Stars That Shine and Smolder

December 6, 1927
Los Angeles

Calling all cars! Calling all cars! Be on the lookout for two easily-recognized scofflaws, film stars Reginald Denny and Hedda Hopper. She’s wanted for speeding at about 34mph around Melrose and La Brea, he for setting a similar pace in the 20mph zone at Sunset and Vine, and without a valid operator’s license, on November 28.

But that’s not all! Denny is also wanted for questioning in the origins of the massive forest fire which began near his cabin near Running Springs Park in the San Bernardino Mountains two nights ago, and which hundreds of men are fighting, with 50 to 75 summer cabins already destroyed.

What shall we do with these antisocial celebrities? Perhaps we should just drop by their homes and have a talk with them. Miss Hopper is reported as residing at 1416 Fairfax Avenue, Mr. Denny at 2060 North Vine.

1947project Podcast #9: Halloween Episode, October 26, 2007

Kids are running amok in 1927 Los Angeles, setting fires, eating razors, crawling under fumigation tents and stealing babies from their mothers. And the adults aren’t behaving much better, what with the married guys conning nice working girls into bigamistic unions and the guy what found the fountain of youth and knows where the Czar’s fortune is banked, and all he needs from you is $25,000 and a nice spot to rub his mystic peapod paste.

Then there’s our own Crimebo the Crime Clown, and he is in a funk. There are so many things he hates about Halloween, can he count the ways? You bet!

Tune in to hear about how Peter Pan tried to kick Crimebo’s ass at the Chinese Theater, how the apocalypse is coming with a rain of cheese and Nathan’s love letter to crude oil. It’s all here on the 1947project Podcast, featuring Crimebo, Kim Cooper, Nathan Marsak, Mary McCoy and Joan Renner.

So give it a listen, won’t you?

Here is the Ourmedia link, where you can stream or download.

The podcast is also available on Moli, and on itunes.

Come on Baby, Light My Fire

Baby Light My Fire Headline

October 22, 1927
Bakersfield

“Suppose lighting fires is just the tip of the iceberg?” – Doctor Joseph Wanless, from the film “Firestarter”.

The culprits responsible for seven arson fires in East Bakersfield over the past two weeks were in Judge Erwin W. Owen’s courtroom today – and they were children!

Acting on a tip given to him by Fire Chief Van Meter, city school attendance officer George Ruoff began an investigation. Van Meter told Ruoff that he had noticed that at each of the fires the same group of boys would gather to watch the arrival of the fire engines. Ruoff soon discovered that the boys had set all of the fires themselves.

The gang of boys was led by an 11 year old who swore the members of his band to the strictest secrecy, admitting in court that they had deliberately set the fires “to see the fire wagons come out”.

The gang’s leader was committed to a facility for youthful offenders in Whittier, and two of his lieutenants were made wards of the Juvenile Court. The remaining firestarters were turned over to their parents.

So, what are little boys made of? Matches and tinder, the sly little kinder

Wrightwatch ’27

flwAugust 26, 1927
Madison, Wisc.

Frank Lloyd Wright was a favorite son of Los Angeles, where he threw off the Prairie mantle and began creating his kooky indigenous-flavored block houses (e.g., Storer, Millard, Ennis, Freeman) in contrast to the Spanish Colonial (or, say, Egyptoid Tudor Chateauxesque) prevalent in the Southland’s early 20s, before he said to hell with LA and lit out for his cursed home, Taliesin.  

There was much architectural buzz about Mr. Wright in 1927, as he’d already designed a theater model for Aline Barnsdall, who announced in January that she’d build the structure as part of her eight-acre “city cultural center” gift to Los Angeles of her own FLW Hollyhock House and property.

barnsdall

When the Smart People of to-day tour FLW’s block houses and consider his play of light over form, and gauge its relationship between the zig of Meiji woodblock prints and the zag of Walter Burley Griffin’s green thumb, they probably aren’t informed that ol’ FLW had a lurid past fit for any tabloid-worthy favorite son of Los Angeles.

