William Wrigley’s Ocean Marathon

January 16, 1927
Palos Verdes Peninsula, CA
In 1919, the heavily insured William Wrigley Jr. bought a controlling interest in the Santa Catalina Island Co., and sought to promote his lovely little island getaway.  And what better publicity stunt for the Roaring 20s than a contest of endurance?  Yes, a winter swim from Catalina to Point Vicente would be just the thing for those flagpole-sitting, dance marathoning types.
Wrigley offered a prize of $25,000 to the first man to finish the January 15 channel swim, and $15,000 to the first woman. 
The Wrigley Ocean Marathon attracted over 100 competitors, including a 17-year-old Canadian boy named George Young.  Young held several Canadian swimming records, but was too poor to afford a ticket to Los Angeles.  He did, however, have a friend with a motorcycle, and together they made the long haul from Toronto.  The bike broke down in Arizona, where Young was picked up by a honeymooning couple, who drove him the rest of the way.
His perserverance paid off.  Around 3am on January 16, after swimming for nearly 16 hours, Young was declared the winner of Wrigley’s challenge.  In fact, he was the only competitor to finish the race.  With water temperatures hovering in the 50s, over 2/3 of the contestants dropped out after just a few hours.
Young caused a stir when he emerged from the surf in the nude.  The modest Young said, "We put a covering of graphite over the grease before I put on my bathing suit to help keep out the cold… I had taken off my bathing suit when I was two and one half miles from Catalina, and I forgot that grease and graphite were my only covering as I rose out of the water."
Two women, Margaret Hauser of Long Beach and Martha Stager of Portland, OR, were awarded prize money, despite not completing the race.  Only a mile from the finish line, Hauser was pulled from the water by her husband/trainer after 19 hours and 26 minutes, making her the contestant who lasted the longest.  When Wrigley heard the news, he said, "Shucks!  That’s too bad.  Give them each $2500 for their remarkable attempts."
Sadly, Young’s career fell apart soon after the race.  His manager turned down a $250,000 movie offer, believing he could get more money.  But there weren’t any other offers, and Young never again recaptured his glory he enjoyed as "The Catalina Kid."
Those interested in the endurance contests of the era may also enjoy Geoff Williams’s new book, C.C. Pyle’s Amazing Foot Race, which recounts the misadventures of the 199 men who ran from Los Angeles to New York City in 1928.

The Very Rich Are Different from You and Me

January 2, 1927
The Spectator, a national insurance magazine, today made public the names of individuals in the United States with life policies valued at over $1 million.  Twenty-six Angelenos made the list, including:  Gloria Swanson and John Barrymore, with $3 million dollar policies each, Joe Schenck and Norma Talmadge, with $1.25 million in coverage apiece, and Will Rogers, Mary Pickford, and Charlie Chaplin rounding out the Hollywood luminaries on the list.
Owner of Catalina Island and chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr., George, Victor, and Alfred Machris of Wilshire Oil, and department store owner J.G. Bullock also made the list.  However, the distinction of most-insured Angeleno goes to producer Jesse Lasky, with a policy valued at $5 million (roughly $60 million USD 2007).

The “Sack Murder” of San Fernando

December 26, 1927
San Fernando, CA

boundwomanThe body of an unidentified woman was discovered off of Mulholland St. (now called Foothill Blvd.) in San Fernando today.

Her hands were bound across her chest with twine.  Her knees were bent, and her feet tied to her back with a length of cord.  Her body had been wrapped in canvas.  She had been struck in the forehead with a blunt instrument; however, a preliminary autopsy revealed that the blow was not hard enough to have killed her.  Most likely, she was knocked unconscious by her assailant, tied up, then left to die of exposure.

The dead woman was approximately 45 years of age, and was found wearing a black crepe dress, "cheap cotton underwear," and hose.  Her shoes had been removed.  She had false upper teeth and a scar.  She had been drinking the night she was beaten and left to die.  She had been dead for approximately 24 hours before she was found, and lay in the San Fernando morgue for four days until she was identified as Amelia Appleby of 229 N. Hobart Blvd.

