Some of you may have notice that I have not posted any new posts on this blog since September. The reason is that my work has been stolen by a Discovery ID show and after many phone calls and attempts at negotiations with the company, (I only wanted writing credit and a small sum of money) they basically told me to fuck off. I would have never known had they not called me about my story on Spade Cooley from my book California’s Fruits, Flakes and Nuts, which was also posted on this site. The producer felt that since it was online, it was free. All of these stories on this website were written by me, and with the exception of just a few of the postings, all appeared in my books. My books are all available through Amazon, Good Reads, Barnes and Nobles, as well as at your favorite local bookstore.
Lifelong bachelor and eccentric Daniel Van Meter was born in San Francisco on March 3, 1913. His mother, Esther, was the great-granddaughter of President John Quincy Adams. His father was chemist James Van Meter, who invented the extremely toxic chemical compound cyanogen chloride, which was used effectively in the trenches of the Western Front during World War I. James was friends with the major scientists of the era: Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, Luther Burbank, and Guglielmo Marconi. Nobody knows if James brought cyanogen chloride home with him or if it had permeated his clothes and hair, but owing to his son’s eccentricity, the odds are close to fifty-fifty.
During the 1930s, Daniel and his brothers, James and Baron, ran a chicken and goat farm at 2180 West Adams Boulevard in Los Angeles. The Van Meter brothers dabbled in offbeat right-wing political associations and attended meetings of the pro-Nazi organization Friends of Progress. During World War II, Daniel, along with two of his four brothers, served time in San Quentin on charges of sedition under the Subversive Organizations Registration Act. They had not informed the government of their political affiliation. The conviction was reversed in a District Court of Appeals, and the brothers were released without compensation.
The brothers eked out a living by working odd jobs and raising chickens, rabbits, and goats on a small ranch they bought at 15357 Magnolia Boulevard in Sherman Oaks in 1947. The area was fairly undeveloped at the time, and they combed alleys looking for recyclables and treasures. Eventually, their property was home to a junked city bus, ancient gasoline pumps, car parts, and a gun turret from a navy ship.
Brother Baron seemed to have a more stable life than Daniel. He became a square dancer and attended the National Square Dance Convention for fifty-one years in a row. Baron also collected beer cans and had one of the most important beer can collections in America.
An unabashed racist, Daniel had extreme right-wing political views. He believed that a war was being waged against Christianity, that the United Nations was a communist plot, and that California students were not being taught to think for themselves. Anyone who disagreed with him was a communist.
In 1951, Daniel heard that the Schlitz Brewing Company’s Los Angeles plant had thousands of used 36” x 36” x 6” pallets they wanted to get rid of. He called the plant and asked to have as many brought to his ranch as possible. Five truckloads showed up with two thousand pallets.
Daniel stacked the pallets in a concentric circle over the grave of a three-year-old boy who was buried on the ranch in 1869, creating a beehive-like structure, with stairways along the edges. On top of the wooden wonder, twenty feet tall and twenty-two feet in diameter, was an opening thirteen feet wide, in which Daniel and Baron hung out, drank beer, and watched the stars. Somehow the Tower of Wooden Pallets, as it became known, was classified as a fence by a building inspector.
The relatively country-like lifestyle the Van Meter brothers enjoyed was severely disrupted in the early 1960s, when I-405 and US 101, also known as the San Diego and Ventura freeways, were connected with an interchange built near their property. Equipped with patio furniture and other comforts, the sculpture was still a place in which Daniel could find solace. The vehicles on the freeways, two hundred feet away, turned into a soothing, surf-like sound.
In 1978, civilization started to close in upon the ranch. City fire inspectors declared that the tower was “an illegally stacked lumber pile.” Van Meter was not a man to be fooled with. He approached the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission and persuaded its council to designate the Tower of Wooden Pallets a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM #184). The monument could stay until Van Meter moved or died.
Van Meter relished the publicity his folk art brought him. It gave him an audience for his outlandishly racist views. Many news crews and journalists who had thought they were going to interview a grandfatherly eccentric were shocked by Van Meter’s vile philosophy. Many editors killed articles on the Tower of Wooden Pallets because Van Meter’s views were so repulsive. Television producers would save the day’s work by creatively editing anything repugnant that Van Meter uttered.
Van Meter enjoyed being able to spew his whacked-out beliefs up until he died, in June 2000, at the age of eighty-seven. The Tower, by then, had collapsed and pancaked into a pile of rotting wood and rusty nails, and the land around it became condos and professional buildings. Until the historical designation was removed, it was untouchable by land speculators.
Van Meter’s heirs, who were often on bad terms with their uncle, were left with not only the physical mess he left behind, but also a giant legal mess. The Tower of Wooden Pallets, rocked by earthquakes and ravaged by the hot southern California sun for fifty years, eventually stood only five feet tall. Yet because of the public art designation, permits had to be filed, and public meetings and detailed reports on the cultural value of the pile of broken pallets had to pass through the bureaucratic process before the Tower could finally de-designated a landmark, which it was in 2006.
Van Meter’s descendants received four-and-a-half million dollars for the property, and a ninety-eight unit condominium was built. There was no word whether the construction workers found the one hundred and thirty-seven-year-old skeleton of the three-year-old boy.
I’m going to be a guest at the WEIRD WEEKEND AND STORYTELLING CHALLENGE – ON SEPTEMBER 13th at Noon….
“This part of the Eastern Sierra has a rich and fascinating history and our mission is to make the public aware of and preserve it.” So says Andrew Sound, Program Chair of Ridgecrest’s Historical Society of the Upper Mojave Desert. Nick Rogers, HSUMD Movie Programs Chair, is quick to add that it has turned up in major motion pictures and TV shows for nearly a hundred years. “It is also,” according to HSUMD Events Chair Matt Zubia, ”with tales of aliens in the desert, lost mines and spirits haunting them, and a bigfoot sighting in the Sierra Nevada foothills, weird.”
Weird enough, in fact, to have inspired an entire weekend culminating in the First Annual Upper Mojave Desert Weird Storytelling Competition scheduled for Saturday, September 13, at Ridgecrest’s Historic USO Building, 230 W. Ridgecrest Blvd. The contest caps off the September 12-13 Weird Weekend that includes, on Friday, dinner and the Beverly Gray presentation “Roger Corman: Cult Movie Icon and King of Weird,” rare and offbeat film shorts and trailers and a classic, sinister feature-length movie. Gray, author of Roger Corman: Blood-Sucking Vampires, Flesh-Eating Cockroaches, and Driller Killers, worked with Corman for years and has amazing behind-the-scenes stories to share. Saturday begins with a kids’ Weird Computer Guy workshop at Intrepid IT Solutions across the street from the Historic USO Building. Lunch will be available for sale at the Historic USO snack bar, followed by David Kulczyk’s free 1:30 p.m. talk California Fruits, Flakes and Nuts, based on his book of the same name, then the Weird Storytelling Competition at 3:00 p.m. Both Gray and Kulczyk will remain on hand to autograph their books.
The HSUMD and Weird Weekend co-sponsor Ridge Writers, the East Sierra Branch of the California Writers Club, seek entrants from “all up and down 395 and the desert to get on stage and tell your weirdest adventure,” said Ridge Writers president Gary Hareland in announcing contest rules.”We’ll have prizes, the winner goes away with bragging rights, and the audience will have fun and maybe chills down their spines.”
To buy tickets for Friday dinner, call the HSUMD at760-375-8456, or stop by the gift shop open 11-3 Monday-Saturday.
The evening of October 9, 1926, was a beautiful night in San Francisco where the low clouds and scattered rain showers scrubbed the industrial grime off the urban landscape. The Saint Louis Cardinals had tied up the World Series by trouncing the New York Yankees ten to two, in game six. Los Angeles based evangelic Christian preacher Amiee Semple McPherson was in court for obstructing justice over her faked kidnapping earlier that year. Herman “Rudolph” Suhr, who served twelve years in prison for the murder of Yuba County District Attorney E. T. Maxwell during the Wheatland Hop Riot of 1913, was granted parole on the condition that he finds what the parole board regards suitable work.
Sometime around nine in the evening, Clarence “Buck” Kelly and Lawrence Weeks, both twenty-two years old, and two unidentified young men, drank some homemade alcohol and stole an automobile. Driving to a hardware store on Vallejo Street they asked owner Joseph Calonico, to show them some handguns. When the unsuspecting clerk handed them a .38 caliber revolver that they asked to see, Calonico was struck multiple times by the pair, who then took the gun along with ammunition. The two unidentified men, made what was probably one of the best decisions in their young lives; they ran off, leaving Weeks and Kelly to commit their crimes without their help.
With robbery on their drunken minds, the pair drove to Guillen’s Pool Hall at 1968 Lombard Street. Inside, Kelly asked owner Constantio Guillen for a package of cigarettes. When Guillen turned his back to retrieve the cigarettes, Kelly hit him on the head with his revolver, and fired five bullets into his prone body. Weeks violently rounded up the seven patrons who just moments ago were enjoying a Saturday night, and lined them up against a wall. They robbed the men of their money and valuables, before fleeing into the foggy night. Guillen died the next day.
The crime spree began in earnest, as the pair stopped Mario Pagano at on Powell Street and attempted to rob him, but Pagano resisted and was shot dead for his trouble. The police found thirty dollars in his wallet.
Looking for an easier target, Kelly and Weeks spotted George Karaisky, Beth Bolu, Emma Bird, and her fourteen-year old daughter Emma, strolling on Bryant Street, near 8th Street. After relieving the group of their money and valuables, Weeks and Kelly forced the elder Bird into their car and drove off. They threw her out of the car at 10th and Bryant, telling her that they did not like her looks.
Mario Begene was savagely gunned down when he did not have enough money to suit the pair. He died on two days later.
The pair cruised through San Francisco looking for more victims to rob. They relieved Harry Gianini of twenty-eight dollars at the intersection of Steiner and Sutter. Next they robbed Lester Irish at Webster and Washington Streets, taking a miserly four-dollars and thirty-five cents.
Seeking crimes of opportunity, the men spotted John Copren fumbling with his keys at 1914 Pine Street and robbed of ten dollars in front of his home. Using the same technique, Dr. S. Nicholas Jacobs was robbed of a four-hundred-fifty dollar watch and ninety-five dollars in front of his home on Webster Street. Shortly after that crime, Anthony Ganzales was robbed of his coat and twenty-dollars at 5th and Harrison. One block down Harrison, Weeks and Kelly robbed Manual Salazar of sixteen dollars.
Before calling it a night, Kelly and Weeks relieved Jack Story and Henry Berthiaune of cash and their watches in front of their home at 1225 Clay Street.
After lying low for a day, probably sleeping off his hangover, Buck Kelly met up with a friend of a friend, seventeen-year old Mike Papadaches. After drinking some bootleg alcohol together, they decided to repeat another night of terrorizing San Francisco. Around six in the evening, they called a Yellow Cab with evil intentions.
Kelly had worked the past summer as a cab driver, so it is possible that he recognized the cabbie that picked them up. Roy Swanson, an insurance salesman, husband and father of a one month old baby girl was driving a Yellow Cab to make extra money. Swanson, who was probably jovial to have an acquaintance as a fare, was soon shocked when Kelly ordered him to stop on the 16th Street Viaduct. Kelly ordered Swanson out of his cab at gunpoint. While Papadaches rifled through Swanson’s cashbox, Kelly ask Swanson for his Yellow Cab jacket and cap. Swanson gave Kelly his uniform and was promptly shot. Swanson and Papadaches tossed Swanson’s dead body off the viaduct and drove into the Mission District.
Kelly and Papadaches pulled the cab up to Nicholas Petrovitch at San Bruno and Mariposa Streets, and asked him for the time of day. Petrovitch, who enjoying an after dinner walk, pulled his watch out and told them the time. Kelly thoughtlessly shot and killed him.
Driving a few blocks, the killers stopped at a restaurant at 7th and Brannan Streets. Cook Louis Fernandez was standing at the entrance of the restaurant, taking a break from his duties when Kelly and Papadaches walked in. Kelly stuck his revolver in Fernandez’s face and told him “hold up his hands.” Fernandez, not believing the audacity of the bandits replied, “You’re joking.”
“Joking?” Replied Kelly. “Damn you! Take that!”
Fernandez heard the trigger click, a loud report, and a sharp pain in his neck.
Taking forty-dollars out of the cash register, Kelly and Papadaches dashed across Brannan Street to a gas station and ordered C.W. Johnson to put up his hands. Johnson did what he was told, but the jumpy Kelly shot him in the neck after he made a gesture of resistance.
Johnson’s friends, Rex Hayder and Jack Duane jumped the killers, and tried to overpower them, but they were both shot multiple times, with Duane dying immediately on the oily asphalt. Johnson crawled out into the intersection, where two marine engineers took him to the hospital, not knowing about the other victims.
Kelly and Papadaches drove to Pier 86, where the viciously attack marine pilot Alvin Anderson. He was pistol-whipped, robbed of his money, and left in a bloody heap on the sidewalk.
Kelly and Papadaches drove to another gas station, this one at 3rd and Mariposa, where the robbed the register and beat attendant Steve Walker. The owner of the station, L.O. Strand, called the police.
Officer Dorsey Henderson was nearby and answered the call. Seeing the parked cab with the offenders inside and well aware of the crime spree, Henderson open fired on the now moving vehicle, causing it to crash into a curb. Kelly and Papadaches bailed out, firing at Officer Henderson, and ran to the nearby railroad yard. Minutes later, the suspects drove by in a second car that they had apparently stolen, drove past the police officer where they all exchanged shots at each other.
This was to be the last time that the Terror Bandits would be would be on the loose in San Francisco.
The police wasted no time in trying to apprehend the Terror Bandits. Police dragnets were thrown up all over the San Francisco Bay area. Small towns formed posse comitatus to man roadblocks to protect their town from the Terror Bandits. Every usual suspect from Monterrey to Santa Rosa was hauled to police stations for questioning. Finally, on October 17th, Patrick Wafer, a hard-boiled Detective Sargent cornered one of his underworld connections, and got the hoodlum to give him a lead. In those pre-Miranda Rights days, one can use your imagination how Sargent Detective Wafer got his information.
Lawrence Weeks was picked up at five in the afternoon on October 18th by detectives as he left his construction job at the Duboce Tunnel. After being “interrogated” by San Francisco’s Finest, Weeks gave the police Kelly’s name and address.
Detective Sergeants George Wall, William McMahon and Leo Bunner led a squad of patrolmen to Kelly’s squalid apartment at 47 South Park Street. As the police fumbled their way through the dimly lit hallway, Kelly bolted out of this flat, and ran to the back stairway, and down the exterior stairway.
The police were not about to take chances on a man who had already murdered six men, and they open fired on the fleeing Kelly as he ran down the wooden stairs. Wounded and bleeding, Kelly ran into the ground floor apartment of a Mexican family, and hid in their closet where he was easily taken into custody.
In Kelly’s room, police detectives found a bloody shirt, and Swanson’s leather puttees, which was part of Yellow Cab’s uniform.
Kelly, who was shot in the thumb and lungs, was taken to Central Emergency Hospital where he was deemed in critical condition. Surgery was necessary, but Kelly refused to be operated on.
“I’m picked as the fall guy. Why should I let patched up here so that the police can swing me off later? I’d rather die right here!”
Kelly’s mother, Katherine Kelly, and her daughter, eighteen-year old Edna were brought to the hospital by the police to talk him into the operation. Kelly kept up his bravado. He told his mother, “I’m the fall guy, Ma. All my life I’ve been the fall guy. Why should I let them operate? They’ll patch me up and then they’ll hang me. What’s the use? I’d rather die here.”
Katherine Kelly reminded her son that he had a wife and child to think about. He changed his mind about dying for the sake of his two-month old daughter, Dorothy and his wife Alma.
Even though Papadaches was still unidentified and on the loose, the newspapers had a field day with the capture of the Terror Bandits. They called Kelly, a human tiger, and printed whatever spewed out of his mouth. Kelly called Weeks a “rat,” and a “hophead,” meaning that he was a marijuana user, and that he was completely innocent.
Clarence “Buck” Kelly was charged with four counts of first degree murder, and was tried separately from Papadaches and Weeks. Assistant District Attorney Isadore Golden believed it to be easiest to convict him with the May 11th murders of Jack Duane, Walter Swanson and Michael Petrovich. Kelly entered a plea of Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity.
Kelly’s attorney was Milton U’Ren, the tough former Assistant District Attorney who in 1922 was assigned to prosecute film star, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle for the murder of film extra and prostitute, Virginia Rappe. Even with such a competent attorney as U’Ren, Kelly was doomed to the hangman’s rope because of the testimony of his accomplices and victims.
Papadaches was unbreakable on the witness stand. The seventeen-year old stanchly told the court of the events of October 11th. They met at Kelly’s apartment at 47 South Park Street around midday, when they started on an all-day drinking binge. Taking taxis on their tour of various San Francisco speakeasies and pool-halls, the two had a thoroughly drunken time. A third person, who Papadaches only knew as “Span” joined them for a time, eating at a restaurant at Twenty-eighth and Mission with the pair, and sharing a cab to a pool-hall on Third Street, where they continued drinking before calling the Yellow Cab that Swanson was driving.
The San Francisco Examiner wrote that Kelly acted completely aloof while Papadaches told what he could remember of the evening. “His beady black eyes,” rolled while Papadaches testified.
Whether he was merely acting to appear mentally defective during the incriminating testimony, Kelly could not hold back his rage when Weeks went on the stand to testify a few days later. It was reported in the San Francisco Chronicle that Kelly face turned red, with his nose and jaw twitching uncontrollably while Kelly told his version of the night of May 9th.
If it was bad enough that Kelly’s partners in crime testified against him, Kelly was shocked to find out that a passerby, Peter McPhee witnessed Kelly shooting Swanson on the 16th Street Viaduct. McPhee was about a block away and had a clear view of the crime. Seeing Swanson gunned down terrified McPhee, who ran from the scene as fast as he could.
Kelly had more surprises in store for him when two of his friends, Roy O’Neal and James Fitzgerald both told the court that shortly before the May 9th reign of terror, Kelly had told them, “I’m going over the gate soon, but I’m sure going to raise hell in San Francisco before I go.” To make matters worse for Kelly, Fitzgerald and O’Neal recalled that they saw Kelly on Sunday, October 10th at a speakeasy at Third and Hanson where he bragged to the pair that, “Well, they didn’t think I’d get them, but I did. Didn’t I?”
Louis Fernandez, the cook who Kelly shot at the restaurant, and Rex Hayder, who came to the aid of his friend, C.W. Johnson, when Kelly attempted to rob the gas station at Seventh and Brannan also testified at the trial, completely indicting Kelly as the murderer. Both men had been shot point blank by Kelly, and were still recovering from their bullet wounds. Their testimony doomed any hope of Kelly being found not guilty, except by reason of insanity.
Clarence “Buck” Kelly took the stand in his own defense. U’Ren questioned him about the nights of October ninth and eleventh, and Kelly answered that he could not remember anything about the nights in question. He claimed that after a few drinks, he would lose his memory. Most of his replies were answered with, “I guess.”
U’Ren questioned Kelly about the many head injuries that he received in his twenty-two years of life. Kelly testified that when he was a child he suffered a skull fracture due to a fall. As an adolescent he was knocked unconscious by a flying object, and he was also kicked in the mouth by a horse when he was a teenager. He had also had been an amateur boxer with fifteen matches under his belt. Kelly claimed, but oddly, no doctor testified for the defense, that he had a three-inch unhealed crack in his skull.
Assistant District Attorney Isadore Golden angered Kelly during the cross-examination. Kelly was defiant, and shouted his answers back to Golden. At one point it appeared that Kelly was going to leap out of the witness stand to attack the district attorney.
U’Ren put Kelly’s mother, Margaret Kelly and his aunt, Marjorie McClelland to testify for Clarence. Margaret told the jury that Clarence’s father, also named Clarence, is an insane alcoholic criminal who was currently incarcerated at San Quentin Prison. The sister’s also told about the many head injuries that Kelly had suffered.
During the prosecution’s rebuttal, Doctor Joseph Catton was put on the stand and announced that Kelly’s head injuries would not cause him to have amnesia. Dr. Catton stated that, “there was no damage to his skull and no permanent affliction of the brain from his prior accidents.”
The case went to the jury on December 21st. They came back after deliberating for twenty minutes with the verdict of guilty.
“Well, they can’t break my spirit,” said Kelly as he was led away in handcuffs by the bailiff.
Doctor Leo L. Stanley was the son of a San Miguel country doctor, and was expected to replace him after he finished at Stanford’s medical school. His father’s premature death made it financially difficult for the young Stanley to finish college without having to take time off to work menial jobs in order to save for tuition. It took him eight years to graduate. Finding himself working as an unpaid intern at a San Francisco hospital, he applied for a job as the assistant physician at San Quentin Prison, twelve miles north of San Francisco in Marin County. He was hired in February 1913, and by August of that year, became the Resident Physician. He held that position for twenty-seven years.
Stanley was a progressive in his philosophy. He believed that there were only a few true criminals in San Quentin, the rest were uneducated, unskilled, and mentally or physically ill.
Even though the doctor was a progressive in his policies towards the prisoners, he was not easily fooled, and he often had to violently deal with prisoners with escape on their minds. Stanley was fair, but he was physically tougher than most of the prisoners and the guards.
Doctor Stanley first met Clarence “Buck” Kelly when the infamous criminal was transferred to San Quentin from San Francisco City Jail in February, 1927. Because of his notoriety, most of the hospital staff attended Kelly’s initial physical examination. Kelly reveled in the attention, swaggering and acting like a tough guy while standing completely naked in the clinic. Stanley noted that Kelly was in perfect physical condition despite having to admit to smoking marijuana. His good facial features were marred by a misaligned nose and evasive and shifty expression.
During the examination Kelly asked Stanley if it “was true that they take the brains out of all the guys that they hang here?” The doctor explained that they have been able to collect valuable scientific information from the autopsies of the condemned men. According to Stanley, Kelly looked thoughtful, then gave a contemptuous laugh and replied:
Well, you can take mine out and cremate the rest of me, for all I care. I’m a con and my old man’s a con, and nobody give a damn about me. I should worry after it’s all over! Kelly’s father was in San Quentin’s ward for the mentally deficient. The forty-four year old, appeared to be a much older man and was mentally confused, possibly from the advanced stages of syphilis and alcoholism.
Kelly’s mother Margaret visited her son as much as she could. Stanley described her as a kind and simple woman, wearing worn out clothing, who adored her eldest child.
Buck Kelly swaggered into the execution room on May 11, 1928. Doctor Stanley, the attending physician wrote of the event:
He seemed flattered by the large group of witnessed waiting before the gallows. One hundred and fifty had come to see him hang. Vanity cannot climb San Quentin’s thirteen steps and survive. By the time Buck reached the rap his courage was gone. There was a ghastly delay when the hangman’s thumb caught in the noose. As they drew the black cap down over the “Terror Bandit’s” face I heard him call out like a frightened kid: “Good-by, mother.”
The trapdoor of the gallows was sprung at10:04am and Doctor Stanley declared him dead fourteen minutes later.
A small scandal arose after reports that Kelly’s brain had been removed during the autopsy for study, against Kelly wishes. Doctor Stanley had to defend himself and San Quentin’s practice of studying the brains of executed criminals. He was cleared of any wrongdoing after Margaret Kelly received monetary compensation.
Nepotism in the entertainment business is as natural as a horse swatting flies with its tail. The children of show business people are usually exposed to the limelight at an early age. In many ways, it is the only thing they know. In this regard, Jack Pickford was beyond fortunate: his sister, Mary Pickford, was the biggest star of the silent film era.
Born in Toronto, Canada, on August 18, 1896, Jack, along with his sisters Lottie and Mary, lit up stages all over North America. Yet right from the beginning, Mary was the star of the family. Their business-minded mother, Charlotte, made sure that any theater producer wanting to hire Mary also had to find parts for her and her other two children. Riding on Mary’s coattails, the less talented siblings found themselves living in Beverly Hills, eating in expensive restaurants and traveling first class.
Jack took up flying when airplanes were little more than motor powered kits. He did some aerial stunts for films, but he mostly flew drunk, buzzing his sister’s and friends’ homes and shouting obscenities.
When the United States was dragged into World War I, Jack joined the United States Navy. Banking on the Pickford name, he was stationed in New York City, where his duties included securing hotel suites for officers’ weekend parties and making sure that his famous movie star friends, various Broadway chorus girls, and specially selected young starlets attended the functions. Pickford’s luxurious apartment was a favorite hangout for naval officers, army brass, and visiting dignitaries.
When Jack wasn’t procuring prostitutes for officers, he acted as a go-between, arranging payoffs from rich young men wanting to avoid military duty. Jack would get a cut of the bribe after it went to the right officer. He was caught and dishonorably discharged, and being the weasel that he was, gave testimony that implicated his superiors. Mary, who raised millions of dollars for the war effort, used her impressive political influence and her equally impressive bank account to keep the Pickford name out of the media and to get Jack out of his predicament. Several years after the war, Mary even got Jack’s military record cleared, securing an honorable discharge for him.
Jack Pickford’s Hollywood career petered out after the war. An above average actor, Jack made about one film a year once the war ended. He was also on the Pickford payroll, making fifty thousand dollars a year for just showing up when Mary asked him to. Jack was constantly borrowing money from his sister, who would give him a stern lecture before giving him a kiss.
Jack’s interests ranged from snorting cocaine with showgirls, throwing five-day methamphetamine and alcohol-fueled parties, and smoking opium with his Hollywood pals. Allegedly, Mary spent a small fortune keeping Jack out of jail and the newspapers.
Jack and the beautiful actress Olive Thomas eloped in 1916. Together they were the wildest couple in filmdom. Perennial night owls, they were constantly seen at nightclubs and exclusive restaurants. They openly drank alcohol, even though prohibition was in effect. Their outrageous behavior was fodder for the fan magazines, as neither was shy about his or her antics. Every fight, rumor, and affair was duly reported in the tabloids.
In an attempt to patch up their rocky marriage, the couple took a cruise to Europe for vacation. During their month in Paris, the pair slummed in the Montparnasse Quarter, and was seen patronizing the seedier bistros, where it was easier to obtain heroin and cocaine.
In the early morning hours of September 5, 1920, the couple staggered into their suite at the Hotel Ritz in a drugged-out daze. Jack passed out as soon as he hit the bed. Olive, allegedly stoned out of her mind, accidentally drank Jack’s mercury bichloride, which he used to treat his chronic syphilis. Before penicillin, the poisonous mercury bichloride was thought to cure the symptoms of the dreaded venereal disease. It was to be used sparingly, but Olive, thinking it was either water or booze, took a big swig. Screaming to wake half of the hotel, she was taken to the American Hospital in the Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine, where the beautiful woman suffered a slow and painful death. She died on September 10, 1920.
Jack was devastated by Olive’s death. Despite their affairs and fights, they were madly in love with each other. The French authorities performed an autopsy and verified that Olive did indeed die of accidental ingestion of mercury bichloride. The Pickford money machine may have had a say in the procedure, as there was no mention of the drugs in which Olive was known to partake. Heartbroken, Jack Pickford flew back to America and into his usual escapades of drinking, doping, and whoring.
Two years later, Jack married Marilyn Miller, the highest paid musical-comedy actress in
the country. Miller, a former Ziegfeld Follies dancer, was also a world-class party girl. Pickford’s marriage to Miller was violent, and their affairs and public spats continued to keep Jack on the front pages of the tabloids, much to his prim and proper sister’s chagrin. Mary Pickford, who was at the height of her career and the biggest movie star in the world, continued paying off cops, judges, and news editors to keep the more incriminating debauchery of her beloved brother out of the courts and newspapers. Miller divorced Pickford in 1927.
Three years later, Jack married another Ziegfeld Follies dancer, Mary Mulhern. Just twenty-two years old at the time, Mulhern could not handle her syphilitic, drug addicted, alcoholic, and increasingly sadistically violent husband. She wisely left him.
Before you can say divorce, Jack’s condition took a turn for the worse. Emaciated and wracked with venereal disease, his liver and kidneys destroyed by drugs and rotgut prohibition booze, Jack Pickford died on January 3, 1933, at the American Hospital in Paris, the same hospital in which Olive Thomas had died. Jack Pickford’s final words were, “I have lived more than most men, and I am tired.” He was thirty-six years old.
Roberta Lynn Kupcinet was born on March 6, 1941 to Chicago royalty. Her father, pioneer multimedia personality Irv Kupcinet was the man that all celebrities visiting Chicago had to call upon. Besides his longtime Sun-Times “about town/gossip” column, Kup’s Column, Kupcinet also had a syndicated television late night talk show that ran from 1959 to 1986. It was not unusual for Roberta to come home from school to find Don Rickles, Phyllis Diller, Sammy Davis Jr., and Milton Berle cracking jokes with Irv and his brash and foul-mouthed wife, Essee.
Growing up in luxury on Chicago’s Gold Coast and attending private schools Roberta, who was known as Cookie when she was a girl, had all the opportunities that one would expect. Essee, an arrogant snob and failed dancer, groomed Cookie for show business. At thirteen, Cookie took up acting and despite her lack of range, found plenty of work in Chicago theaters.
After high school, Cookie moved to New York to take lessons at the prestigious Actor’s Studio. She became obsessed about her weight and appearance. Essee had introduced Cookie to diet pills, Amphetamines, which in 1960 were as easy to get as aspirins. Cookie received extensive plastic surgery to smooth out the little flaws that she and Essee imagined would hold back her acting career.
In 1960, her parent’s good friend, comedian Jerry Lewis offer Cookie a small role in his film, The Ladies Man. Moving to Los Angeles and changing her name to Karyn, Kupcinet had little trouble finding parts in television and films. She was the fresh new face in Hollywood and with her father’s connections with guest roles on The Donna Reed Show, The Red Skelton Show, and Hawaiian Eye.
It was not long before casting directors realized Kupcinet’s lack of talent and the offers started to trickle by 1962. It was no secret in Hollywood that the starlet had a raging amphetamine addiction that stoked her insecurities and cause irrational behavior. Unlike most young actors in Hollywood, Karyn was supported by a generous allowance provided by her parents, there was nothing that Karyn went without. She lived in fashionable Monterey Village apartments at 1227 1/2 Sweetzer Avenue in West Hollywood. Despite this, she was allegedly arrested for shoplifting. Her father’s connections made the charges go away.
In 1962, Karyn acted in an episode of the Earl Holliman drama, The Wide Country. The short-lived series co-started Andrew Prine, who had made a splash as Helen Keller’s brother in the Academy Award winning film, The Miracle Worker. Karyn and Prine started dating.
Prine had his mind focused on his career, and saw Karyn as a casual girlfriend, but Karyn was obsessed with the young actor. Prine quickly tired of Kupcinet’s drama-queen antics and insecurities and stopped seeing the Gold Coast princess. Karyn responded by cutting out random letters out of magazines, like a ransom note, and sending the threatening letters to Prine and his estranged wife, actress Sharon Farrell. Kupcinet was also pregnant by Prine, but family friend, actor Mark Goddard, best known as US Space Corps Major Donald West on the television program, Lost In Space drove her to Tijuana for an abortion. The over-weight, spoiled, whining, clingy, high-maintenance actress was on a trajectory that could only lead to tragedy.
On November 27, 1963, Kupcinet arrived late for dinner at Goddard’s home. She was drugged out to the point of drooling and told the Goddards’ that she had found a baby on her doorstep. She went back to her apartment where she watched the Danny Kaye Show with actor Robert Hathaway and writer Edwin Stephen Rubin.
Higher than a kite on speed, the restless Kupcinet left the pair to go for a quick walk around the block. After she came back, she served coffee and cake to her guests, and then excused herself and went to bed. It was not unusual for Karyn to let her guests stay over after she went to bed. Kupcinet had a state of the art television set that he daddy bought her, and she was known for her TV parties. Besides, it was Thanksgiving eve.
Hathaway and Rubin left the apartment around eleven, carefully making sure that the door was locked on their way out. The men went to their friend, actor William Mamches apartment where they continued to watch television. Andrew Prine showed up too and together the four men watched television until three in the morning. Prine told his friends that Kupcinet had called him around midnight and told him about the baby that she claimed to have found on her doorstep, adding that the police had taken the baby away.
