The Panicking Patrolman

 

In June 1907, a drunk woman was arrested for shooting her sweetheart during a fight in a rooming house. It should have been a straightforward case, but things are rarely simple in SRO land, and the unravelling of loose threads soon ended the career of a young policeman.

Right after the shooting, when things still seemed clear cut, the police told the press what they believed had happened. A newsboy called Buck Wilson and his girlfriend, Lena Carter, “an exceptionally pretty girl about 19 years of age” who, until recently, had been working in a massage parlor, had spent a warm Sunday afternoon and evening at Venice beach in the company of Buck’s roommate and his girlfriend, Grace Rhyn, “a few years older than Miss Carter and also very pretty”. When the party returned to the rooming house at 523 West Sixth street where Buck and his roommate lived, they were all drunk. Shortly after midnight, an argument between Buck and Grace Rhyn suddenly turned violent, and they started to fight. Lena Carter tried to intervene but Buck knocked her to the floor. At this, she ran to an adjoining room and procured a loaded revolver. She returned to the room where her lover and her friend were still struggling, aimed the pistol at Buck’s back and pulled the trigger, sending a bullet through Buck’s left lung. She fired again, but the shot went wild.

The shots were heard in the street, which was soon filled with hundreds of excited people. The police had to force their way through the crowd in order to get to the apartment. Everyone present was arrested and taken to the police station, with the exception of Buck, who was taken to hospital. None of them would speak to the police, but Buck was eventually convinced to give some details of what had happened, which the police dutifully relayed to the reporters.

But something wasn’t right, as became clear when a patrolman called Holden went to his superiors with a new piece of information.

Patrolman Holden, who had pushed his way through the onlookers and made the arrests, had seen another policeman at the scene, Patrolman Charles Norris, a new officer who had evidently been there before the crowd had formed in the street but did not stick around to assist Holden. After Holden had taken the suspects to the station, he tried to contact Patrolman Norris to find out what he knew about the shooting and why he had left the scene, but Norris was nowhere to be found. According to the manager of Norris’s rooming house, which was just across the street from where the shooting had occurred, Norris had hurriedly removed all his belongings from his room and left for some unknown place.

His strange behavior took on a more sinister cast when it was revealed that the gun that had been used to shoot Buck belonged to Norris. When questioned about the gun, Lena Carter admitted that Norris had been present, but maintained that she alone was to blame for the shooting.

Late on Monday afternoon, Norris turned himself in at his police station and was immediately taken to the cells, where, that night, he told his side of the story.

He had been walking home along West Sixth street when he heard people quarrelling in the building he was passing. He went up to quell the disturbance, and tried to pull Buck Wilson off Grace Rhyn. While he was leaning over, Lena Carter pulled his revolver from his pocket and started shooting. As he tried to stop her and get the gun back, Patrolman Holden entered the room, whereupon Norris fled, fearing implication in the affair.

Why had he quit his rooms and gone into hiding? He could give no clear explanation, or at least none that was accepted by his colleagues. Norris was told that he would be suspended from duty and would likely be charged with assault with a deadly weapon.

The next morning, an elderly couple arrived at the station — Norris’s parents, who knew nothing of his arrest and had become worried when they had missed him on his beat. The desk sergeant did not have the heart to tell the old people that their son was locked up and took them to a detective, who broke the news gently. “Mrs Norris said, with tears in her eyes, that her boy was good,” the police told the press, further saying that the father was an old soldier, “and proud of it”, and was ashamed that his son should be in jail.

At the request of the district attorney, Norris was paroled in order to be with his parents while awaiting a formal charge. “When their son was finally released, the old couple straightened their bent backs and tried to walk proudly down the street. Even the policemen who are used to touching scenes could not help sympathising with the young man and his fond parents”.

Norris and Lena were tried separately. At his trial, Norris finally confessed that he had known Lena Carter for some time, having met her when he walked a beat on Spring street, and had recently “spent two nights” with her, his wife being absent in Cincinnati. Further, he admitted that it was no accident that he had been in the room; Lena had sent for him on the night of the trouble, just prior to the shooting. Everything else, however, was as he had originally said: he had been trying to separate the brawling man and woman when Lena took his gun and shot Buck, and he had panicked when officer Holden arrived and had fled in order to avoid being dragged into the mess.

