Virginia Tech’s Got Nothing on 1927

May 18, 1927
Bath Township, Michigan

Maddened by a property tax increase for school construction on which he blamed his financial problems, Bath Township School Board member Andrew Kehoe plotted for months to exact his revenge against the very tykes whose need for an education had precipitated the mess. (Nathan, dear Nathan, much as you rail against the LAUSD and their anti-preservationist mania for pulling down whole city blocks, we hope it never comes to this for you.)

Over some months, while in his capacity as handyman, Kehoe stashed a huge cache of explosives inside the local elementary school. On his farm, he experimented with timers and bombs. And then finally, the great day came. This day. Kehoe beat his wife to death (you know, to spare her the shame, and so forth), tied his animals into their stalls, and set fire to his mortgaged farm. He had previously filled the back seat of his car with all the metal objects he could find, topping it off with a seasoning of dynamite. As all local fire crews raced to deal with this decoy fire, off Kehoe toddled, towards the school that he knew was about to blow.  

The massive explosion that racked the Bath Township elementary school around 9:45 that morning caused the entire north wing of the building to collapse, and felt like an earthquake throughout the community. Dozens of children lay dead beneath the debris, while others moaned and shrieked. Parents and firemen came running to attempt rescue. But Kehoe wasn’t finished yet.

He arrived at the site of the disaster, looked upon his work for a moment, and then noticed School Superintendent Emory Huyck nearby. Kehoe crooked his finger, and as Huyck walked toward the car, Kehoe took a rifle and sent a shot into the center of the explosives in the back seat. The car exploded in a flurry of shrapnel, instantly killing Kehoe, Hyuck and several others, and further wounding many of the already-injured people on the scene.

Kehoe left one cryptic message at his farm: a stenciled wooden sign reading "CRIMINALS ARE MADE, NOT BORN."

The final death toll was 45. At Virginia Tech last month, 32. Something to ponder, the next time you hear the TV talking heads proclaiming Cho’s act "the worst school massacre in American history," as many did last month.

For more info, see the Bath School Disaster Wikipedia entry

Did she or didn’t she?

England has her Ripper, but in America, there is just one supreme Victorian true crime mystery: did Lizzie Borden really take an axe and apply numerous wacks to the persons of her father and stepmother… or was it the maid… a mysterious neighbor… or Bad Lizzie, who only came out when the lady was visited by Aunt Flo?

Should you find yourself in Fall River, MA next August, you can explore these and other theories with fellow Borden-ologists at The Lizzie Borden Conference 2008.

There’s even a call for papers, so if you have a theory of your own you’ve been polishing (much like one might sharpen a favorite axe), now’s the time to share. For more info, click here.

And You Say You’ve Got it Rough


May 6, 1927
Huntington Beach

Mr. Henry Graw:  orphaned at four, never knew his real name, went to Alaska and struck it rich.  Lost all that money in Seattle.  Then he married, and then she died. 

So he came to Huntington Beach and secured a good job with a company that quickly folded and as such didn’t pay him.  He found a less-good job, but at least it paid, until a pipe fell and crushed his hand.  So he got good and drunk to deal with the pain in his soul (and hand) and promptly landed in the hoosegow.  

After relating this saga, acting City Recorder of Huntington Beach, Andrew Wilson, elected to release Graw on probation; Graw stated to the court that he is leaving for Alaska as soon as possible.

Flood World

May 6, 1927
Coolidge America 

Let’s keep abreast of the rising waters, shall we?  The men in top-hats and diamond stick-pins are upset that cotton and cotton related goods are on the downswing, and the decline of trade/farmwork/rail freight is destroying the country, and the dollar is weakening.

Of course, the less elaborately garbed cannot muster quite the concern: 


But enterprising folk around Memphis have begun erecting tree houses in the great cottonwoods and willows, where they build their stills to keep a thirsty populace sated.  Sheriff Knight has seized a dozen giant hooch-hatcheries from the treetops, placed there by ingenious bootleggers.

Here in the southland, the Orange County Fruit Exchange began sending citrus, and the stars came out to raise 125g’s (1,475,000 USD2005).


Glamorous Hollywood


April 17, 1927

Motion-picture actor J. Wallace Walker, of 1636 Argyle, had lost his fiancé (and also-actress [as Jane Terry]) Polly Wheaton to another gent, one James Lewis.  Miss Wheaton and Mr. Lewis were having coffee in Lewis’ apartment at 525 Santa Barbara Avenue when Walker burst in brandishing a butcher knife.  Walker forced Wheaton into his car and beat her as he drove, until she leapt out at Beverly and Western.  Walker jumped out after and continued to beat her on the sidewalk until a friendly taxicab driver stopped him and took her to her apartment.

Walker continued on with his illustrious career, while Miss Wheaton is not to be found among cinematic legacy.

Dolled as a Dapper Dad

March 31, 1927

paircladFourteen year-old Wilbur Garner had a lady-friend, and an older one at that, his inamoratette a fifteen year-old Eula Rittgers. They showed great attachment to one another at their Seventh Day Adventist School. When they decided to exchange biblical dullsville for the world’s treasures, they outfoxed the Man by turning li’l Eula into aeula boy. Inside a church  wastebasket was found the Eula’s hair, and persons conforming to the two young boys’ description were spotted in Eagle Rock. A fashionable bobbed ‘do meets a Joan of Arc act. Appropriately observant.  Guess they were absent the day they covered Deuteronomy 22:5.

jimmydavisIn yet more fifteen year-old news, or, that is to say, further news of fifteen year-olds, fifteen year-old Jimmy Davis and an unnamed pal of his broke into the Monterey Park home of John W. Hardman, stealing fountain pens and trinkets and, more absurdly, did Jimmy garb himself in Hardman’s best suit, silk shirt and black & white scarf. Figuring himself too conspicuous for his own good, Jimmy and pal returned to the house, threw the clothes on the floor and, afraid of being traced through fingerprints (his being known to local authorities for his repeated burglaries and check forgings), lit fire to the house. The house smoldered for some time before being rescued by the fire department, and Jimmy is now cooling his heels in juvenile hall.

