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Mulholland robbery

June 18, 2007 | 10:36 pm
June 19, 1957
Los Angeles

Meet Louis Spivak, a hard-luck guy if there ever was one. The whole thing started and ended with him.

Spivak, the brother of musician Charlie Spivak, had been in the joint at Folsom and transferred to San Luis Obispo in 1954. Once he got out, he came to Los Angeles and worked as a salesman at Monarch Clothing, 326 S. Broadway. He was there seven months, but got fired because as an ex-convict he couldn't get bonded. He worked briefly at Produce Dealer's Clearing House.

Then he started writing bad checks. On April 20, 1957, Spivak wrote a hot check for $397 to buy a 1951 Kaiser sedan from a Convair worker in San Diego, using a fictitious California Bank account of the Market and Produce Office, 801 S. Central Ave. The abandoned car was recovered May 10, 1957, in San Francisco and a warrant was issued for Spivak's arrest.

From there, Spivak went to Las Vegas and wrote a few bad checks, then returned to Los Angeles and wrote 10 or 12 more. Spivak said later that he drifted from one downtown hotel to another and spent his days at the racetrack.

Sometime in June, when he was living at the Bristol Hotel, 423 W. 8th St., Spivak ran into Richard M. McFall, below right, a drug addict whom he had known vaguely at Folsom. Spivak was waiting on Broadway between 3rd and 4th streets to catch a shuttle to Hollywood Park when McFall came by.

McFall, who was living at the Harvey Hotel, called the next day. Spivak had paid his rent with another hot check, so he asked McFall send a telegram to the hotel saying that a relative was sick and he needed to leave immediately.

Using a pay phone in a bar at 5353 S. Crenshaw Blvd. called the Alibi Room, McFall sent the telegram and drove over in his 1951 Chrysler to help Spivak move his belongings to the Harvey.

Mug_mcfallThe men began canvassing downtown stores where Spivak bought TV sets with fraudulent checks so McFall could sell them and get cash.

In a day or so, they met up with another ex-convict, Howard "Blackie" Nichols. They continued selling TV sets, but Spivak and McFall started arguing because Spivak thought McFall was keeping some of the money to pay for his drug habit. Spivak also bought two tires for McFall's Chrysler with another bad check.

McFall said of his 20-year addiction: "The first pop I had was in the late '30s. I have had a pretty fair habit. It's hard to measure it from the standpoint of I have used such a variety of stuff. If heroin was available I used that. And used drugstore stuff, and naturally through Utah and Montana there is no contraband drugs for sale I could find. I went to doctors and the medicine you get there is a lot stronger in prescriptions."

One day, Spivak said something that gave McFall an idea.

Spivak recalled: "We got to talking and cutting up old times as it were, from various things we had been doing. I--'What have you been doing? I haven't been doing much. Working at the clearing house' and so forth, and the bonding thing. 'Were you living anyplace?' I said no, 'I'd like to live out in Beverly Hills' and things like that."


A view of Los Angeles from outside the front gate of 13671 Mulholland Drive
Photographs by Larry Harnisch Los Angeles Times

"And we got to talking and he said: 'My family used to have a house out in Beverly Hills.' And he described it. I said, 'Gee, that's nice.' I said, 'I lived up in Beverly Hills once.' I said, 'I lived up on top of a mountain, Mulholland Drive. Beautiful view. Swimming pool and so forth. I lived at Lauritz Melchior's place. Did you ever hear of it?' He said, 'Yes. The singer?' I said, 'That's the fellow.' I said, 'I was his house guest for a couple of weeks,' and that was all."

Mug_burke Down at the Alibi Room, McFall began talking to another friend from prison, Wayne Burke, right, a man with a badly broken nose who specialized in home-invasion robberies.

Burke said he and McFall always went out to a car to talk: "He just said that 'I got a real good score, if you want to go, a house score'; and they had a good tipster on it, and told me who it was, and said there would be $50-$60,000 there, and $200,000 or $300,000 worth of jewelry and furs. But I didn't--I told him no, that I was not interested."


In the meantime, McFall, Nichols and Spivak cased the home on Mulholland.


McFall said he was up there with Spivak "quite a few times, because he had the house misplaced. He thought it was on the opposite side of the road to what it really was. The first time we went up it was nighttime, and he knew that the place was called the Viking, I believe, and finally turning a corner we saw this driveway sitting back a little bit from the road. I headed the car in there, and when we saw the name Viking, he realized that was the house."

Over a few days, McFall pestered Burke about the robbery, but Burke insisted that he wasn't interested. "Why don't you just go pull it with Spivak and leave me out of it?" he asked. McFall replied that Spivak couldn't go because the Melchiors would recognize him.