On November 30, after not hearing from Karyn since Wednesday evening, Goddard and his wife Marcia drove to the Monterey Village apartments and found the door to her second story apartment was unlocked. Walking in they were immediately hit by the odor of decay. They found the television on, cigarette butts scattered on the floor, along with an empty coffee pot. Karyn was laying facedown and naked on the couch. Body fluids had leaked out of her orifices and maggot eggs were in her hair. She was too decomposed to determine immediately the cause of death, but the autopsy showed that the cause of death was listed as “murder by manual strangulation.” Karyn had a compression fracture on the left side of her hyoid bone, along with deep tissue hemorrhage of neck. Her thyroid gland, tongue, and larynx were crushed.
The Los Angeles Police Department found Karyn’s diary full of insane ranting about her weight, lack of acting work and Prine. Detectives found threatening notes that were forged by Karyn to make it seem that Prine had sent them. Over ten prescriptions bottles were found inside her medicine cabinet. Mostly uppers and downers.
Prine, Mamches, Hathaway, Rubin and the Goddard’s were thoroughly questioned by the police and released. Her downstairs neighbor, David Lange, brother of actress Hope Lange was also questioned at length. Lange was a known as a chronic alcoholic who often walked into stranger’s apartments in a drunken stupor. Lange claimed that he had been out drinking with Natalie Wood and Glenn Ford that night, and had passed out when he got to his apartment. A few days later, Lange allegedly joked to friends that he killed Kupcinet. After that Lange quit cooperating with the investigators.
The L.A.P.D. pressured by Kupcinet’s connections, rushed the investigation by focusing on her entertainment industry friends and not on good old fashion detective work. Despite the best efforts of the L.A.P.D., the murder of Karyn Kupinet was never solved. Irv Kupcinet went to his grave believing that he knew who murdered his daughter, but the police never had enough evidence to charge anyone.
Six weeks after her murder, Kupcinet appeared on the popular courtroom drama, Perry Mason. The Case of the Capering Camera, was Kupcinet’s final onscreen appearance.
Nick Adams was born Nicholas Aloysius Adamshock to Ukrainian immigrants in the hardscrabble coal mining town of Nanticoke, Pennsylvania, on July 10, 1931. After his uncle was killed in a mining accident, the family picked up and moved until they ran out of gasoline, ultimately ending up in Jersey City, New Jersey, where Adams spent the remainder of his childhood. Jersey City was not a paradise, and Adams was able to get off the streets by going to the movie theater as much as he could. He read movie fan magazines and dreamed of a better life than his parents had had. New York City was just across the river.
A chance meeting with an actor led Adams to an audition at Carnegie Hall, where he met the actor Jack Palance. After discovering that they were born in the same region of Pennsylvania, they struck up a friendship. Palance was Marlon Brando’s understudy for A Streetcar Named Desire at the time and was doing fairly well for himself. He invited Adams up to his apartment and had sex with him. It was the first time that Adams had sex with a man, but it wouldn’t be his last.
After a couple of weeks, Adams left Palance and hitchhiked to Hollywood. He landed a commercial for Coca-Cola and met the soon-to-be legendary James Dean. Dean and Adams became roommates and, allegedly, lovers. To make ends meet, they both hustled tricks on Santa Monica Boulevard. After tiring of the struggles of show business, Adams enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard.
While on leave in San Diego, and dressed in his Navy whites, Adams showed up for an audition for the Henry Fonda film Mister Roberts. He got the part. After his military service was through, he returned to Hollywood and looked up his friend, James Dean.
Dean, whose star was rising, got Adams a small role in Rebel Without a Cause, and by all accounts had sex with all three of its stars: Dean, Sal Mineo, and Natalie Wood. Wood’s stage mother reportedly asked Adams to be Natalie’s first sex partner, and he obliged.
Adams was devastated when James Dean died in a tragic auto crash on September 30, 1955. He began driving recklessly, racking up nine traffic violations in one year. It probably didn’t help that enfant terrible Dennis Hopper was his housemate at the time.
Adams was getting more acting work in television and films just as Elvis Presley arrived in Hollywood, in 1956. Presley soon put out word that he wanted to meet James Dean’s buddy. Adams and Presley quickly became friends, and Nick was Elvis’ go-to man for anyone or anything he needed while in Los Angeles.
Presley and Adams were seen together all over Los Angeles, and many in the industry believed that Adams had latched onto Presley, as he had Dean, although Presley and Adams were allegedly more than just friends. When Elvis went back to Graceland, he left Nick an airline ticket to Memphis. The gossip columnists had a field day with their relationship. There was nothing the old school show business people wanted more than to ruin the hillbilly outsider who was turning their children into rock ‘n’ roll maniacs. Knowing Adams’ reputation as someone who would have sex with anyone who could advance his career, the gossip columnists spread rumors that Elvis and Nick were lovers.
To derail the rumors, Elvis’ manager, Colonel Tom Parker, put Adams on the Elvis payroll while he toured. Parker, who was an illegal alien from the Netherlands, didn’t like Adams and his big mouth. Adams had already told Elvis that the Colonel, who was taking a fifty percent cut of Elvis’ fortune, was ripping him off, and the Colonel thought it would be better to have him on the payroll like the rest of Elvis’ Memphis Mafia, or paid friends. Besides, as long as Elvis was having sex with Adams, the Colonel didn’t need to worry about Elvis impregnating young women and paying for abortions. So close were the two that Adams was the only person allowed to visit Elvis in the days following the death of Elvis’ mother, Gladys Presley.
Adams landed a great part in the film The Pajama Game, starring Doris Day, Tony Randall, and Rock Hudson. The film was a romantic comedy, even though all of the leading men were gay. More film roles and television work fell into Adams’ lap,and he no longer had to deal with the casting couches of film producers. During this time, Adams married former child actress Carol Nugent. Their marriage was filled with infidelities, mostly on Nugent’s side of the bed. They had two children, Allyson Lee and Jeb Stuart.
Adams got his big break in 1959 with his role as Johnny Yuma in the television program The Rebel, which he also helped write. The show instantly became a hit with teenagers, who were attracted to the themes of rebellion, rejection, and justice. The show was also known as one of the most violent programs on television, and was cancelled after its second season to placate the conservatives in Hollywood and Washington, D.C.
It wasn’t long before Adams got a choice film role as a malicious murder suspect in the courtroom drama, Twilight of Honor. 1963 Academy Awards, but lost to Melvyn Douglas for his role in Hud.
Adams’ turbulent marriage came to an end in November 1966, when Nugent filed for divorce. The proceedings turned out to be expensive, as the couple fought over custody of their two children. Adams wasn’t getting any younger, and his prematurely thinning hair made his “rebel” roles dry up. There were plenty of younger, cheaper actors in Hollywood to fill the void. Adams was reduced to acting in Japanese monster movies just to pay his attorney’s fees.
With his prospects and bank account drying up, Adams paid a call on his old friend, Elvis. The two had had a falling-out in the early sixties over Adams’ demand for money from Elvis. It was time to hit up Elvis again, this time with the threat of exposing his sexual secrets. The King threw him out of Graceland.
Word got out in Hollywood that Adams was threatening to write a tell-all book on the sexual preferences of very famous and powerful industry people. Adams was an avid journal keeper and had stacks of notebooks that contained all of the details of who, what, when, where, and how. The list of Adams’ alleged sex partners is astonishing: besides Elvis, Jack Palance, James Dean, Sal Mineo, and Elvis, there were also Joan Crawford, James Cagney, Rock Hudson, Rory Calhoun, Gay Madison, and director John Ford.
Nobody wanted to see the book written. Not only would it soil the careers of megastars, but millions of dollars would be lost on the bad publicity it would cause. John Wayne stopped by Adams’ home at 2126 El Roble Drive in Beverly Hills to try to talk him out of writing the book and to warn him that it might get him killed. Wayne liked Adams and didn’t want to see anything bad happen to him.
On February 7, 1968, Adams missed an appointment with his attorney, Ervin Roeder. The two were getting together to discuss negotiations with Colonel Tom Parker, who wanted to buy all of Adams’ notebooks and his manuscript for his own personal library. Parker had spent a fortune over the years bribing editors, reporters, and young women and men not to report on Elvis’ private life. Adams was just another brushfire to put out.
Dr. Thomas Noguchi, who later wrote two books about his career as the coroner of Los Angeles County from 1967 to 1982, performed the autopsy, and the mode of death was certified as “accidental-suicidal and undetermined.” Massive doses of the sedative paraldehyde and the tranquilizer Promazine were found in Adams’ body. He had a prescription for paraldehyde, but there was no evidence of any other drug in the rented home. Nor were there any of Adams’ notebooks, his manuscript, his guns, or his typewriter.
The police left it at that. Two of Adams’ best friends, actors Broderick Crawford and Forrest Tucker, went to their graves believing that Adams was murdered. However, Hollywood had nothing to gain from solving the mysterious death of a rebel.
William Frawley will forever be known to television buffs as Fred Mertz, neighbor and landlord to Ricky and Lucy Ricardo in the pioneer television program I Love Lucy. His grumpy wisecracks and impeccable comic timing gave Frawley the biggest laughs every week the show aired on CBS from October 15, 1951, to May 6, 1957, and then again in thirteen one-hour specials until 1960. Unbeknownst to most viewers, Fred Mertz was a just toned-down version of William Frawley, without the profanities, racist jokes, and misogyny.
Born to Mike and Mary Frawley on February 16, 1887 in the Mississippi River town of Burlington, Iowa, “Bill” grew up in relative prosperity. Mike Frawley was an insurance man
Bill loved sports and singing and he did both whenever he could. His smooth baritone would bring tears to the eyes of the toughest railroad workers. He had dreams of leaving Burlington and becoming a vaudevillian, going to new places and meeting interesting people.
Mike Frawley died in 1907 at age fifty, which gave Bill more leeway to pursue his dream of performing. Frawley toiled at a boring insurance job, but managed to get transferred to Chicago with the intentions of going into show business. Once in Chicago, Frawley wasted no time and appeared onstage in short order in the chorus of The Flirting Princess. Mary—who had incredible pull with her children, even when they were adults—soon found out that Bill had quit his insurance job to sing and dance onstage, and she sent his brother John to retrieve him. John gave Bill a letter from their mother in which she proclaimed that she would rather see him dead than watch him wreck his life as an actor. When Bill arrived back in Burlington he took a job with the railroad. No doubt his domineering mother, who threw roadblocks in front of his dreams, triggered a lifelong disdain for female relationships.
Bill and brother Paul put together a song and dance act, and tried it out in an East Saint Louis vaudeville house. The act went over well and after acquiring stage experience they worked the Midwest vaudeville circuit as the Frawley Brothers, until Paul left the act to attend college, at Mary’s insistence. Eventually Paul left the Midwest for the New York City stage, where his handsome looks and good voice kept him working on Broadway for the next twenty years. Mary died in 1921, and after attending her funeral, Bill Frawley never went back to Burlington, Iowa, for the rest of his life.
Bill teamed up with pianist Franz Rath as A Man, A Piano, and a Nut and landed a year-long gig at Denver’s popular Rex Café. Once their contract was up in Denver, they hit the Western and Pacific coast vaudeville circuits. One night they could be performing for the super-rich at Del Monte and the next day playing to farm workers in Gilroy. It was while performing to such diverse audiences that Frawley honed his comic timing. Frawley could read an audience in seconds, and would spice up the act with ad lib’s tailor-made just for them. The crowds ate it up.
They did a song and dance act, sprinkled with jokes, Broedt playing the straight woman to Frawley’s antics. Signed to the first-class Orpheum circuit, the pair performed at the best theaters in all the major cities.
In 1916, Bill picked up some extra money by acting in his first film, Lord Loveland Discovers America. In it, Frawley portrayed his first of many roles as a newspaper reporter. Later that year, Edna joined Bill in the silent film, Persistent Percival. She went on to film two more films that year without her husband, Billy Van Deusen’s Wedding Eve and A Gay Blade’s Last Scrape.
By the autumn of 1921, the Frawleys were separated. Their life was one of nonstop traveling, rehearsing and performing, which could not have been easy on the couple. It probably did not help matters that Bill was a loud and foul-mouthed, two-fisted boozer, who at thirty-four years old already looked like his future character Fred Mertz. Edna quit show business and went back to San Diego. The couple divorced in December, 1926. Neither Edna nor Bill ever got remarried.
Being divorced suited Frawley fine. As far as he was concerned, men were men and
women were for sex. He liked to socialize with men so he could tell salty stories, play cards, talk sports, and drink without having a female pipe in. Bill loved all sports and had encyclopedia knowledge of baseball. The only thing he loved more drinking with other old time performers was drinking with professional athletes and talking about sports.
Frawley next hit Broadway, where his little brother was enjoying a successful run on the boards.
When Bill was not onstage or in rehearsal he could be found in one of Manhattan’s many swank speakeasies, drinking with members of the Yankees, Dodgers, and Giants. It was on Broadway that Frawley started to get a reputation for his penchant for intolerance and violence after he punched his co-star Clifton Webb in the nose during rehearsals for 1928 production of That’s My Baby. Webb, who was one of Broadways most respected stars of that era and a closeted homosexual, angered Frawley with his prissy ways. Frawley was fired from the play.
Bill rebounded and continued to act on Broadway. From 1925 to 1933, Bill acted in nine Broadway plays, before he moved to Hollywood. He was possibly motivated to move to a different medium by seeing his brother Paul’s career fading on the Great White Way. Frawley was a working performer, and he was constantly on the watch for better opportunities and more money.
The film studios took to Frawley immediately and after making a film for Universal, the forty-six year old Frawley signed a seven-year contract with Paramount. He appeared in more than one-hundred films between 1933 and 1951, usually playing cops, newspapermen, bartenders, coaches, and curmudgeons. His big films were the Bob Hope classic, The Lemon Drop Kid, Gentleman Jim with his drinking pal Errol Flynn, and the Charlie Chaplin film, Monsieur Verdoux. His biggest role was in the Christmas classic, Miracle on 34th Street, where he appeared as the judge that freed Kris Kringle.
Hollywood fit Frawley well. He had a suite at the Knickerbocker Hotel, just off Hollywood Boulevard and close to his favorite watering holes. It suited him so well that he lived in the hotel for thirty years. He held court at the Brown Derby, Musso and Frank, and Nickodell’s with the likes of Spencer Tracy, Pat O’Brien, and Bing Crosby, as well as professional boxers, baseball players, and even golfers.
To Frawley, a Mexicans were Spics, African-Americans were Spades, and everyone else was Wops, Pollacks, Krauts, and Limeys. His dislike for humanity had no prejudice; the slurs were just Frawley’s way of seeing if you were one of the boys. If you had a hard time being addressed by an ethnic slur, Frawley made sure that you would not feel welcomed in the group. Fights would often break out at these bashes, with the easily insulted Frawley often being restrained by the likes of Errol Flynn or Joe DiMaggio.
By the 1950’s Frawley was seeing his acting roles drying up. Producers, directors and fellow actors were wary of working with Frawley. Although he was a professional first and foremost, his drinking and rude comments disturbed many in the film industry. Watching his bank account plunge, Frawley looked to the new media of television. Hearing that Hollywood knockabout Lucille Ball and her bandleader husband Desi Arnaz were looking to cast an old curmudgeon for the television program that they were producing, Frawley wasted no time contacting the pair.
Arnaz and Ball thought that Frawley would be perfect as their landlord and neighbor Fred Mertz. Once the bigwigs at CBS found out about Frawley, they contacted Arnaz about their concerns over his behavior. Arnaz met with Frawley and told him of the network’s issues.
“Well, those bastards,” answered Frawley about the charges. “Those sonsabitches. There’re always saying that about me. How the hell do they know, those bastards.”
Arnaz wanted the cigar-chewing, wise guy for the part, so he set some guidelines for Frawley. Three unexcused absences and he was terminated. Frawley accepted the proposal, along with three-hundred-fifty dollars a week. Also written into his contract was an October clause that allowed him to attend baseball’s World Series every year. Frawley never missed a day on the set for the entire run of “I Love Lucy.”
Frawley’s intolerance of the opposite sex was tested immediately when stage actress Vivian Vance was selected for the role of Fred’s wife, Ethel. Vance, who was a serious stage actress, was not exactly happy that she was paired up with Frawley. She felt that her character would never be married to a man Frawley’s age. Vance, who had the reputation of a clothes horse, was also unhappy with Ball’s requirement that she be dressed in frumpy outfits as well as having to weigh more than Lucy.
Vance and Frawley got did not get along. Vance thought Frawley was crude and disgusting. Frawley thought Vance was a stuck-up phony. Neither thought much about future of the show, nor did they have any idea that I Love Lucy was going to be a huge hit and force them to work together for years. Being the true professionals that they were, they took the friction that they shared in real life and made it work for their characters as they traded marital barbs at each other.
Frawley stayed to himself while on the program. He preferred to hide in his dressing room, and away from the socializing on the set where his humor and comments could easily be misconstrued. On most nights, Frawley could be found drinking at Musso and Frank, the revered Hollywood restaurant that was right around the corner from the Knickerbocker Hotel.
Although he was earning more money than he had ever made in his life, Frawley stayed in his suite at the Knickerbocker Hotel. His little sister Mary moved in with him shortly after I Love Lucy became a hit. She kept him company, and religiously attended the live tapings of the show. Mary died in 1957 at age fifty-nine. Brothers Paul and John were in no shape to enjoy their brother’s success. Both of them were hopeless alcoholics and were in the care of the St. John of God Hospital in Los Angeles. Frawley paid for their hospitalization for the rest of their lives.
One of the most-told stories about Frawley was about the time he took an unkempt panhandler to the Brown Derby Restaurant. Frawley was a regular there and was waved into the seating area with the bum. When Frawley ordered two scotch and sodas, and the panhandler ordered the same, not knowing that Frawley was ordering for both of them. Frawley swore at him and punched him in the jaw, knocking him out cold.
During a rehearsal for I Love Lucy, Vance questioned Frawley’s dancing abilities, which were required in the upcoming broadcast. Frawley delicately responded, “Well, for Chrissakes! I was in vaudeville since I was five-years old and I guarantee you I’ll wind up teaching old fat-ass how to do the fucking thing.”
Their animosity towards each other was so bad that neither would accept script changes if one or the other wanted it. The irritated Frawley would often ask Arnaz, who he called “Cuban,” “Where the hell did you find this bitch?”
Television viewers had no idea that the actors despised one another. Frawley was nominated five times for an Emmy Award, but never won. Vance became the first actress to win an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress and was nominated three more times while I Love Lucy was in production.
After the production of I Love Lucy concluded on May 6, 1957, Arnaz offered a television series reprising Frawley and Vance’s roles as Fred and Ethel Mertz. Big money was offered and the penny-pinching Frawley was eager to sign on to the project, even if that meant working with his nemesis. Vance quickly dismissed the idea, even turning down a fifty-thousand dollar signing bonus. She would not even film the pilot episode. Frawley was furious, which made Vance ecstatic.
At age seventy-three Frawley was financially secure, as his contract with Arnaz paid him royalties in perpetuity. Most of the early television performers were paid royalties for only a couple syndication runs, but Frawley’s deal gave him royalties each and every time I Love Lucy was aired. Instead of spending his days watching his beloved Los Angeles Dodgers or hanging out with his pals at the Santa Anita Racetrack, Frawley did not know how not to work. His hobbies were expensive and he was always concerned about money.
Frawley landed another television acting role, this time on My Three Sons as Bub O’Casey, the maternal grandfather of the three young sons of widower Steven Douglas, played by movie star Fred McMurray. The show was a massive hit for the fledgling American Broadcast Corporation. Frawley’s role was to be the housekeeper and comic foil for boys and their misadventures. Unlike on I Love Lucy, Frawley took to the cast, and was an
enduring person to the young actors. Like a favorite uncle, Frawley told raunchy jokes, joined in on pranks and taught the young cast how to drink. In a heartfelt gesture, Frawley bought cast member Stanley Livingston a top-quality surfboard for his birthday. The thought of Frawley shopping for surfboards cracked the cast up for weeks.
As apron-wearing Bub, Frawley was always cooking or cleaning, despite the fact that he had never cooked for anyone, even himself, for his entire adult life and he had no idea how to act as if he were actually cleaning and cooking. Frawley did not care, he was basically hired to play a censored version of himself and there was not an “alcohol clause” in his contract. Taking advantage of the loophole, Frawley usually drank his lunch at the nearby Nickodell’s. The cast members were amazed at not just how much Frawley drank, but at the variety of drinks that he would consume. But he still hit his marks and cues after lunch.
To liven up My Three Sons, Steven Douglas needed to have an occasional girlfriend. One of them, Patricia Berry, caught Frawley’s attention. Berry was a busy television actress, forty years younger than Frawley, but that did not stop a torrid affair to happen on and off the set during Berry’s guest roles. Eventually, the married brown-eyed, redheaded actress cooled off the relationship with Frawley, but not before word got out about the tryst.
When actress Joan Vohs was a guest on the show, Frawley caught a glimpse of the beautiful redhead walking past his dressing room. Frawley called director John Stephen over and asked him who the redhead was, and before Stephen could answer, Frawley added, “Oh boy, would I like to fuck her!” Stephen then informed Frawley that the redhead was his wife.
In one episode, a Native American was a guest on the show. The man never smiled the entire week of production, and that bothered Frawley to no end. All week long Frawley tried to crack up the actor, but to no avail. Finally, while the last scenes were being filmed, the Native-American actor was filming a close-up when Frawley pulled out his penis and urinated on the floor within the actor’s sightline. The actor completely lost his composure and laughed hysterically, along with the cast and crew.
My Three Sons sponsor Quaker Oats invited Frawley to the company’s national convention as guest of honor and keynote speaker. The event was in Frawley’s dreaded Midwest, a place he had avoided for decades. My Three Sons production manager John Stephens came with Frawley at Frawley’s insistence. Frawley started drinking heavily the day of his speech. As the dinner dragged on, Frawley was almost blind drunk. A Quaker Oats executive got up to introduce Frawley, and went on for too long, piling on exaggerated compliments upon their esteem guest of honor. Finally getting to the end, the speaker introduced Frawley as “the greatest living American” to thunderous applause and a standing ovation. Frawley stumbled to the microphone and announced to the assembled mass, which included the executive’s wives, the following:
“All right, I gotta tell ya this. I’ve been introduced in a lot of places, by a lot of people, but never ever have I heard so much shit piled so high as this last guy who introduced me. I don’t know who the fuck you are, but you are really full of shit. Thank you and good night.”
As My Three Sons progressed into its third year, Frawley was starting to show signs of his failing health. He started forgetting lines and would fall asleep during filming. It got to the point where cast members were put next to Frawley so they could poke him in the back to wake him for his line.
Frawley did not pass his insurance physical for the 1964-65 season of My Three Sons. The doctor told producers that Frawley had suffered several strokes and should have been dead years ago. He was kept on for half the season until he was replaced with another hard-drinking, two-fisted actor, William Demarest. Bub was written out of the show by explaining that he had moved to Ireland. Demarest was supposed to be Bub’s brother, Charlie. The producers had wanted to the two men to meet in Frawley’s last episode, but it turned out that Demarest and Frawley had long hated one another and refused to work together.
Frawley visited the set after his release, but his constant and vocal criticism of Demarest’s work caused too much conflict, and Frawley was asked not to come back. With his health in rapid decline, Frawley moved out of the Knickerbocker after residing there for nearly thirty years, and into an apartment at 450 North Rossmore. He hired male nurses to help him out with his medical and physical needs around the clock.
On the evening of March 3, 1966, William Frawley suffered a heart attack at the corner of Hollywood and Vine. His nurse carried him into the lobby of a nearby hotel and called an ambulance. Frawley was dead on arrival when he got to the Hollywood Receiving Hospital.
Desi Arnaz took out a full page ad in in the Hollywood Reporter for his friend. Along with his vital statistics and a photo of Frawley from his I Love Lucy days, the ad only read, “Buenas Noches, Amigo!”
Frawley’s career spanned an amazing period in American entertainment history. He started out in pre-World War I vaudeville, was on Broadway in the 1920s, in film in the 30s and 40s, and on television in the 50’s and 60’s. He lived his life on his own terms, and became famous at the age when most people retire from their careers.
Oddly, Frawley left the majority of his estate to actress Patricia Barry, his fling from My Three Sons.
Born to a mother who filed divorce papers on his father before he was born, Jack Webb, the actor, director, writer, and producer, was born into poverty in 1920s Los Angeles. A sickly child, Webb lived with his mother and grandmother, both of whom worked menial jobs, often at night. He dove into reading anything he could get his hands on, and could often be seen going through garbage cans behind his Bunker Hill apartment for reading material. A jazz enthusiast neighbor introduced young Webb to jazz music by giving him a Bix Beiderbecke record. It started his lifelong love of the music.
As a student at Belmont High School, Webb emceed variety shows, stealing his jokes from comedians he had heard on the radio. He was so popular that he became class president. After high school, Webb got a scholarship to Chouinard Art Institute, but he eventually had to drop out to help support his ailing mother and grandmother.
World War II found Webb working in an armory plant and getting bit parts in radio dramas. Tired of waiting for his draft number to come up, he joined the Army Air Corps, washed out as a pilot, and ended up typing correspondence at an air base in Del Rio, Texas. With his mother and grandmother ailing, Webb applied for and received a dependency discharge.
With the war exploding all over the world, there was a shortage of men in the workforce. Webb landed a position at KGO radio in San Francisco, using his time there to learn as much as he could about radio production. He would practice voice modulation for hours in front of a dead microphone and talk shop with engineers. After several weeks, Webb was promoted to voice announcer and eventually hosted an early morning jazz program called The Coffee Club.
With his energy, self-confidence, and fervent desire for perfection, Webb found himself in the position of lead actor in the radio program Pat Novak for Hire. Webb, who had always been a writer on the program, was told by co-writer Richard Breen not to ham it up but to underplay Novak. Webb took it to the extreme and played the private detective as the ultimate hardboiled wise guy, one who mouthed off to both cops and criminals. Even though the storyline was the same each week, the show attained a loyal following in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Breen got a film offer in Hollywood that coincidentally happened just after he had had an argument with KGO’s management. Webb, who roomed with Breen, headed to Los Angeles with him.
Webb and Breen were signed by the Mutual Network to create and act in new radio programs. Radio was a dying medium by 1947, but Webb kept busy, acting in a half-dozen radio programs. One of his shows, Johnny Madero, provided Webb with enough financial security to marry his girlfriend, actress and singer Julie London.
Being a freelancer, Webb was used to contributing creative ideas, but his big mouth and confident manner turned off directors and producers. Subsequently, Webb had a hard time finding work. His agent got him small roles in radio and film, including a minor part as William Holden’s jazz-loving friend in Sunset Boulevard and roles in the noir classics Dark City and He Walked by Night. Taking a page from the latter, Webb developed a police show for radio, based on true stories from the Los Angeles Police Department files.
Dragnet first aired on June 3, 1949. Using clipped, clever, and straightforward dialog, Webb, as Sergeant Joe Friday, joined with his partner to solve uniquely Los Angeles crimes for three hundred and eighteen episodes. In late 1951, Dragnet appeared on NBC as a television show, and until the radio program was cancelled, in 1955, two different versions of Dragnet were produced in separate media.
Webb did everything as quickly and as cheaply as possible. He met Stanley Meyer, who owned the patent on the TelePrompTer. The TelePrompTer is an electronic screen that displays an actor’s lines and was invented to replace cue cards. Webb discovered that if actors read their lines off of the
TelePrompTer without rehearsing, there was virtually no difference in their performances. With all of the close-ups used in Dragnet, the TelePrompTer was the perfect tool for the program. Webb saved money by not rehearsing his actors, became an investor in the TelePrompTer, and hired Meyer to run his company, Mark VII Productions.
Dragnet was on the air for two hundred and seventy-six episodes, until 1959. It was one of the first network television programs to be syndicated. Lunch boxes, toy guns, and cigarettes were all merchandised with the Dragnet logo. Webb even released an album of love songs, which he spoke rather than sang.
Webb was the producer and director of Dragnet, and he ran the set like an army camp. There was no pampering of the actors, and everyone was treated fairly, as long as no one screwed up a scene.
Always on the lookout for film opportunities, Webb was able to finagle a multi-film deal on the success of Dragnet. He directed and starred in The D.I., military slang for a drill instructor. Webb yelled so much in the movie that his once smooth baritone turned into a raspy croak. On the plus side, he liked his military crew cut so much that he adopted it for the rest of his life. Webb also directed and starred in Pete Kelly’s Blues, which in 2009 was named by the British film magazine Empire as the thirteenth best gangster film you’ve never seen. The cast included Janet Leigh, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Lee Marvin, and a very young Jayne Mansfield. Webb had high hopes for his jazz-heavy drama, but it did poorly at the box office. Peggy Lee was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, and the soundtrack was nominated for a Grammy, but Webb’s careless comments about show business and the people who run it again put him out of favor with the studio heads. Webb was the perfect example of biting the hand that feeds you.
Original episodes of Dragnet went off the air in 1959, and Webb found himself without work. He was on his third marriage and had to pay child support for the two daughters he had with London, who had divorced him in 1954. He feared the poverty he grew up in, and constantly floated pilots and scripts to networks and studios, but they had had enough of the mouthy man whose ego was bigger than his talent. Many Hollywood insiders felt that, had Webb not always filmed on the fast and cheap and actually taken some time with his projects, he could have equaled Orson Welles and John Ford.
In 1963, Webb took over as executive producer of the smash hit 77 Sunset Strip. He fired everyone but its main star, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. The show sank to the bottom of the ratings and was cancelled later that year.
In 1966, much to Webb’s dismay, there was interest in a new Dragnet. Webb wanted to move on from the show, but he was on wife number three and had to pay alimony and child support to Julie London. He couldn’t afford to turn down the offer.
Webb hired actor Harry Morgan to play his partner, Bill Gannon. Having witnessed Webb’s tirades on the set, Morgan quickly learned to let Webb do things his own way. The two characters wore the same suits in every episode so that they could simultaneously shoot different episodes while on the same set. It made things simple when they had to reshoot a scene.
Everything was read off of the TelePrompTer. When close-ups were done, the actors sat in chairs and read their lines. This caused problems with many of the actors, who were used to actually acting. If an actor embellished his lines, Webb would yell “Cut!”, and then tell the actor, “That was great! You could win the Academy Award with that performance. But that isn’t how we do things on Dragnet. Now just read the goddamn lines.” Many actors couldn’t adjust to Webb’s way of performing, and they were either fired on the spot or never asked back. The actors who played the game that Webb wanted to play were rewarded with steady work on the show.
Webb did not tolerate any horsing around on the set. He would spend twenty minutes berating a grip or soundman for the slightest thing, screaming about how much money was wasted because of a mistake. He was also quick to laugh at himself. Once you got used to the way Webb wanted things done, he was easy to get along with.
It was expected of Webb’s employees that they would hang out with him after the day was over to drink scotch and eat steaks at the Cock and Bull Restaurant on Sunset Boulevard until the early hours of the morning. Many Mark VII employees’ marriages broke up because of the drunken late nights with Webb. Many of those nights ended up at his apartment across the street, where Webb would play DJ, spinning his jazz records through the latest audio equipment. He had one of the largest jazz record collections in the world.
Dragnet tackled such social problems of the day as drug addiction, child abuse, and racial inequality. The show’s final scenes always ended with what Webb called “the goddamn Jesus speech,” where he would tell the criminal exactly what he thought before he made his arrest. Webb hated doing Dragnet, and the cut and paste production showed his attitude. He would have made a fine factory manager.
By 1970, Dragnet was finished. Webb was more interested in producing other shows for Mark VII, with Adam-12 and Emergency being his biggest hits.
Jack Webb died of a massive heart attack in his apartment on December 23, 1982. The Los Angeles Police Department flew its flags at half-staff that day, and a week later gave Webb an official memorial service, the first ever given to a civilian. His badge number, 714, was retired from service.
Rarely has a singer and actor had such a meteoric rise to fame, only to have his life cut short by a bizarre accident before his talents peaked, as Russ Columbo. The youngest of twelve children, Colombo was born Ruggerio Eugenio di Rodolpho Colombo to Italian immigrates Nicola and Guilai Columbo, in Camden, New Jersey on January 14, 1908.
Columbo’s family moved often during his younger years, with stretches in Philadelphia, San Francisco, Calistoga and finally Los Angeles, purportedly so young Ruggerio could keep taking singing lessons from Phantom of the Opera star Alexander Bevani. Russ made his professional debut at Imperial Theater in San Francisco at the age of 13.
