Case of the Missing Consul

I’ve discovered another mysterious disappearance tied to the Cecil Hotel. This one somehow eluded all previous archival searches, and it’s quite an odd and interesting case. I call it The Case of the Missing Consul.

Galbraith feel grave concern over missing headline

Around noon on December 31, 1947, Alexander M. Galbraith, 50, stepped out of the office where he had served for the past four years as the British Consul for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and vanished. His daughter Jean, who was his secretary, said he’d been brooding about the possibility of losing his position to one of the career diplomats who’d been freed up by the end of the war. He was right to worry. That very morning, he’d been informed that his services were no longer needed. The reason given was that, though Scottish-born, he was a naturalized American.

Galbraith, who’d been a WW1 flying ace and had a fiery reputation, was incensed. He was passionate about his position, giving pro-British speeches to local men’s clubs, dedicating long hours to aiding war brides whose American grooms had abandoned them. And now some bureaucrat was going to take his place? It was too much for him to stand.

On New Years Day, Deputy Coroner Ken O’Toole said Galbraith had come in, asking about a pair of missing spectacles. But a search of the neighborhood came up empty. A Pullman porter saw a photograph of the missing man, and told police he was certain he’d served him on a train bound for Chicago. Chicago authorities were alerted, but Galbraith was nowhere to be found. Searches in Washington and Cleveland also turned up nothing.

His wife and daughters were frantic. Weeks passed with no word. The shame of losing his job must have been too much. Had Galbraith killed himself?

He had not.

On January 27, 1948, Galbraith sent a telegram to George B. Stelluto, proprietor of The Green Grill near the Pittsburgh morgue, asking for a loan of $50. Stelluto, a friend, went to the police.

former Greens Grill no Common Plea 310 Ross Street Pittsburgh Google Street View copy

Later, Galbraith told reporters in Los Angeles that he’d only wired Stelluto because he didn’t have any money for food. He needed a stake to get back on his feet.

So what had happened to him?

Galbraith pale AP image

“I blew my top when I was informed I had been relieved. I packed my bag with several suits and came by train, although I have very little recollection of my departure or arrival. I don’t remember much until I came to here in this hotel. I vaguely recall being in Canton, Ohio and Chicago, but I’m not sure how I got here or what I did during that week.” He said he hadn’t wanted “to be a burden” to his wife of daughters. As for the telegram, he supposed that Stelluto, thinking “he was serving my interests best” had gone to the Chief of Police. “Maybe he was serving my best interests. I hope so.”

Reached at home, his daughter Jean said “We’re all very much relieved that Daddy’s been located. We certainly don’t feel that he’ll be a burden on us and we’re going to send him the money to fly home. I’m sure he won’t have trouble finding another job.”

Galbraith was one of the lucky ones. Many other troubled souls had found a bed at the Cecil and lacked the courage to ask for help. He went home. Reporters, who always want more, asked after him. Jean said that he was somewhat unwell from his travels, and was resting. Jean protected her father well. We hear nothing more about him, and sometimes hearing nothing is the happiest ending of all.

 

Ghosts of the Cecil

It was with shock and no small amount of horror that we learned that a body, believed to be that of Canadian tourist Elisa Lam, last seen behaving strangely in an elevator security video recorded on February 1, had been discovered today within one of the water tanks on the Cecil Hotel’s roof. A complaint about low water pressure had prompted an employee to look inside. 

Cecil Hotel roof helicopter screen shot february 19 2013

 

Hotels by their nature are the backdrop for extreme behavior, and any public building that stands for the better part of a century will collect its share of tragedies. The Cecil (established 1927) is notable among true crime aficionados as the short-term residence of serial killers Jack Unterweger and Richard Ramirez, and in all the attention paid to those grim gentlemen, the hotel’s other heartbreaks too often go unmourned. 

The probable fate of Miss Lam inspires us to compose a memorial note, to the five prior ladies (and one unfortunate fellow) who left this world on the grounds of the Cecil Hotel, and whose wraiths may yet haunt the place.

hotel-cecil-ad for web

On June 4, 1964, “Pigeon Goldie” Osgood, retired telephone operator and well known protector and feeder of the birds in Pershing Square, was found dead in her room by a hotel worker distributing phone books. She had been stabbed, strangled and raped, and her room ransacked.  Near her body were found the Dodgers cap she always wore and a paper sack full of birdseed. Soon after, Jacques B. Ehlinger, 29, was seen walking through Pershing Square in bloodstained clothing. He was arrested, but cleared of the crime, for which no one was ever arrested. 

The next day, Goldie’s friends came together in Pershing Square to express their grief. Jean Rosenstein, a retired nurse, told a reporter “We were all her friends, all of us here at the square. I was just standing here this morning, thinking about what had happened, when somebody suggested we get some flowers. No one has much money around here, but all of a sudden everyone started giving me what they could. We just wanted her to know we remembered.”

Pigeon Goldie, we remember you, too. 

It was October 12, 1962 and Pauline Otton, 27, had been arguing with her estranged husband Dewey in a room on the ninth floor when he decided he’d had enough and went out to get some dinner. She decided she’d had enough, too, and jumped from the window. She landed on top of a pedestrian, George Gianinni, 65, and both were killed instantly. Since no one saw Pauline jump, police initially thought they had a double suicide on their hands–but on closer examination, George had his hands in his pockets and was still wearing shoes, which would have been unlikely if he’d fallen ninety feet. 

Pauline, and George, we remember.

