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Paul V. Coates--Confidential File

September 20, 2007 |  3:34 pm

Sept. 19, 1957

Paul_coates Never underestimate the power of little old ladies.

I did, two days ago.

I accused a frail, grandmotherly type, born circa 1887, of pulling an amusing little con game to gain herself a free meal or a few bucks pocket change.

She answered classified ads--I pointed out--representing herself as a wealthy, slightly eccentric old dame. Promising to buy $1,000 pieces of furniture or invest a fast ten grand in some business venture, she would then commence to wangle a free dinner invitation or "suddenly" discover she'd lost her change purse and "borrow" an easy five or ten bucks from the unsuspecting advertiser.

In Tuesday's column I mentioned a visit by Granny to the home of interior decorator Barney Feldman.

She promised to purchase a $1,000 antique bed which he had advertised. She was a windy old bag, jabbering at Feldman for more than two hours before squeezing a few bills out of him with the "lost purse" routine.

But by stating that such con was Granny's forte, I feel that I've done her a great injustice.

Granny's game, obviously, is for much bigger stakes.

To put it in scientific police terms, she's a joint-caser.

She cases burglary jobs, finds out when homeowners will be away and then sends her boys in to clean out the place.

Following Tuesday's column, I received five calls from persons who had fallen prey to the old lady's cunning.

All reported striking similarities in her modus operandi.

And three of the five reported their homes burglarized shortly after her visit.

The MO similarities were near-unanimous on these points:

She answers antique ads as a specialty and knows a genuine Chippendale when she sees one.

She says she's been in town only a few days.

She says she's from the Seal Beach or Long Beach area, and has property on the desert.

She asks to bring a sister around to approve her purchase, inquiring casually as to when the seller will be home.

Granny's racket is many years older than she herself is, but like Grandpa used to tell me:

"It takes old folks to get the most miles out of old horses."


From a woman in Ontario, in the Pomona Valley, comes a postscript on nomads Robert and Marjorie Wyatt and their five children.

Two weeks ago, the plight of the hungry and homeless family stirred much sympathy in our city.

The Ontario woman writes:

"A few days ago, on returning from Covina on the freeway, we picked up the hitchhiking Wyatt family.

"We brought them home, fed them and gave them some clothing. Then we fixed them a place to sleep.

"The children were dirty as pigs and permitted by their parents to do whatever they pleased, no matter what they destroyed or whom they hurt.

"I had to feel sorry for them, though. The oldest girl would have loved an opportunity to go to school.

"A friend of ours secured a job for Mr. Wyatt in the grape vineyards, but apparently he'd rather bum food and clothing for his family.

"Because, immediately afterward, they hit the road again.

"My husband is a disabled World War II veteran. We receive state aid for our four children as his pension check is less than $200 a month and he is unable to work.

"But honestly, we try to take care of our children and give them a good home and send them to school. Things have looked pretty black sometimes but we've always managed to keep our family together and in one place.

"It hurts me to see people like the Wyatts doing what they are. Isn't there a law that can take the children away from them?

"I hope this letter doesn't sound bitter."

[Postscript: I missed Coates' initial column and wasn't able to post the original stories on the nomadic Wyatts, who were in the news after Robert Wyatt pointed a gun at someone who criticized him for keeping his five children on leashes. And, yes, that sounds like the rambling Brink family described in the 1947project.]