The Daily Mirror

Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

Category: September 16, 2007 - September 22, 2007

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College fashions, VII

In 1969, The Times sent one of its best and most respected writers, Art Seidenbaum, on a tour of California college campuses: UCLA, USC, Stanford, UC Berkeley and someplace called San Fernando Valley State. The resulting series for West magazine was later published in Seidenbaum's book "Confrontation on Campus."

So in honor of all those who are taking their kids back to campus for the fall, here's Part 7 of Seidenbaum's "The Troubles With Students" in which he visits Stanford and chats with an earnest history major named Philip Taubman, now an associate editor at the New York Times. The dress code is Army fatigues and beards for the men; serapes and tights for the women. And lots of revolutionary self-righteousness. Don't worry, man. It's cool. We're all pass/fail here.


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Paul V. Coates--Confidential File

Sept. 18, 1957

Paul_coates There are times when justice gets in its own way.

By trying to hustle along a little too fast, it trips over its own ethical skirts.

And a living example of what can happen when it does came into town last night. He was tall and gaunt and rather ugly, and his prison pallor contradicted the jaunty cut of his gray flannel suit.

His name--if you're not aware by now--is Caryl Chessman.

His residence for the last nine years has been San Quentin's Death Row.

Half a dozen times, dates for his extermination have been set.

But so far, because justice was in an apparent hurry to deal him the worst, he has outlived some 70 fellow death row inmates, plus the warden with whom he was in constant strife.

Chessman is here with a claim against justice.

It was, recently, a good enough claim to cause the U.S. Supreme Court to overrule our state and district courts' rejections of his latest appeal for a new trial.

1957_0918_ads Since his confinement, Chessman--a warped but plainly brilliant man--has managed to dig up some startling charges about events which followed his trial and conviction.

The court reporter who took the transcript died during the trial.

His notes, according to later testimony, were considered illegible by five other court reporters asked to turn them into final transcript.

But then there appeared a man who said he could transcribe them.

His name was Stanley Fraser.

He was given the job and eventually he produced a final transcript.

This, naturally, was important to Chessman. He needed it as a basis for appeals.

But on reading it, he felt that it was inaccurate.

From death row, he began an astonishing investigation.

First, he found, Stanley Fraser was a relative of J. Miller Leavy, prosecutor in the case. He was Leavy's wife's uncle.

Then he alleges that he dug up a police record on Fraser which included drunk arrests stringing from July 1948 to February 1951.

Attorney George Davis, representing Chessman, called trial Judge Charles W. Fricke to the stand at a Marin County hearing last year.

Fricke stated that he had no knowledge of any relationship between Leavy, the prosecutor, and Fraser.

In his latest book, "The Face of Justice" (to be released this week), Chessman makes further charges.

He alleges that Fraser and Leavy held several meetings on the transcript. He charges that the pair visited two of the prosecution's top witnesses for other conferences.

He says that Fraser received three times the normal fee for his work.

If it's all true, it doesn't add up to a very fair shake for a man who is doomed without a complete and accurate transcript.

Caryl Chessman is possibly the most widely detested criminal in California history.

He's not only hated for the horrible nature of his crimes, but for the smug, self-assured unrepentant attitude he has maintained over the last nine years.

That same attitude was apparent when I saw him at County Jail yesterday.

He suffers from a chronic sneer aimed at all of society.

Chessman is a weird paradox--a literate, intelligent man, capable of vicious criminal acts.

However, no matter what his attitudes or his crimes, any man is entitled to due process of law.

If he hasn't been getting it, and the U.S. Supreme Court has indicated that to be true, he should.


Strangler strikes

 

1957_0921_mitchell_folo_2

Sept. 18-26, 1957
Los Angeles

1927_0828_mitchell02 Let's go talk about the Ginger Mitchell case. We're in Wilshire Division so how about Canter's Deli, up on Fairfax?

While we're driving, I'll tell you the rest of the story. Officially, this killing is solved. They caught the guy and he confessed. The detectives actually got commendations for their work. But I don't like it. And the more I think about it, the less I like it.

The first thing that bothers me is that The Times didn't write anything about a trial. Not a word. I know, maybe he pleaded guilty, but the paper didn't cover the sentencing either. All spring and summer there's been a series of stranglings: Ruth Goldsmith, Marjorie Hipperson and Esther Greenwald. Finally the police get a guy and he confesses and The Times doesn't write a word about it. Why not?

OK, here's Canter's. Let's find a booth. No, thanks, we don't need menus. I'm just getting coffee. I can never eat after visiting a murder scene.

Here's what else I know about the case, which isn't much: Remember I said our victim had been filling in as an apartment manager? At first, police thought that all but $13.89 was accounted for. Later, investigators audited her books and found $151* was missing.

