In the end she didn't think saying it with flowers would get her true feelings across.
Tired of the rampant commercialism of Valentine's Day? So is the woman on the cover of Edward Ronns' 1955 thriller Say It with Murder. Too bad she doesn't live where we do, where there's no such holiday. This cover is from Australia's Phantom Books, a company we've been featuring often of late, and as we've mentioned, Phantom had a habit of using reconstituted art. You can see exactly what we mean by looking at the front of the 1954 Graphic Books edition, with its excellent work from Lou Marchetti. We still don't know exactly why Phantom changed its covers. A rights usage issue, we suppose. But if that's the case, why was the company able to get away with making near copies of the originals? We'll keep exploring this question until an answer presents itself.
Axe and you will receive.
Above and below are the cover and assorted interior scans from a February 1953 issue of True Police Detective, a magazine we've discussed once or twice before. You get the usual collection of true crime tales, explored in procedural detail, with striking photo spreads posed by professional models, as well as some actual crime scene shots. One story we noticed here concerned the murders in London of 16-year-old Barbara Songhurst and 18-year-old Christine Reed in May 1953. The two had last been seen alive embarking on a bike trip. Songhurst's body was found the next day floating face down in the Thames, while Reed's was located five days later when a section of the river was drained. Reed had been raped, and both had been beaten unconscious and hacked with an axe. The physical evidence was clear: an assailant had surprise attacked both victims, beaten them unconscious, axed Reed and disposed of her before turning his attention to the helpless Songhurst.
One curious part of the tale is that the girls disappeared while biking from London to Brighton, according to the author. It seemed to us like a pretty long trip and we were right—as the crow flies it's more than forty miles. So we think the magazine got that part of the story wrong, since the girls' families were expecting them back home by evening. In any case, our interest derived from the simple fact that the crime hadn't been solved at the time True Police Cases went to press. A man named Alfred Whiteway had been arrested, but the story ends with, “Whiteway is awaiting trial that will determine his guilt or innocence.” Since we had already invested the time to read the entire saga, we wanted to find out how it ended.
The case almost turned on chance. A month after Songhurst and Reed had been found, Whiteway was arrested for raping a woman and assaulting another on Oxshott Heath. He had the Songhurst/Reed murder axe in his possession when police picked him up. While being driven to the station he managed to hide the axe under the car's rear seat, where it remained until the vehicle was cleaned some time later and an officer discovered the weapon. Instead of realizing its significance, the officer took the tool home and used it to chop wood, blunting the edge and obliterating any blood evidence. If he had simply realized how suspicious it was to find it under the seat of a police car the case would have been solved.
In the end, old-fashioned procedural work finally cracked the case. Whiteway had been maintaining his innocence the entire time, but forensic investigators finally found minute traces of blood in an eyelet and seam on one of his shoes. Confronted with blood evidence he broke down and confessed. He had attacked the girls in a rage, raped Songhurst, and tossed both bodies in the Thames. If he expected his admission to earn him leniency he was disappointed—he was convicted in court of what became known as the Towpath Murders and hanged at Wandsworth Prison in December 1953. And the axe that almost but didn't break the case ended up in the Black Museum at Scotland Yard, where it still resides today.
Trevor makes the most of her smoke break by posing for a master.
Brooklyn born actress Claire Trevor made more than sixty movies over seven decades, including the important film noir entries Raw Deal, Born To Kill, Johnny Angel, Murder My Sweet, and Key Largo, the latter of which snared her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. And if you haven't seen her in it you really should. She was one of film noir's defining artists, an indispensable participant in it. We're also fond of her in lighter fare such as 1965's How To Murder Your Wife, with Jack Lemmon. The noirish shot above was used as a reference photo by the legendary Peruvian artist Alberto Vargas. He painted a portrait of Trevor which you see inset just above, and you also see her posing with the piece below. The portrait was commissioned by her employers Fox Film Corporation as a promo image, a type of work Vargas did often, and the studio used prints of portrait as lobby cards. All of these images came about in 1934.
Extra, extra, read all about it!
The above photo shows the murder scene of Los Angeles mob lawyer Sam Rummell who was messily dispatched in front of his Laurel Canyon villa via shotgun blast in 1950. Around 1:30 a.m., as he climbed the steps to the sprawling house, someone or someones with deadly aim blew off the left rear quadrant of his head. Rummell ran with the notorious mobster Mickey Cohen for years, and had been neck deep not only in Cohen's multimillion dollar prostitution and gambling operations, but also in schemes to oust mayor Fletcher Bowron in a recall election, and to take control of the LAPD.
