I'll tell you one thing. After today we won't complain so much when someone steals a couple of our towels.
The two photos above show an LAPD detective and two witnesses re-enacting a robbery (notice the detective is aiming a gun in the top photo) that occurred today in 1951 at the Garden of Allah Hotel on Sunset Boulevard. Two gunmen had gotten away earlier in the day with a bundle of cash. Newspaper accounts differ about how much. The San Bernadino County Sun, in its evening edition published later, pegged the amount at $1,073 ($12,275 today), but the Los Angeles Times morning edition printed the next day claimed it was $500 ($5,731). The Times is probably a more reliable source, and with more time to get the amount right we'd tend to think its report is correct, but $500 is a conveniently round number, whereas the $1,073 reported by the Sun is very specific. Either way, we imagine the terrified hotel employees surrended every dollar on hand.
The reason the story caught our eye, though, is because the Garden of Allah was one of the most famous hotels in Los Angeles at the time. The Spanish revival complex consisting of a main building, villas, restaurant, bar, pool, and landscaped grounds, opened in 1927 and quickly became a favorite stopover for Tinseltown glitterati. Everyone from Lauren Bacall to Orson Welles spent time or stayed there, and the place was described by one resident as in “continual tumult” because of all the intrigues, disturbances, and minor scandals. But all of its celebrity history and architectural significance amounted to nothing among the ranks of those who sought so-called progress, because like so many other Hollywood landmarks, this iconic property fell to the wrecking ball when it was demolished in 1959 to make way for a bank.
Everyone said they always did everything together.
More random midcentury aftermath. This photo shows a kneeling priest about to do his thing over the bodies of Thomas J. Hogan and Fred Romer, who together were a murder-suicide. Hogan shot Romer before turning the gun on himself. There's no information about the exact circumstances behind the event. Cops being cops, they probably ruled out the idea of this scene being any sort of willing pact. Romantics being romantics, we at least wonder about it. But alas, we'll never know. Usually these vintage crime photos come from Los Angeles, but lately we've been sharing examples from New York City. This is another one, and it happened today in 1961.
It's not a party until someone gets their brains blown out.
The above photo shows the murder scene of a mid-level gangster named Joseph “Little Joe” La Cava, and occurred in New York City on Mulberry Street at the Feast of San Gennaro today in 1939. We'll go out on a limb and say the festive atmosphere took a fatal hit too. Luckily, the celebration usually went for a week, so we suppose it was salvaged. La Cava was gunned down along with Rocco “Chickee” Fagio, who you see below. These images were made by Arthur Fellig, aka Weegee, and are especially well known because the ever clever lensman angled himself to get a photo of Fagio ironically sprawled beneath a scungilli restaurant sign that says O Sole Mio!—which means “my sun,” after the famous Neapolitan song. He used the same trick when shooting other murders, because hey, if it works, just roll with it. Also interesting, cops being cops, the flatfoot closest to La Cava looks incongruously jocular as he chats with a higher-up. If this wasn't the most unforgettable Feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy's history it had to be close.
He was bound to get burned.
Just in case you haven't had any gruesomeness in your week, above you see mobster Irving Feinstein after he was burned by Murder, Inc. today in 1939. What do you have to do to meet this fate? Feinstein tried to horn in on territory that wasn't his, but that wasn't why he was torched. His error was in trying to stay alive. Feinstein was in the process of being repeatedly ice picked by hitman Harry Strauss, and bit Strauss's finger. Strauss and associates called a halt to the ice picking and instead bound Feinstein, his legs stretched backward and a rope running from ankles to neck. This killed him by the more protracted method of slow strangulation. Then afterwards, just for the hell of it, the killers transported the body to a vacant lot in Brooklyn and did what you see above. There's a lesson in this: don't bite the hand that bleeds you.
They may have been in the winter of their years but their tempers still ran hot.
Courtesy of the University of Southern California's archive of Los Angeles Herald and Los Angeles Examiner photos, above you see the aftermath of yet another violent act. This happened in a boarding house on Second Street today in 1951, and you see prone murder victim Enrico Venencia with neighbor David Dyer in the first shot, the killer James Demarco accompanied by LAPD detectives in frames two and three, and Demarco handcuffed to a bed in frame four, looking every day of his seventy-two years, and a little battered besides. But this is one situation where age prevailed.
There's no information with the photos about what exactly happened. There isn't even a cause of death. The only information, besides the names of those involved, is that Dyer was an intended victim. That's how we were able to discern who was who—Dyer must be the one who isn't dead, and isn't handcuffed. We're not ballistics experts, but these archive images can be blown up to about 9000 pixels, and taking a close look it seems as if Venencia was possibly shot behind his left ear, suffered a gaping exit wound in the front of his skull, and went down hard. What an ugly way to go.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1933—Prohibition Ends in United States
Utah becomes the 36th U.S. state to ratify the 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution, thus establishing the required 75% of states needed to overturn the 18th Amendment which had made the sale of alcohol illegal. But the criminal gangs that had gained power during Prohibition are now firmly established, and maintain an influence that continues unabated for decades.
1945—Flight 19 Vanishes without a Trace
During an overwater navigation training flight from Fort Lauderdale, five U.S. Navy TBM Avenger torpedo-bombers lose radio contact with their base and vanish. The disappearance takes place in what is popularly known as the Bermuda Triangle.
1918—Wilson Goes to Europe
U.S. President Woodrow Wilson sails to Europe for the World War I peace talks in Versailles, France, becoming the first U.S. president to travel to Europe while in office.
1921—Arbuckle Manslaughter Trial Ends
In the U.S., a manslaughter trial against actor/director Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle ends with the jury deadlocked as to whether he had killed aspiring actress Virginia Rappe during rape and sodomy. Arbuckle was finally cleared of all wrongdoing after two more trials, but the scandal ruined his career and personal life.
1964—Mass Student Arrests in U.S.
In California, Police arrest over 800 students at the University of California, Berkeley, following their takeover and sit-in at the administration building in protest at the UC Regents' decision to forbid protests on university property.
1968—U.S. Unemployment Hits Low
Unemployment figures are released revealing that the U.S. unemployment rate has fallen to 3.3 percent, the lowest rate for almost fifteen years. Going forward all the way to the current day, the figure never reaches this low level again.
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