Baby Farm

 

March 10, 1927
Bellflower

baby farm headline

Police received a tip that next to the home of Ray Foss in Bellflower, several people had been observed burying something that may have been the body of an infant. Thankfully, no bodies would be found. Police had discovered however, that Ray had an outstanding felony warrant from 1925 for operating a "baby farm" in Moneta (near Gardena). The fear of being nailed on the baby farm charge loosened his tongue, and Ray Foss began to relate a sordid tale of baby trafficking, illegal adoption, an alimony racket, bigamy, and narcotics addiction.

Ray told the cops that a woman being held in County Jail on forgery charges under the name of Minnie Williams was actually his wife, and that she had been the proprietress of the Moneta baby farm.

The baby farm had come to the attention of the authorities in 1925 when Minnie sold a baby girl to a woman who gave her name as Mrs. Johnson. The infant was found to be blind, and Mrs. Johnson returned the child and demanded a refund. The child later died. Mrs. Foss gave the woman $25 in cash, and in lieu of the remaining $35, she gave her another baby! Ray and Minnie fled a short time later to avoid standing trial.

During the next two years Minnie trafficked in babies, ran an alimony racket, and fed her drug addiction. She provided infants for women to carry into court when seeking alimony. Prior to being identified as Minnie Foss, she’d tried a variation of the alimony con in Judge Hardy’s court. Using the Williams alias, she made an emotional plea for probation on the forgery charge, alleging that she was about to become a mother. The court soon discovered that she was not actually Minnie Williams, and that she was wanted in the Moneta baby farm case. With the masquerade over, Mrs. Foss began to confess to Deputy District Attorney Costello.

Things got off to a strange start when Minnie was asked to state her name for the record. She told the Deputy DA that her last name was really Hines, not Foss. She said that she’d married Ray Foss when she was only 15 years old, and then met Clarence Hines in 1921. The three lived together in a ménage a trois until Foss left. Minnie claimed that she then married Clarence, but never went to the trouble or expense of divorcing Ray.

How did Minnie end up trafficking in babies? According to her, she was in fact, a "serial adopter". In 1922 she had noticed a newspaper ad about adopting a baby. She said that she went to the Mexican quarter near the Plaza and met with a couple who told her that they had a child they couldn’t keep. Minnie took the baby home and passed him off to Clarence as his own child. She told him that the child had been born to her while she was away in Burbank!

Clarence may have been a very dim bulb, because over the next few years Minnie said that she brought home several other infants including a set of twins, and that she had informed him that he was the father! According to Minnie, Clarence never questioned her about any of the babies, so she continued to adopt.

Maybe Clarence wasn’t quite as gullible as Minnie had thought, however. When questioned by police, Clarence told a slightly different story. He said that he’d known that his wife sometimes placed “not wantedâ€Â babies. He also told investigators that he was aware of a black trunk which may have been used to store baby clothes or as a coffin for some of the unwanted babies. The trunk was later found at a home near Bakersfield that had once been occupied by Ray Foss.

baby farm trunk

When the trunk was examined by police it was found to contain baby clothes, a hypodermic needle, and a marriage license issued to Ray Foss and Minnie Magnolia Williams. Also found in the trunk were approximately twenty-four photographs of young girls and babies.

Even though Minnie said that she’d adopted the infants, the most likely scenario was that she occasionally kept unwanted babies born to women in her care. Where did all of the babies go? Police traced many of the children to foster parents who subsequently adopted them. Several infants remained unaccounted for.

Although there were many unanswered questions – particularly regarding the fates of the infants who could not be found, Deputy DA Costello dropped the baby farm charges because Minnie and Clarence had confessed everything to his satisfaction – including an addiction to narcotics for which Minnie was treated with Narcosan. The DA’s office couldn’t pursue the bigamy charges because the statute of limitations had run out.

Minnie pleaded guilty to issuing a fraudulent check and was given a sentence of from one to fourteen years in prison. Clarence received a similar sentence.

Patricide Interrupted

February 15, 1927
San Pedro

It’s a mysterious case indeed that enmeshes Mr. Alvin Hyder, wealthy inventor of diesel engines and proprietor of the motorship Nora, working the Channel Islands trade, and his daughter Nora Thomas, 22, wife of a local grocery man.