The fourth wife of a wealthy Chicago inventor, Appleby had inherited a $1 million estate upon his death, taken the money, and moved to California.  She was not well-liked by her late husband’s family, nor by her Los Angeles neighbors, who described her as "eccentric" and "a troublemaker."  However, she did have one friend who cared enough to tell police what she knew.  Prior to her death, Appleby was known to keep company with a "doctor" named Charles McMillan, 57.  Appleby had confided to her friend that she feared McMillan would kill her if she refused to marry him.

McMillan was rounded up at his 531 S. Western Ave. apartment, where police found him poring over a stack of Appleby’s personal papers.  They later found more of her personal items, including her diamond jewelry, in McMillan’s possession.  Police investigators later found two versions of Appleby’s will, one which left her estate to McMillan, and another which left it to a long-lost daughter, although her relatives claimed that she’d never had a child.  Neither will was signed, and both were strongly suspected to be forgeries.

The evidence against McMillan was circumstantial, but strong.  The stolen papers and jewels, a blood-stained jacket, the forged will, and the fact that he was the last person to be seen with Appleby were enough to convince jurors of his guilt.  McMillan was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison on February 24, 1928.

“I Never Would Have Let Marion Go…”

December 19, 1927 
maryholtSuperintendent of Schools Susan Dorsey spoke out on behalf of Mary Holt, registrar at the Mt. Vernon Junior High, saying, "I spoke with Mrs Holt, and am satisfied that I would have acted as she did if I were confronted with the same circumstances."

Holt excused Marion Parker from school on Thursday, December 15 when a slender man came to the desk and asked for "P.M. Parker’s youngest daughter," saying that her father had been in an automobile accident.  Holt hesitated, knowing that Marion was a twin.  However, the man persisted, saying, "I am an employee at the bank where Mr. Parker is chief clerk, and if there is any doubt in your mind, here is the bank’s telephone number.  You may call there."

Convinced, Holt sent an office assistant to get Marian from class.  "Marion was nervous and excited when I told her that her father had been injured.  The news completely broke up a little Christmas party the children were having in their room, and Marion had some of the refreshments in her hands when she came into the room.  But at once she forgot about everything but her father."

Marion was excused from school, and left with the man who would, three days later, end her life.

After the kidnapping, Holt said, "Oh, I can think of many things I could have done now.  I never would have let Marion go but for the apparent sincerity and disarming manner of the man."

Private funeral services for 12-year-old Marion Parker were held today at the Little Church of Flowers at Forest Lawn Cemetery, after which her body was cremated.  The search for her killer continues, with police and citizens as far away as Denver and Portland on the lookout for the Fox.


Beware of the Goat

December 12, 1927
Glendale, CA
deaththreatsThree Glendale families found interesting missives in their mailboxes this week, and they weren’t no holiday wishes.

The Van Pelt family received a note reading:  "You are to be killed tonight at 10pm sharp."

The Westons were warned, "Highway bandits will rob your house tonight."

And then, the cryptic letter received by the Simingtons:  "Beware of the goat.  He is watching you."

Today, Glendale police revealed that two bored 12-year-old girls named Dorothy Alman and May White were responsible for the threats which kept the neighborhood "on the verge of nervous spasms for several days."

The two said they wrote the letters on a lark.  Today, these shenanigans would probably get a kid put on some kind of watch list, but in 1927, the preteen terrors were turned over to their folks.  The detectives on the case didn’t report the particulars of how the girls’ parents responded to the news, but said that "it sounded like a-plenty."

Reindeer Paws

December 12, 1927 
Santa Claus arrived in Los Angeles today, and set up shop in his Los Angeles Times-sponsored Ice Palace at the corner of 8th and Grand.  While waiting in line to see Santa, the little ones amused themselves by playing in Santa’s igloo, dropping letters in his shiny red mailbox, or visiting the barn, where Santa’s long-suffering reindeer had their jingle-belled harnesses tugged by sticky mitts.
If you think it’s bad now, just wait a few days.  Before the holiday season is over, the Times will give Prancer his own column.
Doesn’t it just give you the shudders?

Little Girls Lost

December 5, 1927

juneMr. and Mrs. Jack Laughlin of 2115 S. Harvard departed for a weekend getaway in San Diego, leaving their daughter, June Blossom, 14, in the care of their housekeeper and family friends.  After saying goodbye to her folks, June invited her friend Mary Jane Carroll, 13, over for the weekend.