If only Holden hadn’t recognised him. If only he hadn’t left his gun behind.

If only he had never met Lena Carter.

At Lena’s trial — at which it was revealed that her real name was Mrs Evelyn Ferguson (she had used the name Lena Carter “for convenience”) — she claimed that she had been frantic with worry that Grace Rhyn’s weak heart would give out during her struggle with Buck, and had simply used the quickest means possible to stop the fight, never meaning to hurt him so seriously. Her story was undermined somewhat by testimony from a neighbor that she had cried, “Let him die!” as Norris had tried to help the wounded man.

The police court accepted that Norris had no part in the shooting of Buck Wilson, but took a dim view of his disgraceful disappearance following the crime. He would face no criminal charges, but he would never work as a police officer again.

Lena/Evelyn’s fate is a mystery, as the coverage of the trial appears to end abruptly halfway through the proceedings. Presumably, the case was either dropped or reached a non-newsworthy conclusion, perhaps due to Buck’s full recovery a month after the shooting, which would have reduced the charge from murder to attempted murder. Whatever the case, it does not seem to have been reported, and Lena — that is, Evelyn — vanishes from history. The last glimpse of her that we catch shows her standing in court on July 19, 1907. “Neatly attired in a blue suit,” she stood alone in the dock, facing an uncertain future. However, “aside from a little nervousness, she seemed to be thoroughly satisfied with her prison life.”

Sources: Los Angeles Herald, June 10-13 and 26; July 19. 

 

Anna’s Voices

Pity Mrs. Anna Mulloy, who dabbled in the psychic sciences and discovered that the world of shadows and secrets is no place for a flesh and blood woman to linger.

Anna first looked to the mysteries back home in Manitou, Colorado, where her husband M.E. was busy with his work as a contractor. She found she had a gift for hearing the voices of the dead, and what else could she do then but to listen? “He’s cheating on you,” the voices said, “he loves another.” And so in August 1899, Anna took her four little children and went to California. M.E. Mulloy sent her regular checks.

But now the voices sang a new tune. “Take the children,” they said, “Go to the grandest hotel you can find, and stay the night.” Sometimes the voices were so insistent that Anna checked her brood into the Westminster itself – at a lordly cost of $2.50 a night!
Westminster Hotel (USC collection)
But it was in more modest lodgings in SRO land from which Anna penned the inspired missive that would bring her exhausting journey to an end. It was twelve pages in length and barely coherent, and when she had finished it, she placed it in an envelope addressed “Policeman, Los Angeles, CA” and asked one of her little ones to deliver it. Officer Zeigler accepted the packet, and soon Humane Officer Craig arrived, to take Anna away to the County Hospital on a lunacy complaint, and the little children to the Home of Mercy, just down the way on Boyd Street, to await instructions from their father in Colorado.

Book collectors of old L.A.

Shopkeeper William “Scotty” Manson, 47, lived alone behind Acme Stamp and Hobby, supplying used books and collectable stamps to the passing trade. Any customer was potentially a worthy one in the SRO Land of 1956, as Bunker Hill was crumbling and the detritus of human life washed ever further each morning onto the streets surrounding Skid Row.

When two gents came in together and asked for a quantity of books to be boxed, Manson thought he’d made his grubstake for the day. Alas, the fellows had a further request: could he just be so kind as to place all his money in the box as well? A flash of a long knife accompanied the suggestion.

Like any savvy shopkeeper of his place and era, Manson was armed, with a .45 caliber revolver in his pocket. He stepped back and drew his weapon, but the young man with the knife was quicker, and slashed his chest and belly. The would-be thieves turned and ran as Manson unloaded his weapon, then collapsed in the door of his shop. At General Hospital, where he was taken in serious condition with three deep cuts, he told police what had happened.