The insider theory was Rummell was killed to prevent his appearance before a grand jury to testify about an alleged conspiracy between the L.A. County Sheriff's Department and a company called Guarantee Finance, a front for a massive Cohen-controlled bookmaking operation. The insider theory was also that L.A. Sheriff's officers pulled the trigger. These remained mere theories, because the killer or killers were never caught.
All very interesting, one more dead mob underling, but that isn't why we shared the photo. A close look reveals, at center, a man holding an edition of the Los Angeles Mirror with a headline reading: Cohen's Lawyer Shot To Death. Yes, Mirror staff were so quick with their Extra edition that it hit newsstands before Rummell's murder scene had been cleared. That's journalism—late night, coffee-fueled, time-pressured, editor-with-a-whip journalism. And the photo is an fascinating example of it working perfectly, sixty-six years ago today.
Some hangovers can't be cured.
When Thomas Barrington and Harry Hancock walked into Eddy's Bar in Los Angeles and sat down for drinks they seemed like normal customers, but they were actually robbers armed with guns and bad intentions. These were hardened types who had spent a combined fifteen years in prison. Both been free for less than a year. Their plan was to wait until Eddy's closed and force its employees at gunpoint to open the safe. Since the place was a combined bar, restaurant, and liquor store, and it was Saturday night, they knew the safe would have plenty of money inside.
The night wore on and eventually last call came. At that point four workers were present—two bartenders, a waitress, and a hat check girl, who was not a girl but rather was the waitress's mother. In addition, one of the bartender's wives was there, and two cooks were sleeping in quarters on the premises. A lot of people for two robbers to handle. One of the bartenders herded the stragglers out, including Barrington and Hancock. But in the parking lot the robbers drew their guns and forced their way back inside. In those few moments of confusion, with so many people around, one of the women slipped away and called police from a nearby pay phone.
The cops showed and gunplay soon followed. Barrington shot one of bartenders point blank in the back and nailed a deputy named Harold Blevins in the head from a distance, killing him instantly. A second deputy named Charles Covington returned fire and hit Barrington numerous times, killing him, but not before taking a Barrington round in the chest. More cops arrived and a standoff ensued with Hancock that finally ended with teargas rounds fired into the building and police rushing the entrance. The photos above show the aftermath of all that, with Barrington's body in the doorway and detectives milling about. That was today in 1957.
To a hammerer every problem looks like a nail.
In Dorothy Salisbury Davis's A Gentle Murderer a man visits a confessional and reveals murdering someone with a hammer and flees into the night before the priest knows what to do. The dismayed padre decides to search for the mysterious man who burdened him with this terrible knowledge, thus taking on the role of detective in the story, though the police are on hand to conduct a parallel investigation. Naturally, another murder will soon occur if the killer isn't caught. The plot is similar to that of Alfred Hitchcock's 1953 film I Confess, but appeared in hardback two years earlier. However, the Hitchcock movie was actually based on Paul Anthelme Bourde's 1902 play Nos deux consciences, so perhaps Davis was inspired by either the play or Hitchcock's adaptation. Whatever the genesis, the result was a highly regarded mystery, considered by some to be among the best of the era. The cover art on this Bantam paperback edition is by Charles Binger, and dates from 1953.
Murderous juvenile says he did it just to see what it was like.
Seventeen-year-old Walter Tjunin, sometimes referred to in historical accounts as Vladimir Walter Tjunin or Walter Tunin, sits in the rear of a police car after his arrest today in 1962 for the murder of fourteen-year-old Suzanne Grskovic. Tjunin strangled the girl to death in Queens, New York, after walking her back from a dance. Asked why he did it, Tjunin said, “I just wanted to feel what it was like to kill someone.” Newspapers of the time focused on this macabre utterance, but there was much more to the crime than that.
Tjunin and Grskovic were sweethearts—an old-fashioned term, but one that surely fits considering the girl wore a charm necklace bearing the inscription “Sue and Walter.” The young couple left the dance together that night, witnesses recalled. About five blocks from her home Tjunin steered Grskovic into a weedy lot, ripped off her dress and raped her, then strangled her with her bra and carved an “S” and “X” on her abdomen with a beer can opener.
The murder, then, seems to have been committed not out of mere curiosity, but as a clumsy attempt to cover up the rape by disposing of the only witness. This thought process may well have come easily to Tjunin, since he had been in trouble since age twelve, and was actually on probation from reform school at the time of the crime. He eventually stood for second degree murder. After the shortest murder trial in Queens history—one and a half days—an all male jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to serve twenty years to life.
That centerfielder can really run! Look at her go! It’s almost like she hasn’t noticed the game is over.
