An Affront to God

November 7, 1927

The Department of Religion at Occidental College is up in arms today, but what could it be about?  Gin mills and jake legs?  The divorce rate?  The suicide rate?  The saucily exposed shins of young women?

Naw, it’s the scientists again.  And not just any scientists… social scientists.
Department head Dr. J. Hudson Ballard condemns behaviorist psychology, saying that it "destroys belief in self, in virtue, in immortality, and in God.  It kills the belief in sin, and in the necessity for a Savior, other than as a nerve specialist."

Then again, those early behaviorists were an ethically suspect bunch.  One, John B. Watson, was notorious for his 1920 "Little Albert" experiment, in which an 11-month-old boy was conditioned to experience fear when he was presented with a white rat (previously he’d gotten along swimmingly with the critters).  An unfortunate side effect of the experiment was that little Albert also became distressed when presented with a variety of white, furry things including, but not limited to: a dog, a fur coat, and Watson himself.

Apparently, Watson "meant" to uncondition little Albert, but never got around to it.

So perhaps Dr. Ballard was onto something after all — but just wait a few years until he gets a load of a fellow named B.F. Skinner.

The Venice Slasher

October 31, 1927
Venice, CA
A gory scene unfolded at the Venice Police Station today as 23-year-old Eddie Berry burst through the front door with a slit throat and passed out on the floor.
An employee of the Venice Speedboat Company, Berry had been working on the Venice Pier when he was accosted by a woman packing a knife in her handbag.   The dame was Berry’s sweet wife.  She began to argue with him, then drew out her knife and slashed him across the throat, narrowly missing his jugular vein.
Berry was taken to the emergency room for stitches, while police went out in search of the estranged wife.  However, the search was later dropped when Berry refused to press charges.
Okay, it’s not much of a Halloween story, but it was this or the story of a few rowdy teens from the Redlands being sent to a YWCA dance to keep them from vandalizing property.  Plus, isn’t "The Venice Slasher" a great name for a would-be murderess?

License to Ill

doctor1Rex H.W. Albrexstondare was not a doctor, but he played one in Southern California.

The pseudo-scientist claimed that he’d discovered the fountain of youth through proper diet and treatment, and had been restored from a 90-year-old man to a young man with a thick head of black hair.  He said he’d grown four sets of teeth in his life.  He was associated with a scheme to create a human body, saying he’d once crafted a 6 inch body, but had been unable to vivify it.   He said he’d discovered a medicinal herb that could rejuvenate human life.  And he claimed to be a Russian prince who had made millions during the regime of the Czar by devising a system of hydrating food.

Yes, Rex H.W. Albrexstondare said a lot of things, and oddly, some people believed him.

Unsurprisingly, the "doctor" made his living by preying upon women, preferably of the wealthy and lonely variety, and supposedly treating them for vague medical complaints, such as headaches and rheumatism.  However thin his ruse may seem, the doctor found plenty of willing customers until 1923, when he hit a patch of very bad luck.

It was then that Albrexstondare treated two Orange girls, Myrtle Thompson and Evelyn Rohrs, who suffered from congenital heart disorders.  He gave them a paste made of mashed vegetables, alfalfa, and pea pods, which probably did the girls no direct harm, but certainly did them no good either.  Albrexstondare was charged with practicing medicine without a license.

doctor2Around the same time, a suit was brought by Jennie McFadden, a wealthy Altadena widow, who claimed that Albrexstondare had failed to repay over $20,000 in loans she’d given him over the space of a few months.  He had befriended her, announced plans to embark on a course of scientific research, and set up a lab in her home.  She periodically loaned him sums of money, which he perceived as gifts; he also claimed that during his stay, the 70-year-old McFadden made passes at him and tried to get him to marry her, as did her daughter.

Others came out of the woodwork, and by the middle of 1924, Albrexstondare had three suits filed against him totaling over $35,000.

But first things first.  He was found guilty of the case involving the Orange girls (the jury’s deliberation took only 5 minutes), and was sentenced to 180 days in prison.  He promptly set about raising the $3000 bond for his release.  There was no mention of the party who’d finally given Albrexstondare the money for his bond, but he or she must have been too embarrassed to make a stink about it when he failed to appear for his sentence in May of 1925.  On the lam for three months, he was finally apprehended in Ensenada and dragged back to Orange County to serve his sentence.

Then in December 1926, things took a turn for the weird.  Socialite and pianist Ruth Shaw, one of the women who’d previously filed suit against Albrexstondare back in 1924, pledged her loyalty to him and agree to help him with his legal troubles.  This would mark the beginning of Shaw’s second career as a professional swindler and full-time accomplice.

For reasons that were not specified, Jennie McFadden’s case did not come to trial until October of 1927, but Albrexstondare’s performance there may have been worth the wait.  Prior to the trial, he and Shaw had hinted that they had some surprises up their sleeves, and today, the doctor let out all the stops.

