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.

The Great Stock ‘n’ Roll Swindle

February 9, 1927
Los Angeles

bunkoIt’s a pretty simple scheme. 

You own some stock.  I approach and inform you that your stock is about to hit bottom.  I suggest a trade—your stock for some of mine.  The stock I’m offering you is about to go up, up, up, ya see.  (Honestly, that’s the long and short of my plan; we swap my stock worth a penny for your stock worth a dollar—your greed does all the heavy lifting.)

When Mrs. Frances L. Derby of 502 North Ardmore was approached by some very nice men, she parted with 102 shares of John C. Frey & Assoc. worth $1,020, and 124 shares of California Guarantee Assoc. worth $498, and in exchange was given 4,700 shares of Silas Frank Mining.  The Very Nice Men “talked down” her crummy old stock and represented the mining company stock as being worth $1 a share—when in fact it was worth 1 cent a share, or $47.  Mrs. Derby was no ordinary rube, though, got wise, and alerted the authorities.

The aforementioned pleasant fellows being Leon F. Wessling, 36, and J. L. Johannes, 38.  Detective Lieutenants Davis and Edwards of bunko detail say these two have, from their brokerage firm—a prestigious suite of offices in the Merritt Building—similarly swindled Los Angeles residents out of $75,000 in the past week.

According to Wessling and Johannes’ records, the duo finagled $18,000 out of one poor old widow alone.

Sad, true, but at least in a few years there’ll be a lot less stock to swindle.

 

Holy City Hi-Jinks

sued headline

December 31, 1927
Los Angeles Evelyn Rosenkrantz

Mrs. Evelyn Rosenkrantz has claimed in court that her dream to become the Queen of Holy City, California was reduced to ashes and bitter tears when the City’s self-anointed King, William E. Riker, retracted his marriage proposal. Evelyn is asking for $500,000 ($3.5 million USD 2007) in damages for breach of promise. The woman who would be Queen stated that William had sweet talked her in to posing as his wife. She said that they resided at a “love cottage” on 3679 Motor Avenue, Palms City.

Evelyn was not the first woman ever to have been disappointed by William. About 20 years ago, he fled to Canada to avoid bigamy charges. It was there that the former palm reader founded "The Perfect Christian Divine Way”. To achieve perfection, devotees adhered to a strict credo of celibacy, abstinence from alcohol, white supremacy and communal living. To make it easier for his disciples to concentrate on their spirituality, Riker required them to turn over all of their money and worldly possessions to him.

William RikerWilliam and his followers returned to California and set up his “New Jerusalem” near Los Gatos. Surprisingly, he never got around to building a church in Holy City, but he did manage to construct a gas station (which sold “holy water” for over heated autos), restaurant, and an observatory where visitors could view the moon for ten cents. Located on the Santa Cruz Highway, Holy City became a tourist destination and was eventually bringing in over $100,000 ($1.2 million 2007 USD) annually. Tourists were lured by signs with such catchy slogans as: "See us if you are contemplating marriage, suicide or crime!" and "Holy City answers all questions and solves all problems!" Riker sign

Things went so well that the city incorporated. There would eventually be a Holy City Post Office, newspaper, and radio station, KFQU. The radio station would lose its license in 1931 for “irregularities” (maybe it was the call letters).

Evelyn would lose her breach of promise suit, but she and William would tangle again in a couple of years.

In the spring of 1929 Evelyn was serving a life sentence in San Quentin for being a habitual criminal (her final conviction was for passing bad checks in Oakland). She swore in an affidavit that back in 1927 she had witnessed Riker strangle a Mrs. Margaret White to death in the cottage on Motor Avenue. Evelyn told the court that Mrs. White was another of Riker’s abandoned wives. Nothing would come of Evelyn’s affidavit, and she likely spent the rest of her life in prison.

Riker became known as “The Comforter” and made four failed attempts to become governor of California. He would be arrested in 1943 for his pro-German sentiments – he was writing letters of support to Adolf Hitler! Defended by well known attorney Melvin Belli, who constantly referred to his client as a “crackpot”, Riker managed to skate on the charges. The ungrateful crackpot would sue Belli for defamation of character, and lose.