While working on movie sets, young Russ hooked up with glamorous Polish actress Pola Negri. The former lover of Charlie Chaplin and Rudolph Valentino, Negri no doubt showed Russ the ins and outs of Hollywood, as his career suddenly took some lucky breaks.
Playing the ballroom circuit around Los Angeles, he ended up in the Gus Arnheim’s Coconut Grove Orchestra, which was the house band at the Ambassador Hotel.
Arnheim’s band was big time in L.A. in the 1920s and 30s, with many of his band members, like Bing Crosby, Fred MacMurray and arranger Jimmie Grier, going on to achieve fame of their own. Although Columbo played violin in the orchestra, he also sang, sometimes with Crosby, who he eventually replaced in the band.
By 1928 Columbo was performing in small singing roles in movies, often dubbing singing for the top-billed star. The next two years were filled with cameo singing parts in quickie movies. Columbo also ran the unsuccessful Pyramid Café nightclub on Hollywood Boulevard.
In 1931, popular songwriter Con Conrad heard Columbo singing and talked him into going to New York City with him. While on the cross-country train, Conrad and Columbo wrote Columbo’s signature song, “You Call It Madness.” Conrad who had written the hit songs “Ma, He’s Making Eyes At Me” and “Lonesome” and had also won the very first Academy Award for Best Original Song with “The Continental” from the film The Gay Divorcee, but at this stage of his career he focused on Broadway shows and radio. Conrad got Columbo a radio slot on Tuesday night at 11:30 p.m. on NBC, and the young singer was soon making $3,000 a week. Conrad got the show’s time changed to go up against, Bing Crosby’s radio show on CBS and a fake rivalry was concocted, dubbed “The Battle of the Baritones.” Columbo’s live performances were consistently sold out.
Considered a crooner by the public, a label that Columbo hated, he was on the cutting edge of music at the time along with Cosby and Rudy Vallee. The amplified microphone was a brand new invention at the time and it changed the way singers sang. No longer did vocalists have to belt out songs so the
people in the balcony could hear. The microphone made it possible for baritones to be heard clearly to a large audience for the first time, and Columbo took advantage of the new technology. During this time, when he was known as the Romeo of Radio and The Valentino of Song, Columbo was romantically linked with beauty queen/actress Dorothy Dell, singer/comedian Hannah Williams and the great Greta Garbo.
In 1933, Columbo’s radio program lost its main sponsor Listerine, and the program got cancelled. After some disputes with Conrad, Columbo fired his manager, put together a band and toured his way back to California.
Arriving in Los Angeles, he moved his family into an ornate Spanish style home at 1940 Outpost Circle in the Hollywood Hills, an exclusive neighborhood to this day.
Columbo continued to write songs and perform. Always striving to improve his talents and to help distinguish himself from all the other crooners, Columbo started taking voice lessons. He had a decent role in the film Broadway Thru a Keyhole and sang several songs in the film.
Russ Columbo was on his way to super-stardom, until his buddy lit a cigarette with an old flintlock pistol
Offered the lead role in Universal’s Wake Up and Dream, Columbo had finally gotten top billing. With music by Cole Porter, Wake Up and Dream was a flop on Broadway, but was brought to film anyway. Columbo’s acting had grown and his singing voice was never better. It looked like the
26-year-old had locked into a bright future.
On August 31, 1934, Columbo and his movie star gal pal Carole Lombard attended a Friday night preview of Wake Up and Dream at the Pantages Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. Anxious to see the audience reaction to his first movie in which he received top billing, Lombard and Colombo supposedly attended the festivities in disguise.
Columbo’s good friend, portrait photographer Lansing Brown, Jr. also attended the preview, but Columbo didn’t get a chance to talk with him after the film. Columbo wanted to know what Brown thought of his acting
reach him the next day but was unsuccessful, so Columbo drove to Santa Barbara for another preview of Wake Up and Dream. Lombard was exhausted from her nonstop work schedule and drove with her secretary to Lake Arrowhead for some rest and relaxation in the county. She planned on having dinner with Columbo on Sunday evening.
On Sunday morning, September 2, 1934, Columbo finally got a hold of Brown, who invited him over to his home at 584 N. Lillian Way in Hancock Park. Standing around and discussing the weekend’s events in Brown’s den, Brown took one of his Civil War era flintlock dueling pistols off his desk. He was in the habit of lighting matches off the hammer of the gun, but unknown to anyone in, the pistol still had decades-old gunpowder and a minie ball in the barrel. The gunpowder ignited and fired the bullet out of the barrel with such force that it ricocheted off a mahogany desk and into Columbo’s left eye.
Columbo screamed as he fell into a chair. The room was filled with gun smoke when Brown’s visiting parents ran into the room. Thinking that Columbo was dead, they called the police, who found that Columbo still had a pulse. He was taken by ambulance first to Hollywood Receiving Hospital, then transferred to the Hospital of the Good Samaritan, which was better equipped for
treating this type of injury. Surgery failed to save Columbo and he died in the hospital at 7:30 that evening with actress and old flame Sally Blane, film star Loretta Young’s older sister, at his bedside.
An investigation cleared Brown of any wrong doing, although there were suspicions that the two men had recently been at odds at each other. Brown took the death of his friend very hard and, according to his friends, was never the same. He moved out of his house where the death happened and remained a broken man for the rest of his life.
Three-thousand people attended Columbo’s funeral at Hollywood’s Blessed Sacrament Church. Pallbearers included Columbo’s friendly rival Bing Crosby, director Walter Lang, actors Gilbert Roland and Zeppo Marx. Lansing Brown was seen in the back of the church, kneeling and crying.
Columbo’s mother was never told about the death of her son. Suffering from blindness, the family made excuses for the absence of her beloved son for the next ten years of her life.
Born in Baytown , Texas, on October 22, 1942, and raised in El Paso, Bobby Fuller entered his teenage years at the same time that rock-‘n’-roll became a sensation. Fuller and his younger brother Randy formed their own rock band, the Embers, who later changed their name to the Fanatics, and eventually became the Bobby Fuller Four. After playing bars, dances, and clubs throughout southwest Texas, Fuller opened a teen dance club, the Rendezvous, in El Paso. Building his own home recording studio complete with a Jerry-rigged echo chamber, the Fuller brothers released records on local labels Yucca and Todd Records and on their own label. Fuller also recorded and produced local rock bands at his studio.
In 1964, the Fuller brothers closed the Rendezvous and moved to Los Angeles in search of fame and fortune. With his tapes under his arm, the handsome Texan had no trouble getting gigs in Hollywood, including a residency at PJ’s where the band broke attendance records.
Signing with Bob Keane, who discovered Ritchie Valens, Dick Dale, and also owned a number of record labels including Donna , Del -Fi, Mustang and Bronco Records, Fuller started releasing singles under various names. The Bobby Fuller Four appeared in the movie “Ghost In The Invisible Bikini” and were wooed by the legendary producer Phil Spector, who sat in on piano on some of their live shows. Local hit songs “Let Her Dance” and “Never To Be Forgotten” failed to chart nationally, but the ambitious Fuller plowed on, appearing on televised teen dance shows “Shindig,” “Shebang” and “Hollywood A Go-Go.”
In October 1965, Fuller recorded “I Fought the Law,” a song written by former Cricket Sonny Curtis. With its ramped up guitars and outlaw lyrics, it was just what the youth of the day wanted to hear and the song reached the top ten on the U.S. charts and the top forty in England. As his third national single, “The Magic Touch” was released, Fuller had disagreements with Keane over the direction of his career. Fuller was a rocker and a songwriter and wanted to stay that way. Keane, on the other hand, wanted to decide what would be A-sides and nixed plans for a live album that Fuller was enthusiastic about recording. Keane also canceled the Bobby Fuller Four tour of England . Bobby dropped out of his national tour and made plans for a solo career.
In the early morning hours of July 18, 1966, Bobby got a mysterious phone call and left his apartment. It was the last time that he was seen alive. About five in the afternoon, Bobby’s mother found him in his car in front of his apartment building at 1776 Sycamore in Hollywood . She first thought that he was asleep as he was wearing his pajamas, but she soon found out differently. Fuller was dead, his body beaten and the interior of his car drenched with gasoline. The police called it a suicide, saying that Fuller doused himself with gasoline inside of his car, but passed out from the fumes before he could light himself on fire.
The police neglected the fact that Fuller was a successful young musician who had everything to live for and that his stomach was full of gasoline. Fuller had cuts and bruises on his chest, face, and shoulders, a hairline fracture in his right hand and dried blood around his chin
and mouth. The coroner ruled that the gasoline had been poured on his body and down his throat after he died.
Bobby Fuller had a girlfriend named Melody, who worked at PJ’s as a waitress. There were rumors that she was a part-time prostitute and the girlfriend of the co-owner of PJ’s, Dominic Lucci. Lucci supposedly had East Coast mafia connections. His partner, Adel Nasrallah, a.k.a. Eddie Nash, was a well-known character who over the years has escaped numerous convictions for drug trafficking, arson, and murder. It is believed by some that Lucci, jealous over Melody’s affection for the good-looking and talented Fuller had his goons work him over to teach him a lesson about dipping into the company ink. Fuller, a confidant Texan, probably put up a fight and got the worse of it. In a panic, the goons tried to cover up the murder by burning up Fuller and his car, but got scared away from the scene by a passing police car.
Another theory is that Bob Keane and his partner in
Del-Fi Records owed some organized crime figures money. Keane had taken out a life insurance policy on Bobby for one million dollars. When the mobsters found out about the insurance policy on Fuller they may have killed him to make Keane pay off his debt and to teach him a lesson to pay his bills.
There is no way of knowing just how far Bobby Fuller would have went in his music career, but chances are that the driven, good-looking musician from El Paso would have been a major force in the music industry, especially with the advent of the musician-producer in the 1970’s. Unfortunately for Bobby Fuller, in the 1960’s, he may have been worth more money dead than alive.
the Bobby Fuller Four performing Misirlou Live in 1965… Bobby tears up the lead guitar
Hermann Schultheis was born to be a Californian. He was physically born in Aachen, Germany, in 1900. In 1926, he graduated with a Ph.D. in mechanical and electrical engineering from the Institute of Technology at Aachen. Soon after he graduated he moved to New York City, where he became an invaluable electro-acoustic design engineer working for Western Electric and Bell Laboratories, and The Radio Electric Clock
Companies of New York. Schultheis was instrumental in the development of the clock radio. He also designed an optical printer, a stereoscopic drum camera, and worked on advancing light transmission and measuring equipment. In addition discovered a new process for restoring old paintings for the Art Conservation and Research Laboratory in New York City.
In 1949 Schultheis became the technical research librarian at Librascope, one of the first digital computer companies in the world. As a consultant, he was the “go to” guy for stumped engineers.
Hermann was far from being an all work and no fun scientist. He was known for his great sense of humor. There are few photos of Schultheis where he is not mugging for the camera. There are fewer photos of him not wearing a shirt. He was also a concert grade pianist and entertained his friends with brilliant playing.
The blond, well-built and tanned man was an incessant photographer. There was nothing
that Schultheis would not take a photo of. Oil wells, farmer’s markets, billboards, county fairs, factories, street life, ribbon cutting ceremonies, and people standing in line.
Schultheis loved the ocean and he took hundreds of photos, usually with beautiful girls in the frame, of Huntington, Hermosa, Venice, Malibu and Laguna beaches. During a time when few photographers thought about ethnic minorities, Schultheis documented Japanese, Mexican, Filipino, and Chinese Los Angelinos at work and play. Schultheis had the foresight to thoroughly photographed Los Angeles’ Old Chinatown before it was torn down for Union Station.
Possibly because he was from the same city as the pioneer of modern architecture and the last director of the Bauhaus, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Schultheis had an eye for architecture and took thousands of photos of homes and businesses in Los Angeles. Thanks to Schultheis’s work over
two-thousand of his photographs of then mundane and now fascinating photographs of Los Angeles belong to the Los Angeles Public Library.
Hermann and Ethel lived in Los Feliz and their house was a site to behold. Hermann had rigged the electrical system to do as many things automatically as possible from his desk. He could turn lights, radios and the television on and off, close windows and even serve drinks with the touch of a button.
His darkroom was his domain. Neatly organized in stainless steel, as was most of their home. Thousands of negatives, miles of microfilm, and a huge collection of photographic equipment filled his darkroom.
Their living room was decorated in a tropical theme, accessorized with art and relics that they had picked up on their many trips to the Middle East, Central and South America. In the 1950’s Schultheis was intrigued with Guatemala and its ancient ruins. He annually hiked alone in the jungle looking for Maya artifacts and abandoned temples.
In May 1955, Schultheis took a trip alone to Guatemala to explore more ruins. He hired a pilot in Flores to take him deep into the jungle so he could explore the Mayan site of Tikal. Everyone warned him not to go alone, and to hire a local guide to help, but he shrugged off the advice and flew into the one of the most isolated regions in the Western Hemisphere alone, and during the rainy season.
A few hours later, when the pilot landed to pick Schultheis up at the airstrip, the engineer was nowhere to be found. The pilot flew back the next day and still no Schultheis. The Guatemalan military sent out a search party and after a week gave up the search to find him.
Eighteen months later, in November 1956, a chicle camp worker found Schultheis’s remains and belongings. He was far too decomposed to know the cause of death.
Ethel never remarried and after she died in 1990, Schultheis’s photo collection was given to the Los Angeles County Library. While at Disney, Schultheis kept a thorough record of the work that he and his team created. Thousands of drawings, photographs, film clips, graphs, sketches and written descriptions of the techniques that were used to create the ground breaking animation. The notebooks now belong to the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, where it can be seen in person and online.
He was the world’s number one tennis player from 1920 to 1934. He hung out with Hollywood‘s elite and wrote three best-selling books on tennis. Yet “Big Bill” Tilden, as he was known, has been largely forgotten in the over-hyped modern sports media. Big Bill Tilden
Born to wealthy, upper crust Philadelphians, Bill was coddled as a youngster by his mother, who home-schooled him and called the family doctor whenever he sneezed.
When Bill was in his teens, his mother died and he was sent to live with his aunt and cousin a few blocks away. He kept a room there until he was forty-eight years old. In short order, Bill’s father and only surviving sibling died. He redirected his grief and immersed himself into the game of tennis, changing the sport from a country club diversion into the athletic and skillful game it is today.
Tilden looked at tennis as both a physical and a mental game. His backhand return baffled spectators and opponents alike. He was quick to figure out his competitors’ weaknesses and capitalize on them, tromping them in spectacular plays.
Always a fair player, Tilden loved playing to the crowd and would sometimes purposely fall behind his adversary in points, only to rally his game and destroy his fellow sportsman.
Tilden won the men’s singles title at Wimbledon in 1920, and again in 1921 and 1930, when he was thirty-seven years old. He won seven U.S. National Championships (later to be called the U.S. Open) and seven U.S. Men’s Clay Court championships. Throughout the 1920s, he led the U.S. Davis Cup team and won seven titles.
As clean and fluid as Tilden was on the court, he was notorious for his poor personal hygiene. He never bathed or showered, and he had horribly bad breath. His clothes were always filthy. Big Bill was also an effeminate homosexual with a penchant for teenage boys.
On the evening of November 23, 1946, Beverly Hills police pulled over Tilden in his 1942 Packard Clipper for driving erratically. A fourteen-year-old boy was driving, and his pants were undone. Tilden admitted to police that he had had sex with the boy.
Tilden was dismissive of the charges, believing that the authorities would quietly drop the case, as they had probably done before. Besides being a sports star, Tilden was politically connected through his family name, and believed that his old East Coast connections would take care of things. He was wrong.
Tilden’s case was assigned to Judge A. A. Scott, a commie-hating moralist whose son represented Joan Barry in a paternity suit against Tilden’s friend, Charlie Chaplin. The judge heard an earful of the debauchery that went on at Chaplin’s home and wasn’t going to go easy on an adult homosexual who liked teenage boys and was best friends with Chaplin.
Arrogantly believing that he was going to be let off with a fine, Tilden pled guilty, against his attorney’s wishes. He took the stand and got caught up in his lies. The judge sentenced him to a year in county jail, effective immediately. He was sent to work at the Castaic Honor Farm and was released after seven months.
Tilden’s probation forbade him any contact with minors, effectively ending his career as a tennis pro to the young and rich. Chaplin and Joseph Cotten were the only Hollywood types who dared to be around him. No longer able to afford a luxury Hollywood apartment, Tilden ended up in a series of seedy rentals, each one worse than the last.
On January 28, 1949, the police showed up at Tilden’s apartment to arrest him for making improper sexual advances toward a minor earlier in the day, a violation of his parole. It didn’t help Tilden that a family friend, Art Anderson, a teenage male, was visiting when the police arrived. On Tilden’s fifty-sixth birthday, he was sentenced to another year at Castaic Honor Farm.
Released on December 18, 1949, just in time for the Christmas holiday, Tilden found himself completely friendless. A few days before his release, the Associated Press voted him the greatest tennis player of the first half of the twentieth century. Around the same time, he was purged from the histories of both his Alma Mata, Penn State, and the Germantown Cricket Club, where he first learned the sport.
Tilden’s friend, Gloria Butler, searched all over Los Angeles for him, finally finding him on a public court, giving a lesson. She rented a duplex for them both, with Tilden living in the upper unit. She fed him and kept him company. During the daytime, Big Bill still played tennis, picking up games wherever he could, just for the fun of playing. He would sometimes drop in on pros, who worked at upscale courts to play, but his clothes were always filthy and he would often have to be lent the proper attire. Eventually, his reputation, as well as his body odor, got him kicked off of all of the private courts.
For the fun of the game, Big Bill, along with a couple of former pro tennis players, would sneak into Charlie Chaplin’s estate to use his court. Chaplin was in exile in Europe after having been accused of being a communist.
On the eve of what was to be an exhibition tour of Texas, a lead up to the U.S. Professional Championships in Cleveland, Big Bill Tilden was found dead by his friend, Art Anderson. He was lying on his bed, all dressed to go, his bags packed. The world’s greatest tennis player left an estate worth eighty-eight dollars.
If people wanted to hear music before the invention of the phonograph, in 1877, they had to either perform it themselves or find someplace where musicians gathered. In these modern times, listening to music is as easy as pressing a button. You can’t avoid hearing it in shops, at work, or even as you walk down the street and chances are that daily—if not hourly—you will hear a song featuring session drummer Jim Gordon.
Jim Gordon was born to play drums. In 1963, at the age of seventeen, the Los Angeles native was recording and performing with the Everly Brothers. His skills, all-American good looks, and solid work ethic made Gordon an in-demand session drummer. It was not unusual for him to take part in three different recording sessions in one day. He would often do multiple recording sessions in Los Angeles, then hop on a plane to Las Vegas to play drums for Andy Williams’ or Mel Tormé’s shows in Vegas’ “big room.”
Gordon played drums on such hit songs as the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations,” Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman,” Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” and Seals & Crofts’ “Summer Breeze.” He played on most of the recordings by the Monkees and Bread and was the primary drummer on albums by mainstream artists like Cher, Jose Feliciano, Johnny Rivers, The Manhattan Transfer, Nancy Sinatra, Harry Nilsson, Mama Cass Elliot, Randy Newman, Hoyt Axton, Neil Diamond, The Partridge Family, John Denver, Hall & Oates, Barbra Streisand, Barry Manilow, and the Captain and Tennille.
Gordon played drums with legends like John Lennon, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, The Byrds, Donovan, Gene Vincent, Linda Ronstadt, Eric Clapton, Alice Cooper, Jackson Browne, and Joan Baez. Country stars Merle Haggard, The Dillards, Van Dyke Parks, and Lowell George hired Gordon, as did bluesmen Lightnin’ Hopkins, T-Bone Walker, John Lee Hooker, and B.B. King. Unconventional artists like Frank Zappa, Elliott Murphy, Hugo Montenegro, Nils Lofgren, Doug Kershaw, Jimmy Webb, and Leon Russell welcomed the straight-talking, buttoned-down, and polite young drummer into their sessions.
As a twenty-one-year-old man making good money in Los Angeles’ music industry in the late 1960s, Gordon had a nice car, a great apartment, and all the women he wanted.
But all was not right with the young man. Gordon would sometimes disappear for days at a time, coming back in disarray. In those archaic days of psychology, most mental conditions that are now commonly diagnosed had not yet been discovered, so nobody knows when Gordon started hearing voices in his head. It did not help that drug abuse among the era’s musical stars was rampant. It was routine for the person booking a recording session to lay out huge lines of cocaine for his supporting musicians to snort during the session. Gordon fell victim to its allure.
legend Eric Clapton. After the tour, Clapton grabbed Gordon, bassist Carl Radle, and keyboardist Bobby Whitlock from Delaney & Bonnie for his new project, Derek and the Dominos. After an English tour, the band retreated to Criterion Studios in Miami, Florida, to record the classic rock album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.
Early in the session, Clapton caught the Allman Brothers Band performing in Miami. Clapton, a huge fan of Duane Allman’s guitar playing, was awestruck by his proficiency. He chatted with Allman after the show and drafted the renowned session guitarist into the band. Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs turned into one of the first masterpiece double albums of the rock era. Anchoring the album is the rock classic “Layla,” co-written by Gordon and Clapton. Legend has it that Clapton was unsure how to end the song when he overheard Gordon playing the melancholic piano melody. It became the flowing coda of the song. Hefty doses of heroin, alcohol, speed, and cocaine during recording, along with Clapton’s infatuation with George Harrison’s wife, Patty, added to the heavy atmosphere of the album. The motorcycle death of Duane Allman, and Clapton’s escalating heroin habit, put the band in limbo.
Gordon was continuously employed as a session drummer throughout the 1970s. He is listed as a performer on twenty-nine albums in 1973 alone. But toward the late 1970s, Gordon’s mental illness became more significant. He started acting bizarre at recording sessions, and the assignments trickled to a halt when, while playing drums for Paul Anka in Las Vegas, he stopped playing in the middle of a song and walked off the stage.
Institutionalized half a dozen times between 1977 and 1983, Gordon’s mental health was often misdiagnosed as drug and alcohol difficulties. By 1980, Gordon was such a mess that he could no longer play his beloved drums. He was delusional, with his mother the focus of his disorientation.
On June 3, 1983, Gordon drove to his mother’s home in Burbank and beat her to death with a hammer as she opened the door to him. The next year, he was sentenced to sixteen years to life in prison. At this writing, Jim Gordon is incarcerated at the State Medical Correctional Facility in Vacaville and will probably never be paroled.
Gordon is one of the richest men in the California prison system, due to royalties from “Layla.” He also receives a significant sum in royalties for his work with Traffic, George Harrison, John Lennon, and dozens of others whose golden oldies are played a thousand times a day.
For a decade, starting in 1941, Spade Cooley was the king of all media, fifty years before Howard Stern. A star of stage, screen, radio, and television, Cooley was known as the King of Western Swing, a title he won by beating Bob Willis and His Texas Playboys at a battle of the bands held at the Venice Pier Ballroom in 1942.
Born dirt poor in Oklahoma on December 17, 1910, Spade was christened with the improbable Celtic name Donnell Clyde Cooley. Cooley’s father, who was a hoedown fiddler, recognized young Donnell’s talent on the violin and made sure that he would be a properly trained musician. Old man Cooley’s foresight would serve Donnell well in his career.
By the early 1930s, the Cooley family, as well as thousands of others, fled the dust bowl to the bountiful west coast. Finding himself with a wife and child in Modesto, California, in the early 1930s, Donnell worked menial jobs and played his fiddle at hoedowns and roadhouses up and down Highway 99. He acquired his nickname while playing in Modesto, as a result of his poker skills.
By 1935, Spade realized that he preferred playing music over toiling in the hot and dusty San Joaquin Valley for a few dollars a day. Moving his family to Los Angeles, Spade immediately became an in-demand musician, essentially because he could read music.
Spade struck up a friendship with Roy Rogers while performing with Rogers’ former band, the Sons of the Pioneers, and Rogers got him a job as his stand-in/extra at Republic Pictures. At the same time, Spade was playing nights as a sideman with Los Angeles bands.
With the rise of sophisticated western swing music, a hybrid of hillbilly, bluegrass, and jazz, Cooley put together a crack band of musicians and jumped on the bandwagon. His musicians varied, but generally there were a dozen in the band, plus a female singer. Spade was the quintessential front man, and his musical skills were irrefutable. He and his band dressed to the nines in flashy rhinestone-studded western suits and cowboy hats. The band performed at the Santa Monica and Venice piers for a year-and-a-half to packed crowds.
Spade Cooley had his first hit with his second single, “Shame on You.” It bounced up and down the top ten charts all through 1945, hitting the number one position nine different times between March and July. Spade rang up five more top ten hits in the next three years.
When Spade was not performing or handling the business end of his band, he performed in Hollywood westerns, often with significant roles, as well as a song or three. He eventually appeared in more than fifty films, mostly westerns and one-reelers.
Spade constantly strove to get better and hotter musicians for his band. Always staying a step ahead of the current musical trends, if he could not hire the hottest musician, he hired the next best. He was a kind and generous man when sober, but when in his cups, he was a tyrant. He would fire musicians for an imagined slight, only to beg them to come back after he sobered up. He would turn violent if one of his musicians formed a competing band, especially when they took other members with them. He once fired his singer, Tex Williams, on stage in front of a full house. Williams’ crime was that he had recently signed as a solo artist with Capitol Records. Most of Spade’s band quit in protest and joined Williams as his band. Spade hired new musicians.
Cooley had a mind for business but a weakness for the ladies. In 1945, he hired twenty-one-year-old Ella Mae Evans to be his singer, even though she was not up to Cooley‘s high standards. It was not long before Spade divorced Anna, his long-suffering wife.
Nor was it long before the tiny and blonde Ella Mae became pregnant. Her career was over, at Spade’s insistence. Their daughter, Melody, was born in 1946, with a brother, Donnell, entering the world in 1948. Believing that his children would have a better life away from Los Angeles, Spade bought a remote ranch north of there, in the Kern County town of Willow Springs. Spade spent most of his time at his Ventura Boulevard mansion, where he entertained an assortment of female companions.
The future looked as though it would provide endless opportunities for Cooley. In 1946, he had his own popular radio program, Spade Cooley Time, on KFVD. The next year, he signed a seven year lease on the eight thousand capacity Santa Monica Ballroom. The year 1948 found Spade with a television variety show, The Hoffman Hayride, on KTLA-TV. It was the most popular Saturday night television program in the Los Angeles region.
Cooley toured up and down the west coast performing in shows, with just enough time to make it to his television show and then out to Santa Monica for The Hoffman Hayride. Cooley was so popular that it has been alleged he had four different Spade Cooley bands out on the road, complete with Spade Cooley imitators. By the mid-1950s, the western swing craze had completely disappeared, and so had Cooley cash cows. He was no longer the clean-looking showman. His television and radio programs were cancelled. The years of whoring, boozing, and pill-popping had turned him into a belligerent, washed-up, middle-aged man. Spade may have been a jerk, but he was worth more than twelve million dollars.
Spade sold off his Encino home and moved to his lavish spread in Willow Springs, where he spent much of his time accusing Ella Mae of infidelities. He interrogated her mercilessly and beat her. He was drunk all the time, and his routine of taking uppers to get up and downers to sleep added to his psychosis. He cowed Ella Mae into admitting to whatever twisted sexual fantasy his perverted mind imagined.
Inspired by Disneyland, Spade put together some investors and planned out a Spade Cooley-themed water park, called Water Wonderland. The project was to be built close to Cooley’s home in the Tehachapi Mountain foothills; unbeknownst to his investors, much of the land needed for the huge park was owned by one of Cooley’s partnerships.
Cooley divided his time between the Water Wonderland project, his various other business interests, his stable of Los Angeles girlfriends (who he had living in nearby motels), and beating the crap out of Ella Mae. He hired a private detective to look into Ella Mae’s life while living in the middle of nowhere. Cooley was certain that she had been unfaithful to him while he was in Los Angeles performing on stage and screen.
Ella Mae finally had a nervous breakdown, sent her children to live with relatives, and checked into a sanitarium to rest. Despite his wife’s delicate position, Spade did not let up on his mistrust, even though his private detective could find no evidence that Ella Mae was ever unfaithful to him.
After Ella Mae recovered somewhat she returned to the ranch, where she was virtually held prisoner, suffering more beatings and interrogations from Spade. Daughter Melody overheard Spade telling someone on the telephone, “In six months, we’ll be married.” She tried to get her mother to leave, but Ella Mae was too weak to drive her car. Spade tried to get Ella Mae to go for a ride with him, but she was terrified of the man, and became hysterical. Allegedly, Spade had once tried to push her out of his moving car. Ella Mae was a shell of a human being.
On April 3, 1961, Spade was drunk and irritable at a Water Wonderland meeting with his investors. He left abruptly and angrily. Nobody knows exactly when Spade beat Ella Mae to death, but she was dead in the late afternoon when Melody came home from a friend’s house.
When Melody arrived home, Spade was on the telephone, and Melody saw that her father was sweaty, with spots of blood on his clothing. She heard him tell the person on the other end not to call police; he then hung up quickly and asked her to talk to her mother. He dragged the teenager into a bathroom off the den and showed her Ella Mae, who was bruised and bloody, lying naked in the shower. Spade grabbed Ella Mae by her hair and dragged her limp body into the den, pulling Melody along with him while calling his dead wife a slut and other obscenities.
Spade asked Melody if she thought Ella Mae was dead, and then stomped his wife hard several times with his cowboy boots. He then put out his lit cigarette on her dead body, pulled out a gun, and asked Melody if she wanted to die. Suddenly the telephone rang, distracting the inebriated King of Western Swing long enough for the young woman to run out of the house.
The police were not called until after 10:00 P.M., and arrived around 11:00 P.M. Spade’s manager, a family friend, and Spade’s adult son from his first marriage, along with his son’s wife, all waited with Spade for the police.
All of the positive things that Spade had done for California’s large “Okie” population through his music and persona were undone. The negative stereotype of Okies being incorrigible, brutal, drunken hicks was proven once again, and by their most celebrated son. Spade received no love from his old fans.
Cooley also found zero support among Los Angeles musicians and media. He had burnt all of his bridges when he was on top. His reputation of violent behavior and womanizing left no doubt in the minds of most of his former associates that he was very capable of murder.
Bakersfield in the early 1960s was one of the hottest musical locations for country music. Dust Bowl refugees Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, the leaders of the hard-driving, rock ‘n’ roll influenced country sound, stayed away from Cooley as if he were the plague.
Cooley pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, and made sure his trial was as dramatic as his alcohol-soaked mind would allow. Fainting spells, tears, and an alleged heart attack helped make his thirty day trial the longest in Kern County history.
The evidence was overwhelming. Kern County District Attorney Kit Nelson accused Cooley of murder by torture, and with the aid of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, had a very strong case. Forensic expert Clifford Cromp pointed out that Ella Mae’s body had old bruises, as well as new ones. She had numerous cigarette burns on her in different stages of healing. Her genitals were badly bruised, and a broomstick found in the home had traces of hair, blood, and vaginal and fecal matter on it.
It was daughter Melody’s testimony that sealed Cooley’s fate. The fourteen-year-old bravely went on the witness stand to tell the jury about life at the Cooley ranch. She told of Spade’s drunken behavior, gun play, threats, and the beatings that he gave Ella Mae. Her story could not be shaken by the attorneys for the defense.
Cooley didn’t make things any better for himself when he took the witness stand and denied everything. He stuck to his story that Ella Mae had fallen out of his moving car a few days before, and that he had found her unconscious in the shower. He denied stomping his wife in front of his daughter and using her as an ashtray. He could not explain his bruised fingers and hands when he was booked into jail. Fiddlers are generally very careful with their hands.
Cooley rambled off-topic and told the jury that his wife was part of a sex cult, and that, at one time during their marriage, she had had an affair with Cooley’s friend and neighbor, actor Roy Rogers. An angry Rogers categorically denied the affair, and told the press that he had never even been to the Cooley ranch without Cooley being present.
The jury came back with a guilty verdict, and Cooley withdrew his insanity plea. Judge William Bradshaw sentenced the King of Western Swing to life in prison. Due to Spade’s delicate health, he was sent to California State Medical Facility at Vacaville rather than to notorious Folsom or San Quentin prison.
While in prison, Cooley found God, was a model prisoner, and played in a prison band. Governor Ronald Reagan, a former B-actor who had surely rubbed elbows with Spade during their Hollywood days, made the parole board aware that he wanted to see Cooley paroled. The parole board agreed, and Spade was set to be released on his sixtieth birthday, February 22, 1970.
