Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history
Whatever Polly Gould knew about Confidential magazine died with her.
The Times said that Gould, 46, a former "investigator" for Confidential and Whisper, had once been a columnist for Jimmy Tarantino's Hollywood Night Life magazine, a thinly disguised shakedown operation in which businesses were threatened with bad publicity if they didn't buy ads.
Ernest Wenberg, an investigator for the attorney general's office, confirmed that Gould had been called as a prosecution witness and hinted that she may have been hired to spy on Confidential's operation.
The trial was also complicated by the Aug. 12, 1957, death of a defense witness, world featherweight boxing champion Chalky Wright. A former chauffeur for Mae West, Wright apparently hit his head and drowned in a bathtub shortly before he was to testify that he received $200 for information used in a Confidential article titled "Mae West's Open-Door Policy."
West testified that Confidential's investigators got information from Wright by telling him that they were making a movie about her life and offered him a small role. "He later told me he didn't say any of the things they claim he did," West said.
Although Wright's death was apparently accidental, his former wife, Gertrude Arnold, said she had received death threats the day after being subpoenaed in the trial. Arnold, who was placed under police protection, said a gruff-voiced man called her home and warned: "Girl, if you know what's good for you, you'll clam up about this whole thing."
To be continued.
It's late afternoon and we're parked outside a 1926 bungalow at 4020 Holly Knoll Drive. Pretty soon the street will be full of police and reporters, but right now everything is quiet.
Ready? Let's go in. Keep your hands in your pockets and don't move anything. You'll see soon enough that something doesn't add up.
Notice that the front and back doors are locked. Here's our victim. Her name is Esther Greenwald and she's 52. Esther is lying face-down across the hallway with her head in a pool of blood on the bedroom floor and her feet in the bathroom. She's wearing a blue nightgown, gray housecoat and red slippers and has been strangled with the cord from her housecoat. Someone doubled it and tied a simple knot in the back. (Police say that whoever killed Marjorie Hipperson and Ruth Goldsmith used square knots). She's wearing two diamond rings.
Dr. Gerald K. Ridge, the medical examiner, says that death occurred sometime between 1:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. Margaret Chabolla, who lives behind the Greenwald home at 1950 Myra Ave., says she was reading when she heard two short, hysterical screams between 1:15 a.m. and 2 a.m.
Look at Esther's face. The police are going to say she's been so badly beaten that she could have died of head injuries while Dr. Frederick Newbarr, the other autopsy surgeon, says there are only a few bruises on her face.
The autopsy report is going to show that she "had a hemorrhage on the left temple and a wide variety of abrasions over the eyebrow and near the bridge of the nose. A groove on the right side of the nose was caused possibly by a fist with a ring." The report also says she wasn't raped.
Let's go into the bedroom. Notice that her diamond wrist watch is on the dresser and there's a fur stole in the closet. Take a look at the bed: Only one pillow has an indentation and the bed covers are only mussed up on one side.
She's married to Maurice H. Greenwald, 49. He's her second husband and works at a stationery supply warehouse. Maurice is going to be the one who finds her, somewhere between 5:55 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., depending on the newspaper account. He's going to say that Esther was in her robe when he left at 7:15 a.m. and usually didn't get dressed until noon.
Maurice's story is that he and Esther were at the airport to see off some relatives who were flying to Hawaii. They stopped somewhere for bagels and coffee, and didn't get home until 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. Interesting--Ridge says there was no solid food in her stomach. If Maurice left about 7:15 a.m., that means he got five hours' sleep, at most.
Did you notice the laundry bag near the body? The first suspect police detain will be a 61-year-old delivery driver for a laundry. He will say that Esther complained about some wrinkled pillowcases and he assumed she dropped his service. His alibi will check out to the minute.
The next suspect they will arrest is an ex-convict named Harry Schwartz. He's the brother of her former husband, a bail bondsman named Irving "Izzy" Schwartz, whom Esther married in 1928 and divorced in the 1930s. Although Harry will insist he hasn't seen Esther in years, police will say that a polygraph shows he is lying. He denies knowing anything about the killing and tells investigators to check with about 40 jewelry clients he saw on the day of the murder. Esther's friends say he was extorting money from her.
The inquest is going to decide that Maurice killed Esther. A jury will find him not guilty, but unfortunately, The Times didn't cover the trial, so we don't know what happened. Maybe the prosecution had a lousy case, maybe the jury wasn't sure, or maybe Maurice had a good attorney and didn't do it, although his story doesn't fit with the facts. I wish I knew.
