1947project Crime Bus in the Downtown News

Lea Lion of the Los Angeles Downtown News rode along on the first Nightmares of Bunker Hill tour, and wrote a cool and moody piece about it in this week’s paper.

Nathan and I were appropriately thrilled when the legendary Gary Leonard took our picture, and we even made the front page (under the fold). You can pick up a copy most anywhere in the middle of LA, or read it online.

Thanks, Lea! 

*****
Murder, an Acid Attack and More Downtown Fun ‘Nightmares of Bunker Hill’ Bus Tour Finds an Audience by Lea Lion

I sneak a peak at the other passengers on the bus and wonder why they are really all here. It is Easter Sunday morning and we’re idling in a deserted Lincoln Heights parking lot, waiting for a couple of latecomers to arrive.

Of course, I know exactly why we’re here, but there is still something a little strange about the fact that a busload of people have elected to pay $47 a head to devote five sunny Sunday hours to a tour of Downtown’s most notorious crime scenes of the past century. We’ve gathered for the provocatively titled tour “Nightmares of Bunker Hill,” and as we wait, I start to feel a little suspicious of my fellow crime bus riders and their hunger for tales of long-ago murder and mayhem. The whole thing reeks of a sensational headline, maybe something like, “Maniac Trails Reporter Home From Crime Tour!”

I’m trying to keep my paranoia in check, when the man sitting across the aisle, a fellow solitary rider, leans over and introduces himself. He’s Victor de Anda, a West L.A. native who works in the film industry. Soon he slides over to the comfy coach seat next to mine and starts telling me about the Jack the Ripper-themed walking tour he caught on a recent London vacation.

Eventually, the stragglers show up, and de Anda’s story of murdered prostitutes gives way to a bus rolling along the narrow, bungalow-lined streets of Lincoln Heights into Downtown. We stop in front of a police car graveyard on the outskirts of Chinatown and a man dressed in a 1940s broad-shouldered suit, complete with vest and pocket watch, stands up. This turns out to be tour guide Nathan Marsak, who delivers a rapid-fire account of a turn-of-the-century crime that occurred roughly 50 feet to the right of the bus.

“May 12, 1887,” Marsak states bluntly. He pauses dramatically before continuing. “Imagine a Victorian rooming house – Queen Anne with turrets and gingerbread – right over there.” He gestures towards the parking lot and then dives into the story of a woman who threw a bottle of acid in her lover’s face. Marsak ends the story with a descriptive edict: “Picture him tumbling down the steps grabbing his face.”

Without missing a beat, Marsak’s partner-in-crime and fellow tour guide Kim Cooper launches into another grisly tale. Dressed in a vintage printed dress, Cooper stands at the front of the bus and details the story of the longhaired “Sanchez girl,” who was starved to death by her parents circa 1900. Her ghost is rumored to haunt a stretch of Broadway.

Twisted Sensibilities

Self-professed (obviously) crime buffs, Marsak and Cooper are co-founders of the blog the “1947project” (1947project.com), which last year gained a fair amount of buzz as it documented that year’s most newsworthy crimes – from the heinous to the quirky – in a day-by-day account frequently accompanied by photographs. After completing the full calendar year of 1947, the duo has moved on, or, more accurately, turned back the clock. This year they’re blogging like it’s 1907, and the bus tour is a way both to promote the site and to share their enthusiasm and knowledge.

The year 1907, said Marsak, “fulfilled our giddy enthusiasm for Edwardian-era Los Angeles.” He loudly exhaled a puff of cigarette smoke. “People always go on about the good ol’ days and so forth and so on and we serve as a gentle reminder that there was as much villainy and mayhem and dastardly deeds then as now.”

Marsak and Cooper dig up most of their crime stories from local newspaper archives. According to Marsak, all it takes is a little imagination and a lot of ingenuity.

“The papers were rather circumspect, so you have to learn to read between the lines,” Marsak said. “The ‘yellow’ papers were more sensationalistic, so when you want to get the full story you read the Times and then you have to go down to the archives and go read the Examiner and the Herald.”

Cooper describes her researching technique as “very improvisational.”

“I tend to do it in the witching hour,” Cooper said with a laugh. “I get into the online L.A. Times archive and I start coming up with words that might trigger an interesting story. I’ll use a particular keyword like ‘gruesome’ or ‘ghastly’ or ‘severed’ or ‘weird’ or ‘gun’ or ‘police’ and just see where it takes me.”

The division of labor has Cooper looking through old newspaper files, while Marsak drives around locating historic crime sites and documenting the “what’s there now” aspect. It’s a tactic that has an intriguing tie to modern Downtown Los Angeles – 99 years ago, before the extensive sprawl of the city, most of the action occurred around Downtown.

Cooper and Marsak’s shared fascination dates back to when they met as undergraduates at UC Santa Cruz. In the past, the pair has done a noir-style radio show called “Manny Chavez” and hosted a Black Dahlia-themed bus tour that also included many stops in Downtown. The “Nightmares of Bunker Hill” tour was a quick sell-out, and the duo has scheduled another one for June 10.