But Cooley did not live to be a free man. On November 23, 1969, Cooley was given a seventy-two hour furlough to perform at the Oakland Auditorium for a benefit for the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association of Alameda County. Moments after he left the stage to a standing ovation, while signing autographs backstage, Spade suffered a massive heart attack. Prophetically, his final song of the night was It’s Time to Live, It’s Time to Die. He wrote the song while in prison.
There has always been speculation about what would have happened had certain rock stars not died. Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison, Holly, Marley, Lennon, Zappa, the list goes on. The big what if? I believe that Hendrix would have quit all the onstage wiggling and fooling around and would have had a career parallel to Carlos Santana – experimentation with jazz and the blues, would have become a devoted of some Eastern religion, and a hit album every fifteen years. It is not hard to believe that Janis Joplin would have gone country, becoming a member of the Austin based Country Outlaw scene with Waylon, Willie and Johnny. Jim Morrison would not have added up to much, but Bob Marley and Frank Zappa probably would have become politicians. John Lennon would have always been famous, who knows if he would have produced anything fantastic as none of the other Beatles did anything ground breaking after 1980.
Eddie Cochran was a good looking and talented musician from Albert Lea, Minnesota. His family moved to Los Angeles in 1953, when Eddie was fifteen years old, settling in a house a stone throw from the Los Angeles River.
At 16 years-old he formed the country band the Cochran Brothers, with Hank Cochran, who was unrelated to Eddie, and they played the juke joints around Los Angeles County and the roadhouses up and down central California’s Highway 99, earning a reputation as a good performing act. When not on the road, Eddie worked as a studio session musician and started writing and recording demo songs. After releasing a couple of 45’s that went nowhere, the Cochran Brothers went their separate ways.
After hearing Cochran’s first single “Skinny Jim,” a Hollywood movie producer hired him to appear in the great rock and roll movie, The Girl Can’t Help It. Cochran appeared in the movie on a television set, and rocked out on a song that he co-wrote, the classic, “Twenty Flight Rock.” Cochran, in a pink sports jacket, light blue baggy trousers and playing his beautiful 1955 Chet Atkins G-brand Gretsch guitar through a large amplifier, with his feet wide apart, while the actors, Tom Ewell, Edmond O’Brian and sexbomb Jayne Mansfield react in dissimilar ways to the new sound that the kids were dancing to.
The film was supposed to be a launching pad for Mansfield’s career, but it ended up being the quintessential early rock and roll movie. Teenagers all over the world got their first visual exposure to Rock and Roll, and the world was never the same after experiencing the performances by Cochran, Little Richard, Fats Domino, and Gene Vincent and his Bluecaps.
At age 19, Cochran released his only LP, Singing to My Baby in 1957 on Liberty Records. Like most record labels of the era, Liberty did not know what to do with the young rocker who wrote his own songs. Liberty’s biggest stars were Henry Mancini and the novelty group, the Chipmunks. They had Cochran sing ballads and pop songs, but Cochran sneaked in a rocking version of John D. Loudermilk’s “Sitting in the Balcony,” complete with a rockin’ rockabilly guitar break. It peaked at number 18 on the Billboard’s charts.
Cochran knew what he wanted and he quickly recorded and released the rock and roll classics, “C’mon Everybody,” “Something Else,” and “Summertime Blues.” He was a teenager, writing songs for and about teenagers. Eddie wrote songs with his manager, Jerry Capehart, his brother Bob Cochran and his girlfriend Sharon Sheeley.
He usually recorded at the legendary Goldstar Studios. He also continued working as a session guitarist and producer, and was one of the first musicians to produce his recordings. While doing sessions he worked with dozens of musicians including fellow rockers Johnny Burnett and Gene Vincent. Eddie was twenty years old!
Not all of Eddie’s records were great. He had his share of flops, usually an Elvis type ballad or an old standard pushed on him by the record label. It was not unusual in those days for record labels to force an act to record a song that they owned the publishing rights to. Cochran knew how to play the game, and did a good job on songs that were not his own.
He did the package tours with a dozen other rising stars, playing three songs in front of screaming teenagers, twice a day for a month at a time. Radio DJ’s loved interviewing Eddie as he was different from the other rock singers of the era. He was urbane, an L.A. boy, not some mealy-mouthed hillbilly. He looked and dressed great. He was blonde and had a tan. He was a real musician and songwriter to boot. And the fucker was only 20!
While on these tours Cochran became friends with Gene Vincent and Buddy Holly. There is a hundred percent chance that they talked a lot about keeping control of their careers and away from the suits at their labels. There is also a hundred percent chance that they drank a lot of beer and played a lot of music together. Cochran was devastated when Holly and homeboy Valens died in an airplane crash on February 3, 1959. He had no idea that he only had a little more than a year left to his own life.
1960 was a bad year for rockers. Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper were killed in an airplane accident the year before. Chuck Berry was sentenced to prison for having sex with a 14 year-old female, thus violating the Mann Act (transporting females across state lines for immoral purposes), Little Richard got married and found God, Jerry Lee Lewis revealed himself as a pedophile after he married his 14 year-old cousin effectively putting the skids on his career, Johnny and Dorsey Burnette split up the Rock and Roll Trio and Elvis was in the Army. But Eddie Cochran was going strong, and in late 1959, English television director Jack Good invited Cochran and Vincent to tour the United Kingdom. Cochran was on a Midwest tour and joined Vincent on January 10, 1960. The night before his flight to London, the tireless Cochran recorded three songs, “Three Steps to Heaven,” “Cut Across Shorty,” and “Cherished Memories.”
The tour was extremely successful, thanks to appearances on BBC entertainment shows. Vincent and Cochran were opposite looking from each other. Teenage girls were enchanted by the young, tanned and well quaffed Cochran and the guys were amazed at his natural guitar talent and voice. On the opposite side, the teens were fascinated with Vincent’s pockmarked face, bad teeth and crippled leg. They were one of them. All that they wanted to do was rock. More shows were added as every teenager in the UK wanted to see this mismatch of American culture.
More dates were added to the UK tour, and every future member of the forthcoming British Invasion saw them. The late pioneer glam-rock musician Marc Bolan carried Cochran’s guitar to his limo after a show in London. The English could not get enough of Cochran and Vincent.
When the tour finally ended on April 16, 1960 in Bristol, Cochran along with his now fiancé, Sharon Sheeley and Gene Vincent hired a taxi to take them to a London hotel so that they could rest before their transatlantic flight the next day. Cochran and Vincent were looking into starting a group together, which would have been the very first rock Supergroup. In the early morning hours of April 17, 1960, the driver made a wrong turn, over-corrected, and lost control of his vehicle, crashing into a light pole. Sheeley had severe injuries that included a broken hip, Vincent re-injured his already damaged leg, and Cochran died of a severe head injury later that day.
The music that Eddie Cochran created fit the baby boomers like a hat and glove. Besides being preteens when Rock and Roll first hit the airwaves, Cochran was one of them. He was not a middle-aged musician jumping on the rock and roll bandwagon. Cochran was a cool Southern California teen, with the same problems that they had. After his death, rock music hit the skids as the Tin Pan Alley hacks got their songs back on the radio. It wasn’t until three years later when the British Invasion of young English musicians who were inspired by Eddie Cochran, did rock music recover.Eddie Cochran was only 21 years-old when he died, and he will forever be twenty-one years old.Gene Vincent never recovered from the physical and emotional scars of the accident. He kept rocking, in smaller and smaller venues until he died at age 36 in 1971.
Sharon Sheeley went on to be one of the most successful songwriters of her era, penning songs with Jackie DeShannon. She married LA DJ Jimmy O’Neill, who was the host of the mid-60’s TV program, Shindig. After they divorced five years later, she dropped out of the music scene.
Hank Cochran went on to a long and successful songwriting career writing hits for Burl Ives, Merle Haggard, George Strait and Ronnie Milsap. His biggest hit was Ray Price’s version of “Make the World Go Away,” and “I Fall to Pieces,” which he co-wrote. He died in 2010, fifty years longer than his old bandmate.
this story appears in my 2013 book, California’s Fruits, Flakes and Nuts -True Tales of California Crazies, Crackpots and Creeps
Like millions before and since, Margaret Rowney moved to California to start a new life. The twenty-seven-year-old widow brought her four children to Encino in 1948 after her railroad worker husband was killed on the job. The Pennsylvania Railroad supplied her with a generous pension. The Baltimore native probably thought that the sunlight of Southern California would wash away the grit that stained her heart.
She had a stable relationship with Raymond Bennett, a thirty-six-year-old foundry worker who cherished his instant family. Margaret called their wood-paneled station wagon “The Brat Wagon,” and she had the children’s names painted on both sides of the car. Painted on the driver’s side door was “Ray,” and “Margie” was written on the passenger side.
In the early morning hours of December 14, 1950, while Ray was on the graveyard shift, Margie braided her long hair around her head and put on her blue jeans and a leather jacket. She roused her children—seven-year old Peggy, five-year old George, four-year old Guy, and three-year old Thomas—from their beds and got the pajama-clad kids into the backseat of the Brat Wagon. She drove up Mulholland Drive in the Santa Monica Mountains and found a secluded spot under a giant oak tree in Topanga Canyon. Carefully, so as not to wake her sleeping children, Margie took a vacuum cleaner hose and attached it to the exhaust pipe of the Brat Wagon, putting the other end into the passenger compartment.
Police on routine patrol found the car. The engine was out of gas, but still warm. The children in the backseat were tumbled across each other just like sleeping children do. Margie was sprawled on the front seat. There was no note.
The murder-suicide perplexed everyone who knew Margie. Her sister, friends, neighbors, and boyfriend Ray had no idea why Margie would do such a thing. On December 19th, Margie’s sister Violet flew to Baltimore with five coffins to be interred in her hometown.
Later that day, the heartbroken Bennett took the family dog Inky with him into the garage at the home that was once filled with joyful noise. He ended his life in the Brat Wagon exactly like Margie did. An empty bottle of whiskey and a note was found inside the home at 4973 Noeline Avenue. The note made no more sense than Margie’s actions: “We would have started where we lost them, but we didn’t want to be stopped. We will find the reason.”
The book of Rock and Roll is littered with heroes who have fallen from grace. Most of them for good reason, but there are some musicians and bands that have fallen through the cracks of recognition, even though they have contributed greatly to rock music pioneering the use of samples, synthesizers, guitar techniques and even entire genres. Like the late comic great Rodney Dangerfield routine, they get no respect.
Grand Funk Railroad
In 1969, Mark Farner, Mel Schacher and Don Brewer formed a band that rewrote rock music. Guitarist Farner, and drummer Brewer were backing Terry Knight and the Pack and Schacher was playing bass in ? and the Mysterians plowing through the mid-Michigan club scene. Knight, knowing that his time as a singer was over, decided to manage these young men from Flint, christened Grand Funk Railroad.
Knight used his extensive music connections and experience to get Grand Funk on the bill of the 1969 Atlanta Pop Festival, where they went over so well on the first day of the festival that they were put on the bill on the next two days. By the last day of the festival, the band signed with Capitol Records. The band came out of the starting blocks blazing and their first LP, On Time went gold. Their second LP, Grand Funk produced the hit song, “I’m Your Captain (Closer to Home).” In 1970, Grand Funk Railroad sold more records than any other American band, and with minimum radio airplay. In 1971, they sold out Shea Stadium quicker than the Beatles did five years earlier.
Grand Funk Railroad put on raucous, hard rocking performances that pleased the post-hippy teenagers who were the bulk of their audience. They toured all over America, and were huge in Japan. They were one of the first rock bands to play stadiums instead of arenas, but the band refused to play in their home state of Michigan because of the bad press and ill-feelings from the Detroit music scene who felt that Grand Funk had not pay their dues.
Around this time, Mark, Don and Mel thought that Knight was no longer needed and they fired him just months before their contract with him ran out. Knight reacted by repossessing the band’s equipment during the band’s sound-check at Madison Square Gardens. The band still thought that it was worth it.Once the contract problems were worked out, Grand Funk added keyboardist Craig Frost and the band took a different direction with a more pop music oriented sound that only produced more gold records for the band. The Todd Rundgren produced LP, We’re an American Band was certified gold a month after its 1973 release. Finding success with Rundgren, who at the time was one of the most sought after producers in the industry, they hired him for their next LP, Shinin’ On, which went gold and produced the single, a cover of the Little Eva song “The Locomotion.”
Their next LP was the horribly titled All of the Girls in the World Beware, that had the great rock pop song, “Bad Time” and a cover, “Some King of Wonderful,” which both charted in America. Despite the tacky cover that showed the boy’s heads superimposed on the bodies of weightlifters, the LP went gold and the band went on a lucrative world tour.
The following LP’s, 1976’s Born to Die didn’t chart as well as their previous LP’s, and their next LP, Good Singin’, Good Playin’ flopped despite being produced by Frank Zappa. The band called it quits after that, although they have reunited in one form or another since then.
Grand Funk Railroad rose to great heights right out of the starting blocks due to Terry Knight’s management, but the band had talent, drive and a no bullshit factory town attitude that worked in their favor. They toured relentlessly, and did not care what music critics or their jealous Michigan contemporaries had to say about them, as the sold out stadiums was all the proof that they needed to justify their success. Grand Funk Railroad Live in LA 1974 -
From 1969 to 1975, Grand Funk Railroad were one of the biggest selling rock acts in the world, recorded 11 studio records and sold millions of records. Not bad for three guys from Flint, Michigan.
Even at their peak in the early 80’s, when their ballad heavy LP “High Infidelity” produced four top ten hits and sold over 10 million copies, REO Speedwagon were poopooed by everyone but secretaries and dental assistants. But what music snobs forget is that REO was a hard rock band from Champaign, Illinois who had spent over a dozen years on the road, playing every town on the upper register of the Interstate Highway System. There was not a town that was too small for the REO to play in, and they never did a bad show. They were kind to fans and local musicians. REO also was a band that evolved naturally, with singers and musicians coming and going.
REO Speedwagon sold millions of records in the 80’s, and their music is the soundtrack of that era… can you forget “Keep On Loving You” and “Take It On the Run?” Those two songs are the template for all of the power ballads that came after it. Lead guitarist Gary Richrath’s razor sharp leads and perfect tone are the pinnacle of hard rock lead guitar playing. He is definitely one of the most underrated guitarists in rock.
Listen to their 1977 platinum selling live LP, Live: You Get What You Play For to understand what a solid rock band they were. The years of playing at high school gyms in Midwest and rodeo arena’s in the west came to fruit. Forgotten rockers like “Keep Pushin,’” “(I Believe) Our Time is going to Come,” “Golden Country,” and “Ridin’ the Storm Out,” are played to perfection. Although they had their peak in the 1980’s, REO Speedwagon is still a working band, and probably playing in a town near you.
People talk about the Velvet Underground as if they were created by God. Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison, Mo Tucker, John Cale and Nico are all fawned upon by fans, but nobody ever speaks of Doug Yule. Stepping in at the tender age of 21 to fill out the band on bass guitar after Reed fired John Cale. Yule was in the band from 1968 to 1973, and put up with more crap than a Chuck Berry groupie.
Yule, a multi-instrumentalist contributed on lead vocals on a number of songs, and filled in for Lou’s vocals when Reed had problems with his voice on the road. Yule’s mistake was continuing the VU after Reed quit the band. Reed went on to insult and berate Yule in interviews, and even John Cale butted in, siding with Reed when the VU was preparing for a reunion tour in 1993 to not to allow Yule on the bill.
After VU, Yule joined country band American Flyer with Steve Katz, and later moved to Seattle where he is a master violin luthier. Despite that he was in the band longer than anyone other than Lou Reed, Yule was denied entrance to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when the VU was indicted in 1996.
Mention the name Bill Nelson to any audiophile and they’ll answer, “Oh yeah, Be Bop Deluxe,” or they’ll say, “I used to dance to Red Noise when I was first allowed in clubs.” Yes, Nelson did front the great mid-70’s art/glam/prog rock band Be Bop Deluxe. And yes after Be Bop Deluxe, Nelson did create electronic dance music in the early 1980’s, but he has done so much more than that during the last 30 odd years, releasing over 100 LP’s since 1980.
Nelson, whose guitar playing can only be described as dazzling, busted out towards the end of the glam era with his band Be Bop Deluxe. After their first LP, 1974’s Axe Victim was released Nelson fired the entire band, and brought in new musicians. The band did well, and released five studio LP’s between 1974 and 1978, but the attraction of the band was Nelson’s fluid and melodic lead guitar playing.
After Be Bop Deluxe, Nelson went into electronic dance music with a project called Red Noise. “Do You Dream in Colour?” was a hit in the dance clubs. Nelson, never one to sit on his laurels, started leaning towards ambient music, inspired by his muse, pioneer multi-media artist Jean Cocteau. Capital Records, as well as the other majors did not want to risk any money on the prolific and ever changing styles of this man from Yorkshire. With his manager Nelson created Cocteau Records to release his more esoteric and ambient LP’s. Records came out, with elaborate covers and CD booklets. A pioneer in the use of samplings, Nelson had sampled Gregorian monks chanting to beats years before the monks cashed in on that fad. On his 1983 EP, Savage Gestures for Charm’s Sake, Nelson out Fripp’s Robert Fripp and out Eno’s Brian Eno. Nelson bounced around on record labels big and small throughout the 80’s, releasing 25 albums that decade.
The early 1990’s found Bill Nelson bankrupted and divorced. When he went to his record label from the Be Bop Deluxe days, he found out that all of the royalties from all of the Be Bop Deluxe LP’s went to the band members who only played on Axe Victim. Not a penny was assigned to Nelson. With no money to sue with, Nelson retreated back to his first love, the guitar. It helped that he had over 40 guitars of every different type. Nelson got back on his feet, remarried, got the rights back to his music, and dived back in, procuring record labels to rerelease his catalog, while producing ecstatically positive guitar oriented LP’s.
Bill Nelson performs occasionally, and has a hardcore group of fans who gather at the annual Nelsonica convention in which Nelson is the star. Besides writing and recording music for television and films, Nelson still releases an average of four LP’s a year. Unarguably, the most prolific songwriter in rock history, a forerunner of dance and ambient music, a pioneer of digital sampling and a true guitar God, Bill Nelson’s name is rarely mentioned these days.
Founded in 1984 by brothers Chris, Curt and Grant Eckman, and Chris’s longtime girlfriend Carla Torgerson, the Walkabouts played their share of art gallery basements, dive bars and rented halls in the formative pre-grunge era in their hometown of Seattle. More musically talented, arty and folky than most bands of that era, their sets were welcome relief from feedback filled gloom and doom and noisy punk that the Walkabouts shared bills with. Not that the Walkabouts did not rock, but they played better than most bands of that era. Years later their sound was termed Americana.
The Walkabouts released their first record, the EP 22 Disasters in 1985, and went on an American tour without bassist Curt Eckman. Michael Wells replaced him and has been in the Walkabouts more or less ever since. Their first LP, Weights and Rivers, was going to be released by Wrestler Records but the company went bankrupt before it could hit the shelves. It was years before the band got the masters back.
Their second LP, See Beautiful Rattlesnake Gardens was put out by Seattle’s eclectic PopLlama Records in 1988. They released five LP’s on SubPop and SubPop Europe/Glitterhouse, between 1989 and 1994, toured the states on the same bill as other stalwarts of the 90’s like the Chills, Throwing Muses, Uncle Tupelo, Glass Eye, the Jazz Butcher, Thin White Rope, and FireHose, but their real draw was in Europe where their poetic lyrics and desolate tunes struck a chord with the youth of the day. Their LP’s scored high on not only the alternative charts, but on the mainstream radio networks in Greece, Norway and Eastern Europe.
Signing to Virgin Records in Germany in 1995, the Walks looked forward to having major label backing and released Devil’s Road and Nighttown, their two bestselling releases, but selling 90,000 units was nothing to Virgin and they were dropped by the label, despite their videos being on heavy rotation on MTV Europe. Glitterhouse immediately signed the band to their label and released their LP’s for thereafter.
Their success in Europe did not transfer to North America, and when Americana got popular in the mid-90’s the Walkabouts were that band in Europe who only had reviews in languages other than English. No matter that the Walkabouts basically created the template for hundreds of bands using the mandolin, cello, harmonica, and acoustic guitars; they get no respect in their home country. The only American shows that that Walkabouts do is in Seattle, during the holidays, if Chris comes home to see his family. The Walkabouts filled concert halls in all the major European cities, but are reduced to playing one show in a neighborhood bar in Seattle when they play America.
Just remember, every ancient punk rocker playing a contemporary version of Woody Guthrie to packed houses and admiration… Every pretty bearded boy band playing acoustic music and selling millions of records… Every washed up musician who adds a string section to make their music more listenable… have the Walkabouts to thank for setting the woods on fire.
If there was anything revolutionary about American rock and roll in the 1970’s it was The Tubes. The San Francisco based band put on freak show unlike any other up to that point. Led by singer Fee Waybill, who changed outfits and characters about every three songs, the Tubes were a mixture of theater, shock and prog rock. The duel guitars of Rodger Steen and Bill Spooner held down the rock, while pianist Vince Welneck added class, Michael Cotton flew on the APR 2600 synthesizer, and drummer Prairie Prince and bassist Rick Anderson laid down a solid rhythm, all the while semi-naked dancing girls romped around the stage, there was nothing like the Tubes, anywhere.
Their first LP, the Tubes was released in 1975 and included what became their signature song, “White Punks on Dope.” During the performance of the song, Waybill, as rock star Quay Lude, wore a fright wig and a jock strap with his penis hanging out of it, while romping around the stage in 18 inch tall platform shoes. The rest of the LP, along with their second, Young and Rich, was well guided and clever Prog Rock, with a subtle touch of social commentary.
Their third LP, the Tubes Now, was even more theatrical with Welnick’s beautiful piano work dominating the record, but it was their fourth LP, the concept record, Remote Control that should have sent the Tubes record sales soaring. Produced by Todd Rundgren, Remote Control is the quintessential early 80’s record. Too bad it was in 1979, and about five years ahead of its time. A & M Records never knew what to do with the Tubes. Their singles were radio friendly, but their stage act was R Rated and whenever they had someone on the label supporting them, that person would end up getting fired. A & M did nothing to promote radio play for the band and dumped them after rejecting their next LP. The label then released a live LP to fill out their contract.
Signed to Capitol Records, the band rolled up their sleeves to become more radio friendly. Their 1981 LP, the Completion Backwards Principle found the band tossing out their props and wild outfits, and opting for business suits. The rocker Talk to You Later was perfect for radio and the newly launched MTV and the Tubes finally found some success. Their next LP, 1983’s release, Outside Inside produced the Tubes only American hit song, “She’s a Beauty,” which was number one on the radio rock charts. Returning to Rundgren for their next LP, Love Bomb did nothing to help the Tubes. Capitol dropped them, and kept an entire LP, known as the Black Album, from ever getting released. It is still sitting in a vault somewhere in Southern California.
Although the Tubes did not sell a lot of records, their live shows were always popular; unfortunately, they were an expensive band to take on the road. Their elaborate sets needed carpenters and electricians, their outrageous costumes needed seamstresses and helpers, along with dancers and roadies, a second tour bus was needed to get the crew from show to show, and all of them needed to be fed and housed while the band toured. Their tour for Love Bomb put the band a half million dollars in debt.
Waybill left the band, and Welnick joined the Grateful Dead as their touring pianist, a notorious roll for the band, as all the former pianists died. While with the Dead, Welnick became fast friends with Jerry Garcia, something the rest of the band resented and when Garcia died from a heart attack while detoxing from longtime heroin use, the surviving members of the Dead shunned Welnick, and did not include him on any further projects. Welnick took the rejection hard and eventually committed suicide in 2006.
In 1993, The Tubes reformed with Waybill on vocals, but without powerhouse guitarist and musical director Bill Spooner. Welnick and Cotton also declined to rejoin the band. Prairie Prince went on to being one of the most recorded drummers in history and still plays with the Tubes, when he isn’t busy with sessions and touring obligations.
The Tubes were too wild and crazy for their era. They wrote intelligent and humorous songs that musically bridged the 70’s to the 80’s, all the while putting on the best live shows of their era. The Tubes were too clever for their own good, and were musically a few years ahead of everything else out there. Innovators are rarely rewarded and the Tubes, who still perform, are living proof.
Detroit boy, Harvey Mandel cut his teeth in the blues clubs on the south side of Chicago in the late 1960’s, playing on the groundbreaking 1966 LP, Stand Back! Here Comes Charlie Musslewhite’s Southside Band. Moving to the burgeoning scene in San Francisco the next year, Mandel released a solo LP and jammed with the likes of Jerry Garcia, Elvin Bishop and Mike Bloomfield, before being drafted by Canned Heat as their guitarist. His third show with the band was at Woodstock.
After playing with Canned Heat for two years, Mandel joined British blues legend John Mayall’s band. When the Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor left the band, Mandel was picked up by the Stones and contributed the incredible lead guitar to the hit song “Hot Stuff” and fan favorite “Memory Motel.” Fellow Brit Ronnie Wood was eventually hired as the Stone’s permanent second guitarist. Mandel stayed busy over the years releasing over 19 solo LP’s to date, and later rejoining Canned Heat for live performances.
As if his career was not impressive enough, Mandel is credited with being the first electric guitarist to use the technique called fretboard tapping. Tapping or hammering is when the musician taps the strings of the guitar with their fingertips, in a hammering motion, instead of using a pick. The technique is especially impressive through an amplifier and effects, and Mandel is the master of two-handed tapping. Eddie Van Halen made a fortune from that method of guitar playing.
A couple of weeks ago, someone posted a blog about the 12 most drugged out LP’s of all time. I did not agree with the majority of entrees, so being a pop culture historian, I decided to write my own list.
Meddle – Pink Floyd (1971)
Listening to Pink Floyd’s sixth LP is like taking an acid trip. From the opening song “One of These Days” to “Echoes,” which takes up the entire second side of the LP, this is one tripped out album. Although the members of Pink Floyd now say that they were never under the influence of drugs while writing and recording their music, the photos of the band from this period tell a different story. The eyes don’t lie.
L.A.M.F. – Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers (1977)
Guitarist Johnny Thunders and drummer Jerry Nolan left the pioneering band the New York Dolls to start the Heartbreakers along with bassist Billy Rath and second guitarist Walter Lure. Thunders and Nolan were known as unreliable junkies and their reputation soured any American record labels from touching them. Invited to tour in the UK by Malcolm McLaren, to open for the Sex Pistols on their Anarchy Tour, the band was left stranded in England when the tour fell apart. British indie label Track Records took a chance and signed the Heartbreaker to record an LP. L.A.M.F. is junkie street slang for “Like a Mother Fucker,” and the boys were slamming heroin like a motherfucker throughout the recording. Gloriously sloppy and rockin, L.A.M.F is one of the seminal rock albums of all time.
Déjà Vu – Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (1971)
So Alone – Johnny Thunders (1978)
Fresh off the breakup of The Heartbreakers, Thunders corralled former Heartbreakers Billy Rath and Walter Lure, as well as such rock and roll bad boys as Paul Gray (The Damned, Eddie and the Hot Rods), Peter Perrett (The Only Ones), Steve Jones and Paul Cook (the Sex Pistols), and Phil Lynott (Thin Lizzy) to help him record his solo album. According to Perrett, Thunders was so loaded on heroin during the recording, that he was basically useless and spent most of the sessions passed out in a corner. Perrett and Jones played most of the guitar parts in the style of Thunders, and roused Thunders to do vocals. Heavy on cover songs, So Alone is still a mind blowingly great rock record.
Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs – Derek and the Dominos (1970)
Guitarist Eric Clapton was at a loss with his career. Set adrift after the breakup of Cream and the supergroup Blind Faith, Clapton just wanted to be in a band again, without the hoopla of superstardom. Teaming up with session musicians Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle, Jim Gordon and Allman Brothers guitarist Duane Allman, Clapton set up house in Miami to record. Clapton was suffering from mental fatigue and an infatuation with his good friend George Harrison’s wife, Pattie Boyd. Clayton self-medicated himself with heroin, as well as cocaine and other substances. The result was one of the greatest collaborations in the history of rock music.
Raw Power – Iggy and the Stooges (1973)
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles (1967)
The Beatles 8th studio album needs little introduction as it is regarded as the most influential albums of all time. Written and recorded under the influence of marijuana, hashish, and LSD, and full of drug references, Sgt. Pepper’s closed the book on the moptop lads from Liverpool, and led the way to an entirely new sound that incorporated studio tricks, nontraditional arrangements and odd musical instruments that was fun to listen to when high. Thousands of rock bands threw out their set list, bought used band uniforms, grew mustaches and started taking acid. Hey, if the clean-cut Beatles were smoking weed and dropping LSD, there must be nothing wrong with it.
A Wizard, A True Star – Todd Rundgren (1973)
Todd Rundgren himself admitted that he had not smoked marijuana until the time that he wrote and recorded 1972’s Something/Anything, a wonderful album of pop songs and ballads. Record executives were drooling for the next “I Saw the Light,” and “Hello, It’s Me” to hit the pop charts. What they didn’t know is that the 24 year-old Rundgren was dropping LSD, and experimenting with synthesizers and multi-tracking. With unlimited studio time, Rundgren recorded most of the album by himself, packing in twelve songs on side A, and seven on side B, creating a masterpiece of hallucinogenic, prog pop that didn’t take itself too seriously.
Exile on Main Street – the Rolling Stones (1972)
When the Rolling Stones recorded Exile on Main Street, they could not have been more famous, rich and decadent. Recorded in a villa that Keith Richards had rented in the south of France, the band was enjoying their earnings and their freedom from their former management. The mansion was party central, and great quantities of heroin, cocaine, alcohol, and cannabis were abundant throughout the sessions, resulting in one of the greatest double albums of all time.
Junkyard – The Birthday Party (1982)
Frustrated with the music business, and barely hanging together as a group, the Birthday Party went into the studio reeking of anger. The band had been reduced to fighting their audience and each other onstage, bassist Tracy Pew got arrested for drunk driving and was thrown in jail for two months, and singer Nick Cave was shooting heroin. All the violence, anger and abuse rose to a head like a zit on a teenager’s face.
Driving in California
It is legal to pass on the right in California, so always check before changing lanes.
Drive with the traffic. Hence the saying, “When driving on I-80, drive 80.”
When you are near your off ramp, take action to get into the exit lane immediately.
Expect bumper-to-bumper traffic when driving in the Napa Valley on a weekend.
If you are driving on a mountainous road and a speed limit sign says “Curve 40 M.P.H.,” believe it.
If you are driving on a two lane rural highway, and there someone tailgating you, pull over and let them by. It is either a local who is late for work, or a tweaker, who is also late for work. It’s hard to tell.
You will notice some amazing motor vehicles while you are in California. On any sunny day, you’ll see antiques, low-riders, customs, and rare foreign sports cars. A car nut buddy of mine came to visit and he would stick his head out the car window like a dog to ogle a car, which would usually result in the driver asking him, “What the fuck is wrong with you?” It is okay to look and admire, be sure to make eye contact with the driver and nod.
Overall, Californians are fine drivers. Road rage has virtually disappeared in California since 2012. Not that it doesn’t happen; – there are jerks everywhere, but keep in mind that in a state with over 30 million residents, we have more rednecks than most states have people. In case you are faced with road rage, here is a tip: Admit that are a jerk, idiot, or asshole. This pretty much works 100% of the time. They can’t argue if you don’t. Sometimes I’ll mouth the word “sorry.” That usually works too.
Driving in L.A.
Do not be afraid of Los Angeles. It is truly one of the great cities of the world. It is a friendly city too. And the street traffic is not that bad at all
There is a stereotype about Los Angeles traffic. Considering the size of LA, it really isn’t bad. In China they have traffic jams that last a week. You’ll see some bad driving, but keep in mind, that driver may just be visiting like you are.
Driving in San Francisco
There are only four kinds of drivers in San Francisco:
1 Working people in pickup trucks,
2 Clueless tourists driving rented cars
3 Cab drivers
4 Super-rich people driving expensive cars with the look of disgust on their faces.
Driving in the San Francisco Bay Area is a harrowing experience. Everyone is rude on the freeways, and they drive as if it were a competition. When driving in the city of San Francisco just expect that you will be in a fender bender, and you will have a relatively stress-free driving experience.
If you are driving a manual transmission car in San Francisco, good luck with that. I have heard many stories about burning out a clutch on the upside of one of the many beautiful, car-lined streets that SF is made of.
