It was an event none of them will ever forget.
Talk about a bad end to a promising evening. These photos from the Los Angeles Examiner were shot in the wee hours of today in 1951. They show a group of people arrested after cops raided a residence in the Montrose area of Los Angeles where a “drug and sex party” was taking place. The illegal substances of choice were marijuana and benzedrine, which strike us an unusual combo, and the sex in question was distributed between what seems to be seventeen men and one woman, also an unusual combo. But we suspect the sex aspect of the story is an exaggeration. If even a couple of people were getting freaky in some rear bedroom the press would have called it a sex party because that's how you sell papers. Examiner readers probably imagined a carnal pile-up with bare asses heaving up and down and thirty-six limbs going in all directions. Which when you think about doesn't sound so bad. Well, we hope they had fun while it lasted.
The hardest question to answer is always why.
Today in 1959 in a quiet area of Inglewood, California, a police officer was putting a ticket on a car that hadn't moved for at least two days. While writing the ticket he looked in the window and noticed that on the front seat were a sweater, a pair of Capri pants—and a bloody front tooth. He pried open the trunk and inside found a dead woman, Meredith Jean Prestridge, a twenty-six-year-old married mother of two. She had been missing from her Fresno home for a week.
In the top photo police officers and coroner’s personnel examine the crime scene. Soon the cops would be looking for an unidentified man seen with Prestridge shortly before she vanished. They would learn of a suspect named Robert Lee Kilmer and mobilize to arrest him where he was holed up in a friend's house. Kilmer didn't go easily, and in the end police fired tear gas and stormed the place wearing masks and bullet proof vests. In the resulting melee police fatally shot Kilmer in the head.
His guilt was not seriously in question in any of the accounts we read, but due to his untimely departure from the material realm the motives and thought processes behind his murder of Prestridge were never explained. But they surely would have been as banal as those of other murderers. Kilmer was just another bad man in the naked city, and Prestridge was just another victim in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Did I make it in time for happy hour?
The above image, which is from the collection of Los Angeles Examiner photos archived by the University of Southern California, shows an accident at a bar located at 5th and Figueroa in Los Angeles. It happened when two autos collided in the intersection outside, and one of the drivers lost control and careened into the Ole King Cole Room of the Monarch Hotel (we have a photo of the exterior from some years earlier below). Luckily for patrons the bar had closed. Unluckily for the driver, he missed half priced drinks. But maybe he'd already reached his limit. The photo is from today in 1957.
L.A. woman comes to a dead end.
The images above come from the collection of digitized Los Angeles Examiner photographs curated by the University of Southern California, and they show murder victim Patricia Steel in a passageway between two garages in the Westlake area of Los Angeles. The case left barely a ripple. Other than the photos and skeletal biographical facts we found online, no detailed information exists about this killing in any archive we checked. That's the way it sometimes goes in the naked city, that the most critical moment of a person's life occurs, passes, and is forgotten. Today, 1952.
Beautiful jinx finally jinxes herself.
Confidential Detective Cases, for which see an April 1960 cover above, was published bi-monthly from 1942 to 1978 by New York City based Detective House, Inc. The magazine has an appropriately garish crime rag look and many stories of interest, breathlessly reported. The headers are entertaining: “She Stabbed Him—Rather Than Share Him!” “Parade of the Grave-Bound Redheads.” “The Dames All Die for Me.” All these tales are of interest, but today we're focused on one story—the piece about the unlucky death of Janice Drake. It's titled “Big-Time Mob Leader and the Blonde Murder Jinx.” A jinx is of course someone who brings bad luck to others, but what do you call someone who brings bad luck on herself?
Drake was a former Miss New Jersey who had competed in the Miss America pageant, was a semi-famous G.I. pin-up, a professional dancer, and the wife of comedian Allan Drake. She and her husband were known to have an open marriage, and among Janice's male friends were several New York City mobsters. One of these was Anthony Carfano, aka Little Augie Pisano, an associate of crime boss Frank Costello, who was pitted against mob rival Vito Genovese in a power play for control of the New York City rackets. Carfano had thrown his support behind Costello, causing Genovese to develop a homicidal grudge.
