The Brat Wagon


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.”

Police photo of the Brat Wagon after Raymond Bennett used it to end his life

Police photo of the Brat Wagon after Raymond Bennett used it to end his life


The Ten Most Drugged Out LP’s in Rock History


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)

pink floyd meddle

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.

They don't look stoned at all.

They don’t look stoned at all.

L.A.M.F. – Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers (1977)

heartbreakers-lamf-bigGuitarist 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. 

Why, they look like nice boys.

Why, they look like nice boys.

Déjà Vu – Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (1971)

cover-csny-deja_vu1You can almost smell the marijuana coming out of your speakers.  It increases my paranoia, like lookin’ in the mirror and seeing a pole-lease car.

good try, but you guys all look stoned

good try, but you guys all look stoned

So Alone – Johnny Thunders (1978)

Johnny+Thunders+-+So+Alone+-+CD+ALBUM-339475Fresh 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.

But his mother loved him

But his mother loved him

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.

Pick out the guy who is not stoned out of his mind?

Pick out the guy who is not stoned out of his mind?

Raw Power – Iggy and the Stooges (1973)

IggyTheStooges_RawPower_300One look at the photos on the LP, will tell you almost everything.  One listen to this record, will tell you everything else.


He's got a rocket in his pocket and a monkey on his back

He’s got a rocket in his pocket and a monkey on his back

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles (1967)

beatles 5The 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.

The Beatles decide whether or not to keep the fake Paul in the band

The Beatles decide whether or not to keep the fake Paul in the band

A Wizard, A True Star – Todd Rundgren (1973)

wtsTodd 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. 

Todd is seeing double

Todd is seeing double

Exile on Main Street – the Rolling Stones (1972)

exileWhen 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.

Mick and Keef livin' the dream

Mick and Keef livin’ the dream

Junkyard – The Birthday Party (1982)

junkyardFrustrated 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.   

Play nice boys, play nice

Play nice boys, play nice

Helpful Tips for Visiting California


Driving in California

Unless it is posted otherwise, U-turns are legal 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. tweeker

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.

a Chinese traffic jam in 2013

a Chinese traffic jam in 2013

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.

San Francisco aka the City

San Francisco aka the City

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.

There are many Slavic immigrants in California._Fearless_Leader__thumb

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.

smell that fresh country air

smell that fresh country air

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.

California Fruits, Flakes, and Nuts – True Tales of California Crazies, Crackpots and Creeps preorders available now


ffn coverA 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.

The Assassination of Bugsy Siegel


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.

Siegel smiles for his mug shot in the 1920s

Siegel smiles for his mug shot in the 1920s

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.

Bugsy Siegel getting some water during a break in one of his many trials

Bugsy Siegel getting some water during a break in one of his many trials

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 quite the sharp dresser

Siegel was quite the sharp dresser

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.

Gun Moll Virginia Hill, Siegel's mistress

Gun Moll Virginia Hill, Siegel’s mistress

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.

Benjamin Siegel laying in a bloody heap in Virginia Hill's living room.

Benjamin Siegel laying in a bloody heap in Virginia Hill’s living room.

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.

Assassination in Germantown – May 5, 1878 – Germantown / Artois, Colusa County


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.

Artois is now basically an abandoned town

Artois is now basically an abandoned town

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.

Another abandoned business in Artois.

Another abandoned business in Artois.

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.”

Artois was known as Germantown, until the US got involved in WWI.  Allegedly, a trainload of soldiers rode to Germantown and beat up the locals.  The town's name was changed to Artois shortly after that

Artois was known as Germantown, until the US got involved in WWI. Allegedly, a trainload of soldiers rode to Germantown and beat up the locals. The town’s name was changed to Artois shortly after that

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.

Shootout at the Supper Club – February 15th, 1962


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.

The brave Sacramento police officer Arnold Gamble

The brave Sacramento police officer Arnold Gamble

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.

The Long and the Short of Yosemite National Park


On October 15, 1968, James T. Madsen of Seattle was climbing the Dihedral Wall on El Capitan

El Capitan is a favorite with mountain climbers...

El Capitan is a favorite with mountain climbers…

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 – America’s Forgotten Explorer


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.[1]  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.[2]

Samuel-de-Champlain was quite the dapper fellow.

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.[3]  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.[4]

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.[5]

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.[6]  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.”[7]  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.[8]

Brule preferred the native life and was known among his fellow tribal members as a ladies man.[9]  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.[10]  Champlain accused Brule and the other Frenchman of cooperating with the British and Huguenots, an act of treason.[11]

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.[12]

Sadly, the Monks that edited Champlain’s notes were not so tolerant and he is all but forgotten in history[13] 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.[14]

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.[15]

For a reason long lost in time, Brule was clubbed to death in 1632 by his own tribe, his body boil and eaten.[16]  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.[17]

Lake Huron is so vast, that the French thought that it was a fresh water ocean.

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.[18]


[1] The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – Louis H. Burbey, published by the author  – 1987 – page 2

[2] The Dawn of Time – Robert J. Foley – The Haunted Press – Niagara Falls, Ontario – 1997 – page 63


[3] The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – pages 2-4

[4] The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – page 3

[5] The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – page 14

[6] The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – page 15, 16

[7] The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – page 16

[8] The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – page 16, 17

[9] The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – page 23

[10]The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – pages 37, 84

[11]The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – page 79

[12] The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – page 47

[13] The Dawn of Time – page 64


[14] The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – page 77

[15] The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – page 76

[16] Murder Michigan – Gary W. Barfknecht – Friede Publications, Davison Michigan – 1983 – page 12

[17] The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – page 76

[18] The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – page 87

Sirhan Sirhan and the Whispering Woman in the Polka Dot Dress


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.

“They” got him, just like his brother. RFK as good as dead on a grimy kitchen floor

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.

The LAPD concluded that after x-raying the bullet-pocked pantry, it 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.

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.

Sirhan Sirhan in 2008