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.

Paper Hanging with the Stauber Sisters

The Stauber SistersLos Angeles
February 12, 1927

The sad story of Blanche and Grace Stauber was revealed today when the sisters, ages 44 and 51, respectively, landed in the poky after a trip to Judge Baird’s court. It seems the college-educated spinsters fell on financially hard times after they moved to California in 1910 from their native Kansas. After their pleas to friends and family for monetary assistance went unheeded, Grace started forging checks. She did her best to keep knowledge of her wrongdoing from younger sister—they were daughters of a Methodist minister after all. But when Blanche inevitably discovered her sister’s malfeasance, she made a pragmatic decision: they would “join forces in an effort to keep themselves above poverty” and, above all, avoid being separated from one another.

It worked like this. Blanche and Grace would move into a small town somewhere in southern California. They’d rent a house, and Blanche would write a check in the amount of $300 to $600 (roughly $3,600 to $7,200 in today’s currency), drawn on a bank in another city. Grace would take the check to a bank in their new town, where she would open both savings and checking accounts, depositing half the check in each. Thus funded, the sisters went on a shopping spree, buying merchandise and often receiving change on their purchases. They’d be gone before the bank opened the following day.

Over the years, Blanche and Grace Stauber passed worthless checks to the total tune of about $25,000 (almost $300,000 today) in twenty-five different towns. The sisters “prayed frequently” for the success of their nefarious operations, prayers that appear to have been granted as they eventually opened a store in Palms to dispose of their hot items.

Judge Baird remanded the “elderly” sisters to General Hospital, where it was determined they were sane, though lacking in “moral appreciation.” Blanche and Grace faced possible sentences of from two to twenty-eight years in San Quentin, but it was said their greatest fear remained being separated.

Update: Blanche and Grace Stauber were each sentenced to serve one year in County Jail for forgery and issuing checks without sufficient funds. They were also sentenced to five years’ probation on a separate forgery charge. The sisters didn’t go quietly: they “told probation officers they felt the church owed them a living” and only started passing paper when it didn’t come through.

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.

 

The Case of the Twisted Wrist

January 25, 1927
Los Angeles

"Wanna make some easy money? Come over here. Hang on a sec, let me just fix my coat, and now… here we go, will ya look at that! Looks like my wrist’s broken, eh? Naw, I just popped it out of the joint. It’s easy if you know how, especially if it’s been broken as many times as mine has. Now about that money. See, I’ll get a ride in your taxi, and while we’re riding, I’ll yell and come up with the broken wrist. Your boss’ll pay me to go away! You do the talking, and I’ll do the yelling. I can make my face look green, too, if I concentrate. And what we make, I’ll split with you. I’ll take nothing less than $2500. It can’t lose!"

Alas, poor Calaway Rice and his gal Ruth Richardson, they thought Yellow Cab driver Paul C. Alexander had a dishonest face, but they were very wrong. Alexander took the scheme straight from Rice’s downtown hotel room to his boss, who told him to go through with the charade. It went on under the scrutiny of a police escort, who broke in on the Main Street doctor’s splinting party to put ol’ Popped Joints Rice and Miss Richardson in irons.

The charge was conspiracy to commit fraud. And while Rice would be convicted of this crime, the lady was acquitted, which gave Rice’s attorney the opportunity to appeal to the judge—how could a man conspire alone? It was a good point, and on May 9, our loose-limbed hero was turned loose to scam again.

Cute Enough to Deserve Them

 gladys

January 6, 1927
Los Angeles

itsaCRAVINGGladys Nolan, 22, of 5510 Lexington Avenue, had a craving for fine clothes and expensive perfumes.  She needed them.  Yes, there’s a difference between needs and wants.  She NEEDED them.  

Gladys was no klepto.  She paid for the items, and not with money from the handbag of some white-glove spinster she’d clobbered and left twitching in her death throes down a urine-soaked alley.  Gladys paid for these things with all the nicety befitting a girl of refinement, trouble being, she paid for the lovely things with forged checks.

A $200 ($2,206 USD 2007) fur coat and $34 bottle of perfume, she picked up at I. Magnin’s; a check signed in a fictitious name at Maison Blanche allowed her a gown and hat totaling $110.  Some killjoy by the name of “Deputy District Attoney Frampton” got in a twist about this, convincing some other sourpuss called “Judge Ambrose” to hold her to answer in Superior Court and fix bail at $2000.

