L.A. Crimes of Passion Revealed!

This Thurday at Central Library, LAPL reference librarians Greg Reynolds and Mary McCoy will be sharing ghastly stories of love gone bad in the City of Angels.

  • The mild-mannered Marie Tucker claimed her husband stabbed himself in the stomach while making a ham sandwich – was it an accident or murder most foul?
  • Who shot Fred Oesterreich in his home in 1922?  Was it his lusty wife, Dolly, or her live-in lover, secreted away in an attic love nest?
  • And why did Hattie Woolsteen really kill her married lover?

Find out this Thursday, and learn the true stories behind some of Los Angeles’s most notorious crimes of passion. 

Los Angeles True Crime:  Crimes of Passion
Thursdays @ Central
Central Library, Meeting Room A
Thursday, Feb. 21, 12pm 

A Crime of Fashion

Bobbed Hair Headline

February 18, 1927
Whittier

The Whittier social set was agog at the forcible bobbing of Mrs. Evelyn Thompson’s hair by two of her former friends, Mrs. Florence Nutt and Mrs. Lucille Roulston.

All three young women had married men in the local oil business. The couples had become friends who frequently partied together. At a recent dance, Lucille believed that Evelyn had spent too much time in the arms of her husband, and in a fit of jealousy she plotted her revenge.

Bobbed Hair Babes

The bobbing incident unfolded like this: Evelyn had been out shopping for stockings, and as she passed by Roulston’s home she was flagged down and invited inside to see Lucille’s new hat.

Once inside the house, Evelyn decided to try on her new stockings. She was seated in a chair with one of her shoes off when she heard a snip and saw four of her curls fall to the floor. It was at this point that Florence held her down while the scissors wielding Lucille hacked off the rest of Evelyn’s curls, snarling “You used to be the center of attraction, but no man will ever look at you now.” Evelyn told police “It was over almost before I knew what was happening. I started fighting them without avail.”

Prior to the forced shearing, Evelyn had sported lovely long chestnut curls – they were her crowing glory. She said “I had never wanted to be a flapper. That’s why I didn’t bob my hair.”

Florence Nutt was arrested and charged with mayhem. A warrant had to be issued for the arrest of Mrs. Roulston, because she’d taken it on the lam. She was sighted in places as far flung as the Orient!

The mayhem charges would be dismissed, thus ending the criminal case. Evelyn had the option to seek damages in civil court if she wanted, but there would be no further mention of the bobbers or bobbee in the LA Times.

Second Time’s the Harm

February 1, 1927
Whittier

Family annihilator George Hassell was convicted of killing his wife and her eight children by his late brother, and has an appointment with the Texas executioner shortly. While awaiting his last date, George recalled the wife he killed in Whittier in 1917 and the three children he buried with her beneath their little home at 236 South Whittier Avenue. There seemed no reason not to confess this, so today, with some direction from long-suspicious neighbor Myrtle Lark and a little more from the agreeable killer, Constable Bob Way crawled under the house and unearthed the body of an infant. Its mother and siblings soon followed, thus explaining the wretched odors that had long plagued the spot.

In slightly gayer news, the grand new Mayfair Hotel has opened in the Crown Hill district of Los Angeles, providing the ideal vantage point for a drunken oil company exec named Ray Chandler to hole up for days with his secretary while threatening suicide to all who’ll listen.

Drunken Geezer Shoots Pal, Self

January 22, 1927
Altadena

Mayhem ruled the backyard at 1795 Beverly Drive in Aladena this morning, when two 70-year-old pals ended a friendship of almost two decades with a gun. It all started when little Jimmie Jamison, 8-year-old grandson of George Ehret, heard noises from the cellar. The youngster investigated, and discovered Nicholas Tuck drunkenly stumbling around a pile of boxes in the basement. Tuck usually occupied a cottage at the rear of the lot, but for reasons unknown (but probably having to do with his alcohol-soaked condition) climbed through a small side window into the cellar at the main house. He then discovered all the doors were locked—and he couldn’t get back through window. “Let me out and I won’t hurt you,” he told Jimmie, who obligingly opened the cellar door for grandpa’s drunken buddy.