Riker made it to the ripe old age of 93, when he shocked his few remaining followers by converting to Catholicism shortly before his death in 1966.

If you’re interested in owning a piece of California history, Holy City went on the market in 2006 with an asking price of $11 million. Maybe it’s still for sale.

The Case of the Randy Chaplain

Orville I. Clampitt

October 25, 1927
Culver City

Orville Clampitt cannot, it seems, stay out of trouble. First there was that business last year with the euphoniously-named Miss Lucille Swallow out Kansas way, and the San Francisco court martial the then-Army Chaplain (and "Beau Brummel of the Presidio") endured over accusations of "objectionable conduct" in violation of three of the articles of war. These charges were brought by the lady after she discovered that Clampitt, who was otherwise a delightful companion, was married with a quartet of kids.

Lucille Swallow

"I forget when I first met Capt. Clampitt," Miss Swallow told reporters after eluding Army minders, "But he was awfully nice. He used to take me out for walks and to picture shows and to dinners. The question as to whether he was married never came up."

During the court martial, Miss Swallow produced love notes from the accused, and there was testimony that he had deliberately disguised his handwriting. But then several surprise witnesses appeared to claim Miss Swallow was "out to get" Mr. Clampitt because he’d refused her demands for money, and he was found not guilty.

He promptly retired to Santa Cruz, where he registered as "William Jones" in a hotel where a "Mrs. Jones" was also staying. It was bad publicity over this indiscrete act that resulted in Clampitt being dismissed from Army service, and the offer of a $50,000 motion picture contract for himself and his photogenic horse Red Head.

But no, said Clampitt, he wished only to return to Vancouver, where his wife and children waited. That was April. And today, he was picked up by Culver City police, following the arrest of boy burglar Spencer Farley, discovered in the act of looting the Schwartzkoph manse at 1725 Gardena Street, Glendale.

Farley told officers that his home address was Orville Clampitt’s car, in front of Clampitt’s home at 215[?] Silver Ridge Avenue, and that he was stealing so he could give gifts to Clampitt’s 13-year-old daughter. It seems the whole family has relocated, in hopes of starting a new life. Clampitt stated he’d been hired as actor John Gilbert’s double, a claim denied by Gilbert’s studio.

When questioned, Clampitt admitted he was allowing Farley, 15, to live in his car, because the boy claimed his mother threw wild parties and refused to let him sleep at home. While he thought it weird that Farley wouldn’t tell him where he lived, he was sympathetic to the boy’s plight… at least until he discovered that the kid was taking his car out at night! Stolen golf clubs and various trinkets were seized from the Silver Ridge address.

Clampitt will be released tomorrow when it’s determined he knew nothing of Farley’s thefts. Henceforth he disappears from the public record save for an April 1929 theater review of his cameo in Edward Horton’s play "The Hottentot," at the Majestic Theater. Red Head the horse had a leading role as the comic foil to Sam Harrington, who masquerades as the famous jockey who shares his name, and eventually must ride the fearsome Hottentot in a race. After each show, crowds gathered on Broadway to watch Clampitt ride Red Head, now mild as a merry-go-round pony, away from the theater and, we hope, home to his wife and kids.

The Killer on Page Six

September 3, 1927 Marmola
Los Angeles

Not all crimes are reported on the front page – and not all criminals are gun toting bandits. It may seem like a slow news day, but lurking on page six of the Los Angeles Times was this innocent looking advertisement for the diet drug Marmola. In the future the drug will be exposed as a possible killer!

Let’s hop into the time machine and travel to 1938… The public was fed up with products that promised the world, but delivered illness, disfigurement, and death. A Senate subcommittee was formed to investigate the outrageous claims of some over the counter medications. Following the subcommittee’s recommendations, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act on June 25, 1938.

