Light and darkness in New York City.
Alfred Statler honed his camera skills in Europe documenting the chaos of World War II and brought his gritty sensibilities to bear on his fine art photography once he returned to the visual utopia he called home—New York City. This shot is from the mid-fifties and captures a nighttime scene in Manhattan, with its neon signs and sky aglow with metropolitan lightbleed. We love this.
Yeah, I'm drunk. And I'm just old enough not to give a fuck.
You plan to weave your car quietly home from the bar and not only do you get stopped and arrested, but immortalized by the press. This image, another from the University of Southern California archive, was shot by a Los Angeles Herald photographer and shows motorist Edna Benton failing a field sobriety test administered by highway patrolman M.G. Gaskell. Herald photographers were often on the scene after murders and suicides, but this image shows just how quickly they could be on the scene to shame even the most unimportant of people. We're curious when this type of photo-journalism went out of style. In this case the shame aspect didn't work, as Benton's smile in image two shows. These date from today in 1951.
Don't worry, baby. What we have'll last forever.
The above image from the University of Southern California collection of Los Angeles Herald photos dates from 1952 and shows sixteen-year-old Marlene Eason visiting her jailbird boyfriend, nineteen-year-old Eddie Christianelli, who was under arrest for robbery. In response to Christianelli's marriage proposal Eason agreed to wed him in jail. At that moment somewhere across town Eason's father swooned, and when his wife asked what was wrong he said, “I felt a great disturbance in the force, as if all our daughter's hopes and dreams were suddenly ruined.” Young love. Whaddaya gonna do?
The seat belt is optional, you say? I guess I’ll pass.
Two angles on the same auto accident give a graphic example of bodily risk on the roads during the midcentury period. This happened in Los Angeles, on the Cahuenga Pass, in 1951. Notice how, due to a hard impact with a poured concrete barrier, the stricken car's steering column was bent up by the force of the driver's torso being thrown forward. The steering wheel shattered the windshield, and the driver's head may have impacted there as well, or perhaps hit the even harder metal roofline of the car where it meets the glass. He lies ejected from the vehicle with cranial blood draining onto the pavement, and you'll notice the car has no latch on the left side of the driver's seat. This was before the days of mandatory lap restraints, but they were offered as options on some cars. Possibly not this one, though.
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.
Sensational crimes with a side order of sex.
This issue of Best True Fact Detective which hit newsstands this month in 1950 came from Newsbook Publishing Corp. out of New York City. The magazine had some fantastic covers, but most were uncredited. Some of the artists that worked for the magazine around 1950 include greats like George Gross and Fred Rodewald, but this is the work of Howell Dodd, a fact we discovered with a bit of research. This is great work from him, and you can see more of his output here and here.
Inside the magazine you get various procedural stories sexualized by the editors with blurbs like, "Sex-Starved Women are Coffin-Bait!" and photo captions like, "Officers saw the body of a young girl who in life had been a raving, desirable beauty!" Beyond morbid, if you ask us, but the actual stories are professionally written and informative, with art consisting of photo-illustrations posed by professional models. Has anybody written anything substantive about this bizarre subset of the modeling industry? If not they should, because it's fascinating.
But a good photo for Ferdie.
A police lieutenant named R.W. Lauritzen and a cop named Reggie Floyd eye L.L. Hardwick, found murdered in a littered vacant lot in Los Angeles. Hardwicke's car sits in the background, with its passenger door open. Note also the bystanders behind the cop. On the whole it's an unusually interesting candid shot, an instant of time from a day long past, but which remains vivid thanks to the skill of Los Angeles Examiner photographer Ferdie Olmo. That was today in 1960.
Chaos and carnage from coast to coast.