Parking in San Francisco is very limited. To avoid great frustration, it is often better to arrange your itinerary based on the first empty parking space that you find. Write down where you parked and jump a tram, bus, cab or cable car. Taxies are fairly cheap in SF, and the cabbies get you to where you are going very quickly
Helpful Tips about California
San Francisco is a city and a county.
The proper term is Asians, not Orientals.
Stockton resembles a Third-World County.
Fresno is the dividing line between Northern and Southern California.
We have Sikh police officers, especially in the northern Sacramento Valley.
Los Angelinos really do go into great detail on the best way to get to somewhere.
There are a lot of Catholics in California. Most of our cities are named after saints.
San Francisco is called, “The City” by most Northern Californians. It is never, ever called “Frisco.”
It can be 40 degrees at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, and 70 degrees in North Beach on the other side of town at the same time.
The Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento has recently tripled its size and it is currently the newest art museum in America.
Possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is not a crime in California. As long as you are not smoking while driving, which is treated as a DUI, the worst thing that can happen to you is that you will get a citation.
When out in the forest or wilderness, especially in Northern California, do not be nosey. Mind your own business. There are some places, like in the Trinity Alps area, that are ruled by illegal marijuana growers or meth manufacturers.
Never, under any circumstances make any derogatory remarks about Hispanics.
Even if you think that you are in a room full of Caucasians, African-Americans, or Asians, because almost every native Californian has Hispanic blood in them, usually their grandmother, and of course, she was a saint.
The San Joaquin Valley, (which is approximately south of Stockton and north of Bakersfield) is a primarily Spanish-speaking area, governed under a feudal system. Rich corporate farmers and poor Spanish speaking workers are the inhabitants of the “Breadbasket of the World.” If you want to see poverty in America, you have come to the right place.
You will notice that there is a usually a layer of smog in the San Joaquin Valley. That’s because everything is powered by diesel fuel. Tractors, semi-trucks, farm machinery, and generators belch choking exhaust in what should be should be fresh clean air, and even though the farmers could easily make bio-diesel from their own land, few do.
They blame the smog on the San Francisco Bay Area traffic. Check out the great Spanish language radio stations that play everything from Ranchero to Cumbia to Mexican gangsta rap.
Remember, there is no place else on Earth where so many people, from so many different cultures, races and religions live together in relative harmony. We also have the best food and drink in the world.
A freewheeling catalog of misfits, eccentrics, creeps, criminals, and failed dreamers, this compendium profiles 45 bizarre personalities who exemplify the Golden State’s well-deserved reputation for nonconformity. In the pages, Gold Rush pioneers are revealed as murderous madmen; Hollywood celebrities are shown to be drug-addled sex maniacs; early hippies are just 1950s weirdos; and even seemingly ordinary Californians have a talent for freakish, crazy, and criminal behavior. From frontier lunatic Grizzly Adams, whose head was one massive wound after multiple bear attacks, to I Love Lucy star William Frawley, a racist, misogynist, foul-mouthed drunk, and legendarily awful film director Ed Wood, California Fruits, Flakes, and Nuts is a side-splitting look at the people who made California the strangest place on earth.
Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel grew up a poor Jew in the slums of Brooklyn. Everywhere he looked there was disease, poverty and crime. The tough streets honed his body into a catlike creature, alert and responsive. Before he was a teenager, young Ben ran extortion rackets in his neighborhood, demanding protection payments from street cart venders. If the merchant didn’t pay up, their cart would mysteriously, or not so mysteriously, catch fire.
A handsome man who only wore the best and latest fashions, Siegel rose up the criminal underworld’s ladder. Teaming up with the soon-to-be infamous mobster Meyer Lansky, the Bugs-Meyer mob stole cars for Lucky Luciano’s men to drive during crimes and ran gambling and bootlegging rackets in the Tri-State area. Lansky and Siegel also did their share of raiding warehouses and hijacking trucks.
No one ever called Siegel, “Bugsy” to his face. His friends called him Ben. Siegel was a hothead, always ready to solve disagreements with beating. He also had no qualms about murder. Siegel was a professional— he always made sure to puncture his victim’s stomachs with a long knife, so that when the victim started decomposing, the gas would escape through the wounds and the body wouldn’t float to the surface. Siegel was known to have murdered mobsters Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll, Tony Fabrizzo, Waxey Gordon, Charles “Chink” Sherman, Bo Weinberg, Joey Amberg, Louis Amberg, Harry “Big Greenie” Greenberg and Whitey Krakower. Only Siegel knew how many people that he actually murdered.
Siegel was part of the hit team that whacked the old-school New York mafia Dons Joe “The Boss” Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano in 1931. Getting rid of the two men effectively ended the rule of the Mustache Petes’ and brought the Mafia into the modern era. Known as “The Syndicate,” the East coast crime families agreed to cooperate with each other and expand their territories to Florida and the western states. Along with Lansky, Siegel co-founded Murder Inc, which supplied mob families with made-to-order hit men, ready to travel anywhere to quietly kill enemies of the Syndicate. This was the greatest era of expansion for organized crime, and it would be thirty years before the U.S. Justice Department cracked down on the mob during the Kennedy administration.
Ironically, Siegel was a charming man who moved easily in high society. He was as comfortable with politicians and celebrities as he was with hookers and drug pushers. Siegel was the Syndicate’s ambassador. He was the go-to guy to grease the gears of city halls and zoning boards around the eastern seaborne.
Siegel was a hands-on kind of mob boss. He loved working over a deadbeat or shooting a double-crosser. Eventually, though, he made too many enemies among the various rival gangsters. In 1937, the Syndicate decided that it would be wise to send Bugsy to California to keep him out of harm’s way and to shore up the rackets headed by L.A. crime boss Jack Dragna.
In California, Siegel set up a national wire service to connect Dragna’s gambling dens and bookie parlors to the rest of the country. It made enormous profits for the Syndicate. He also muscled in on Dragna’s drug, extortion and numbers rackets in Los Angeles. Because Siegel had the blessing of the Syndicate, Dragna had only two choices: comply or die. Dragna wisely complied.
Siegel rented a thirty-five-room mansion in Beverley Hills and looked up his childhood buddy, now movie star, George Raft. Raft introduced him to Hollywood royalty. Siegel’s charm and fashion sense fit right in with the Hollywood crowd and he was soon hobnobbing with Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Gary Cooper and dozens of others show business fixtures. Siegel threw extravagant parties and spent as much as $10,000 a day at the Santa Anita Rack Track. He puzzlingly almost always won. He dated a string of starlets, even though he had moved his wife and children to Los Angeles.
Countess Dorothy Dendice Taylor diFrasso fell madly in love with Siegel and introduced him to movie moguls Jack Warner, Harry Cohn and Louis B. Mayer. Siegel later extorted money from those producers and their studios. Later, on a trip to Italy, the countess allegedly introduced Siegel to Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and Hitler henchmen Herman Goering and Dr. Joseph Goebbles. Siegel was so disgusted by the Nazis that he allegedly had to be talked out of murdering them by the Countess.
Through Virginia Hill, an aspiring starlet and mob money launderer, Siegel made Mexican connections and set up a heroin and opium smuggling operation that distributed dope throughout the United States. This action marked the beginning of the drug trade on the West Coast. Hill was the love of Siegel’s sordid life. Although he was married and had constant affairs, he always went back to Hill’s bed.
The laid-back West Coast atmosphere didn’t change Siegel. He was still a hands-on mobster. He would go to a Hollywood premiere or out nightclubbing with the stars, only to excuse himself to torture or kill an underworld figure who had fallen out of the graces of the Syndicate. Siegel made the most of his knowledge of the vices of the rich and famous, blackmailing them to keep their dirty laundry hidden.
Siegel financed a posh gambling ship, The Rex, which anchored twelve-miles off the coast, just beyond the United States boundary. It was because of this investment that Siegel got the idea of starting a casino in a small, dusty desert hamlet – known by most people in Nevada as a lonely railroad tank town -Las Vegas.
Taking advantage of Nevada’s lax gambling and prostitution laws and using three million dollars of the Syndicate’s money, Siegel built The Flamingo Hotel in the little town and, in essence, put Las Vegas on the map.
The first few months were rough for The Flamingo. Hordes of gamblers didn’t head out to the luxurious hotel right away, and the place was losing money. Siegel needed more money to promote his venture. He hired the biggest entertainers of the day, many who were repaying favors to Siegel, to perform at The Flamingo. His Hollywood pals followed suit, traveling to Las Vegas for nights of wild partying, making the once sleepy tank town a fashionable place to be and be seen.
But the money wasn’t coming in fast enough for the Syndicate and the boys back east felt like they had financed Siegel’s personal playroom. Mob boss Lucky Luciano called Siegel to Havana, Cuba, where Luciano was secretly living after being deported from the United States, to ask for his investment back. Siegel getting too big for his own good and, believing that he was an equal to the powerful Luciano, told his old pal to “go to hell.” In true Godfather fashion, Luciano didn’t say a word and Siegel went back to the west coast and what he thought was his personal criminal fiefdom.
Luciano called Siegel’s mentor and old business partner Meyer Lansky, telling him that it was time for Bugsy to go and there would be no discussion of the matter. Allegedly, Lansky called his old friend and begged him to pay Luciano and apologize for his disrespect. Siegel ignored his old partner.
On June 20, 1947, Siegel was reading a newspaper in Virginia Hill’s extravagant Beverly Hills home when someone fired three shots from a 30.30 rifle through a window, killing the mobster immediately.
Hill was “vacationing” in Europe at the time and Bugsy’s bodyguard just happened to leave the room when he was shot.
Only Siegel’s immediate family showed up for his funeral. His Hollywood friends, including George Raft, stayed away. The man who founded America’s adult playground was put in his crypt with a mere five people in attendance.
We don’t know much about Christian Mutschler, but what we do know is that he wasn’t a very intelligent man. The Germantown blacksmith also made poor choices in his friends.
On May 5, 1878, Mutschler (also spelled Mutchler), along with two of his buddies, John Kelley and Henry Holmes, had words with a saloonkeeper named Hageman. Mutschler, who was mentally the slowest member of the group and had been known to light fires, was persuaded by Kelley and Holmes—along with W. Hagaman, F. Todt, Charles Hansen and Carl Regensberger—to collect a sack of wood shavings to light on fire in Hageman’s saloon. They figured they’d all get a good laugh by stinking up the place.
Inside the saloon, Mutschler’s buddies gave him the signal to torch the shavings. As he lit the bag, a couple of no-nonsense cowboys pulled out their pistols and shot Mutschler in the leg.
Brought before Germantown’s Justice of the Peace, named in the press only as Boardman, Mutschler was charged with arson. No charges were brought against the cowboys, it being perfectly legal in California to shoot someone committing a prank in a drinking establishment. But since no one would testify against Mutschler, Boardman released him.
Mutschler may have been stupid, but he was smart enough to know that it was a good time to leave Germantown. The blacksmith started limping in the hot spring sun toward Orland. He had to walk because all of the stage drivers leaving Germantown were told not to give him a ride. Mutschler was being set up.
Justice in California functioned in baffling ways back in 1878. For some reason, Mutschler’s friend, John Kelley swore out a warrant on Mutschler for threatening his life. A deputy was sent up the road toward Orland to apprehend the wounded and hapless Mutschler. He was placed under arrest until he could make his thousand-dollar bond, which was quite impossible for a humble blacksmith.
Mutschler was put in the protective custody of Constable William McLane, who also owned a Germantown saloon. Since Germantown had no jail, McLane housed the blacksmith in his bar for the night. It proved a bad idea because sometime during the night, a group of twelve to fourteen masked men broke down the door to McLane’s saloon. They grabbed Mutschler, took him some 250 to 300 yards out of town and shot him to death.
Mutschler’s friends, Holmes, Kelley, Hansen, Regensberger, and R. Radcliff were all arrested in the investigation. Constable McLane apparently wasn’t suspected of dereliction of duty or wrongdoing. Hageman, Todt, and Oscar Scholtz were taken to Willows for examination and held on $10,000 bail, which they immediately paid.
According to the testimony of Constable McLane, the masked men broke down the door to his saloon and pointed their pistols at the officer. They took Mutschler away and ten minutes later, McLane heard the fatal shots.
John Kelley testified that he was asleep when the “jailbreak” occurred. Under oath, Kelley stated that although there was never any difficulty between him and the victim, Mutschler had on one occasion made direct threats against Kelley’s life if he revealed certain secrets that they shared.
Radcliffe, Regensberger, Holmes, Kelley, and Hauser were brought before Judge A. Caraloff at Willows and after four days of examination, were charged with murder. The men hired the attorneys A.L. Hart of Colusa and General Lewis of Tehama and pled not guilty. The men were released to the custody of the Sheriff of Colusa County but were later released by Judge Keyser on an $8,000 bail.
Mutschler’s brother Ludwig hired R.B. Hall, a private detective from San Francisco, to investigate the murder and found evidence that the men had threatened Mutschler’s life and had been overheard saying so. The men also tried to get several other Germantown men to join their lynching party.
On August 31, 1878, the Colusa Sun reported, “These cases are going to cost the county an immense amount of money at best, and when we see it needlessly squandered, we feel that it is time to put in a protest.” Legal charges made by detective Hall would have the Sun add that “if smart San Francisco detectives must do anything, let them hunt up evidence, and not undertake to put the county to so much expense for nothing.”
California Governor William Irwin offered a $500 reward for the arrest and conviction of any of the assassins, but no one was ever awarded the money.
The trial of “People vs. John Kelley, H.P. Holmes, Carl Regensberger, R. Radcliff, and C. Hansen” was initially set for September 18th but later postponed to December 14, 1878. On December 7th, the District Court dropped the charges against all parties indicted for the killing of Mutschler “for the reason that important witnesses for the people cannot be found.”
Whether because of his mental handicap or penchant for starting fires, Mutschler obviously wasn’t a very popular person in Germantown. Perhaps he was murdered because he knew something that he wasn’t suppose to know, but we’ll never know. Being a blacksmith, Mutschler may have been hired to make incriminating paraphernalia for outlaws, like burglary tools and irons to change brands. The townspeople may have just been tired of him lighting fires in the dry Sacramento Valley where an entire town could turn into ashes in minutes.
During World War I, there were very strong anti-German feelings throughout many parts of the country and many German named towns across America were renamed. The U.S. Post Office discontinued the local Germantown name and adopted Artois on May 21, 1918.
On the night of February 15th, 1962, Aaron Charles Mitchell walked unnoticed through the kitchen door of the Stadium Club in Sacramento’s south side. Wearing rubber gloves and a homemade ski mask, Mitchell wasn’t at the restaurant to make a delivery.
Bursting into the bar and dining room, Mitchell fired a round into the ceiling from the sawed-off shotgun that he had tied around his neck. He got everyone’s attention. He held 30 patrons and employees at gunpoint and mumbled about the safe. He settled on two hundred dollars from co-owner Jack Licciardo’s wallet.
Unknown to Mitchell, Jack’s brother and co-owner Edward had slipped into another room and phoned police. Officers John Bibica, Robert Reese, Arnold Gamble and Ronald Shaw arrived in minutes. Biblica covered the front door, while Reese, Gamble and Shaw entered through the backdoor.
Mitchell looked around at the angry patrons of the supper club and realized that he was in over his head. That there was no way that he could pull off the heist alone. He backed towards the front entrance to leave.
Seeing Officer Bibica covering the entrance, Mitchell turned and ran through the kitchen just as Officer Shaw was entering. Mitchell stuck his shotgun into Officer Shaw’s face and took his gun. He grabbed Shaw and shoved him through the door, using Officer Shaw as a shield. A torrent of bullets burst forth. Mitchell fired Shaw’s pistol four times, hitting Officer Gamble in the chest and killing him, but not before the brave policeman fired his high-powered revolver four times.
Officer Shaw was hit in the left thigh. Officer Reese was forced to hold his fire because Officers Gamble and Shaw were in his line of fire.
Hearing the shots, Officer Bibica ran around to the back of the restaurant and saw Mitchell running through the parking lot, across the street, and into a field of tall grass. Bibica fired five shots at Mitchell, saving his last shot. Officer Reese was hot on Mitchell’s trail, firing off several rounds at the fleeing murderer. They followed Mitchell’s bloody path, which led to a guesthouse a few of blocks away from the Stadium Club.
Reloaded and joined by Officer Jerry Finney, the policemen kicked in the door, finding Mitchell lying unconscious on his back, his shotgun still tied around his neck and lying across his chest. He was still wearing his rubber gloves and mask. He had been shot five times. Mitchell’s getaway car was nearby.
Officer Gamble would have been 43 the day after he died. His wife of twenty-four years, two children and a grandchild survived him.
Aaron Charles Mitchell had been out on bond in connection with a robbery of the Norge Laundry and Dry Cleaning Village on December 29th, 1961. He had been arrested in five different states for robbery and grand larceny and had twice served time in prison. He may have also been responsible for several other Sacramento robberies. After a six-week trial, Mitchell was sentenced to death.
On October 15, 1968, James T. Madsen of Seattle was climbing the Dihedral Wall on El Capitan
in Yosemite National Park. While going to the aid of a stalled climbing party, the 20 year old Madsen rappelled of the end of his rope and fell 3,000 feet to his death. Four years later, on July 25, 1972, Roger Stetson Parke was climbing Teck-Salathé on Sentinel Rock in Yosemite, when he lost his holds, and fell 14 feet. This was the shortest fatal fall in Yosemite National Park
Etienne Brule is one of the most overlooked and forgotten European explorer of early North American history. As a teenager, the illiterate Brule went to Quebec with Samuel de Champlain, he lived with the native Americans, explored the Great Lakes, the Susquehanna River, Chesapeake Bay and it is believed that he was the first European to visit the Central Plains, yet he is largely ignored in the history books because he was wrongfully accused of corroborating with the English leading to the British takeover of Quebec and because he wisely took up the lifestyle and dress of the Native Americans, which greatly offended the French Catholic Monks that edited Champlain’s diary. Even today there is very little written about Brule.
Etienne Brule was born in Champigny, France in what is generally agreed as the year 1595. At age 13, Brule (pronounced Bruley) left the safety and comfort of his family home and sailed off to North America as Samuel de Champlain’s servant and was present at the founding of Quebec. Champlain made a deal with the Wyandotte (who later became Huron) Indians to bring him furs to trade for European goods. Champlain and the Huron tribe had a good relationship and they trusted one another.
After two years of servitude, Champlain allowed Brule to live with a tribe of Wyandotte Indians, who resided on the Georgian Bay in what is now Canada. Four years later, Brule came back to Quebec with his adopted tribal members in canoes laden with furs. He was now a man, dressed as a native and speaking their language fluently. Brule told Champlain about the freshwater sea that he had traveled on and Champlain immediately believed that the sea was the route to China. To get to the fresh water sea, one had to paddle up the St. Lawrence River, into Lake Ontario, up the Ottawa River (near what is now Montreal), across Lake Nipissing and down the French River into what is now known as the Georgian Bay of Lake Huron. Brule stayed in Quebec only for short periods and acted as Champlain’s translator. It is believed that all entries of “the translator” in Champlain’s logbooks pertained to Brule.
In 1615, when Brule was twenty-one, he was asked to join a handpicked group of Huron warriors to assist a Huron ally, the Andaste in their war with the Iroquois. The Andaste homeland was south of Iroquois territory on the north branch of the Susquehanna River in the Appalachian Mountains near what is now Waverly, New York. Arriving at their destination, the warriors found out that they missed the battle by several weeks. Brule, feeling the wanderlust that came natural to him, spent the winter exploring the Susquehanna River all the way to Chesapeake Bay. He is believed to be the first European to explore that area of the country.
On their way back to Quebec, Brule got separated during a skirmish with a band of Iroquois. After wandering in the wilderness for days and nearly starving he met some Indians who took him to their village. Brule knew that they were Iroquois, and it took only a few moments with the tribal elders for them to realize that he was a Frenchman. They tied him to a tree and as the women and children tore chunks of his beard and hair out, the men piled firewood at his feet. They tore out his toenails with their teeth and burned him with red-hot cinders. As they were on the verge of skinning him alive, a brave went to tear off Brule’s scapula. Brule, noticed an approaching storm and knowing the superstitions of the Native Americans told them that, “If you take it and put me to death, you shall see that immediately afterwards you and all your house shall die suddenly.” At that moment a thunderclap rang out loudly and the frightened Indians released Brule, dressed his wounds and once he recovered from his injuries, was carried on the backs of braves to where he would be safe from other Iroquois.
Brule preferred the native life and was known among his fellow tribal members as a ladies man. This upset Champlain and the other conservative Catholics in Quebec.
France in the meantime was in social upheaval with the Huguenots, a protestant faction that received support from England. Brule, along with another Frenchman and some natives had the bad luck of being captured by squad of British ships (who carried with them a task force of Huguenots ready to claim control of Quebec) in the St. Lawrence River and was forced to guide their ships to the settlement. The British found Quebec in shambles, their supplies low and the men dispirited. After a peaceful surrender, the British placed Quebec in Huguenot control. Brule, knowing how he made his livelihood, negotiated a deal with the Huguenots for furs. This infuriated Champlain and he and his Jesuit editors never forgave Brule. Champlain accused Brule and the other Frenchman of cooperating with the British and Huguenots, an act of treason.
Brule proved to be faithful to Champlain after Quebec was reinstated back to Catholic control following reforms in France. He was so important to French interest as a translator, explorer and go-between that Champlain did not punish him for his alleged treason.
Sadly, the Monks that edited Champlain’s notes were not so tolerant and he is all but forgotten in history even though he was the first European to discover the five Great Lakes, the St. Mary’s River and the Sault Ste. Marie area, the Detroit area and it is believed that Brule traveled into the Great Plains and Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba.
Informing Champlain about his finds, Brule paved the way for scores of French fur traders and missionaries to exploit and settle the Great Lakes, greatly changing the Native Americans way of life and exposing them to alcohol, diseases and a decimation of their culture by way of European religion and assimilation.
For a reason long lost in time, Brule was clubbed to death in 1632 by his own tribe, his body boil and eaten. The other Great Lake tribes ostracized his band, as Brule was well liked and appreciated for his diplomacy, regard of their culture and assimilation to their way of life.
In conclusion, this illiterate young Frenchman paddled a birch bark canoe in the rough and unpredictable waters of the Great Lakes with his native fur traders throughout an extensive area of unexplored wilderness, making friends with the Native Americans as he traveled. This, in contrast to Hernado de Soto’s murderous and disastrous expedition in the southern United States, Brule was a humanitarian pioneer and maybe because of this, he is importance in history has been largely ignored.
 The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – Louis H. Burbey, published by the author – 1987 – page 2
 The Dawn of Time – Robert J. Foley – The Haunted Press – Niagara Falls, Ontario – 1997 – page 63
 The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – pages 2-4
 The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – page 3
 The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – page 14
 The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – page 15, 16
 The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – page 16
 The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – page 16, 17
 The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – page 23
The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – pages 37, 84
The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – page 79
 The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – page 47
 The Dawn of Time – page 64
 The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – page 77
 The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – page 76
 Murder Michigan – Gary W. Barfknecht – Friede Publications, Davison Michigan – 1983 – page 12
 The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – page 76
 The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – page 87
The 1968 presidential race turned into an open ticket for both the Republican and Democratic parties after President Lyndon Johnson, who was John F. Kennedy’s vice president and became the “Leader of the Free World” after President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963, decided not to run for reelection. After winning the 1964 Presidential election and pushing through the long-overdue Civil Rights Act of 1964, Johnson felt too hamstrung by the American involvement in South Vietnam, which he had escalated, and his belief that he would not be able to govern properly.
Robert Kennedy was President Kennedy’s little brother. Besides being his brother’s most trusted adviser, Bobby served in his brother’s administration as the Attorney General. After his brother’s death, he became a senator from New York. When President Johnson decided not to run for reelection, the opportunity to win the Democratic Party’s nomination for president was too great for Kennedy to resist. He threw his hat into the ring.
Kennedy had to win California, for both the sake of his own campaign and the unity of the Democratic Party. Only a week before, he had lost the Oregon Primary to Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy, who had motivated America’s youth with his anti-war platform. California, with its 174 delegates and bustling population of college students and other draft age voters working against him, made it crucial for Kennedy to win. Bombastic debates over policies were the last thing that the Democratic Party wanted at their convention. Republican Richard Nixon was leading the Republican ticket with his conservative message and pro-Vietnam War stance. The Democratic Party could not win if their party was divided.
On June 4, 1968, over 2,000 Kennedy supporters celebrated in The Embassy Ballroom in Los Angeles’s Ambassador Hotel as the election results came in. Kennedy had won California.
Security was almost non-existent for Kennedy. The Ambassador Hotel boosted its security staff with a few hired guards from Ace Security, a local protection firm. Kennedy had a huge entourage of aids, advisors, relatives and show business personalities that followed him everywhere he went. His personal bodyguards were football great Roosevelt “Rosey” Grier and 1960 Olympic decathlon champ Rafer Johnson.
After giving a rousing victory speech, Kennedy made his way out of the hotel. The route took him through the narrow pantry of the ballroom’s kitchen. Surrounded by his entourage, Kennedy slowly moved through the crowd, shaking hands with well-wishers. As he was being led by the arm by Ace Security guard Thane Eugene Cesar, a slightly built Palestinian immigrant named Sirhan Bishara Sirhan walked up to Kennedy and shot him with a .22 caliber Iver-Johnson eight-cylinder revolver behind the right ear, mafia style.
Pandemonium broke out. Writer George Plimpton, Grier, Johnson and California State Assembly member Jesse Unruh jumped on the assassin and pinned him to a steam table, as Sirhan emptied his gun into the crowd. Sirhan was freakishly strong, able to struggle with the four strong men while continuing to fire, hitting Kennedy two more times under his right armpit.
Hit in the head was speechwriter Paul Schrade and artist and Kennedy friend Elizabeth Evans. ABC-TV director William Weisel was shot in the stomach; reporter Ira Goldstein was hit in the hip and seven-year-old Irwin Stroll was grazed in the kneecap.
Kennedy was sprawled out on the tile floor, blood pouring out of his wounds. He was taken first to Central Receiving Hospital, but was quickly sent to Good Samaritan Hospital, where they had neurosurgeons on duty. The doctors worked on Kennedy, doing what they could.
A squad of police officers formed a flying wedge, rushing Sirhan rushed out of the hotel through the crowded ballroom, where word had spread that Kennedy had been shot. The crowd was hostile to Sirhan, spitting and jeering him. In another era, he would have been lynched, but police did not want to see a repeat of what happened in Dallas with Lee Harvey Oswald, who had shot President Kennedy and was in turn assassinated by nightclub owner Jack Ruby.
Robert F. Kennedy died the next day of his wounds and the nation mourned. The assassination likely changed the course of history, as Richard Nixon defeated Democratic nominee Hubert Humphreyin an extremely close race. Humphrey won the popular vote, but Nixon won the electoral votes.
Police searched Sirhan’s Pasadena home and discovered some evidence that incriminated Sirhan but did little to explain his motive. Sirhan’s family was Palestinian Christians who moved to the United States when Sirhan was four years old. His abusive father could not adjust to American culture and moved back to Israel, leaving his wife and family to fend for themselves.
Sirhan had led a fairly nominal life, working low-paying jobs and attending some college classes. While working as a groomer at the Santa Anita Racetrack he was thrown off a horse and injured his head. Some people who knew him said he was never the same after the accident.
Sirhan got involved with several religions—Baptist, Seventh Day Adventism and a few other obscure cults—and supported Iraq’s Baath Party. There was still no real rationale for Sirhan to throw away his life to assassinate Kennedy.
Two witnesses told police that shortly before the shooting, they saw Sirhan talking to a man and a woman, with a “pug” nose and wearing a white dress with black or blue polka dots, who was whispering to Sirhan. While arriving at the hotel, LAPD sergeant Paul Sharaga overheard a woman wearing a polka dot dress say, “we shot Kennedy.” She was lost in the exiting crowd before he could react. Some speculated that the lady in the polka dot dress might have hypnotized Sirhan. Police discounted the theory.
Sirhan pleaded not guilty at this trial, changed his plea, and then pleaded guilty again. “Just execute me!,” he pleaded to the judge. He could not remember a thing about the entire night, telling the court that he was intoxicated. He told the judge that he might have been temporarily insane over Kennedy’s support of Israel.
After three days of deliberation, the jury found Sirhan guilty of the first-degree murder of Senator Robert F. Kennedy and five counts of assault with a deadly weapon. He was sentenced to life in prison and taken to Corcoran State Prison.
Like his brother before him, conspiracy theories abound about the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. Kennedy made many enemies while he was Attorney General, especially with organized crime mobster Sam “Momo” Giancana. Kennedy was also responsible for the imprisonment of Teamster President Jimmy Hoffa.
There is also the mystery of a second shooter. Powder burns around Kennedy’s head wound indicated that shot was fired from a distance of a few inches. Sirhan Sirhan was never, at any time, that close to Kennedy. There were also two bullet holes in a doorjamb near where Kennedy was gunned down. Los Angeles County Coroner Thomas Noguchi stated that there were two bullet holes in the doorjamb and the said door frame was disassembled and taken to LAPD crime lab for tests. The LAPD concluded after x-raying the wood that the bullet-pocked pantry was not important and destroyed it before Sirhan was brought to trial. Assistant Police Chief Daryl Gates, who later became Chief of Police for the Los Angeles Police Department during the Rodney King incident and riots that followed, was the lead investigator.
With all the seedy characters, directly and indirectly, involved in the assassination of Robert Kennedy, we will never truly know what happened on that June evening.
“It was just like we went to a movie last night. Only it was real…”
A large and boisterous crowd of seventy-five people sat eating a late dinner at the Golden Dragon Restaurant, a popular Chinese restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown. At 2:40 a.m. on September 5th, 1977, three masked men burst through the glass double doors at the eatery spraying gunfire at the patrons. The assailants ignored a nearby cash register and never uttered a word during the one minute that they were inside. One of the shooters carried a shotgun, which he used to blast at tables at point-blank range. Another man possessed a .38-caliber pistol, while the other toted a .45-caliber Thompson sub-machine gun that he sprayed from one end of the room to the other.
It was the worst mass slaying in San Francisco’s history. When police arrived, the scene looked like the aftermath of a firefight in Vietnam; bodies and blood were spewed everywhere and people were screaming and moaning. Five people died and eleven were wounded.
The gunmen vanished before anybody got a good look at them. Due to the indiscriminate nature of the attack and the wild firing of the assailants, the dead and wounded lay in varied locations throughout the restaurant. One woman had been hit with machine gun fire from head to toe, but she still clung to life and would later survive. Another man lay on the floor with a large hole in his chest; he also recovered. There was so much gunfire that it would take over one hundred pints of blood to save the wounded after they arrived at San Francisco General Hospital.
With all the wild and indiscriminate shooting, it was a miracle that more people were not killed that night. Among the dead was a forty-eight-year-old waiter and father of eight, Fong Wong. He had been unlucky enough to be standing near the entrance and was shot in the neck. Twenty-year-old Donald Kwan and eighteen-year-old Riordan High School honor student Calvin Michael Fong had been hit by a shotgun blast as they sat with three friends. Twenty-year-old Seattle tourist Denise Louie and twenty-five-year-old law student Paul Wada were also killed. Wada was shot nine times, and this initially gave rise to the theory that he was the main target. Mayor George Moscone, who ironically would be assassinated within the next year, issued a $25,000 reward for information leading to the capture of the killers. The Golden Dragon Restaurant reopened for business the same day, after hurriedly cleaning up the bloodstained walls and carpet.
The San Francisco Police Department immediately thought the killing was gang-related. Since 1970, thirty-nine people of Chinese heritage had been killed in drive-by shootings and assassinations. The United States ended national quotas against Chinese immigration in 1965 and hundreds of thousands landed on our shores; in the late 1960s and early 1970s, California welcomed thousands of new immigrants from China. As with all populations of impoverished immigrants, some of the immigrants became gang members and created a new colony of Chinese gangs in California. This didn’t sit well with the American-born Chinese, who have had their own gang affiliations called “tongs” in San Francisco since the city was created. The foreign-born Chinese battled over the control of turf, the right to receive protection money from Chinese businesses, and the proceeds from fireworks and gambling rackets. The homicide rate within the Chinese community of San Francisco skyrocketed.
In 1973, seventeen-year-old Philip Kyee was shot to death in front of the Golden Dragon restaurant after having an argument inside. Yet the Chinese community remained relatively silent after the attack when questioned by police. They naturally feared reprisals from Chinese gangs who had been terrorizing San Francisco for a century. But none of the dead or wounded from the Golden Dragon Massacre turned out to be gang members.