Meanwhile, George Ehret, armed with a heavy cane, was headed to the backyard to see about all the commotion. When Tuck, climbing out of the cellar, saw Ehret, he pulled a gun (or so Ehret says). As the two men scuffled, “the gun exploded,” lodging a bullet in Ehret’s thigh. Tuck then fired a shot at Ehret, but missed. He ran a few steps, placed the muzzle against his own head and pulled the trigger. He is close to death.

Ehret told police that Tuck was a mean drunk, and had on more than one occasion threatened him with a gun. He is expected to make a full recovery.

We’re so hungry, we could eat a sheep

eat a sheep headline

January 14, 1927
Taft

Hut, two, three, four – an army of field mice is on the march in Taft, and like most armies, this one travels on its stomach.

Despite being low on the food chain, or maybe because of it, field mice are crafty little creatures, and they can rapidly assess a situation before taking action. While cutting a wide swath through Taft, the mouse invaders spied a small sheep that was confined in a pen and unable to escape. Hundreds of rodent soldiers felt their mousedar vibrate. They swarmed the helpless animal and devoured it on the spot.

Not all mice are evil sheep snacking marauders. On November 18, 1928, Walt Disney would introduce an adorable animated anthropomorphic mouse in the cartoon, “Steamboat Willie”. Nobody would ever look at a mouse in quite the same way.

Cup of Sorrow

marion parker

December 24, 1927
Los Angeles

Dominating newspaper headlines for the past several days has been the slaying of twelve year old school girl, Marion Parker. Her killer, William Edward Hickman, is currently in Oregon awaiting extradition. He’ll return by train under heavy guard to Los Angeles, where he faces the death penalty for the horrific crime.

Long before newspapers were delivered to the doorsteps of most American homes, information was spread by song – and it’s a practice that continues to this day. Ballads have been written about floods, mining disasters, shipwrecks, and murder. Marion Parker’s tragic story inspired prolific song writer Reverend Andrew Jenkins of Atlanta, Georgia to pen the poignant “Ballad of Marian [sic] Parker”.

The Ballad of Marian Parker

‘Way out in California,
A family bright and gay
Were preparing for their Christmas
Not very far away.

They had a little daughter,
A sweet and pretty child.
And everyone who knew her
Loved Marian Parker’s smile.

She left her home one morning
For her school not far away.
And no one dreamed that danger,
Was lurking near that day.

But then a murdrous villain,
A fiend with heart of stone,
Took little Marian Parker
Away from friends and home.

The world was horror-stricken,
The people held their breath,
Until they found poor Marian,
Her body cold in death.

They hunted for the coward,
Young Hickman was their man.
They brought him back to justice,
His final trial to stand.

The jury found him guilty,
Of course they could not fail.
He must be executed
Soon in San Quentin jail.

And while he waits his sentence,
Let’s hope he learns to pray
To make his black soul ready
For the great judgement day.

There is a great commandment
That says, "Thou shalt not kill"
And those who do not head it,
Their cup of sorrow fill

Hickmaniana

January 23, 1927
Los Angeles

hangingaround

Following up yesterday’s story about whether one Ray McCoy was lynched for looking too much like Edward Hickman…

The verdict of the Coroner’s jury?  Jail officials and other prisoners, all vindicated.  Nevertheless, it seems that Ralph “Ray McCoy” Fuller raised the ire of Angelenos in the grip of Hickman fever, whose Hickmanmania (Hickmania?  Hickmentia?) led an angry mob to chase down and beat Fuller something fierce, believing the twenty year-old to be Hickman, after Fuller robbed a store at 242 South Main and was chased two blocks on foot.

Fellow prisoner Fred Meadows told the Times that once in the hoosegow, the sullen and reserved Fuller was regarded as just another popped burglar.  Meadows related how he and the boys started playing “Sundown” in an outer tank and when he returned, Fuller had hanged himself with Meadows’ scarf.  (Must be nice to have scarves.  And pianos.)

In other lynching news, any and all information regarding Hickman’s departure and route from Pendleton (where he was exhibited in a cage like a circus animal) to Los Angeles County Jail is being kept under strict secrecy.  

damnyoufriedrich 

Find The Fox!

December 20, 1927
Los Angeles

As police scour the Bellevue Arms apartment*of "Donald Evans" (an alias for Marion Parker’s purported slayer Edward Hickman, otherwise known as The Fox), they find portions of a chocolate cake, broken golf clubs, and dirty dishes suggesting a hurried departure. Marion’s father Perry, upon discovering that the suspect is a former employee at his Seventh and Spring Street bank who he dismissed on fraud charges, says that the voice on the telephone demanding the $1500 ransom was similar to Hickman’s peculiarly blasé speech patterns when discussing his offense, but that at no time did he believe the young man meant harm to him or his family.