Attorneys for Marmola challenged the constitutionality of the law. They insisted that people had the, “inalienable right of self-medication”. The judge who reviewed the case disagreed stating that the legislation was enacted to, “make self-medication safer and more effective”. Marmola toned down its claims but remained on the market. Finally in the early 1940s the FDA, believing the drug to be dangerous, seized dozens of packets while they were in transit to La Crosse, Wisconsin. The drug went on trial in Madison, Wisconsin in 1943.

fat girlsA young woman from Chicago came forward with a horror story that left courtroom watchers in tears. She told the judge that she had purchased Marmola because she was tired of her weight being the subject of cruel taunts by her classmates. Her excess pounds began to melt away, but she had also developed some nasty side effects. She hadn’t known that she was taking desiccated thyroid in toxic amounts. By the end of seven months she was vomiting regularly and her weight would eventually plummet to a cadaverous 50 pounds! At the time of the trial she was deathly ill with persistent symptoms of hyperthyroidism.

Due in large part to the girl’s testimony, Marmola was finally pulled from drugstore shelves.

Diet elixirs such as Marmola aren’t quaint artifacts of bygone days. Just spend any Saturday morning watching today’s television infomercials hawking diet drugs and quack devices, each promising to transform you from a flabby couch potato to a sculpted body beautiful.

Caveat emptor.

Another Accepted Invite

 accused

 

luringAugust 19, 1927
Los Angeles

annaAll the noir hallmarks here:  a destitute, starry-eyed country girl, the shifty grifter she befriends, a rube with some dough in his pocket, a classic con, the crummy apartment hotel and a dark city.

Anna Karrick, 22, ran away from her Illinois farm home to win fame in pictures, but found herself down and out.  

At a dance, she met a nice guy, Phillip Linker, of 1327 West Fourth Street.  She persuaded him to come back to her annaplace at 532 South Fremont Avenue (one imagines it didn’t take all that much persuasion).  Once there, in the hallway, thoughts of ingress dancing in Linker’s head, he is brained by a rolling-pin, wielded by one Jess F. Waller.  Linker wakes up in a taxicab, lightened of seven dollars and other valuables.

Waller and Karrick are thrown into County and charged with robbery and ADW.  Anna told the court today about her relationship with Waller, sure, but denied knowing he’d be there with her rolling-pin.

Sadly the Times didn’t see the need to print the trial’s outcome, and because there’s no Anna Karrick listed in imdb, we must sadly assume she never broke through Hollywood’s gates.

532532 South Fremont (now site of Glossy Black Tower, left) may be long gone, but it was a fun place while it lasted.  In May 1929, Filipino nationals Cal Blanco and Ceferino Sandries argued over women with some sailors from the USS Colorado, when Blanco announced, “I’m going to kill all you sailors,” and so sailor Clyde Forehand shot them both dead; July of 1929 saw a riot there involving thirty sailors and six women, at which two women and seven men were booked on suspicion of robbery; Jack Wilson and Clark Falcon, leaders of a gang of automobile plunderers, were arrested with their booty here in February, 1932; in September 1935 Robert Honchell, a 25 year-old taxi driver, was having a drinking party with his pal Edward Folder, a 29 year-old unemployed café worker, when a woman showed up with her infant daughter—Folder’s insistence on taking the child out for candy started a quarrel, and Folder ended up stabbed mortally in the chest by Honchell…you get the idea.

Kneel Before Me… Peasant!

Anna Anderson

August 6, 1927
La-La Land

"A lie told often enough becomes truth." –Vladimir Lenin

On July 17, 1918, Bolshevik authorities, led by Yakov Yurovsky, shot Nicholas II and his immediate family in the cellar of the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg, Russia. Since then rumors have circulated that one of the Romanovs, Grand Duchess Anastasia, had miraculously survived assassination.

The woman in the photograph on the right is Anastasia Manahan aka Anna Anderson. Anna was a patient in a mental hospital in Dalldorf, Germany until another patient said that she recognized her as royalty. Anna would spend the next 57 years of her life claiming to be Anastasia. Neither her supporters nor her detractors would be able to substantiate Anna’s claim during her lifetime. Several years following her death, DNA tests would finally prove that she was not a Romanov.