On February 11, 1962, Julia Moore climbed out of her eighth floor room window and landed in a second story interior light well. She left no note, just a bus ticket from St. Louis, 59 cents in change, and an Illinois bank book showing a balance of $1800. 

Julia, we remember.

On October 22, 1954, Helen Gurnee, 50-something, stepped from her seventh floor window and crashed to her death atop the hotel’s marquee. She had registered as Margaret Brown a week before.

Helen—or Margaret, as she preferred—we remember.

Elisa Lam, 21, left her home in Vancouver for a solo trip to California. Her plans after visiting Los Angeles were to continue north to Santa Cruz, but it seems that she never left Main Street.

She had the great misfortune to vanish while the Los Angeles Police Department was absorbed with one of the largest manhunts in its history, and one cannot but wonder what impact the search for Christopher Dorner had upon the search for Elisa Lam. 

Perhaps she climbed up the side of the water tank, lifted the hatch, slipped inside, drowned, and then floated there for weeks until her body sank and blocked the pipes. Maybe someone who knew the nooks and crannies of this very old establishment put her there. In time, the answer will come, but it will make no great difference. She is gone, and she remains.

Elisa, we remember. And hope the souls that went before can lend some comfort now to yours.

elisa lam in elevator

See also The Case of the Missing Consul.

Sleuthing A Presidential Mystery in Downtown Los Angeles

Should you step into the lobby of the King Edward Hotel at the corner of 5th and Los Angeles Streets in L.A.’s historic Skid Row, and pause to admire the black and gold Egyptian marble fixtures, ionic columns and sweeping mezzanine stair, the odds are better than good that the fellow behind the counter will draw your attention to the clock above the desk and the fancy raised initials just below it.

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And in answer to your predictable question, he’ll reply: “Teddy Roosevelt! He stayed here when he visited Los Angeles.”

 

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A Presidential sleepover would be a point of pride for any establishment–all the more so in a young city in the far west. How marvelous a fact, and no wonder the King Eddy’s staff is so quick to share it. (We’ve confirmed that this information has been passed down through oral tradition since at least the mid-1970s.)

 

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There’s only one problem. Theodore Roosevelt’s famous visit to Los Angeles was on May 8, 1903. He attended the Fiesta de las Flores parade, and stayed that night at the fashionable Westminster Hotel at 4th and Main Streets, two blocks away.

 

King Edward Hotel May 9 1903 LAT page 45 Roosevelt at Fiesta screen grab

 

The King Edward didn’t open until 1906.

Oh, but then Roosevelt must have stayed at the King Edward on a later tour of the Southland, right?

Well, historical records do show that Roosevelt return once more to Los Angeles, for two days in March 1911, when the ex-President spoke at Occidental College and Throop Polytechnic.

His stay at Pasadena’s Hotel Maryland was well publicized, and included a poignant meeting with an aged slave who had been owned by Roosevelt’s maternal family in Antebellum Georgia.

But there appears to be no documentation of a stop at the King Edward or any other Los Angeles hotel.

So why in the name of all that’s historical are the initials T.R. stuck up above the desk of the King Edward Hotel today?

We’ve been wracking our brains, and have come up with a few theories worth floating.

Perhaps before the Westminster Hotel fell to the wrecking ball in 1960, someone went to the auction and bid on a piece of commemorative marble, transporting the legend of a Presidential visit along with the physical artifact back to the nearby establishment?

King Edward Hotel Westminster roosevelt slept here wrecking

 

A tempting notion, but a rare 1920s-era promotional map printed by the King Edward includes a photo of the lobby, which while printed using the halftone technique which makes it impossible to “zoom in” and see finer details, certainly appears to already show a set of initials there beneath the clock.

King Edward Lobby circa 1920 from our map watermark

 

 

<King Edward Hotel clock detail circa 1920

 

Well, could they represent an owner of the hotel? The King Edward was built by architect John Parkinson and operated in its early years by Colonel E. Dunham, Tommy Law and Thomas L. Dodge. Not a “T.R.” in the bunch.

Having weighed and sorted these and other, less reasonable, possibilities, we’re prepared to come down on the side of one unsupportable, but eminently pragmatic solution: that the patriotic initials are merely a tip of the hat to a popular politician, and an answer to any testy patron who might question the red-blooded Americanism of a hotel named for a foreign king.

We reckon that’s as good a theory as any, and we’re sticking with it until and unless something better comes along.

Which leaves the initials “T.R.” above the desk of the King Edward, and the abiding oral tradition of the great man’s visit, something of a mystery–but no less beguiling for that. Since everyone who knew the real answer is dead, we’re free to craft our own myths to pass along to Angelenos who’ll come after. Why do you believe the initials “T.R.” are there under the clock in the King Eddy?

 

King Edward Hotel TR marches in King Edward VII funeral procession May 20 1910 Library of Congress

 

This meditation on time and memory was written on the occasion of the upcoming shuttering of the King Edward Saloon and the auction of its equipment and memorabilia.

 

The Los Angeles Prosperity Carnival and Indoor Fair of 1915

Here’s a thrilling bit of lost Los Angeles lore worth shining a torch on: after San Francisco’s celebrated Panama-Pacific International Exposition folded up its tents in late 1915, clever promoter H.W. Nixon brought quite a number of the midway attractions from “The Zone, the Street of Fun” down to Broadway, where they filled the old Boston Store building.

boston dry goods store facade

The Boston was the department store founded by the Robinson family; the building, missing its upper stories, today houses a wedding chapel.