Burke recalled: "He kept saying, 'What are you going to do? Are you going to go with me on this thing?' And I said no, I didn't care about going. He said, 'What are we going to do. Gee, we have to have some money.' I said, 'I would rather be broke here on the streets than to have money and walking that big yard. I am not going to be in a big hurry.' But I said, 'Don't let that stop you; if you feel like going ahead you are welcome.' "

   And then one evening while it was still daylight, McFall took Burke up to Mulholland in his Chrysler.

Mug_395673 "You can't see it," Burke said. "There is so many trees around there. I can describe the gate and you drive in about a half-block, and you go in--I don't know whether it is the front or back. The swimming pool is on the other side of the house; that could be the front also.

"We just turned around, and come on back, and on the way back he [McFall] kept saying, 'What are you going to do? Let us get it working if we are going to do it.' That's when I told him, 'Why don't you take Spivak and do it. He knows the layout, and everything like that.' So then he says, 'Why don't you meet me tomorrow night and think it over?' and I says, 'Why don't I just introduce you to somebody and let them go with you?' He said, 'I want to go with you, but if you want to put a third man in it that's all right with me. It's better to have a third man than nothing'; so that's where J. came into the picture."

Burke picked up an Alibi Room customer, Alfred J. Pope, a.k.a. J, above, for extra muscle on the robbery.

"He didn't take me into his confidence very much," Pope said of Burke. "And one night he told me he had a deal coming up--a couple, three days before it happened--and so he wanted me to meet him at 6 o'clock Tuesday night."

Burke told Pope about McFall: " 'That's the only thing I don't like about it. The guy is a dope fiend, and that's the only thing that halts me, but if you want to go on it with him, I will introduce you to the guy.' He said, 'Well I wouldn't want to do that because I have never been on one of those kind of things, but he said, 'I will go if you go.' So then we made a meet for 8:30 and we took two cars.' "

It was Pope's job to bring the guns: A Colt .45 semiautomatic, serial No. 373177, and .38 with the serial number filed off. Pope also got some women's stockings to use as masks and a canvas rain hat. Burke, in turn, brought the gloves.


At 8 p.m. on June 18, 1957, Burke and Pope met outside the Alibi Room and talked in Pope's gray 1953 Mercury, then drove around the corner and found McFall parked down the street in his Chrysler. On the drive, they agreed that they would call each other "Joe."

"We stopped at a hamburger store," Pope said. "I don't know where it was; it was quite a ways out. We talked, you know, about everything, just talking, nothing in particular; and we decided we'd meet on top of the hill, and we did. And we drove back down the hill. And McFall, he parked his car and we got in mine."

Each man "cut about 8 inches off the top of a woman's silk stocking, tied a knot in it and pulled it down over your face," Burke said. They all wore driving gloves.

Burke told Pope where to drive along Mulholland and had him stop at 13671 Mulholland Drive so he and McFall could get out. "They told me to give them 15 minutes and the gate would be open," Pope said. He looked at his watch. It was 10:16 p.m. Pope said he waited exactly 37 minutes before the gates opened.

The plan was for Burke and McFall to get into the house and push the electric button controlling the gates so Pope could drive in.

House_driveway Burke said: "J. left us off right by the gate, and he was just agoing up to wait until the gate opens, and he was going to come in, so Murph [McFall] and myself clumb the fence and walked up the driveway, tried the door. It was locked, and we could see the people sitting inside. So then we went to the maid's door and it was open. So we went in, and we got the maid up, or the nurse or whatever she was. And took her up, and she knocked on the door, and that way they opened up the door when they seen it was her. So we went right in then."

McFall said: "Burke and I climbed over the fence and walked up the road by the side of the road to the house itself. And we knew from the map and the house plan that Spivak had drawn for us where one of the servant's rooms was. We didn't know whether it was a gardener or maid or whoever it was in there. We went in there first, and she was lying in the bed. And we asked her did she have a key to the house or if there was an entry into the house proper itself from her room. She said there wasn't.

"So I stayed in the room with the maid while Burke scouted around to see if he could find an entrance into the house. Evidently there was not because he came back in about five minutes and told the maid to put her robe on. And he walked her up to the front door and rang the bell and I stood down below the steps. In fact, I remember I thought he told me to go around, and when I started that way he called me back up and the maid  rang the bell or knocked on the door.

"Anyway, they opened the door for the maid, and when they did, Burke told whoever it was to stand still, and called me and I ran up the stairs."


Burke said: "We went in, told them to sit down, and nobody would be hurt; that it was a robbery. They were very nice, and there was no quibbling about anything. Everything was just right. So we were there about--it seemed to me like a couple hours, but probably only about 40 minutes, I guess; so then we tied them."

Pope said: "I drove on in and seen Wayne and this Melchior, the singer, walking out to this here--out in front of the car. I don't know where they was going," Pope said.

Burke motioned to Pope to cut the headlights on the car. He turned off the lights and the motor and went into the house. Everybody was lying down. McFall told Pope to stick his finger in his pocket as if he had a gun. "He said, 'You keep these people lying down,' so I stuck my finger in my pocket."

