The Daily Mirror

Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

Category: April 22, 2007 - April 28, 2007

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April 28, 1957
Los Angeles

A boy (and how anyone knows it was a boy is never explained) came across a stalled car on the Southern Pacific right of way near Valley Boulevard and Boca Avenue in Alhambra.  He  ran along the tracks to Farnsworth Avenue and flagged down the oncoming Sunset Limited, The Times says. 

The boy's actions saved the life of the driver, William Frasie McKeehan, 21, who was booked at the City Jail for being drunk.



Rather like the Lone Ranger, the boy left before giving police his name. As for McKeehan, he died Aug. 20, 1989, at the age of 53, 22 more years than he would have had if  he hadn't been  spared that night.  Let's hope he made use of them.

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A shot in the dark



April 28, 1957
Los Angeles

Let's park here and sit in the car for a minute. It's late, sometime between 11 p.m. on Jan. 3 and dawn on Jan. 4, 1957. The lights are on as if someone's home. Hear the music? That's the record player. Let me warn you before we go in that none of this will make any sense at all. Just a dumb little murder.

1957_0429_smasonMany streets in Alhambra are named for trees, like Poplar, Birch and this one: South Elm. There's a pair of these little, boxy duplexes, both 3 years old, that look like they were built at the same time by the same developer. In the picture above, 513 S. Elm St. is the front unit of the first duplex, and 517 S. Elm St. is the front unit of the second duplex. The matching duplex on the end, 521 S. Elm St., was built in 1958. The Times says she was murdered around the back in 515.

OK, come on in. Keep your hands in your pockets and don't move anything. Someone has already rummaged around.

That's her sitting in the hallway, leaning against the wall next to the telephone. Notice that it's off the hook. Her name is Susan Miller Mason. She's 28 and worked in Alhambra as a receptionist in the office of Dr. H. Lee Berry, a physician and surgeon. Her husband is named Raymond and he's a lineman. He's 30. I don't think they have any kids.

She's got a couple old injection marks on her butt and one that's fresh, which is from the shot that killed her. The medical examiner will call it acute morphine poisoning and says that based on the location, it's almost impossible that she gave herself the injection. She had asthma and the combination of morphine and asthma might have been what killed her.

About 6 p.m. on Jan. 3, she went to a doctor's office out in the Valley for a shot of cold vaccine in her left arm. When she got home, she and her husband had an argument and she threw a flowerpot and her beaded key case.  He left about 9:30  p.m., hit a few bars, spent the night in his car and went to work the next morning.

Berry, who lives at 1208 S. Garfield Ave.,  will testify that she called him about 1 a.m. and said she felt itchy all over. According to Berry, she said "Just a minute," then her voice trailed off and all he could hear was the music from the record player. He figured she was drunk again.

According to The Times, he says that because her phone was off the hook, he couldn't break the connection, so he had to go across the street to a hospital and call one of her neighbors to check on her. The Mirror says that Berry got a busy signal because her phone was off the hook so he went across the street to use a phone.

Either way, Mrs. Lena Talercio, 519 S. Elm, will say that Berry called at 1:15 a.m. and asked her go over to Mason's home. Talercio will say the lights were on and music was playing but Mason wouldn't come to the door.

1957_0429_hlberry In a few hours, according to The Times, Berry is going to call the Alhambra Police Department to check on Mason because she hasn't shown up for work, and Detectives Edmund Chappell and Carl Hoffman will come out to investigate. The Mirror, meanwhile, says Mason hadn't shown up at work for two weeks.

I warned you it was complicated.

The medical examiner will say Mason died about 11 p.m.--flat on her back.  That means someone came along and propped her against the wall. Notice there's no sign of the flowerpot or the key case. They're missing. And there's no hypodermic needle anywhere. If she gave herself the shot, there should be a syringe someplace.

About 1:50 a.m. this morning, Jack Case, 517 S. Elm, will hear a man say: "Susie! Susie! Let me in!" And a woman is going to say: "Be quiet or you'll wake the neighbors."  The record player is going to keep going until about 4:30 a.m., when someone will turn it down, according to Case.

