The New 1947project is here

Gentle reader, a fresh manifestation of 1947project has emerged. For the first time, our crime-a-day blog becomes a house-by-house survey, exploring the great lost downtown neighborhood of Bunker Hill. Join us On Bunker Hill to meet the people, homes and peculiarities that called this place their own.And for even more historic LA oddities with regular updates, visit our current blog In SRO Land, lost lore of the historic core.

It’s a Man’s World

 mans world headline

March 17, 1927
Bakersfield

Frustrated at being rejected for employment as a nurse by Kern Hospital, twenty-one year old Gladys Maryon Lindley came up with a plan – become a man!

Dressed in men’s clothing and answering to the name “Billyâ€Â, Gladys presented herself at Kern Hospital once again. Instead of seeking employment as a nurse, “Billyâ€Â applied for the job of a male orderly this time and was hired on the spot.

Gladys went undetected until three months later, when the secret of her identity was revealed by one of her former teachers. Recognizing “Billyâ€Â at the hospital, the teacher ratted her out to hospital administrators. Gladys – aka Billy – resigned immediately.

Perhaps naively, the LA Times reported that “a real desire to do hospital work was given as the explanation of the masqueradeâ€Â.

A Most “Pernicious, Revolting, Nefarious and Immoral” Love Cult

Love CultistsMarch 11, 1927
Los Angeles

Fifteen-year-old Lloyd Alley, arrested today in Los Angeles, is said to have made statements “tantamount to a confession” of his involvement with the “Sacred School of the Great White Brotherhood,” an Oakland-based “love cult” with branches in San Francisco, San Jose, Portland, Chicago, and Texas. At the same time the teenager was spilling the beans in L.A., San Francisco police raided the cult’s Bay Area headquarters, where they found an “effigy of a woman with a sword piercing her heart, incoherent messages, cards bearing linked names of males and females and other equally weird evidence.” Cultists are said to have “encouraged free love in its most exotic forms” in its attempts to breed a “superman” and “superwoman.” “Mystical marriages” were arranged and “the sacred phallic laws” studied. Also in custody in Los Angeles is Russell Alley (Lloyd’s father, cult name “Omar”). Cult founder and high priestess, Mrs. Gertrude Wright (“Zareda” to her followers), is being held in Oakland, along with her disciple, Irma Gibbs (“Ermengarde,” a domestic in the Wright home). All were charged with contributing to the delinquency of minors: Lloyd Alley, plus two young women, Thelma Reid, 17, and Caroline Merwin, 18.

Lloyd Alley and Irma Gibbs both made confessions said to “be reeking with unprintable details,” though the paper managed to squeeze in a mention of two “new Messiah” ceremonials Lloyd performed with Caroline Merwin. Caroline (whose stepmother’s complaint set the raid in motion) was quite the little minx: when she appeared in juvenile court later in the week she relished telling the judge that she wore only “filmy underthings” during her initiation ceremony, and that her “vibration robes” were scanty as well. When she “admitted intimacies with Lloyd Alley,” the two of them laughed until the judge admonished them to be quiet.

Times columnist Harry Carr thought the juicy case was nothing but “Bunk”:

The attempt to paint these girls—and their beef-fed sheiks—as innocent, wide-eyed victims of a freak religion is enough to make anybody laugh.

Girls of this day and age are wise guys.

And any one of them knows that a so-called religious cult that involves being “initiated” in the presence of men with most of clothes off is merely an excuse for a debauch.

There is at least some hope for a girl who is frank enough to laugh.

Caroline Merwin was eventually released into her stepmother’s custody. Lloyd Alley was remanded into the custody of the Juvenile Detention Home and was later made a ward of the court. In May 1927, a jury deliberated for ten minutes before it found Russell Alley guilty of contributing to the delinquency of minors. Gertrude Wright and Irma Gibbs flew the coop before they could be tried; they remain at large.

His Majesty Requests

March 6, 1927
Los Angeles

Not every L.A. woman has the chance to be wooed by royalty, but Mrs. Edith Brown of 4720 ½ Mascot Street proved singularly unimpressed by the stream of letters emanating from the pen of Lionel I, self-proclaimed King of America. The lady, apparently a democrat, called the cops. They took His Majesty (otherwise known as Lionel Craviato) before the judge, who sent the regal fellow off to City Jail to learn that even a king should not annoy a lady.