One woman asked Pope why he didn't go straight. "I told her I was 42 or something like that and it was a little late then--I was pretty high," he said.

And here the accounts get murky, with the victims' statements to police contradicting the robbers' accounts.

Witness 1 [Willa Huber, the maid] states she had laid down in her bed, in maids quarters and had just dozed off at approx. 10:30 p.m. when Suspects 1 [Burke] and 2 [McFall] came thru maids door and No. 2 held a gun on her in his right hand. No. 1 said, "This is a holdup." Witness 1 said, "How did you fellows get in here?" Suspect 1 said, "We came in when your guests left." Referring to Mr. and Mrs. Tom Knudsen and Mr. and Mrs. Marion Zobel, who had visited the Melchiors for the evening.

Suspect 1 asked for key to get into house. Witness 1 said, "I don't have a key." Suspect 1 then left and a short time later came back and told Witness 1, "You are going to have to help us get in."

Witness 1 got dressed and accompanied Suspects 1 and 2 out of her quarters and up front stairs to front door of the Melchior residence and Suspect 1 told her to ring the bell.


When Witness 2 [Charles Luescher] opened front door, Witness 1 was pushed in and Suspect 1 said: "This is a holdup." Suspect 1 forced Mrs. Melchior to lie on one couch and Witness 1 to lay on another couch. Mr. Melchior was sitting in a chair across the room watching TV. Suspect 1 came over to Victim 1 [Lauritz Melchior] and said, "Put your head down on the table."

Victim 1 said, "I can't I'm an old man."

Suspect 1 put a paper over his head. After a few moments Suspect 1 said, "Where is your safe?" Victim 1 said, "It's in the basement." Suspect 1 said, "Come on and open it for me." Suspect 1 accompanied Victim 1 to the basement where they had Safe No. 1. After opening Safe No. 1 and taking out two fur coats and a sable and leopard skin coat. Victim 1 said, "I have another safe upstairs" and Victim 1 led Suspect 1 to a wall safe on the main floor in the den. This safe contained only foreign money in small denominations.

Prior to Suspect 1 taking Victim 1 to basement he forced Victim 2 [Melchior's wife, Maria] to push button by front door to release front gate for suspect's car, probably driven by Suspect 4 [Pope]. As Victim 1 was being taken out front door to go to basement he saw suspect's car being driven up to front of house. Suspect 1 had taken off victim's glasses in the house so he could not read the license plate, but he thought that the plate was an out of state plate and was white. The car was dark either blue or green or black.

1957_0619_melchior_jewelsAfter Victim 1 had taken Suspect 1 to Safe No. 2 and suspect was dissatisfied as to what was in this safe he took Victim 1 into study where he asked for money. Victim told him he had none except some checks he was mailing out. Suspect 1 brought victim back to living room and forced him to sit in chair again.

Suspect 1 then made Victim 2 get up from couch and said, "Come on, take me to it." Victim 2 led Suspect 1 into bathroom where she handed jewelry from two different drawers and handed them to Suspect 1. Suspect 1 held gun in right hand and put jewels into left coat pocket. He filled pocket then took a dark blue sock from another drawer and put more jewels into the sock.

He then took Victim 2 back to the living room and made her lay down on couch face-down.

Suspects had conference in the living room and one of them said, "Let's go, I think we've got it all." Suspect 1 said, "No this is not all, there is still some big stuff." He then said to Victim 2,  "Come on." Victim 2 led him into study where she opened the third safe and handed out jewelry from bottom of safe. While she was handing out jewelry Suspect 2 peeked over her head and took fur coats from rack over her head.

He then brought Victim 2 back into living room and Suspect 4 brought silk stockings and ties from bedroom. Suspect 1 said to Victim 2, "You have a pistol where is it? Victim 2 led him into the master bedroom to the nightstand next to bed where Suspect 1 took revolver [actually a Browning 7.65 millimeter semiautomatic] and ammo from stand.

He then brought Victim 2 back into the living room where they started to tie victims and witnesses up. Victim 1 faked a heart attack and asked for water. Suspect 1 told Suspect 4 to get him water from kitchen. Glass was checked for poss. prints. Victim 1 continued to fake heart attack and was tied loosely by Suspect 4. Suspects then left through front door.

Victim 1 got up and hobbled into bedroom and cut his bonds with a pair of scissors. Suspects did not approach Witness 3 [Maria Melchior's mother] who was sitting in wheelchair by pool.

Pope said: "Either Wayne or Murph [McFall], I'm not sure which one; it was said, 'Tell the other party to come up and pick us up.' There wasn't another party. [Burke said it] so they would think someone else's there and I would go on down. When the car drove up they would think somebody else was waiting and the wouldn't run out there."

The men went back to McFall's car, parked at Beverly Glen and Sunset Boulevard. Everything had gone according to their plan--almost.

During the robbery, Burke's stocking mask tore, exposing his badly broken nose.

To be continued...

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