The Naked City Sep 6 2019
DEATH DID THEM PART
De Mesa marital strife turns into murder.


Above is some random human chaos for your Friday. The photos show the aftermath of the death of Helen de Mesa, who was murdered in broad daylight on a residential Los Angeles street by her husband Nicona de Mesa. In the bottom photo Nicona is questioned in the back seat of a police car as his wife cools on the sidewalk, and we imagine the cop going, “Um hmm... yeah... uh huh... I hear you... but if that was a good reason to kill someone she'd have killed you years ago. You're toast, bud.”

It would appear, based on the blood and lack of a visible weapon, that Nicona shot his wife. We're guessing he was inside the family car and gunned her down as she was standing by the passenger side window, possibly prior to embarking on a drive together. Unfortunately, we can't confirm any of that because every newspaper article about the incident is locked behind a paywall, which has become the sad norm. We also can't confirm de Mesa's eventual fate, but we're guessing federal prison for many years. This happened today in 1951.

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The Naked City Aug 20 2019
NOCTURNAL WILD LIFE
Birdwell get wings clipped, ends up in cage.


It started as a fun evening, but twenty-year-old Joan Birdwell was later booked on charges of felony drunk driving, something that happened in Los Angeles today in 1951. And wouldn't you know it? Just to make matters worse, a photographer from the Los Angeles Examiner was on hand to document Birdwell's humiliation from beginning to end. In addition to her wild night ending with arrest and photographic infamy, she may have actually crashed her car, because a companion photo below shows her passenger Vernon Burgess in a hospital bed, though not seriously hurt.

Birdwell was the daughter of powerful press agent Russell Birdwell. L.A. tabloids obsessively sought good art, and a juicy jail photo of someone connected to a celebrity—however obscure that celebrity might have been—certainly qualified. Celebs, killers, thieves, and regular folk all got this treatment. We can't confirm that Examiner ever actually ran these shots. Either way they're out there now, thanks to the University of Southern California's online Examiner archive. Ah, the internet: where everything you hoped was long forgotten lives in mortifying perpetuity. Joan, if you're out there, sorry.

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The Naked City Dec 31 2018
THE LAST DAY OF CHRISTMAS
L.A. man ends the holidays with a bang.


We've always been fascinated by splatter shots from the mid-century period. When did someone finally decide people had a right to privacy even in death? We don't know, but we think it was a good idea. Before that change came about press photographers routinely tramped around crime scenes documenting mayhem for profit. These images show the aftermath of a murder-suicide that took place today in 1951. Pictured are L.A. cops Detective Lieutenant George A. Encinas and Detective Lieutenant Bill Cummings, along with the bodies of Charles Sullivan and his wife, identified only as Mrs. Charles Sullivan. Maybe a new year would have brought new hope to this household, but we'll never know, nor will we know exactly why Sullivan shot his wife and himself. The images are part of the always compelling collection of Los Angeles Examiner photos maintained by the University of Southern California.

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The Naked City Dec 18 2018
WAR ON CHRISTMAS
He obviously didn't realize 'tis the season to be jolly.


This series of photos shows the bloody aftermath of a murder-suicide in Los Angeles. A man named Phillip Lovetti shot his father-in-law before turning a shotgun on himself. A few of aspects of these images are notable. On the most visceral level the position in which Lovetti landed, below, shows what instant death+gravity does to a human body. We once read a police account about a man who shot himself and both his knees dislocated, just from the weight of his body being pulled straight down by gravity. Without muscular control the body goes where physics takes it, and you get a sense of that in these photos. Also note the pockmarked wall above the chair where Lovetti shot himself. But most interesting, to us at least, is that the cops marched Lovetti's wife Lorena through the crime scene. Maybe she was asked to to identify the bodies or describe the incident. She's bloodspattered, so perhaps she witnessed the entire fiasco, but maybe she got bloody handling her husband or father's bodies, checking for pulses, for example. The data with these photos doesn't go into detail. Nor does it explain why Lorena Lovetti is clutching a shoe in the last three shots. Whatever happened, this is a crazy series, from today, 1953. Stay jolly out there.

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Mondo Bizarro Aug 5 2018
BALANCING WORK AND FAMILY
Your parents were bad? My parents went to prison for the things they made me do.


In this photo from the 1930s a teenaged acrobat performs sans net—or seemingly nearby adult supervision—on the edge of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce Building. Isn't the Chamber of Commerce supposed to promote local business and the market economy? If this girl had fallen we guess they'd have said the market demanded more pancakes. Well, she managed to keep her balance while striking this upside down lotus pose. We know because the Los Angeles Examiner building was about a hundred feet away, and it would have published any splatter photos. We looked in its archive and found none. Photos of parents being arrested for child endangerment, however, are another matter.