Sunday afternoon, the girls went outside to play, and vanished.  Shortly after their disappearance was noticed, the blue dress and sandals that June had been wearing that day were found in a nearby vacant lot.  When the Laughlins returned, they found that in addition to a missing daughter, about $4000 worth of clothing and tapestries were missing from their home.

So sinister-sounding were the facts surrounding the disappearance of Mary Jane, and June that it seems impossible that the incident wrapped up as happily as it did.  As it turns out that the whole thing could be chalked up to a case of "girls will be girls."maryjane

On December 6, Mr. Laughlin and Mr. Carroll set out to pick up their daughters from a San Diego hotel.  The girls had skipped town on a lark with the intention of surprising June’s parents in San Diego.  Unfortunately, they’d left around the same time that Mr. and Mrs. Laughlin had started home.

No word on how June’s clothes turned up in the lot, or the whereabouts of the missing tapestries; however, the most precious cargo was accounted for, albeit in deep, deep trouble.

Starlet Boo-Boos

December 5, 1927

clarabowSome minor cuts scrapes for Clara Bow today, but that’s what happens when you take on the USC football team.

No, no, it’s nothing like that.

Ms. Bow hosted a garden party, to which she invited a few members of the victorious Trojans.  The glamorous hostess revealed herself to be an avid fan of the sport, and asked quarterback and future College Football Hall of Famer Morley Drury how the team managed "those end-around plays."  The Trojans were only too happy to demonstrate on the lawn.  Caught up in the spirit of things, Ms. Bow drew too close to the "Thundering Herd," and was pommelled to the ground.  Fortunately, she suffered only a bruised thumb.

doloresAnd what started as a few pesky mosquito bites turned into a near-miss disfiguring for Dolores Del Rio.  While vacationing in Soboba Springs, Ms. Del Rio treated the bites with an acid-based ointment.  Today, she was treated by a physician for burns and "skin poisoning."

Child Bride of the Ozarks

November 28, 1927
18-year-old Ora Obetz appeared in court today seeking to have her marriage of 5 years annulled.  It seems that prior to their marriage, her husband, Louis Allen Obetz, 47, had been her stepfather.

When Ora’s mother died in 1920, the girl was left in the custody of Obetz, who spent the next few years traveling around the Ozarks in a wagon with her.  When she turned 13, he gave her the choice of being placed in juvenile home, a convent, or becoming his wife.  After a month of convent living, Ora finally consented to marry him in Kansas.

A year later, Ora gave birth to a son, and the Obetzs moved to Los Angeles.  Shortly thereafter, Louis threatened Ora at gunpoint, at which point, the brave girl picked up her infant son, marched out the door, and left Obetz for good.  That was two years ago.

Since then, Obetz filed a $100,000 "alienation of affection" suit against 83-year-old A.F. Christianson, a wealthy Angeleno whom Obetz claimed had influenced Ora’s decision to leave him.  But before that case was heard, Ora had her day in Superior Court.  The issue at hand was not whether Ora was coerced into marriage, due to the fact that Kansas had no laws mandating the age at which girls could marry.  However, the legality of the marriage was called into question by Ora’s testimony that a friend of Obetz’s had posed as her dead father in order to obtain the marriage license.

On December 7, 1927, Obetz’s suit against Christianson was dismissed when the former failed to appear in court.  He didn’t show his face on the 9th either, when Ora Obetz was granted her annulment and full custody of her son.

I Scream, You Scream

November 14, 1927
toxicicecreamOver 100 Pasadena residents are clutching their guts today, the victims of a recent outbreak of food poisoning.  Those affected had all eaten a batch of tainted French vanilla ice cream sold by a local catering company.  At first, the toxins were suspected to have come from the copper mixing vats used by the unnamed company; however, after questioning some of its employees, City Bacteriologist C.W. Arthur and City Chemist Frank Marks (how ’bout those job titles!) uncovered the true culprit.

It seems that the ice cream recipe called for an egg mixture which the company only bothered to make about once a week.  Unfortunately, the ice cream was frequently made several days later.  Arthur and Marks found that a scoop of the toxic French vanilla contained about 20 times as much bacteria as a sample of raw sewage.

Oh, careless confectioner, what have you wrought!