Little Marion’s outraged body lies in the morgue, a tiny, heartbreaking bundle with her missing limbs, hollowed core and unseeing eyes sewn open in doll-like pretence of life. In one small mercy, the Parker’s neighbor is the Autopsy Surgeon, and it’s this Dr. Wagner who makes the identification and pieces his little friend together from the parts that are brought in, wrapped in newspaper, from where they were scattered in Elysian Park.  

The reward for The Fox’ capture has swelled to $62,400, with new pledges from outraged citizens, radio stations and fraternal organizations arriving hourly. Will The Fox be snared, or will he slip away to menace other cities, other daughters? Tune in tomorrow to find out!

*attention, modern readers: the Bellevue Arms is the partly boarded up, expansive brick apartment building flush against the 101 freeway heading north out of downtown. The Fox’ lair was upstairs in the middle rear of the Western, burned-out wing. If you decide to visit, you’ll come via Sunset Boulevard, and via… MARION.

Ruth Snyder’s Date with Death

December 17, 1927
Ossining, NY Ruth Snyder

Mrs. Ruth Snyder has a date with Sing Sing’s electric chair on January 12, 1928, unless her plea for executive clemency is granted.

The seductive blonde and her lover, corset salesman Judd Gray (see photo), were both tried and convicted of murdering Ruth’s husband by caving in his skull with a window sash weight, strangling him with a garrote fashioned out of picture wire and a gold pen, and finally stuffing chloroform soaked rags into his nostrils.

Judd GrayIf there is an explanation for the obvious overkill in the murder of Albert Snyder, it must be that Ruth’s previous attempts to snuff out the life of her husband (twice by asphyxiation and once by poison) had failed – and she wasn’t about to give up. Ruth had persuaded her husband to take out a double indemnity policy, which would pay her in the event of his accidental death. It was the lure of the $97,000 worth of life insurance that compelled her to continue with her diabolical schemes until she succeeded.

Fueled by two bottles of whiskey and profound stupidity, the criminally-challenged duo staged the murder scene as a burglary gone horribly wrong. But their pathetic plan was doomed to failure. They threw an Italian language newspaper on the floor as a false clue to the identity of the killers. They emptied dresser drawers and overturned chairs. And in an act that would eventually help prosecutors to prove her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, Ruth hid her allegedly stolen jewelry under her mattress, about three feet away from Albert’s battered body!

The trial of Ruth and Judd would be a media circus, and celebrities such as director D.W. Griffith, and evangelists Billy Sunday and Aimee Semple McPherson would attend. Ruth would be called “ruthless Ruth”, “vampire”, and the “blonde fiend” by the press. Evidently not all men found those appellations a turn-off, because Ruth received at least 160 marriage proposals during her incarceration. DEAD

Unfortunately for Ruth, her plea for clemency would be denied by Governor Al Smith. Her execution would be famously recorded by newspaper man Tom Howard. The ingenious reporter had strapped a miniature camera to his ankle beneath his trousers. Just as the executioner threw the switch on the whimpering murderess, Tom raised the cuff of his pants and snapped the tabloid photo of a lifetime.

The murderers were unexceptional, but their crime inspired art. “Machinal”, a play by Sophie Treadwell was deemed one of the best of 1928-29. James M. Cain’s brilliant novels “Double Indemnity” and “The Postman Always Rings Twice” are said to have been inspired by Albert Snyder’s murder. And, of course, each of the novels translated into two of the finest examples of film noir ever produced.

AKA Hydrochloric Hattie

September 21, 1927
West Los Angeles

Oh, Officers? When you decide to go out and arrest a lady who’s been threatening to chop up her neighbors with a carving knife, you might not want to knock on her door and stand there like waiting until she sprinkles your faces and ears with acid from a bottle. Eventually, Mrs. Mary L. Ward of 11014 Santa Monica Boulevard was captured, halted by the effects of tear gas as she prepared another acid bomb from the large store in her bedroom. She’s in the psycho ward at County General tonight, which has a special program in becoming a better neighbor.