At the inquest, Berry will say he had been treating her for about six or eight weeks and had given her several shots in the buttocks, but hadn't kept any records.  He will say that he bought 10 syringes of morphine from two Arizona men two years ago and turned over six of them to his attorney. He says he used two on an injured horse. He will claim that he asked Mason to clean out his medical bag a couple weeks ago and that when she was done, the two remaining morphine syringes were missing.

According to the April 28, 1957, edition of The Times, Mason was a hypochondriac and often hired a cabdriver to take her to doctors' offices all over Los Angeles, including the Valley, Pasadena, West Los  Angeles and Beverly Hills.

Berry's housekeeper, Elsie Otto, an immigrant from Brazil, is also going to testify. Otto will say that at the time of the murder, Berry's wife was out of town with one of their four children. She'll say that Berry went to his office for 10 minutes between 6:30 p.m. and 7 p.m., got a phone call from Mrs. Berry about 10:30 p.m. and went to bed about 11 p.m.

Mason's husband is going to testify that after police left, he found the missing flowerpot behind the garage and his wife's key case in a kitchen drawer, although the detectives are certain neither of those items was there when they searched the house. The police will give him a polygraph test and he'll come back clean.

Notice that Berry's housekeeper hasn't said anything about a 1 a.m. phone call from Mason. Notice that we don't find out why Berry had Talercio's phone number. Maybe none of it came up at the inquest. Maybe The Times didn't think any of it was important. Notice that Berry had a neighbor check on Mason and that he called the police, who found the body. He could have gone over to the house either time. It's only three miles away. Notice that Berry's housekeeper is a Brazilian immigrant.   Just speculating, mind you, but if she weren't here legally she might be reluctant to rat out her boss.

Berry will also refuse to sign the death certificate, although we don't know why. 

All we we know for sure is that somebody moved her after she died. And we know none of the stories add up.

According to the Medical Board of California, Herbert Lee Berry graduated from the University of Maryland Medical School in 1943. He died in 1997.

We better get going. The police will be here soon.

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Head hunters


April 27, 1957
Los Angeles

  I have somehow managed to miss out on coverage of the "Headdress Ball" staged every year by Las Floristas in which women wear the equivalent of Rose Parade floats on their heads in a fundraiser for children's charities.

Here's how they looked in 1957 in the newly renovated Cocoanut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel.



Above, Times society columnist Christy Fox, left, has a demure tiara while serving as TV announcer while Mrs. John M. Foley Jr. (recall that in the 1950s, married women had no first names), center, wears  "Love Is Crown Jewel" and Mrs. James Powell displays "The Imperial Jewel."



And yes, they're still being given. Here's the link to coverage of this year's event.

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April 27, 1957
Los Angeles

1957_0427c_2 Although the term "drive-by shooting" didn't appear in The Times until two decades later, what happened near 107th Street and Juniper has all the tragic characteristics that are so familiar today.

The victim was Fred Gallegos, 16, 10221 S. Broadway, whom The Times called a member of the "Quarters Gang" or "Little Quarters Gang," although Gallegos told police he was not a gang member.

The driver was Gilbert Rivera, 17, 8129 Santa Fe. Ave., a member of the "Florence Gang." His passengers were Richard Juliana, 16, 8021 Croesus Ave., and Henry Rodriguez, 18, 8127 Lou Dillon St. Police recovered two .22-caliber rifles at Rodriguez's house and two zip guns and some Molotov cocktails at Juliana's house.

According to police, Rivera's car circled the block before shots were fired into a crowd gathered at a traffic accident. Gallegos was hit in the abdomen and was taken to the Georgia Street Receiving Hospital, then transferred to what is now Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center.

Achiello Ernest Lopez, 18, 127 E. 85th St., chased Rivera's car and got the license plate number, even though three shots were fired at him, police said.