He claimed that he was beaten so severely in prison that he lost his hearing, memory, and consciousness of his surroundings for nine months.  He said that Jennie McFadden and her daughter had threatened to use their wealth and influence to have him arrested, and that McFadden herself had engaged the agents who followed him from San Diego to New York City and finally, to Mexico while he was a fugitive (although he never saw himself that way).

The judge didn’t see it this way, however, and ordered that Albrexstondare repay Mrs. McFadden’s money with 7% interest, as well as all court costs.  You might that all of this would teach the doctor a lesson, or at least slow him down; however, Albrexstondare continued his schemes in Los Angeles with little variation or discretion for at least the next seven years.

In May 1930, he was in trouble again, accused of swindling a woman who said she’d paid $275 for a medical treatment that she never received.  Ruth Shaw, who’d lined up a string of gullible female clients for the doctor, was charged as an accomplice.  Last heard from in 1934, the pair were still up to their old tricks.  They were again charged with swindling for their efforts to separate L.A. residents from their hard-earned cash, telling them that they were raising funds to file a federal suit — allegedly, the $43 million fortune of the deceased Czar had been deposited to a San Francisco bank.

And is it just my imagination, or does our own Nathan Marsak bear some small resemblance to the good doctor?  Watch he doesn’t slip you any vegetable paste!

Marriage: It’s Like Guns!

A change to California marriage laws has cut the number of Los Angeles nuptials in half this year, from 1634 in September of 1926 to only 787 in 1927.  In an editorial, the Times praised the new three-day waiting period, saying that "Love is blind, and three days are frequently sufficient to open its eyes," and went on to assert that "stringing strands of barbed wire at the top of Lover’s Leap in the dark will catch many silly Willies."

Would that something had been in place to catch Edna and Harvey Fletcher before they took the plunge.  Today, Harvey’s sixth wife won her freedom, charging her too-charming spouse with cruelty.  Harvey had boasted to her that he could have any woman he wanted, and the lady took offense.

Those Monkeys in City Hall

October 10, 1927
Joe Pagglia had always wanted a pet monkey.  His friends and neighbors told him, "Joe, why not a kitty cat or a nice turtle?  Monkeys may be cute, but they fling their poop.  Who needs that?"  But Joe was undeterred, and was soon the proud owner of a monkey named Barney.  As everybody knows, monkeys hate to be cooped up, so being a proud and good pet owner, Joe Pagglia took Barney downtown for a stroll.

Unfortunately, in front of the under-construction City Hall, Barney slipped his rope leash and darted up a palm tree.  As Joe and several others struggled to coax Barney down, a crowd of about 600 spectators gathered to cheer them on.  Enjoying his audience, or perhaps terrified of them, Barney leaped 15 feet out of the palm tree, and made a dash for City Hall.  He then proceeded to scale the building, and in three minutes, was sitting on the Lindbergh Beacon.

Pagglia went up to the 28th floor, and cajoled Barney into position.  Then, he made a lasso, tossed it over Barney’s head, cinched it around his belly and hoisted his simian friend into Daddy’s loving arms.  The Times reported that "hereafter, the monkey pet will occupy a cage in Pagglia’s backyard," which is terribly sad.  But Barney seems like a crafty fellow – here’shoping he eventually made another break for it.

Don’t &#*% With the Librarian

librarytheftThese days, if you make off with a stack of library materials, the Los Angeles Public Library will report your thieving name to a collections agency.  But library bandits of yesteryear like 20-year-old Clyde M. Thompson faced much stiffer penalties.

A librarian at LAPL noticed that the copy of Eugene O’Neill’s controversial play All God’s Chillun Got Wings was at large, and traced the missing copy to Thompson.  About 30 library books were found in Thompson’s home at 1406 E. 110th St., and he was sentenced to 60 days in jail, 2 days for each stolen book.

samuelwardlawDuring the 1920s, the Los Angeles Public Library employed detectives to investigate thefts and mutilation of library material.  A 1929 Times article featured the efforts of Special Investigator Samuel Wardlaw, a man as hardcore as he was humorless.

He interrogated patrons in the stacks when he observed them hiding books, and once used a sorority pin to track down a young woman who tried to sneak a rare volume of Chaucer out under her coat.  While he seemed to have a soft spot in his heart for the children he captured, Wardlaw regarded most library patrons with a certain degree of contempt.  He said, "Sometimes I think the Los Angeles Public Library must be on the mailing or calling list of every crank and eccentric in the West."
While the library detectives frequently visited people at home to reclaim stolen books, it was rare that criminal charges were pursued.  No particular reason was given for poor Clyde Thompson’s exceptionally harsh sentence.

