Femmes Fatales Mar 25 2017
SHOOT FROM THE HIP BOOTS
She was a woman of exceptionally high caliber.

We always thought it was weird that hip boots only come to mid-thigh, but we suppose if they came all the way to the hips they wouldn't be boots—they'd be a body cast. Above you see Wisconsin born actress Christa Helm, née Sandra Lynn Wohlfeil, in a promo made for her 1974 actioner Let's Go for Broke, in which she played the ass kicking Jackie Broke. It was one of only two movies she made, due to her unfortunate murder in 1977 at age twenty-seven by a still-unknown assailant who stabbed her thirty times.

Helm was a black belted practitioner of martial arts, but the prevailing theory, supported by forensic evidence, is that she was surprise attacked from behind. Because of the murder, she has attained a posthumous fame, partly kept alive by family members still seeking to solve the crime, and partly by a growing internet cult. We'd get into the story in detail, but others have written about it and done a thorough—if sometimes dubiously factual—job, so just appreciate the amazing photo. It's one of the cooler ones you'll ever see, and one of the very few of Helm that exist online.



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Hollywoodland Mar 2 2017
MASTER OF HER FATE
Jealous murder strikes a John Wayne movie set.

This Master Detective published today in 1960 has a nice cover by Al Drule, and inside the issue are several interesting stories, but the one we're looking at today is “The Crime that Wasn't in the Script,” about a murder that took place during the filming of John Wayne's western The Alamo. The story is kind of forgotten, but basically, an actress named LaJean Etheridge was killed by her boyfriend Chester Harvey Smith, who was angry that Etheridge had decided to move closer to the movie set in Brackettville, Texas. Such a killing is impossible to understand under any circumstances, but putting on your jealous madman cap for a second you can picture a possessive man losing it over his girlfriend moving thousands of miles away. Like if someone told you the story you'd nod and go, “Umm hmm,” because you could see it.

But Etheridge wasn't moving thousands of miles. She and Smith had both scored work as extras on The Alamo, had traveled from Hollywood together, and were living in Spofford, Texas with three other extras in lodgings set up by Wayne's Batjac Productions. Etheridge had decided to move from Spofford to Fort Clark, ten miles north, a relocation precipitated by her landing a larger part in the film. Was she simply moving closer to the set to facilitate the changed demands of her role? Or was she leaving her boyfriend? Still wearing your jealous madman cap, you can picture Smith believing the latter. Etheridge would be out of sight, living with unknowns, possibly having fun with production staff and carousing with handsome actors. But she never got the chance—as she was packing Smith stabbed her in the chest with a Bowie knife, and she died on the scene. He was arrested when police arrived fifteen minutes later, pled guilty to murder, and was sentenced to thirty years in prison.

The final assessment by Smith's lawyer was that the murder was a crime of “passion and professional jealousy.” As details emerged a clearer picture of Smith formed. He had once struck his ex-wife's roommate in the head with a hatchet, and earlier had tried to run her, her roommate, and their dates down with his car. His rage wasn't reserved only for ex-lovers. He also once attacked a bus driver. So Smith needed no excuses to hurt people. It's just what he did. But maybe this particular episode really was a so-called crime of passion. Rumors circulated during the trial that Etheridge had been seeing John Wayne, but he never testified nor was officially involved with the case in any way. And under the circumstances, it was probably inevitable that such rumors would spring up. Yet Etheridge had completed her part, and Wayne, according to several accounts, had asked her to stay on at Fort Clark. So there's no telling.

Etheridge's part in The Alamo was left on the cutting room floor. No surprise. The murder caused enough bad publicity as it was, so naturally there was no way she could have remained in the film. It wasn't until an extended version was released in 1993 that her role as Mrs. Guy was seen by movie fans. Though the story of the murder hasfaded somewhat, author John Hegenberger used the events as the backdrop for a 2017 crime novel called Stormfall. Chester Harvey Smith, John Wayne, and others are characters, and the star is Hegenberger's detective creation Stan Wade. The book opens with the murder, and Etheridge uttering her final words to Smith before she dies. What were the words? According to the statement Smith gave police, Etheridge said, mortally wounded and bleeding to death, “I love you.” You can take off your jealous madman cap now. 

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Vintage Pulp Feb 14 2017
BLOODY VALENTINE
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.

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The Naked City Feb 9 2017
CASE HISTORIES
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.

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Vintage Pulp Jan 7 2017
CASES IN POINT
Times change but crimes stay the same.


Above, the cover and selected interior scans from an issue of Complete Detective Cases that appeared on newsstands seventy years ago, in January 1947. The magazine was published quarterly by Postal Publications and based in New York City and Chicago. A reading of the stories shows how little we've changed in that long span of time: a man is murdered and dumped in a river, cops get cruel to capture a man who killed one of their own, adultery leads to a savage killing, and a cabbie is senselessly shot in the stomach though he's unarmed and acquiescent. The cover story deals with Sherry Borden, who authors an autobiographical tale of descent into serial robbery. The art in Complete Detective Cases is posed by professional models. You can see many more example of these sort of publications by clicking the keywords “true crime magazine” below.

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Femmes Fatales Dec 21 2016
A CLAIRE WINNER
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.

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The Naked City Dec 11 2016
RUMMELL SHOTS
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.

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The Naked City Oct 12 2016
BODY SHOTS
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.

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Vintage Pulp Sep 23 2016
MR. FIX IT
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. 

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The Naked City Aug 31 2016
CURIOSITY KILLED THE GIRL
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.

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Next Page
History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
March 30
1986—Jimmy Cagney Dies
American movie actor James Francis Cagney, Jr., who played a variety of roles in everything from romances to musicals but was best known as a quintessential tough guy, dies of a heart attack at his farm in Stanfordville, New York at the age of eighty-six.
March 29
1951—The Rosenbergs Are Convicted of Espionage
Americans Ethel and Julius Rosenberg are convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage as a result of passing nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union. While declassified documents seem to confirm Julius Rosenberg's role as a spy, Ethel Rosenberg's involvement is still a matter of dispute. Both Rosenbergs were executed on June 19, 1953.
March 28
1910—First Seaplane Takes Flight
Frenchman Henri Fabre, who had studied airplane and propeller designs and had also patented a system of flotation devices, accomplishes the first take-off from water at Martinque, France, in a plane he called Le Canard, or "the duck."
1953—Jim Thorpe Dies
American athlete Jim Thorpe, who was one of the most prolific sportsmen ever and won Olympic gold medals in the 1912 pentathlon and decathlon, played American football at the collegiate and professional levels, and also played professional baseball and basketball, dies of a heart attack.
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