How Do You Hook a Speckled Trout?

July 11, 1927
Riverside, CA

squirreltailbaitHonorable Calvin Coolidge, President of the United States
Summer White House
Rapid City, SD

Dear Mr. President,

Have observed the pleasure you are taking in fishing during your vacation this summer.  We think you may be interested in a special lure, used with much success in California to tempt the speckled beauties which abound in the streams near your summer home.  We are sending under separate cover a few of our best "California squirrel tail bait."  These were specially made for you and we trust they will bring you much luck.  Squirrels are an agricultural pest in California, but we do find some use for a part of their anatomy.  Trusting you will accept this contribution to your pleasure in the same spirit here manifested, we are:

Yours very truly,

L.J. Tobias, Chief Deputy Sheriff
George Bottel, Horticultural Inspector

Independence Day in the Southland

In this, our nation’s 152nd year of independence, residents of Los Angeles found time for picnics, sun-bathing, fireworks, and even a little rioting.
Over a ton of barbecued beef was served in Echo Park at the National Association of Letter Carriers 4th of July picnic, where about 5000 federal employees and their families gathered to feast, dance to music by the Letter Carriers’ Band, play baseball, and of course, listen to a rousing speech by Postmaster O’Brien himself.  The Knights of Columbus went to Luna Park, while the Irish partied at Rose Hill Park.  It is estimated that about 500,000 Angelenos took in one of the many oceanside fireworks extravaganzas up and down the beach.  Passenger records between Los Angeles and the Catalina Islands were shattered also shattered this weekend.
In Chinatown, however, the mood was less festive.  Tired of being arrested for violating the City’s fireworks ordinances, a mob of about 100 Chinatown residents surrounded a police officer and firefighter, and threatened them with violence.  Their "skyrocketing oriental tempers" were quelled when a police riot squad showed up and arrested the mob’s two ringleaders.  Patrolman Fogarty and Fireman Hoag were found holding the mob at bay from a corner on North Los Angeles St., near Ferguson Alley when help arrived; however, neither man was harmed.
And sadly, the 4th of July holiday was darkened by the children who fell victim to prematurely exploding fireworks.  While most injuries were not severe, 6-year-old Mary Hackwell of 1047 1/2 W. 88th St. hovered near death at General Hospital after a sparkler ignited her clothes.  Her father also sustained serious burns while putting out the flames.  Little Mary died on July 8, 1927.
On a lighter note, check some zany goings-on at the old Luna Park Zoo here and here.  If you got a notion to hug a bear, have your car washed by an orangutan, or feed your baby to a lion, this was apparently the place to do it. 

The Long Distance Murder

 At 1681 E. Manchester Ave., the tenants were lousy and business was bad.  But George H. Ferlin of 8606 Hickory St. had insurance and a scheme to make all his problems go up in smoke.  One night in August 1925, Ferlin doused everything in gasoline and vacated the premises.  Later in the evening his accomplice, 21-year-old Walter Skala, arrived on the scene, ignited the whole mess, and was burned to death for a payoff that probably amounted to a few hundred lousy dollars.

Was it murder?  Some folks thought so.  In addition to charges for arson and destroying insured property, Ferlin was charged with the murder of Walter Skala, despite the fact that he wished him no harm and was over a mile away at the time Skala sustained his injuries.  The charge was issued under an old and little-used California statute that held a person who conspired to commit an unlawful act responsible if another person was indirectly killed as a result of that crime.

At Ferlin’s trial, the judge instructed the jury to deliberate only on the two lesser charges and acquit on murder.  However, the jury ignored him roundly, saying they felt Ferlin was "morally guilty" in Skala’s death and convicted him of murder.  Of course, there were appeals at the District and State level that dragged on for over two years while Ferlin sat in prison.

Meanwhile, there was trouble at home.  Ferlin’s wife, Jean, and her lover, Ivan Hunsacker, appeared in juvenile court on charges of contributing to the delinquency of two minors, Jean’s children.  Apparently, since Ferlin was locked away, Hunsacker had been shacking up with Jean and the kiddies.  The couple pled guilty to the charges.