But even without Scotty’s report, the scene on the street told the tale. One robber, Charles Brooks, 28, resident of a hotel at 224 Boyd, reached 1st and Broadway, then fell, gushing blood. He survived part of the ride to Georgia Street Receiving Hospital, where he was DOA.

The second miscreant, Eugene Sparkman, resident of a hotel at 534 Wall, made the acquaintance of a motorcycle cop a block from where Brooks went down, and was popped. Taken into evidence was the book he’d kept hold of as he fled, reform-minded prison warden Lewis E. Lawes‘ “20,000 Years in Sing Sing,” with its heartwarming dedication “To those tens of thousands of my former wards who have justified my faith in human nature.” We can only hope he ran into as enlightened a prison manager as Lawes, in his unreported but inevitable next stop.

A Peddler Plundered

Street peddler Tony Adams patrolled the corner of Fifth and South Main streets, selling candy from a tray that he secured to his body with a broad leather strap across his back, which freed his hands and made it easier for him to wrap purchases and make change, thus ensuring that he could see to the needs of the candy-hungry downtown crowds as speedily and efficiently as possible.

At least, that’s how Tony saw it. Patrolman Grant McCart took a different view, and arrested Tony on a charge of obstructing the sidewalk.

In court, McCart testified that Tony “blockades the sidewalks as he darts here and there, swinging his big tray in front of him.” The city prosecutor asked McCart to illustrate how Tony moved through the streets, so the tray was brought into the court and fastened across McCart’s bulky shoulders. McCart then barged recklessly about the room, butting into the bailiff with the sharp edge of the tray and nearly knocking Tony over as he turned around.

“I think that will show the objectionable manner in which the defendant uses that big wooden box,” said the prosecuting attorney.

The court was impressed by the demonstration, but Tony had a more important matter on his mind. “Oh, judge!” he exclaimed as he looked into his tray, “Somebody has stolen my goods!” Of the several pounds of sweets that had been piled in Tony’s tray, only a few pieces of chewing candy remained, nestled in one corner. “When I was taken to the police station, I had a nice lot of candy! Where has it gone?”

The judge informed Tony that that was no concern of the court’s and wished him luck in his pursuit of his complaint with the chief of police.

Tony was fined $5 for obstructing the streets and advised in future to cry his wares from the curb.

Sources: Los Angeles Herald, August 26 and 29, 1906.

A Peddler Pelted

Each day at noon, the little children emerge from their classroom at the San Pedro-street school and tramp off to their respective homes to have a nutritious lunch en famille. Dear little creatures, some barely old enough to walk, who spend their days in learning what life is all about, and the skills they’ll need to navigate this fresh new city they are lucky enough to be citizens of.

On this particular day, the wee ones engaged in their favorite noontime activity, the tormenting of a Chinese vegetable peddler whose route regrettably takes him near to their school. The children fell upon his wagon, snatching up potatoes with which to pelt the… well, he was not a man, exactly, he was a Celestial, in the parlance of the day.

Enraged, the victim ran at the diminutive mob, waving his blacksnake whip and shrieking invective. What else could you expect from a savage? All the children scattered, save one terrified three-year-old boy. The vendor obligingly whipped the child about the head and the feet, compelling a passing white man to grab the whip and knock the Chinese to the ground. No one was badly hurt, and the parade moved on — just a typical happening in 1896 LA for all concerned. 

Photo credit: Chan Yip Leung, a fruit and vegetable peddler next to wagon, 1914 (LAPL)

“Professor” Alexander J. McIvor-Tyndall rides again!

