Anything for a Bust

February 6, 1927
rumsquad Over the weekend, the District Attorney’s crackerjack Prohibition task force proved beyond the shadow of a doubt their devotion to the cause.
Then again, after the theatrical busts they staged, it’s also possible that rum squad head George Contreras and his men simply craved adventure, danger, or an excuse to wear women’s clothing.
The fun started when Contreras and two of his agents entered a home while dressed as telephone repairmen.  When they were unable to find the hooch inside, they flung open the chicken coop in the backyard, and were greeted by three full-grown lions.
Yes, three full-grown lions.  In a chicken coop.
All three men promptly vaulted over the fence, and sought shelter across the street.  Here, they discovered A. Hernandez’s 25 gallon still, and arrested him.
The lions were pets, they later discovered, though “not particularly fond of strangers.”
After the lion incident, Contreras dressed two more of his agents up in women’s clothing and took them joy-riding to 217 E. 61st St..  Here, he pulled up to the home of a suspected moonshiner, Raymond Manley, and asked for “some liquor for the girlfriends.”  When Manley brought out a bottle, police raided the place and discovered an enormous still, 180 gallons of whiskey, and 39 barrels of mash.
So, to sum up:  a man crafts a tasty beverage by hand, and goes to jail for his trouble, while the man who raises adult lions, in a chicken coop, no less, walks free.  And our rum squad seems to enjoy playing dress-up a little more than the average adult probably should.
Up is down, left is right.  Sheesh.

The Dare-Devil Club of Gardena

Get Your Boy Ready for Crime School!January 29, 1927
Gardena

The Artful Dodger would have been nothing without his teacher, Fagin, but the Dare-Devil Club of Gardena didn’t need anybody to train them in the techniques of thievery—they did it themselves. Indeed, the cops called their social club a “crime school.” Today, on the cusp of the club’s first “graduation,” police arrested five of its officers, all between the ages of 10 and 14. The charges? Burglary. The enterprising young criminals first broke into the Gardena schoolhouse. They also plagued Gardena resident T. Tsuchiyare, breaking into his house on three separate occasions and stealing his Kodak camera, jewelry, even the money from his children’s piggybanks. The boys are scheduled to appear before Judge Archibald next week. Further arrests are expected before then.

Local Man Sets Record

January 20, 1927
Los Angeles

A short notice in the paper today about Sidney (or Sydney) Adams who, on August 2, 1925 (most likely) mortally shot his wife Annie in their home at 1234 East Twenty-First Street.

august25Despite there being a chance for a difference—Adams steadily asserted that the woman committed suicide—on October 12, 1925 it took a Los Angeles jury a record twenty-five minutes to send him to the gallows.  (This being in part or wholly dependent on Adams’ race seems obvious—writ large as he’s routinely described as the “giant negro,” a term of which Times seems unusually fond.)

Hangings were on the mind of all Californians as executions ushered in C. C. Young’s gubernatorial regime. The previous four years of Friend Richardson’s governorship were marked by constant rejections of eleventh-hour appeals for executive clemency; in a show of consistency Young had five executions in the first five weeks of his stewardship and saw that each one went through unchallenged.  

payspenalty

There were six sitting in San Quentin’s death row when S. C. Stone  joined the bunch on January 6, 1927—making it lucky number seven.  Adams’ departure today took it back down to six.

Ruth Snyder’s Date with Death

December 17, 1927
Ossining, NY Ruth Snyder

Mrs. Ruth Snyder has a date with Sing Sing’s electric chair on January 12, 1928, unless her plea for executive clemency is granted.

The seductive blonde and her lover, corset salesman Judd Gray (see photo), were both tried and convicted of murdering Ruth’s husband by caving in his skull with a window sash weight, strangling him with a garrote fashioned out of picture wire and a gold pen, and finally stuffing chloroform soaked rags into his nostrils.