With Time Off For Being So Enterprising

May 3, 1927
Pomona 

Some call it extortion; we call it a rather clever short con. C.L. Jackson and R.W. Hedgreth, both 48 and old enough to know better, approached service station operators Harold K. Hemmingway and Norman Bliss in the guise of being Prohibition officers, and asked where ’round here one could wet one’s whistle. After being informed of the details, Jackson and Hedgreth threatened to alert the real Prohibition men of the illegal info being spread, and demanded a pair of tires, gasoline and $25 cash to keep quiet. But Hemmingway noted the serial numbers on the bills and called the law, and the crooks were soon nabbed.

Justice U.E. White must not have thought much of the victims in the case, for he sentenced the men to six months in County Jail, which he promptly suspended for good behavior. 

Meanwhile, in Reno, Nevada’s first short residency divorce was granted to Sophia M. Ross of New York, who braved the desert winds and cultural drought for three months so she could be freed of her Albert, who ate mashed potatoes with his hands.  

Nearer My God to Thee

 

MAburied 

 

 

 

April 30, 1927
Los Angeles

Nice funeral today for Harry “Mile-Away” Thomas at the Gulik Funeral Parlor.   A few days ago Mile-Away—the gangster known for always having been a “mile away” from whatever crime for which he was arrested—was boosting bootleg hooch and a car from the garage of Ora Lawson, 1408 West Thirty-Fifth Street

mileawayOfficers responded to her call about a prowler, and when they arrived, acclaimed hijacker Thomas went for his piece.  The cops opened up with a machine gun, a sawed-off shotgun and two large-caliber revolvers, and yet the twice-arrested-for-murder, “King of the Hi-Jackers” Mile-Away Thomas, filled with pounds of buckshot and slugs, ran from the garage straight at the cops.  

Mile-Away had been in the news just this last February, implicated in the murder of stockbroker/bootlegger Luther Green at Green’s home.  Cops chased Mile-Away around Los Angeles for two weeks before arresting him and, while detectives said on the stand they were certain it was our boy, he was let go for lack of evidence.

At the funeral today, upperworld and underworld hobnobbed, gawked at by the public throng, and Mile-Away’s lady friend, fellow carreer criminal Betty Carroll, swooned and collapsed for the collected.  The cortege moved on to Forest Lawn, and the crowd dispersed.  

Think of Mile-Away, won’t you, the next time you’re down near 35th and Normandie, where his ghost, bloodied but unbowed and his clanking not with chains but from a belly full of bullets, is charging at you with final terrifying resolution, coming to hi-jack your soul.

Diver Down

April 20, 1927
Los Angeles

When evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, the anointed queen of Echo Park’s Angelus Temple, went to Ocean Park Beach last May 18 and faked her own disappearance so she could run off with a boyfriend, even she could not have anticipated the hysteria that followed. For while her theological appearances were occasion for outpourings of public adoration, in vanishing, she moved into a new realm of fame.

Congregants promptly offered a $25,000 reward for the return of their favorite alive, though she was widely presumed drowned. Word of the reward passed like quicksilver among the community of professional divers, perhaps without the "alive" clause appended. One of these, Edgar Harrison, was already in town from Catalina to testify in an insanity case, and stopped off on his way home to take a dive off the end of amusement laden Lick Pier on May 25, where no sign of the missing woman was found. The water pressure exacerbated an attack of appendicitis, and Harrison died in agony. By the time Aimee stumbled out of the desert crying kidnap (a lie that was soon exposed), Edgar Harrison was in his grave.

Today, his widow Edna sat in court seeking $500 in death benefits that had been denied by the State Industrial Accident Commission, which claimed that Harrison was acting as a private citizen when he went diving for Aimee’s reward. Edna countered that her husband was operating under orders when he received his injuries, and further that she had been receiving threatening letters, ostensibly from the City of Los Angeles, suggesting that she seek payment from McPherson and Angelus Temple, and leave the city out of it.

McPherson’s mother Minnie Kennedy took the stand, and said she had known nothing of Edgar Harrison’s dive until she was invited to attend his funeral, and that she had sent flowers and $500 to the widow, the latter which was returned. Edna countered that indeed $500 had been proffered, by two "impudent" representatives of the Temple, but that when she suggested they talk with her lawyer they had snatched the money away, called her "a bitter woman" and stalked off.

Edgar Harrison was survived by two young children, Edgar Jr. and Lois.