The Naked City Nov 30 2016
CAPTIVATING PERSONALITIES
Just because they're kidnappers doesn't mean they're bad people.

This FBI wanted poster was issued for Clarence Vernon Stevens today in 1937, in connection with a kidnapping case dating back to 1933. Clearly, the FBI were having no luck finding their target. In May 1933 Stevens and three accomplices had kidnapped Kansas City rich girl Mary McElroy right out of her bathtub one night and demanded a hefty $60,000 ransom from her father for her safe return. In the end they got $30,000, but they also got caught—all except for Stevens. While his accomplices were tried and sentenced to, respectively death, life, and eight years, police scoured the state for Stevens. Eventually they decided he might have hidden himself somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. The FBI got involved in the search, resulting in the above poster.

Mary McElroy had developed a bond with her kidnappers and lobboed for more lenient sentences for the three that had been caught on the grounds that they had treated her decently. She successfully petitioned Missouri governor Guy Brasfield Park to have the death penalty handed one of her captors commuted to life, explaining in a letter, “Through punishing a guilty man, his victim will be made to suffer equally. [snip] In pleading for Walter McGee's life I am pleading for my own peace of mind.” She was very likely being truthful about her mental state—after the event she suffered from all sorts of mental disorders, problems she attributed to concern for the imprisoned men she now considered friends. We're sure a modern headshrinker would have a more in-depth explanation, something along the lines of PTSD.

Whether McElroy's problems originated from the kidnapping itself or from subsequent anxiety concerning the state punishing them on her behalf, the rest of her life did not go well. She had several nervous breakdowns—as such incidents were called back then—never moved out of her father's house, and became addicted to opium. In January 1949 she committed suicide at age thirty-two by shooting herself in the head with a pistol. She left a note that read, “My four kidnappers are probably the four people on earth who don't consider me an utter fool. You have your death penalty now - so - please - give them a chance. Mary.” But her death brought about no change in her kidnappers' status. One had already been paroled as scheduled, but the other two remained in prison. As for Clarence Vernon Stevens, he was never caught.

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The Naked City Feb 16 2016
NED SILENCE
Embarrassing family scandal ends in murder.

The above crime scene drawing shows murder victim Ned Doheny, Jr. in the bedroom of his Los Angeles mansion after being killed by a gunshot to the head, along with a superimposition of where police imagine he was just before he was shot. From the above angle the event looks clinical, but a reverse view reveals an unholy mess, with Doheny's face and robe drenched in blood, and a dark pool spread across the carpet. Out of sight in the hall leading to the bedroom is the body of Hugh Plunkett, Doheny's presumed murderer, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. For a time this was the most famous crime in L.A. history. Doheny was the son of oil tycoon E.L Doheny, who was in trouble for passing bribes to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall. The investigation and legal circus, known as the Teapot Dome scandal, had ensnared not just the senior Doheny but Doheny Jr. and Plunkett. They had both been indicted for conveying the dirty money from Doheny Sr. to Secretary Fall.

Realistically speaking, there was no serious threat of the Dohenys going to jail. But working class Hugh Plunkett was not a tycoon nor a tycoon's son, which meant for him the possibility of incarceration was real. When Jr. was offered immunity and Plunkett was not, their close friendship began to fray. Plunkett's growing instability spawned attempts to get him into a mental facility—whether to save his mind or save him from testifying remains a subject of debate—but it never happend. Today in 1929 hevisited the Doheny mansion to talk with his pal Ned and hours later the result is what you see in the crime scene photos. There's much more to the case—rumors of a sexual relationship between Doheny Jr. and Plunkett, rumors that Doheny Sr. pulled the trigger on both men, etc.—but we'll leave all that aside. The truly interested can find at least a dozen websites that dig into every aspect of the case. We just wanted to show you the photo-illustration, which is yet another police photo from the University of Southern California digital archive.

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The Naked City Jul 14 2015
LEAPS OF FATE
Overcome by the extreme gravity of their situations.


The photo above shows the path an unfortunate named George Yasbec took when he leaped from the Municipal Courts Building in Los Angeles today in 1952. He was distraught over a drunk driving conviction. We’ve shared press and police photo diagrams in the past, and below you’ll see several more, all for leapers—including the uncollected bodies of several—in the Los Angeles area during the 1950s. 

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The Naked City Mar 24 2015
DEATH EXAMINED
Tragedy plus a photographer equals sales.


Above and below is a fascinating series of photos from the Los Angeles Examiner during the heyday of tabloids, showing just how invasive such publications could be. The photo above shows the aftermath of a murder-suicide at the Ansonia Apartments in L.A.’s MacArthur Park neighborhood. A mother jumped from a window with her six-year-old son. The photos below show the scene from different angles, then a priest administering last rites to the boy, and finally the father grieving over his son’s body. The Examiner focused on crime, corruption, and Hollywood scandals, and was for a time the most widely circulated newspaper in Los Angeles. Possibly its most famous scoop was breaking the story of the 1947 mutilation murder of Elizabeth Short, better known as the Black Dahlia.

