B-movie actor generates A-list headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Show business careers go off the rails for a wide array of reasons—lack of talent, lack of audience appeal, substance abuse, and a predilection for general mayhem all come to mind. Hollywood actor Tom Neal fits legendarily into the last category. From his debut in 1938 through 1951 he logged more than seventy film appearances. That's incredible output by any measure. Most of his roles were in b-movies, but there were some notable parts mixed in. His career highlights included Another Thin Man, the film noir Detour, and Crime, Inc.
Neal caused minor scandals early in his career, but he graduated to the majors beginning in early 1951, when he met tempestuous actress Barbara Payton and the two began dating. Payton had announced her engagement the previous year to debonair leading man Franchot Tone, but her ideas about commitment weren't of the standard variety. She was still married to an Air Force Captain named John Payton while dating Tone, and had allegedly slept with Gary Cooper and Steve Cochran while working with them on the 1950 western Dallas. When Neal met her, she kicked Tone to the curb and announced she and Neal would be marrying. But Payton was fickle, to say the least, and ended up dropping Neal and getting re-engaged to Tone. All this while still married to her Air Force guy.
One thing Hollywood people can count on is crossing paths with their colleagues at one point or another—especially if they're dating the same woman. When Neal crossed paths with Tone and Payton in September 1951 at her apartment, he intended to punish the man who had won Payton's hand. Everyone in Hollywood knew Neal had been an amateur boxer. Maybe the qualifier “amateur” gave Tone excessive confidence. Maybe he didn't know that Neal, who you see below with barbells overhead and a tube sock in his shorts, had accumulated a 31-3record in the ring. Maybe Tone slipped on a dollop of Beluga caviar. Payton said Tone simply had no choice about fighting because Neal attacked him. Whatever the reason, Neal floored Tone with his first punch, and continued to beat him afterward, delivering cheek and nose fractures. Tone lay in an eighteen hour coma in the hospital. Ironically, that was the day Payton's divorce had come through. 1951 had been a pretty good year for Neal up to that point. But from then onward he was Hollywood persona non grata. He'd had more roles in ’51 than he would the entire rest of his career. We wouldn't go so far as saying that means Tone had the last laugh, since it would have been a extraordinarily painful laugh, considering the injuries and cosmetic surgery that followed. But okay, in that karmic way that's never fully satisfying, Tone at least must have felt a bit of Schadenfreude. Neal was blacklisted, and Payton was his. The good times didn't last. Hesoon discovered that Payton—wait for it—had never stopped seeing Neal, including while Tone was in the hospital with a broken face. So there went that marriage. It seemed as if Neal had unequivocally won Payton's affections after all, and she does look happy in the 1952 photo above, but it's probably no surprise to learn that the two parted ways after a few tumultuous years, some broken windows, and at least one police intervention. Payton went on to have truly epic problems that would put a South American novela to shame. Neal nursed his severely damaged career along, landing only occasional minor parts, and by the time the ’60s rolled around couldn't beg, barter, or buy a role. He had been married for a few years during the late ’50s, and in 1960 he married again, to a receptionist named Gale (sometimes Gail) Bennett, who you see below. In April 1965 police were summoned to Neal's home in Palm Springs where they found Bennett dead. She had been shot through the back of the head with .45 calibre pistol, the slug entering her skull behind her right ear and ending up in a sofa cushion. Neal wasn't on the premises when police arrived, but was soon arrested, and claimed the shooting had been an accident, the result of a struggle over the gun after his wife pulled it on him.
Accounts of the killing vary, as they always do. In some, Neal shot Bennett as she was taking a nap. In others, they argued. We even found one that said Neal claimed the accident occurred while he and Bennett were making love. At trial Neal's defense attorney claimed a mystery man had pulled the trigger. We were struck, however, when we found that Bennett had secretly filed for divorce, and in the filing specifically mentioned Neal threatening her with a .45 automatic. If that detail struck us, it certainly must have made an impact on the jury. In the end, after a sensational trial, the dozen jurors convicted Neal of involuntary manslaughter.
Neal spent only six years behind bars before being paroled. That's a pretty sweet deal for what many suspected was a clearcut case of premeditated murder. Also, note that during the dust-up with Tone, one witness said Neal threw more than thirty punches after Tone was down. That could be construed as attempted murder, were you inclined to put a label on it, and if that was the plan it almost worked. Doctors thought for a while Tone would never awaken. Neal was a rough and tumble fellow, there's little doubt. But looks and a bit of charm will carry you a long way in life. Eventually, though, even those can run dry. Neal died eight months after his release from prison, aged fifty-eight, of heart failure, looking a shell of his former self.