Peter LaFleur managed to win a championship blindfolded in the film “Dodgeball,” so how hard could it possibly be to drive a horse-drawn carriage at a breakneck pace through the streets of downtown Los Angeles while likewise deprived of sight? That was the challenge mind-reader, mystic and clairvoyant Professor J. McIvor Tyndall faced on November 18th, 1895. As a crowd of onlookers blocked traffic and sidewalks in front of the Hotel Ramona, the blindfolded Professor Tyndall took the driver’s seat in an open barouche, accompanied by his passengers, including the Chief of Police, the city clerk, and the Professor’s partner in adventure, Dr. K.D. Wise. Tyndall took up the reins and whip in left hand, while with the other he grasped Dr. Wise’s hand, who sat beside him. Not only did Tyndall aspire to drive the horses blindfolded through the city, he also aimed to find an unknown object hidden by the members of his entourage somewhere in the vicinity of the hotel. Somehow, no doubt due to his heightened mental sensitivity and muscle-reading powers, Tyndall managed to lead the horses on a wild dash down Spring Street, missing by mere inches streetcars, trucks, carriages and terrified pedestrians. He whirled up Fourth, turned on Broadway to Second, and then eastward on Second where he pulled the horses up short at the side entrance of the Hollenbeck Hotel. Still blindfolded, and still grasping the hand of his friend and accomplice Dr. Wise, Tyndall felt along the façade of the stair entrance to the Hotel, where he quickly found a feather duster hanging from a nail above his head. He grabbed the duster,  re-embarked into the carriage along with his amanuensis, Dr. Wise,, and drove pell-mell back along the route he’d come. Astonishment ensued among the crowd when the carriage arrived at the steps of the Hotel Ramona, although a few onlookers observed that in previous years Tyndall had performed the exact same feat, and that on these occasions the object had been hidden in the exact same spot.

Tyndall’s ambitions did not end with mind-reading. He also aspired to cheat death. In December of 1985 he announced plans to place himself in a hypnotic trance, be buried alive in an airtight ten foot deep grave, and then be disinterred and resurrected at the end of thirty days. Taking his cue from Hindu fakirs, Tyndall’s method also required that he be coated in clarified butter. However, when his assistants learned that to bury a human being intentionally, even with his or her consent, constituted a felony, they declined to follow through on their end of the bargain. While they educated themselves about the law, Tyndall lay in a cataleptic state for 32 hours, until he was finally awakened by these words, “Professor! Professor! Without quotation marks! Here’s the bold bad Times reporter and he says he will never put quotation marks around your title again if you’ll only wake up!”

Tyndall continued his mystic exhibitions, lectures and experiments for years in the LA area, eventually graduating from “Professor” to “Dr.”, and establishing an institute of psychic science at Grand Avenue and 15th streets. The founder of his own movement, the International New Thought Fellowship,Tyndall is also the author of a number of books, including Cosmic Consciousness, or the Man-God Whom We Await, How Thought Can Kill, and The Spiritual Function of Sex. After a lifetime investigating the land of Spookdom, Dr. Alexander J. McIvor-Tyndall died for good in 1940.

Goodness Gracious – She’s a Ball of Fire!

I learned to love all of Hollywood money
You came along and you moved me honey
I changed my mind, looking fine
Goodness gracious great balls of fire – Jerry Lee Lewis

 

Betty Rowland, the Red-headed Ball of Fire (aka the Rhode Island red-head) was a force to be reckoned with during the heyday of burlesque.  She had a stage presence that belied her diminutive stature and she was the highest paid dancer in her field.

 

Betty was only in her teens when she began dancing professionally at Minsky’s in New York. Burlesque houses thrived in NYC during the early 1930s, but by 1935 citizens groups were trying to close them, and Mayor LaGuardia had deemed burlesque a “corrupting moral influence”.  The city’s licensing commission tried pull Minksy’s license, but the State Court of Appeals refused to do so without a criminal conviction.  In 1937 the mayor and the citizen’s groups finally got the break they’d been waiting for when a stripper at Minsky’s was discovered to be working without her G-string. That was enough for criminal charges to be filed, and Abe Minsky’s license was revoked.  Minsky’s was the first domino to fall.  New licensing regulations would allow the burlesque houses to remain in business, as long as they didn’t employ strippers! 

 

The death of burlesque in New York was probably one of the reasons why, in May of 1938, Betty and her troupe opened in Los Angeles at the Follies Theater on Main Street. It was supposed to be a limited engagement, but L.A. audiences loved Betty and she would continue to perform at the Follies for most of her long and successful career.