In March 1927, the State Supreme Court announced that Ferlin’s appeal would be heard, along with three other notorious murder cases.  Faithful 1947project readers will be interested to know that Earl J. Clark, aka the Red Rose Killer, was alongside Ferlin on the docket.  Clark would hang at San Quentin later in the year, but things went better for our arsonist.

Today, the court ruled that Ferlin was entitled to a new trial on the murder charge since the jury had disregarded the instructions of the trial judge.  Ferlin’s sentence of 25 years for his other convictions was upheld.  The murder beef was eventually dismissed in 1928.

Slow News Day

June 20, 1927 
As long as there are newspapers, the following pieces will appear annually in them, although usually not all in one day:

poorolddad1.  The overall quality of fathers and the celebration of their designated holiday has diminished (generally found in letter to the editor form).

sleep2.  Worrying about sleep deprivation is probably depriving you of sleep.
3.  While you read this newspaper, your baby is almost certainly choking to death on toys.


 4.  The French are weird, but also somehow better than us.

Vive Calle Principal

June 13, 1927
Today, Los Angeles’s Main Street extends over 20 miles from Lincoln Heights to Wilmington.  But in 1927, Main Street almost wasn’t.
A group of the city’s business interests, bonded together under the name of the Central Improvement Association, petitioned the City Council to change the name of Main Street to Huntington Blvd., in honor of the recently deceased Henry E. Huntington.  But they had other reasons as well.
The name change would have created a continuous thoroughfare from Pasadena to the Los Angeles Harbor.  It would be good for business.  It would be good for property values.  Plus, Main Street evoked images of a one-horse town; it was a name that belonged to a pueblo, not a thriving, young metropolis.  Even the Times reporter covering the story (who was almost certainly reincarnated as a writer for Gilmore Girls) summed up the proposal as a desire to change the street name "to something less Sinclair Lewisy."
So, who comes out of the woodwork to defend the name of Main Street?  Preservationists, that’s who.
Among them, Joseph Mesmer of the Los Angeles County Pioneer Society complained to the Council that too many historic city street names were in danger of being discarded.  Florence Dodson Schoneman, a member of the Sepulveda family and chairman of History and Landmarks Committee for the Native Daughters of the Golden West, suggested that the city revert Main Street to its original name, Calle Principal.

In the end, however, it was bureacracy that saved Main Street.  The City Engineering Department informed the Council that a name change would significantly delay road-widening projects, since "Main Street" was designated as the area to be improved on all the relevant ordinances, notices, and triplicate forms.  These would all have to be changed, to say nothing of the cost involved with changing maps and street signs.

The proposal died a quiet, bureaucratic death, but rumors persisted that the City Council had actually passed the measure and suspended it until the roadwork was completed.  J.A. Graves, president of the Farmers’ and Merchants’ National Bank, collected over 1500 names in a petition to repeal the non-existent ordinance, including many notable citizens. 

With his signature, Reverend John J. Cantwell, bishop of Los Angeles and San Diego, wrote, "The tendency of the present day to change street names as a means of paying tribute to the memory of some distinguished citizen tends to mar the historic connection between the old and the new."

Graves’s petition ended with these rousing words:  "Leave us something of the flavor of the original pueblo for all the years to come… With the cry, ‘Vive Calle Principal‘ on our lips, we submit this petition to you, hoping that you will give it your earnest consideration."

In closing, some images from the Los Angeles Public Library photo collection of bustling Main Street as it appeared in 1870 and in 1926.

Houdini’s Widow to Receive Settlement

June 13, 1927
New York

houdiniFamed illusionist Harry Houdini died October 31, 1926, but until today, his widow, Bess, didn’t know whether she’d see any of the insurance money.  After months of investigation, the New York Life Insurance Company decided to accept the claim that Houdini died as the result of a blow struck by J. Gordon Whitehead, a McGill University student.  Bess Houdini would receive a settlement of $25,000 ($296,962 USD 2007).