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The Naked City Jul 14 2018
14TH OF JULY PARTY
It was an event none of them will ever forget.

Talk about a bad end to a promising evening. These photos from the Los Angeles Examiner were shot in the wee hours of today in 1951. They show a group of people arrested after cops raided a residence in the Montrose area of Los Angeles where a “drug and sex party” was taking place. The illegal substances of choice were marijuana and benzedrine, which strike us an unusual combo, and the sex in question was distributed between what seems to be seventeen men and one woman, also an unusual combo. But we suspect the sex aspect of the story is an exaggeration. If even a couple of people were getting freaky in some rear bedroom the press would have called it a sex party because that's how you sell papers. Examiner readers probably imagined a carnal pile-up with bare asses heaving up and down and thirty-six limbs going in all directions. Which when you think about doesn't sound so bad. Well, we hope they had fun while it lasted.

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The Naked City Jun 18 2018
PARTY CRASHER
Did I make it in time for happy hour?


The above image, which is from the collection of Los Angeles Examiner photos archived by the University of Southern California, shows an accident at a bar located at 5th and Figueroa in Los Angeles. It happened when two autos collided in the intersection outside, and one of the drivers lost control and careened into the Ole King Cole Room of the Monarch Hotel (we have a photo of the exterior from some years earlier below). Luckily for patrons the bar had closed. Unluckily for the driver, he missed half priced drinks. But maybe he'd already reached his limit. The photo is from today in 1957. 

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The Naked City May 27 2018
COLD STEEL
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.

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Sex Files May 5 2018
WHEN THE FIRE GOES OUT
L.A. burlesque dancer sentenced to cool off in jail.


Today in 1952 thirty-six-year-old burlesque dancer Betty Rowland, known as the Ball of Fire because of her red hair and diminutive stature, was convicted of lewd behavior for a dance she performed at the Follies Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. Being arrested was an occupational hazard, but this was an unusual case. Two cops had ventured into the Follies and, as cops are wont to do, demanded special treatment—i.e. free entrance. The ticket girl was not with the program so the cops busted the show and hauled Rowland and her manager into court. Rowland was eventually sentenced to three months in jail for a lewd performance and hit with a $5,000 fine—a tremendous amount back then, about $46,000 in today's money.

Rowland is putting on a brave face in the Los Angeles Examiner photos you see here, but she was stunned by the sentence, and the situation was all the more frustrating because the conviction hinged on the lies of two angry cops. Rowland had been performing her act for years with no hint of problems from the morals squad, and certainly wouldn't have started pushing the envelope after being so well established for so long. But that explanation held no water with Judge Byron J. Walters, who we can assume issued an unusually harsh sentence at the behest of those same crooked cops. Rowland wasn't the first dancer railroaded by the law and she wouldn't be the last.

Several weeks after being hauled off to the cooler, the Ball of Fire's sentence was commuted by Walters, who had been told Rowland planned to quit the burlesque business to open a perfume store in Beverly Hills with her sister. Walters: “The value of incarceration seems to have made its effective marks.” Some time after Rowland's release—we don't know if it was days, months, or years—she claimed it was actually a bribe that secured her freedom, paid out of pocket by her and shunted into the appropriate coffers. We've seen no reports that she opened a perfume store. Instead she danced into the 1960s before retiring. At last count she had reached age 102 in a rest home, and we bet she's still plenty steamed about that jail sentence. The photo below shows a young Rowland, probably around 1945.

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The Naked City Sep 29 2016
KINDIG A HOLE
You can't hide from the FBI.


Talk about a shitty day. The artful above photo shows Eleanor Kindig, who was arrested for giving false information to the FBI. The Compton, California native disappeared, and after being found in New Mexico, spun a fanciful tale about being abducted. She had run away to avoid legal troubles back in California. Thanks to her fib, her troubles were just starting. That was today in 1952, and the photo is from the Los Angeles Examiner collection held at the University of Southern California.

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Next Page
History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
September 16
1920—Terrorists Bomb Wall Street
At 12:01 p.m. a bomb loaded into a horse-drawn wagon explodes in front of the J.P.Morgan building in New York City. 38 people are killed and 400 injured. Italian anarchists are thought to be the perpetrators, but after years of investigation no one is ever brought to justice.
September 15
1959—Khrushchev Visits U.S.
Nikita Khrushchev becomes the first Soviet leader to visit the United States. The two week stay includes talks with U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, as well as a visit to a farm and a Hollywood movie set, and a tour of a "typical" American neighborhood, upper middle class Granada Hills, California.
September 14
1959—Soviets Send Object to Moon
The Soviet probe Luna 2 becomes the first man-made object to reach the Moon when it crashes in Mare Serenitatis. The probe was designed to crash, but first it took readings in Earth's Van Allen Radiation Belt, and also confirmed the existence of solar wind.
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