<toyland on the zone 17731

Above: Some of the daffiness to be found on “The Zone.”

The Los Angeles Prosperity Carnival and Indoor Fair opened at 6pm on Saturday, December 11 to an audience of 5000 eager souls, and for the next 30 days, there was no place more amusing — or peculiar — in all the southland.

opening festivities LA Times

Above: Huge crowd celebrates the opening of the festivities. Photo: LA Times

The fair began with the “wedding” of Mr. Midget (real name: Lajos Matina, one of the Hungarian Matina triplets, all later Wizard of Oz Munchkins) to Miss Midget (Elise Broek). The couple were residents of Midget City, whose troupe appeared under the leadership of Prince Ludwig, whose professional bio had him a wee member of European royalty. Miss Midget, by the by, was a suffragette.

Prince Ludwig (Chicago Tribune)

Above: Prince Ludwig addresses his subjects at Midget Village, an attraction at the 1933 World’s Fair. Photo: Chicago Tribune

Prize rabbits and pigeons by the hundreds were exhibited, with Los Angeles husbandry clubs competing against those fuddyduds in Pasadena.

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Above: Officer Payson at the PPIE, where she protected lady fairgoers from mashers. Photo: Collier’s.

Like large ladies in uniform? (Who doesn’t?) Then you won’t want to miss an audience with Mrs. Blanche Payson, popular 6’4″ PPIE policewoman, who was on display in her cute “coppette” garb. You can still enjoy Mrs. Payson in some classic short comedies.

Hold your nose on the third floor, where a grand cat show, organized by the Los Angeles Cat Fanciers Association, featured prize-winning kitties from overseas and around the country.

Turkish Harem

Above: Some of the pretties on display. Photo: LA Times.

The fifth floor was transformed into an Oriental Village staffed with young lovelies, each of them a “real Egyptian princess” and a talented dancer. They also had a pet serpent named Zoo, and Turkish cigarettes and water pipes available for male visitors to sample. This show was developed for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and had been touring ever since.

“In Old Hawaii,” a song and dance show, was considered one of the higher-class attractions of the fair.

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Then there was a Human Fish, who appeared to eat, drink and sleep inside his tank. And a chance to coo at the three-year-old Cuban-born Siamese twins Josephina and Guadalupe Hinojosa.

But wait, there’s more! All the way from Van Nuys come… (wait for it)… 500 high-class chickens. Under the direction of W.P. Whitsett of the Chamber of Commerce, locals brought their best birds to show off the suitability of the SFV as a center of chicken ranching. The first such ranch opened just three years ago, and by 1915 there are 150 of them. The aim was to “make Van Nuys the Petaluma of Southern California.” Favorite entrants included Lord Roselawn I, a majestic White Leghorn rooster and Sport, a Barred Plymouth Rock. Also on view: fighting cocks who battled in cages.

And for the kiddies, Santa distributed gifts beneath one of the largest Christmas trees ever brought to Los Angeles.

One of the weirdest elements of the fair was the Baby Bollinger Show, a wax replica of the malformed Chicago infant whose death the previous month had been national news. Allan Bollinger had the misfortune to be under the “care” of Dr. Harry Haiselden, a proponent of euthanasia and eugenics who not only convinced the boy’s parents to let their “sure-to-become-a-criminal” infant die rather than attempt any lifesaving surgeries, but actively sought media attention for doing so. The controversy over the Bollinger case led an ethics complaint against Haiselden, who would later star in an autobiographical pro-eugenics film called The Black Stork.

101 Ranch WENONA (1913) Half-Sheet

And then there was Princess Wenona with her Miniature Wild West Show. Princess Wenona, previously called Lillian Smith, perched atop her piebald pony Rabbit, was a star marksman in the 101 Ranch wild west show and had appeared with Buffalo Bill Cody in the 1880s. Her theatrical back story claimed that her mother was kidnapped by Sioux Indians, and that Lillian was the result of a liaison with Crazy Snake, a chief.

She was of Indian ancestry, just not from the Plains. In fact, she was born in Coleville, near the California-Nevada border. At 7 she got her first rifle, and became the terror of the Yosemite bird population. In her teens she joined the Buffalo Bill show and played to crowds of up to 200,000 in Staten Island, NY.

Jim_&_Lillian

Above: Lillian Smith on the road, with performer friends and her rifle collection.

She was billed as “The California Huntress,” “Champion Girl Rifle Shot” and “The California Girl,” and a prize of $10,000 was offered to anyone who could out shoot Princess Wenona. They say nobody ever claimed that prize.

She had a great rivalry with the established performer Annie Oakley, who began lying about her age as Wenona’s star ascended. In 1887, both women performed in England on the same bill. At a special performance for the Queen, it is said that Victoria rose for the first time in her life to salute the American flag. While in London, Oakley quarreled with Bill Cody and left the show, leaving Wenona the sole star lady sharpshooter, until Oakley and Cody made up.

geronimo with princess wenona

Above: Princess Wenona with Buffalo Bill Cody and the famous Apache leader Geronimo, 1901

In later years she became rather plump, drank too much and had several unhappy marriages, so by the time she played the Prosperity Carnival, we can assume she was not the star she’d been. Still, such tricks as shooting out a candle flame or the ashes off a man’s cigar remained crowd pleasers.

She retired around 1925 and lived out her days on a ranch in Oklahoma with many former Wild West Show friends and dozens of stray dogs that she cared for. She died during the bitter cold winter of 1930, aged 59.