This was not a guy to go to dinner with, but on the night of September 29, 1959, Drake accompanied Carfano to a restaurant called Marino's, where they dined with a mob caporegime named Tony Strollo. Strollo was Genovese's right hand man, but Carfano had no idea Genovese was bent on revenge, nor that Strollo had been assigned the job. When Carfano and Drake left Marino's, they were planning to drive to La Guardia Airport to board a night flight to Miami. But two gunmen were stationed in the rear of Carfano's Cadillac and they forced him to drive to a secluded area near the airport, where they shot both him and Janice Drake twice in the head and once in the back of the neck.
Bad luck for Drake, but don't feel overwhelmingly sympathetic. She may not have been married to the mob, as the saying goes, but she was definitely playing footsie with it. Twice she had been present at a mobster's last supper. She went to dinner with Garment District kingpin Nathan Nelson the night he was murdered, and dined with Gambino crime family boss Albert Anastasia the night before he was whacked in a barbershop. Talk about a jinx. She was called to testify in court concerning both slayings, yet for some reason never seemed to comprehend the risks of running with a dangerous—and highly endangered—crowd.
More than a few police figures believed Drake was a mob courier, a high level go-between, a role in which she may learned the identities of Nelson's and Anastasia's killers. She may not have been a target the night she had her last supper and met a messy end, but it could be that since she knew too much, her loss as collateral damage was deemed an acceptable outcome. Others think she was just mob arm candy and finally ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time; anyone in the car with Carfano would have bought it the same brutal way. Whatever the specifics, Drake's early death—she was thirty-two when it happened—was probably inevitable.
After two long years of unsolved killings National Star Chronicle points the accusatory finger at—nobody.
This edition of National Star Chronicle appeared today in 1964, and as you can see it blares the claim that the Boston Strangler had been caught. Eleven women in the Boston area had been slain during the early 1960s, with the victims ranging in age between nineteen and eighty-five, nearly all of whom were sexually assaulted or raped before bring killed. Boston police felt they were drawing close to a break in their marathon investigation, but the confessed killer Albert DeSalvo was not apprehended until the autumn of 1964. He was actually arrested for a different set of crimes known as the Green Man rapes, but he eventually claimed, while a patient at the Bridgewater State Hospital in southern Massachusetts, to have committed the Boston Strangler rape/killings.
The admission came in April 1965. In addition to the eleven killings police had tentatively linked, DeSalvo confessed to two more killings, bringing the unofficial total of his victims to thirteen. So Chronicle jumped the gun on their headline by a year, but we've all learned by now never to trust low rent tabloids, right?
At the time this Chronicle hit newsstands Boston police in fact still had dozens of suspects. The police sketch does resemble DeSalvo somewhat, who you see in his mugshot at bottom. Of course, the sketch also resembles other suspects in the case. In fact, it even resembles big brained Tany Kominski in the above post.
The police didn't immediately consider all the strangulations to be the work of one person. The age range of the victims, as well as some variations in the method of dispatch, had slowed them in seeing a connection. Later, after DeSalvo confessed, many observers doubted the real killer had been caught. In 2013 DNA testing definitively tied DeSalvo to the last victim in the murder chronology, 19-year-old Mary Sullivan, but public doubt over who killed the others continues to this day. Of course, the public is always doubtful. Meanwhile the prosecutors are certain they got the right guy. Of course, prosecutors are always certain. One thing's beyond doubt—National Star Chronicle didn't help clarify matters.
I'm totally sorry I'm killed him. I'm all torn up about it. Absolutely devastated. Seriously.
The above photo made today in 1952 shows Barbara Joy Plymire, who had shot her estranged husband Leslie Plymire earlier in the month and was appearing in Los Angeles County Court for a preliminary hearing. The case was pretty much open and shut. She had attended a birthday party for her hubby at which she hoped to win him back. She made her pitch and when he indicated a reconciliation was unlikely she ventilated him. The money quote: “I've shot him and I'm glad." Below you see detectives checking out his body the night of the murder and agreeing, “Yep, that poor fucker's dead as hell.”
