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.
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.
Edmond O'Brien tries to shield himself from the truth.
A cop runs across cash at crime scenes quite a bit. Maybe he snags a little here, a little there. Takes the girlfriend to dinner, buys himself a new fishing rod. He gets used to these little bonuses. Then one day there's $25,000 and nobody around to see him take it. Shield for Murder is the story of a dirty cop played by Edmond O'Brien whose theft of said cash leads to him finally becoming suspected of wrongdoing, which in turn causes him to be hunted by the original possessors of the cash, as well as investigated by his protégé. As the vise tightens O'Brien gets more desperate, and more dangerous. Redemption is never an option, but survival might be—with luck. O'Brien is good in every film role, so what you get here is a solid genre entry, enlivened by a drawn out action climax and a shootout at a public pool that's among the best throwdowns to be found in vintage cinema. Marla English co-stars, which helps plenty. Plus check O'Brien's crazy eyes in the production photos below. He gives this role his all. Shield for Murder premiered in the U.S. today in 1954.
With special guests the Slaymates of the year.
Today we have some beautiful rarities, a set of door panel posters made for the 1968 Dean Martin spy movie spoof The Wrecking Crew. Martin played the wise-cracking and woman-loving Matt Helm, a character created by novelist Donald Hamilton. There have been a lot of loveable drunks in cinema, but Martin certainly was one of the most popular. Boozy Matt Helm was a perfect role for him, and the first film became the launching point for a series that stretched to four entries.The Wrecking Crew was the last film, coming after 1966's The Silencers and Murderer's Row, and 1967's The Ambushers. The movies were populated by a group of women known as “Slaymates,” and the actresses on the posters below are posing as members of that deadly cadre. They are, top to bottom, Sharon Tate, Elke Sommer, Nancy Kwan, Tina Louise, and a fifth woman no other website seems able to identify, but who we're pretty sure is Kenya Coburn.These posters are 51 x 152 centimeters in size, or 20 x 60 for you folks who measure in inches, and they caught our eye mainly because of Tate. There's been renewed interest in her, including portrayals in two 2019 films—The Haunting of Sharon Tate and Quentin Tarantino's new effort Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Her poster is definitely one of the nicest pieces of Tate memorabilia we've seen.
We glanced at The Silencers a while back and found it just a little too dumb to consider slogging through the series, but maybe we'll have another go at it. We're sort of newly interested in Tate too, and since The Wrecking Crew was her next-to-last screen role, we want to have a look. Allegedly, Dean Martin quit this highly successful franchise because it felt wrong to go on with it after the Tate–LaBianca murders in August 1969. From what we've read about the era, Martin was far from the only person who felt as if that event changed everything. These days Tate's death makes anything she's in seem ironic and portentous, even, we suspect, a piece of fluff like The Wrecking Crew.
She's dangerous when her abacus is against the wall.
Above, a cool shot of one of mid-century cinema's agreed upon top beauties, Italian actress Virna Lisi, here standing against an abacus wall that she needs to keep track of all her admirers. We've never seen a wall like this before. Never seen a woman like this before either. The photo was made for her 1965 romantic comedy How To Murder Your Wife, in which she starred with cinematic treasure Jack Lemmon. Definitely see that film. It's incalculably fun.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1967—Boston Strangler Convicted
Albert DeSalvo, the serial killer who became known as the Boston Strangler, is convicted of murder and other crimes and sentenced to life in prison. He serves initially in Bridgewater State Hospital, but he escapes and is recaptured. Afterward he is transferred to federal prison where six years later he is killed by an inmate or inmates unknown.
1950—The Great Brinks Robbery Occurs
In the U.S., eleven thieves steal more than $2 million from an armored car company's offices in Boston, Massachusetts. The skillful execution of the crime, with only a bare minimum of clues left at the scene, results in the robbery being billed as "the crime of the century." Despite this, all the members of the gang are later arrested.
1977—Gary Gilmore Is Executed
Convicted murderer Gary Gilmore is executed by a firing squad in Utah, ending a ten-year moratorium on Capital punishment in the United States. Gilmore's story is later turned into a 1979 novel entitled The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer, and the book wins the Pulitzer Prize for literature.
1942—Carole Lombard Dies in Plane Crash
American actress Carole Lombard
, who was the highest paid star in Hollywood during the late 1930s, dies in the crash of TWA Flight 3, on which she was flying from Las Vegas to Los Angeles after headlining a war bond rally in support of America's military efforts. She was thirty-three years old.
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