The Naked City Mar 1 2014
HI AND BYE
Knocked for a loop in Los Angeles.

Were the police being whimsical? We don’t know. This evidentiary photo taken at Pacific Ocean Park shows the curious path that 19-year-old John Lee O’Brien took when he fatally plunged from a roller coaster into the sea, today in 1927. The image comes from the Los Angeles Public Library’s archive of twentieth century police photos. There are two accounts of what happened here. One says O’Brien fell 50 feet, but that doesn’t explain the strange loop in the photo.
 
The more plausible story is version two. In that one, O’Brien was showing off by standing up during the ride. When the car went around a curve, he lost his balance and plunged 125 feet into the ocean. A fall from that height would have his descent beginning from the higher track in the photo, whereupon—boing!—he struck the lower track, rebounded and fell a further 50 feet into the water, unconscious or possibly already dead. Maybe that’s what the loop signifies—bounciness. The coaster, by the way, was called the High Boy. See below.

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The Naked City | Vintage Pulp Dec 28 2013
EXCESS BAGGAGE
This is bad, but the upside is I finally have proof I’m right—you do take too long to pack.

True Detective gives readers the lowdown on several crimes in this issue published this month in 1958, but the most chilling story involves 18-year-old Marjorie Schneider, who was parked in a secluded lover’s lane near Fort Collins, Colorado with her date and another couple when she was abducted at gunpoint. True Detective scribe Jonas Bayer tells readers how the perpetrator was a man named Floyd Robertson, who first shot up the car, then robbed the quartet inside, and finally dragged the screaming Schneider away, saying, “I want the blonde to come with me.” With the car non-functional, the survivors ran two miles to a telephone. Their call touched off one of the largest searches in Colorado history. When police caught Robertson just days later, he admitted that he had abducted and raped Schneider, shot her three times in the head, then buried her body 600 feet up the side of an incline overlooking Highway 14. Robertson was later convicted of the crimes and sentenced to life in prison. The cover art on this issue is by Joe Little, who painted covers for Master Detective, Saga, Male, Man’s World, and many other mags. More from him later. 

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The Naked City Dec 14 2013
WATER WATER EVERYWHERE
The fault was theirs and theirs alone.

Fifty years ago in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Baldwin Hills a tiny crack in the wall of the Baldwin Hills Reservoir became a 75-foot-wide breach that allowed more than 250 million gallons of water to burst free in a killer wave. The reservoir had been built on an active geologic fault, a fact that was known by engineers but deemed unimportant. The images above and below, part of the Los Angeles Public Library’s collection of vintage L.A. photos, show the beginning and aftermath of the event. The first shot was taken as workers were examining the growing crack. At some point, a shouted warning sent them scattering and the dam broke. The time elapsed between the discovery of the crack and the failure of the dam was about three hours. No workers were hurt, but within the path of the wave, an area roughly bounded by La Brea Avenue, Jefferson Boulevard, and La Cienega Boulevard, five people were killed, sixty-five houses were completely destroyed, and 210 other residences were damaged. That was today in 1963.

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The Naked City Oct 9 2013
COLD HARD CRASH
This little piggy went to market.

The two shots above come from the University of Southern California’s digital collection of mid-century Los Angeles Herald-Examiner photographs and show an auto accident on the corner of West 1st Street and Olive Street. The image caught our eye because it was labeled “Deputy Sheriff in Auto Crash,” which we take to mean that a sheriff’s department deputy crashed into a market in broad daylight in downtown L.A. Seems unlikely, but USC’s photo labeling is usually quite exact, and in the images we see two officers, both of whom are calmly writing in notebooks rather than sitting on the curb freaking, which makes us think the caption isn't referring to either of them. So where is the deputy? In an ambulance on his way to the hospital? Back at his desk writing a report (street urchin ran in front of vehicle causing swerve and crash)? At home sobering up? Why exactly he crashed is an intriguing little mystery, but of course we’ll never learn the answer, so let’s just go with the obvious—the market sells excellent donuts and he was in a bit too much of a hurry. It happened today in 1951. 
 

