A Second Chance

March 19, 1927
Long Beach, CA

longbeachshootingFred and Lela McElrath had been married for 25 years, and raised three children together, now grown. But just as the couple should have been settling down into contented empty nesthood, a violent disagreement nearly destroyed it all.

Fred wanted to leave Long Beach for Freewater, Oregon, where they owned a ranch; however, Lela was determined to stay put. She moved out of their home at 45 Atlantic Avenue, and Fred spent nearly a week trying to track her down. On March 18, they finally agreed to meet at a neutral location, their daughter’s home at 32 Neptune Place, and try to talk things through.

However, Lela refused to reconsider, and walked away from the argument. As she was descending the stairs in her daughter’s house, Fred pulled out a gun and shot her twice in the back before turning the gun on himself, firing into his mouth. The shots didn’t kill Lena, and when she was admitted to Seaside Hospital, it was assumed that she would recover. However, Fred was barely clinging to life, and in fact, police arriving on the scene initially believed him dead.

Today, things looked drastically different. A bullet was lodged behind Fred’s left ear, but doctors expected that he would make a full recovery — and in all likelihood, be left to stand trial for his wife’s murder. The shots fired into his wife’s back had punctured her right lung, and she was not expected to live. Authorities stood watch at Fred’s bed, waiting to charge him either with murder or attempted murder.

Shockingly, the story has a moderately happy ending. On April 11, a frail Lena McElrath, appeared at her husband’s preliminary hearing and was helped to the stand by her son, where she made an impassioned plea on Fred’s behalf.

"I do not want to testify against my husband, nor do I want him prosecuted. I believe our trouble was caused as much by me as by my husband. I want to go back to him and begin all over."

Judge Stephen G. Long agreed she should have that chance, saying, "This is a very remarkable affair, but if both parties are willing to forgive and forget and to endeavor to patch up their broken lives, I think the kindest thing for this court to do is to give McElrath a chance."

The charge was dismissed, and the McElraths left the courtroom with their arms wrapped around each other. Lena’s wounds were expected to heal completely with time, though Fred would be forever incapacitated by the bullet, still lodged near his spine.

In the Line of Duty

March 16, 1927
Los Angeles

yummydownonthisIf the drys are gonna catch the wets, they’re gonna have to wet themselves. So to speak.

At the trial of John H. Wyncoop, former chief field agent for the boys of the California/Arizona Federal Prohibition Enforcement Department, Wyncoop said “I knew that if I had liquor in my possession I could more easily get bootleggers to believe that I was handling booze and therefore make it easier to arrest bootleggers.â€Â

Uh-huh.

Wyncoop is on trial because he turned twenty-nine bottles of liquor to his own use, instead of turning it into the government warehouse. Can’t those government know-nothings see that you need that hooch to go under deep cover? That he only took home that demon rum in the solemn performance of his duty?

(Convicted by a jury of illegal conversion, he was given a short term in the county jail.)

Baby Farm

 

March 10, 1927
Bellflower

baby farm headline

Police received a tip that next to the home of Ray Foss in Bellflower, several people had been observed burying something that may have been the body of an infant. Thankfully, no bodies would be found. Police had discovered however, that Ray had an outstanding felony warrant from 1925 for operating a "baby farm" in Moneta (near Gardena). The fear of being nailed on the baby farm charge loosened his tongue, and Ray Foss began to relate a sordid tale of baby trafficking, illegal adoption, an alimony racket, bigamy, and narcotics addiction.

Ray told the cops that a woman being held in County Jail on forgery charges under the name of Minnie Williams was actually his wife, and that she had been the proprietress of the Moneta baby farm.

The baby farm had come to the attention of the authorities in 1925 when Minnie sold a baby girl to a woman who gave her name as Mrs. Johnson. The infant was found to be blind, and Mrs. Johnson returned the child and demanded a refund. The child later died. Mrs. Foss gave the woman $25 in cash, and in lieu of the remaining $35, she gave her another baby! Ray and Minnie fled a short time later to avoid standing trial.

During the next two years Minnie trafficked in babies, ran an alimony racket, and fed her drug addiction. She provided infants for women to carry into court when seeking alimony. Prior to being identified as Minnie Foss, she’d tried a variation of the alimony con in Judge Hardy’s court. Using the Williams alias, she made an emotional plea for probation on the forgery charge, alleging that she was about to become a mother. The court soon discovered that she was not actually Minnie Williams, and that she was wanted in the Moneta baby farm case. With the masquerade over, Mrs. Foss began to confess to Deputy District Attorney Costello.

Things got off to a strange start when Minnie was asked to state her name for the record. She told the Deputy DA that her last name was really Hines, not Foss. She said that she’d married Ray Foss when she was only 15 years old, and then met Clarence Hines in 1921. The three lived together in a ménage a trois until Foss left. Minnie claimed that she then married Clarence, but never went to the trouble or expense of divorcing Ray.