A Final Fight

March 26, 1927mystery

It’s a crowded 3am at the Crescent Club in the heart of Hollywood…just another old bungalow reconstructed into a, uh, tea room. A variety of Volstead violations are in full swing when a fight started, the lights went out, there were sounds of a struggle and furniture cracking, and by the time police arrived to a nearly empty room, pugilist and actor Eddie Diggins, 24, lay dying, stabbed through the heart. Film comedian Lloyd Hamilton cared for the doomed Diggins, while Charles Meehan, noted local bootlegger, was unconscious on the floor with a split to the skull. Diggins died in Hamilton’s arms.


Those filmfolk known for frequenting barrooms were questioned (there being no small number there) but only Hamilton, having remained at the scene, could give a description of Meehan being hit by a chair before the lights were extinguished. While police found ten gallons of wine and five quarts of vermouth were uncovered, the murdering knife used on Diggins was unfound. Meehan, in the prison ward of General Hospital, could shed no light on anything.

Come March 27, Deputy Assitant District Attorney Dennison advanced a new theory: that Diggins had fallen on a crystal chandelier smashed in the melee. Sisters Rosie and Josie St. George, who had been in evidence that night, were found and questioned; Rosie had been working hat check. She stated that Diggins first became embroiled with Jack Wagner, and that Meehan then fought with stunt man Billie Jones, and that thereafter the great fight ensued, wherein Mrs. Diggins and Mrs. Irene Dalton Meehan escaped with the help of Diggins’ buddy John Sinclair.

mrsdiggOn March 28, a dozen witnesses gathered to present inquest testimony. The memories of all and sundry were hazy at best, agreeing that there was bar, chandelier, bottle and window glass involved, table legs used as clubs, and chairs swung with abandon. Members of a Coroner’s jury reached the decision that Diggins had met his death from “a sharp instrument in the hand of a person or persons unknown to us, with homicidal intent,” while an eighth juror agreed with Dennison’s theory, concluding that “the wound was caused by a piece of glass, accidental.” From the morgue he was taken to O’Donnell Sunset Mortuary, and from there to the grave, where he remains silent to this day.

And in Black Dahlia news…

You may think you’re up on your Black Dahlia lore, but you might have missed two recent books that take very different approaches to the case. First, there’s the memoir from Jacque Daniel, "The Curse of the Black Dahlia." Daniel was daughter and secretary to police psychiatrist Paul de River, whose involvement in the case was tinged with controversy. See her site for ordering info and her rebuttal of the claims in Donald Wolfe’s recent, worthless contribution to the genre.

Then there’s "Exquisite Corpse" by Mark Nelson and Sarah Hudson Bayliss, which takes as gospel the Steve Hodel theory of mutilation murder as homage a l’art moderne, and digs into the notion of the posing and abuses of Beth Short’s body as a Surrealist art piece. While not quite as loopy as Gareth Penn’s "Times 17" (Zodiac Killer as earthworks artist), it does sound rather outré.

Medium Image

Scourge of Sonoratown


August 3, 1907

Beware the Plaza.  Patrolmen do their best to beat down and drag away human fiends, filled as they are with a new drug menace and the awful blood-lust it produces. 

In the labyrinths and dens of Sonoratown, violent outbreaks have become commonplace, as Mexicans of the lower caste have been frequenting drug stores to purchase a substance said to be more harmful in its effects than cocaine, morphine, or even opium.  Victims of the powerful narcotic—its scientific name, Cannabis Indica—are helpless to control their need for it, or the frenzy it produces.  An effort will now be made to regulate the sale of this poison.

The initial effects of Cannabis pellets, called “Hashish,” consist of mad exhilaration (especially, it is noted, involving one’s mistaken ability to lift heavy objects) and a distortion of the optic nerve, wherein men of ordinary size appear to be giants.

After its use for any length of time, a homicidal mania manifests itself, as under its influence, the desire to shed blood is uppermost in the mind.  According to Police Surgeon J. Sumner Quint, much of the crime in the Mexican community is due to its use.

This writer urges all readers to steer clear from this terrible peril and its attendant misery!

Tong War Continues



July 18, 1907


One more tong war post, and then I’ll return to our regularly scheduled horrors committed by, I don’t know, Dutch people.

Anaheim, California: best known for Disneyland and the Pond, or, at least, known for the winemaking prowess of Victorian Bavarians, and having been run by the Klan in 1924. And I’d like to remind you that on this day in 1907, Anaheim was the scene of a particularly grisly murder.

Mock Fat was an Anaheim vegetable salesman and a particularly card-carrying, dues-paying member of the Hop Sing. But Anaheim is largely Bing Goon territory, and as such, the aged Fat a prime target.

Classic tong style: shot twice in the back, he fell on his face. A knife was stabbed repeatedly into his back and left there. Of course, a hatchet was used to cut up his head.

As usual, the police have been dispatched to the train stations. While imported highbinders are escaping detection by hiding out in downtown Japanese rooming houses, cops have nevertheless managed to nap Visalians Tai Choy and Lin Poon, implicated in the killing.