Coffee, Tea … or Murder?

Coffee, Tea ... or Murder?

December 11, 1927
Hollywood

The death of motion-picture actor George Donald Bailey was announced this morning. The 63-year-old thespian complained of feeling ill yesterday. A doctor was summoned, but Bailey died within a few hours. The death certificate, signed by Dr. C.D. Baker (a friend of the deceased), stated the cause as heart disease.

The matter would seem to rest there, but this afternoon Bailey’s widow was visited by her daughter, Blanche Olivarias, and Blanche’s sister-in-law, Miss Tommy Olivarias. The women brewed a soothing pot of coffee, sipped from their cups, and immediately were gripped by nausea. Tommy, in particular, became violently sick and felt a choking sensation in her throat.

Unusual, you think, but this is where the plot thickens: “‘My husband clutched at his throat just prior to his death,’ Mrs. Bailey said. ‘He kept mumbling he was being choked to death'”—just after having a cup of coffee from the same fatal pot. Indeed, doctors say the only reason Tommy recovered was emergency treatment.

The county coroner requested a chemical analysis of Bailey’s organs. The coffee pot and whatever liquid remained in it were turned over to the county chemist. Results were expected sometime the following week.

Did heart disease kill George D. Bailey—or was it poison? Were his widow, daughter, and her sister-in-law victims of the same toxin? Alas, the Times never reported on the outcome of the autopsy or tests on the coffee pot.

Mother Avenger

Hazel Hull

November 27, 1927
Los Angeles

Did you hear the one about the traveling salesman and the farmer’s daughter? Well, this time she wasn’t a farmer’s daughter—and the salesman ended up dead. Eleven days ago, 17-year-old Marie Hull went for a ride with Gordon J. Waters, 29, the salesman in question. When she returned home to 840 West 43rd Place, Marie tearfully told her mother that Waters had attacked her.

When Hazel Hull discovered Waters at her boarding house tonight, presumably to call on Marie, she was ready. When the salesman left the house, Hull rushed after him and pressed a .38 caliber revolver to his left side. She fired a single shot, then fled to her mother’s. Waters staggered to the intersection of Hoover Street and Vernon Avenue, where he collapsed. He died on the way to Georgia Street Receiving Hospital without making a statement.

Days of juicy reading followed. Booked into County Jail prior to the coroner’s inquest, Hazel Hull told reporters, "I am glad I killed him even though I hang for it. My little girl was sweet and good. I did the only thing I could to avenge her." Her ex-husband proclaimed his willingness to stand by his former wife’s side, and Marie asserted that if her mother "had not shot him I would have done so myself."

Meanwhile, Waters’s widowed wife of six months ("heavily veiled in a great pink chiffon drape that completely covered her head and shoulders," according to the Times) took issue with the Hulls’ insistence that her husband had been "a sheik" and "a rounder." She preferred to blame the other victim: "Marie Hull led my husband on. She knew he was married." This was a minority view, however; when the coroner’s jury announced their finding that Hazel Hull was justified in shooting her daughter’s attacker, applause broke out in the court room, and spectators rushed to shake Hull’s hand. The following day, Hull escaped a murder charge when the grand jury refused to indict her.

Despite the column inches it devoted to the case, the Times editorialized that "If Waters’s conduct was indefensible, there seems even less defense for that of Mrs. Hull" and likened the juries’ refusal to indict as an "indorsement [sic] of lynch law."

We’re a Happy Family—No, Really!

Virginia Lee Corbin

November 6, 1927
Hollywood

Mrs. L.A. Corbin, 45, was rushed to the police receiving hospital today after she telephoned her neighbor and declared, “I have just swallowed enough poison to kill ten men!” While doctors labored to save Mrs. Corbin’s life, her 17-year-old daughter, former child star and current film ingénue Virginia Lee Corbin, told police she was ready to sign an insanity complaint against her mother. Mrs. Corbin had “taken all the money I’ve made in pictures,” Virginia Lee told detectives. “Mother wanted more money tonight and I wouldn’t give it to her; besides, she wouldn’t let me go out. I guess that’s the reason for all this. Let’s get it over with. If she acted this way before, she’ll do it again.” An ambulance took Mrs. Corbin to General Hospital’s psych ward, while a Times reporter snapped a photo of disgruntled looking Virginia Lee leaving the Georgia Street Police Station.