In rankings of America's most liveable places it's at the very bottom.
Destination Murder, for which you see a nice poster above, is a b-movie, but bottom-of-the-bill efforts soemtimes have cool plot set-ups and good twists. In this case it's multiple layers of wrongly presumed identity. Who's really the killer? Who's really the crime boss? Who's really a cigarette girl? In addition, whose side are all these people really on? With more budget we think this one could have been quite good, but alas, you do what you can with what you have, and here you have Joyce MacKenzie, Stanley Clements, and Hurd Hatfield. They're all solid performers who had long careers, but we bet you don't know any of their names. In addition, the writing falters in spots as it strives for sharpness, but ends up dulling its blade. For example:
“You see, Miss Mansfield, we're dealing with killers. And a killer has only one destination—murder.”
The writing hurts the end of the film as well, as the structure of the climax and the need to work a recurring player piano into matters strain credulity. But Destination Murder isn't a loss by any means. MacKenzie, playing a woman who infiltrates the mob in order to find her father's killer, has to carry the important parts of this film and manages it despite both budget and screenwriting hanging around her ankles. For fans of vintage film, this forgotten quasi-noir should be sufficiently entertaining, as long as you don't spend too much time imagining how much better it could have been. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1950.
Worst vacation spot in America, here we come! Take a close look, ma'am. Asses are just as unique as faces, and equally admissible in court. I don't think it's that one. The man I saw had a chin.
She's fluent in both verbal and non-verbal communication.
English is elegant, artful, inspiring, and amazingly expressive—and the language is great too. The above photo from 1954 shows Marla English, who appeared in Shield for Murder, Three Bad Sisters, The She-Creature, and about a dozen other films. Despite achieving a decent level of fame, an uncredited appearance as a party guest in Rear Window was as close to top tier cinema as she got. For our money her career was way too short, but in the photo she's plenty long. We're going to check out She-Creature. Really, that goes without saying. How can we not watch a movie with a title like that?
Seems like the news in this paper is always bad.
This is an interesting piece of crime memorabilia. We've seen it around a bit, but decided to share it here anyway. It's a copy of the Daily Police Bulletin, a publication put out by the Los Angeles Police Department meant for internal use, updating cops on the department's focus items. We gather the LAPD did this from 1907 until the late 1950s. These were generally two pages in length, with printing on the front and back. We checked around and learned that the Chicago and San Francisco police also printed these newspaper style bulletins. It's a good bet other departments did too. This Bulletin on murdered and mutilated Elizabeth Short, aka the Black Dahlia, is from today in 1947, about a week after her death. The photo used is a headshot she had made, something she needed because she intended to become an actress. She never got the chance. Her life ended at age twenty-two.
The nap that turned into an unsolved mystery.
This 1931 photo is probably the most famous image of actress Thelma Todd, who appeared in more than fifty films between 1926 and 1936, before meeting an early demise in her car thanks to carbon monoxide poisoning. While her death was ruled an accident—said by police to have occurred as she waited in her car, ran the engine in order to use the heater, and fell asleep either before or while succumbing to noxious fumes—others claim she was murdered. The official police report also suggested suicide, which means Todd's demise came about for three possible reasons, none of them conclusive. It's an eternal Hollywood mystery, one of hundreds. She died today in 1935 when she was twenty-nine.
Albert Camus' fatal 1960 auto accident may have been a KGB assassination.
Italian author Giovanni Catelli has just published a book that claims French writer Albert Camus was assassinated by the KGB, rather than dying in an auto accident, as largely believed. When you say the words “Cold War intrigue,” we're all in, so the story caught our eye. Catelli's theory, which he first began airing in 2011, is that the KGB silenced Camus because he was a globally famous figure who made a habit of criticizing the Soviet Union. The order was allegedly given by Dmitri Shepilov, the USSR’s minister of internal affairs, after Camus slammed him in the French newspaper Franc-Tireur in March 1957. Camus died in 1960, so the killing took three years to come to fruition, according to Catelli.
His book length argument, La mort de Camus, is getting white hot press right now, however it's very interesting to look back at contemporary articles about the crash. Camus was riding as a passenger in a car driven by his publisher Michel Gallimard, with Gallimard's wife Janine and their daughter Anne in the rear seat. Michel Gallimard died, but his wife and daughter survived to describe the crash. Michel was driving fast and had been told to slow down, and had drunk wine at dinner.
A gander at the wreckage of the heavy Farcel Vega HK500 attests to its speed. We checked the various articles popping up online and found none that mentioned either the velocity of the car or the drinking of the driver, but that's how the internet works—a fantastic claim circles the world five times faster than anything resembling balance or a fact check.