Soon after, teenagers in a car fired shots at another auto as they went west on 66th Street between Avalon Boulevard and San Pedro Street., The Times said. (A neat trick since 66th doesn't connect to San Pedro).  One bullet hit the auto of Henry R. Elias, 19, 8125 Marbrisa Ave., who told police he was not a gang member.

Police arrested Valentino Renteria, 3280 Compton Ave.,  Henry A. Mangaser,  17,  8620 1/2  Makee Ave.,  and Joe Louis Martinez,  17,  1408  E. 59th.  and  found a shotgun and a .22-caliber rifle in the car.

Unfortunately, The Times never followed up on this story. But the violence continued. On Sept. 1, 1957, members of the "Little Quarters" standing outside 10216 Lou Dillon St. fired at a passing car in the mistaken belief that it was carrying rival gang members. They killed Emily Guzman, 18, 3238 E. 120th St., another Quarters member.


Again, The Times didn't follow up on the story.

The next year, Florence Gang member Richard Vasquez, 17, 243 E. 119th St., was shot to death as he sat at the bus stop at 119th and San Pedro streets after he threw a bottle at a car driven by George Guerena, 244 W. 61st., a Quarters member.

And again, The Times didn't follow up on the story.

On May 12, 1959, two members of the Peewees set of the Florence Gang were shot by Quarters members near 8315 Maie Ave. The Times identified the victims as Victor Maza, 16, 347 E. 84th St., who was hit in the chest while walking along the streetcar tracks, and  Raymond Velasquez,  16,  2040  E. 76th St.,  who was  struck in the arm.

And no, The Times didn't follow up on the story.

First use of "vato loco" in The Times: 1974.

First use of the gang term "home boy" in The Times: 1975.

First use of "drive-by shooting" in The Times: 1977.

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He was no Cupid


April 26, 1957
Los Angeles

Albert Duarte, 20, was tired of hearing the noise made by the wrecking crews day after day as they demolished a building at 1st and Hope streets.

So he got a 5-foot bow and shot an arrow at them.

Charles Ousley, 25, of 11610 S. San Pedro told police he was standing in the bed of a dump truck when the arrow whistled past him.


The foreman of the crew, John Trott, 30, of 1215 S. Server Ave., in Montebello, looked up at the apartment building and saw a figure in the window at 700 W. 1st St. "This work is dangerous enough without somebody shooting arrows at my men," he said.

Duarte had fled by the time police arrived. But they confiscated his bow and arrows, The Times said.

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Not on Netflix


               Note: Plot summaries are based on a variety of sources since it's difficult to find viewing copies of these cinematic gems from 1957.

  • "China Gate." Bad things happen in Viet-Nam when an American soldier (Gene "The Girls of Pleasure Island" Barry) is repelled by the appearance of the son born to him and his Eurasian wife (Angie "Tension at Table Rock" Dickinson--no kidding) only to be reunited with her as she guides his group of French  Legionnaires on a mission to  destroy a Red Chinese ammunition dump.  Look for Nat "King" Cole and Lee Van Cleef.  Oh, and she gets blown up. Oops. A Sam Fuller film.
  • "Dragstrip Girl." Bad things happen when a wealthy young man and a poor but honest youth compete for the attentions of a local beauty. Look for Frank "Twilight of the Ice Nymphs" Gorshin.
  • "Guns of Fort Petticoat." Bad things happen when a Texan in the Union Army (Audie "No Name on the Bullet" Murphy)  goes AWOL and discovers a group of women back home who are left defenseless against Indian attacks. Look for  Hope "Thieves' Highway" Emerson.
  • "The Man Who Turned to Stone." Bad things happen as mad scientists electrocute young women to stay alive hundreds of years. Look for Victor "Cat-Women of the Moon" Jory.
  • "Pharaoh's Curse." Bad things happen with archeologists and mummies. Look for Diane "Courage of Black Beauty" Brewster and Ziva "Macumba Love" Rodann.
  • "Rock All Night." Bad things happen when criminals take over a teenage hangout called Cloud Nine. Dick "Shorty" Miller comes to the rescue. Look for Mel "Chopping Mall" Welles, the Blockbusters and the Platters. Directed by Roger Corman.
  • "Spring Reunion." Bad things happen at Carson High School's 15th reunion when hometown girl made good (Betty "Here Come the Waves" Hutton) reconnects with her old beau (Dana "Hot Rods to Hell" Andrews). Look for Irene "Beverly Hillbillies" Ryan and Jean "Panic in Year Zero" Hagen.
  • "The Strange One." Bad things happen when young scoundrel Jocko De Paris (Ben "Maneater" Gazzara) schemes his way through a Southern military college. Look for George "Groundstar Conspiracy" Peppard and Peter Mark "Girls on the Loose" Richman.
  • "Tears for Simon." Bad things happen when the child of American parents is kidnapped during a visit to London. Made as "Lost" in the UK. Look for David "Black Shield of Falworth" Farrar. (This is the movie in which Tony Curtis says: "Yonder lies the castle of my father." More or less.)
  • "War Drums." Bad things happen when a Latina (Joan "Earth vs. the Flying Saucers" Taylor) is kidnapped by an Apache warrior (Lex "Die Schlangengrube und das Pendel" Barker). 
  • "Zombies of Mora Tau." Bad things happen as the living dead go  underwater  to protect sunken  treasure from adventurers.  Look for Gregg "The Creature Walks Among Us" Palmer.