Seems that Nora went into her father’s room at 2315 South Grand Avenue and shot daddy in the head with a .38, before creeping back to her home at 2224 South Grand. Hard-headed Alvin did not die, but repelled the bullet with the force of his personality, sending the leaden lump on a one way trip off his cheekbone, around his face and into the back of his neck, where it remained. Following treatment at San Pedro Emergency Hospital, Alvin returned to Grand Avenue to reflect upon all that had brought him to such a place.

Nora, meanwhile, was arrested and charged with attempted murder. She pled not guilty, with local tongues wagging that this was really all about Nora’s baby who had died, or maybe $10,000 of her father’s money that she thought ought be hers.

But in May, the girl was released after the DA declared he had insufficient evidence to convict. Perhaps dad and daughter reconciled in time to take advantage of the Cabrillo Beach grunion run, the dates for which were published in today’s papers. It’s the least a captain can do for his ship’s namesake.

[update, July 2008: A descendent of the Hyder family kindly emailed with some additional information to add to this rather mysterious tale. We are always so appreciative when folks with personal knowledge write in to share it.

"Alvin was washed overboard off of his fishing boat the Nora II about 1936. A large sneaker wave overturned the boat off of San Nicolas Island. The Coast Guard responded, but his body never turned up. He was 56. His children Nora, Buster, and Alva are all gone now. Nora passed away at age 91 in 1995. She did not discuss her reasons for shooting her father until her 80s. Buster died in ’94 at age 87. Alva died in ’98 at age 73. In 1993, a book was published by the Santa Cruz Island foundation, edited by Marla Daily, entitled "Occasional Paper Number 6." She interviewed Buster about our family homesteading on Santa Barbara Island from 1914 to 1929. The National Park Service built a little museum onto the ranger house out there. In 1993, the TV program "California’s Gold" did a half hour program on our family reunion and the opening of the little museum. We had 3 generations there. So, there is a little update to your newspaper clipping."]

Mysteries of the Road

accidents
January 19, 1927
Santa Monica, Venice

A drained, shamefaced whisky bottle and wrecked car were all officers found tonight at Colorado Blvd and Twenty-Third Street.

A thorough check of the hospitals and morgues revealed nothing further.

In nearby Venice, at Washington and Brooks, an ambulance was summoned when excited folk in the vicinity witnessed an auto turn turtle.  In true 1920s fashion, the two young male occupants righted the thing and drove off, presumably in a crazy zigzag with zany piano accompaniment.  

Of felines, gas grates and tipsy transit

January 18, 1927
Los Angeles

Lovers of the purring class will be down at 720-32 South Main Street this weekend to tour the 23rd annual Los Angeles Cat Club exhibition, which this year highlights the pug-nosed Persian and water-lovin’ Angora breeds. But we reckon the biggest draw is San Francisco champion Princess Zenina, who recently escaped death when a salmon can became stuck on her head, cutting off her air supply. Happily her mistress discovered the distressed puss and cut an air hole in the can before carefully cutting it away. That leaves Princess Z with eight lives, in case anyone’s counting.

Just one block south at #856, the one-man taxi business of ex-cop Emil N. Scott has been shuttered after Scott was branded in Municipal Court as a bootlegger. It seems he sold hooch to passengers who knew to hail his cab when thirsty.

In less sunny news of L.A.’s animal citizens, casting director Hugh S. Jeffreys, 46, was found dead in his breakfast nook at 1475 Wenzel Avenue, Palms, along with his little dog and a caged canary. A gasping parrot was saved by the negro maid, who had served Jeffreys’ breakfast just an hour before. The room was poorly ventilated, and the gas fire that burned in the grate had somehow filled the room with carbon monoxide.

Caution, Smoking May Be Hazardous to Your Health

Caution headline

December 3, 1927
Long Beach

Financial woes had driven 23 year old Clarence Martin to his breaking point. He rented a room at 555 East Seaside Blvd. in Long Beach, and resolved to end his life.