Two days later, Virginia withdrew her complaint. “She didn’t know what she was signing when she signed the complaint,” explained her adopted sister, Ruth Miehle. “Police Mystified by Action” read the Times sub-head that day; detectives noted that that Virginia had questioned them at length about the ramifications of signing the complaint, and went so far as to ask them to sign the document as complaining witnesses. Virginia herself was conspicuously unavailable for comment, so Ruth explained further: “There is absolutely nothing to the statements that Virginia is angry at mother over money matters.” Virginia’s assertions to the contrary, Ruth reported, were “misstatements by the police. But the police were equally certain that the statements had been made,” reported the Times. At any rate, Mrs. Corbin was moved to the relative comfort of the Rosemeade Sanatorium.

A Happy Family

On November 9, the Times ran a photo of a smiling Virginia and Ruth on either side of their wheelchair-bound mother. “The family life of Virginia Lee Corbin once more is announced as harmonious,” wrote columnist Harry Carr shortly thereafter. “The loving daughters have not only released their mother from danger of going to a cell for the insane, but they have been publicly photographed chucking her under chin. I just don’t see the connection, but I have a feeling that chucking one’s relative’s under the chin is a public indication that you didn’t mean what you said—or something. At any rate, during the long winter evenings that family have much to talk about.” Or not—for despite the apparent reconciliation, Virginia petitioned the court for and was a granted a guardian. She also established a trust fund as a “first step toward recuperating asserted financial losses” due to “maternal extravagances.”

Mrs. Corbin recovered from her suicide attempt. The Corbin family contained to display a flair for drama. In 1929, the Times reported that Virginia was missing, possibly kidnapped, before she showed up on a train bound for New York City. Five years later, Mrs. Corbin instigated a search for Virginia and her family after hearing of “reports” in the British press that they were stranded in Belgium. Again, they were safe in New York.

Virginia Lee Corbin continued to act in smaller and smaller roles. “When the talkies began to displace the silent films, I decided an English accent would be a great help,” she told the press in 1930. Nevertheless, by 1936 the Times included her in an article devoted to the “Many Forgotten Names” of the previous decade. Her first marriage ended in divorce when her broker husband accused her of “habitual drunkenness.” Whether or not it was true, Corbin lost custody of both her sons. She died in 1942 of either heart disease or tuberculosis. She was only 32 years old.

The Continuing Saga of Aimee Semple McPherson

Aimee Semple McPherson

July 24, 1927
Echo Park

Relations between evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson and her mother, Mrs. Minnie "Ma" Kennedy, are reported to be on the mend today after a recent dust-up concerning the management of McPherson’s Angelus Temple. Kennedy had been acting as business manager while Sister Aimee was off on a preaching tour, but a series of burglaries (whispers said embezzlements) caused some church members—her daughter apparently among them—to lose confidence in Kennedy’s abilities. Sister Aimee cut her trip short earlier this week and returned to Los Angeles, where yesterday she announced that her mother was going to take a "long needed" vacation to the Holy Land.

Today, however, Sister Aimee presented her mother with three options by way of a peace pact. Mrs. Kennedy could either (1) remain at the church but not in a managerial position; (2) take control of the entire organization while Sister Aimee founded a new and separate church; or (3) retire from all active participation in the church and receive "a substantial income from Angelus Temple" for the rest of her life.

Mrs. Kennedy declined comment (though reporters noted her tearful visage). It is anticipated she will choose the first option. Sister Aimee meanwhile emphatically denied any personal animosity between the women (seen here reunited, along with Aimee’s children, after last year’s "kidnapping") or even that anyone had tried to oust her mother from the church in the first place.

In another blow to the scandal-plagued evangelist, former Angelus Temple band leader Gladwyn Nichols today announced his reasons for leaving McPhersons’s church to found his own, chief among them being Sister Aimee’s "sensational" alleged abduction of last May. Nichols also pointed to alleged financial improprieties at Angelus Temple, and condemned Sister Aimee’s "flagrant … activities in obtaining publicity" including "posing before the news camera in stylish and expensive dresses" and "being photographed with bobbed hair."