L.A. woman comes to a dead end.
The images above come from the collection of digitized Los Angeles Examiner photographs curated by the University of Southern California, and they show murder victim Patricia Steel in a passageway between two garages in the Westlake area of Los Angeles. The case left barely a ripple. Other than the photos and skeletal biographical facts we found online, no detailed information exists about this killing in any archive we checked. That's the way it sometimes goes in the naked city, that the most critical moment of a person's life occurs, passes, and is forgotten. Today, 1952.
Beautiful jinx finally jinxes herself.
Confidential Detective Cases, for which see an April 1960 cover above, was published bi-monthly from 1942 to 1978 by New York City based Detective House, Inc. The magazine has an appropriately garish crime rag look and many stories of interest, breathlessly reported. The headers are entertaining: “She Stabbed Him—Rather Than Share Him!” “Parade of the Grave-Bound Redheads.” “The Dames All Die for Me.” All these tales are of interest, but today we're focused on one story—the piece about the unlucky death of Janice Drake. It's titled “Big-Time Mob Leader and the Blonde Murder Jinx.” A jinx is of course someone who brings bad luck to others, but what do you call someone who brings bad luck on herself?
Drake was a former Miss New Jersey who had competed in the Miss America pageant, was a semi-famous G.I. pin-up, a professional dancer, and the wife of comedian Allan Drake. She and her husband were known to have an open marriage, and among Janice's male friends were several New York City mobsters. One of these was Anthony Carfano, aka Little Augie Pisano, an associate of crime boss Frank Costello, who was pitted against mob rival Vito Genovese in a power play for control of the New York City rackets. Carfano had thrown his support behind Costello, causing Genovese to develop a homicidal grudge.
This was not a guy to go to dinner with, but on the night of September 29, 1959, Drake accompanied Carfano to a restaurant called Marino's, where they dined with a mob caporegime named Tony Strollo. Strollo was Genovese's right hand man, but Carfano had no idea Genovese was bent on revenge, nor that Strollo had been assigned the job. When Carfano and Drake left Marino's, they were planning to drive to La Guardia Airport to board a night flight to Miami. But two gunmen were stationed in the rear of Carfano's Cadillac and they forced him to drive to a secluded area near the airport, where they shot both him and Janice Drake twice in the head and once in the back of the neck.
Bad luck for Drake, but don't feel overwhelmingly sympathetic. She may not have been married to the mob, as the saying goes, but she was definitely playing footsie with it. Twice she had been present at a mobster's last supper. She went to dinner with Garment District kingpin Nathan Nelson the night he was murdered, and dined with Gambino crime family boss Albert Anastasia the night before he was whacked in a barbershop. Talk about a jinx. She was called to testify in court concerning both slayings, yet for some reason never seemed to comprehend the risks of running with a dangerous—and highly endangered—crowd.
More than a few police figures believed Drake was a mob courier, a high level go-between, a role in which she may learned the identities of Nelson's and Anastasia's killers. She may not have been a target the night she had her last supper and met a messy end, but it could be that since she knew too much, her loss as collateral damage was deemed an acceptable outcome. Others think she was just mob arm candy and finally ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time; anyone in the car with Carfano would have bought it the same brutal way. Whatever the specifics, Drake's early death—she was thirty-two when it happened—was probably inevitable.
After two long years of unsolved killings National Star Chronicle points the accusatory finger at—nobody.
This edition of National Star Chronicle appeared today in 1964, and as you can see it blares the claim that the Boston Strangler had been caught. Eleven women in the Boston area had been slain during the early 1960s, with the victims ranging in age between nineteen and eighty-five, nearly all of whom were sexually assaulted or raped before bring killed. Boston police felt they were drawing close to a break in their marathon investigation, but the confessed killer Albert DeSalvo was not apprehended until the autumn of 1964. He was actually arrested for a different set of crimes known as the Green Man rapes, but he eventually claimed, while a patient at the Bridgewater State Hospital in southern Massachusetts, to have committed the Boston Strangler rape/killings.
The admission came in April 1965. In addition to the eleven killings police had tentatively linked, DeSalvo confessed to two more killings, bringing the unofficial total of his victims to thirteen. So Chronicle jumped the gun on their headline by a year, but we've all learned by now never to trust low rent tabloids, right?
At the time this Chronicle hit newsstands Boston police in fact still had dozens of suspects. The police sketch does resemble DeSalvo somewhat, who you see in his mugshot at bottom. Of course, the sketch also resembles other suspects in the case. In fact, it even resembles big brained Tany Kominski in the above post.