Well, Maurice will be here any minute, we better get going. Maybe we should visit Esther at Beth Olam Mausoleum at Hollywood Forever Cemetery on our way back.
According to California death records, Maurice Harold Greenwald died Feb. 9, 1988.
Esther's killing remains unsolved.
Aug. 19, 1957
Here's a short-short that I think you'll like. It's a story, though no tale. The principal character is a woman. A woman of middle age, slightly plump, gray-haired, bespectacled and, up to now, of no traceable city of origin.
She is American by birth, Anglo-Saxon of race. We shall call her, for purposes of near identification, Mrs. Ethel M. Wallace.
This story--also her true story--begins at the office of the registrar, the University of Mexico Summer School, year of 1949.
It is the month of June, the month when the whole Valley of Mexico enjoys bright, lucid sunshine in the mornings, torrential but brief rains in mid-afternoon.
Mrs. Wallace enters the offices of the registrar along with 101 stateside American youngsters. She is just as eager as the rest to sign up. However, she does not seek school credits and the like. What she wants to learn is "Otomi."
Within short weeks Mrs. Wallace reads, writes and talks beautiful Spanish. The "other" Spanish--a patois sprinkled with double meanings, often salted with off-color sayings--also becomes the property of Mrs. Wallace.
Needless to say, Mom Wallace couldn't be better fitted for the role of ambassadress to Mexico of middle-aged American womanhood. In short, she is loved by bootblacks, students, professors and wild cabdrivers.
Then one day, as the Spanish class sits down to begin their linguistic pyrotechnics, they notice that the chair belonging to Mrs. Wallace is empty.
Inquires are made. The family with whom Mrs. Wallace has been rooming are at a loss to explain her disappearance. The Mexican Secret Police is alerted. A consular official goes to work on the case and he discovers that Mrs. Wallace's home address in the Midwest is as phony as wooden pesos.
Right about early September when the summer school courses begin to disband and kids can't wait to get their licks on home versions of double burgers and malts, the registrar gets a postcard from somebody buried deep in a village up the mountains of Hidalgo state.
It's written in English and signed by--I guess you know who--Mrs. Wallace. The message is very curt and says this:
"Dear Mr. Registrar: I am here in the mountains of Hidalgo. I will learn 'Otomi,' language of these silent, brave Otomi people. Then I will translate it into Spanish. I am well and safe. Please do not worry."
Well, that was back in 1949. Eight years later, today, in 1957, Mrs. Wallace has mission accomplished. For, recently, according to a story in a Mexico City newspaper, the Sumer School Institute has published the very first Spanish-Otomi, Otomi-Spanish dictionary.
And it is the work of one Mrs. Wallace, perhaps from the Midwest, U.S.A., whose real past probably nobody knows about.
Nearly a century ago, Los Angeles had the wisdom and foresight to appoint the first policewoman in the United States--or was she? Alice Stebbins Wells is usually given that distinction today, but the record is contradictory.
Although The Times covered Wells' appointment, she never appeared in another feature story. In fact, the paper only documented one arrest by Wells, and that was in 1911, when she charged a man with ogling. The newspaper did not interview her upon her 1940 retirement, although it published a story saying that she was going to retire. As a result, The Times has very little material on Wells between her first day on the job in 1910 and her death in 1957," an oversight that grieves the heart of a historian.
I would almost assume that Wells was extremely tight-lipped, except that The Times frequently mentions her appearances as a luncheon speaker, discussing the role of the Police Department and her experiences on the force. Art Sjoquist's brief entry on her in his "History of the Los Angeles Police Department" also notes that she "was apparently a most charismatic speaker." But for some reason, The Times never covered even one of her speeches.
Perhaps she received such rude, condescending treatment in 1910 from reporters, who considered her nothing but a joke, that she refused all later interviews. I wouldn't blame her.
A Times editorial praised her appointment, but noted: "Naturally, Mrs. Wells had hardly pinned her shield when she had to run the gauntlet of interviewers. Judging by their comments she proved herself to be a sensible woman. She resisted all attempts to see humor in her appointment and in fact is described as being stern and earnest."
A Sept. 14, 1910, Times feature treated Wells as a mere curiosity, saying that Police Chief Alexander Galloway "pinned the big shield on the new officer's shirtwaist and bade her to sally forth and 'do her dooty.' "
Wells said: "This is serious work and I do hope the newspapers will not try to make fun of it. I think police work is a great work. I think it is worthy of the respect of anybody and the position which has been given [illegible] will enable me to reach into a [illegible] that men could not enter without finding themselves greatly handicapped. I am only appointed on probation, you know, of course, but I mean to [illegible] hard and I am sure I can do a great deal of good."