And these are just a few of the more than 150 shows and 200 concessions on display at the Los Angeles Prosperity Carnival and Indoor Fair. Don’t you wish you could have seen them all?

The URM’s First Home – 145 North Main

The Union Rescue Mission is well-remembered for its historic home at 226 South Main, where it held forth for fifty-plus years.  That site, a labyrinthian place made up of two large linked structures, was famously felled for parking in the mid-1990s, though continues on in the memories of many.  Before 226, the Mission spent a near quarter-century in another structure:  it is long forgotten, as is the streetscape around it, all obliterated in the name of Civic progress.

Truth be told, the Mission had a collection of “first homes.”  There was an office at 431-433 South Spring, larger rooms in a converted saloon near Second and Main, and through the 1890s, a nomadic tent life under canvas roofs on lots located at Second and Spring, First and Los Angeles, and/or First and Spring. The Depression of ’93 and the Panic of ’01 certainly helped send men into the tents.

In March of 1903, the Pacific Gospel Mission set down roots in a narrow, two-story structure at 145 North Main.  (This is a view of Main in 1891, from out the window of the Natick, looking north across First, our Mission at 145 would be up the block, flush against the left side of image.)  After they move into 145, the Pacific Gospel Union AKA Pacific Rescue Mission becomes, under the able hand of Union Oil (besides Lyman Stewart’s tutelage, many early Mission movers and shakers were UO bigwigs, e.g. Giles Kellogg and Robert Watchorn, or Union friendlies like Herbert G. Wylie, et al), the Union Rescue Mission.

Though 145 was not large, the rented rooms there and its evangelical crew produce great work — in 1906 they held 1,800 services; gave food, clothing and shelter to 2,700; saw 3,201 men and women converted to Christ; and reunited 132 families.  The next year Union Rescue buys the building outright.  Testimonials from those turned from drink and crime blossom.  It is at this time, 1907, that indignant saloon keepers and liquor wholesalers took their protests to the City Council and had the Mission’s colorful public enterprises curtailed. 

In 1908 the Mission on Main boasted “one of the cleanest, brightest mission halls to be found anywhere.”  From its reading and class rooms, dining and lecture hall, poured a thousand-plus every year, who, lost and helpless, found salvation.  At this time Stewart and Thomas Corwin Horton, Bible teacher at the Mission, begin a Bible institute, whose fundamentalist evangelical work stretch world-wide (but that is another story).

The ‘teens and ‘twenties continue without great incident (see men get their 1917 Thanksgiving turkeys here); there are moments of financial hardship, usually relieved at last minute by a healthy pledge.  There was even some worry (as it could be called) that they’d done their job too well; they were preaching to good-size congregations of the saved (as was their newly-formed Church of the Open Door), and, in 1920, alcohol was made illegal — certainly THAT was going to quiet things?

Of course, in short order, the Mission realized the need for a relocation:  services in helping the needy were growing both in demand and taxed by their quarters at 145.  Then, in June 1923, the citizens of Los Angeles authorized $7.5 million in bonds to raze a large parcel of land at Spring, Temple and Main for a City Hall.  This sealed the fate of 145.  Much of 1924 is spent arguing with the City over value (the URM estimated 48k, the City offered 37:  the two parties settled on 43k in 1925). 

Thus what was once a rather vibrant block — this being a shot of some of it, from the 1906 Sanborn, showing our Mission at 145 (upper right) surrounded by vaudeville, and liquor wholesalers, and female boarding, that euphamism for one of those less savory occupations — well, just go and compare it to that same square of land from the 1950 map, post-City Hall.

Not that we all don’t have a deserved fetish for our City Hall; but 145 was a charming little building, with its elliptical transoms, spindlework’d porch, with another balcony and railing across an open-pediment roofline (this was lost a bit with the addition of their larger sign) and its slender pilasters leant the whole affair a sense of lightness. 

Not to mention the whole rest of the block — here we see it from 115 up to the hotel at 151, the large building across Court St. is the 1896 J. A. Bullard Block.  Because there’s what looks to be demo fencing, nor does the Bullard appear to have any windows, I think it’s fair to assume this was during the early moments of her removal.  Which means time is limited for everybody

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Testimonial #3: Arthur H. Hawkins

Suffice to say that conditions in my life were such that I apparently had nothing to tie to. After leaving the corporation I went with one of the independent companies and was successful in each territory assigned me to the extent that I did not have sufficient work to keep me occupied. Again drink became my master to such a measure that in the latter part of September 1930 I walked out of my office with the intention of going on a `tear’ until my money was gone and after that,—it just didn’t seem to matter what became of me,—I didn’t care to live. I am praising God that He over-ruled and led me to the Mission.

God reached down His hand in gracious mercy and through the blood of His Son cleansed what would have otherwise been another dreg in the social gutter. Today my feet are implanted on the solid rock of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and to me has come the ineffable peace which can only come from communion through Him to our heavenly Father, and in my heart is a song of praise for the power of God that reaches men through His Son.

The Lord has blessed me and kept me from falling back into the old habits. Now that I have a source of secret strength on which to draw in time of trouble and temptation I have my feet on solid ground. I have not taken a drink or even smoked since the Lord reclaimed me.”

Excerpts from what others have said about him (Arthur H. Hawkins):

“His life was filled with a clear, ringing testimony for the Lord whom he loved and served. His personal daily contacts were a source of blessing to all within his reach. His faithful testimony pointed many to a saving knowledge of Christ, strengthened the faith of the saints, interested them in Bible study and support of the Lord’s work.”