Police investigations revealed that the assassins were part of the Joe Fong gang, also known as Joe’s Boys. The three triggermen were discovered to be Curtis Tam, Melvin Yu, and Peter Ng. Tom Yu planned the attack but did not directly take part in the shooting. He accidentally admitted to the killings after being audiotaped by a Chinese undercover police officer and was arrested in March 1978. Tam, who had migrated to San Francisco with his parents from Hong Kong in 1976, claimed to have participated in the murders under duress. He confessed and implicated the other men.
A year to the day of the shootings, Judge Calcagno announced the guilty verdict for all four men. The methodology of the gunmen indicated that, while the event was gang related, it was not a completely professional job. The masks the men were wearing (two wore ski masks; the other wore a Halloween mask) betrayed the fact that they were Asian and Chinese to bystanders. The men entered the restaurant with their guns drawn and fired at the ceiling first, giving time for their real targets, the rival Wah Ching (Chinese Youth) gang leader Michael “Hot Dog” Louie and his henchmen, to respond. One of the clear-eyed gang members had shouted to Louie, “Man with a gun,” giving Louie time to get to safety under a table. The rest of the Wah Ching gang stuck their faces to the floor. None received gunshot wounds. The innocent bystanders seated and standing next to the gang members were the unfortunate victims of the attack. Many ran in panic, only to be cut down by the ruthless and wild-eyed men in this senseless act of murder.
Fort Crook was established on July 1, 1857 in Fall River Mills on the Pit River in Modoc County, for the protection of settlers against hostile Indians. Scheduled to be abandoned on June 1, 1869, Captain Wagner was assigned to the fort to see through its decommission. The Indian hostilities in the area seemed to under control, and Captain Wagner had a skeleton crew of one cavalry company to man the fort
Captain Wagner was something of a scallywag and took up with the wife of a local Native American. When the fort was abandoned, Captain Wagner abandoned his Indian mistress, whose Christian name was Mary, to a soldier named Calvin Hall. Private Hall was mustering out of the Army and settling in Modoc County. For taking his lover off his hands, along with her two Native American children, Captain Wagner gave Hall a small portable sawmill.
Hall used sawmill to make a living, but eventually sold it and settled on some land near the present town of Lookout. The two raised her two teenage Native American children, Frank and Jim, and they in turn took Calvin’s last name, Hall.
Mary grew tired of Hall and took up with another white man named Wilson. They had a child together named Martin, but she left Wilson to come back to Hall, who was raising Frank and Jim.
Sometime during 1900, a Native American named Daniel Yantes came to Lookout and moved in with the Halls. Yantes later took Mary away from old man Hall and they lived together on a ranch. Yantes was a detestable man who always carried a big gun, but he was nevertheless kind to the boys. Together, the disreputable stepfathers raised the boys. Everyone involved was agreeable to the situation, and they all made up one big, eccentric extended family. It happened to be criminal-minded as well, especially Frank and Jim, who were well-known (if not yet convicted) for committing a slew of crimes around Lookout. Caucasians, Mexicans, Californios and fellow tribesmen alike knew the family as psychopathic thieves to be avoided at all costs.
Calvin Hall had a knack for getting his adopted sons out of jail on technicalities, which made Frank and Jim even more daring and obnoxious. Whenever Frank and Jim were acquitted of crimes, the cattle and horses of the accuser were mysteriously killed or mutilated. Sometimes they would slash harnesses, burn crops or destroy wagons. Frank and Jim were suspected of vandalizing a local schoolhouse, but there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute. In the meantime, the locals assumed that with all the comings and goings at the ranch, the Hall’s place was a safehouse for itinerant criminals and fugitives.
In May 1901, a burglary was committed in tranquil community of Lookout. The Hall boys were quickly suspected, and when the Hall ranch was searched, several of the stolen items were found there. Branded hides and meat that didn’t belong to Hall or Yantes were also found on the premises and Frank, Jim and Calvin Hall, along with Daniel Yantes and Martin Wilson, were taken to Lookout and placed under guard in the bar of the town’s hotel.
Just like today, judges and prosecutors were overworked and understaffed. Trials were expensive and the prisons were overcrowded. The prosecutor dismissed the burglary charges and had the men charged with petty larceny. Yantes and the Halls, who would be out on bail shortly, made threats of vengeance against the townspeople who attempted to prosecute the criminal family. Everyone knew that the threats were real. Houses and barns would be burned and throats could be slashed. The people of Lookout had had enough with the terrorist family.
At 1:30 a.m. on May 31, 1901, a group of masked men rushed the guards watching over the clan at the bar. They marched Daniel Yantes, Martin Wilson, and Frank, Jim and Calvin Hall off to the Pitt River Bridge and hung them over the railings.
The people of Modoc County were shocked and encouraged the authorities to prosecute the members of the lynch mob. Modoc County Superior Court Judge Harrington wrote to the California Attorney General requesting investigators and a special prosecutor examine the case.
The Grand Jury convened on June 10th and indictments were presented against R. E. Leventon, Isom Eades and James Brown. The case against Brown was the strongest, and he was “brought to trial” on November 21, 1901. Assistant Attorney General Post and Deputy Attorney General George Sturtevant were sent from the Attorney General’s office in Sacramento to prosecute the case. Ex-Judge G. F. Harris, E. V. Spencer and John E. Raker, defended Brown.
Assistant Attorney General Post felt that he needed a bodyguard while in the wild North and hired noted gunfighter Danny Miller to protect him. Miller made himself unpleasant to the people of Lookout during his stay. He bullied the locals and brandished his pistols at the slightest provocation.
The authorities were nervous that there might be acts of violence committed by the locals, and there was talk about bringing California National Guard troops in to make sure that the peace was kept, but the only violence committed during the trial was caused by the Assistant Attorney General’s bodyguard, Danny Miller. At one point in the trial, Miller drew a revolver in the courtroom and attempted to shoot Attorney John Raker.
Bounty hunters and reward seekers poured into Lookout, hoping that they would uncover evidence or persuade someone to testify to collect the reward offered by the State and several newspapers. So many residents were approached by the headhunters to commit perjury, that popular opinion tilted towards acquitting Leventon, Eades and Brown.
In the first week of January, a man who called himself Detective Gibson approached a young couple named Slavin, who were stranded in Alturas and were working for their room and board. Gibson offered the husband a percentage of the reward, about $900, to testify for the State. The Slavins told Gibson that they knew nothing about the lynchings and that as “poor as he was, Mr. Slavin would not swear to a falsehood.”
Gibson returned a few days later, hoping that the cash would dull the Slavin’s ethics, and tried to get Slavin to testify, explaining to Slavin that “the men were guilty and that no one would ever be the wiser.” Slavin told Gibson that if he asked him to testify again, he “would shoot him like a dog.”
The crooked investigators interrogated John Hutton and Claude Morris, who were suspected members of the lynch mob. The teenage Morris was taken into a room, plied with whisky and threatened by the detectives. At two in the morning a completely intoxicated and frightened Claude Morris signed an affidavit that indicted fifteen members of the community. The affidavit had already been prepared for him. All he had to do was sign the paper.
The next day Morris protested that he had been hoodwinked into signing the affidavit. He was told that he would be charged with perjury if he went back on the confession that he had signed before a notary public. The young man was not allowed to talk to an attorney. He was kept under guard and away from his family and friends.
On January 4th, 1902, Mary Lorenz, the half-breed daughter of old Mary Hall, swore to a warrant charging fifteen residents of Lookout with complicity in the lynching. They were all arrested, placed in jail, and on January 10th, indictments were filed charging each one with five different murders.
The trial was a farce. Judge Harrington disallowed any evidence introduced by the defendant’s attorneys and “raved like a madman” against them when they tried. Almost every day of the trial Judge Harrington sent one or more of Brown’s attorneys to jail for contempt. Paid-off or bullied witnesses were paraded onto the stand to testify for the State, and Judge Harrington refused to allow the defense to produce evidence to prove the witnesses were lying. Attorneys Harris, Raker and Spencer would argue the point and manage to get the evidence before the jury. Judge Harrington would then send one of them to jail. The trial went on for months and cost Modoc County $40,000—a huge sum in 1901.
When the verdict was finally reached, the men were acquitted. The citizens of Lookout knew that the lynched men were disreputable and dangerous characters. Witnesses and reward hunters, fearing being charged with perjury or a necktie party, left town in the middle of the night. Attorney General Post and his bodyguard, Danny Miller left Lookout on the first stage after breakfast.
The prisoners were discharged one, two and three at a time and quietly returned to their homes. Life went back to normal for the first time in a long time in Modoc County.
Lawrence H. Johnson was a Scottish emigrant who worked hard at various jobs around Etna, a mining town west of Yreka. His work often took him away from home overnight, leaving his wife alone. The fifty-nine year old Johnson had a feeling that his wife was unfaithful while he was away, so on the night of July 28, 1895, Johnson kissed his wife goodbye and then hid out near his home to see if his worst fears were true. They were.
Johnson saw a young man enter his home. After waiting a short time, Johnson entered his home and found his wife with her young lover in bed. Johnson pulled out his revolver and started firing at the young man, who jumped out the window. The only thing that saved the young Romeo is that Johnson’s gun misfired all three times he pulled the trigger.
Feeling remorse for the death of his wife, Johnson turned himself in to the Sheriff I. A. Moxley of Etna. Johnson’s only regret was that his pistol misfired. Sheriff Moxley took Johnson to Yreka for the murderer’s safety, as the people of Etna were in a lynching mood and Johnson was just the latest in a line of murderers to try the patience of the community.
Garland Stemler was on summer break from his studies at a Southern California college. The nineteen-year-old Arkansas native was looking for adventure during his time off, so he rode the rails traveling throughout the state like a hobo. Through his travels, he met up with forty-year-old Louis Moreno.
Moreno was no college boy slumming the rails for a summer adventure. He was a full-time criminal hobo, ready to break the law to suit his immediate needs. On August 19th, the mismatched pair was short on money, so they entered Sears Saloon in Bailey Hill, fifteen miles north of Yreka with the intentions of robbing it.
Saloon owner George Sears and his elderly German bartender, Casper Meierhaus, had no intentions of letting the hooligans make off with the day’s receipts. A fight transpired that surprised the younger men. In the ensuing fight, Sears was shot in the head and died before he hit the floor. Meierhaus was shot in the stomach, but lived long enough to give a full description of the assailants.
The hobos spilt up and ran in different directions. Moreno was quickly captured, as he was the only Mexican running around Bailey Hill with a bullet wound in his hand. Stemler was arrested in the Pokegama railyard. He had a recently fired pistol in his possession that matched the shell casings left at the saloon. Stemler also had the bad luck of having made acquaintances with Meierhaus in the past. Meierhaus identified Stemler by name.
Ohio-born William Null was one of the thousands who came to California to try their hand at finding gold. The forty-five year old Null shot his partner, Henry Hayten, in the back on April 21st over a dispute about their claim near Callahan. He pleaded insanity and was cooling out in the Siskiyou County Jail, awaiting trial for the murder on August 25th.
The citizens of Siskiyou County and Yreka were enraged that their community suddenly found four murderers in their county jail. Disgusted at the fact that their tax money was being used to feed and house the murderers while the wheels of justice slowly turned, they decided to take matters into their own hands.
The men of the county started leaving their jobs early on August 25th. Their employers wondered why everyone was suddenly feeling ill, and wives around the county looked in vain for their husbands who left their farm chores undone. The men hid out in the forest around Yreka, staging themselves as set out in the timetable that was organized beforehand. A jug of rotgut whiskey was passed around to instill courage in the normally upright and sober family men.
The men captured anyone who discovered them and didn’t know the password, which was “mud.” The captured men had the choice to either join them or be a hostage held under armed guard. By nine in the evening, two hundred and fifty men drifted into the outskirts of Yreka without being noticed. One squad of men went to a blacksmith shop and acquired the necessary equipment for a lynching, rope and sledgehammers. They also procured a stash of dynamite. What their plans were for the explosives is unknown. Another squad went to the railroad yard and lugged off a rail.
A squad went to the fire station and tied the bell ropes too high to be reached without a ladder, so nobody would be able to raise an alarm. Other squads swept the streets of Yreka for any unfortunates who were out walking and were either pressed into joining the lynch mob or taken prisoner.
The masked men woke Deputy Sheriff Radford at his courthouse office and demanded the keys to the jail. Deputy Radford told the mob that he would blow the brains out of anyone who came through the door. The mob knew that Radford meant what he said. The mob left a squad of men to keep Radford at bay and searched for a new way into the jail.
The younger men among the mob climbed over the stone wall that enclosed the jail yard, waking up the night guard, Deputy Henry Brautlacht. Brautlacht thought that some prisoners were escaping and stepped out of the jail, where he was promptly captured and disarmed by a squad of masked men. They took his keys and unlocked the cellblock. Not having access to the keys for the cells, the mob used sledgehammers to break the locks on the murderer’s cells.
Around eleven in the evening, some men pounded on City Marshal Erskine Parks’s door, telling him that there was a huge fight down on Miner Street. The Marshal left his home in his nightshirt and ran down to Miner Street, where some men informed him that the fight had moved over to Main Street. When Marshal Parks arrived at Main Street and found not a soul in sight, he realized that he had fallen hook, line and sinker for a diversion. Out of breath, Marshal Parks ran for the fire bell to raise the alarm, only to find the ropes beyond his reach. Parks ran to the jail, firing his pistol into the air, only to find the jail overrun by the lynch mob. He was outnumbered and powerless to stop the lynching.
By one in the morning of August 26, 1895, the jail cell doors were smashed open and a mysterious middle-aged man wearing a long duster and a white mask appeared. He calmly ordered the mob to start their business.
Gesturing for wife killer, Lawrence Johnson, to go first, the mob dragged the pleading man to the railroad rail that had been tucked between the limbs of two locust trees. A noose was put around his neck and he was yanked up into the air in mid-sentence.
Next, the captain of the mob went to Null’s cell. Null tried to make a statement before he was executed. His statement was cut short by the rope.
Moreno walked silently to the makeshift gallows. He showed no signs of fear and made no sounds as he joined Null and Johnson on the rail.
There was some talk between the Captain and the other leaders of the mob on whether or not young Garland Stemler should join the others. It was decided that he was just as bad as the others and, because of his advanced education, should have known better. Stemler was so frightened he could hardly speak. He asked the mob to remove his boots because he promised his mother that he would die with his boots off. He also said, “Tell my brother to tell my mother that I am innocent.”
Stemler joined Johnson, Moreno and Null in the locust trees, hanging like some kind of sick Christmas tree ornaments. Witnesses said that the executions were all botched. The ropes stretched and the men twisted as they strangled to death.
The mob left as quickly and quietly as they appeared. Marshal Parks and Coroner Scofield cut the bodies down. Around the neck of Lawrence Johnson was a note that read:
“Caution – let this be a warning and it is hoped that all cold-blooded murderers in this county will suffer likewise.
Tax Paying Citizens.
P.S. Officers, ask no questions, be wise and keep mum.”
No one was ever prosecuted for the lynching and not a single person was ever identified as a member of the lynch mob. Legend has it that the two locust trees in which the men were hung died a little more than a year after the lynchings. They supposedly withered away as if they were strangled.
John and Charles Ruggles were born 1860 and 1871, respectfully, to prosperous parents near Woodland in Yolo County. Their father Lyman came out to California during the Gold Rush in 1850 and worked the mines until he realized that there was money to be made as a farmer. The hordes of people tromping around California needed to eat, and the restaurants that popped up all over the state needed fresh produce and meat. In time, Lyman was elected to the Yolo County Board of Supervisors. Having an eye for opportunity, he started farming in Tulare County and eventually acquired over four hundred acres of prime farmland.
Young John was sickly, and so his father sent him to live in Stockton, closer to his doctor. John’s physician, E.A. Stockton gave him a job as a stock tender on his ranch. John Ruggles had shown no inclination toward criminal behavior, but on October 31, 1878, he unexpectedly attempted to rob a couple who were out for a stroll. The man that he tried to rob pulled out a revolver and fired five shots, hitting John in the back. Wounded, he surrendered to the police immediately. His wound was serious, but he quickly recovered and was tried and convicted for robbery and assault. He was sent to San Quentin prison for seven years.
Old man Ruggles was distressed about his son’s surprising crime and imprisonment. No sooner had the prison doors slammed behind John Ruggles than old man Ruggles started a campaign to get his son pardoned, which no doubt included large donations to the governor’s campaign chest. Dr. Stockton wrote that he had been treating John for sex addiction and that John was nearly an imbecile when he committed the crimes.
Governor George C. Perkins pardoned John Ruggles after he served fourteen months in San Quentin. He was placed in the custody of his parents and seemed to go straight, working hard on his father’s farm, eventually buying several parcels of property near the town of Dinuba in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. By 1887, he was married and had a daughter, but luck was something that was always just out to reach for John Ruggles. His wife took ill and died in 1889, devastating Ruggles. Unable to care for a young child, he left his daughter with relatives. With little to live for, he neglected his crops, spending his time hunting and living off the land in the mountains.
In 1892, John’s little brother Charley came to visit his brother in the mountains. Charley had just come back from the gold fields in Shasta County where, instead of panning for gold, he allegedly robbed sixteen stagecoaches in the area with a buddy, Arizona Pete. After listening to Charley’s tales of his stagecoach-robbing exploits, John couldn’t resist hitting the outlaw trail with his little brother. He leased out his farm to a neighbor and rode north, stopping first in San Francisco for a little merrymaking.
On May 10, 1892 the Ruggles boys robbed the Weaverville stage, but the take was small. They decided to wait a few days before trying another robbery, scoping out a new location where the road tops out over a hill, five miles north of Redding. It was a perfect place to stage a holdup, because not only would the coach be traveling slowly as it reached the top of the hill, but the horses would be tired.
They stopped the stagecoach and demanded the driver to throw down the Wells Fargo boxes. As the second box hit the ground, simultaneous gunshots rang out and Charlie Ruggles was hit with buckshot fired by a guard riding in the coach with the passengers. More shots rang out, and the air filled with gun-smoke and dust kicked up by the panicked horse team. A passenger named George Suhr was hit by buckshot, as was the driver, Johnny Boyce. The guard, Amos “Buck” Montgomery, was also seriously injured and was bleeding profusely inside the coach.
John Ruggles was shocked that his second holdup went so wrong. He ran up to the coach and fired his revolver into already wounded Montgomery’s back. Boyce regained control over his team and rode hell-bent for leather out of there.
John ran up to his brother Charlie, who was reeling from his wounds. He had been shot in the face and was covered in blood. Believing that Charlie was good as dead, John grabbed the money, said goodbye to his little brother and fled the scene.
Charlie was soon found by a posse and was taken to get medical attention. He had been hit thirteen times with buckshot, with the most serious wounds knocking out some teeth and exiting out of his neck. Charlie refused to tell the authorities who his partner was, but Wells Fargo detective John Thacker quickly figured it out and was soon on his way to see Lyman Ruggles, who was now managing a warehouse in Traver. Catching the next train to Redding, Lyman visited his son in jail, where Charlie admitted that his partner was his brother, John. An eleven hundred dollar reward was put on John’s head.
John worked for a farmer for a few days and ended up in his old hometown of Woodland, where the locals immediately recognized him. While he was eating a meal at the Opera Restaurant, Deputy Sheriff Wyckoff walked in, sat down at the table next to John and leveled his pistol at the outlaw’s head. After a brief struggle, John was on his way to Redding.
At the Redding jail, John was joyously surprised when he discovered that his little brother was not dead. They had a tearful reunion behind bars.
Going to trial on July 28, the pair’s strategy was to implement the late Buck Montgomery as a collaborator in the robbery. This disgusted the people of Redding, as many of them had known Montgomery and had been to his funeral. There was talk of forming a necktie party and a scathing editorial from the Republican Free Press did nothing to help calm the population down.
In the early morning hours of Sunday, July 24, a group of masked men entered the jail and broke into the prisoners’ cells. John tried to take all the blame for the crime to save Charlie, but the lynch mob showed no sympathy to the elder Ruggles’ final pleas. They hung the Ruggles brothers from a makeshift gallows near Etter’s Blacksmith Shop. With purple faces, they slowly twisted in the wind, greeting the townspeople of Redding on their way to church.
Irish born Frank Hudson was a poor soldier. He deserted the British Army in Canada and joined the Sixth Regiment of Regulars of the United States Army at Rochester, New York. He then deserted the U.S. Army, moved to California, and joined the army again. This time he rode with the Second Cavalry, California Volunteers.
On April 14, 1865 while stationed at Camp Bidwell in Butte County, Lieutenant Daniel Webster Levergood reprimanded Corporal Hudson for being drunk. At nine o’clock that night, Lieutenant Levergood was shot. He lived for two days and identified Hudson as the shooter. Hudson immediately went AWOL, but was soon captured.
Hudson, (his real name was Dean) was court-martialed in Chico and sentenced to hang. He was taken to Fort Union in Sacramento for execution. Fort Union was located at what is now the northeast corner of Sutterville Road and Land Park Drive, near the Sacramento Zoo and Fairytale Town.
On the day of his execution, mounted guards were stationed at the west end of the parade ground to keep out uninvited spectators, but over 500 people stood on the public racetrack, 100 yards from the scaffold. Three companies of soldiers stood at attention in front of the gallows. General Wright, Adjutant General Evans and other officers were on hand for the somber occasion.
Father Gallagher led the 32-year-old Hudson to the gallows and read Hudson’s last statement.
“Francis Hudson before his execution declares that he dies in the hope of eternal bliss, through the merits of his Divine Savior Jesus Christ. He forgives every person in the world, as he himself hopes forgiveness from God. He returns his sincere thanks to the officers and soldiers at Camp Union for their uniform kindness to him during his imprisonment. He also from his heart is grateful to his spiritual director, Father J.A. Gallagher, and to the Sisters of Mercy for their consoling words in preparing him for death.”
A black cap was pulled over his head and he fell through the trap, dying immediately. In 1878, while building the Y Street levee workers uncovered a buried coffin. Inside was the body of Frank Hudson, in uniform with a noose still around his neck. He apparently wasn’t allowed to be buried on sanctified land and was unceremoniously buried by the river.
The third annual Golden West Sport Aviation Air Show at Executive Airport in Sacramento was winding down. The planes that performed at the event were beginning their taxi routes to fly out. The column of airplanes was long, too long for pilot Richard Bingham, who voiced his complaint to the control tower. Bingham was piloting a Korean War-era F-86 Sabrejet, a fuel-guzzling and temperamental plane, one of the first combat jet aircraft in the United States Air Force inventory. The F-86 was a hard-edged aircraft, difficult to control at low altitudes. I routinely stalled if its nose wheel lifted off the ground when taking off at speeds slower than 140 knots.
Bingham decided to take off on the shorter and less crowed runway to save on fuel. He held an air transport pilot’s license – one of the highest-qualified licenses a pilot can have – but he only had twelve hours of flight time in the F-86
The blue and gold single-engine jet rolled down the runway, lifted its nose off the ground, bounced back down, and then lifted off. But the aircraft stalled, lost altitude, and clipped an old levee. The fuel-filled drop tanks ignited, causing a huge fireball. The F-86 bounced, landing on Freeport Boulevard, bounced again, and slid into the corner window of Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor.
Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor was one of the two businesses open in the Crossroads Shopping Center that Sunday afternoon. As many as 100 people, many of them children, were enjoying a refreshing treat when the flaming F-86 slammed into the restaurant.
Twenty-three people, including twelve children, died from multiple causes. The entire Krier family – Warren and Sandra and their two children, Brandon and Jennifer, ages two and eight respectively – died in the inferno. Nine members of another family also died. Twenty-five people were injured.
When the fired department pulled the plane out of the wreckage to look for bodies, they found two automobiles melted together underneath the plane. Inside one of the cars were the bodies of an elderly couple who had been driving on Freeport Boulevard when the Sabrejet bounced on top of their car.
To his credit, pilot Bingham rode the plane down instead of ejecting from the out-of-control and blazing plane. He luckily survived, suffering a broken leg and arm. A passerby pulled him out of his burning aircraft.
Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor is long gone. The new Sacramento police headquarters is now located where the Crossroads Shopping Center once stood. On March 15, 2003, a memorial was dedicated to the victims of one of the worst on-ground air disasters in American history.
Al Chamberlain was the last of his kind. A real live cowboy who had seen the frontier dissolve before his eyes, and found his skills and lifestyle mocked by the younger generations. Born in 1858 to a Santa Rosa cattle family, Chamberlain grew up on a horse, roaming the rangeland and hills.
For several decades, Chamberlain owned a horse corral on Sonoma Avenue, where Santa Rosa’s city hall now stands. He supplemented his income by acting as a guide and packmaster for hunting expeditions. Even though he was a living relic of a bygone time, many of the citizens of Santa Rosa, including some of Santa Rosa’s finest, teased the old timer.
In 1930, Santa Rosa bureaucrats forced Chamberlain to close up his corral because of allegedly unsanitary conditions. It seems more likely that the authorities were interested in condemning his property so they could acquire his land for the new city hall. Chief of Police Charlie O’Neal personally signed the final notice to vacate the property. He gave Chamberlain three days to leave. Chamberlain was never the same after the eviction.
Chamberlain attempted to learn how to drive, but he was a horseman first and foremost. The sight of Chamberlain pulling back on the steering wheel of his old Chevrolet touring car and calling out “whoa” made the people of Santa Rosa roar with laughter at the old man. He would often stop his car by crashing into the curb or sidewalk. Chief O’Neal warned Chamberlain to get his vehicle under control or stay out of town. Chamberlain wasn’t about to let some badge-wearing bully tell him what to do.
One day, Chamberlain ran his car onto the sidewalk and knocked down a woman. She was unhurt and laughed it off, but Chief O’Neal threw the old cowboy in jail for reckless driving. He was fined one hundred dollars and sentenced to thirty days in jail. O’Neal added fuel to the flames by taunting Chamberlain during the trial and tormented him by asking the judge to raise Chamberlain’s fine.
After Chamberlain did his time, he started dressing like the cowboys of his youth. He wore a big cowboy hat, boots, spurs and old-fashioned flannel shirts. He had business cards made up that said, “Alfred E. (Two Gun) Chamberlain, Santa Rosa Outlaw and Jailbird.” He handed them out to anyone that he met. He still drove his old Chevy around town.
Financially ruined by the loss of his corral and his month in jail, Chamberlain sold most of his ranch to John McCabe. He lost the rest of his fortune to back taxes, which were paid by McCabe. Chamberlain completely lost his mind and plotted to assassinate McCabe, Sheriff Patteson, Chief O’Neal and his insurance agent, Harold Jones. He was sure that he would be lynched and would die with his boots on, like the cowboy outlaw that he had turned himself into.
On July 15, 1935, a hot Monday morning, Chamberlain loaded his pistols and drove to his former home. At the ranch he waited in the barn for McCabe to do his morning chores. He shot McCabe eight times, leaving him for dead. Chamberlain got into his beat up car and headed for Santa Rosa, reloading his old nickel-plated .44 and .45 revolvers.
Arriving in Santa Rose, Chamberlain parked his car and walked to the City Police Station on Hinton Avenue. Chief O’Neal was the only person in the stationhouse. Chamberlain pumped three rounds into O’Neal and walked out to find Sheriff Patteson.
The sheriff was at the jail next to the police station. He heard the shots and saw Chamberlain walking down the street with a gun in each hand. Patteson, thinking quickly, started walking toward Chamberlain. Chamberlain asked the sheriff, “Are you Harry Patteson?”
“Hell, no, I’m not Patteson,” said the sheriff. “What do you want with Patteson?”
The men walked down the street together for a few steps when Chamberlain realized that the man he was walking with was the sheriff. Chamberlain raised both guns at Patteson and fired one of his pistols. Patteson tackled the cowboy and two men, Joe Schurman and Burnette Dibble, helped disarm and subdue the old man.
That night, Sheriff Patteson took Chamberlain to San Quentin Prison for his own safety. The recent lynchings in Santa Rosa made it too dangerous to house the old cowboy in the Santa Rosa jail.
John McCabe recovered from his eight gunshot wounds but Chief O’Neal died of his wounds on July 17. Chamberlain was tried in September and sentenced to life in prison. He died in San Quentin– a very un-cowboy-like ending.
The students arrived at Callahan Grade School in Siskiyou County, on a cold winter morning just like any other school day. But January 6, 1947 was different. Strung up on the telephone pole in front of the school was the body of an African-American man with calfskin wrapped around his shoulders. Bullet holes could be seen on the bloodstained man.
All eight grades attended the same one-room school, and the children were ushered into the school by the teacher as the police and coroner’s van arrived. An hour or so later, a young boy went outside to use the outhouse and bumped into a tall man wearing a suit and a cowboy hat. The first grader asked the man what had happened. “That’s to teach you kids what happens when you rustle cattle,” he replied.
The teacher of Callahan School later told her pupils, “You are never again to talk about what had happened here today.”
On Friday, January 10, 1947 the Western Sentinel newspaper carried a front-page story about the lynching of the African-American butcher from Weed, California. A few days later, the Etna Gazette carried the story about a butcher who was lynched after being caught stealing a calf. Soon afterwards, all the copies of the Sunday, January 12, 1947 issue of the Etna Gazette and all the copies of the January 10th issues of the Western Sentinel disappeared, including the Siskiyou County Library’s copy, and so details of this lynching are scarce.
What we do know is that in the early morning hours of January 6, 1947, near Gazelle in Southern Siskiyou County, California, a small mob of local ranchers shot, wounded and captured a suspected cattle rustler on a ranch owned by a well-known Yreka medical doctor. From there the black man was taken to the village of Callahan and hanged from the utility pole in front of Callahan’s one room school house. A cover-up was conspired by the so-called respected citizens of Gazelle, who with the help of local authorities managed to remove all documented evidence about the lynching. Chances are good that at the time of this writing, some of the people involved are still alive and living in the area.
It was the last known lynching in California.
In 1936, Siskiyou County was still reeling in the effects of the Great Depression. The roads were virtually void of vehicles as people drove only when absolutely necessary, but the steadfast residents got by better than many people in the United States. Vegetables were grown, eggs were laid and livestock was taken to slaughter. Neighbors bartered with each other for goods and services.
The Great Migration of Americans from the Dust Bowl states was in full bloom. Poor-as–dirt citizens of Oklahoma, Texas and other states from Middle America streamed into California to start a new life. Most of these people were farmers whose land had been made unusable by years of drought and windstorms, so they naturally congregated around the large orchards and fields of the West Coast.
The Brite family was the quintessential Dust Bowl family. Archie J. Brite and his wife Martha “Ma” along with their sons, thirty-five year old John and thirty-one Coke moved to an isolated mountain cabin, a mile and a half up a steep mountain trail, nine miles from Horse Creek, a village tucked into the rugged Siskiyou Mountains, about thirty miles northwest of Yreka on the Klamath River. The only road out to the Brite home was rutted Horse Creek Road that predictably followed Horse Creek. The Brites would park their weathered and roofless Ford Model T at the trailhead and would hike up a steep trail to their rented cabin where they grew vegetables and did a little mining.
John and Coke were convicted felons who did time in Arizona and Oregon before landing in Horse Creek. From all accounts, the brothers were polite and hardworking men. On their way to town, they often stopped at the handful of homes along Horse Creek Road to see if there was anything that they could pick up while they were in Horse Creek. Because of the tough hike to and from the cabin, the sixty-five year old Archie and the sixty-four year old Ma rarely went to town with their boys.
The Brite Brothers were always courteous when they went to town, but the thing that got them in trouble was that they always bought a jug of wine to drink on the bumpy ride back home. When under the influence of alcohol, Coke and John had hair-trigger tempers and would become extremely violent at the slightest insult. Neighbor Charley Baker found out just how violent the Brite brothers could get.
In June 1936, after one of Coke’s excursions to Horse Creek, he stopped off at the Baker place to drop off two loafs of bread that Mrs. Baker asked him to get for her when he stopped by on the way to town. Coke’s friend Maplesden, a local from a pioneer family, was driving. Mrs. Baker could tell that Coke was drunk and told him that he should be ashamed of himself.
“No, Goddamn you Mrs. Baker,” Coke said within earshot of Charley. “I ain’t ashamed of what I done.”
Charley Baker approached Coke and told him to never speak to his wife that way again and to get off his property. Coke responded by chasing Charley, cursing him with every step. Charley grabbed a heavy stick that was used as a rosebush stake and whacked Coke across the arm. Maplesden ran over to Charlie and threw both arms around him, begging him not to hit Coke again.
