The Naked City Jul 31 2022
SAGE ADVICE
Our recommendation is to never mess with the Mafia.


While we're on the subject of mobsters, this photo shows the grisly end of one Walter J. Sage. He ended up in this non-ideal condition after being stabbed more than thirty times, tied to a rock and a slot machine frame, and dumped in Swan Lake, located in Sullivan County, about eighty miles north of New York City. The slot machine aspect was ironic. Sage, a contract killer for the infamous Murder, Inc., also filled his hours by working for a mafia gang that ran a slot machine racket.

Unfortunately, he had a case of sticky fingers and his employers found out. Sage's colleagues took him for a ride north toward the Catskills, a trip they'd made many times. On this occasion they attacked him in the car, one man choking him and the other getting busy with an ice pick. Sage was no pushover. He managed to grab the car's steering wheel and run the vehicle into a ditch, but in the end he was overpowered, killed, hogtied, weighted, and dumped in the lake.

Some accounts claim he was in the water for two weeks, but a glance at the body disproves that. He was found four days later, today in 1937, which is when the photo was shot. It's amazing that a guy who was sent to kill people who had annoyed the mafia would himself annoy the mafia, but as the Dunning-Kruger effect teaches, some people suffer from a cognitive bias of illusory superiority. Or put another way, feeling smart doesn't mean you actually are. Sage could have benefitted from advice along those lines—but he probably wouldn't have listened anyway.

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The Naked City May 25 2022
TAKE YOUR ICEPICK
Mafia bigmouth's associates poke a few holes in his treasoning.


The peculiarly deflated figure you see above is George Rudnick, nicknamed Whitey, and with a handle like that you don't even have to see him dead to know he was a crime figure. He was also a stool pigeon, so one night his colleagues brought him along on a car theft caper, and after they boosted the wheels, they attacked him, choking him while stabbing him fifty or more times with an icepick. Some accounts say he was brutally hacked with a meat cleaver. We're inclined to think it was an icepick for the obvious reason that all his body parts seem intact, but in either case, you'd be deflated too after something like that. It happened today in 1937.

It took a few years, but two mafia footsoliders, Harry “Happy” Maione and Frank “The Dasher” Abbandando, both members of the infamous Murder, Inc., were arrested, indicted, and convicted for the killing. They appealed and were granted a new trial, but another guilty verdict sent the pair to a date with old sparky in Sing Sing Prison on February 19, 1942. If there's a lesson here, aside from don't hang with guys nicknamed Happy and Dasher unless they happen to work at the North Pole, it's probably to keep in mind how very, very picky the mafia is about employee loyalty.
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The Naked City Apr 15 2022
ACED OUT
Mafia gunmen make a mess of Masseria.


As artistic crime photos go, this shot of Giuseppe Masseria's corpse on the floor of Villa Tammaro, a seafood restaurant in Coney Island run by mobster Gerardo Scarpato, ranks highly. During the 1920s Masseria was the head of what later became known as the Genovese crime family. He was involved in a power struggle with another crime group run by Salvatore Maranzano, but at the same time there were tensions within Masseria's group because he was an old world, old school mobster who refused to work with non-Italians, and thus was leaving millions of dollars in criminal profits unclaimed. One of the young mafiosi in his clan who thought Masseria was an old-fashioned fool was Charles Luciano, aka Lucky Luciano. Tensions between Masseria and Luciano eventually devolved into open hostilities.

Masseria was a careful guy. He traveled in an armored sedan. But it's hard to take care of business from behind plate steel and bulletproof glass, so when Luciano invited him to a meeting at Villa Tammaro that promised to tamp down intra-clan tensions and refocus everyone on Salvatore Maranzano, the real enemy, he took the chance. He went to the restaurant, and the confab must have gone cordially up to a point, because Masseria, Luciano, and a couple of other men began playing cards. But at some point Luciano excused himself from the table and Masseria was gunned down by a fearsome foursome of Albert Anastasia, Vito Genovese, Joe Adonis, and Bugsy Siegel.

There were a few other skirmishes for control, but essentially, taking Masseria off the board was the beginning of the end of hostilities. One more old school kingpin had to go—Maranzano, who had been communicating secretly with Luciano and had offered a deal of peace in exchange for Masseria's death. Months later Luciano took care of him too. With Masseria and Maranzano gone, the new mafia was restructured, modernized, and began working with non-Italians. Many accounts of Masseria's killing say he died at dinner, and while that's technically true, the autopsy showed that he had eaten nothing. Maybe he was afraid of being poisoned. Though cards had been scattered around the room in the chaos, the ace of spades was probably placed in his hand by a photographer. That was today in 1931.
 