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Ella Fitzgerald, "April in Paris"

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If you build it, they will drive

As envisioned, 1957


As built, below, looking north from Slauson


As used, below, looking north from Slauson, April 22, 2007


The Harbor Freeway, below, looking south from 42nd Street, 1957. Note there are no center guardrails.


The Harbor Freeway, below, looking south from 42nd Street, April 22, 2007



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Love me, love my shotgun


April 25, 1957
Los Angeles

Charles S. Howard and his estranged wife, Rowena, have declared a truce in their war over two shotguns as they divide their property in a separate maintenance agreement.

Howard had already agreed to give his wife a $150,000 home at 133 S. Mapleton Drive in the Holmby Hills ($1,074,792.57 USD 2006) and payments of $1,900 a month. However, he complained that she kept a portrait of his father, a wealthy Buick dealer and racehorse owner; a bronze statuette of the family's prized horse Seabiscuit; a cashmere topcoat; a red bathrobe; and a 12-gauge Belgian shotgun.

His wife countered by saying that he had failed to turn over her .410 shotgun, which he had given her as a present years ago.

Judge Joseph W. Vickers called a recess in proceedings so the couple and their lawyers could talk. At the end, the Howards agreed to return each other's shotguns.

Charles S. Howard Jr. married his third wife, Louise, in Reno, Nev., May 27, 1958. He died in June 1966 at the age of 63.



Seabiscuit died May 18, 1947, at the age of 14.

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Note: Ulrich K. Quast, an auto salesman who took L. Ewing Scott and his wife, Evelyn, for a test drive along Mulholland in 1955, was probably the last person who saw her alive aside from her killer. As far as he was concerned, it was an ordinary sales call.

Page 1, "Give us your full name "


Page 2 "May 12, 1955"


Page 3, "What time did you arrive there?"


Page 4, "We went for a ride."


Page 5, "First, I drove the car."


Page 6, "They were both around."


Page 7, "The phone was disconnected."


Page 8, "He was very considerate as far as his wife was concerned."


Page 9, "No disagreement whatsoever."


Page 10, "He only referred to her as being ill."


I'd like to extend a special thanks to Sandi Gibbons of the Los Angeles County district attorney's office for granting me access to the Scott material.

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April 24, 1957
Los Angeles

Note: Bylined stories were rare in the 1940s and 1950s. Here's the handiwork of Jack Smith, doing rewrite on a celebrity brawl involving Yma Sumac and Fred Otash, former police officer, private detective and one of James Ellroy's inspirations.

1957_0424_sumac_hed2_3 By Jack Smith

Singer Yma Sumac's home yesterday was the scene of the champion brawl in fighting Hollywood's history--featuring the Peruvian beauty herself, her estranged husband, two hot-blooded Inca dancers, three private detectives, a male Peruvian harpist and a collie dog named Prince.