Judd GrayIf there is an explanation for the obvious overkill in the murder of Albert Snyder, it must be that Ruth’s previous attempts to snuff out the life of her husband (twice by asphyxiation and once by poison) had failed – and she wasn’t about to give up. Ruth had persuaded her husband to take out a double indemnity policy, which would pay her in the event of his accidental death. It was the lure of the $97,000 worth of life insurance that compelled her to continue with her diabolical schemes until she succeeded.

Fueled by two bottles of whiskey and profound stupidity, the criminally-challenged duo staged the murder scene as a burglary gone horribly wrong. But their pathetic plan was doomed to failure. They threw an Italian language newspaper on the floor as a false clue to the identity of the killers. They emptied dresser drawers and overturned chairs. And in an act that would eventually help prosecutors to prove her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, Ruth hid her allegedly stolen jewelry under her mattress, about three feet away from Albert’s battered body!

The trial of Ruth and Judd would be a media circus, and celebrities such as director D.W. Griffith, and evangelists Billy Sunday and Aimee Semple McPherson would attend. Ruth would be called “ruthless Ruth”, “vampire”, and the “blonde fiend” by the press. Evidently not all men found those appellations a turn-off, because Ruth received at least 160 marriage proposals during her incarceration. DEAD

Unfortunately for Ruth, her plea for clemency would be denied by Governor Al Smith. Her execution would be famously recorded by newspaper man Tom Howard. The ingenious reporter had strapped a miniature camera to his ankle beneath his trousers. Just as the executioner threw the switch on the whimpering murderess, Tom raised the cuff of his pants and snapped the tabloid photo of a lifetime.

The murderers were unexceptional, but their crime inspired art. “Machinal”, a play by Sophie Treadwell was deemed one of the best of 1928-29. James M. Cain’s brilliant novels “Double Indemnity” and “The Postman Always Rings Twice” are said to have been inspired by Albert Snyder’s murder. And, of course, each of the novels translated into two of the finest examples of film noir ever produced.

Matthew 5:16 Goes Electric

 shedslight

captfixitDecember 16, 1927
Sawtelle

 

Los Angeles Police Captain W. L. Hagenbaugh feeds more juice into the stills of Sawtelle than he gets from them; after he raids the moonshiners and chops up their contraptions of copper and coil, he fashions fixtures and floor lamps for his new nine-room Spanish job up on Comstock in Westwood.

 

 

Recently, materials from three forty gallon bootleg stills, lined in some very fine silver, have been reclaimed from their sinful ways and turned toward this honest enterprise.

 

This writer’s inquisitive interests now satisfied—yeah, you’re green, I get it—my acquisitive interest takes over:  where are these shades now?

 

 

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!

Stormy Marriage for a Stormy Night

October 12, 1927
Los Angeles

Officer J.R. Reybuck had issues. Last summer, when he fought with his young wife, he thought he could resolve their troubles by choking her, snatching their baby son William, and running off to Yuma, Arizona, from which calmer perch he suggested she might join him and they could work everything out.

Lillian Reybuck had other ideas, and obtained a restraining order. She and her baby were living with her brother, Herbert, and mother, Mrs. Fred Hendricks at 914-and-three-fourths West Seventeenth Street, and that was where J.R. came today on one of his twice weekly visits. He was holding the child when he brought out his service revolver and shot his wife dead as she sat sewing in the front room. When her mother ran out of the kitchen, he took a couple of potshots at her. Mrs. Hendricks escaped out the door.

Reybuck unloaded a single shot through the left temple of baby William, killing him instantly. He then reloaded, leaned against the wall in front of his slain wife, and blew a hole through his brain.

He had blamed his mother-in-law for poisoning his wife against him.

The Celebrated Portia

August 15, 1927
Los Angeles

bullock1 When you’re the first female jurist to serve in the state of California, celebrity finds you, whether you want it or not.  Today, police began investigating a series of death threats sent to Municipal Judge Georgia Bullock.  The letters had been arriving steadily for six weeks, but Bullock hadn’t taken them seriously until last week, when she realized she was being followed by a lone figure in a large car.