Catelli, though, has an answer for the reckless driving theory—the Soviets had attached a device to the car that would puncture a tire only in the event of sufficient speed. If the Soviets came up with the device described, it would not kick in without the added ingredient of driver haste, which often happens in conjunction with alcohol consumption, which in turn is a near certainty when talking about French people, all of which means the chances of a crash with muddied circumstances were pretty high. The device, if it ever existed, was certainly clever. It would be like a device that tied your shoelaces together, but only if you went downstairs in a rush, and you happened to live in a fourth floor flat with a balky elevator.
Catelli's belief that Camus was disposed of via assassination is bolstered by the fact that the car he was riding in somehow careened off a stretch of straight road thirty feet wide. Nobody described Michel Gallimard trying to dodge a hedgehog or pothole, so despite speed and possible drunkenness, some unforeseen factor seems required to send the vehicle into the weeds. On the other hand, three years is a long time to enact a death plot. We've seen Yankees and Red Sox fans patch their shit up in less time. But let's move this death from the settled bin into the mysterious bin, which is where we like everything to be anyway. Camus, the famed absurdist, once wrote that, “There can be nothing more absurd than to die in a car accident.” And if Catelli is correct, nothing can be more convenient either.
In search of Schrödinger's loophole.
Hope springs eternal in the hearts of lifers. A convicted murderer named Benjamin Schreiber claims he should be freed because he fulfilled the terms of his life sentence when he died during a prison medical procedure. Schreiber, 66, suffered from acute kidney stones, and in March 2015 the condition triggered septic poisoning that rendered him unconscious. Doctors rushed him to surgery, where he died—only to be revived. This despite the fact that he had signed a do-not-resuscitate order, which did him no good at all as the doctors ignored it like it was a patient in one of their waiting rooms.
Fast forward to April of this year, when Schreiber filed an appeal stating that he had served his life sentence, and keeping him in prison was life-plus. Let's take a moment to bask in the incandescent genius of that idea. If we were ever to be friends with someone who bludgeoned a guy to death with an axe handle, it would be Schreiber. Unfortunately, an Iowa appeals court has denied his motion and he looks set to spend a second lifetime behind bars. Judge Amanda Potterfield responded to the sheer quantum weirdness of Schreiber's argument by stating, “[he] is either still alive, in which case he must remain in prison, or he is actually dead, in which case this appeal is moot.” Scientific observers say Schreiber is in fact neither, but none of them have jurisdiction over the case.
Legal rulings are dry by nature, but you can picture Potterfield reading the filing and saying to herself, “The fucking cojones on this guy.” Did she save the story for when all the judges meet up to bar crawl and boast about who contributed the most to mass incarceration? We suspect so. We also imagine that the bold attempt by Schreiber to obtain freedom via a metaphysical loophole has made him a legend in the cellblock. But the real point is this: there's a bestselling novel here, aspiring authors. Imagine the person who comes back isn't Schreiber at all, but some random soul who drifted into his body. His only chance is to thaw the chilly Potterfield, who slowly begins to see something... different... in the ancient convict's doe-like eyes. We're giving that to you. Run with it, and thank us in the foreword.
I'm telling you, dammit, something's changed. His eyes are like whirlpools of pain and sadness. Look for yourself and tell me you can't see that this is not the same man as before!
Nobody will suspect murder! You've told everyone you'd literally die if the Red Sox missed the playoffs!
Above, a September 1956 issue of Murder! magazine, which was the first issue ever published. It was put together by the same people who did Manhunt, was similar in content, with crime, procedural, and adventure tales, but lasted for only five issues. The action cover was painted by Frank Cozzarelli to illustrate Lionel White's “To Kill a Wife,” and it looks like the wife wins out definitively. Other contributors include Richard Deming, Carroll Mayers, Jack Ritchie, et al. And to Sox fans, better luck next year.
An L.A. woman's derailed life comes to an end by knife.
Another night in Los Angeles, another murder, and another Los Angeles Examiner photographer on hand to document the aftermath. This collection of shots shows Bill Stewart in police custody, and Miriam Lake, who he thought it would be good idea to stab in the back, dead on the floor. This is one destitute pair of Angelenos. Stewart is covered in grime and is missing a shoe, while Lake's Hermosa Beach domicile is a studio with stove, sink, three beds, and sofa all in one room.
We're not putting Lake down for being poor. Quite the opposite. Billions of people live modestly, and more should. But if you look around Lake's place, and focus past the disaster of a kitchen table, the general mess, and the stained furniture, you see a pile of boxes in the corner, stacked three high. We surmise that these are possessions she wished to hang onto, even though she had no space at the time. That tells us she wanted or even expected to get out of this flat one day. But no thanks to Stewart, those expectations never came true.
