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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You can pull a man from water but you can't make him breathe.
And in contrast to Yôko Azusa, who's very adept in water, here you see a photo of someone who didn't fare well in that medium. This shot shows cops fishing drowning victim John Ray Thompson from MacArthur Park Lake in Los Angeles today in 1951. This is another curious and macabre discovery from the digital archives of the Los Angeles Examiner. Such imagery fascinates us because this type of news content, now unseen in the U.S., was prevalent in Central America when we lived there. We assume it still is. It was known as nota roja, basically “red reports,” essentially, if it bleeds it leads. The Thompson photo shows no blood, but the principle is the same. We have no idea how he drowned. Whether by accident, suicide, or murder, that information doesn't appear anywhere online that we looked, and might not have been printed back in ’51 either. Examiner photographers shot rolls of film every week, and editors picked the best photos for the paper. There's no guarantee an item on Thompson's death ever ran. But however he drowned, it was a bad ending.
We get to the beach so rarely, shame to waste the trip. Who's up for a swim before we haul this stiff to the morgue?
Today in 1954 a man named Nathaniel Smith who was walking on Venice Beach in Los Angeles spotted something floating in the surf behind the breakwater of the old Venice Pier. He waded into the ocean and discovered the something was a person. Smith pulled him to shore, but the man was already dead, a victim not of drowning but of a gunshot wound to the head. Was he a murder victim or a suicide? There's no info available on that, nor on his identity. Whoever he was, we bet he never could have imagined thousands of people would be looking at photos of him nearly a lifetime later. We're doing that thanks to the University of Southern California, which holds these and tens of thousands of other images in its archive of Los Angeles Examiner press photos. You can see many more shots from the collection by clicking its keywords below.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1918—U.S. Congress Passes the Sedition Act
In the U.S., Congress passes a set of amendments to the Espionage Act called the Sedition Act, which makes "disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language" about the United States government, its flag, or its armed forces, as well as language that causes foreigners to view the American government or its institutions with contempt, an imprisonable offense. The Act specifically applies only during times of war, but later is pushed by politicians as a possible peacetime law, specifically to prevent political uprisings in African-American communities. But the Act is never extended and is repealed entirely in 1920.
1905—Las Vegas Is Founded
Las Vegas, Nevada is founded when 110 acres of barren desert land in what had once been part of Mexico are auctioned off to various buyers. The area sold is located in what later would become the downtown section of the city. From these humble beginnings Vegas becomes the most populous city in Nevada, an internationally renowned resort for gambling, shopping, fine dining and sporting events, as well as a symbol of American excess. Today Las Vegas remains one of the fastest growing municipalities in the United States.
1928—Mickey Mouse Premieres
The animated character Mickey Mouse, along with the female mouse Minnie, premiere in the cartoon Plane Crazy, a short co-directed by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. This first cartoon was poorly received, however Mickey would eventually go on to become a smash success, as well as the most recognized symbol of the Disney empire.
1939—Five-Year Old Girl Gives Birth
In Peru, five-year old Lina Medina becomes the world's youngest confirmed mother at the age of five when she gives birth to a boy via a caesarean section necessitated by her small pelvis. Six weeks earlier, Medina had been brought to the hospital because her parents were concerned about her increasing abdominal size. Doctors originally thought she had a tumor, but soon determined she was in her seventh month of pregnancy. Her son is born underweight but healthy, however the identity of the father and the circumstances of Medina's impregnation never become public.
1987—Rita Hayworth Dies
American film actress and dancer Margarita Carmen Cansino, aka Rita Hayworth, who became her era's greatest sex symbol and appeared in sixty-one films, including the iconic Gilda
, dies of Alzheimer's disease in her Manhattan apartment. Naturally shy, Hayworth was the antithesis of the characters she played. She married five times, but none lasted. In the end, she lived alone, cared for by her daughter who lived next door.
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