How did Minnie end up trafficking in babies? According to her, she was in fact, a "serial adopter". In 1922 she had noticed a newspaper ad about adopting a baby. She said that she went to the Mexican quarter near the Plaza and met with a couple who told her that they had a child they couldn’t keep. Minnie took the baby home and passed him off to Clarence as his own child. She told him that the child had been born to her while she was away in Burbank!

Clarence may have been a very dim bulb, because over the next few years Minnie said that she brought home several other infants including a set of twins, and that she had informed him that he was the father! According to Minnie, Clarence never questioned her about any of the babies, so she continued to adopt.

Maybe Clarence wasn’t quite as gullible as Minnie had thought, however. When questioned by police, Clarence told a slightly different story. He said that he’d known that his wife sometimes placed “not wantedâ€Â babies. He also told investigators that he was aware of a black trunk which may have been used to store baby clothes or as a coffin for some of the unwanted babies. The trunk was later found at a home near Bakersfield that had once been occupied by Ray Foss.

baby farm trunk

When the trunk was examined by police it was found to contain baby clothes, a hypodermic needle, and a marriage license issued to Ray Foss and Minnie Magnolia Williams. Also found in the trunk were approximately twenty-four photographs of young girls and babies.

Even though Minnie said that she’d adopted the infants, the most likely scenario was that she occasionally kept unwanted babies born to women in her care. Where did all of the babies go? Police traced many of the children to foster parents who subsequently adopted them. Several infants remained unaccounted for.

Although there were many unanswered questions – particularly regarding the fates of the infants who could not be found, Deputy DA Costello dropped the baby farm charges because Minnie and Clarence had confessed everything to his satisfaction – including an addiction to narcotics for which Minnie was treated with Narcosan. The DA’s office couldn’t pursue the bigamy charges because the statute of limitations had run out.

Minnie pleaded guilty to issuing a fraudulent check and was given a sentence of from one to fourteen years in prison. Clarence received a similar sentence.

We’re Saved!

February 16, 1927
Los Angeles

narcoheadlineThose junkies and hopheads that once provided the occasional bruise on this perfect ripe plum that is Los Angeles—shall be no more!  Though alcoholism was cured in 1908, drug addiction still remains to blight the landscape.  But Narcosan has arrived to save the day!  

Drs. E. H. Anthony and Benjamin Blank, their committee of peace officers and other physicians in tow, have at their disposal the first shipment from New York of this new European wonder drug.  

Any addicted Angeleno can trot down to Blank’s offices in the Quinby Building, Seventh and Grand, and take the cure free of charge.  They’ve got fifteen addicts lined up to undergo treatment and are looking to administer to at least another ten, so get down there you, you narc-addled fiend!

(Despite liberal Narcosan administration to the lucky souls who so evidently deserved it,  apparently the wonder drug didn’t work out so well.)

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.

Was He The World’s Most Understanding Husband?

Mrs. CarnevaleFebruary 5, 1927
Venice

The twisted tale of Avalona Carnevale began last December 8, when the 30-year-old housewife from Venice made a phone call to her jeweler husband, Vincent. She couldn’t meet him in Los Angeles after all; he should take the street car home. And with that, she disappeared—-dressed in what was described as an expensive fur coat and wearing $1800 worth of jewelry (almost $22,000 today). Vincent waited two weeks, then reported her missing, along with her car.

Police originally suspected foul play. Then, on January 13, the Times ran excerpts from a letter Avalona had written to her parents the previous week. “Honestly, Mama dear,” it read in part, “I have wanted so badly to let you know I am all right. As you know, I have been perfectly miserable the last few years and I was never contented. The climax came and I simply ran away from everything and everybody.” She was happy now, living in Long Beach with “a real he-man” named Bob. Bob, in turn, enclosed a note telling Avalona’s parents that she was “in safe and devoted hands.”

Happy, safe, devoted—-it sounded perfectly peachy. Until today, that is, when Avalona made a statement to the police testifying that she had been lured from home by “a Barnes City circus employee” who kept her in such a state of constant intoxication that “she was by turns both unable and fearful to leave him.” It started with a few drinks in the circus man’s room. From there they went to a hotel in Culver City, where more alcohol was consumed. Her “mind was somewhat clouded from that moment on,” she told police, but her drinking buddy eventually pawned one of her bracelets for $25, which he then spent on liquor. They went to San Francisco and later to Oakland. Avalona didn’t contact police in those cities because the man beat her frequently, and she was afraid he would kill her if she tried to leave him. Eventually she did, seeking refuge in the home of Mr. and Mrs. A.M. Chisholm. Mr. Chisholm sent a telegram to Vincent Carnevale a week ago, informing him of his wife’s whereabouts.

That letter to her parents, the one telling them how happy she was with her “he-man” in Long Beach? Avalona told police she “faintly remembered” writing it.

Her husband retrieved her from Oakland (both the car and the jewels were gone) a few days ago. “She is my wife; she is in my home—-that, I think is all the evidence you need of my intentions,” Vincent Carnevale told newsmen.