 
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The Naked City Aug 12 2013
SPRECKELS OF SUGAR
If you think you can drive better than me after eight Jäger shots you're welcome to try.

When do you smile your way through a drunk driving arrest? When you’re too rich to care. Mary Spreckels was a former dancer who had married John D. Spreckels III, a scion of the Spreckels Sugar empire. By August 1952, when the above photo was taken, she had divorced her husband but had gotten a tidy settlement, and like all self-respecting rich women still went by his last name lest she be mistaken for a mere commoner. The photo below shows Spreckels in court two months after her arrest. We figure there are only two possible reasons she’s being administered a field sobriety test in court—one, she showed up reeking of mimosas, or two, she’s contesting the drunk driving charge by demonstrating that she can’t walk a straight line even when sober. The images come from the University of Southern California’s digital archive of Los Angeles photos. Oh, and did we forget to mention why Mary Spreckels sued her husband for divorce? Because he was an alcoholic.

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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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The Naked City Jul 23 2013
SUMMERS END
All the Good Samaritans in the world couldn’t help him.

From the USC Digital Archive of mid-century Los Angeles images, the above photo shows the aftermath of the suicide of Russell Summers, who leapt from the seventh floor of Good Samaritan Hospital. There’s no information about why he jumped. That was today, 1951.  

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The Naked City Jul 19 2013
SHOTS IN THE DARK
What do you get for being a member of the Mickey louse club? A cap... in your ass.

Tonight in 1949 just before 4 a.m.—i.e. early in the morning of July 20—L.A. mobster Mickey Cohen was ambushed by unknown gunmen outside a Sunset Boulevard eatery called Sherry’s. The above photo diagram and close-up shows where his assailants hid behind a billboard across the street from the restaurant and opened fire with shotguns. Cohen was hit in the shoulder, three others were seriously wounded, and New York Daily News reporter Florabel Muir was bruised by a ricochet (or shot directly, according to some accounts). The photo just below shows the view the gunmen had from underneath the billboard. And the last two show the immediate aftermath of the shooting, with a surprising number of bystanders and/or restaurant patrons present considering the late hour, and Cohen henchman Edward Herbert on the ground. He would later die from his wounds. The Sherry’s ambush was the second of several attempts on Cohen’s life. None were successful, though as usual, the members of his circle did not fare well. For a look at a cool collection of photo diagrams and an explanation of their use, see here. 

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The Naked City Mar 28 2013
HERO TO ZERO
Former lifesaver convicted of murder in Manchester.


Yesterday in Manchester, England, 46-year-old Stephen Seddon was found guilty of murdering his parents for £235,000 in insurance money. Robert and Patricia Seddon were found shot dead in their home in July 2012, a sawed-off shotgun on the scene indicating a possible murder/suicide. But ballistic experts decided that scenario was not possible, and soon Stephen Seddon—who had boasted to acquaintances before his parents’ deaths that he was about to come into a large sum of money—was arrested. Yesterday’s conviction marked the final chapter of just another sad, senseless murder tale. What’s shocking, though, is the preamble.

In March 2012 Seddon was driving with his parents on a highway when his car hit a brick and skidded into a canal. He dragged his nephew Daniel from the car, then went back for his father while bystanders saved his mother. Seddon was hailed as a hero. Some details of the accident were strange, but police glossed over them. The details? There was no evidence of the car hitting a brick, and Seddon coincidentally happened to be carrying a knife with which to cut his seatbelt and a wheel lock with which to smash out the driverside window as the car went down. Oh, and several witnesses saw him jumping up and down on the roof of the car as it sank. Red flag? You’d tend to think so.
 
Picture the scene: Seddon is jumping on the car trying to help his parents to a watery grave, suddenly realizes he’s being observed, and shifts into hero mode. He must have thought, No way anyone’s going to buy this act. But they did. Or at least, the police, who hadn’t seen him going bouncy bouncy on the car, bought it. But eventually the parents began to suspect their accident was attempted murder. Their deaths occurred the day after Robert Seddon told his doctor that he planned to confront his son. The confrontation led to a double shooting, but yesterday in Manchester justice was served, at least in some form. Stephen Seddon wasn’t just convicted of murder—he was also convicted of attempted murder for the March canal plunge.