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The Naked City Feb 12 2022
CAN DO DOBBS
If at first you don't succeed, try to die again.


Saturday grimness for you, with a photo of a suicide that took place in Los Angeles today in 1958. There's an interesting story behind this. The man's name was Delmer Dobbs and he shot himself in the stomach on a Los Angeles street. A month earlier he had attempted suicide too. On that occasion he had gone to the top of the Hotel Rosslyn Annex on Main Street and perched on the edge, preparing himself to leap. The buildup was lengthy, and soon hundreds of observers had gathered below. In case you think humanity wasn't always bloodthirsty, think again—mob mentality set in, and a chant started in the crowd: “Jump! Jump! Jump!” and, “Chicken, chicken, chicken!”

After hours on the rooftop, with cops trying to talk him down, Dobbs demanded that they contact Bonnie La Ross, a cashier working at the Rialto Theatre a couple of blocks away on Broadway. She was brought in and convinced Dobbs to give up. Reading between the lines here, it's possible Dobbs, who—as you see in photos below—was a tiny guy only about five feet tall, had been been unsuccessful with women and had turned his attentions to La Ross, who was fifteen years old. That's just specualtion, but consider this: Before being taken away Dobbs told La Ross that he was going to get a gun and try again. A month later when he shot himself, it was across the street from the Rialto as La Ross watched.
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The Naked City Dec 25 2021
SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT
X-mas marks the spot where one Angeleno met his end.


Above are two photos we've uploaded not for any morbid reasons, but more as a reminder that every day should be lived well, because alas, this comes to pass for us all one way or another. Wait—that was morbid, wasn't it? Well, whaddaya gonna do? Anyway, you see Yellow Cab hack Conrad John Favreau laying dead in a Los Angeles street after being shot in the back of the head by an unknown assailant. There's blood on the rear fender of the cab, showing approximately where he was standing. But with no witnesses, it's impossible to know why it happened. Was it resistance to robbery? A fare dispute? An argument over saying happy holidays instead of merry Christmas? As far as we know, the crime went unsolved, though Santa Claus was not able to account for his whereabouts, which is quite suspicious, in our book. That was today in 1954, Christmas yes, but just another day in the naked city.

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The Naked City Nov 27 2021
MARRIAGE DO US PART
For as long as you both shall live—or until you try to murder each other.


We never cease to be amazed by how much access mid-century news photographers had to crime scenes. These photos made today in 1953 by a Los Angeles Examiner lensman show what we mean. Married couple William and Estelle Walker had checked into a motel on West 9th Street in Los Angeles, and at some point a domestic spat caused someone, possibly the motel manager, to call the cops. Police arrived to find that the Walkers, those impetuous lovebirds, had both gotten stabby. We don't know who picked up a knife first, but it sure looks like William got the worst of it. He has a head cut that makes you wonder if Estelle was aiming for his eyes. We don't know who was to blame for the fight, but regardless, you have to feel for them both that their bad day was captured on film. Good thing they had no idea digital technology would help the entire world see it a lifetime later. They'd have died of embarrassment.

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The Naked City Nov 24 2021
SHAFT'S REVENGE
Two burglars take the express to the bottom floor.


There are robberies, robberies gone wrong, and robberies gone horribly wrong. In the latter category was this effort by Robert Green and Jacob Jagendorf. Green was a night watchman (some accounts say elevator operator) at a New York City shirt factory, and apparently conceived a way to use his access to pull off a theft of expensive silk fabric. Late one night, he and Jagendorf stopped an elevator on the fifth floor of the building, wedged the doors open, and proceeded to load in bolts of the pricy fabric, doing so in the dark to avoid alerting any observers outside the building. At some point the elevator rose to the tenth floor, Green and Jagendorf stepped into the now open shaft in the dark, and plunged five stories—“clasping each other as they dropped,” according to one news story. Since they aren't clasping each other in the photo, we have no idea how newspapers knew any clasping occurred, but we buy it. We'd definitely try to clasp something in that moment. In fact, we'd go way beyond clasping and try to land on our partner. Probably wouldn't work, but either way we wouldn't have to apologize. Sadly, both Green and Jagendorf were killed, making the macabre tableau you see here. That was today in 1915.
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The Naked City Sep 26 2021
JACOBSEN'S JUSTIFICATION
You're the lawyer, not me, but listen—I have an idea for a defense strategy. First, let me introduce my mother-in-law.