“I think Nathan and I both have pretty twisted sensibilities, but we are not dark people,” Cooper said. “We are much more colored by the Addams Family than by Charles Manson.”

Back on the Bus

During the five-hour tour, we do in fact learn that Downtown has an often gruesome past. Surprisingly, a whole slew of sometimes horrific, sometimes humorous acts took place in the early 1900s around New High Street in what is now Chinatown. According to our tour guides, the area was a hotspot for bar brawls, gambling houses and opium dens. It was also the site of at least one gypsy kidnapping and an out-of-control goat (in separate incidents).

Countless brutal murders, fake s

The Big Pickup

April 25, 1907
Los Angeles
 
Fiesta is coming!  And men of low standing are being swept from the streets—today one M. Lawrence was arrested on the charge of peddling worthless jewelry.  The police are making a special effort to remove from our midst swindlers of all stripes before Fiesta.  Sometimes they have help:  a Mr. Johnson was admitted to Receiving Hospital with cuts and lacerations to the face; he was recognized as being C. W. Draper, the recently paroled forger.  While attempting to sell goods to a woman at 115 North Olive Street, an unknown man leaped upon him and beat him severely.

Woman Doctor here Near Death

April 24, 1907
Los Angeles
Doctor Mary Green had a thriving practice once, for which she rented an office at 624 Fifth Street; she lives in a comfortable suite of rooms in the Hotel Avalon, also on Fifth.  And yet the Good Doctor, who has practiced in Chicago, Cincinnati, and San Francisco before landing in Los Angeles, is said to be unable to show any certificate showing she is a graduated physician.  It is said as well that she is addicted to morphine.
Last night, according to the proprietor of the Avalon, a man (claiming to be her husband) visited; a short time later, Doctor Mary Green lay dying.  At Receiving Hospital she was indeed found to be a heavy user of the needle.  And, as letters from a Doctor Anderson pointed out (penned after a recent trip of Green’s to Emergency General), she seemed likely to take her life.  While that life was saved at Receiving, it remains to be seen whether Doctor Mary Green will make it through much more life-time.

Nightmares on Bunker Hill Easter Tour Snaps

On Sunday, April 16, a merry busload of crime geeks boarded our stretch hearse (actually a plush touring coach, courtesy of our pal Dennis at American Transporation Systems) for a five-hour tour into the weird crannies and freaky nooks of downtown Los Angeles and Chinatown. From the O’Connor Electroplating Disaster to the hairy ghoul gal of Old Sonoratown, severed hands to rotting panhandlers, deadly Xmas gifts to fake mediums, it was a delightful dip into the weird old L.A. that’s not there anymore.

Here are a few photographic impressions to mark the day. And if you’d like a spin on the Crime Bus, please note: Nightmares of Bunker Hill rolls again on June 10.

 

Dramatic Disclosures Come After Girl Cashier’s Death

April 20, 1907
Los Angeles 

Pity Miss Alice Chevallier, native of this city, who took too powerful a sleeping potion a few evenings past, and now lays rotting in her grave in New Calvary. She follows her mother and her brother, but unlike them, her death brings with it unwelcome notoriety.

Alice was a longtime cashier at the Ville de Paris dry goods emporium on Broadway, between 2nd and 3rd Streets. At some stage in her career, she developed a system by which she could bring home with her a portion of the day’s receipts. In recent months, it is believed this was as much as $300 a day. A clever girl, she invested her takings in real estate, and built a handsome portfolio.

But her ingrained nervousness and peculiar disposition–she did not care for men, and perhaps not coincidentally suffered ovarian tumors, neuralgia and insomnia–proved the thief’s undoing. She found it necessary to escape to Catalina to rest following an operation, although she must have realized that her absense from the place of her crimes would make discovery likely. And that is precisely what happened.

Alice returned to her home at 226 West Jefferson, distraught from a sustained bout of sleeplessness and the anxiety of meeting the Ville de Paris’ lawyers. Although her real estate holdings were now sufficiently valuable to cover any restitution required and more, she languished in a state of abject horror.

On Sunday evening, Alice told her sister-in-law that she intended to take a sleeping powder, but in fact she took laudanum and chloroform, two drugs with which she had significant past experience. This time, the dose was too much for her weakened system, and the girl lingered until Wednesday before expiring. Her doctors stress that although it might look like a suicide, the true cause was congestion of the brain–the same organic disorder that lead her to steal in the first place.

Cincinnati Heirs Claim Spiritualist Influence On Dead Brother

April 8, 1907
Los Angeles

R. Crawford Smith, a wealthy Cincinnati bachelor who died in February, aged 61, spent the past several years living amongst strangers in Los Angeles. For a long while, he called the Hotel Melrose on Grand Avenue his home, and more recently had lived with familes on McClintock Avenue and South Olive Street.