“I’ll get him out of here,” Maplesden told Charlie. “I’ll take him out.”
Maplesden then ran to Coke, who was charging Charlie. The men ran around the house with Maplesden holding onto the enraged Coke. Maplesden finally calmed Coke down and got him into the car. As they were driving away, Coke shook his fist at the Bakers and shouted, “I’ll getcha!”
The next day Charley drove to Horse Creek to seek advice from a friend. He told Charley that it was probably just the alcohol talking and that Coke would probably come over and apologize after he sobered up. The local Justice of the Peace, Judge Rainey, told him the same thing.
The Bakers had lived most of their lives in Long Beach, California and had only moved to Northern California a few years before. Charley, a retired carpenter, had few friends up in the mountains. He was a God-fearing, intelligent man, but had a hearing impairment that sometimes made him quite cantankerous. Charlie and his wife were teetotalers, didn’t socialize much and were quite happy tending their gardens. They were basically city slickers and didn’t have much in common with the type of people that lived in the Siskiyou Mountains.
In rural areas, deer hunting season is one of the biggest events of the year. Farmers get ahead of their chores so they can have time to hunt. Hunting stories mixed with good-natured kidding dominates conversation in barbershops and restaurants. Deer hunting is a much a family happening as it is a sport, and it was always good to have some free meat on the table.
Vallejo resident Fred Seaborn was Charley Baker’s friend and hunting buddy. For years, the two hunted together on the first week of the season. Seaborn, who was a retired naval officer and Vallejo’s Harbor Chief, arrived at the Baker place on August 29th, 1936, one week before hunting season started. He wanted to help Seaborn catch up with his chores and do some scouting.
After supper, the two men walked down to the trailhead to look for one of Baker’s horses that had wandered off. They quickly picked up its trail on the Government Path and followed it down to a neighbor’s pasture. It was a pleasant evening and the two friends were enjoying the stroll. It was getting dark out when they came upon Horse Creek, where Seaborn stopped to get a drink of water. In a few seconds, the lives of dozens of people would change with one ignorant act of aggression, fueled by alcohol.
Whatever was said as the two men stooped to drink some fresh mountain water has been disputed since August 29th, 1936.
As Seaborn knelt to drink, he asked Baker who owned the old Model T parked at the trailhead.
Baker supposedly replied, “It belongs to the Brite boys up on the hill.”Little did the men know that the Brite brothers were sleeping nearby, too drunk to walk up the path to their home. It was supposedly the only time that the Brite boys ever slept at the trailhead.
The Brite brothers, in their drunken stupor had hear Baker’s reply as, “It belongs to those two sons of bitches, the Brite boys, up on the hill.”
Coke Brite answered, “You’re Goddamned right it does. What are you sons of bitches doing in our camp?”
An empty wine jug went whizzing past Seaborn’s head. Captain Seaborn apologized in a loud voice into darkness where the Brite brothers had been sleeping. Suddenly, Coke and John came charging out of the darkness and started a fight worthy of a Hollywood movie. Baker was beaten almost unconscious with a branch by John while Seaborn held his own with Coke. Seaborn was a large man and a former sailor, who had seen his share of fights. Eventually Seaborn and Baker got away from the crazed hillbillies and stumble down the trail to the Baker home.
Bloody and bruised, the two friends drove down the mountain road to Horse Creek to inform the authorities about the assault. Judge Rainey issued an arrest warrant and called the Sheriff in Yreka.
Meanwhile, the Brite brothers crawled back into their bedroll and dozed back to sleep. Not long after they fell asleep, a hoot owl woke them up. John sat up and fired a shot from his .32 semi-automatic pistol in the general direction of the owl. That seemed to shut the bird up.
Deputy Martin Lange, Baker, Seaborn and a former constable, Joe Clark drove out to the end of Horse Creek Road with the intentions of arresting the Brite brothers. With flashlights on, the men approached the sleeping hillbillies. Joe Clark walked up behind the Brite brothers’ sleeping area and pulled the blankets off the men, which angered them to psychotic proportions.
Clark smacked John over the head with his blackjack a couple of times, which quieted the man fairly easily. Coke arose, and Clark clubbed him in the head too. As the men were being handcuffed, Coke made a lunge for the blackjack and Deputy Lange got him in a bearhug.
Baker and Seaborn were just six to eight feet away from the fracas when Deputy Lange and Coke landed in front of them. Seaborn hit Coke over the head a few times with his flashlight. Seaborn then pulled Coke off Lange and threw him to the ground. Coke landed on his bedroll and grabbed his 30/30 carbine and he started firing. Baker was the only person to make it out of the camp alive.
He ran to his neighbor B.F. Decker, who lived only a few hundred yards from the trailhead. Decker went to the camp and talked some sense into the Brite brothers. He had to assure the men that he bid them no harm and only wanted to see what had happened. Decker found Deputy Lange on his back in the center of the road. There were two bullet holes between his eyes and one under his nose. Most of his upper jaw was blown off. Lange was also shot in the thigh and was barely alive when Decker found him.
Joe Clark was pitched over with his coat over his head. He had a bullet in this back and the carbine, now broken, was lying nearby. Coke had beaten Clark with the gun after he shot him.
Seaborn was on his back with his face smashed in. He was shot under his left arm. Seaborn, like Lange, was barely alive. It was B.F. Decker’s turn to alert the authorities.
The Brite brothers ran for their parents’ cabin and no doubt told them what had happened. With Northern California’s reputation for lynching cop killers, Coke and John headed for the hills.
Decker took his neighbor and mining partner Bob Lanning to Horse Creek’s Justice of the Peace. Deputy Eddie Mathews answered the call. Mathews had been acting Sheriff when Clyde Johnson was lynched in 1935. He had tried valiantly to intercept the lynch mob, but was too late. The last thing that Deputy Mathews wanted was another lynching on his watch.
Deputy Mathews called Sheriff Chandler at his home and told him of the situation. In short time, Sheriff Chandler, Mathews, Doctor Schlappi, Deputy L.L. Fortna and Yreka City Police officers Gilbert Rhodes and Frank Fullerton were screaming through the mountains towards Horse Creek in Mathews’s car. In the meantime, Judge Rainey, Decker, Lanning and Joe La Plant headed up Horse Creek Road to see if anyone could be saved.
Sheriff Chandler took a surprisingly scientific investigation of the crime scene, preserving and cataloging the evidence. Ma and Pa Brite were questioned and their cabin was searched. They told the sheriff that the boys had fled into the mountains because they were frightened that they would be lynched. Nine separate posses were organized, and the Brite cabin was put under surveillance.
Deer season was fast approaching, and the mountains and ravines would soon be full of hunters, who would also be on the lookout for the murderous brothers. With the reward for the capture of the Brite brothers, some of the hunters were more interested in hunting the brothers than they were in their usual quarry. Several times hunters brought in prospectors, hoping that it was one of the Brite brothers. In one case a man was almost lynched when his capturers took him to a tavern instead of to the authorities.
Such was the fever pitch to revenge the deaths of three men that Frank Merriam, Governor of the State of California issued the following statement: “There must be no more lynchings in California: I will take whatever action is necessary to enforce the law.”
Siskiyou County District Attorney James G. Davis had his hands full. Elected to the position only two years earlier, he beat the incumbent by only three hundred and forty four votes. He kept the fact that he was half Native American in a time when Native Americans were still looked upon as subhuman in the rural areas of Northern California. It was extremely rare for a Native American to even have a high school education, let alone college and law degrees. Some people didn’t like the way that Davis was handling the investigation into the murder and the manhunt. In fine California fashion, there was grumbling about a recall.
Trackers had found fresh tracks left by the brothers, and there was suspicion that the boys were being left food and supplies by Ma and Pa Brite, even though their cabin was under almost twenty-four hour watch. There was concern that the Brite brothers would come back and kill Baker, who still lived at his cabin less than a mile from the murder site.
In the meantime, Sheriff Chandler, District Attorney Davis and various bounty hunters were cozying up to Ma Brite, hoping that some sort of agreement could be made so that the Brite brothers could surrender without being pulled out of the Siskiyou County Jail in the middle of the night and hung from a telephone pole by a crowd of masked men.
On September 17th, District Attorney Davis scooted out of his office in a hurry. Nobody knew where he was going and why he was being so tight lipped. Davis didn’t show up for work the next day and the people following the case knew that something was up.
On September 19th, Sheriff Chandler got a telephone call from the warden of Folsom Prison, outside of Sacramento. The district attorney and Dr. Earl Harris had arrived at Folsom Prison with Coke and John Brite. They were to be imprisoned in the infamous penitentiary until their trial. On the lam for nineteen days, the Brite brothers were ready to give themselves up. They had met secretly with Davis and Dr. Harris, a dentist, at noon near the Brite cabin. They had driven in a roundabout way to Sacramento, taking Highway One, along the coast to avoid anyone who would recognize them. The trip took nearly an entire day.
A trial was held and the Brite brothers claimed many things, including that they couldn’t remember the fight or the murders because they were too drunk. They also blamed Baker for inciting the fight by calling them “sons of bitches.” The brothers were found guilty of three counts of first-degree murder.
On December 22nd 1936, the men were sentenced to death, however over the years of appeals the sentence was reduced because there were questions about Deputy Clark’s sobriety at the time of the attempted arrest of the brothers and the credibility of the witnesses. Oddly, District Attorney Davis led the appeal. The brother’s sentence was reduced to life in prison.
The people of Siskiyou County were very resentful about the sentence and the actions of the District Attorney. Davis lost the election in 1938, mainly because of his defense of the killers.
The Brite brothers were paroled on September 17, 1951, but they both broke parole and were returned to Folsom Prison. Coke Brite was paroled in 1972. He died on April 19, 1973. John Brite was presumably murdered in prison sometime between 1964 and 1973.
Some historians believe that Coke and John Brite were innocent, and that Charley Baker, Fred Seaborn, Deputy Martin Lange and Constable Clark had set up the brothers in order to get access to the Brite’s cabin. This seems highly unlikely because Baker and his wife had only lived in the area for a few years and by all accounts were loners with few friends. Seaborn had a respectable job as the Harbor Chief of the city of Vallejo and was in Siskiyou County only to visit Baker and to go hunting. Since Baker already had a nice home, less than a mile from the Brite’s cabin, what would the men possibly want with an old ramshackle miner’s cabin? And why would Constable Clark and Deputy Lange want to risk their careers and reputations by helping near strangers, Baker and Seaborn, take over the cabin? The facts of the violent attack and the brother’s criminal records, along with their inability to hold their alcohol, also contradict that theory.
There is no doubt that the Brite brothers could have been lynched and that District Attorney Davis went beyond the call of duty in protecting them, but when the facts are all laid out; the Brite brothers weren’t so bright after all. In reality, they were ignorant, drunken psychopaths who would felonious assault neighbors at the slightest insult and murdered three men at the end of Horse Creek Road in 1936.
California is blessed with extensive natural beauty and one of the most beautiful places on Earth is Yosemite National Park. A World Heritage Site since 1984, Yosemite was the first parcel of land to designated for protection by the Federal Government on June 30, 1864 by President Abraham Lincoln. The State of California controlled the area until it was transferred to the National Park Service on its inception in 1916.
Millions of tourist have visited Yosemite over the years to enjoy its breathtaking mountain vistas, cascading waterfalls and 800 miles of hiking trails. It has been said that you can walk 50 yards from any of the park’s roads and you will be in the wilderness. Which is why it is so easy for a tragedy to occur in the park. There are 704,624 acres of land in Yosemite and 92.4 percent is wilderness. Add over 3.5 million visitors each year and the odds are that someone is going to die there.
The most deadly single place in Yosemite National Park is Vernal Fall, where the Merced River tumbles 317 feet into a pool of rocks and boulders. As of 2010, seventeen people have fallen over it’s ledge. None of them survived.
The first recorded death at Vernal Fall was sixteen-year-old Lucille Dulingon who stepped into the abyss on August 22, 1924. Lucille was enjoying her vacation at Yosemite National Park, a giant change of scenery than her life in Hollywood, which was then a dusty town of orchards mixed with the emerging film industry. After a grueling climb to the head of Vernal Fall, Lucille along with her father and her friend, Riva Straub stopped to admire the magnificent waterfall that plunge 317 feet out of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The teenagers posed for photos by the guardrail, but the girls thought that they could get a more dramatic photo if they were on the other side of the River of Our Lady of Mercy.
Being late summer, the river was running deceptively low and the girls had no problem getting across the river for their photos. Riva crossed the river without a problem, as Lucille’s father changed the film in his camera. Lucille took a different route than Riva and started to jump from rock to rock. Perhaps she slipped on the algae-covered smooth river rocks or maybe the ice cold water numbed her feet too much, whatever the case, the teenage girl fell into the river and disappeared, only to surface in time to scream as she plummet over the ledge and to her death.
The panic stricken father ran down the trail to the base of the falls, while Riva ran to get a ranger. Lucille’s lifeless body was bobbing violently around in the pool, as her father tried desperately to swim out to his daughter. They retrieved her later with a rope. Lucille Duling was the first waterfall fatality in Yosemite as a result of a photo opportunity. Unfortunately, she wasn’t the last.
On June 29, 1929 a twelve year old boy from Burlingame was enthralled by the spectacular view while standing in the middle of the Merced River. Forest Case and his friend Edward Shoemaker had hiked up the Mist Trail to the top of the falls. Case, stepped about twenty feet into the river after getting a drink of water. He shouted to Shoemaker, “Look at those mountains up there, with the white clouds floating around them!” Those were his last words as he lost his footing and fell into the swift current.
Shoemaker ran to help his struggling friend and got as far as grabbing Case’s hand, but the river tore their death grip apart and Case went screaming over the falls in front of dozens of witnesses. Three female witnesses fainted at the sight of the boy falling over the ledge. Case’s body was never found.
Orville Dale Loos was on leave from the Navy when he and two other sailors went to visit Yosemite. Loos, a native of Dayton, Ohio were hiking along at the top of Vernal Fall when he saw eleven year old Keen Freeman being carried down the river toward the lip of the falls. The boy and his father Dr. Walter Freeman were visiting the park from Washington D.C. Keen fell into the river while trying to fill his canteen. The sailors jumped the guardrail to try to save the boy from a certain death. Loos got ahead of the other rescuers grabbing Freeman just fifteen feet from the brink. Swimming against the powerful current with Freeman under his arm, Loos made it to a finely polished boulder and clung on for a few seconds before the algae cover rock made him lose his grip sweeping Freeman and Loos to their death. Freeman’s body was found a week later. Loos was found five days after Freeman, just a hundred yards from the base of the falls.
The next three deaths at Vernal Fall happened without any witnesses. William C. Hansch apparently went off the trail on June 3, 1947. The forty year old man from Sacramento had left his backpack near the top of the falls and his body was found fifty-four days later, at the base. On August 8, 1965, twelve year old Ohioan Daniel R. Duda mysteriously went over Vernal Fall and was not found until October 16th. Seven year old Roberta Mary Hurd of Jackson was on a family vacation in Yosemite, when her while her parents were momentarily distracted, when she fell in. She was spotted by a witness just as she was about to go over the falls. She was found on July 4th.
On June 18, 1970 tragedy again struck Vernal Fall. After climbing over barriers and ignoring signs warning hikers not to go into the Merced River, 30-year-old La Puente resident Yolanda Fuentes and her daughter Christine along with five other members of their party sat on the rocks in the raging river to cool off and take photos less than sixty feet from the lip of the falls. A woman who was standing in the water taking photos dropped her hat into the water. Little Christine sloshed over to retrieve it and was pulled into the strong current. Her mother Yolanda chased after her daughter and was gripped by the rushing water. One by one, the hat, Christine and Yolanda were all swept over the ledge to their death. Yolanda’s decomposed body was found over two month later. Christine’s body was never found.
William Ramirez of Gardena hiked up the Mist Trail with his brother, John on July 11, 1971. Hot and sweaty from the hike in the summer heat, William climbed over the guardrail to take a dip in the cool waters of the Merced River. John, wisely stayed on shore and expressed his concern to his brother about the wisdom of swimming in the water despite all the signs warning against it. William ignored his brother and continued to swim 175 feet upstream of the rim. The current snatched him and pulled him downstream. Witnesses said that Ramirez appeared to be in shock and made no effort to struggle out of the death ride. John ran into the river to save his brother but realized that he too would be dragged over the falls and got out. William Ramirez was found by hikers ten days later.
Nine days later, sixteen-year-old Randy Friedman was with a tour group seeking the natural beauty of Yosemite National Park. The Hartsdale, New York teenager climbed over the guardrail to fill his canteen and before anyone could comprehend what had happened, Friedman went over the brink and his body was never found.
Vernal Fall was the site of at least one suicide when on April 30, 1973, Leah Oliver Good told her husband, a Park assistant superintendent that she was going on a hike. The next day hikers found her body fifty yards from the base of the falls. She had died from the impact of falling 317 feet. The 49-year-old Good was sick with cancer had probably committed suicide.
Fresno native, David Kingseng Chu hiked up the Mist Trail with his family on August 18, 1977, it would be a full day and a lifetime before he’d come down. Climbing over the guardrail festoon with warning signs, Chu waded into the icy Merced River just twelve feet from the lip of the killer waterfall.
The river was running low and 1977 was a drought year, however gravity trumps stupidity. Chu wanted to take a photograph of the water falling over it’s ledge, standing in the middle and on the very tip of the falls. Realizing the danger that was upon him, he panicked and leaped sideways toward a nearby dry boulder. Slipping on the algae-cover river boulders that lay just below the surface, Chu’s feet slipped out from under him and he disappeared over the edge.
The Yosemite Search And Rescue (SAR) team arrived and unsuccessfully searched the boulder strewn basin. They sent searchers downstream to search for the body to no avail. Rangers believed that Chu’s body may be stuck in a crevasse behind the pounding wall of water.
The next day the SAR team sent in a wetsuit clad ranger 75 feet from the bottom of the falls. Dangling from safety ropes, the ranger worked his way sideways into the falls. The freezing water easily pierced the neoprene insulated suit and the force of the falling water almost drowned him at times. After staying in as long as he could, he was replaced by another ranger who brought along a seven-foot fireman’s pike. The ranger found Chu’s crushed body wedged four feet into an 18 inch wide crevice.
Twenty-eight years went by before the next death happened at Vernal Fall, when Silicon Valley software engineer Chintan Dakshehbai Chokshi made a decision that would cost him his life. The 24 year-old native of Ahmedabad, India was with a group of friends on their way to Nevada Fall and stopped to rest at Vernal Fall. Wanting to wash his face in the cold Merced River, Chokshi climbed over the barrier rail and unknowingly walked towards his death. Stepping into the river, Chokshi immediately slipped on the slick rocks, fell on his butt and was pulled into the current. Struggling to regain his footing, Chokshi was pulled to his death.
Chokshi’s body was discovered on September 24th and to add to the tragedy NPS Special Agent Dan Madrid suffered a fatal asthma attack while partaking in the recovery of the body.
On July 19, 2010, twenty-two year old Hormiz David, twenty-one year old Ramina Badal, both of Modesto and twenty-seven year old Ninos Yacoub of Turlock were on a day trip to Yosemite. Despite the warning signs and raging white water churning before the ledge of Vernal Fall, the trio walked into the Merced River to take some photos. They were all swept over the falls. Hormiz David’s body was found in July about a half mile from the base of the falls. Yacoub and Badal’s bodies were discovered in December 2010.
The tranquility of nature can mask real danger in a heartbeat.
(Please note: This is my first piece of published fiction. It was picked as the Winner of “Best Prose” by Point No Point Magazine – a Seattle literary magazine created by the late Patrick McRoberts and Walt Crowley – in 1996)
My great Aunt Edna lived most of her life on a goat farm on north Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound of Washington State. She tended her goats on her lush, two hundred-acre spread pretty much by herself. She never married.
Aunt Edna was my grandfather’s sister. She must have been over sixty when I was born. Throughout my childhood, my family would pile into the station wagon about once a month and take the two-hour drive from Seattle to Aunt Edna’s farm. She was always happy to see us.
Her house was always in complete disarray. Stacks of magazines slid off the end of the couch onto the coffee table that was covered with books, seashells. Glass jars filled with colored liquids. And plastic soldiers left at her house years earlier by various male relatives. The linoleum on her floors had long ago peeled away. Leaving the bare wooden planks stained by years of farm fresh boots, the house emitted the essence of goat and after a few hours inside, on got the extreme desire to bolt for the door for a gulp of fresh air.
The farm consisted of the house, a large barn, two large sheds and three smaller ones. And a chicken coop. A circular driveway looped off the road, which was a couple of miles off the highway. The shade-covered front yard was fenced in so when you pulled into her driveway, you first had to get out of your car and open the gate. Aunt Edna’s yard was free range for the goats. The penalty for not closing the gate was a day’s work on the farm, which we would gladly do as we all loved to be there. Even while in high school I would often go out to Aunt Edna’s on the weekend to help her out. I’d camp out in the back forty, smoke pot and groove on nature. Aunt Edna loved my shaggy friends and they loved her. She didn’t care if I brought girls over to camp out either, which led to ample opportunities for teenage sex.
Aunt Edna was a social animal. Her phone rang every fifteen minutes and she had visitors every day but she rarely left the farm. She liked to be sure her goats were safe.
There was only one way to physically describe Edna; a hunchback toothless hag who swore like a sailor. Her appearance was shocking. We all found it wise to forewarn first time visitors. My mother always warned us kids that if we didn’t stand up straight we’d end up hunched over like our aunt. Edna had about three teeth in her mouth. There were a couple of brown stubby things on her gums but I never found out it they were teeth or not. Her gray hair was always braided and under a floppy hat. Her face was deeply wrinkled and her hands were like claws; fingers like pink hooks. They came in handy when carrying bales of alfalfa and hay. Aunt Edna could fling a bale as far as I could, and I was young and virile.
She loved her goats but you’d never know it by the way she talked to them. When she brought them into the shed for the night there was always a marathon session of profanity. I could swear all I wanted when I was with Aunt Edna. She taught me how. Her goats were all named “Motherfucker.”
“Come with me you little motherfucker!” she’d say as she grabbed a goat by the beard.
My mother hated all the swearing so I learned to switch it on and off pretty well. But once I came running in from the fields with a bouquet of wild flowers for my mother, screaming as eight year old boys do, “Mom! I picked these fucking flowers for you!”
As much as she loved her goats, Edna never had a problem selling them to the butcher.
“Goodbye you motherfuckers.” She’d say as the truck full of goats pulled onto the road.
Her mildly retarded farmhand, Bobby, found Aunt Edna dead in her bed on a beautiful spring morning. Bobby lived a quarter mile up the road and knew Edna his entire fifty-some years. He was about as retarded as the television character, Gomer Pyle.
Bobby always gave me the creeps. He gave Edna the creeps too. Aunt Edna wasn’t’ gentle with him. If he stood around in the kitchen too long while family was over she’d say to him, “Goddamn it Bobby! You got your own fucking family just up the road! Get the fuck outta here and don’t come back until bedtime.” By “bedtime.” She meant when the goats are brought in for the night. That was the only time she really needed him. He worked for Edna his whole life and was soon to be out of a job. He was very upset about her death and cried his eyes out on my father’s shoulder. But his emotional upheaval had more to do with the inevitable loss of the only job he had ever had. His tears ended abruptly when we asked him to take care of the farm while we tried to find Edna’s will and decide what to do with the place. Bobby told us that she was perfectly normal the day before. They had brought in the goats together just like any other evening.
The Saturday after we buried my great Aunt Edna, my father and I drove out to her farm to go through her things and to give Bobby some money. My father was in his mid-seventies and wasn’t getting around like he used to.
“Goddamn it! It’s just like Edna to die and not tell any of us if she had a will;” croaked my father. “For over thirty years I must of asked her a hundred times in a hundred different ways. Aunt Edna, you’re not going to live forever. You gotta make some plans about what you want done with the farm after you pass away. You’d think that once, just once, she’d pull me aside or call me up and tell me what was going on. Nope. She always acted like she didn’t hear me. If this thing lands up in probate, you’re going to have to deal with it. I’m too damn old to deal with lawyers and judges, especially all the way up here! These island hicks love to mess with city people!”
I listened to my father as I drove. He was right, it was a major pain in the ass not knowing if and where the will might be. My father, her closest living relative, was in no condition to deal with a paper chase and the bureaucracy of our legal system. Neither was I.
I had a mortgage on an overpriced house that needed new plumbing, a business that fluctuated as much as the Puget Sound tides during June, a wife who wanted to go back to school and a fourteen year old daughter who thought black gangsta types were cool.
“You know,” my father said, “Edna was the last of her kind. The end of the old family. It’s funny, that old farm is the closest thing out family has to a homeland. Edna bought it the year I was born, nineteen nineteen. Now what the hell are we going to do with it? Nobody wants to live up there. That house is no good. They’ll probably have to burn it down. You’d have to build a little cottage or something up there to use it as a weekend place, but who’s go the money for that?”
“Maybe some old navy guy will retire there,” I said.
“Maybe,” Dad grumbled.
State Road Twenty winds through Fidalgo Island like a View Master show. I must have been on that road five hundred times and the scenery always delights me.
“Remember that guy that built the Ark? I think it was right up here.”
My father was getting old. I learned to keep quiet when he said repetitive things. For the last ten years, every single time we drove up to Edna’s together the old man would bring up the Ark and every time he’d point out a different place. I remember the exact location, but he never believes me. He isn’t a dick about it, he just doesn’t believe me.
I stopped at a little store and bought a six-pack, a bag of Frito’s and some salsa.
“What do we need beer for?” whined my father. “It’s only ten o’clock in the morning!”
“I think that after we spend the day in Aunt Edna’s house you’ll be glad to have a beer or two.”
We drove in silence for a while.
“I hope Bobby doesn’t start crying,” the old guy spoke, “I hate it when he cries. He was always such a crybaby.”
“Yeah, but he’s retarded, dad.”
“Yeah, I remember when he was born.”
I prepared myself for another story that I knew by heart.
“Not much hope for that guy. The cards were stacked against him when he entered this world. His mother wasn’t very bright either. She got wild at a young age and started hanging out with sailors, got knocked and had Bobby. That didn’t stop her from drinking and carrying on. She died in a car wreck on Strawberry Point Road. The car is still down there!”
“I know dad. I know.”
We drove again in silence.
It was odd to pull into Edna’s driveway knowing that for the first time in seventy-five years Edna wouldn’t be there.
Bobby waved to us from the barn. The only sound I could hear were birds singing. No dogs here. The only kind of dog Aunt Edna ever owned were mongrel lap dogs. She didn’t believe in outside dogs. “Same as a goddamn coyote,” she’d say.
I went into the house while dad went to the barn to talk to Bobby. It wasn’t much of a house; two stories, wood frame, surrounded by lilac and blackberry bushes, two bedrooms upstairs, a bedroom, living room and kitchen downstairs. Off the kitchen was a sunroom and a bathroom with a big old claw and ball tub and freestanding sink. The bathroom was always the cleanest room in the house.
The place had been shut up for a week and the air in the house was stale and rank. I left the door ajar and opened a couple of windows. A trio of goats ran to the window and stared up at me. Goats are friendly and curious animals. Like cats, their faces distinguish them. They all look just a little different.
The curtains were really worn. I wondered how old they were. The whole place needed painting and a lot of the wood was rotten. Then there was the smell.
A navy jet roared by, shaking the house and my kidneys. A navy air station was only five miles away. Maybe the pilot flying that plane will buy this farm. After he retires, he can sit out here in peace and quiet and have his liver quivered.
Suddenly I had an eerie feeling that I was not alone in the room, that I was being watched. I could feel two eyes on the back of my head. I quickly turned around to see a young goat standing in the doorway.
“Get out of here. You little motherfucker!” I yelled.
The goat hightailed it out of there. She was probably wondering who we were and what happened to Aunt Edna.
There’s an old tradition with beekeepers when they die. Someone goes to the hives and tells the bees that their keeper is dead. They drape black cloth over the hives. Several times throughout my life I have seen covered beehives while driving in some rural areas.
I could see dad and Bobby walking toward the house. Bobby’s mouth was flapping like long underwear on a clothesline.
I’m sure he had told each and every goat on the farm about Edna’s death. I didn’t want to deal with Bobby so I went out the front door and got the groceries out of the car.
I could hear dad and Bobby walking through the house, so I walked around and came in the backdoor. Dad got rid of Bobby and we got down to work.
“Well,” said my father, “where should we start?”
Let’s look in her nightstand,” I said.
We went into Edna’s cluttered bedroom and opened the drawer of her nightstand. An envelope with the name of a law firm on it was sitting on the bottom of the drawer, underneath three or four romance novels. Everyone was too upset when Edna died to look around. She had made her funeral plans and had even bought her grave and tombstone years ago. All the mason had to do was carve her death date. Dad took the letter out and we read it. It was a letter to Edna confirming a change in her will and it was dated June 1, 1993. It seemed that Aunt Edna had a lawyer in Seattle who knew what was going on. That was good enough for both of us. I’d call him on Monday.
We went outside and cracked open the beer to celebrate our short search.
“All this time, Edna would never tell me what her plans were,” lamented my father.
“Well don’t get too excited dad. Knowing Edna she might have left everything to the “Center for U.F.O. Studies” or “Save the Whales.” You never know. Maybe that’s why she’d never talk about it.”
“Oh, it’s not the money. It’s just, well… I’ve always looked in on her.”
“Come on dad, nobody looked after Edna. She’d get pissed of and tell you to mind your own business. It just wasn’t in her nature to be looked after. I’ll call this lawyer on Monday and find out what’s up. Until then, let’s enjoy being in the country.”
Dad went to snoop around in the barn while I checked out Edna’s upstairs rooms. I was only up there a half a dozen times in my life. The two rooms were full of cardboard boxes and not much else. From my understanding, the items in the boxes once belonged to my great-grandparents who both died in the 1930’s.
I opened every box in the first room only to find old blankets and bed things.
“Can’t ever have enough blankets.” I thought, “but this is crazy. There must be a lifetime supply here.”
I went into the other room, which was smaller; I made my way straight to the closet, where I found a large steamer trunk. I had to move some boxes around to clear an area so I could have some room.
“Could this be something of value?” I thought. “Could this be a treasure of untold proportions? A family heirloom from the old country? What country would it be from? I’m a hopeless American.”
I was a little nervous. I undid the latches and lifted the lid. At first I thought that the trunk was filled with glassware wrapped with newspaper, but good things don’t always come in small packages. Instead of vases and goblets. I found five tiny skeletons; each wrapped individually in it’s own newspaper. The date of the papers gave me a time frame of these little mysteries. It appeared that all the skeletons were of newborn infants, fresh from the womb. There was no way to tell whose babies they were; if they were stillborn or left to die. The newspapers were dated between 1921 and 1930. Surely everyone involved was either dead or very old.
Gazing out the window, I saw my father walking out of the barn. He was carrying an old milk can that was probably as old as he was. I put the bones in the newspapers and back into the chest that had been their mausoleum since birth.
My father talked all the way home about the contents of Aunt Edna’s barn.
“There’s got to be at least a half a dozen milk cans in that barn! I found tools that haven’t been made in years. I don’t even know what some of them are for! But ho, look what I found.”
Dad reached back behind my seat and pulled out a thick disk of hard black rubber about eighteen inches in diameter.
“You know what this is?” He asked.
I glanced over to look at it. I was only half listening to him. Traffic was getting heavy and my mind was still in Aunt Edna’s upstairs room.
“No, what is it?”
“Well back when they used wooden beer kegs, the driver had to make sure that the barrels wouldn’t break when he dropped them off the wagon. So he’d place this rubber disk on the ground to cushion the impact, pretty neat, huh?”
I didn’t tell my father about the little guys and I didn’t even tell my wife. Instead I came back the next day. I tossed the newspapers and put the bones into a bag. I grabbed a shovel and buried the little guys out in the back forty while the goats looked on amused.
I don’t know whom those bones belonged to; if they were Aunt Edna’s children or someone else’s. It didn’t matter. Aunt Edna was family and if she had any secrets, they were buried on Whidbey Island.
For decades, F.H.L. Weber ran The Temperance Family Grocery Store at 1217 L Street. The store catered to the non-drinking public, which during the late 1800’s was very much a relief for the non-drunken public, and Weber became very prosperous. Webber first arrived in California in 1859. He fought in the Civil War on the Union side and reenlisted for four more years after the war. Back in Sacramento, With the money from his profitable store, Weber bought real estate, some of which is now part of the State Capital grounds. Weber and his wife, who’s name has never been recorded, raised their family in an apartment above the store.
