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.
Some people really don't like being in photos.
Here's a pulp style historical oddity we've seen floating around the web of late. This photo shows a frame from a bank security camera at the moment a bank robber shoots it. It's from United Press International, and first came to public attention thanks to an art exhibition called “Crime Stories: Photography and Foul Play,” which was mounted at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City back in 2016. Based on the fact that the men are wearing fedoras we would have guessed the robbery to have taken place during the ’40s or ’50s, but it actually happened in Cleveland, Ohio, today in 1975.
Interestingly, one of us was actually in an armed robbery. A young PSGP was in a Kroger grocery store when a guy charged in with a gun and yelled at everyone to get on the floor. People were so stunned they just stood there, and the would-be robber turned around and ran. PSGP's dad, decisive as always, said, “Let's get the fuck out of here,” and they took off mere seconds after the robber. Fast forward to later and the local news reported that the store had been robbed. It turns out the thief had come back just a few minutes later. One hates to imagine what would have happened if PSGP and his dad had bumped into the guy. Anyway, does that count as being in an armed robbery? We think so.
There's not much you can do when the river runs dry.
Above is a vintage photo taken in the concrete basin of the Los Angeles River showing police detectives standing near an unidentified corpse. Some websites call this a suicide, but if you look closely you can see that the body is pretty far from the bridge. If this person committed suicide, it wasn't by jumping. The photo first became publicly known thanks to a photographic 2019 exhibition by the Lucie Foundation, which shared 79 other shots of a similar type. They all came from a collection of about 2,000 photos taken by LAPD personnel between 1925 and the mid-1970s. This is a lonely end for a man, which the handwritten date tells us was today in 1955.
Unknown person takes an unplanned trip to nowhere.
A lot of places in the U.S. probably aren't having an official Halloween this year, but there's no reason we can't get a bit morbid on Pulp Intl. as the 31st approaches. The photo above shows a body wedged into a trunk, in a state of partial decomposition, found in Commerce, in Los Angeles County today in 1951. The town is usually referred to as the City of Commerce, and it falls into the jurisdiction not only of the local police, but also the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. It was the latter that dealt with the body, carting it off the LASD Crime Laboratory.
Decomposition made identification a challenge. Medical examiners cut off its fingers and preserved them in alcohol to try and get prints. The body also had a dental bridge, which police hoped would lead to a breakthrough. But when all was said and done, it was a tip from the public that actually broke the case. The victim was Margaret Kelley. Her killer, who you see in photos under arrest and in court below, was John M. Kelley.
We don't have more info on the crime, the cause of death, or the outcome of the court proceedings. We suspect, due to the names involved, that this was a case of domestic murder, but we can't find confirmation in newspapers of the period—at least not ones that are accessible to us. Despite the dearth of facts, we thought the photos were unusual, and perhaps even appropriate for Halloween 2020, one of the least pleasant years on record. So there you go—trick or treat!
Man tries to catch train, train catches him instead.
These photos show an unfortunate man named John Heldt, Jr. trapped under a Pacific Electric freight car in Gardena, California. Getty Images has this listed as happening August 7, 1951, but the USC digital film archive where the image is stored has the date as today. We trust USC over Getty, but whenever it happened, it was a bad day for Heldt, maybe not the worst of his life, but certainly in the top five, we can be sure. His rescuers had to bring in special equipment to lift the train off him, so he was probably pinned for hours, his indignity compounded by the fact that a Los Angeles Examiner photographer made these snaps of him. “Can you hold that pose? Heh heh, that's a joke, see, because you can't move at all, you poor, stupid sap!” There's no info on whether Heldt recovered, nor whether he lost any body parts. Still, as bad as this looks, it's better than flying Ryanair.
L.A. manhunt ends not with a bang, but with a whimper.
You see here three photos of Albert Schier, who committed suicide in Los Angeles today in 1954 by running a hose from the tailpipe of his car to its window and inhaling carbon monoxide fumes. What was bothering him? Hard to say, but earlier in the day he had stabbed an LAPD cop seven times and fled, so he probably wasn't going to live much longer anyway, considering he'd left his wallet in the cop's possession and every uniform in L.A. was searching for him and his car. We know what you're thinking. Maybe they got to him and made it look like murder. But we don't think cops would bother to run a hose from a tailpipe, nor to scratch a message in the dashboard with a knife. The message said: “Mom, life isn't worth the struggle.”
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
Pierre Laval, who was the premier of Vichy, France, which had collaborated with the Nazis during World War II, is shot by a firing squad for treason. In subsequent years it emerges that Laval may have considered himself a patriot whose goal was to publicly submit to the Germans while doing everything possible behind the scenes to thwart them. In at least one respect he may have succeeded: fifty percent of French Jews survived the war, whereas in other territories about ninety percent perished.
1966—Black Panthers Form
In the U.S., in Oakland, California, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale form the Black Panther political party. The Panthers are active in American politics throughout the 1960s and 1970s, but eventually legal troubles combined with a schism over the direction of the party lead to its dissolution.
1962—Cuban Missile Crisis Begins
A U-2 spy plane flight over the island of Cuba produces photographs of Soviet nuclear missiles being installed. Though American missiles have been installed near Russia, the U.S. decides that no such weapons will be tolerated in Cuba. The resultant standoff brings the U.S. and the Soviet Union to the brink of war. The crisis finally ends with a secret deal in which the U.S. removes its missiles from Turkey in exchange for the Soviets removing the Cuban weapons.
1970—Angela Davis Arrested
After two months of evading police and federal authorities, Angela Davis is arrested in New York City by the FBI. She had been sought in connection with a kidnapping and murder because one of the guns used in the crime had been bought under her name. But after a trial a jury agreed that owning the weapon did not automatically make her complicit in the crimes.
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