"Will you carry a gun and club the irreverent" one asked.
"Oh, no. I will not need anything like that," said Mrs. Wells very seriously.
"But you will need a pair of handcuffs, will you not, and a flashlight?"
"Oh, now, please don't," she said and closed the discussion right there.
"Do you believe in votes for women?" was another question fired at her.
"Now, here," she said with determination and dignity, "I am a police officer and while I may have some ideas of my own about these things I cannot discuss them as an officer. I am sure that the time will soon come when women will be frequently appointed on the police force of every city in the country for there is a certain work to be done that only they can do."
Wells posed a problem for The Times from the beginning: The paper was unsure how to refer to her, so it called her "the first woman 'policeman' " and humorously puzzled over whether to call her an officer or an "officeress." In other stories, The Times snidely called her "Officerette Wells."
Noting that she would not wear a uniform or carry a baton, The Times said: "It is her purpose here to make inspections of the dance halls, rinks and other places where young people congregate, in an effort to perform preventive service against immorality."
As the editorial pointed out, Wells faced a considerable challenge in fighting vice and corruption. Anyone who assumes that Los Angeles in this period was a sedate cow town is badly mistaken. In fact, the city was riddled with crime and crooked politicians. [See the 1947project for further information ].
As for Wells' only documented arrest, it concerned James Gibbons, whom she detained at the Central Police Station. According to The Times, Wells was standing in front of a movie theater on Main Street when Gibbons passed. Although Wells believed Gibbons had winked and ogled her, Gibbons' wife said that he suffered from a nervous disease. "She did not doubt that Gibbons' eyes had twitched when he was on the street as he at intervals is seized with such nervousness that he cannot correct himself," The Times said.
Wells and Gibbons took a stroll in which she led him to the police station and charged him. The line between legal and illegal behavior was so fine that Police Judge Frederickson had taken the case under advisement, the paper said without ever reporting its outcome.
Another 1911 story says that Wells reportedly complained to authorities about an immoral play at the Mason Opera House, leading City Prosecutor Eddie Guy to shut down "The Girl in the Taxi."
"It is entirely too sensuous and is opposed to good morals and I shall take steps to prevent its further appearance, as I cannot conscientiously permit a play on the boards that is not in accord with good morals," he said.
Was Wells the first policewoman in the United States? Here's what we find:
The 1910 editorial praising Wells' appointment notes: "It is stated that she is the first woman on the Pacific Coast to get such an appointment. New York has one, the Middle West has one, it is fitting, therefore, that the Coast should get in line."
The Times also has other early entries on policewomen:
- A May 30, 1907, story reports that the police chief in Brussels, Belgium, wanted to experiment by appointing policewomen. They had to be widows or spinsters between the ages of 40 and 50.
- More to the point, a June 9, 1907, Times story reports that Mrs. Julia Goldzier of Bayonne, N.J., "is making strenuous efforts to establish the policewoman as a permanent American institution." The Times added: "She has designed a uniform for her policewoman and appeals to all municipalities to at least make the experiment of appointing women to the force."
- On April 7, 1909, a story from Bayonne reports that "policewomen are to be a reality here." The nine volunteers will not wear uniforms or make arrests, The Times said, but will police a local park, encouraging youngsters to be polite. They were to be called "guardian mothers" rather than police officers.
- And on Oct. 24, 1909, The Times reported that "Mrs. Josephine Sullivan is the first policewoman of Chicago. She was sworn in the other day and invested with all the authority and privileges given to special policemen of that city."
We will have to put an asterisk next to Wells' claim at the first policewoman in the U.S. It would appear that women in Chicago and New Jersey preceded her. But a June 28, 1910, Times article says that Wells had already done "rescue police work" in the East. Therefore, the record remains unclear.
Here's a final quote from a Dec. 13, 1910, story by The Times' Sydney Ford: "Mrs. Alice Stebbins Wells, Los Angeles' first woman police officer, touched a vital point when she told the Ebell Club women of Highland Park the other day that if housework were looked upon as something equal in dignity to stenography, clerking or the 101 other occupations of women who are not professional, it would bridge over the chasm between mistress and maid with the result that more intelligent and capable girls would be willing to work in the home."
A footnote to history: Mrs. S.E. George, a rural mail carrier, also applied for the job of Los Angeles' first policewoman, according to a Aug. 9, 1910, story.
*In case you're wondering, I forgot to mention her age. She was 84.