The head-thumping, hair-pulling Donnybrook took place in the entry hall of the Cheviot Hills home as the tension in the Sumac household finally snapped into a shrieking extravaganza with sound effects in two languages, not to mention the barking of the dog.

The spark that touched off the swirling free-for-all was the strained relationship between the exotic songbird from the Andes and her high-strung Peruvian husband, Moises Vivanco, 38, whom she sued for divorce only a week ago.

The luxurious house shook from the piercing screams from Miss Sumac's celebrated five-octave voice as clothes ripped, flesh and bone struck flesh, blood flowed and at least one 220-pound private detective hit the deck under a tangle of assorted Peruvians.

Flashbulbs and television lights bathed the colossal action in an eerie glare and photographers and reporters scrambled to the walls for points of vantage as the struggle unfolded before them like the climax of a high-budget Western.


Miss Sumac herself was credited with one of the most telling strokes of the con [text missing here--lrh]

after Miss Sumac and [private detective Fred] Otash, accompanied by one of Otash's operators, Norman Placey, 37, drove up to her home at 3065 McConnell Drive in Otash's blue Cadillac.

Miss Sumac was wearing a  long fur coat and her almond-shaped eyes with their arched eyebrows were hidden behind the dark glasses.

She went there with Otash, explaining that she wanted to pick up some of her her personal things and also to look for her 1957 Cadillac Fleetwood, which she said Vivanco had hidden from her.

Vivanco opened the door and beckoned to eight newsmen waiting outside.

"Please come in," he invited. "I want you to see this."

Miss Sumac swept regally through the large living room and into the den. There she found Farfan playing the alpa, an ancient Incan harp that stands on three legs.

Miss [Esmila] Zevallos was singing.

Farfan had arrived from Peru only yesterday morning, just in time for the festivities. He speaks no English, which turned out to be of little disadvantage in the events to follow.

Miss Sumac began questioning Zevallos about the night before--a preliminary skirmish in which, Vivanco charged, he was strong-armed and threatened with a gun by two of Otash's detectives.

Miss Sumac asked Miss Zevallos if she had seen the gun. Otash has said his men carried none. Miss Zevallos said she saw it.

Miss Sumac, said witnesses, slapped her.


Miss Zevallos called Miss Sumac a "bad woman" and the battle was engaged.

"I have work for you like a servant," cried Miss Zevallos. "Me and your cousin, Yola. You're going to throw me and your cousin out. I work for you. I washed your...your... your many things. You are bad woman!"

Otash glided in from the living room, sensing trouble, to help keep the peace.

Farfan leaped up from his harp and helped Otash--for the time being.

The action subsided temporarily.

Peace was restored. Miss Sumac and Vivanco stood at the front door to pose for pictures.

"She knows how to pose," he said gallantly. "She has many years of practicing."

"Yes," said Miss Sumac, smiling. "He taught me."

Those were the last pleasant words spoken.

Vivanco spotted Otash and brought up the incident of the night before and the gun.

Otash said his man didn't have a gun.

"If you say he didn't have a gun," cried Vivanco, his temper rising,"you are a big, fat liar!"

He exploded into Spanish and struggled back into English.

"You get out of this house!" he roared.

At this critical point,Vivanco noticed Private Detective Placey, who was standing mildly against the wall.

"There is the man," he accused, "who had the gun!"

Vivanco lunged for Placey.

Another private detective, Bill Lowe, who had been staked out across the street, looking for the missing car, slipped up behind the irate Peruvian and grabbed his arms.

Otash moved in to separate the men.

Miss Rivero grabbed Otash from behind--by the hair--and yanked downward.


Otash backed against the wall, squirming to get free from the determined Inca woman.

Miss Sumac grabbed at Vivanco. Miss Zevallos danced onto the scene and grabbed Miss Sumac.

Miss Sumac's dark glasses flew to the floor. Somebody tramped on them.