At 9 a.m. Monday, hours before before her body was discovered, the switchboard operator at Menlo Realty, which owns the apartment building, got a call from an unidentified man asking for partner in the firm. He left a message saying that "Miss Mitchell is dead."

1957_0926_detectives The medical examiner, Dr. Gerald K. Ridge, says the killer choked her with his hands before strangling her with the sash from her dressing gown.

Before we look at the suspect, let's talk about the detectives. Thad Brown, chief of detectives, took over the case before giving it to Detective Lt. Herman Zander of the Homicide Division.

Zander had a reputation as a first-class investigator and worked several famous killings of the 1950s, including the L. Ewing Scott case, so I think he's pretty solid. I don't know much about the other men on the case: Lt. Erwin W. Smith, head of Wilshire detectives, and Sgt. Eugene Danforth.** But you may recognize the name of Danforth's partner: Sgt. Elmer V. Jackson. Sound familiar? He's the guy who was supposedly taking payoffs in the Brenda Allen case. Of course, Jackson was cleared in that.

Can I get a refill? Thanks.

OK, our suspect. He's Sonnie Hartford Jr., 36, 1819 W. 36th St. Hartford is a parolee and spent eight months in jail last year for robbery. He's supposedly a houseboy at a neighboring apartment building, which I imagine means he's some sort of handyman.

I have no idea how he became a suspect, but he was booked after a six-hour polygraph test. He denied the killing, but said he had gotten a $30 loan from Ginger on Saturday morning because his paycheck hadn't arrived. He was supposed to pay her back on Monday. His story was that he spent Sunday playing poker, but police had trouble finding anybody else who was in the game.

After being questioned for 24 hours straight, and two more polygraph tests, Hartford told police he killed Ginger.

Supposedly he went to repay her the $30 loan. Supposedly he said something that he meant as a compliment, but she got offended  and ordered him to leave. Supposedly he grabbed her by the neck and choked her. Supposedly she fell limp so he dragged her into the dressing room and strangled her with the sash from the dressing gown--so tightly that you couldn't even see the knot.

1957_0917_hartford You'll love this part. I know I do. Why did he do it? He doesn't know. Days of questioning, three polygraph tests and the guy can't say why he killed her. Our guy hits the victim in the eye, chokes her with his hands, drags her to another room, then strangles her with a sash. And he doesn't know why.

He says: "She has always been nice to me."

Oh, I forgot to mention that's he African American. Here's a black guy with a police record for robbery, being grilled for killing a white woman. On the polygraph for six hours at a time. You think he might be a little nervous? You think it might be hard to get a good reading?

Maybe I'm just too suspicious. Maybe everything is exactly as they say. But how come the papers didn't write a word about it? And what became of Sonnie Hartford Jr.? No idea. What about the missing money? I just don't like it. I just do not like it.

Well, we've been here a long time, we better leave a good tip. Let's go.

Ginger's services are Sept. 20 at Armstrong Family Mortuary. We should pay our respects.

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*$1,081.96 USD 2006.

**or Danford.

College fashions, VI

In 1969, The Times sent one of its best and most respected writers, Art Seidenbaum, on a tour of California college campuses: UCLA, USC, Stanford, UC Berkeley and someplace called San Fernando Valley State. The resulting series for West magazine was later published in Seidenbaum's book "Confrontation on Campus."

So in honor of all those who are taking their kids back to campus for the fall, here's Part 6 of Seidenbaum's "The Troubles With Students" in which he describes a campus strike that shuts down San Francisco State and chats with S.I. Hayakawa.The dress code is Army fatigues and beards for the men; serapes and tights for the women. And lots of revolutionary self-righteousness. Don't worry, man. It's cool. We're all pass/fail here.

1969_0608_seidenbaum01


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Strangler strikes

 

1957_0917_mitchell_hed

Sept. 17, 1957
Los Angeles

1957_0917_mitchell_pix_2 We're parked outside 3477 S. La Brea Ave., a two-story apartment house with about 18 units in the Wilshire Division. It's one in a row of apartment buildings along the west side of the street.

It's early on a Monday morning. Our victim is Rhea "Ginger" Mitchell and she's 63.

Ginger was a star in silent films, but hadn't been in movies for years. She started out as a stage actress and got into films about 1914. Bunch of westerns, a couple of society pictures. She even headed her own company for a while, Paralta, 40 years ago. She wrote screenplays and stories in the 1920s. Yeah, I know. I never heard of her, either. Here's the kicker: On the stage, she once had the lead in a hardboiled detective drama: "Going Crooked."

Eventually, Ginger got into managing apartment buildings and for the last month, she had been filling in for the man across the hall in Unit 102, Mike Blume, who has been too busy for the job because his wife is sick.

Ready? OK, keep your hands in your pockets and don't move anything.

