an “old friend” of the deceased but insisted there was never a hint of romance between them.

This assertion was refuted by Patricia Marshall’s mother, who testified at a coroner’s inquest that her daughter and Rosenberg were engaged and planned to be married soon. Imagine Mrs. Marshall’s shock when it came out that Patricia’s “fiancé” was already married and the father of several children. Nor was that all—there were those damnable letters. In one, Rosenberg cut off his $15 weekly payments to Patricia; in another, his daughter threatened to have her arrested for blackmail and extortion if Patricia continued to annoy her father for money.

Perhaps with Mrs. Marshall in mind, the coroner discreetly concluded that Patricia committed suicide after a “disappointment” in love.


“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.

Mama Said There’d Be Days Like This

May 22, 1927
Los Angeles

Sometimes a guy just can’t catch a break: ask three ruffians who had little to show after today’s “reign of terror” except black eyes and bruises.

Stealing a flivver was the easy part. The trouble began when they tried to hold up a disabled man, William Gehem, at the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Benton Way. Unimpressed by the large revolvers aimed at his person, Gehem smacked one of them out of his assailant’s hand with his crutch. In retaliation, the bandits knocked him down and robbed him of $12.

The trio next drew their guns on one Sol Feyer. Accosted on the Cornwall Street bridge in Hollenbeck Heights, the feisty Feyer grabbed one of the guns and threw it in the gutter. He then acquitted himself with his fists so well that the bandits jumped into their car and sped off—but not before Feyer, lying bruised in the street, reached up and removed their license plate.

Things went a little better at Rosemont Avenue and Larchmont Boulevard, where the hoodlums held up John Lentz without incident, making off with $100 in cash and jewelry.

But such luck couldn’t hold. Their next “victim,” Walter Swanson (attacked while walking at Pasadena Avenue and Avenue 63), beat two members of the gang with such gusto that police believe they were forced to abandon their nefarious activities for the night. Swanson estimated he battled with the beasts for ten minutes before losing consciousness and being dragged into a vacant lot, where he was stripped of $7 in cash and a $60 watch.

Acting on a telephone tip, police arrested the 19-year-old driver of the stolen getaway car at Pasadena Avenue and Piedmont Street. One can only assume he was relieved to see them. 

These Birds Don’t Sing

May 15, 1927
Los Angeles

Nobody ever said making a living in the arts was easy, but G. Leavitt Browne got more than he bargained for shortly after noon today when two young men showed up at his vocal studio located on the sixth floor of the Majestic Theater Building, 845 S. Broadway.

Browne told police the youths had come in response to his newspaper advertisement. Indeed, the three discussed the possibility of taking vocal lessons with Browne. But when the voice teacher turned away for a moment, his would-be students revealed their true natures: one grabbed him by the arm and the other threatened to strike the flustered music man with a heavy candlestick if he offered any resistance.

The young Philistines made off with $2.00 in cash and a wristwatch worth $20.00. No word on whether Browne cancelled his newspaper ad.

Daddy Dearest

May 8, 1927

“What’s a father to do?” lamented Dr. Eric R. Wilson today, after his 17-year-old daughter, Dorothy, accused him of beating her and taking her money before throwing her out of the house. Police officers escorted the girl to Juvenile Hall after they discovered her, hysterical, outside the family home at 176 North Mansfield Avenue, Hollywood. Their first stop, however, was at Receiving Hospital, where Dorothy was treated for a broken nose, injuries to her eyes, and bruises to her lips and body.

Wilson admitted he “slapped” Dorothy after he and his wife returned from the theater last night and observed shadowy figures slipping out the side entrance as they entered the front door. Dorothy denied she had gentlemen callers while her parents were out. “She lied to me, and I make no apology for it,” said Wilson. “I slapped her down. She hit the side of the davenport and rolled on the floor, and then she pulled the hysterical stuff.” He denied taking Dorothy’s money or ordering her to leave home.

According to her father, among other wild pranks, Dorothy broke into garages and took cars without their owners’ permission (some might call this grand theft auto, but not Dr. Wilson). “I tried everything to make her happy,” the put-upon father continued, “I gave her an allowance of $50 a month and promised her a roadster if she would pass in her studies, but it did no good. She is incorrigible; she was put out of Hollywood High School; I tried to place her in the Ramona convent and they wouldn’t take her.”

Officials at Juvenile Hall confirmed that Dorothy Wilson was incommunicado pending an interview with a policewoman.