Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history
Oct. 6, 1957
Juvenile Officers Roy Keene and Connie Kennedy went to the home at 1328 Concord St. Joe fought with Keene, who had managed to get one handcuff fastened. Joe swung the loose handcuff as a weapon, beating Keene in the face.
With John, 6, Steve, 5, Robert, 3, and Judy, 3 months, nearby, Officer Keene drew his pistol and shot Joe in the stomach.
In the meantime, officers had stopped Ruby at Temple and Figueroa on another matter and as she was being questioned, she heard the shooting reported over the police radio.
Transported to the Hollenbeck station, Ruby was told that Joe Verdin, 26, had died at General Hospital. She was arrested on the child neglect warrant and the children were turned over to the authorities.
Unfortunately, The Times didn't pursue this story, so we don't know what happened. According to the Social Security Death Index, a woman named Ruby Verdin died in 2006 in Salt Lake City at the age of 83. We can only hope for the best.
Add this to your trivia file on Keaton. There's no further word in The Times on Alum Jones. I'd love to know what the rest of his life was like.
Oct. 5, 1957
The story of Alton Clifton Poret presents unusually frustrating challenges for the diligent researcher. Identified in a 1954 Times story as "a former Los Angeles Negro," Poret and Edgar Labat were sentenced to die in Louisiana's electric chair for the Nov. 12, 1950, rape of a white New Orleans telephone operator.
Not that The Times ever said anything so indelicately precise. Indeed, the paper never ran a word about the original trial and in later stories merely referred to "a criminal assault charge" or a "criminal attack of a white woman."
If it weren't for the efforts of a Westside meat dealer and bail bondsman, The Times would have written almost nothing about the case. The advocate was Nelson N. Soll, and he began raising money for Poret's defense after reading a Louisiana newspaper article.
"I thought Poret's story was phony at first," Soll said in a Sept. 14, 1957, story. "Then I checked it out. I've spent four years on this case. I have collected affidavits that prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that Poret is innocent--that he was not even anywhere near the scene of the crime. But he is a black man and he is sentenced to die and only a miracle of the Lord can keep him from being strapped into that electric chair at one minute past minute next Friday. We are praying for that miracle."
Eventually, the Hollywood Committee for Alton Clifton Poret's Defense was formed, headed by Adolphe Menjou. (I guess I'll have to rethink my opinion of Menjou, which was pretty low after he praised the Japanese evacuation of Los Angeles during World War II. To paraphrase, he said he hoped to never see another Japanese face).
After a long and complex legal battle (the men contended that whites were systematically excluded from juries) Poret and Labat were released from prison in 1969, having pleaded guilty to attempted aggravated assault. At that time, they held the record for being on America's death row. Of their 16 years, two months and two days in prison, 14 years had been on death row.
According to the Social Security Death Index, a man named Edgar M. Labat died in 1998 in Mississippi. Poret disappeared from the pages of history after being convicted of attempted rape in Rochester, N.Y., in 1971.
He wrote this poem in prison:
Living at the river's edge,
Never knowing when they'll drive that final wedge.
Will the wheel of justice ever look my way?
And when it does, what will it have to say?
Nelson N. Soll died in 1994 at the age of 84. His activism did not end with Poret. He raised money for the defense of a boyhood friend, Jack Ruby, despite many death threats.
The Mirror published a copy of the Christmas note Ronald White wrote to his grandmother.
Oct. 4, 1957
I've read any number of horrible stories in the old papers, but this is one of the worst in terms of senseless tragedy. The facts, such as they are, don't even begin to explain what happened. But then how can anyone explain absolute madness?
Allene Hall Durston, 58, was dying of bone cancer. Of all the people in the world, the person she loved the most was her grandson Ronald "Ronnie" Barrett White, who lived with his parents, Evelyn and Thomas, and a younger sister at 6836 Sylvia Ave., Reseda.
She had been living with the family until July 24, when she kidnapped Ronnie and left a note for her daughter, Evelyn Durston White, saying that she was "taking the boy for my own" and "going on a long trip." Police found Allene and her grandson in a taxi an hour later. She wasn't charged, but her relatives told her to move out. First, she lived at 6410 Van Nuys Blvd., and then she moved to a motel on Ventura Boulevard.
Evelyn said she sent Ronnie to school at 8:45 that morning with 40 cents in his pocket. On his way to Shirley Avenue Elementary School, Allene apparently intercepted him. One of his friends, Danny McDonald, came by at noon to see why Ronnie hadn't been in school. A search was begun for Ronnie and his grandmother. But by then it was too late.
Somehow, she found a vacant house at 6337 Topanga Canyon Blvd. Allene Durston, who loved Ronnie "above every human on earth," according to his mother, led him to an upstairs bedroom and shot him twice in the back.
Then she shot herself. The first one didn't do the job, so she shot herself again. Police found a note on her body. It was a letter Ronnie had written back in December, telling her what he wanted for Christmas.
Evelyn told police that her mother had a "suicide complex" and had been talking for years about killing herself. Apparently no one ever took her seriously. "I never dreamed she would do this to him," Evelyn said.