XXXX

“Realizing his need of the Savior he attended a Mission service. When the invitation was given, he went to the altar and though much better dressed than the average business man, for he had earned a magnificent salary, there on his knees at the altar, brushing shoulders with the filthy, infested shambles of humanity from Main Street, he surrendered his heart and life to Christ. His clothing and the few possessions that he brought with him to Los Angeles were gladly shared with the Mission men until he was soon without sufficient clothing himself. He was a genuine conversion,—the Lord cleaned him up,—saved him to the uttermost, and filled him with the sweet fragrance of His love and made him a channel of blessing.”

XXXX

“He was in the steel business approximately 40 years, 35 of which were spent with the various subsidiaries of the U.S. Steel Corporation. He served 22 years in the Denver, Colorado office of American Sheet 7 Tin Plate Co. as Assistant Manager of Sales, where he received a silver service medal in 1927.

He was later connected with the Granite City Steel Co. where he served as Manager of Sales in both Memphis, Tenn. And Dallas, Tex.

Devoted four years to the URM.

Ten years ago became identified with the Los Angeles office of Columbia Steel Co., subsidiary of the U.S. Steel Corp., where he remained until the time of his death (Sept. 3, 1944).”

It is the story of Arthur Hawkins which is told in the film Of Scrap & Steel, which will be screened on the roof of the Union Rescue Mission on Thursday evening.

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Testimonial #2: Eva Dugan

Introduction to Eva Dugan

Born in 1876, Mrs. Eva Dugan somehow managed to survive a hard-scrabble childhood to become an adult with few skills, and even fewer expectations. In photographs, Eva seemed to always have a tentative expression on her face, as if she were waiting for the other shoe to drop – and inevitably, it did. She had been married at sixteen, and bore two children. Eva’s husband abandoned her and the kids, so she turned to prostitution to make ends meet.

By January of 1927, Eva was in her early 50s and working in Arizona as a housekeeper for Mr. Andrew J. Mathis, a wealthy reclusive rancher. Mathis was demanding, cranky, and cheap. Mathis and Eva butted heads frequently during the two months that she was in his employ. Mathis even accused Eva of trying to poison him! An acquaintance of Mathis’ said that he’d been present when the man had finally given Eva her walking papers. Mathis had told her in no uncertain terms to leave the ranch and never return.

A few days after his friend had overheard him banishing Eva from the ranch forever, a group of Mathis’ neighbors reported him missing. The neighbors had become suspicious when Eva offered to sell them some of Mathis’ livestock. She claimed that Mathis had departed for California, and had turned all of his property over to her. A notorious tightwad, Mathis wasn’t a man who would have willingly turned over his property to a woman who’d only worked for him for a couple of months.

Not long after Mathis went missing, Eva also vanished. A search of the ranch by local authorities didn’t turn up a body, but they did find some troubling clues. An ear trumpet belonging to the hard-of-hearing Mathis was found in a small stove in the front room of the ranch. Carelessly discarded clothing and bits of automobile equipment, including a blood-stained cover for a roadster, gave cops little hope that the rancher would be found alive.

It was months before Eva was finally discovered living in White Plains, New York. Returning to Arizona to face auto theft charges, Eva was convicted. The judge sentenced her to a three to six year term in the state penitentiary.

Nearly a year after Mathis had disappeared, a camper on the property near the ranch noticed an odd depression in the soil. The camper scraped away some of the topsoil, and after a minimum of digging he unearthed the skeleton of a man. Tattered clothing and hair on the skull indicated that the body discovered in the shallow grave was that of A.J. Mathis.

Once Mathis’ body had been found, Eva had some explaining to do; however, she preferred denials to explanations. She told cops that if she had been responsible for Mathis’ death and subsequent burial, she’d have buried him deep enough so that he’d never have been found. Far from convincing, her denial sounded more like a woman trying to extricate herself from a capital murder charge than one proclaiming her innocence.

Eva finally settled on a story and stuck with it. She alleged that she’d met a young man named Jack outside of a local restaurant. The two started a conversation, and Eva told him that he could get a job on Mathis’ ranch.

Jack went directly to the ranch, where he was employed on the spot. Unfortunately, his first day on the job didn’t quite turn out the way he had planned. Maybe things would have been different if Jack had known how to handle the basics. Mathis’ took umbrage when Jack failed to milk a cow as he’d been directed. Mathis complained: “If you can’t milk a cow, what the hell are you good for?’’ Mathis struck Jack. The young man quickly recovered from the blow and hit Mathis, who fell to the ground and did not get up.

Eva insisted that she and Jack had tried unsuccessfully to revive Mathis. She also claimed that she wanted to go for aid but that Jack told her if she didn’t help him get Mathis’ body into the car so he could dispose of it, he’d leave her to face the music on her own.

Eva’s story had more than a few holes in it – the biggest one being Jack. Not everyone was convinced that the young man had ever actually existed, because only one person was ever found who could corroborate Eva’s statement.

Just as Eva was being charged with A.J. Mathis’ murder, a young dark-haired young man was confessing to a grisly child murder in Los Angeles. The young man was the infamous slayer, Edward Hickman (aka “The Fox’’). Hickman had kidnapped, murdered, and dismembered twelve year old Marion Parker.