The police didn't immediately consider all the strangulations to be the work of one person. The age range of the victims, as well as some variations in the method of dispatch, had slowed them in seeing a connection. Later, after DeSalvo confessed, many observers doubted the real killer had been caught. In 2013 DNA testing definitively tied DeSalvo to the last victim in the murder chronology, 19-year-old Mary Sullivan, but public doubt over who killed the others continues to this day. Of course, the public is always doubtful. Meanwhile the prosecutors are certain they got the right guy. Of course, prosecutors are always certain. One thing's beyond doubt—National Star Chronicle didn't help clarify matters.
I'm totally sorry I'm killed him. I'm all torn up about it. Absolutely devastated. Seriously.
The above photo made today in 1952 shows Barbara Joy Plymire, who had shot her estranged husband Leslie Plymire earlier in the month and was appearing in Los Angeles County Court for a preliminary hearing. The case was pretty much open and shut. She had attended a birthday party for her hubby at which she hoped to win him back. She made her pitch and when he indicated a reconciliation was unlikely she ventilated him. The money quote: “I've shot him and I'm glad." Below you see detectives checking out his body the night of the murder and agreeing, “Yep, that poor fucker's dead as hell.”
Yep, this is a robbery. Faked you out, right? Now pretend I'm asking for a back rub and empty the cash drawer.
Above, a great cover for W.R. Burnett's High Sierra from Avon Publications' series Murder Mystery Monthly, 1946, featuring a very slick robber painted by Paul Stahr. We shared another cover for this book you can see here.
Book on Elizabeth Short murder points at new suspect.
The cultural fetish with cold cases continues with the publication of an article on the Rolling Stone website several days ago about the most famous cold case victim of all—the Black Dahlia, aka Elizabeth Short. The piece talks about a recent book by British author Piu Eatwell that promises new insights into the unsolved murder.
This latest new look at the crime suggests that Leslie Dillon, a bellhop and aspiring writer, was the murderer. Apparently Dillon, in addition to being in Los Angeles during the crucial time frame, moved to Florida soon after the murder and began writing to an LAPD psychiatrist requesting information about the case. He said he was researching a book about sexual psychopaths, and when his interest led to him being arrested police let him go because they were engaged in a cover-up of the entire case.
This is always the way it goes with cold cases, isn't it? The perpetrator was in custody but through incompetence/malice/luck slipped away. Does the author have conclusive proof Dillon did the deed? Apparently not—which means her book Black Dahlia, Red Rose joins the heap of others speculating about the slaying. But we may check it out. Its publication during the autumn flew way wide of our radar screen, so it's good Rolling Stone—also Smithsonian, just yesterday—did a piece on the book. You can read more about the Dahlia, the book, and Piu Eatwell here.
New murder magazine puts a fright into British readers.
Who is this odd character on the cover of the UK weekly Crimes & Punishment? That would be John Linley Frazier, an Ohio born religious fanatic who this month in 1970 murdered five people at the behest—he claimed—of God. His victims were a wealthy Santa Cruz, California ophthalmologist named Victor Ohta, his wife Virginia Ohta, their two children Taggart and Derrick, and the ophthalmologist's secretary Dorothy Cadwallader. Frazier bound them all with scarves, shot them with a .38 or a .22, depending on the victim, and dumped their bodies a large pool behind the house. He did the same to the family cat. Then he burned the house down.
Frazier left a note on one of Ohta's cars. It read: "Halloween... 1970. Today world war 3 will begin as brought to you by the people of free universe. From this day forward, any one ?/or company of persons who misuses the natural environment or destroys same will suffer the penalty of death by the people of the free universe. I and my comrades from this day forth will fight until death or freedom against any single anyone who does not support natural life on this planet, materialism must die or mankind will.” He signed the note four times—as the Knight of Wands, the Knight of Cups, the Knight of Penticles [sic], and the Knight of Swords, all identities from standard tarot decks.
Frazier's similarity to Charles Manson is impossible not to notice. Both had grandiose ideas about reshaping the world and believed in a coming war; one claimed to talk to God while the other was strongly influenced by the Book of Revelation; both were part of the California hippie scene, and both were of tiny stature and compulsively needed to influence others. In the end it was Frazier's constant talking about the evils of materialism and consumerism that did him in, since people tended to remember his lectures. In particular, he had railed against Ohta's ostentatious lifestyle and the trees he had uprooted on his ten acre property to build his house. Tips from acquaintances, as well as Frazier's estranged wife, helped police zero in.