 

In August of this year I was fortunate enough to meet Miss Rowland – she was special guest on Esotouric’s “Hotel Horrors and Main Street Vice” tour. She was absolutely delightful! Vivacious, and still sporting her famously red hair, I found her to be a very classy dame indeed.

 

There are so many great stories about Betty that it was tough for me to keep my questions to a minimum. But the one tale that I was most curious about was her arrest in 1952 for giving a lewd performance.  It struck me as strange that after working in Los Angeles for about 15 years (with only one misdemeanor arrest in 1939) her act was suddenly considered to be lewd.  I knew there had to be more to the story, and there was.

 

Betty said that one night two LAPD cops arrived at the Follies expecting to get a free pass, but theater manager Maurice Rosen was firm – no freebies.  In retaliation, cops hauled Betty and Rosen off to the Lincoln Heights jail!

 

On November 14, 1952, Maurice and Betty would each be sentenced to four months in the slammer; however, a few weeks later the Los Angeles Times reported that Judge Walters had modified Betty’s sentence – in part because her attorney had said that Betty was quitting show business to open a perfume store in Beverly Hills with her sister Rose Zelle.

 

Of his decision to release Betty, Walters said: “The value of incarceration seems to have made its effective marks.”  Jail had undoubtedly made an impression on Betty; she said that it was a horrible experience.  The true story of Betty’s premature release from jail never made it into the newspapers. From what Betty said, it had been strongly “suggested” to her that if she paid a fine something might be done about reducing her sentence.  According to Betty it was a substantial amount of cash placed in the right hands (and not the Judge’s soft heart) that resulted in her release from City Jail.

 

If you’d like to see Betty in action, you can view a video clip of one of her performances on YouTube.  You are in for a treat.

Bad Man on Crocker Street


Officer Gifford, on night patrol on Crocker street, heard a call for help and saw three men chasing another man down the block away from him. As he set off after them, Gifford saw the man in the lead leap up the steps at the entrance to the emergency hospital, just as the foremost of his pursuers tripped and fell on the sidewalk, sending his pistol skidding across the cement. At this, the one who had been being chased ran back down the steps, snatched up the gun and pointed it at the prone man.

By the time Gifford reached the entrance to the hospital, the other two pursuers had run off, but the man who had tripped was still there, held at gunpoint. Both men started shouting at Gifford to arrest the other, so he did the only sensible thing and arrested both of them.

The man who had been being chased was S Mahoney, a railroad engineer employed by the Santa Fe, who lived at 415 Crocker street. The man who had tripped was H A Smith, who turned out to have been a special police officer until he had been dismissed for certain unspecified irregularities. Despite the fact that he had since taken up work as a deputy constable, the police and detective agencies regarded him as “a bad man”. Indeed, a few days previously, he’d been involved in an abortive bit of gunplay involving a detective whom he’d met in a saloon. After threatening him “with all manner of evil”, Smith had gone for his gun, but the detective had been quicker on the draw and Smith had found himself being escorted out of the saloon at the barrel of a Colt, which would make Mahoney the second man in a matter of days to be on the point of shooting Smith.

Mahoney told the police that, after catching a show at the theater, he’d gone to a saloon on Fifth street, where he’d met Smith and his two companions, with whom he’d shared a few drinks. When he was on his way home, he realised that his former drinking buddies were following him and increased his speed, at which the three men did likewise. As he drew near to the building where he lived, Mahoney heard Smith shout, “Stop or I’ll shoot!” which he took as his signal to start running and crying for help. The police released Mahoney. Smith was taken to the cells and the two men who’d fled — known associates of Smith’s called Charles Burrell and William Jasper — were arrested the next day.