Gladys was given probation and told to keep her nose clean.  Which she almost did.

ohgladysnotagain

Whatever became of Gladys Nolan?  A lady whose refinement and obvious taste sadly outdistanced her pocketbook?  Guess we’ll never know.

November1939 

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 Weird Tale of the Wig Lady

Nona Lesher, the wig lady

November 30, 1927
Alhambra

Meet Nona Lesher, the cool 20-something check kiter whose arsenal of multi-hued hairpieces helped disguise her during a spree of bad paper pushing, busted in a market at 305 East Valley Boulevard.

But the wigs are only the tip of a hairy iceberg. For among the suspicious items discovered in the room shared by Nona, hubby Harvey (or Harry), half-brother Phil Rohan and pal Mike Garvey at 2048 West Twentieth Street were an unheard of 61 pairs of shoes and twenty hats, plus Harry, Phil and the aforementioned wigs.

Harrt Lesher, wig lady's accomplice

Phil Rohan, wig lady's accomplice

The men soon became suspects in the November 1 drug store beating death of proprietor A.R. Miles (or A.M. Miller) at 2329 West Jefferson after Lesher allegedly confessed to friend H.S. Walton, "I pulled that West Jefferson job—I hit Miles over the head and when he came to and called me ‘Heinie’ I finished him with my feet." However, Walton later said he had been so drunk that night, he might have imagined the whole thing, had only spoken out because he’d been told charges against him would be dropped if he did, and anyway, he believed the trio was innocent.

Still, 10-year-old witness Eddie Yates ID’d Phil Rohan as the youth in a snazzy blue and white sweater who he’d seen dashing from the crime scene. Lesher and Garvey also looked familiar to the boy. Roberta Scriver, sitting in a car outside the drug store, also identified the trio. Simple robbery-murder case with eyewitnesses, eh?

But then a cop’s badge was found in Mike Garvey’s possession, leading to the arrest of 77th Street Division policeman George H. Foster, the Wig Gang’s next door neighbor, on charges that he’d used the badge to shake down bootlegger John Sykes for $57 in exchange for not noticing a quantity of liquor stored in a vacant house; Rohan and Garvey supposedly served as muscle on the robbery, and somehow Garvey ended up with the badge.

By January, the male members of the Wig Gang had been convicted of murder and sent to San Quentin for life, while back in LA, Officer Foster was thrown off the force and tried on a series of bootleg shakedown charges.

But come December 1928, witness Roberta Scriver testified that she’d seen someone else leave the murder scene, one Harry Rosenfeld. The Grand Jury reopened the case, it was noted that the 10-year-old witness was actually watching a movie during the crime, and after begging San Quentin ex-con Rosenfeld to tell all he knew (he snarled he wouldn’t do it, lest he get a knife in the back from breaking the criminal code), the hapless Wig Gang was released after two years and eight months.

Once freed, the trio sought $5000 each in payment from the state for their ordeal, while Lesher and Rohan’s mother Carrie testified she’d spent $6000 on their defense and appeals. During this hearing, which was ultimately unsuccessful, an Alhambra Detective offered the hitherto unknown information that their arrest had resulted from a tip from the Wig Lady herself, Nona Lesher. It was unclear if she had remained true to Harvey during his incarceration, but one assumes the marriage didn’t survive this revelation. At least their mother still loved ’em!

License to Ill

doctor1Rex H.W. Albrexstondare was not a doctor, but he played one in Southern California.

The pseudo-scientist claimed that he’d discovered the fountain of youth through proper diet and treatment, and had been restored from a 90-year-old man to a young man with a thick head of black hair.  He said he’d grown four sets of teeth in his life.  He was associated with a scheme to create a human body, saying he’d once crafted a 6 inch body, but had been unable to vivify it.   He said he’d discovered a medicinal herb that could rejuvenate human life.  And he claimed to be a Russian prince who had made millions during the regime of the Czar by devising a system of hydrating food.

Yes, Rex H.W. Albrexstondare said a lot of things, and oddly, some people believed him.

Unsurprisingly, the "doctor" made his living by preying upon women, preferably of the wealthy and lonely variety, and supposedly treating them for vague medical complaints, such as headaches and rheumatism.  However thin his ruse may seem, the doctor found plenty of willing customers until 1923, when he hit a patch of very bad luck.