The young man turned on the gas and waited in the dark for the Big Sleep. Moments before he lost consciousness, he had a sudden change of heart and shut off the lethal fumes. Was Clarence’s epiphany the result of a glimpse into his family’s future without him, such as George Bailey experienced in “It’s a Wonderful Life”?

Did Clarence breathe a sigh of relief at his escape from death and begin to make plans for the upcoming holidays? Did he think about the wife he’d left in Gardena? She was probably worried sick because he hadn’t come home. Maybe he was going to phone her and let her know he would be with her soon, but decided to sit and smoke a cigarette first.

Lighting the cigarette was Clarence’s last act in this world. There was a terrific explosion which blew the door and windows out of the room. He was horribly burned, and later succumbed to his injuries at Seaside Hospital.

GAR Blimey

confessionNovember 24, 1927
Long Beach

Frank E. Foster once stared down the blazing Enfields and Richmonds of Johnny Reb, Bragg’s cannons and Forrest’s cavalry, but it took some punk kid from Long Beach to put him down for good. 

That punk kid is Richard Robert Haver, 16, whose penchant for driving other people’s cars landed him in Chino, where police interviewed him today about a spate of Long Beach robberies last September.  Sure, during one robbery he pushed an old man.  Haver hasn’t been told that the old man died.  

“I saw him coming, although it was dark,” Haver told Detective Sergeants Smith and Alyes.  “At first I tried to avoid him by slinking back against the wall, hoping the man wouldn’t see me.  But he grabbed me by the coat with both hands.”  (Apparently the 85 y.o. Foster figured the whippersnapper wouldn’t be reconstructed.)  “I kept pushing him into the screen porch where he slept.  The door was open as I rushed for it and I pushed the man out of the way.  He tripped on the steps and fell outdoors onto the sidewalk.  Then I ran toward the front of the house and headed for the ocean.  I’m sorry I pushed him so hard, now that I know he is an old man.”  Haver’ll be sorrier once the authorities inform him that, on top of being popped for the eight homes he ransacked while the occupants slept (earning him the sobriquet "The Pants Burglar", in that he stole away with trousers in the night and emptied their pockets), he’s a murderer.

(Haver was sent to the State Reform School to remain until he turned 21, at which point the courts would again pass upon his case; the papers make no mention of that event or its outcome.)

quails!In further news of the Boys in Blue, another Damn’d Yankee, this one in Spokane, has problems of another variety.  “I’m living on borrowed time,” said Enoch A. Sears, 84, “far past my allotted three score and ten, and I only want peace and quiet.”  He has filed for divorce from his wife of one year, and has departed his home, leaving it to his wife, 59, and her mother, 79.  Enoch simply stated he was “too old to become accustomed to living with a mother-in-law.”

Ho, Ho, Ho and a Case of Scotch

case of scotch headline

November 12, 1927
San Simeon Marion Davies

Federal Agents John H. Vail and Charles E. Cass received an anonymous tip about two mysterious vessels moored off the coast of San Simeon. The agents were told that each of the ships was carrying a large supply of illegal liquor. The informant either didn’t know, or wouldn’t say, to whom the liquid holiday cheer was supposed to be delivered. Could the booze have been intended for a party at Hearst Castle hosted by publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst and his actress companion Marion Davies? If so, it would never arrive.

After nightfall the agents went down to the beach and hid themselves behind some boulders. Their evening’s surveillance was rewarded when they observed several shadowy figures hauling crates off of one of the ships and stacking them on the sand. Moments later, the concealed feds heard two cars roll down from the road to the waiting cargo.

The cops believed that the first car to leave the beach was meant as a decoy, and allowed it to proceed to the highway unmolested. However, before the second automobile could get very far it was overtaken by police. Inside was known bootlegger Earl Simpson with his passengers…thirty-two cases of scotch.

Simpson was arrested on the spot and taken to jail, but was soon released to an enigmatic stranger who posted the necessary $2000 ($23,964.37 USD 2007) cash bond. 

The ships are believed to be on their way to San Pedro. Maybe they’ll make a successful drop this time. We hope so – holiday shopping is thirsty work.

Drink a Toast to Death!

