The Naked City Aug 2 2015
DRIVE FAILURE
Trouble on the tracks.

The above photos are interesting examples of the editorial focus of the Los Angeles Examiner during the 1950s. Pretty much anything that crashed, burned, bled, or exploded made it into the paper. In this case, a motorist going east on Ramona Boulevard lost control of his car, struck the median, and careened through a chain link fence onto the railroad tracks flanking the road. The spectators are eyeing the scene from the Herbert Avenue overpass. This happened today in 1951. 

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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 two—in the Los Angeles area during the 1950s. 

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The Naked City Jun 11 2015
ARMCHAIR SLEUTHS
So you think you can be a detective, do you?


This issue of True Detective from June 1952 has cover art from Ozni Brown, along with all the standard crime magazine elements inside, but today we’re interested in its unusual solve-it-yourself murder feature. This is the first of these we’ve seen. A fictitious crime scene photo is published along with a short written scenario, and readers are invited to determine how the killing was committed and by which suspect. This particular puzzle is a television tie-in written by Darren McGavin, who at the time was starring in a CBS series called Crime Photographer. The show revolved around a world-weary crime tabloid photog narrating his latest adventures to his local bartender. The series lasted only forty-seven episodes, but McGavin would go on to star in other shows, including the beloved but also short-lived Nightstalker. If you want to take a crack at solving True Detective’s murder we’ve enlarged the relevant bits at the bottom of this post.

 

In order to make the whodunnit photo detailed enough we had to split it in half. It appears below along with the enlarged text.

 

And below is the solution.

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The Naked City May 9 2015
WALT DIZZY
I’m feeling a little light-headed. Do you have any pills you could give me?

A dismayed but dapper narcotics suspect named Walter Collins gets a double grilling from two LAPD detectives as they sort through a stash of contraband pharma. Collins looks like he’s got a headache, which may very well be true considering the circumstances, but of course he’s actually hiding from the intrusive Los Angeles Examiner photographer documenting his downfall. The photos were made today in 1952. 

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The Naked City Apr 16 2015
TIME BANDIT
That silly grin of yours reminds me of some guys you'll meet in D-block whose humor is really infectious.

Burglary suspect James Frantz, top right, tries to look unworried while LAPD officers sort through a pile of time pieces and jewelry they believe he pilfered. No word on whether Frantz went down for the crimes. The photos were made today in 1951. 

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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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The Naked City Feb 13 2015
A LOW EBBS
Get me to the church on time.


The cover of this February 1965 issue of True Detective featuring a strangled woman and an evil garden gnome is impressively horrific, but thankfully the scene was posed by a model. The crime mentioned in the second inset—“Girl Scout’s Body Found in the Church Furnace”—was, unfortunately, real. Seven-year-old Janet Young had been dropped off by her mother at Bethany Evangelical United Brethren Church in Queens, New York City, to attend a Brownie Scout meeting. She was late. The meeting had begun at 3:30 and the church doors were locked. Mrs. Young watched as a church handyman and aspiring minister named John Ebbs let her daughter in a side door. At that point she drove away. And it was at that point that the eighteen-year-old Ebbs, who people in the community described as slow-witted but harmless, suddenly, in his words, “had an urge.” He dragged Janet Young to the basement, and as the Scout meeting proceeded overhead, he sexually assaulted her, choked her with a belt from her uniform, and dumped her in the church furnace to burn with no idea whether she was alive or dead.

When Mrs. Young came to retrieve her daughter, she found the church empty. She called the Scout leader and was told Janet never attended the meeting. This prompted a frantic call to the police, who quickly found the girl’s charred body. They arrested Ebbs at home hours later. The crime, once it hit the news, aroused a furious reaction in the community. Two civilian participants in a police line-up with Ebbs punched, kicked and spat on him. Though the police of course denied this assault ever happened, they put together an armed detachment of thirty-five men to forestall trouble at Ebbs’ arraignment. At his trial, which lasted eight days, four psychiatrists testified that he was legally insane, but four others pronounced him sane. He was convicted of first degree murder, and sentenced to life in prison. Ebb’s only reaction, at least according to accounts of the time, came when he saw the camera crews gathered to film him. He wondered aloud, “What will they think of me?” 

