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.

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!

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.

If I Had a Hammer

If I Had a Hammer headline

July 16, 1927
Los Angeles

“If I had a hammer
I’d hammer in the morning
I’d hammer in the evening…”
— “If I Had a Hammer”, written by Lee Hayes and Pete Seeger

Jacob Goldstein, President of Rothschild Mortgage and Finance, permanently ended his business partnership with the firm’s Vice President,Jacob Goldstein Joseph Stern, by bashing him four times over the head with a hammer and firing three bullets from a revolver into his body. It would have been less messy if only Goldstein had let an attorney handle the dissolution.

Goldstein denied premeditating the attack, which occurred in the company’s elaborately furnished offices at 505 Hellman Bank Building, and swore to police that he had acted in self-defense. According to Goldstein, Stern had behaved like a lunatic and had menaced him with a hammer during a quarrel over business matters. Goldstein further stated that he was in fear of his life when he wrenched the hammer away from his future former partner, and then used the tool to crush the man’s skull. The coup de grace was delivered with the revolver he had purchased the day before.

Police found Goldstein’s explanation unbelievable and charged him with first degree murder. Goldstein entered a not guilty plea at his arraignment but was later allowed to plead guilty to manslaughter, for which he received a sentence of from one to ten years in the state pen.

It’s not easy to get kicked out of California forever, but Jacob Goldstein managed it. On the condition that he would move to Forest Hills, New York to live with friends, 63-year-old Goldstein was paroled from San Quentin on February 24, 1933.

Hooray for Hollywood!

Rose Host Headline

July 2, 1927
Hollywood

“Hitch your wagon to a star.” — Ralph Waldo EmersonRose Host

A blue-bound copy of Emerson’s essays, 50 cents, and the clothes on her back were all that Miss Rose Host had with her when she stowed away aboard the Panama Pacific liner “Manchuria” bound for Los Angeles. If Capt. William J. Munroe hadn’t been so understanding and hadn’t allowed her to earn her passage by stamping passenger forms for the ship’s purser Leo Gallagher, she may never have made it.

Rose’s picture appeared today in the Los Angeles Times accompanied by a story about her Hollywood dreams of gold and fame. A beauty contest winner in her home state of New York, Rose believes that a successful career in tinsel town is within her grasp.

Fast forward six months. Rose landed a bit part in the film “Shootin’ Irons” with Jack Rose and JackLuden. See – that’s Rose in the photograph, nothing more than a silhouette. Her part was so small she wasn’t even mentioned in the credits, and her Hollywood dreams ended with one picture. Rose Host the actress was not heard from again.

Maybe she became an English professor, sharing her love of Emerson with idealistic undergraduates. Let’s hope so, because when a Hollywood dream becomes a nightmare you have Jack Luden’s story.

Jack and Rose were both in their 20s when they made “Shootin’ Irons” together. Jack was an heir to the Luden’s cough drop fortune, but he was young and it was Hollywood so he tried his hand at acting. He was a handsome guy and Paramount planned to feature him in westerns as they’d done with Gary Cooper. Unfortunately for Jack, “Shootin’ Irons” wasn’t a success and by 1930 the studio had either dropped him or he’d walked away from his contract to pursue a life as a junkie.

How he spent the years between 1930 and 1936 remains something of a mystery, but by the 1940s the thrice married Luden had a monkey on his back the size of Cheeta on steroids. He drifted in and out of the movie business – and trouble, for the next decade.

During those six lost years Jack evidently acquired a taste for the seamy side of life. Busted several times for shoplifting to support his heroin habit, he was known to have said "a crooked buck is sweeter than an honest dollar." Jack, it seems, was an unrepentant sinner.

Finally in 1951 he was sent to San Quentin for drug possession and passing bad checks. Nine months into his sentence Jack dropped dead of a heart attack. He was 49.

 “Come on and try your luck
You could be Donald Duck
Hooray for Hollywood!”
— Johnny Mercer

12 Angry Men and Women

May 30, 1927
Pomona 
 
wittenmeyerheadlineToday, 16-year-old Durward Wittenmeyer confessed to the murder of Fannie Weigel, the wife of a Pomona confectioner.  It was just a few days since his release from the Whittier State School, a reformatory.  The emotionally disturbed Wittenmeyer said that on his way home from the movies on May 28, he picked up an automobile spring leaf from a scrap heap, and "got a funny notion to hit someone."  He saw Weigel walking home from the confectionery story, laden with bundles, and struck her twice in the side of the head.  And what was the offense that had previously landed Wittenmeyer in juvie?  Throwing a rock at a woman’s head in 1924.