Of course, New York Life had good reason to be confused.  Even today, Houdini’s death is surrounded by uncertainty.  Some accounts say that Whitehead challenged Houdini to take the punch fair and square, while others claim that he and his buddies lambasted the illusionist while he reclined on a sofa.  According to some, the blow to the abdomen could have ruptured Houdini’s appendix, while others today say that this would only have aggravated a pre-existing condition.  Still others speculate that he was actually poisoned by the angry Spiritualists he’d discredited.  As recently as March of this year, Harry’s descendents were seeking to have the body exhumed, while Bess’s sought to block it, claiming that the whole thing reeked of a book promotion stunt.

What’s a humble claims adjuster to do?

Daddy’s Little Girl

June 6, 1927

hollywoodfilmbrideAnother high-profile suicide today in Los Angeles.  Helen St. Claire Evens, the wife of writer and former bucket shop operator, Arthur Frederick St. Claire Evens ended her life by swallowing a quantity of antiseptic lotion following a domestic quarrel.

The Evens’s had quarreled a few nights earlier, and were encouraged by a friend of the family to cool their tempers at the Hollywood Police Station.  Captain Charles Knowles spoke with Arthur and Helen, then sent the seemingly reconciled couple home.  Today, Knowles was summoned to the Evens’s house at 2235 N. Cahuenga Dr. on a report that Helen had attempted suicide.  When he arrived, he found her dead on the bathroom floor.  Arthur had been working on a scenario for a new film when Helen asked him to take her to a motion picture theater.  Engrossed in his work, he refused, and Helen retreated to the bathroom where she consumed the poison.

Police were prepared to declare it a suicide until they received a wire from Albert T. Daniels, the father of the deceased woman, asking if there was anything suspicious about the death, and did they have anything on which to hold Evens?  Apparently, he had disapproved of the marriage, claiming to police that Evens had been previously married and that he had served time in prison for shady business dealings in New York City.  And Helen had seemed happy enough.  Just days prior to her death, she’d written an upbeat letter to her mother saying, "We want to make a success of life, to have a nice home, a few friends (real ones), and an unquestionable position in life."

Evens was further questioned, but his statement was not in doubt, and police had no basis for a charge to hold him.  Then Daniels switched his tactics, wiring that "frequent threats to kill Helen" had been made when she lived in New York.  An inquest was ordered; however, reports from both the police and the coroner maintained that all evidence was consistent with suicide, and custody of the body was granted to Evens.

Daniels continued to wire the police from New York, demanding that further investigation be made and that custody of the body be granted to him.  He even contacted James A. Blake, a relative living in Glendale, asking him to take over the burial, but Blake refused to get involved.  For days, Evens’s body lay in the R.C. Dellenbaugh funeral parlor at 630 Venice Blvd., until Evens finally relented, and agreed to send his wife’s body to her family in New York.

All for Love

May 30, 1927 

murdersuicideThe troubled love affair between New York showgirl Evelyn Tatum and her estranged husband, artist Lawrence Mueller came to a violent end this morning at the Rosegrove Hotel at 532 S. Flower St.  Reunited for "one last week of happiness" before separating, Mueller strangled his bride while "All for Love" played on the phonograph, then hung himself with the hotel bedspread.  The events leading up to the tragedy were revealed through the stack of correspondence found alongside their bodies in the hotel room.rosegrovehotel

The couple met in Denver, quickly wed, and moved to El Centro where Mueller was employed as an artist for a sign company.  Tatum found life in El Centro stifling, and left Mueller for Los Angeles after two months of married life.  She was immediately cast as the lead in a Shelly Players Theater in Huntington Park, and was set to begin work ten days later.  Upon hearing Tatum’s news, Mueller sent a wire addressed to "My Golden Girl" that read, "Received you wire and at first I rejoiced with you.  It seemed that the solution to all our troubles was found and that at last we could be happy together."
However, Mueller began to overanalyze the situation, and concluded that since he would work days, and she nights, it was only a matter of time before another man seduced her.  "The first one that did, there would be another murder," he concluded, and wired that it would be best to "take myself out of the picture."