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The Naked City Jan 20 2015
BAD GAMBLE
Even if it sounds like a bluff, don't call it unless you’re willing to lose everything.


This photo made today in 1959 shows a woman named Jessie Mae Noah, who Los Angeles police had arrested and were questioning in connection to a crime that had occurred seven weeks earlier. On that December night a Samuel Goldwyn Studios suit named Kenneth Savoy walked into the In Between Café on Melrose Avenue during the time two men—one holding a sawed-off shotgun—were in the process of robbing it. Having collected the money and valuables of eight patrons and the contents of the cash register, they demanded Savoy’s wallet, and perhaps having watched too many of his own movies, he replied that if they wanted it they’d have to shoot him. That hard-boiled response earned him a load of buckshot in the stomach. The robbers scampered to their getaway car—where Jessie Mae Noah was waiting in the rear seat—and fled the scene.

After police published composite sketches of the robbers in the newspapers, Noah contacted police, resulting in the photo op above. The robbers—George Scott and Curtis Lichtenwalter—were arrested later (for those who wonder whether composite sketches ever work, check the comparison between Scott and his likeness at bottom).

Scott had fled all the way to Texarkana, Arkansas, and gave up only after a shoot-out with police at a motel. Jessie Mae Noah claimed she’d had no idea her two acquaintances were planning a robbery, and that she had simply gone for a ride with them for kicks. She avoided a murder charge, but Scott and Lichenwalter were both found guilty of robbery and first degree homicide. Scott—the triggerman—was gassed to death by the state of California in September 1960. And as for the victim Kenneth Savoy, you have to wonder what he thought in that instant when the shotgun went off. We suspect he thought that maybe calling bluffs was something best left to the stars of action films.


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The Naked City Jan 12 2015
FINAL SHOT
Life and death in the cinema.


Police Lt. Hugh Crowley lies dead in the Fox Westwood Village Theater in Los Angeles after being shot today in 1932. Crowley had gone to the theater after closing time to retrieve box office receipts, but instead surprised two thieves. Crowley reached for his sidearm and fired, and one of the crooks gunned him down. Both men were captured and tried, and Joseph Francis Regan, who had fired the fatal shot and actually been hit in the abdomen by a bullet fired by Crowley, was sentenced to death. Jack Green, who had no prior criminal record, had not fired a shot, and had cooperated in the police investigation, nevertheless also was sentenced to death, probably because he had planned the crime. Regan was hanged at San Quentin State Prison in August 1933. Green came close to the gallows, but received numerous reprieves after public pleas for leniency from his parents, and rulings from higher courts. Eventually his sentence was commuted to life in prison.

Although Green was probably never aware of it, legal authorities often cited his case during the long battle over the constitutionality of the death penalty in California. The idea put forth by the pro-death penalty side around 1960 was that even though Green’s commuted sentence specified “without possibility of parole,” there was no actual reason in California jurisprudence or the state constitution that he could not be released. All that was required was for an appropriate state authority to decide to do it. They felt therefore that anti-death penalty campaigners’ assurances that criminals could be imprisoned for life if such punishment was deemed necessary meant nothing. No matter the language of the original life sentence, any criminal could later be released. Green doubtless would have found all this fascinating, but none of it ever came to affect him. As far as we can tell, he did in fact spend the rest of his life in San Quentin.

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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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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
August 04
1944—Anne Frank Captured
After a Dutch informer tips off the Gestapo, 15-year-old Jewish diarist Anne Frank and her family are captured in an Amsterdam warehouse. The Franks had first hidden there from the Nazis two years earlier, and Anne had spent much of the time writing her diary. The diary survives the war, but Anne Frank doesn't—she perishes in a Nazi prison camp.
August 03
1966—Lenny Bruce Found Dead
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August 02
1921—Black Sox Acquitted
After a trial lasting fourteen days, a jury finds eight Chicago White Sox baseball players not guilty of conspiring with a national gambling syndicate to throw the 1920 World Series. Despite the acquittal, newly appointed baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis expels all eight players from major league baseball in an attempt to assure the American public of the purity of the game.

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