Like a 1927 Veronica Mars, Thelma Sharp, the 17-year-old daughter of a Pomona police detective, helped police pin down the murderer.  Working as an usher at the movie theater, she’d seen Wittenmeyer the night of the murder, and knew of his previous antics.  When police followed up on her lead, they found Wittenmeyer’s distraught father in the midst of soul-searching.  The man burst out, "My boy killed that woman.  I have been beside myself since yesterday afternoon when I made him confess to me… I took cleaning fluid and tried to clean the blood off his clothes yesterday afternoon."
wittenmeyeronstand
Without emotion, young Wittenmeyer confessed to the police.  A judge declared Wittenmeyer an unfit subject for juvenile court, and he was set to stand trial as an adult.  A psychiatric evaluation found the boy emotionally unstable, but sane.  However, a team of alienists for the defense begged to differ.  Wittenmeyer suffered from a hereditary form of psychosis, they said, and the boy’s father testified that his wife was known to have hallucinations and that once, she’d been found wandering naked in an orange grove.  Supervisors of the reform schools where Wittenmeyer had previously been an inmate testified to his erratic behavior while in custody.  Throughout the proceedings, the boy seemed oblivious, amusing himself by arranging blotters on a table.

As the prosecution and defense rested, the jury was instructed to return one of four verdicts:  not guilty, guilty of first degree murder, guilty of second degree murder, or guilty of first degree murder with the recommendation of a life sentence.  Although deliberations were expected to be speedy, the jury was deadlocked after the first day with a single hold-out for a not guilty verdict, while the remaining 11 jurors stood in favor of the harshest sentence.

After 33 hours, Judge Fletcher Bowron threatened to replace the jurors unless they returned a verdict by noon the next day.  However, the jury’s vote now stood at 10-2, with another juror in favor of acquittal.  The foreman emerged periodically to ask Bowron whether a recommendation for leniency would be granted, and what the sentence was for second-degree murder.  Bowron refused to answer his questions, saying that ultimately, the boy’s sentence was none of their concern.

Finally, after 55 hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict that found Wittenmeyer guilty of murder in the second degree, which carried a sentence of 5 years to life, making the boy eligible for parole in 1932.  Acquittal would have sent Wittenmeyer to a state mental facility, so while he did not receive the treatment he needed, the jury’s decision at least spared the teenager from life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.  Or did it?

As of November 1949 (the last mention I could find of him), Wittenmeyer was still serving time in San Quentin, having been denied parole on at least four occasions.

The Sad Story of the Red Rose Killer

May 9, 1927 
 
executiondelayedConvicted murderer Earl J. Clark was granted a stay of execution today as his appeal twisted its way through the State Supreme Court.  There was a time when Clark’s chances to avoid the gallows seemed promising; however, following an escape from prison, things were looking grim.

It all began in April of 1925 when Clark, a handsome, half-Cherokee bootlegger, stabbed Charles Silva, a Filipino sailor, in a dispute over a girl.  The girl in question was 17-year-old Mamie Stephens, herself a fugitive from justice since her escape from a girls’ reformatory the previous October.  Though accounts varied, when the three met at Clark’s home, Stephens apparently wore a red rose in her hair as a sign to Silva that she would leave Clark for him.   Tempers flared, and Clark refused to let Stephens leave the house.  When Silva stepped in to help her, a fight broke out, during which Clark stabbed Silva in the gut.  Silva apparently did not realize the severity of his wounds, and died later that night en route to his ship.  The papers dubbed the case "the Red Rose Murder" and Stephens "the Red Rose Girl."

earljclarkIn July of 1925, Clark was sentenced to hang, but his attorneys immediately initiated an appeal to save his life.  The appeal before the State Supreme Court was repeatedly delayed while Clark languished in the Los Angeles County Jail.  On March 16, 1926, just days before his appeal was scheduled to come before the court, Clark and five others escaped from jail.  While the five were quickly captured, Clark managed to go into hiding for over nine months.  He was finally found in Minot, North Dakota, the proprietor of a paint store across the street from the local police station and husband to the daughter of one of Minot’s leading citizens.

Following his extradition to California, Clark was resentenced to death; however, his attorneys had the appeals process reinstated.  However, it was all for naught.  Clark’s appeal failed, and his hanging was set to be carried out September 23, 1927.

Helen Scofield Clark, Clark’s 19-year-old wife, wept openly upon hearing Clark’s fate, saying, "I’ll never believe he is guilty."  However, she was not present for the judgment, having been forbidden by her parents to travel to California for the trial.

Clark was set to be hung alongside Joseph Sandoval, a Ventura man who had murdered his wife in a drunken stupor, but Sandoval’s sentence was commuted by Governor Young the night before the execution.  Clark received no such clemency.  On the gallows at San Quentin, he cursed the crowd of about 100 spectators who had gathered to watch the hanging, and as the black hood was placed over his head, whispered to his executioners, "Make it snappy."

Los Angeles police officers took up a collection for Clark’s widow so she could have the body shipped to Minot for burial.  She accepted the money, but not Clark’s remains.  No one else claimed them either, and he was subsequently buried in the prison cemetery.