Prince, the collie, loped into the ring, threading among the struggling legs, tossing his head and barking joyously.

Miss Sumac flipped a smart backhand across Miss Zevallos' mouth.

Farfan slithered in from the den, still speaking no English. He flung his medium-sized figure at the bull-like Otash, trying to shove him through the door.

Vivanco fell into a wrought iron planter.

Then, suddenly, the storm subsided.

Hair was patted and stroked back into place by the panting gladiators. Yanked clothing was rearranged. Otash hunted on the floor for a missing coat button. Miss Rivero dabbed at blood from a gash on the back of her neck and assorted scratches on her arms.

But tempers still were on edge.

Miss Sumac slipped her mink coat down over her left shoulder and displayed a bruise the size of a dollar.

"How did I get this mark," she demanded of Miss Rivero.

Haltingly, Miss Rivero recounted an incident of Thursday night, the import of which was that Vivanco had inflicted the bruise.

Vivanco smiled scornfully.

"This is your lover's marking," he said.


About this time, a district attorney's car hove up on the curved driveway and three investigators spilled out.

In a few moments Sgt. V.A. Peterson and Det. Merle Pagh, who had investigated the incident of the night before, joined the show.

They had hardly taken charge before a patrol car raced up--somewhat belatedly--in response to an alarm that a brawl was going on.

In the resulting powwow today's meeting in Santa Monica was scheduled.

Otash later gave a stirring version of his own involvement, with comic overtones.

"This Vivanco grabbed my arm and his buddy grabbed  my coat. Vivanco took a couple of shots at me with his fists. I was afraid to hit him back. I was afraid he'd go into another world.

"Then one of the maids jumped in and started pulling my hair. The other maid came up behind me and grabbed me by the coat.

"One minute I'm up--the next I'm down.

"They were pulling me and pushing me. I was spread-eagled. I couldn't hit anybody. The whole pack of them wouldn't weigh in at more than 225 pounds.

"Miss Sumac let one of the maids have it in the mouth--backhand. I told her to be quiet and take it easy. Boy, it was a ball there for a while!"

The Monday night affair that roughened tempers for the main event of yesterday began when Miss Sumac called at the house to pick up some things. She was accompanied by two Otash operators, Placey and Henry P. Cohen. Also with her was her son by Vivanco, Charles, 8.

Vivanco said he tried to talk to the boy and the two detectives manhandled him and threatened to shoot him, one of them drawing an automatic. He later signed a complaint against the two men charging assault with intent to commit great bodily harm.


Otash scoffed at the charge, insisting "none of my men have a gun permit and none of them even own a gun." Police who were called to the house Monday night said they searched the two private detectives and their car and found no weapon.

Miss Sumac left her son without bothering to pick up any of her belongings but the detectives did accomplish something. They served Vivanco a Santa Monica Superior Court order to show cause why Miss Sumac should not retain custody of the boy, and a second paper advancing the hearing into the matter next Friday.

Troubles between Miss Sumac and Vivanco, who has been her musical director for years, began when he lost a paternity suit filed by her former secretary, Maureen Shea, 24.

Miss Shea charged that Vivanco was the father of twin girls born to her in 1954 as the result of a backstage romance carried on while Miss Sumac and her troupe were on tour. Her claim was upheld here in Superior Court last January after a three-week trial.

Otash said yesterday that he will demand his detectives and Vivanco take lie detector tests to determine the truth of their stories on Monday's incident.

"I told Vivanco he's going to get in trouble for making false crime reports," the detective said.

Before the situation boiled over into violence yesterday, Vivanco talked reminiscently of his long career with Miss Sumac, which he described as a Pygmalion and Galatea relationship.

"Yma was nothing--musically and artistically," he told reporters. "I made her. Like you make an image from clay--a puppet."

Miss Sumac was born 35 years ago in the Andean village of Ichocan. She was given her professional name by Vivanco. It is the name of a legendary daughter of an Inca ruler. Miss Sumac's voice, which is said to range over five octaves, has electrified audiences the world over.

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Ethel Merman and Perry Como


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