Bailiff, can you please hand me Exhibit A so I can use it to get these people the hell out of my face?
In this photo made today in 1958 Hollywood super attorney Jerry Giesler sits next to Lana Turner at a coroner's inquest into the killing of Turner's boyfriend, alleged mob enforcer Johnny Stompanato. Turner's daughter, fourteen-year-old Cheryl Crane, had stabbed Stompanato in the abdomen with a knife during a confrontation in her and Turner's home. Among the throng seen around Giesler and Turner are Crane's father Stephen, assistant attorney Art Crowley, and various members of the press, who back then were given what today would be considered intrusive access to court proceedings.
As all Hollywood hung on Turner's words, the famed femme fatale, looking every bit the superstar she was, described to the court how an escalating argument between her and Stompanato led to him threatening to kill her. She related the fatal moment this way: “I was walking toward the bedroom door and he was right behind me, and I opened it and my daughter came in. I swear it was so fast I … I truthfully thought she had hit him in the stomach. The best I can remember they came together and they parted. I still never saw a blade.”
In most accounts the knife Crane used is described as a butcher knife, but it was actually a thin-bladed filleting knife. In any case it did the job nicely. And despite taking on a feared thug Crane came away physically unharmed. In the seconds after the stabbing Stompanato either chose not to retaliate, or more likely—because the knife had penetrated his liver, portal vein, and aorta—went into shock immediately and was unable either to strike back or go for aid. Police found him peacefully supine on the bedroom carpet. He had bled very little—at least on the outside.
Giesler got Crane off on the grounds of justifiable homicide, but conspiracy theories about the killing became rampant. Some said Crane killed Stompanato out of jealous desire; others claimed Turner did the deed and got her daughter to take the blame because she knew the court wouldn't imprison a minor. But in 1988 Crane, who never testified in 1958, gave her version of events. She said the attack was exactly as described, but that she also hated Stompanato because he was sexually abusing her. Many didn't believe her in 1988 but her words certainly have the ring of truth today.
The laws of physics are constant. The reflexes of humans—not so much.
Above and below is another set of accident scene photos from the Los Angeles area circa ’40s and ’50s. As we explained before, these photos exist because newspapers back then printed the occasional calamity if space needed to be filled. Which meant roving photographers showed up at accident scenes and caught people during the worst moments of their lives. Today's collection is a bit different because we've included plane and train mishaps. There were apparently a large number of both, based on the material we reviewed. Let these remind you in general to never be in too much of a hurry, but also to be extra careful at train crossings, and maybe cast an occasional glance skyward, just to cover all the bases. Of course, while you're looking skyward you'll probably get rear ended, because that's irony. Fifteen shots below, and the previous group here. And in case you're wondering, we cannot offer reassurances that everyone seen here survived, because several didn't.
Book on Elizabeth Short murder points at new suspect.
The cultural fetish with cold cases continues with the publication of an article on the Rolling Stone website several days ago about the most famous cold case victim of all—the Black Dahlia, aka Elizabeth Short. The piece talks about a recent book by British author Piu Eatwell that promises new insights into the unsolved murder.
This latest new look at the crime suggests that Leslie Dillon, a bellhop and aspiring writer, was the murderer. Apparently Dillon, in addition to being in Los Angeles during the crucial time frame, moved to Florida soon after the murder and began writing to an LAPD psychiatrist requesting information about the case. He said he was researching a book about sexual psychopaths, and when his interest led to him being arrested police let him go because they were engaged in a cover-up of the entire case.
This is always the way it goes with cold cases, isn't it? The perpetrator was in custody but through incompetence/malice/luck slipped away. Does the author have conclusive proof Dillon did the deed? Apparently not—which means her book Black Dahlia, Red Rose joins the heap of others speculating about the slaying. But we may check it out. Its publication during the autumn flew way wide of our radar screen, so it's good Rolling Stone—also Smithsonian, just yesterday—did a piece on the book. You can read more about the Dahlia, the book, and Piu Eatwell here.
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