The Fascinating Widow

eltinge1Famed vaudeville cross-dressing act Julian Eltinge performed today at the Orpheum, though the Times reported him to be "a trifle too old and portly to exactly suggest the flapper — his impersonation is limited to the more matronly of the species."  Eltinge was approximately 46 (reported birthdates vary), and had been doing female impersonations in his act for over 35 years.

At the turn of the century. Eltinge became well known for his parodies of iconic female figures like the Gibson Girl (his was the "Simpson Girl"), and was lauded as "the most fascinating woman on the American stage."  In 1910, he opened eltinge2The Fascinating Widow, a musical comedy where he played both male and female roles, the latter of which would become his signature role.  Eltinge was a hit, marketing his own line of magazines featuring beauty tips, as well as a line of cosmetics.  Ads for his cold cream read, "See what the Julian Eltinge cold cream does for a man.  Imagine what it will do for a woman."

Eltinge enjoyed a fairly successful career in silent film, though his weight, age, and reported alcohol abuse made it difficult for him to continue to play an ingenue.  Additionally, Hollywood laws that made it illegal for a man to perform in women’s clothing reduced his act to singing in a tuxedo while pointing at a rack of dresses.

Throughout his life, he vehemently denied rumors that he was a homosexual, saying, "I am not gay.  I just like pearls."

More information on his fascinating life can be found at The Julian Eltinge Project.

Razors Pain You, Rivers Are Damp

vannuysDorothy Parker’s well-known verse, published in her 1926 collection Enough Rope, assured readers that they "might as well live."  However, this admonition proved impossible for many today in the Southland, as three men turned blades upon themselves in a veritable rash of unrelated suicides.

Despondent over poor health and unemployment, Martin Phillips, 42, of 421 W. Second St. slashed his wrists and throat.  He was discovered in his house by a fellow boarder, and taken to the hospital; however, Phillips was not expected to live.

A former employee of the Los Angeles Water Department drove to an apricot orchard in Van Nuys and cut his own throat with a straight razor.  Frank A. Howard of 2125 Allesandro Street had been missing since Sept. 3, and was reported to have been upset over his sick child who was confined to a sanatorium.

More difficult to understand was the suicide attempt of a young bank clerk, one Donald W. Fraser of Brea.  Fraser was employed at the First National Bank there, and on the same night that he slashed his wrists, his boss, M.J. Wolfe, was charged with misappropriation of funds in the amount of $1000.  It is unknown whether the incidents were related; however, a bank manager reported that Fraser’s accounts were in good order and that he was on vacation at the time he attempted suicide.

Don’t Die Over Spilt Milk

From Eagle Rock to Valley Falls, NY, men around the United States were taking the news of Jack Dempsey’s defeat very much to heart.
In Detroit, James Dempsey, 54, keeled over dead while arguing over the defeat of his namesake with a co-worker, while a 33-year-old man from Bridgeport, CT became overexcited while listening to the fight on the radio, and also died of a heart attack.
In particular, the infamous Long Count took a steep toll of frail listeners.  Benjamin Moore of Monterey Park and James Chilson of Eagle Rock both gasped, clutched their chests, and fell over during the 9-count.  Neither lived to discover the final outcome of the fight.

The Gentleman Thief Feathers His Nest

vonfalkenstein1Let us now turn our attention to the male weaverbird, who craft intricate nests to attract a female by stitching and knotting grasses together.  Less industrious and ethical is our friend, the starling, who will sometimes steal the nest of another bird for mating.
And then, there’s one Fred W. Von Falkenstein, an insurance broker formerly of Butte, Montana, who put the starlings to shame by stealing over $60,000 worth of home furnishings for his Alhambra love nest.  Von Falkenstein was betrothed to a Miss Anne Marshall, also of Butte, who was soon to come to Alhambra so they could be wed.  However, it was not to be.

Von Falkenstein was apprehended after he came to have a peek at 223 S. McCadden Place, a home that had recently gone on the market.  There, he met real estate salesman H.H. Morgan, who did not get Fred’s name, but found him suspicious enough to jot down his license plate number as he drove away.  When the house was later burgled, Morgan vonfalkenstein2handed the number over to police who confiscated between 6 and 8 carloads of stolen goods from Von Falkenstein’s home at 619 Meridian Avenue.  Found among the items were Oriental rugs, solid silver home accessories, a radio cabinet, and a French salon painting valued at approximately $5000 that he’d lifted from the art gallery at the Ambassador Hotel.

Though Von Falkenstein worked with an accomplice, Robert Donaldson of 1928 Crenshaw, he acted alone in the art theft and said it was easy.  He simply walked into the empty gallery, cut the canvas out of its frame, rolled it up, and walked out of the Ambassador without drawing any attention.

In addition to the art theft, Von Falkenstein also pled guilty to two more home burglaries, and was sentenced to 2 terms of 1 to 15 years at San Quentin.  And so it was that our love bird turned jailbird.