His two brothers, William E. and A. Denniston Smith, have come from the east after Crawford’s death to inquire how it is that his will, which was to have split his $100,000 fortune equally between them and two sisters, acquired late codiciles leaving $17,000 to three females, rumored to be practictioners of Spiritualism, all residents of this city. The Smiths have hired Attorney Charles Cassat Davis to handle the challenge.

E.Z. Barrett, husband of the woman willed $10,000, says his wife Dora befriended a sad old man, and was repaid for her kindness with the posthumous gift. Mediumship had nought to do with it–though Dora is a popular lecturer on the subject, who has been known to give public demonstrations of her ability to commune with those who have “passed over.” Mr. Barrett stresses however that Dora is not a medium of the typical type.

Pasadena high school teacher Miss Lottie Livingston was willed $5000 from the Smith coffers, and Mrs. Lola Swilling, whose husband is said to be an Army officer stationed in Cuba, has a $2000 gift promised her.

Smith’s few local friends recall him as a lonesome, ill and melancholy man, a believer in Spiritualism who sought out Mrs. Barrett and frequently visited her home in his last days, apologizing for being a burden but saying how much he appreciated being among friends.

The late man’s estate was largely held in property, including a hotel at the southeast corner of Hope and Sixth Streets here.

 

Medium Image

Nightmares of Bunker Hill – June 10

Gentle riders,

Won’t you please join us on Saturday June 10th, for our second tour of the downtown area to explore some of the weirdest criminal and spectral happenings of the past century?

Each ticket costs $47, and entitles the bearer to a 5-hour guided tour on a n air-conditioned luxury coach, snacks, beverages and the fascinating company of fifty-some fellow crime and social history buffs.

Tickets may be purchased here, via paypal:
https://www.dumplinglab.com/crimebus/

Or if you prefer to pay by check, just get in touch and we will hold your seat.

best regards,
Kim

Avoid The Rush, Get On The Crime Bus

Tomorrow, at 10am, 10:40am and 11:20am, you can tune in to KFWB radio 980-AM to hear several different features on the upcoming Nightmares of Bunker Hill Crime Bus Tour, Sunday April 16 (Easter), noon-5pm.

If you were holding off reserving your seat, we suggest you email me promptly to reserve, because the radio spots might well cause the Easter bus to sell out. We will run this tour again soon if demand so indicates.

best regards,
Kim

Note From One-Time Suitor Spoils Honeymoon

March 30, 1907
Los Angeles 

Newlyweds Mr. and Mrs. Paul Solf, a couple from Denver who have been honeymooning at the Estelle at 312 1/2 West First Street, paid a visit to the police this evening at the insistence of the lady.

Paul Solf told the desk sergeant that he had returned to their room earlier, to find his wife reading a letter from a former admirer. As he snatched it away, a photograph fell out, and the pair commenced to arguing. After a time, Mrs. Solf said that if he did not accompany her to the police station, she would call for them herself. Thinking she was bluffing, he joined her in a perambulation towards Central Station.

Upon entering, Mrs. Solf declared that Paul Solf had threatened her with a revolver. He denied this, but a quick search revealed a heavy revolver on his person. Solf was locked up, while officers determined that he had a letter for $5000 credit from a Denver bank, and nearly as much in cash. On reflection, Mrs. Solf decided she didn’t wish to prosecute, but officers still plan to charge him for carrying a concealed weapon.

Solf is a race horse man, and his bride a bit of a gambler. 

Virtue Stolen, Innocence Lost

March 20, 1907
Los Angeles 

Revealed today, with the arrest of M.M. Martinez, proprietor of the Esmeralda Club at Amelia and Ducommon Streets, is a terrible tale of innocence stolen. Several young girls are willing to testify that their virtue was taken from them by Martinez and club regulars following the introduction of drugged champagne into their tender mouths.

Inside the walls of this vile palace of sin unfolded the debauchery of Miss Nellie McCarthy, 668 Date Street, and Miss Julia Wood, 812 South Wall Street. Both girls are just 17 years old, and are telling their stories to Proscecuting Attorney Adcock, and are willing to repeat these horrors for a jury. The girls are being "sent to Whittier" because their parents do not know what to do with them.

Martinez’ arrest came about at the insistence of the mothers of the broken blossoms, who declared their children were pure and lovely in character before they began attending social events at the noisome venue.  

 

Editrix’ note: "sent to Whittier" is a euphemism that was apparently familiar enough to the readers of the 1907 newspapers to require no further elaboration. By reading numerous c. 1900 stories that included the phrase, most dealing with delinquent and sexually promiscuous youths, I discovered that Whittier was the location of the State Reformatory (above), opened in 1891; it operated as the Fred C. Nelles School through 2004, and is currently being redeveloped as a residential/commercial project. Henceforth I will threaten Nathan that he will be "sent to Whittier" should he misbehave.