Below is twelve year-old Charles Pratt, a neighbor who saw Stewart leave Lake's house. He's been brought into the police station as a witness. Since he's too young to know what death really is, he seems pretty jazzed to be the center of attention. We imagine him bragging about it at school. That's probably what we would have done at that age too. But the fullness of time brings all of us to the edge of the abyss. If Pratt is still around he'd be about eighty today, and by now knows precisely what death is. We wonder if he ever thinks about Miriam Lake, murdered his entire lifetime ago. Probably. This all occurred today in 1951.
Laughter turns to tears when a bully earns a reprisal.
A little teasing can be fun if everyone involved is good-natured about it, but when the person being teased doesn't think it's funny, it then becomes bullying. And bullying can lead to anything—all of it bad. A machinist named Harry Salmons had made a habit of teasing his co-worker Frank Capizzi for believing in astrology. Salmons also pranked Capizzi, hiding his office chair and tools, coating the handles of his equipment with grease, and smearing oil on his work bench. Maybe if Salmons believed in astrology he'd have seen what was coming next, but no such luck. Thus when Capizzi produced a pistol and shot him to death, he was probably quite surprised.
That happened in Los Angeles today in 1951. These photos from the Los Angeles Examiner show Capizzi in police custody, and in the second one LAPD Sargeant Jack McCreadie is telling him, “So, like, you know you're gonna get teased much worse in the federal pen, right? Those guys just love to tease.” Capizzi seems to be going, “Really? Huh. Never actually thought about that.”
People never think about the consequences before flying into a rage. The photo below shows the dead man's wife Ethel Salmons, and his two children, and the accompanying press caption suggests that the reality of being a destitute widow is just sinking in, which is an incredibly sad thought. Yes, she married a terrible asshole, and her mother probably told her that numerous times, but even bullies don't deserve to die. Well, usually.
As a side note, longtime visitors to Pulp Intl. know we used to write many more of these true crime stories. We've done fewer because the research has become nearly impossible due to all the newspaper scans being locked up by the overpriced paysite newspapers.com. The expense isn't really the issue. The issue is the website's 87% disapproval rating. We aren't kidding. On trustpilot.com 74% of users rate the service as bad and 13% rate it as poor. We aren't sure what the difference is between bad and poor, but whatever, newspapers.com is obviously a site to avoid like radioactive Fukushima water. But here's the good news. We'll probably start buying true crime magazines again, which means we can get much more detailed in our retellings. More mayhem to brighten your day.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1939—Adams Completes Around-the-World Air Journey
American Clara Adams becomes the first woman passenger to complete an around-the-world air journey. Her voyage began and ended in New York City, with stops in Lisbon, Marseilles, Leipzig, Athens, Basra, Jodhpur, Rangoon, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Wake Island, Honolulu, and San Francisco.
1955—Nobel Prize Winners Unite Against Nukes
Eighteen Nobel laureates sign the Mainau Declaration against nuclear weapons, which reads in part: We think it is a delusion if governments believe that they can avoid war for a long time through the fear of [nuclear] weapons. Fear and tension have often engendered wars. Similarly it seems to us a delusion to believe that small conflicts could in the future always be decided by traditional weapons. In extreme danger no nation will deny itself the use of any weapon that scientific technology can produce.
1997—Versace Murdered in Miami
Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace is shot dead on the steps of his Miami mansion as he returns from breakfast at a cafe. His killer is Andrew Cunanan, a man who had already murdered four other people across the country and was the focus of an FBI manhunt. The FBI never caught Cunanan—instead he committed suicide on the houseboat where he was living.
1921—Sacco & Vanzetti Convicted
Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti are convicted in Dedham, Massachusetts of killing their shoe company's paymaster. Even at the time there are serious questions about their guilt, and whether they are being railroaded because of their Italian ethnicity and anarchist political beliefs.
1933—Eugenics Becomes Official German Policy
Adolf Hitler signs the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring, and Germany begins sterilizing those they believe carry hereditary illnesses, and those they consider impure. By the end of WWII more than 400,000 are sterilized, including criminals, alcoholics, the mentally ill, Jews, and people of mixed German-African heritage.
1955—Ruth Ellis Executed
Former model Ruth Ellis is hanged at Holloway Prison in London for the murder of her lover, British race car driver David Blakely. She is the last woman executed in the United Kingdom.
1966—Richard Speck Rampage
breaks into a Chicago townhouse where he systematically rapes and kills eight student nurses. The only survivor hides under a bed the entire night.
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