In the references we dug up on the Clouart tragedy the wife’s name is never given—she’s called only Mrs. Gerald Clouart. That was of course common practice at the time, but it’s ironic the way it renders invisible a woman who might have received help had anyone truly discerned her troubles. But in yet another example of the Examiner’s extraordinary access, one of its photos is of Mrs. Clouart’s suicide note, and we were able to get her name from that. The note said: “I’ve reached the point of no return. It’s not your fault. You’ve been a wonderful husband and father. Am taking [John] with me to spare him the disgrace. I’m just inadequate.” It was signed Terry. That was today in 1952.


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Hollywoodland Jan 8 2015
BURNS IN THE FIRE
You’re nobody ’til somebody loves you.


The above photos show Barbara Burns when she was busted for drugs today in 1958 after LAPD officers found track marks on her arms. Burns was the well-to-do daughter of famed comedian Bob Burns, but her father had died of kidney cancer in 1956. Barbara Burns was sentenced to probation after the arrest, and the story got some play in national newspaper, with several calling her probation sentence a storybook opportunity at a second chance. But she didn’t cooperate in the role. She managed to cobble together some behind-the-cameras television work, but was arrested for heroin possession in 1959. That time she served ninety days in jail and admitted in an interview, “I’m really hooked. I had nothing else to do, and my mother wouldn’t talk to me. I wanted to be a singer but I was too heavy and they told me it would help me lose weight.” 

Burns had always called herself an ugly duckling, compared herself unfavorably to her siblings, and felt she could never live up to family expectations. But even though her own words told the world that low self esteem was the root of her problems, a dead father and an estrangement from her mother probably didn't help things. The downward spiral continued. She was arrested for marijuana possession in early 1960 and
earned ninety days in Camarillo State Hospital. In November 1960 she was snared in another weed bust, but that time she walked after a jury acquitted her. When she was arrested for heroin possession again in June 1961, she lamented what had probably been true for longer than she admitted—that she had doomed her chance to have a career in show business.
 
At some point she sought medical treatment for an eye problem and was told by a doctor that she was losing her vision in her right eye. In both August and September of 1961 she attempted suicide, and in January 1962 while awaiting trial on one of her narcotics busts she was found overdosed and unconscious on a Hollywood street, and died a few days later in the hospital. Her suicide note said all she wanted was to be loved but everyone hated her. Many of her obituaries, ironically, described her as “tall and beautiful,” which she certainly would not have believed. They also noted her advantages in life—how she had won the crucial lottery of being born to wealth. But Barbara Burns didn’t see it that way. She once said, “I wish I had been born in some poor, obscure family that nobody knew. Then maybe I would have tried to become somebody.”
 
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The Naked City Dec 29 2014
OUT OF THE BLUE
The worst luck always comes when you aren’t looking.

What you’re seeing here is an aftermath photo of suicide leaper Louise Stark, who jumped from a department store window in downtown Los Angeles. It was a catastrophic fall, as you can discern from the river of blood running into the gutter, but she didn’t just kill herself—she landed on a pedestrian named Victor Angel and killed him too. The unfortunate human nail between the hammer and anvil was deaf, but hearing probably would have made no difference. Even if Angelenos made a habit of looking up while they walked, you have to doubt that a warning shouted by an observer would have done little more than give the man time to look up and see his doom approaching. Still, you never know. This happened today in 1958.

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The Naked City Jun 16 2014
L.A. LEAP
Bridge to nowhere.

Above, another photo from the coffee table book so morbid it will put you off your coffee—Scene of the Crime: Photographs from the LAPD Archive. This image shows the aftermath of a suicide leap from L.A.’s 7th Street Bridge, today 1959.

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Vintage Pulp Nov 21 2013
RAMPAGING BULL
Very little of what they wrote was factual, but at least they were bold about it.


Rampage returns to Pulp Intl. after a six month absence with this issue published today in 1973. The cover star and interior models are unknowns, and the stories are mostly fiction (a fiend stomps a girl’s guts out, a ghost rapes a girl in graveyard, a husband shoots out a rival’s eyes, a wife shoots her husband because he wanted a beer) but the editors do expend a bit of column space on two real people. The first is Richard Burton, who they call a hopeless drunk with violent tendencies—not a newsflash, since other tabloids had already covered his drinking issues to death. Of marginally more interest is a story on Peter Duel, a little-known figure today, but one who was a major star during the 1970s, half of the famed duo from the hit television show Alias Smith and Jones. Rampage claims Duel did not commit suicide in December 1971, but rather was murdered. The evidence? The testimony of a medium who communicated with Duel’s spirit and reported that the aggrieved entity said, “They… murdered….me! I… was… murdered..! Oh God..!” And of course, ghosts being famously elliptical, Duel transmitted all this across the ether without uttering the name of a single assailant.