An excerpt from one of the offending missives read: "All the American army and navy love me and they recognize me as their first chief and want me to be king of their country. I will conquer and civilize the whole world!"

Hmm, maybe the problem was that this would-be king never learned how to write a proper love letter. Lionel, Lionel, Lionel, no woman wants to read about how much the army loves you! Also, for future reference, we like rubies.

The Candy Man Can

candy man headline

March 3, 1927
Los Angeles

"Who can take a sunrise,
Sprinkle it with dew,
Cover it in chocolate and a miracle or two?
The candyman, the candyman can,
The candyman can ’cause he mixes it with love and makes the world taste good."

When local school children crave a hand full of gum drops and a pint of whiskey, where can they go? Rumor has it that if they visit Frank Belioi’s candy store at 5973 South Broadway, they may leave with a few new cavities and a major buzz.

Sgt. Childers was in charge of the squad that raided the local sweets shop, and revealed in court that although the police department had reports that Frank was selling liquor to minors, they had failed to produce evidence against him.

Frank was lucky – the only thing the cops managed to bust him for was the one and one-half gallons of whiskey on the premises. He said he kept it on hand for party guests.

Frank pleaded guilty to the possession charge, and Judge Ambrose fined the candy man $300 [$3,639.31 current USD].

I could go for a pint of gin and a chocolate bar right about now. Are you with me?

Modes of Banditry, 1927

February 28, 1927
Los Angeles

Drivers in lonely climes like Topanga Canyon have recently been distressed when stopping to check on a "possum bandit" found napping in the middle of the road. Of course when the do-gooder leans over the prone figure, he leaps up with a gun, steals their valuables, and races off much faster than any marsupial.

Meanwhile, at 317 1/2 South Berendo, two dandified thieves of an agonizing refinement relieved Albert Zigman of $125 cash and $700 in jewels in his own apartment. The victim described one man as having kept his hands in his pockets while gazing at a picture on the wall, as the other flicked cigarette ashes from his lazy perch on the davenport. Shortly afterwards, they relieved neighbor Michael Kreel of his extraneous possessions before slipping off into the night with a yawn and a whip of their cashmere scarves.

L.A. Crimes of Passion Revealed!

This Thurday at Central Library, LAPL reference librarians Greg Reynolds and Mary McCoy will be sharing ghastly stories of love gone bad in the City of Angels.

  • The mild-mannered Marie Tucker claimed her husband stabbed himself in the stomach while making a ham sandwich – was it an accident or murder most foul?
  • Who shot Fred Oesterreich in his home in 1922?  Was it his lusty wife, Dolly, or her live-in lover, secreted away in an attic love nest?
  • And why did Hattie Woolsteen really kill her married lover?

Find out this Thursday, and learn the true stories behind some of Los Angeles’s most notorious crimes of passion. 

Los Angeles True Crime:  Crimes of Passion
Thursdays @ Central
Central Library, Meeting Room A
Thursday, Feb. 21, 12pm 

A Crime of Fashion

Bobbed Hair Headline

February 18, 1927
Whittier

The Whittier social set was agog at the forcible bobbing of Mrs. Evelyn Thompson’s hair by two of her former friends, Mrs. Florence Nutt and Mrs. Lucille Roulston.

All three young women had married men in the local oil business. The couples had become friends who frequently partied together. At a recent dance, Lucille believed that Evelyn had spent too much time in the arms of her husband, and in a fit of jealousy she plotted her revenge.

Bobbed Hair Babes

The bobbing incident unfolded like this: Evelyn had been out shopping for stockings, and as she passed by Roulston’s home she was flagged down and invited inside to see Lucille’s new hat.

Once inside the house, Evelyn decided to try on her new stockings. She was seated in a chair with one of her shoes off when she heard a snip and saw four of her curls fall to the floor. It was at this point that Florence held her down while the scissors wielding Lucille hacked off the rest of Evelyn’s curls, snarling “You used to be the center of attraction, but no man will ever look at you now.” Evelyn told police “It was over almost before I knew what was happening. I started fighting them without avail.”