Arizona investigators began to suspect that Hickman had been “Jack’’ in Eva’s story. Hickman stated that he’d been in Phoenix for a few days prior to Mathis’ disappearance, and that he’d also been in Kansas City during the same time that Eva said she’d dropped “Jack’’ off in that city on her way to New York.

When Eva was shown photographs of Edward Hickman, she said that she thought he and Jack were one and the same but that she wasn’t absolutely certain.

Even if Eva had been sure about the identity of Edward/Jack, LA cops were not about to allow anyone to interfere with murder charges against him. Although Hickman was never charged in the Mathis case, “The Fox’’ was hanged for Marion Parker’s murder on October 19, 1928.

Eva was tried and convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death. The only thing that could have saved her from execution would have been a successful insanity plea. Two doctors testified that her mental state had been compromised due to the “inroads made by a disease she contracted more than 30 years ago.” Eva was syphilitic. Despite the medical testimony, a jury determined that Eva was indeed sane, and plans for her execution continued.

Because she had no wish to be buried in the prison cemetery, Eva made and sold embroidered items so that she would have enough money to pay for a proper burial. She also wired her father and asked him to send her $50 to help pay for her funeral.

As the date of her execution drew nearer, Eva asked the Warden what she should wear to her hanging. He advised her not to wear any of her best things, so the handmade, lovingly embroidered silk shroud she’d created for the occasion was set aside to be used later for her burial.

It was during the long hours leading up to her hanging that Eva was visited by Mother Benton from the Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles. Mother Benton believed that Eva’s soul had been saved as a result of their prayers.

Eva remained stoic as she walked to the place of her execution. She even recited an ironic bit of doggerel:
“We came into this world all naked and bare; Where we are going, the Lord only knows where; If we are good fellows here; We’ll be good fellows there.’’

As it turned out, it was fortunate that Eva took the warden’s advice and didn’t wear her handmade silk shroud to the hanging. Due to a miscalculation on the executioner’s part when she fell through the trap at the end of a rope, her neck wasn’t broken; she was decapitated! Eva’s head rolled within a few feet of the 60 witnesses – all of whom fled in terror.

On February 21, 1930, Eva Dugan was the first – and last – woman to be legally hanged in the state of Arizona. Three years after the horror of Eva’s botched execution, Arizona switched from the rope to the gas chamber.

Eva Dugan’s Testimonial

Mission Mother [Mother Benton] prays with a notorious murderess in Arizona and believes god saved her soul. Apparently she remembered one hymn that she sang as a girl in sunday school and that hymn was “Shall We Gather At the River”.

Copied from LA Times Feb. 21, 1930

Poison given up by Mrs. Dugan as end nears. Slayer of employer recites doggerel and sings on death march.

Florence, Arizona. Feb. 21

Marching to her death with a firm step, and with never a show of emotion or breaking, Mrs. Eva Dugan, 52, was hanged here at 5:02am for the murder three years ago of J. H. Mathis, aged Tucson rancher, whose housekeeper she had been. To quote one of her guests, Mrs. Dugan “died like a man.”

When the trap was sprung the first impact of the knotted rope snapped Mrs. Dugan’s head from her body. She was the first woman to be legally executed in Arizona.

Collapse Expected

For use in case the woman collapsed four boards had been provided with which she was to have been strapped upright on the gallows, but they were unnecessary. Only the customary four leather straps were placed about her legs.

Given an opportunity to make a final statement as the back cap was adjusted, she merely shook her head to the negative.

Warden Wright clasped her hand.

“God bless you, Eva” he said.

“Good-by, Daddy Wright,” she said. Those were her last words.

Recites doggerel

The death march was accomplished quickly. as she walked to the execution chamber between two guards with her face set in a grim smile, Mrs. Dugan recited a bit of doggerel:

“We came into the world all naked and bare, where we are going, the lord only knows where, if we are good fellows here, we’ll be good fellows there.”

A sensation was created by the woman a short time before she was taken from the death cell when she voluntarily surrendered to her two women guards a safety razor blade and a small phial presumed to contain poison.

“Well, what do you thing it? Would your wait for the rope?” she remarked as she delivered the bottle and the keen bit of steel, indicating that she had considered cheating the gallows but had decided to let the law take its course.

Her request that she be given “one last pint of prescription whiskey” had been denied by prison authorities.

The execution was witnessed by approximately 100 persons who crowded into a small chamber that provided adequate accommodations for only 50.

Mrs. Dugan remained awake during all of her last night on earth, in company with the prison chaplain and a few friends from outside the prison and another woman prisoner.

Ignores death watch

Apparently she was unmindful of the death watch that paced firmly pack and forth outside her cell, while the hands of the clock raced toward the fatal hour when she was to pay her debt to society.

At Mrs. Dugan’s request she and her guests were served orangeade.

There was no outbursts of emotion from the doomed woman when Warden Wright and his assistants called at her cell this morning summoning her to begin the solemn death march.

She lighted a cigarette and inhaled deeply as she passed the corridor and joked with the guards as the party neared the execution chamber.

It was a leaden morning and a light rain was falling in the bit of open courtyard through which she was lead from her cell into the death house.

Sings on march

Mrs. Dugan apparently was trying to appear to be in higher spirits than any other member of the group. “I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m on my way,” she sang as she crossed the courtyard.

Two of the women guards in the party left her at the door and she affectionately kissed them a last goodbye.

“I love everyone connected with this prison,” she said. “You have all been good to me and I can’t blame you for what the law is going to do to me.”

Then she walked firmly up the 13 iron steps to the death trap, said her last farewell to the warden Wright, and in a few moments her life was a closed book.