Drink a Toast to Death Headline

September 30, 1927
Long Beach

Take a spurned sweetheart, a former girlfriend, one love rival, two bottles of beer and a revolver, and you have the recipe for an evening in hell.

Frances Curnow was at home with her new beau Edward Teel when there was a knock at the front door. Edward went to answer and found that he was staring into the business end of a revolver held by Frances’ former flame Russell Bishop, a Signal Hill oil worker.

The oil man wasn’t making a social call, he was bent on revenge. He barged through the door and then forced the frightened couple into his car at gunpoint. He told them that he was going to “take them for a ride in the country” and then kill them.

With the muzzle of Bishop’s revolver pressed against the back of his head, Edward drove to a secluded place, stopping only once to buy some beer.

When they arrived at their destination the gunman made the couple get out of the car. Thrusting a bottle of beer into Frances’ trembling hands, and then he handed another beer to Edward. “Drink and be merry, for tonight you die.” With that sinister toast, the apparently doomed lovers drank their beers. The rejected swain then tried to compel his victims to embrace each other in a final farewell. Frances refused, and Bishop began firing – wounding Edward in the abdomen and the leg. Leaving Edward in a pool of blood, Bishop vanished into the night.

Supporting her injured boyfriend, Frances managed to get to the side of the road. Detective Sergeants Kirkpatrick and Blunt were transporting a prisoner from Pomona to Long Beach when they caught Frances in the headlights of their car, waving and pleading for assistance. She was sobbing hysterically but otherwise unharmed. Edward was rushed to Long Beach Hospital where he is said to be recovering.

Bishop is believed to have driven to a lonely spot and committed suicide.

Suicide by Car

Suicide Headline

September 16, 1927 Laguna Beach

Jerome Shaffer, 35, may have been the first case of suicide by car ever reported in California. A resident of Laguna Beach and professional entertainer, Shaffer had been ill and in financial difficulties when he drove his car to Laguna Beach Grammar School to end his life.

Jerome parked his car on the playground of the school and crawled underneath leaving the engine running. He then wrapped himself in a blanket and held one end of a rubber hose in the self-made shroud with him, and thrust the other end into the car’s exhaust pipe so that the deadly gas would propel him into oblivion. His body was found by the school principal, George K. Bingham.

According to his roommate, Jack West, Jerome had slipped quietly from their shared dwelling sometime during the pre-dawn hours of the morning. Shaffer and West had performed at the Masonic Hall in South Pasadena and returned home at 1 am. Jack told police that he hadn’t heard Jerome leave and only learned of his roommate’s fate when he found the letter which had been left for him.

Shaffer also left a letter addressed to Judge Raymond Thompson of Pasadena. In that letter he gave instructions for the disposition of his automobile and said that he regretted that he had no money to bequeath West. He asked that his body be cremated by the Charles Lamb Company of Pasadena, and requested that his ashes be given a public funeral in the Laguna Beach open air theater. His final wish was that his remains be scattered over the Pacific by his longtime friend and pilot, Joe Skidmore.

Don’t Make Us Use Machine Guns

Tear Gas Headline

September 15, 1927
Long Beach

When members of the Long Beach vice squad got wind of a dice game going on in a pool hall at 1240 California Avenue, they swooped down on the place with tear gas. They hurled a few gas bombs into the building, and then watched as the pool hall belched forth men of color from every door and window as they fled the noxious cloud of gas.

The vice squad thought that employing modern weapons such as those previously used in battle, would be an efficient way to combat criminals. Heck, tear gas worked on the Hun. Alas, gas bombs may be fine for driving a barricaded gangster out of his hidey-hole, but they are not the best weapon for busting a dice game.

It took a very long time for the pool hall to clear of the blinding fumes. When cops were finally able to enter the room they discovered dice and money on the table, but the tear gas had destroyed all evidence of guilt on the part of the suspected gamblers.

The police had several shady characters lined up outside of the reeking building, but with no way of proving their guilt they were released. The only person to roll snake eyes was the establishment’s proprietress, Edith Gilmore. There were still “galloping cubes” and money on the table, and this was sufficient enough for Judge Cook to fine her $5 and give her a suspended sentence of ten days in jail for permitting gambling in her place of business.