Fotocrime is another offering from Digest Publications, Inc., the NYC outfit that gave the world Exclusive, He, and other newsstand treats. The above magazine appeared this month in 1954, was the premier issue, and is exactly what its title says—a compendium of crime photography and the stories behind them, spiced with a bit of celebrity content. Because it's digest sized the text scans at a readable size, so we don't have to explain much. You can have a look and see what it's all about yourself. Of special note are the crime movie reviews, the anti-handgun article, and the True Detective-style feature entitled “Fotoclue” that challenges readers to solve a hypothetical murder. Forty scans below. New York City
, Digest Publications
, The Long Wait
, Witness To Murder
, Eugene Wiedman
, Jean Laget
, Lucky Luciano
, Roy Schinagle
, Jack Webb
, Ben Alexander
, Mark Stevens
, Ralph Bellamy
, Gloria McGhee
, Leonard Bishop
, true crime magazine
Putting the pieces back together.
How many slayings over the years have been called “jigsaw murders”? Plenty. All a killer has to do is cut up the body and “jigsaw” becomes the go-to nickname. The particular jigsaw murders referred to on the cover of this August 1947 True Police Cases are ones committed in Lancashire, England during the late 1930s. A doctor named Buktyar Rustomji Ratanji Hakim—“Buck” for short, and aka Buck Ruxton—strangled his wife Isabella. And in a sad but classic case of wrong-place-wrong-time, a maid who had the misfortune of witnessing the event was also strangled.
But Ruxton wasn’t finished. He yanked out the women’s teeth, cut off their faces, chopped up their bodies, and disposed of the pieces in a stream 100 miles from his home. The guy was really using his head. Other than needing to explain the absence of his wife and maid, he had to feel pretty confident about going undetected. But he had wrapped some of the remains in newspaper—a newspaper sold only in his area. That helped police zero in. And when they noted the precision of the butchery, they immediately narrowed their search to medical professionals. Needless to say, there weren’t too many doctors in the Lancashire area whose wives were suddenly missing.
You may wonder what the trigger was for all this carnage. It was jealousy. It always seems to be jealousy. Isabella was socially quite popular, and Doc Ruxton thought she was cheating on him. He anguished over this constantly, and the couple fought often, which is the reason the poor maid didn’t realize until too late that she wasn’t witnessing just another fight. Ruxton had no actual evidence his wife was cheating, but in the end his lack of proof didn’t matter—that only meant she was too clever to be caught.
Because the police used newly developed forensic techniques to help solve the crime—for instance, superimposing photos of Isabella’s face over the decomposed head to aid identification—the case generated a lot of attention. True Police Cases scribe Alan Hynd wasn’t the only journalist with an interest. Many true crime writers wrote about it, and the story eventually became an entire book by T.F. Potter in 1984 called The Deadly Dr. Ruxton: How They Caught a Lancashire Double Killer. All these years later, of the many jigsaw murderers, Buck Ruxton remains among the most famous.
, The Deadly Dr. Ruxton: How They Caught a Lancashire Double Killer
, The Deadly Dr. Ruxton
, True Police Cases
, Buktyar Rustomji Ratanji Hakim
, Buck Ruxton
, Isabella Ruxton
, T.F. Potter
, true crime magazine
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1914—Aquitania Sets Sail
The Cunard liner RMS Aquitania, at 45,647 tons, sets sails on her maiden voyage from Liverpool, England to New York City. At the time she is the largest ocean liner on the seas. During a thirty-six year career the ship serves as both a passenger liner and military ship in both World Wars before being retired and scrapped in 1950.
1914—RMS Empress Sinks
Canadian Pacific Steamships' 570 foot ocean liner Empress of Ireland is struck amidships by a Norwegian coal freighter and sinks in the Gulf of St. Lawrence with the loss of 1,024 lives. Submerged in 130 feet of water, the ship is so easily accessible to treasure hunters who removed valuables and bodies from the wreck that the Canadian government finally passes a law in 1998 restricting access.
1937—Chamberlain Becomes Prime Minister
Arthur Neville Chamberlain, who is known today mainly for his signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938 which conceded the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany and was supposed to appease Adolf Hitler's imperial ambitions, becomes prime minister of Great Britain. At the time Chamberlain is the second oldest man, at age sixty-eight, to ascend to the office. Three years later he would give way to Winston Churchill.
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