Tatum apparently agreed wholeheartedly, writing back: "It is best you forget the past two months and me.  Go alone to Chicago.  Have new friends and work.  We both realize for the present we cannot have happiness together.  We tried and I alone failed… Sorry."  Upon receiving this missive, the passionate Mueller raced to Los Angeles where he and Tatum were briefly reunited.  However, when it became clear that a reconciliation was not in the cards, Mueller killed her.

The hotel maid found Tatum sprawled across the bed in a filmy pink nightgown, and Mueller’s nude body hanging from the closet door lintel.  Their parents later claimed the bodies.

12 Angry Men and Women

May 30, 1927
wittenmeyerheadlineToday, 16-year-old Durward Wittenmeyer confessed to the murder of Fannie Weigel, the wife of a Pomona confectioner.  It was just a few days since his release from the Whittier State School, a reformatory.  The emotionally disturbed Wittenmeyer said that on his way home from the movies on May 28, he picked up an automobile spring leaf from a scrap heap, and "got a funny notion to hit someone."  He saw Weigel walking home from the confectionery story, laden with bundles, and struck her twice in the side of the head.  And what was the offense that had previously landed Wittenmeyer in juvie?  Throwing a rock at a woman’s head in 1924.

Like a 1927 Veronica Mars, Thelma Sharp, the 17-year-old daughter of a Pomona police detective, helped police pin down the murderer.  Working as an usher at the movie theater, she’d seen Wittenmeyer the night of the murder, and knew of his previous antics.  When police followed up on her lead, they found Wittenmeyer’s distraught father in the midst of soul-searching.  The man burst out, "My boy killed that woman.  I have been beside myself since yesterday afternoon when I made him confess to me… I took cleaning fluid and tried to clean the blood off his clothes yesterday afternoon."
Without emotion, young Wittenmeyer confessed to the police.  A judge declared Wittenmeyer an unfit subject for juvenile court, and he was set to stand trial as an adult.  A psychiatric evaluation found the boy emotionally unstable, but sane.  However, a team of alienists for the defense begged to differ.  Wittenmeyer suffered from a hereditary form of psychosis, they said, and the boy’s father testified that his wife was known to have hallucinations and that once, she’d been found wandering naked in an orange grove.  Supervisors of the reform schools where Wittenmeyer had previously been an inmate testified to his erratic behavior while in custody.  Throughout the proceedings, the boy seemed oblivious, amusing himself by arranging blotters on a table.

As the prosecution and defense rested, the jury was instructed to return one of four verdicts:  not guilty, guilty of first degree murder, guilty of second degree murder, or guilty of first degree murder with the recommendation of a life sentence.  Although deliberations were expected to be speedy, the jury was deadlocked after the first day with a single hold-out for a not guilty verdict, while the remaining 11 jurors stood in favor of the harshest sentence.

After 33 hours, Judge Fletcher Bowron threatened to replace the jurors unless they returned a verdict by noon the next day.  However, the jury’s vote now stood at 10-2, with another juror in favor of acquittal.  The foreman emerged periodically to ask Bowron whether a recommendation for leniency would be granted, and what the sentence was for second-degree murder.  Bowron refused to answer his questions, saying that ultimately, the boy’s sentence was none of their concern.

Finally, after 55 hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict that found Wittenmeyer guilty of murder in the second degree, which carried a sentence of 5 years to life, making the boy eligible for parole in 1932.  Acquittal would have sent Wittenmeyer to a state mental facility, so while he did not receive the treatment he needed, the jury’s decision at least spared the teenager from life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.  Or did it?

As of November 1949 (the last mention I could find of him), Wittenmeyer was still serving time in San Quentin, having been denied parole on at least four occasions.