In the small prison plot behind the frowning grey concrete walls of the penitentiary Mrs. Dugan’s body will be buried with scant ceremony at 3’o clock this afternoon, it was announced by the ward.

She will have a better coffin then those provided the State of Arizona for hanged murderers, for by her sale of bead work, and by collecting 50 cents a piece from each of her visitors in the condemned cell, Mrs. Dugan raised the money to purchase a more elaborate casket.

Mrs. Dugan left instruction to send her trunk and her few small personal belongings to a cousin at Westin, Mo.

Among numerous telegrams and letter received by Mrs. Dugan at the condemned cell was a telegram from her daughter, Mrs. cecil lovelace, new york musician.

The telegram, dated South Bend, Ind, said: “My dear Mother: Be brave. God is with you. ALl my love. I will pray for you.”

Gold Rush Tale

A hitherto unrevealed chapter in Mrs. Dugan’s life came to light last night when she received from Seattle, washington a telegram signed by Ada Hostapple. It read:

“you have my admiration and sympathy for your grit and courage in this, your hour of greatest trouble.”

Mrs. Dugan said that she and “Ada” where “pals” during the gold rush in the Yukon.

Mrs. Dugan seemed to enjoy a “kick” at a farewell “party” with newspaper men last night. She called one of them “big boy” provided by cigarettes and cigars.

A rainbow over the arizona desert sunset brought tears to her eyes last night but her stoic calm otherwise was undisturbed as during the hour this morning when she was led slowly up the steps to the end of the rope.

She ate a dozen fried oysters and two boiled eggs last night. Her oder of three T-bone streaks and two lamb chops for breakfast this morning remained untouched.

By Pacific Coast News Service

Ceres, California Feb. 21—Alone in his little cottage here, William Mcdaniels, 82 year old father of Mrs. Eva Dugan, today received the news that his daughter had been hanged in Arizona for murder.

McDaniels had given up hope that she would be saved from the gallows, but his grief was uncontrollable when word of the Florence hanging reach him.

“She was innocent of that crime,” he declared. “They have hanged an innocent woman. I don’t think she was quite right in her mind, but I know that she did not commit murder.”

Neighbors tried to comfort the aged man, but he sent them away.

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Mother Benton

“Mother” Benton-and this is the only name by which we know this remarkable lady, although she was neither a mother nor a Benton when she began- was converted by Dwight L. Moody in November of 1899, at a revival meeting in Kansas City. He had asked her,  “Daughter, wouldn’t you like to be a missionary?”

She was 24, and her answer was yes. Moody then gave her a scripture text which would be the star by which she steered: “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the almighty” (Psalm 91).

Moody collapsed before the meeting ended, and was never well enough to preach again. He died the following month, and his crusade was carried on that night and in years to come by R.A. Torrey. Perhaps the injection of Torrey’s charisma as Mother Benton’s heart was coalescing around her true path is what brought her to Los Angeles. Many missionaries were then looking to the west.

Torrey himself would soon arrive in this city to be both a founding Dean of The Bible Institute of Los Angeles (BIOLA), and pastor of the non-denominational The Church of the Open Door, both housed in the Romanesque Revival church and auditorium at 6th and Hope, built in the image of the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. While in Los Angeles, Torrey would also edit the 4-volume 1917 edition of the influential text The Fundamentals produced at the direction of BIOLA supporter Lyman Stewart.

Mother Benton’s arrival, while less auspicious, would have a lasting impact on the charitable face of the city. On the evening of October 7th, 1907, she arrived at the Union Rescue Mission (URM). There was no pianist that night, so she volunteered. She returned the next day and the next, and soon she was out on the corner of 2nd & Los Angeles with her tambourine and her newlywed husband, Arthur L. Benton, assistant superintendent of the URM. In her 37 years at the URM, Mother Benton passed up through the ranks as pianist, clerk, and finally house mother. She would serve under 32 superintendents.

Mother’s husband Arthur Benton was a cabaret pianist from Grand Rapids, MI, whose life had been ravaged by alcoholism. He had been converted by Melvin E. Trotter of Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago, and had been sent out just a few years earlier to help Melvin’s brother William, who was then the URM’s superintendent.

A project which Mother Benton held particularly dear was the Women’s Auxiliary, organized in 1936. Gathering on the first and third Wednesdays, their meetings routinely attracted over 100 helpers for the mending of old clothes and linens for redistribution in the Mission and for the maintenance of the dormitories. In the late 1930s, the URM had 600 beds for the homeless. In 1946 alone, the Auxiliary produced almost 10,000 garments, nearly a third of the 33,000 items of clothing distributed to the needy at the URM.

In 1944, the aged Mother Benton stepped down from her supervisory responsibilities, but continued to be a consistent presence at the URM until 1952, when her declining health kept her close to home in Glendale. But when the URM’s 63rd anniversary celebration rolled around in 1954, Mother Benton could not stay away. She returned to Main Street in her old glory and rode on the famous Gospel Wagon, now a conversation piece, seated between Mayor Poulson and City Attorney Roger Arnebergh. Shoulder to shoulder, they sang “Jesus, Jesus, Sweetest Name I Know,” “Rock of Ages” and “Rescue the Perishing.”

When asked about her long career on Main Street, Mother Benton replied,”My husband and I used to sing those hymns on the street corner to gather a crowd. Then we’d bring the listeners back to the Mission aboard the Gospel Wagon. I love this dear old Mission,” she told the anniversary crowd. “I’m thinking today of the boys I’ve prayed with.”