On December 20, 1894, Weber’s adult son, Luther stopped by the store and discovered a large pool of blood seeping through the ceiling and colligating into a pool on the floor. Luther ran upstairs and found his parent’s battered and butchered bodies. They literally had their brains beaten out of them. Bloody bare footprints were all over the ransacked and gore covered apartment. In a shed behind the store police found a bloody axe and blood soaked rags which the murderers used to clean themselves up with.
The citizens of Sacramento immediately blamed the homeless of the city. The early 1890’s were the glory days for the American hobos as the Great Depression of 1892 put many people out of work. Vagabonding became an attractive alternative to the thousands of the unemployed and disillusioned Civil War Veterans suffering from Delayed Stress Syndrome and Sacramento was overwhelmed with homeless men, Hobos and tramps. The media, politicians and general public blamed them for all the ills of the city.
The police questioned every homeless person to no avail. All the usual suspects from Sacramento’s criminal underground were rounded up and aggressively interrogated. Committees were formed and rewards were offered, but the criminals appeared to have gotten away
A month later, San Francisco police discovered Mrs. Weber’s watch stuffed in a cranny in an empty cell in the City Jail, but the prisoner was housed there had been released and his name was lost in a clerical error.
A year earlier, the United States bark “Cape Horn Pigeon” had picked up ten Russians on the high seas. The emaciated men said that they were political prisoners and had escaped a prison camp in Siberia, stole the boat and sailed out to sea. Their story was half true, in reality they were really dangerous felons who escaped from a legitimate Russian prison. The men received sympathy and money from the citizens of California when they debarked in San Francisco.
While drunk, one of Russian conmen, Ivan Kovalev told a fellow Russian named Zakrewski that he and a fellow escapee, Stcherbakov had robbed and murdered the Webers’. Zakrewski informed the San Francisco police and Kovalev was arrested and taken to Sacramento. Luther Weber identified Kovalev as a man that he had seen loitering outside the Temperance Family Grocery Store days before the murders. In the meantime, a San Jose shopkeeper killed Stcherbakov during a bungled robbery attempt.
Kovalev appeared in court wearing Weber’s clothing. The trial lasted sixteen days, but the jury only took fifteen minutes to deliberate. Kovalev was hanged in Folsom Prison on February 21, 1896.
Grace Olive Wiley was a pioneer in the field of herpetology, the study of reptiles and amphibians. Born in in Chanute, Kansas in 1883, she attended the University of Kansas at a time when few women went to college. She got a degree in entomology, the study of insects, but after a failed marriage, she switched her interest to reptiles.
Reptiles are not the most lovable creatures. Their scaly, multicolored skin and impassive eyes set them apart from other animals. Folk tales throughout history have portrayed reptiles as sly and evil, using hypnotism to lure their prey to their deaths. The Torah, the Bible and the Koran all include the story of Adam and Eve, in which a snake entices Eve, the first female, to eat the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, thus messing up humanity forever.
Snakes have been used as a metaphor of evil and death, even though out of more than eight-thousand species of reptiles, only two-hundred-fifty have the ability to kill a human. Still, the sight of a reptile causes a primeval fear in humans that has little to do with reality.
Before Grace Wiley, widespread beliefs about reptiles in the scientific world held that reptiles are primordial creatures that have no emotion and cannot be trained or tamed. Grace Wiley’s lifetime of work with reptiles disproved many of those beliefs.
In 1923, Wiley was named curator of the Minneapolis Public Library‘s now-defunct natural history museum, making her one of the first female zoo curators in the world. She got the job by offering to donate her enormous private collection, which consisted of one-hundred-fifteen species and three-hundred-thirty individuals to the zoo. Wiley already had a reputation among the zoological world as a reptile expert, as a few years earlier she was the first person to successfully breed rattlesnakes in captivity.
Wiley believed in treating her reptiles kindly, and she thought deadly snakes could be tamed. She believed that she could convey her sympathy to the reptiles. Refusing to use hooks or other safety devices used to handle poisonous snakes, Wiley would gently speak to them, even though snakes are deaf, and slowly and carefully stroke them until they became used to her and other human contact. Except for Gaboon Vipers, which didn’t like to be stroked, most of her poisonous snakes got used to being held and handled. Still, Wiley’s unorthodox methods did not go over well with the Zoo’s administrators, who demanded that she stop handling the snakes.
Wiley used the attention to try to change the public’s negative attitude about venomous snakes. Reporters rushed to interview her, and photographers loved taking photos of the matronly Wiley calmly knitting with a rattlesnake on her lap. She made “good copy” on slow news days for newspapers and magazines. Despite the publicity for the museum and the fact that Wiley was never bitten while working at the Minneapolis Public Library Natural History Museum, administrators gave her an ultimatum: Use safety equipment or leave. Wiley left, taking her reptilian friends with her to her new job at the Brookfield Zoo outside of Chicago.
When it opened in 1934, the Brookfield Zoo, also known as Chicago Zoological Park, was one of the first zoos to shun cages for their animals. The animals were put in natural settings with animals of other species that generally live with them in the wild as companions. Moats and walls separated the animals from the human sightseers. Before then, zoo animals were locked into small steel cages without any activity to keep the poor animals from going crazy. The Brookfield Zoo welcomed the farsighted herpetologist Grace Wiley during its inaugural year.
Wiley’s casual attitude about safety made her tenure at the Brookfield Zoo brief. Wiley rarely closed the reptiles’ cases and cages, and the press had a field day with sensational headlines about deadly snakes escaping the zoo. Acting Director Robert Bean fired her after the nineteenth venomous snake escaped.
Wiley packed up her reptiles and moved, along with her mother, to Long Beach, California, where she set up a roadside zoo. Her snakes appeared in the films The Jungle Book, Trade Wind and of course, Cobra Woman. Wiley was always on set when her animals were used, and she even appeared onscreen as a snake charmer in the 1940 film, Moon Over Burma, starring Dorothy Lamour.
The zoo’s collection grew as Wiley acquired more dangerous and exotic reptiles, and some of the species were the only ones found outside of their normal territories. The menagerie included Sand Vipers, Asps, Diamond Back Rattlesnakes, Coral Snakes, Cottonmouths, Black Mambas, Water Moccasins, Sand Snakes, Horned Vipers, African Spiny Tailed, Dabbs and Monitor Lizards. Wiley carried around deadly Indian, King, Siamese and Egyptian Cobras were carried around like kittens. Even her mother, eighty-seven-year-old Molly Gough, handled the deadly snakes. Along with Giant Tortoises, crocodiles and alligators, the zoo also housed a Komodo Dragon, which had only been discovered by zoologists two decades before.
As a testament to Wiley’s taming techniques, she was able to pet her pair of King Cobras, King and Queen. The King Cobra is the world’s longest venomous snake and can grow up to eighteen feet. The massive snake eats other snakes and will not eat anything that it does not want to. Although there is no description of the feat, Wiley had to force-feed them to keep them alive. Its venom can kill an Asian Elephant in three hours if it is bit on the trunk. Wiley first used a small stick with some cloth on the end to gently pet the snakes from a safe distance. Eventually King and Queen allowed her to pet the back of their heads and rarely extended their famous hoods.
“This is a good example of what kindness can do for mankind,” she told a reporter. “What a powerful thing it must be, when even the world’s most deadly reptiles respond to kindness.”
Her roadside reptile exhibit charged twenty-five cents, and for that small sum, Wiley would personally take the visitors through the property, even allowing children to handle the rattlesnakes, Gila Monsters and cobras. Complaints from neighbors forced her to move twice, and she eventfully moved the entire exhibit across the L.A. County line to the town of Cypress, in snake-friendly Orange County.
Although Wiley’s interactions with the poisonous creatures seemed careless, she rarely let her guard down when she handled them. She had been bitten many times and she lost two fingers to her Komodo Dragon’s jaws, but she always blamed herself when the animals attacked her.
Wiley was made a Fellow of the Herpetologist League, the highest award given by the society. She regularly published scientific papers about her assessments of various reptiles and could pick up a rattlesnake as if it were a pet. Instead of getting a watchdog, Wiley trained her alligators to come when she called them and let them and various species of crocodiles and tortoises have free range of her compound.
Renowned freelance journalist Daniel Mannix was at Grace Wiley’s reptile zoo on July 20, 1948 to finish an interview and take some photos. Wiley took off her eyeglasses for the photo session. While posing with one of her recently arrived Indian Cobras, she was bitten on her middle finger while she was trying to get it to open its hood. Cobras have short fangs and have to chew to get their venom into their victim. The snake chewed on the sixty-four-year-old, one-hundred-pound woman’s finger for thirty seconds before she was able to gently pry it off gently. She calmly got up, walked back to the barn and put the snake back in its cage.
Asking Mannix to get her snakebite kit, Wiley laid down while Mannix’s companion ran for the telephone. To Mannix’s dismay, the emergency kit was at least twenty years old. The syringes were corroded and the antidote serums bottles were either broken or evaporated. Even the rubber tourniquet was rotted. Wiley lapsed into a coma shortly after she was put into the ambulance and died sixty-five minutes later in Long Beach Municipal Hospital. The hospital could do nothing to help her as they only had anti-venom serum for North American snakes.
At the time of her death, Grace Wiley wanted to retire and was in informal negotiations to sell her massive reptile collection to the Griffith Park Zoo. Her estate tried to find a buyer for the entire collection, but could not. The exotic animals were auctioned off piecemeal to the highest bidders. Her lifetime of work was worth only three-thousand dollars. The Indian Cobra that ended Wiley’s life was bought by a man who displayed it as the “Lady-Killing Cobra” at a tourist spot in Arizona.
The live entertainment industry can be divided into two eras; before and after Graham, because of an orphaned Holocaust survivor named Wolfgang Grajonca, who changed his name to Bill Graham. Grajonca was born in Berlin on January 8, 1931, to Russian Jews who emigrated to Germany to escape the turmoil in post-revolution Russian. His father died a few days after he was born, and he wound up in an orphanage not long after. Along with his sister, he was sent to France in an exchange for Christian children, and so miraculously survived World War Two. Graham was sent to an American foster home after the war. Most of his immediate family wasn’t so fortunate—one of his sister didn’t survive the journey to France, while his mother and an older sister ended up in Auschwitz, where his mother died.
Wolfgang’s thick German accent didn’t go over well with the neighborhood kids in the postwar Bronx, and he quickly learned to speak like a local. He changed his name to Bill Graham, a name that he claimed to have picked out of a phonebook. He also learned to act like a no-nonsense New Yorker, a trait that would serve him well in his business career.
After serving in the Korean War, where he was honored with the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, Graham went to work in the Catskills hospitality business. While there, he learned valuable lessons about working with entertainers that would serve him well in the years to come.
Graham moved to San Francisco in the early 1960s, just in time for the great culture shift that would be centered there. He managed the San Francisco Mime Troupe and promoted his first concert on November 6, 1965, a benefit to cover the legal fees of the troupe after they were charged with obscenity at an outdoor engagement. The concert made an astounding amount of money and Graham–ever the capitalist–saw bigger opportunity ahead.
Graham immediately started to manage, promote, and book the swarms of psychedelic rock bands that were emerging from the San Francisco music scene. He took a lease on the Fillmore Auditorium at 1805 Geary Street and presented his first show on February 4, 1966 with the Jefferson Airplane.
In short time Bill Graham was presenting a essential who’s who of late sixties west coast rock, as well as touring bands of the era. California bands like Blue Cheer, Big Brother and the Holding Company, The Grateful Dead, Quick Silver Messenger Service, Love, and Country Joe and the Fish shared the bill with out-of-town groups like Jimi Hendrix, The Who, The Doors, Pink Floyd, Cream, and the Electric Flag. Even the Velvet Underground and Nico appeared with Andy Warhol and his Exploding Plastic Inevitable psychedelic extravaganza, one of Warhol‘s few outings outside of New York City. Graham liked to mix up his shows would book older rockers as well as blues and jazz musicians like Lightnin’ Hopkins, James Cotton, Miles Davis, and Chuck Berry on the same bill with the young, white hippie bands, making for some of the most innovative and eccentric concert lineups in history.
Graham was fearless in business and life. He took a lot of grief from leftist hippies who wanted his concerts to be free of charge, and Graham got into many young radicals’ faces, telling them where to get off. He would go toe to toe against misbehaving members of the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club. Even though Graham had set up a security team, he would often personally throw out individuals who snuck into the venue without paying. At the same time, he hired the local hippies to run his events, giving jobs to long-haired, bead-wearing young people when having long hair was an oddity.
Graham gave a teenage Carlos Santana a job at the Fillmore after he caught him trying to get into his second floor office from the outside. Graham was so impressed with the future guitar legend’s determination to see the show that he hired him to work there.
In 1968, Graham’s entertainment empire opened the short-lived Fillmore East, a venue in his native New York City and he got exclusive booking rights to the 5,400 seat Winterland Arena and the 10,000+ capacity Cow Palace in San Francisco. In 1972, Graham promoted the west coast portion of the Rolling Stones’ world tour. He also managed Bob Dylan’s comeback tour with The Band in 1973.
After closing his venues in the early 1970s, Graham took a long vacation in Greece. When he returned, Graham was firing on all cylinders, putting into place a grand plan that would change the way that rock concerts were done and basically give Graham’s company, Bill Graham Presents monopolistic rights to most rock music events on the west coast. Putting bands in large venues like parks, sports stadiums, and arenas raised the price of tickets and added to the gross excessiveness of the drug-fueled musicians of the modern era of rock. Gone were the hippies running the door and providing security, as professional security guards were installed and different levels of backstage access were provided in laminated cards. Graham got his hand into marketing the groups that he represented, selling t-shirts and posters in the venues that his shows were booked at. By the 1980’s, Bill Graham had controlled of every aspect of concert promotions, from tickets to venues. He was taking in money by the truckload.
Graham did so well that he gave up the day-to-day operation of Bill Graham Presents and concentrated on benefit concerts for the many causes that he believed in. Over the years, Graham raised millions of dollars for charity and unfortunately, his benevolence caused his death.
On October 25, 1991, Graham wanted to personally ask the band Huey Lewis and the News to perform for a benefit for the victims of the recent Oakland firestorm that left thousands of people from Oakland and Berkeley burned out of their homes. The group was performing at the Graham-controlled Concord Pavilion in Contra Costa County, about twenty-five miles east, as the crow flies from Graham’s Corte Madera home in Marin County.
Although there was a nasty storm hitting the San Francisco Bay area, Graham had helicopter pilot Steve Kahn take him and his girlfriend Melissa Gold across the bay and over to Concord to get Lewis to sign onto the benefit. After securing Lewis for the show, Graham and Gold jumped back into the Bell Jet Ranger helicopter and took off for Corte Madera . Somehow the helicopter strayed off course, flying low over the tidal marshland north of San Pablo Bay and crashing into a two-hundred-foot-tall high-voltage electrical tower. The helicopter burst into flames on impact, killing all three aboard and making lights flicker all over the San Francisco Bay Metropolitan Area. The charred remains of the helicopter hung grotesquely in the power lines for more than a day.
The Concord Pavilion has changed names a half dozen times since Bill Graham’s tragic death and ownership of Bill Graham Presents changes hands like Monopoly property, but the sign still reads, Bill Graham Presents. Not bad for a Jewish orphan who escaped the Nazis.
She will always be known as Buffy, the pigtailed blond girl who was eight years old for five seasons on the 1960’s hit CBS television show, Family Affair. The show starred Brian Keith as Uncle Bill, a wealthy New York City bachelor who adopts his brother’s three children after he and their mother die (how they died is forever a mystery). Distinguished British actor Sebastian Cabot played Uncle Bill’s “gentleman‘s gentleman,” Mr. French. The show revolved around the resulting hilarity as the three children, teenage Sissy and twins Jody and Buffy tried to adapt to a new lifestyle with two men that they barely knew.
Family Affair was a bone fide hit, placing fourteenth in the ratings in 1966-`967, its first year on the air. In the 1967-1968 season it tied with The Dean Martin Show at number four. The next year Family Affair tied for fifth place with the long-running westerns Gunsmoke and Bonanza. Season five came in at number five, but by the 1970-1971 season it failed to rate at all and the show was dropped by CBS.
The show was produced by Don Fedderson, who was famous around Hollywood for his torturous production schedules, usually working his non-star actors six days a week, all year long. Fedderson, who also produced another hit show for CBS, My Three Sons, offered Brian Keith as well as My Three Sons star Fred McMurray an easier production schedule than he laid on his co-stars. All the scenes with Keith or McMurray were filmed in two thirty-day blocks, so the two stars could be available for film work. This schedule meant that everyone else on the program had to film their scenes out of sync with the actual show that they were working on. Any frame that Keith wasn’t in was filmed later.
In her role as Buffy, Anissa was a sickeningly sweet little girl who constantly carried, and talked to, an large, ugly, eyeglass-wearing doll called Mrs. Beasley that resembled an old-fashioned schoolmarm. The doll was mass-produced and sold millions. So stiff was Fedderson’s style that Buffy never aged in the five years that the program was broadcast. Nor did her hairstyle or clothing change—blond pig-tails that stuck out of the side of her head and out-of-fashion Little Bo-Peep dresses.
As Jones matured into a teenager, Fedderson had his wardrobe people cover her breasts with bindings to make her appear eight years old. To add insult to injury, Jones’ mother Mary, an aggressive stage mother, and Fedderson kept Alissa busy with public
appearances to sell the various merchandise with her and Mrs. Beasley’s images on them, long after Anissa hit puberty. She was forced to carry around Mrs. Beasley and act like an eight-year old when she was thirteen.
When CBS cancelled Family Affair in 1971, Jones was happy that it was over. She rejected most acting roles that came her way and tried to be a normal teenager. Anissa and her younger brother Paul, who were always inseparable, were pawns in their parents divorce until their father John was finally awarded full custody in 1973, only to die shortly afterwards from a heart condition. The two teenagers were forced to moved in with their mother in Playa del Ray.
A rebellious teen, tired of working a grueling schedule under hot lights, Jones wanted to go to a regular school and hang out with people her own age. Mary got Anissa tossed in to Juvenile Detention for staying away from home for days at a time and failing school grades.
Anissa got a job at a Winchell’s Donut Shop in Playa del Ray, something that must have deeply embarrassed her mother. Hanging out with the stoner beach crowd, Anissa started to drink alcohol and smoke marijuana, waiting patiently for her eighteenth birthday when
she would get $70,000 from a trust fund and $107,800 worth of U.S. Savings Bonds. She and Paul didn’t waste a minute leaving their mother’s home and rented a nearby apartment.
Always putting her brother first, Anissa bought him a brand-new and fully accessorized Camaro while buying a brand new Ford Pinto for herself. Together the siblings took the drug usage up a notch when they started snorting cocaine and Angel Dust and eating an assortment of downers. Alcohol and weed were always around, and their apartment quickly became known as a 24-hour party house.
On August 28, 1976, just over five months after receiving her trust fund money, Anissa Jones was found dead in a friend’s house in Oceanside. Clad in only boxer shorts, Jones had overdosed on Quaaludes, Secobarbital, cocaine, and Angel Dust. When her friends back in Playa del Ray found out that she had died, they broke into her apartment and stole everything of value.
It was rumored that her stomach was a mass of coagulated medication. Whatever the truth, San Diego Coroner Robert Creason put it bluntly, “Mary Anissa Jones’ death was one of the most severe cases of drug overdose ever seen in San Diego County.”
Keeping in family tradition, Paul Jones died of an overdose in 1984. The apple cheeked little girl who never aged in 138 episodes of Family Affair would forever be eight years old.
Twenty-nine year old gardener August Norry had no idea what was in store for him when he was dumping yard waste in the San Bruno Mountains , just south of San Francisco, on a breezy and warm Sunday. Norry, a Korean War veteran who was wounded in action, had taken his G.I. Bill money and gone to school for landscape architecture. He worked full time as a landscaper at the Lake Merced Country Club and took care of the grounds at a chemical plant in San Leandro on Sundays. Married only eighteen months and with a baby on the way, the handsome Norry was trying to make as much money as possible to support his family. Unfortunately for Norry, there isn’t enough money in the world that will stop determined killers from carrying out their actions.
Norry’s bullet-ridden and bloody car was found at the end of a lover’s lane on Christmas Tree Hill about 10:00 p.m. that night. A young boy told police that he had seen a young blonde woman driving the car recklessly around 4:30 p.m. The police found Norry’s bullet-ridden body in the San Bruno Hills the next day.
Forensic evidence showed that Norry was shot while sitting in the driver’s seat of his car. Blood on the inside of the door proved that the car’s door was open when he was shot. He was then shot some more through the passenger side window. The car was then driven fifty yards off the road, through a barbed wire fence where Norry was unceremoniously dumped, face up on the ground, where he was again shot multiple times. In all there were eighteen bullet holes in Norry, fourteen of them went completely through his body. He was shot three times in the head, three times in the neck, three times in the chest, twice in the stomach, and the rest were in his limbs.
Police were stunned by the overkill. They immediately believed that it was a crime of passion with the sighting of the blonde-haired woman driving Norry’s car. They had made up their minds before the body was hauled away.
Norry’s twenty year old wife Darlene was mercilessly questioned by Daly City and San Mateo County Police, and the home that she shared with August was crudely searched. Norry’s co-workers at the Lake Merced Country Club told the police that they were pretty sure that he had another relationship with a person other than his wife. Norry was a charming and handsome man. Before he was in the Army, he had been a minor-league baseball player and a Arthur Murray dance instructor. Norry’s family and his in-laws were at a loss as to why anyone would want to murder August. No matter how much the detectives probed, they could not find any proof of the Norry’s having any marital problems.
Besides the boy who saw the car drive wildly by, the only other clues that the police had were a cheap blood-spattered rhinestone necklace and the unusual bullets used for the murder. They were .38 caliber blunt-nosed wad cutters mostly used for target practice, and popular with firearm enthusiasts who reload their own bullets..
The police were stumbling into dead ends with the investigation. A man reported that he had seen a young blonde woman with a bulldog walking toward Norry about 11:00 a.m. on the day of the murder. This and every other lead went nowhere. The police detectives hassled Norry’s relatives, friends, and co-workers hoping to find a clue, but the only thing that they found out was that August Norry was an average, friendly, hard-working family man with few close friends. Norry’s brother was even a San Francisco police officer.
Two and a half months went by as San Mateo Sheriffs Department detectives Milt Minehan and Willam Ridenour tracked down the manufacture of the bullet mold to a New Jersey company, of which 10,000 were sold, and narrowed it down to Bay Area purchasers. Then one by one, Minehan and Ridenour checked out each owner, often taking samples of the gun enthusiast’s bullet lead to analyze and compare with the bullets taken from the crime scene.
Eventually Inspectors Minehan and Ridenour questioned twenty-three year old Daly City mechanic Lawrence Schultze about his reloading practices. After taking samples of Schultze’s bullet lead and comparing it against the Norry bullets, they came up with a match.
On April 14, 1959, Minehan and Ridenour confronted Schultze with the evidence; he confessed that he had indeed made the bullets and loaded them into a live cartridge. Then Schultze went further. He told the detectives that he had sold a box of fifty wad-cutter bullets to his eighteen year old blonde-haired friend, Rosemarie “Penny” Bjorkland of Daly City.
Schultze also told the detectives that he personally went with Penny, along with his girlfriend, who was Penny’s best friend, to San Bruno Mountain, near where Norry was murdered to test fire the rounds.
The next day the police were waiting at the Bjorkland home, just three south blocks from the San Francisco city limits, for Penny to come home from work. The police were surprised at the normal working-class family that the murderer lived with. Penny’s parents and her three brothers had no idea what the police wanted with Penny.
Detectives Minehan and Ridenour were stunned when they greeted Penny as she arrived home from work. Penny was an attractive, full-figured, freckled-faced woman of eighteen. She wore her strawberry-blonde hair in the pony tail and wore ruby red lipstick that offset her blue eyes. She wasn’t surprised that the police were at her home and she gave them permission to search her room, where the detectives found newspaper clippings of the Norry murder.
Bjorkland was taken to the San Mateo Sheriff’s Department where for hours she remained tight-lipped while being questioned. Nobody knows, in those pre-Miranda Rights days, what the police did to coerce her, but Penny confessed at 5:40 in the morning. A few hours later Penny was driven to the scene of the crime.
The newspapers reported that Bjorkland had giggled while acting out her crime for the assembled police and journalists. It is more likely that the fashionably dressed, gum-chewing teenager was just being a nervous teenager, but the story was a newspaper goldmine and the media ran with it. The story had everything. A sexually charged, gum-chewing, knife-carrying, pony-tailed, freckle-faced, blonde-haired teenager, who could have been your daughter, sister, or niece, and she shoots almost twenty bullets into a random person without remorse, as if she were an Albert Camus character. Parents suddenly took notice of their teenagers and a few probably slept with one eye opened.
Penny made a emotionless and detailed confession. In it she stated that she had had the overwhelming, almost sexual urge to kill someone for several years.
“I felt better mentally,” said Bjorkland. “Like it was a great burden lifted off of me. I have no bad memories about it. I always wanted to see if I could do something like this and not have it bother me.”
The police were so dumbfounded by Bjorkland. She was a polite, honest, and completely normal girl. Her existentialist attitude was something that they had never experienced in a person so young. Penny confessed so quickly that she wanted to plead guilty before she even had an attorney, but District Attorney Keith C. Sorenson would not allow it.
Bjorkland, impassively and rationally told the police, courts, and the press that she had stolen the revolver from a boyfriend’s parents home in December with plans on using it to murder someone. She explained to the police that she had met Norry once before on when she was on a walk on the Crocker Estate. Norry was emptying yard waste along the road and they had struck up a conversation. They went to a drive-in burger restaurant in nearby San Francisco for lunch. She didn’t know that Norry was married until she read it in the newspapers, but that didn’t matter because Bjorkland had no romantic interest in Norry and her only repentance about the crime was that she felt bad for Mrs. Norry.
Bjorkland had bumped into Norry by chance on the day that she killed him. According to her testimony, Bjorkland was walking on the mountain when Norry drove by and offered her a ride. While riding in Norry’s car, she fired a wild shot out the window into the woods.
Once they stopped, they talked casually for a few minutes until Penny pulled out the gun and shot Norry several times. She got out of the car, opened the driver’s door and shot Norry until the gun clicked on empty rounds. Bjorkland reloaded the gun, shoved Norry onto the passenger side and drove the car off the road, through a wire fence. Pulling Norry’s lifeless body out of the car and onto the sun-baked scrub brush that dots the hills, she emptied the revolver into the unmoving father to be. Reloading the six-shot revolver, Bjorkland again fired six more bullets into the very dead body of August Norry.
“Suddenly,” explained Bjorkland, “I had the overpowering urge to shoot him. I kept shooting, emptying my gun and reloading. That was the only reason. There was no other.”
She drove away in Norry’s car, ditched it, and went home to have dinner with her family. The next day, Bjorkland dumped the pistol and unused bullets down a storm drain at the corner of Camellia and Castle Manor in San Francisco.
Penny Bjorkland told her story and stuck to it.
Bjorkland described herself as a normal, average girl, but her co-workers described her as a knife-carrying lone wolf who ate her lunch by herself at her job at Periodical Publishers Service Bureau in San Francisco.
Bjorkland wouldn’t talk to mental health specialists or a priest. She never cried or shown any emotion while incarcerated or in front of the judge. She told police matron Maxine Stooksbury that she hated her parents because they made her go to church.
Bjorkland’s parents scrambled to find an attorney to represent their daughter. They were willing to mortgage their home to pay for legal fees. When Penny found out about her parent’s anguish, she replied coldly. “They had nothing to do with it. I guess this does affect them, but that’s not my concern.”
Joseph Murray, the attorney that the heartbroken Bjorkland’s hired was dumbfounded by Penny’s detached demeanor and unwillingness to change her story to help herself. Murray tried the usual juristic tricks to save his client, but Penny would have nothing to do with them, or with him. A dozen psychologists, including experts in experimental fields of psychology from Bay Area universities, were called in by both sides and had generally agreed that there nothing psychologically wrong with Penny Bjorkland.
On July 20, 1959, Rosemarie “Penny” Bjorkland pled guilty to Second Degree Murder and threw herself on the mercy of the court. South San Francisco Municipal Judge Charles Becker sentenced Penny to life in prison, but made her eligible for parole in seven years.
Darlene Norry gave birth to daughter Cynthia on September 17, 1959. The widow was so upset with the intrusive visits from the police that she had gone to stay with an aunt in Santa Rosa to finish out her pregnancy. She didn’t know about Bjorkman’s arrest until she was informed by a relative and was stunned that she and her family were still being relentlessly and rudely interrogated by various law enforcement agencies when they were already onto Bjorkland.
“They were around to insult me just before the caught her,” exclaimed a rightfully angry Darlene Norry. “That is the reason I had to get away for a while.”
There is no record of when Penny Bjorkland was released from the California State Prison for Women at Corona, but it is believed that she was paroled in the mid 1960’s.
Cynthia Norry would have been in grade school by then and never knew her father.
“This shit won’t even get me high.” Those were the last words of Bob “The Bear” Hite, lead singer of the blues/boogie band Canned Heat. Best known for their entrancing single “On the Road Again” Hite was a huge, gregarious man—hence his nickname—and like most musicians from the sixties and seventies, he had a penchant for booze, drugs and wild living.Hite was born on February 26, 1943, in Torrance , California . His father was a radio sportscaster and the family moved about the country during his elementary school years. Back in California in his teens, Hite made a deal with a guy who changed the records in jukeboxes each week to sell him all the 78 rpm records that he was taking out of rotation for one dollar. This was the start of Hite’s giant record collection, which at his death was one of the biggest collections of 78 rpm blues records in the world.
After high school, Hite worked at Rancho Music, a record store in West Los Angeles, where he met guitarist Henry Vestine and guitarist/harmonica player Alan Wilson. Together they formed Canned Heat with Hite on vocals. As deeply into the blues as any of their contemporaries, like the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Hite piloted Canned Heat into an quintessential party band. Their performance at Woodstock was so legendary that their cover of the Son House song “Going Up The Country” turned into the unofficial song of the three-day festival of peace. Canned Heat also performed at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, as well as hundreds of other music festivals around the world.
Hite’s great achievement was producing and playing on the landmark 1970 album, “Hooker ’n Heat.” Teaming the hippie blues band with the then 53-year-old bluesman John Lee Hooker was a boon to everyone’s career; sadly it was the last project that Alan Wilson was involved in before he died of a drug overdose on September 3, 1970. Wilson was found in a sleeping bag on a hill behind Hite’s Topanga Canyon home, although it appeared that persons unknown had brought him there after he had died.
After Wilson ’s death, Hite’s personality changed. He became “Bear Hite,” the unstoppable, yet loveable, party animal. Fun-loving to a fault, Hite would party with fans after the shows at the slightest suggestion. He would snort the most cocaine, take the most LSD, smoke the biggest joint, and eat more speed and downers, and drink more booze that anyone in whatever room that he was in at the time, His appreciative admirers would give Hite massive amounts of free drugs and, like other talented artists before and after him, drugs got the best of Hite.
For eleven years Canned Heat chugged along the touring circuit, playing mostly in outlaw biker bars, especially in Australia. There were drug busts, which caused problems whenever they tried to cross an international border, and a revolving door of personal changes on guitar and bass.
On April 5, 1981, Canned Heat was playing a show at The Palomino Club in North Hollywood . The Palomino Club was run by brothers Tommy and Billy Thomas and was the place in L.A. for country and blues bands to play.
Over the years notable musicians like Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Lefty Frizzell and hundreds of other like-minded musicians performed on the stage of The Palomino Club. Notorious for its lack backstage security, dozens of well-wishers were in Canned Heat’s dressing room when someone offered Hite a vial of white powder. Thinking that it was cocaine, Hite stuck the vial up his nose to a collective gasp.
“This shit won’t even get me high,” chuckled Hite as he inhaled the vial’s entire contents. Hite immediately turned as blue as a Smurf and fell, all three hundred plus pounds of him, like a tree. Panic ensued backstage and well-meaning fans fed Hite cocaine, holding a straw to his nose with Hite impulsively lifting his head to snort the drugs off a mirror. An ambulance was called and Bob “The Bear” Hite died of a heart attack brought on by a combination overdose of heroin and cocaine. He was thirty-six years old.