It was a noble sentiment, but it turned out that Carnevale had signed and sworn to a divorce complaint on January 31—-the day after he received notice that his wife was in Oakland. But just as Avalona couldn’t quite remember writing that damning letter to her parents, Vincent was sketchy about the divorce papers, which were filed with the court on February 7—-in error, according to Carnevale. “I did not mean to have the complaint filed,” he told the Times. “I’d forgotten all about it in my worry and joy at finding her [his errant missus] again. As far as I’m concerned, the matter is now a closed book.”

And so it remains.

Mysteries of the Road

accidents
January 19, 1927
Santa Monica, Venice

A drained, shamefaced whisky bottle and wrecked car were all officers found tonight at Colorado Blvd and Twenty-Third Street.

A thorough check of the hospitals and morgues revealed nothing further.

In nearby Venice, at Washington and Brooks, an ambulance was summoned when excited folk in the vicinity witnessed an auto turn turtle.  In true 1920s fashion, the two young male occupants righted the thing and drove off, presumably in a crazy zigzag with zany piano accompaniment.  

Of felines, gas grates and tipsy transit

January 18, 1927
Los Angeles

Lovers of the purring class will be down at 720-32 South Main Street this weekend to tour the 23rd annual Los Angeles Cat Club exhibition, which this year highlights the pug-nosed Persian and water-lovin’ Angora breeds. But we reckon the biggest draw is San Francisco champion Princess Zenina, who recently escaped death when a salmon can became stuck on her head, cutting off her air supply. Happily her mistress discovered the distressed puss and cut an air hole in the can before carefully cutting it away. That leaves Princess Z with eight lives, in case anyone’s counting.

Just one block south at #856, the one-man taxi business of ex-cop Emil N. Scott has been shuttered after Scott was branded in Municipal Court as a bootlegger. It seems he sold hooch to passengers who knew to hail his cab when thirsty.

In less sunny news of L.A.’s animal citizens, casting director Hugh S. Jeffreys, 46, was found dead in his breakfast nook at 1475 Wenzel Avenue, Palms, along with his little dog and a caged canary. A gasping parrot was saved by the negro maid, who had served Jeffreys’ breakfast just an hour before. The room was poorly ventilated, and the gas fire that burned in the grate had somehow filled the room with carbon monoxide.

Cowboys and Indians

January 10, 1927
Unincorporated Los Angeles

Sheriff’s officers responded to a desperate cry of murder after a corpse was found by oil field workers digging ditches in Brea, but when they investigated they determined it was merely the aged skeleton of an Indian, disinterred from his ancient grave. The corpse was reburied without ceremony, and the diggers advised to avoid the spot in the future.

And in another Sheriff’s case with a fresher body, the peculiar suicide by gun of Charles Norton, shopkeeper at 1760 East Slauson, was explained away rather ingeniously. Why was the man found dead in his bed in the store’s back room, when his brother said he had no reason to do away with himself? Deputy Sheriff Hackett believes the cause was a nightmare, triggered by the story "Shooting Mad" in the Wild West-themed magazine lying beside the dead man. Hackett suggests Norton dozed off while reading, dreamed a gunman was in the room, reached under the pillow for his own weapon and inadvertently shot himself. Stranger things have happened in Los Angeles.

Death Potion No. 5

January 7, 1927
Los Angeles

Death Potion Headline

Bending the Volstead Act to the breaking point is de rigeur among the smart set, with an evening of drinking rarely resulting in anything worse than a queasy stomach and a screaming headache the next day.

Dennis J. Cavanaugh (22) and his companions Walter Scott and “Tex” Scott went out last night to do a little carousing. The young men began their evening by stopping off to buy a couple of pints of rum at a store on East Ninety-Second Street, run by the Henkins brothers, Clay (46) and William (48).

Where the young men went to party after purchasing the hooch is not known, but by this morning Walter was in critical condition at his home, “Tex” was very ill, and Dennis had been found dead on the front lawn of a house at 1847 Roosevelt Street – his body reeking of alcohol.

Whether they knew it or not, the Henkins brothers had sold the boys poison liquor. They are currently in jail facing manslaughter charges.

Buying illegal booze is dangerous – it’s like playing Russian roulette. But it becomes even more frightening when people like Wayne B. Wheeler, advocate of the Anti-Saloon League, come out in support of allowing the government to use poison to enforce Prohibition.

On January 1st of this year, the new government formula (“Formula No. 5”) for denaturing industrial ethyl alcohol went into effect. The formula doubles the amount of poison which manufacturers are required to use. Bootleggers sometimes buy industrial ethyl alcohol and substitute the original label with one of their own. Only three drinks of the libation may cause permanent blindness.

Many in Congress have demanded that the government stop legalized murder. The Secretary of the Treasury recently announced that he is opposed to the use of poison to enforce the law, but that “Formula No. 5” will remain until a non-removable, non-poisonous denaturant can be found by government chemists.