The most recent missive read, "Leave state at once.  Your life will go and you will get this."  Beneath these lines was scrawled a crude drawing of a revolver.  The note was signed "Black Hand Boston – You Cannot Escape."

Bullock had received similar threats two years earlier, when she received her first appointment as a police judge in December 1924.  Shortly after assuming her post, she was the victim of a half-hearted poisoning attempt, when a "woman of foreign appearance" left a box of strangely-colored fudge in her quarters.

bullock2Happily, the villains never succeeded in carrying out their threats, and Bullock went on to serve as a judge in Los Angeles for 32 years until her retirement in 1955.  She specialized in hearing cases involving marriage, divorce, and homeless children, but her happiest years came at the end of her career, which she spent in the Adoption Department of the Juvenile Court.  Upon her retirement, she said, "I’m going to miss it. I’ll miss seeing the little ones that have been such darlings in my courtroom these last twelve years, and I’ll miss watching that wonderful happiness that childless couples show when they are adopting children."

Bullock died April 29, 1957, leaving two children, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

This Ain’t No Party…

Petting Party Headline

August 13, 1927
Los Angeles

These days a petting party can be dangerous in more ways than one…just ask Dagmar Carlson.
 Dagmar Carlson
Dagmar Carlson, 324 South Rimpau Street, and her escort, William Wade were necking in his car when a trio of bandits appeared and held them at gun point, relieving William of his wrist watch, billfold and a notebook.

As a witness for the prosecution Dagmar told Judge Baird, “When they stuck that gun in my face and told me to stick up my hands, that’s just what I did.”

Five men have been implicated in a series of petting party hold-ups, but only three have been charged with robbing Dagmar and William. The three men are: Jack Olympus, Clyde Thomas and Elmer Smith.  The remaining members of the gang, Orville Kindig and Maurice Schott, were ordered to be held on two other counts of robbery. Deputy DA Crail said that seventeen more counts of robbery will be filed against the men within the next few days.  Each of the crooks is being held on $10,000 bail ($119,742.53 USD 2007).

Petting party bandits continued to be the scourge of dark side streets and remote lover’s lanes all over the country. One of the most famous criminal cases in the history of Los Angeles would be that of notorious “Red Light Bandit”, Caryl Chessman. Chessman, reform school alum and former prison escapee, would be paroled in December 1947. On January 23, 1948 he would be arrested on seventeen counts of robbery, kidnapping and rape.

Legal maneuvering and numerous appeals, particularly regarding the application of California’s “Little Lindbergh” law, would keep his case in the courts for twelve years. He wrote four books while on death row, all became bestsellers. His case achieved so much notoriety that many famous people including Aldous Huxley, Ray Bradbury, Eleanor Roosevelt and Billy Graham, petitioned Governor Edmund G. Brown (an opponent of the death penalty) for clemency on the death row inmate’s behalf.

Caryl Chessman

Over the years he was granted eight reprieves – but Chessman was finally strapped into the chair in San Quentin’s lethal gas chamber on May 2, 1960. As the chamber filled with cyanide the emergency telephone rang, but the call came seconds too late to stop the execution.

The Little Klansman That Couldn’t

August 4, 1927ousterdamage
San Pedro

That Ernest M. Branson just couldn’t leave well enough alone.  He was a member in good standing of San Pedro 51, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and all was fine and hunky-dory, until he started stirring the pot with his talk.  So from under the sheet came a big boot, and out went Ernest; now, Ernest says he was libeled in the written order that banished him from the Kluxers.

What was it ever did Ernest say?  To hell with the flag?  Hooray for Hebrews?  Eucharist is yummy?  Thomas Jefferson got it on with Sally Hemmings?

No, all he did was stir up some internal dissension inside the Klan, which resulted in his ouster (maybe he sided with Madge over DC.)  That’s gotta be the worst libel of all—accused of making mishegas in the klavern!

So now Ernest has filed a $25,000 ($275,749 USD2006) libel suit against none other than Exalted Cyclops Karl K. Keller.  

(Yes, Karl K. Keller.  I bet his real name was Herman Flork.)