Frazier was arrested at his shack not far from the Ohta mansion four days after the murders and he went to trial a year later in October 1971, with the first proceedings designed to establish guilt, the second to determine sanity, and the third to decide upon a sentence. In the photo above he's being led to court during the sanity phase, and he's shaved half his head, half his beard, and one eyebrow as a representation of the two sides of a hippie. If the haircut was an attempt to look crazy to the jury it didn't work—they sentenced him to death, a penalty that was commuted to life in prison when California later banned capital punishment.
This is the debut issue of Crimes & Punishment, dating from 1973. We don't think it published past that year, but as a weekly at least a couple of dozen issues were produced. We may try to track down others, because this one was very involving. Inside you get profiles on Leopold & Loeb, Ma Barker, Gaston Dominici, Charles Manson, the Zodiac, and even Adolf Hitler. Nearly all the crimes took place in the U.S., which we imagine the magazine's British readership found curious and disturbing. We know because we live overseas and whenever another U.S. mass killer hits the news our friends are curious and disturbed. For that matter so are we. We have quite a few scans below to put a fright into you as Halloween approaches, and we'll share more true crime magazines a bit later.
Warning signs only work for those willing to read them.
In the above photo from today in 1951 Margaret Kristy and her teen daughter Helen appear in Los Angeles County Court to testify in the trial of Frank Kristy, who months earlier had shot and killed Betty Jean Hansen, his stepdaughter and Margaret's biolgoical daughter. Betty was twenty at the time, but Frank had been obsessed with her for years and at some point had commenced a sexual relationship with her—described as an affair in contemporaneous accounts, but rape by any sane standard. Margaret discovered what was happening when Frank taunted during an argument, “Well, I'll tell you now, I have screwed her and I intend to keep screwing her as long as she is in the house.” Margaret was stunned but not fully sure it was true. But her daughter confirmed it. During the ensuing argument Betty made her feelings about the situation clear when she declared: “You won't, Daddy. You are not touching me another time."
Margaret and Betty decided to move out. Frank seemed to agree until he realized they intended to take Helen, who was his and Margaret's daughter. Undoubtedly, his consent was a bluff in the first place. Frank's attitude going forward was succinct: “If Betty leaves this house I'll kill her.”
Some sort of detente was reached and the family stayed together, but it was a mistake. After weeks of threats against both Margaret and Betty, Frank finally kidnapped his stepdaughter at gunpoint and drove the two of them away in her car. Margaret, still refusing to believe the situtation was hopeless, thought Frank would cool down, so she didn't call the police—for two days. When she finally did phone the cops a search commenced. Eight days after the kidnapping Betty was found in a ditch, shot through the left temple and in a state of decomposition. Frank was picked up by police in Colorado after someone recognized him from a wanted poster.
Some crimes have no warning signs, but the murder of Betty Hansen seemed inevitable. Not only had Frank raped her and given no hint that he thought it was wrong, but he had even gotten her name tattooed on his shoulder—a strong indication of a man living in a twisted alternate reality if ever there was one. He was also paranoid, verbally abusive, and had specifically talked about buying a gun. The day before the murder Margaret discovered the phone lines to the house had been cut. Still she did not take her daughter and flee. While justice was eventually served when Frank Kristy was sent to prison for life, reading about the murder is like witnessing an avoidable accident, like watching a slasher film where a killer looms but the impending victim thinks the strange noise she hears is the wind. In a horror movie it's never the wind, and in real life a husband's death threat is never empty, or at least should never be treated as such. That's not victim blaming—it's good advice.
If I can't live with you, you can't live without me.
Seventy-three-year old Dan E. Fabun lies dead on the front seat of his car near Cardiff Avenue in San Bernadino, California. Fabun had separated from his sixty-six-year old wife Lula Fabun, but was at the house they once shared discussing its sale. But he had no intention of selling the house. Instead, he pulled a .32 caliber automatic pistol from his pocket and fired a volley of shots. One missed. One hit Lula in the torso, and another entered her right cheek and exited her left ear. Lula's unlucky brother-in-law was there too, and he was felled by a fourth bullet in the stomach. While lying wounded in the street, he saw Dan Fabun put the gun to his own head and pull the trigger, with a click resulting. Fabun then leaped into his car and drove off. Not more than a mile away he veered off the road, through a wire fence, and into a field, where police later found him in the condition you see above. He had drunk a deadly poison, andsuccumbed almost immediately. He carried two notes—one explaining his funeral arrangements, and the other explaining his reasoning for what he did. “I'm too old to live alone,” he wrote. And apparently, too unwilling to die alone. Today, 1951.
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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