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The Naked City Mar 5 2013
THE NIGHT CHICAGO DIED
Six murders, scarce leads, and a city gripped by fear.


This two-color cover from Headquarters Detective appeared in March 1958 and features a pose that you see quite a bit on vintage crime magazines—the man standing above a terrorized woman, often with a phallic symbol in hand. We’ve been gathering up some covers in this style and we’ll share what we’ve found pretty soon. This cover is also noteworthy because it reports at bottom left on the last of six murders that occurred in the Chicago area between October 1955 and August 1957. Three boys and three girls ranging from ages eleven to fifteen were stripped, battered, strangled, and in the cases of two of the girls, raped.

But it was the sixth murder that truly horrified already shaken Chicago residents. The killer—and if it was the same killer his violent tendencies were growing—dismembered Judith Anderson and set the body parts afloat in Montrose Harbor in two metal drums. The smaller drum contained the girl’s head, right arm and left hand, the second the rest of her. The head had four bullets in it. Police followed many leads—according to at least one account they investigated 109,000 homes, 40,000 to 50,000 garages and basements, 900 businesses, and 200 boats. They heard countless confessions, all of which turned out to be false—save for possibly one.

Some local fishermen told police that several nights before Anderson’s remains turned up they saw a car on the opposite shore of the harbor. They knew it had backed up to the water because they could see its brake lights. A person they described as well-built got out, opened the trunk of the car and threw something—or several somethings—into the water. When he drove away they noticed that one of his brake lights was out. The detail of the broken light helped generate a suspect, someone with a criminal record and a history of sexual violence, but police were never able to pin the killing on him even though at least one investigator claimed he had confessed. Ultimately police never solved Anderson's murder, or the other five.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
April 23
1986—Otto Preminger Dies
Austro–Hungarian film director Otto Preminger, who directed such eternal classics as Laura, Anatomy of a Murder, Carmen Jones, The Man with the Golden Arm, and Stalag 17, and for his efforts earned a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, dies in New York City, aged 80, from cancer and Alzheimer's disease.
1998—James Earl Ray Dies
The convicted assassin of American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., petty criminal James Earl Ray, dies in prison of hepatitis aged 70, protesting his innocence as he had for decades. Members of the King family who supported Ray's fight to clear his name believed the U.S. Government had been involved in Dr. King's killing, but with Ray's death such questions became moot.
April 22
1912—Pravda Is Founded
The newspaper Pravda, or Truth, known as the voice of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, begins publication in Saint Petersburg. It is one of the country's leading newspapers until 1991, when it is closed down by decree of then-President Boris Yeltsin. A number of other Pravdas appear afterward, including an internet site and a tabloid.
1983—Hitler's Diaries Found
The German magazine Der Stern claims that Adolf Hitler's diaries had been found in wreckage in East Germany. The magazine had paid 10 million German marks for the sixty small books, plus a volume about Rudolf Hess's flight to the United Kingdom, covering the period from 1932 to 1945. But the diaries are subsequently revealed to be fakes written by Konrad Kujau, a notorious Stuttgart forger. Both he and Stern journalist Gerd Heidemann go to trial in 1985 and are each sentenced to 42 months in prison.
April 21
1918—The Red Baron Is Shot Down
German WWI fighter ace Manfred von Richthofen, better known as The Red Baron, sustains a fatal wound while flying over Vaux sur Somme in France. Von Richthofen, shot through the heart, manages a hasty emergency landing before dying in the cockpit of his plane. His last word, according to one witness, is "Kaputt." The Red Baron was the most successful flying ace during the war, having shot down at least 80 enemy airplanes.
1964—Satellite Spreads Radioactivity
An American-made Transit satellite, which had been designed to track submarines, fails to reach orbit after launch and disperses its highly radioactive two pound plutonium power source over a wide area as it breaks up re-entering the atmosphere.

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