At the trial in police court, which took place a month later, Smith finally got a chance to tell his side of the story. He explained that, while having those drinks with Mahoney, he had formed the view that Mahoney was a suspicious character deserving of further investigation. In particular, Smith explained, he had doubted Mahoney’s word when he said that he lived on Crocker street, and had decided to follow him when he left the saloon in order to verify the truth of the statement. However, owing to the investigators’ consumption of alcohol, their surveillance technique might not have been as covert as it might otherwise have been and they evidently alarmed Mahoney, who thereafter misinterpreted their calls for him to stop so they could explain their presence as calls for him to stop so they could rob him. Misunderstanding had piled on misunderstanding, according to Smith, resulting in the regrettable situation in which a terrified Mahoney had ended up holding a gun on a slightly inebriated but otherwise diligent deputy constable lying stretched out on the sidewalk outside the emergency hospital.

Faced with two conflicting accounts, which overlapped only to the degree that each party agreed that the other parties had been drunk, the police justice dismissed the charges. The question of whether Smith was a bad man or merely a bad law enforcer remains unanswered.

Sources: Los Angeles Herald, Nov 19, Nov 20 and Dec 13 1906; Photograph of the emergency hospital from the Claremont Colleges Digital Library.

Death before dishonor

Although Japanese, and as such always an outsider to the Anglo culture of SRO land, G. Kurokaua was a respected longtime employee of the Ramona Saloon at 307 South Spring Street. But for all his years in the bar, he failed to tune his ear to the friendly jibes and japes that were the habit of the place. Already crabby with an undiagnosed stomach ailment that pained him, the gentleman took grave offense when a patron, perhaps aware of Kurokaua’s remarkable thrift, joked that he had doubled his salary by raiding the till. Mortified, Kurokaua went to his employer, who laughed the remark off as the joke it was. But Kurokaua brooded. If his customers believed he was dishonorable, what was the point in living? His Japanese friends tried to appease him, it was just a case of an American being American, nothing worth taking to heart. It was no use. Several days after the slight, Kurokaua went to his rooms at 215 Boyd Street, readied his tanto knife with cloth around the outer side, plunged the blade into his belly and managed a cut of nearly a foot in length before losing consciousness. He then fell back upon his bed to die, a traditional Samurai honor suicide, harakiri, in downtown Los Angeles.

The Abduction of Baby Toto

“Toto”, the two-year-old daughter of Mary Smith, a single mother who had a room in the home of the Harver family at 634 Gallardo street, went missing one spring day in 1906. Mary’s neighbors, who rushed to the house to comfort her,  soon confirmed that each had seen the same distinctive beggar woman drifting down the street earlier — a “strange creature” who “several times … remarked that she had no means of earning a livelihood.”

From the women’s description, the police identified the beggar as Lizzie McGuire, who was well known to them, and not only because she had survived being shot some years ago by her boyfriend, Paddy Walsh, who was now serving a sentence in San Quentin. They suspected that she had taken the little girl either to hold her for a reward or to carry along with her on one of her periodical begging tours of the country. The latter possibility was bolstered when they discovered that Lizzie had fled her quarters in a rooming house on East Second street the day before.

While police departments across southern California were contacted with details of the case and photographs and descriptions were sent out of Toto and Lizzie, a detective called Roberds doggedly searched second-class lodging houses downtown, following a sighting of the woman on the corner of Fifth and San Pedro.

Five days after the abduction, during which time Lizzie had dragged the child around various run-down establishments in an attempt to evade capture, Detective Roberds tracked her down in a dingy room in 644 San Julian street.

Lizzie, who “sullenly refused to say anything to detectives when her lair was discovered”, was arrested. However, as the police had known all along, she would never be prosecuted. She had survived her boyfriend’s attempt to kill her all those years ago, but she hadn’t exactly come through unscathed — the shot that he’d fired had hit her in the head, leaving her not only with a bullet scar on her forehead that made her detection by the police far easier than it would otherwise have been, but also with a brain that didn’t quite work as well as it used to. The prosecution was over before it began: Lizzie was deranged, and therefore mentally unfit to stand trial.

And Toto? She was returned to her tearful mother, apparently physically unharmed, although she appeared wan and was “sadly in need of a bath”.

Sources: Los Angeles Herald, April 20 and 21, 1906.