Robert Baker and Trudy Jo Baker had just been married, aged twenty-six and seventeen, and were driving across the U.S.'s rolling midwestern states. They were embarked on their honeymoon, but when they saw a soldier named Larry Kirk hitchhiking outside St. Louis, trying to get home for Christmas, they gave him a ride. They later shot him in the back while he was sleeping in the car, robbed him of $12 and his watch, then dumped his body in a weed-choked field near Xenia, Illinois. When the couple was finally caught and tried, Robert Baker was sentenced to 99 years in prison, and Trudy Jo got 30 years at the Illinois Reformatory for Women.
That’s the backstory. This cover of Inside Detective published this month in 1957 uses a model to reenact Trudy Jo’s subsequent escape from prison. As center fielder of the prison softball team, she quickly realized the seven-foot outfield fence would be easy to scale. She soon did exactly that, made her way to Chicago, but realized she had no way to survive except through prostitution. Though new to the practice, she took to it like a duck to water and procured customers, mostly men in town for conventions, via the aid of local cab drivers, as well as what would grow into a collection of seven bellhops at a few of the city’s best hotels.
Living this way, she managed to evade capture for four months, and earned $6,000—more than $50,000 in today's money—all but $60 of which she spent on caviar, wine, expensive shoes, and a mink stole. She was finally recognized by a beat cop and captured, and the cabbies and bellhops that helped her were later charged with various crimes thanks to Trudy Jo turning state’s evidence against them. Thus the wheels of justice turn.
When asked how her time on the lam went, Trudy Jo, who you see at right during one of her many court appearances, replied, “I like wine and caviar and horses. In fact, I like anything that’s a gamble. I’ve been in all the best hotels and in the finest nightclubs. I've had the time of my life.” Her one regret? The prison permanently revoked her softball privileges.
Motel owner Gerald Foos spied on his guests for decades. Now his story is set for publication.
The New Yorker magazine's newest online issue features author Gay Talese's biographical account of a man who may be the most dedicated and successful voyeur who ever lived—Gerald Foos, who bought the Manor House Motel in metropolitan Denver in 1966, installed ceiling vents in more than a dozen rooms, and until 1995 watched his guests most intimate moments from an attic observation space. The vents were louvered and angled in such a way that he was invisible from below, and the attic was modified with carpet and reinforcing wood to make him undetectably silent as he lurked above his guests. In this way he observed thousands of couples, singles, and groups having sex, masturbating, arguing, using drugs, showering, using the toilet, and—on one occasion—committing murder.
Foos considered himself a researcher of sorts, and his decades of watching people's sexual liaisons gave him many insights into personal relationships as well as American society at large. All the while he took detailed notes of his observations and thoughts, which he eventually offered to Talese after contacting the author in 1980. Talese has culled those extensive writings for the publication of an upcoming book. The New Yorker article outlining Talese's meetings with Foos, their long correspondence, and the author's visit to the motel to peer through the illicit vents for himself, is long but we recommend a visit to the website to read it. And in case you're wondering, the Manor House Motel was demolished in 2014, so travelers in the Denver area need not worry about being secretly observed. At least at that motel. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1987—Andy Warhol Dies
American pop artist Andy Warhol, whose creations have sold for as much as 100 million dollars, dies of cardiac arrhythmia following gallbladder surgery in New York City. Warhol, who already suffered lingering physical problems from a 1968 shooting, requested in his will for all but a tiny fraction of his considerable estate to go toward the creation of a foundation dedicated to the advancement of the visual arts.
1947—Edwin Land Unveils His New Camera
In New York City, scientist and inventor Edwin Land demonstrates the first instant camera, the Polaroid Land Camera, at a meeting of the Optical Society of America. The camera, which contains a special film that self-develops prints in a minute, goes on sale the next year to the public and is an immediate sensation.
1965—Malcolm X Is Assassinated
American minister and human rights activist Malcolm X is assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City by members of the Nation of Islam, who shotgun him in the chest and then shoot him sixteen additional times with handguns. Though three men are eventually convicted of the killing, two have always maintained their innocence, and all have since been paroled.
1935—Caroline Mikkelsen Reaches Antarctica
Norwegian explorer Caroline Mikkelsen, accompanying her husband Captain Klarius Mikkelsen on a maritime expedition, makes landfall at Vestfold Hills and becomes the first woman to set foot in Antarctica. Today, a mountain overlooking the southern extremity of Prydz Bay is named for her.
1972—Walter Winchell Dies
American newspaper and radio commentator Walter Winchell, who invented the gossip column while working at the New York Evening Graphic, dies of cancer. In his heyday from 1930 to the 1950s, his newspaper column was syndicated in over 2,000 newspapers worldwide, he was read by 50 million people a day, and his Sunday night radio broadcast was heard by another 20 million people.
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