It was then that Albrexstondare treated two Orange girls, Myrtle Thompson and Evelyn Rohrs, who suffered from congenital heart disorders.  He gave them a paste made of mashed vegetables, alfalfa, and pea pods, which probably did the girls no direct harm, but certainly did them no good either.  Albrexstondare was charged with practicing medicine without a license.

doctor2Around the same time, a suit was brought by Jennie McFadden, a wealthy Altadena widow, who claimed that Albrexstondare had failed to repay over $20,000 in loans she’d given him over the space of a few months.  He had befriended her, announced plans to embark on a course of scientific research, and set up a lab in her home.  She periodically loaned him sums of money, which he perceived as gifts; he also claimed that during his stay, the 70-year-old McFadden made passes at him and tried to get him to marry her, as did her daughter.

Others came out of the woodwork, and by the middle of 1924, Albrexstondare had three suits filed against him totaling over $35,000.

But first things first.  He was found guilty of the case involving the Orange girls (the jury’s deliberation took only 5 minutes), and was sentenced to 180 days in prison.  He promptly set about raising the $3000 bond for his release.  There was no mention of the party who’d finally given Albrexstondare the money for his bond, but he or she must have been too embarrassed to make a stink about it when he failed to appear for his sentence in May of 1925.  On the lam for three months, he was finally apprehended in Ensenada and dragged back to Orange County to serve his sentence.

Then in December 1926, things took a turn for the weird.  Socialite and pianist Ruth Shaw, one of the women who’d previously filed suit against Albrexstondare back in 1924, pledged her loyalty to him and agree to help him with his legal troubles.  This would mark the beginning of Shaw’s second career as a professional swindler and full-time accomplice.

For reasons that were not specified, Jennie McFadden’s case did not come to trial until October of 1927, but Albrexstondare’s performance there may have been worth the wait.  Prior to the trial, he and Shaw had hinted that they had some surprises up their sleeves, and today, the doctor let out all the stops.

He claimed that he was beaten so severely in prison that he lost his hearing, memory, and consciousness of his surroundings for nine months.  He said that Jennie McFadden and her daughter had threatened to use their wealth and influence to have him arrested, and that McFadden herself had engaged the agents who followed him from San Diego to New York City and finally, to Mexico while he was a fugitive (although he never saw himself that way).

The judge didn’t see it this way, however, and ordered that Albrexstondare repay Mrs. McFadden’s money with 7% interest, as well as all court costs.  You might that all of this would teach the doctor a lesson, or at least slow him down; however, Albrexstondare continued his schemes in Los Angeles with little variation or discretion for at least the next seven years.

In May 1930, he was in trouble again, accused of swindling a woman who said she’d paid $275 for a medical treatment that she never received.  Ruth Shaw, who’d lined up a string of gullible female clients for the doctor, was charged as an accomplice.  Last heard from in 1934, the pair were still up to their old tricks.  They were again charged with swindling for their efforts to separate L.A. residents from their hard-earned cash, telling them that they were raising funds to file a federal suit — allegedly, the $43 million fortune of the deceased Czar had been deposited to a San Francisco bank.

And is it just my imagination, or does our own Nathan Marsak bear some small resemblance to the good doctor?  Watch he doesn’t slip you any vegetable paste!

Nice try, bub

October 18, 1927
Los Angeles 

Lewis J. Patterson married Marie Misuraca in the morning in judge’s chambers, then sent wifey off to work with plans that they would meet for lunch. We can imagine her morning, chattering gaily with colleagues, showing off her ring, perhaps passing around a photograph of her groom. Then the trip from office to restaurant, giddy with excitement to see him again.

And over a meal the contents of which we do not know, his graceless announcement that the marriage wasn’t exactly legal, since whaddayaknow, he hadn’t gotten around to divorcing the last Mrs. Patterson, but that shouldn’t stop them from setting up house and marrying for real sometime in the future, should it?

According to the lady, it surely should. She appeared today before Judge Sproul and said, "He asked me to wait around until he could get it and then marry him over again. I told him that was not the way I married, and everything was off."

The Judge agreed. Annullment granted. (Marie seems to have landed on her feet: in October 1928 the Times published announcement of her marriage to Carl J. Lawrence. We can only hope there was no first Mrs. Lawrence lurking around to complicate things.)

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.