Prior to the forced shearing, Evelyn had sported lovely long chestnut curls – they were her crowing glory. She said “I had never wanted to be a flapper. That’s why I didn’t bob my hair.”

Florence Nutt was arrested and charged with mayhem. A warrant had to be issued for the arrest of Mrs. Roulston, because she’d taken it on the lam. She was sighted in places as far flung as the Orient!

The mayhem charges would be dismissed, thus ending the criminal case. Evelyn had the option to seek damages in civil court if she wanted, but there would be no further mention of the bobbers or bobbee in the LA Times.

Patricide Interrupted

February 15, 1927
San Pedro

It’s a mysterious case indeed that enmeshes Mr. Alvin Hyder, wealthy inventor of diesel engines and proprietor of the motorship Nora, working the Channel Islands trade, and his daughter Nora Thomas, 22, wife of a local grocery man.

Seems that Nora went into her father’s room at 2315 South Grand Avenue and shot daddy in the head with a .38, before creeping back to her home at 2224 South Grand. Hard-headed Alvin did not die, but repelled the bullet with the force of his personality, sending the leaden lump on a one way trip off his cheekbone, around his face and into the back of his neck, where it remained. Following treatment at San Pedro Emergency Hospital, Alvin returned to Grand Avenue to reflect upon all that had brought him to such a place.

Nora, meanwhile, was arrested and charged with attempted murder. She pled not guilty, with local tongues wagging that this was really all about Nora’s baby who had died, or maybe $10,000 of her father’s money that she thought ought be hers.

But in May, the girl was released after the DA declared he had insufficient evidence to convict. Perhaps dad and daughter reconciled in time to take advantage of the Cabrillo Beach grunion run, the dates for which were published in today’s papers. It’s the least a captain can do for his ship’s namesake.

[update, July 2008: A descendent of the Hyder family kindly emailed with some additional information to add to this rather mysterious tale. We are always so appreciative when folks with personal knowledge write in to share it.

"Alvin was washed overboard off of his fishing boat the Nora II about 1936. A large sneaker wave overturned the boat off of San Nicolas Island. The Coast Guard responded, but his body never turned up. He was 56. His children Nora, Buster, and Alva are all gone now. Nora passed away at age 91 in 1995. She did not discuss her reasons for shooting her father until her 80s. Buster died in ’94 at age 87. Alva died in ’98 at age 73. In 1993, a book was published by the Santa Cruz Island foundation, edited by Marla Daily, entitled "Occasional Paper Number 6." She interviewed Buster about our family homesteading on Santa Barbara Island from 1914 to 1929. The National Park Service built a little museum onto the ranger house out there. In 1993, the TV program "California’s Gold" did a half hour program on our family reunion and the opening of the little museum. We had 3 generations there. So, there is a little update to your newspaper clipping."]

Snow Davis, aka Harry Harpon, aka “The Sticker”

February 13, 1927
Chinatown 
 
dopeslayerThe headline read, "TORTURE DEN AND POISON PEN OF SUSPECTED DOPE SLAYER BELIEVED FOUND," and the story itself contained six missing girls, a basement torture chamber, and a "trick" pencil that could turn into hypodermic needle, chock full of poison, with the flick of a finger.
 
The villain was none other than Snow Davis, aka Harry Harpon, aka The Sticker, a dope fiend who’d done time on poison charges in three state prisons in as many years, and had twice been a murder suspect.
 
It’s all quite a lot of build-up for a story that ultimately came to nothing. 
 
The Chinatown den was discovered when undercover agents heard groans in its vacinity.  Their report was passed along to the feds, who prompty raided the joint.  In addition to the "poison pencil," Snow Davis’s known weapon of choice, they found piles of women’s clothing and a stack of newspaper clippings from New Orleans.
 
However, any former inhabitants had fled.  Investigators had been hoping to link Snow to the January disappearances of six girls between the ages of 15 and 20, but it must have been wishful thinking.
 
Snow Davis, aka Harry Harpon, aka The Sticker, gets out of Los Angeles unscathed, and the Times never mentions him again.