One of the boys with whom she had prayed in the URM chapel was the notorious outlaw Billy Stiles. She was sitting with him in the chapel on the day in 1913, shortly after he wandered in from the sinner’s road that was Main Street, when he experienced his rebirth. The next day Stiles presented Mother Benton with a suitcase of nitroglycerine, a gift from a retired safe-cracker who was now on the straight and narrow.

Mother Benton, looking back on her half decade of service at the URM noted, “While this is a man’s Mission, scores of women and girls in distress have been helped and guided.” Perhaps she was remembering the voyage she made in February 1930, when she traveled to the State Penitentiary in Florence, Arizona to sit by the side of convicted murderess Eva Dugan as she awaited her death sentence. Mother Benton sat up all night with Mrs. Dugan on her last night on earth, and heard her testimonial that faith in Jesus Christ had saved her soul. The following morning, Mrs. Dugan went to the gallows, dying instantly when her head was severed from her neck and rolled down among the witnesses. There were five women present, and two fainted, but we do not know if Mother Benton was among that number.

Mother Benton died on October 4, 1956, at the age of 81.

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226 S Main-The Swanfeldt Building

The photo on the right shows the Swanfeldt Building as it appeared in the late 1920s, with its northern half still occupied by the Swanfeldt Awning & Tent Company. The southern section is home to the Union Rescue Mission (URM).

In 1926, the URM purchased the southern half of the Swanfeldt building for $100,000. The City’s seizure by eminent domain of the URM’s building at 145 N. Main forced them to make a quick move to new quarters. The structure demolished, the old 145 N. Main property is on what is now the southern lawn of City Hall.

The Swanfeldt family operated Catalina Island’s celebrated “Tent City” from 1895 to 1902, and were the canvas kings of Los Angeles. Even after the tent concession monopoly was relinquished to the Santa Catalina Island Company, the Swanfeldts continue to set the bar for tent manufacturing in the southland. It is of peripheral interest to note that in its earliest days (circa 1893) the Union Rescue Mission operated out of a massive tent on 2nd Street near Main.

By 1931, with the URM still occupying only the southern half of the three-story Swanfeldt Building, 300 to 400 people were fed daily, with the number swelling to well over 500 on Sundays. 100 men were bedded nightly in the third-floor dormitory. The dining room was in the basement of the structure, and could accommodate 325 people at a sitting. Meals were served each morning and evening, with breakfast provided to those who had spent the night. The clothing commissary, which offered donated items including suits, work clothes, hats, shoes, neck-ties and socks, was on the second floor. The laundry, which in 1931 was a very recent addition, was on the ground floor. The URM’s managers immediately made note of the savings in time and money that this new laundry facility provided.

As the depression proceeded and the first hints of war were heard, the URM felt the need of more space. In 1938, the URM purchased the northern half of the Swanfeldt Building, and the Swanfeldts moved their plant to North Figueroa Street. In early 1942, the URM purchased The Oddfellows Club Building just to the north of the Swanfeldt—note the the “IOOF” in the upper coursework— and it became the Victory Service Club, a social club and assistance center for young Christian servicemen and their friends, which will be the subject of several forthcoming blog posts.

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Transience: Outreach & Enforcement #1

 

In anticipation of the October 20 rooftop screening of the Union Rescue Mission’s 1949 film Of Scrap & Steel, in this post we’ll examine two stills from the film as a window to understanding how two mid-century Los Angeles County law enforcement agencies dealt with the task of enforcing statutes concerning transients.

The first of the two film stills on the left was shot on Main Street in front of the Fun Palace at 243 South Main. The second still was shot on 2nd Street, just east of Main.  

The first, Fun Palace still shows one of the notorious LAPD “Black Maria” vans, with an officer shuffling an old “rummy” into the back. This scenario was common at the time. Arrest was the primary tool used by the LAPD for dealing with transients within the borders of Skid Row. In future blog posts we will delve further into the history of vagrancy statutes in Los Angeles, the evolution of the City’s Public Policy on the topic, and the role of the LAPD as an enforcing agency.

It is the second still showing an officer in what appears to be a dark brown uniform which is of particular interest. The nitrate print of the film was so badly damaged that when it was digitized, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s traditional green uniform appears as dark brown, so it is unclear what type of officer is patrolling Skid Row in search of drunks to roust. Closer observation reveals the familiar LASD deputy’s badge on the left breast. But what are LASD deputies doing on East 6th Street, in an area clearly within the jurisdiction of the LAPD? 

What the film does not show is that just moments before the deputies pulled up to the curb and hustled the transient into their car, an LA County Health Department official issued this man with a vagrancy citation. Working in tandem with the Health Department, LASD deputies would sweep through Skid Row, arresting anyone who had received such a citation and lacked the capacity to immediately flee the scene. Interestingly, this is the same method which would be used on larger scale social control operations like the clearing of the residential community Chavez Ravine in the early 1960s.

While we now understand how it is that LASD deputies might make arrests along Skid Row, within the boundaries of the LAPD, the motivation for such arrests still needs clarification. 

When the Hall of Justice was opened in 1925, the LASD was put in charge of running the Hall’s jail. Because prisoners in the Hall of Justice were put to work on road crews and doing other County work, it was in the interest of the powers that be to maintain at all times a capacity population. The routine arrest captured in the second still was one of the ways in which that population was maintained. When this man sobered up, he would be put to work.

 

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