The above photo from the University of Southern California archive of Los Angeles Examiner crime photos shows an L.A. homemaker named Karen Jacobsen in the midst of a pre-trial conference with public defendant Victor S. Baker today in 1961. Jacobsen needed a lawyer for the most important of reasons—to beat a murder charge. She had stabbed her husband Lawrence to death while they were in his car. She said it happened after a terrorizing ride, and claimed it was in self defense of both herself and her two daughters. She was arrested but freed on bail, and this conference occurred during her pre-trial release period.
 
When she was tried later in the year a jury acquitted her, but we knew that before even reading about the trial, and you wanna know how? That's her mother-in-law Edith sitting next to her in the photo below, offering emotional support. Her attorney: “Your honor, I'd like to enter into evidence defense exhibit A, the deceased's mom, who's obviously fine with his death, so, like... defense rests.” If your own mom isn't in your corner when your killer is on trial, forget it. Probably Lawrence never visited her, so she'd been thinking of him for years as dead already.

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The Naked City Aug 28 2021
LAST SUPPER
Two mafia pals split the bill.


In our continuing focus on Los Angeles crime scene photos, above you see a shot of a mob hit on two unidentified gangsters who met their end over spaghetti dinners in an Italian restaurant booth. The worst part? They barely even got started on their meals and didn't get a chance to touch the crackers at all. That was today in 1933. Most of the crime scene photos we have are within our Naked City category, which you can access by clicking those words in yellow just above the title of this post.

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The Naked City Jul 30 2021
FINAL CALL
Hello? Hello? Are you still there? What was that loud thump? Hmph. The line's gone dead.


We get nearly all our crime scene shots from the USC digital archive, but today we have a different source. This one comes from the Los Angeles Police Museum and shows a man named Raymond Gross, who died today in 1953 after overdosing on barbiturates. The shot is unusual because, as you can see, he died while talking on the phone. Gross had gotten the drugs by prescription to alleviate pain caused by a brutal beatdown he'd received months earlier at the hands of a sailor named Lee Roy Collins. Collins broke Gross's nose, jaw, and inflicted a subdural hematoma. The two had met out on the town, Gross invited Collins back to his apartment, and at some point the encounter became violent. Possibly Collins always intended to beat and rob Gross, or he got the idea after a disagreement. In any case, police were able to find Collins thanks to evidence he'd dropped while fleeing. He was arrested and tried for the beating, but acquitted. That's no surprise. Gross was gay, and beating a gay man was not really considered a crime in 1953. Collins may have been gay too, but you can be sure his story in court was that Gross made a shocking and unexpected sexual overture. Back then a story like that would have been like using a get-out-of-jail-free card. Months later, still taking pain pills because of that violent attack, Gross ended up the way you see him above. Suicide? Accident? That remains unknown.

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Next Page
History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
August 18
1920—U.S. Women Gain Right To Vote
The Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution is ratified despite heavy conservative opposition. It states that no U.S. citizen can be denied the right to vote because of their gender.
1958—Lolita is Published in the U.S.
Vladimir Nabokov's controversial novel Lolita, about a man's sexual obsession with a pre-pubescent girl, is published in the United States. It had been originally published in Paris three years earlier.
August 17
1953—NA Launches Recovery Program
Narcotics Anonymous, a twelve-step program of drug addiction recovery modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous, holds its first meeting in Los Angeles, California.
August 16
1942—Blimp Crew Disappears without a Trace
The two-person crew of the U.S. naval blimp L-8 disappears on a routine patrol over the Pacific Ocean. The blimp drifts without her crew and crashes in Daly City, California. The mystery of the crew's disappearance is never solved.
1977—Elvis Presley Dies
Music icon Elvis Presley is found unresponsive by his fiancée on the floor of his Graceland bedroom suite. Attempts to revive him fail and he's pronounced dead soon afterward. The cause of death is often cited as drug overdose, but toxicology tests have never found evidence this was the case. More likely, years of drug abuse contributed to generally frail health and an overtaxed heart that suddenly failed.
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