For example, while married to Catherine Wright, he fell in love with another woman, one Mamah Borthwick.  Catherine wouldn’t divorce him, so Wright abandoned her and the six kids and went galavanting around Europe with Mamah.  On his return, Catherine still wouldn’t divorce him, so Wright brought scandal to Spring Green, Wisc. by shacking up with Mamah.  This was sorted out in short order when one of his domestics decided to utilize a Wrightian architectural principal—one door for all purposes—which made it easy to axe-murder seven people trying to flee a Taliesin you’d just set on fire.  And Mamah was one of those so axed.   

Catherine finally divorced Frank in 1922 on charges of desertion, so he could marry his new love, a morphine addict named Miriam Noel.  They married in 1923, separated in 1924; Wright began seeing Petrograd Ballet dancer Olgivanna Lazovich Milanov (thirty-three years his junior) in 1925 and was thereafter arrested in 1926 for violating the Mann (White-Slave Traffic) Act.  Oh, and Taliesin burned again, though this time without anybody being hacked to bits.

frankgettingpopped
Frank getting popped by the feds, 1926 

divorceThe lucky Wright-drama followers of 1927 were treated to tales of Frank and Miriam’s divorce.  Today, Miriam was awarded $6,000 ($66,179 USD2006) immediately, $30,000 (330,889) in trust, and $250 (2,757) a month for life.  The cash settlement and Wright’s promise that he "would lead a moral life" preceded the court decree.

With a cushy settlement like that, you’d think that’s the last we hear of Miss Miriam.  You’d be wrong.  She spends the next few years loudly proclaiming Wright’s brutality and repellant morals, with much effort expended in Washington attempting to get Olga deported.  In a typical Miriam moment, July 14, 1928, she is arrested on a charge of malicious mischief after breaking miriaminto FLW’s rented La Jolla home while he’s up in Los Angeles:  “So thorough was the wrecking that the colored maid in charge of the house in Wright’s absence collapsed from the shock and was taken to the Scripps Memorial Hospital.  ‘About fifteen minutes more and I would have leveled the place,’  Mrs. Wright is said to have told police when arrested…damage to the La Jolla home is estimated at about $1000…Mrs. Wright smiling pleaded guilty and following the court action, swore out complaints against her husband and Olga Hinzenberg, also known as Olga Milanoff, charging them with being lewd and dissolute persons.”

Miriam finally expires in 1930.

We’ll keep you posted on all breaking FLW news. 

I’d keep an eye on that Schindler character if I were you. 

1947project Podcast #3, July 6 2007

Here’s the latest edition of our podcast, a little belatedly due to holidays and bear attack.

This time ’round, the giddy and peculiar show features Joan, Mary, Nathan and myself, and our clown pal Crimebo, riffing on some of the more interesting cases from the past couple weeks of 1947project, and is brought to you by our newest sponsors, Floyd Elberfeld’s Lilli-puttian Mini Stroke Tiny Golfatorium and Ku Klux Klams. Patronise both today!

Have a question for Crimebo the Clown’s advice column? No inquiry is too personal. Merely contact us with your message to Crimebo, and you might get your answer on a future podcast.

The Long Distance Murder

ferlinheadline 
 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.

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

Dolled as a Dapper Dad

March 31, 1927
Pasadena

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.

Landlord Beware

July 11, 1907
San Pedro

When poolhall manager G.M. Woodward’s rented house on 17th Street burned on June 29, landlord Mrs. M. Sweetman was grateful no one was killed. But after discovering the fire was intentionally set by Woodward, who had hopes of claiming $1100 insurance on his furnishings, she is fuming herself. Woodward is in County Jail, unable to make his bail.

Meanwhile, passengers on the North German Lloyd liner Kronprinz Wilhelm arrived in Hoboken with a terrifying tale of their ship having struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic on July 8. Authoress Gertrude Atherton and statesman Baron Speck Von Sternberg were among the shaken travellers.