The last item of note in Rampage is the group of predictions by Mark Travis. His predictions are usually so off as to be pure comedy, but eerily, he nails a few this time. For instance, he predicts the development of a cream that can allow a person to be whatever shade they wish. While many current day Americans have perhaps heard of these only in relation to porn stars whitening their anuses, skin whitening creams are in fact a multi-billion dollar industry in places like Japan, India, and China, where paleness is perceived as an indicator of wealth. The fact that people could so blatantly kowtow to racist paradigms is another issue entirely. We’ll get into that another time maybe. Travis also predicts that American highways will all become toll roads, and that’s of course a wet dream of today’s privatization sect, and one that’s coming closer to fruition every day. Okay, Travis missed a few too. Goat’s milk has not become a major part of the American diet yet. And as far as we know, Mexico has not yet offered instant citizenship to Americans who purchase property over the border. But here’s the thing about predictions—there’s no time limit. If they haven’t come true yet… just wait. We predict that we’ll have more issues of Rampage soon. Scans below.

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Hollywoodland Aug 30 2013
McDONALD DUCKS
Marie McDonald gives her minders the slip in Australia.


Today we’re getting back to what we do well with some scans and tawdry tales from a mid-century tabloid—this time it’s Uncensored, published this month in 1965. There’s quite a bonanza inside. You get stories on Ray Charles’ ongoing narcotics problems, Jack Paar’s runaway ego, the health fad of Finnish saunas, and the astounding “fourth sex” (castratos, in case you’re curious). There’s also interesting coverage of American socialite Hope Cooke’s marriage to Crown Prince Palden Thondup Namgyal of a place called Sikkim, a Himalayan monarchy that is now a part of India. When Cooke married the prince in 1963 she became the second most famous American to marry into royalty (after Grace Kelly). The marriage made her a Maharajkumari, which has a nice ring to it, but the union was not successful. An amusing subhead on Uncensored scribe Aldo Ceruzzi’s article encapsulates the problem: Sophisticated though she is, it’ll take lots of doing to overlook those concubines! 

But the story we’re most interested in here is the one on American actress/singer Marie McDonald. We wrote about her before, her infamous nocturnal disappearance from her house, her discovery in the desert, and her weaving a story of abuse and abduction and placing the blameon two “swarthy” assailants. The cops dismissed her story out of hand, but Uncensored gives us a bit of new information on the debacle: But Marie was able to save the $8,000, six-carat diamond ring she was wearing at the time of the alleged snatch. Her unusual safe deposit box was discovered when a doctor examined her for evidence of [rape]. Probing south of the border, he found there were diamonds in them thar hills!
 
Well, wow. Just wow. And you notice how Uncensored slipped the words “snatch” and “box” into the account? Again, wow. Was that an accident? Noooo. No possible way. Most of the McDonald story, though, is actually about an incident that occurred several months before this issue of Uncensored was published in which she escaped from an Australian mental clinic (or “booby barn,” in Uncensored parlance). The scandalous aspect is not her escape, but the fact that she spent the next forty hours at the home of a “handsome admirer” she had met days earlier. What happened there? The imagination runs wild—with a little help from Uncensored. McDonald’s ongoing personal difficulties hadyears ago overshadowed her career, so readers were probably not surprised to come across yet another strange story about the sex symbol nicknamed "The Body." Seven marriages will have a tendency to turn one into the butt of jokes. But though Uncensored makes light of McDonald in that cutting way tabloids do, her life was truly no laughing matter—she committed suicide just two years after this issue appeared, in 1965. We will have more from Uncensored soon.

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The Naked City Aug 7 2013
DEATH BY KNIFE
Mary’s Lindsay’s last dance.

Her name was Mary Lindsay, but she also went by the alias Mary Irving, and she was found stabbed to death one Friday in L.A.’s Wilshire district, in an apartment known to police as an illegal speakeasy and gaming establishment. The murder weapon, which you can see above in the foreground on the table, is probably at least a foot long. Irving/Lindsay’s live-in companion Emmett Hicks had gone missing after the killing along with a length of clothesline from the yard. Police later found Hicks hanged by that clothesline from a high-tension electrical tower in South Central Los Angeles, near East 99th Street and Zamora Avenue in a vacant lot. Their verdict: murder/suicide, case closed. That was today in 1931. The photo comes from the 2004 book Scene of the Crime: Photographs from the LAPD Archive. 

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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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