Notice the door is locked. In fact all the doors and windows are locked tight. Ginger was an extremely cautious woman: On Saturday afternoon, a tenant who was moving out turned in his key and she only opened the door enough to put out her hand. He went back about noon Sunday because he forgot to take his razor and again, she only opened the door enough to hand him the key. Same thing when he gave it back. "I had the feeling she was sort of hiding something," he says.

Let's go into the dressing room. That's her. She's lying on her back, strangled with the sash from her blue silk dressing gown. It's knotted under her chin. She's wearing a half slip, panties, bra and high heels with no stockings. Notice that she didn't get the buttons straight on her dressing gown; the police will figure that she put it on in a hurry. There's a big bruise around her left eye and maybe another one on her throat. The autopsy surgeon will say there's no evidence of rape.

Nope, nobody heard anything. At some point, Ginger left a note on her door saying that while she was out of town for the weekend, people should contact Dorothy Burwell, the manager of the next apartment building.

We better get going. The houseboy has been wondering why Ginger isn't back yet and he and the Blumes are about to come in and check in her.

To be continued....

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Dodgers!

Footnotes to history: The three council members voting against the resolution to offer a deal to the Dodgers were Earle Baker, Patrick McGee and Edward R. Roybal. Councilman John Holland originally opposed the resolution but changed his vote in hopes of reopening the issue.

Notice Mayor Norris Poulson's comments comparing the vote on the Dodgers to the votes on Owens Valley, dredging the Los Angeles Harbor and the Colorado Aqueduct. "This, too, is a deal in which we are going to do something for this great city of ours."

Click here for Walter O'Malley's official website.

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Literary diversions

Jim Tully, Aug. 13, 1922.

Tully was a self-taught writer who specialized in stories about boxers, the circus, hobos and similar themes. He's fairly obscure today but was once quite well-known. He was the author of "Beggars of Life," "Blood on the Moon" and "Shanty Irish," among many other books.   

Note: If you are offended by the word "chink," you will not enjoy this story.

Part 1

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College fashions, V

In 1969, The Times sent one of its best and most respected writers, Art Seidenbaum, on a tour of California college campuses: UCLA, USC, Stanford, UC Berkeley and someplace called San Fernando Valley State. The resulting series for West magazine was later published in Seidenbaum's book "Confrontation on Campus."

So in honor of all those who are taking their kids back to campus for the fall, here's Part 5 of Seidenbaum's "The Troubles With Students" in which he visits USC, where "The A student in political science goes into law, the B student goes to teach and the C student goes into politics." Put on your wire-rim glasses and burn your draft cards. The dress code is Army fatigues and beards for the men; serapes and tights for the women. And lots of revolutionary self-righteousness. Don't worry, man. It's cool. We're all pass/fail here.

1969_0525_seidenbaum01

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Requiem

 

1957_0916_storer

Sept. 16, 1957
Los Angeles

1957_0916_grito Franklyn West Storer, 50, woke up on a Saturday morning to discover that his beloved 16-year-old daughter, Mary Alice, had taken a fatal overdose of sleeping pills. In despair, he also took a fatal overdose.

Mary had lived with her father since her parents' divorce and in her brief life, developed a love of classical music, so Franklyn bought records for her, about $1,000 worth, which police found scattered around the home. Before he killed himself, Franklyn placed a few autographed pictures of Mary's favorite classical composer around her body, The Times said.

His sister, Lucille Miller of National City, found the bodies in the Storer home at 5750 Camerford Ave. after becoming alarmed by two letters from Franklyn saying that he was afraid Mary would kill herself and that if she did, "there would not be anything for me to live for."

Beyond that brief, tragic story, The Times offers no explanation of what happened. Was Mary a performer? An aspiring composer? We simply don't know. But a further search reveals at least a few details.

California death records say that Franklyn was born in Ohio and reveal that his wife's maiden name was Bettencourt.

He doesn't appear in the 1929, 1936 or 1938 online Los Angeles city directories, but is listed in 1939 as living at 511 S. Wilton Place, apparently an apartment house.

Franklyn took out a legal notice in The Times on Nov. 14, 1940, saying that he would only be responsible for his own debts and the vital records for March 13, 1942, list a divorce action by Franklyn W. Storer vs. Victoria B. Storer.

According to the 1942 Los Angeles city directory, Franklin W. Storer was an assistant electrical tester at the Department of Water and Power and was living at 5722 Waring Ave., precisely one block from the death scene. Eliza C. McElwain, widow of J.W. McElwain, was also living at that address. Because it was during World War II, she could have been a landlady.

The 1956 street directory only lists Franklyn as living at 5750 Camerford.

The Social Security Death Index has nothing on Franklyn, but lists a Victoria B. Storer, born Aug. 30, 1913, died Jan. 14, 2002, in Turlock, Calif.

Unfortunately, none of these fragmentary details explain the tragedy. We can only speculate.

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