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Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

Category: October 7, 2007 - October 13, 2007

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Court beat

Oct. 10, 1957
Los Angeles

Oh for the life of a court beat reporter in 1957: Confidential magazine, an appeal by convicted killer Caryl Chessman and the murder trial of L. Ewing Scott, not to mention the daily grind of the court calendar. There are so many wonderful cases, but alas, only one Larry Harnisch, and I worry that I won't be able to do justice to all the details. (The Confidential magazine case, if  you were wondering, resulted in a hung jury and promises of a retrial).

The Scott case is particularly significant because of its unusual challenge: The prosecution had to persuade a jury that the defendant was guilty even though police were never able to find the (alleged) victim's body. I was fortunate to be given access to the district attorney's files on the Scott case and they are massive, but far too extensive for the purposes of a blog.

So for today, let me introduce a few of the main characters as jury selection begins.


Ray Graham / Los Angeles Times
For the prosecution, Deputy Dist. Atty. J. Miller Leavy, shown in 1953 during the trial of Barbara Graham.


Howard W. Maxwell / Los Angeles Times

And the defendant, Leonard Ewing Scott, caught off-guard by Times photographer Howard W. Maxwell with a miniature camera, joking with reporters in his jail cell, April 26, 1956.



And Scott in his 1956 mug shot.

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A typical example of retouching from The Times photo archives:


Steve Fontanini / Los Angeles Times, Dec. 28, 1973
From left, J. Miller Leavy of the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, with Dist. Atty. Joseph Busch and Joseph Carr, on Leavy's last day after 41 years as a prosecutor. Leavy was the prosecutor in the Caryl Chessman, Barbara Graham and L. Ewing Scott cases, among many others. 

Great moments in newspaper graphics

Oct. 10, 1957

A typical example of infographics in the Stone Age:



Braves take series

Oct. 10, 1957

Now here's a hed bust for you. Lou Burdette? Ouch! At least the story has it right. (Typo box score for The Times, 1881-1986: Lou Burdette 164; Lew Burdette 626).


Smog and Sputnik

Oct. 10, 1957


Paul V. Coates--Confidential File

Oct. 9, 1957

Paul_coates People can be pretty wiseacre sometimes.

Especially yesterday.

All I was trying to do was conduct a "pulse of the public" poll on a very timely subject: Major League Baseball's arrival in Los Angeles.

Inasmuch as the arrival of a major league team affects every man, woman and child in this city, it was obviously my duty to the public to get public reaction to the move so I could tell the public how the public feels about it.

(This is a very important service performed by any newspaper worth its ink. It is known in journalistic circles as the "reaction story," and takes a back seat to nothing--with the possible exception of complete race results, the daily weather forecast and the obituary column).

But somehow, yesterday, I found the public extremely uncooperative.

The first two people I called weren't even at home. That's how much they gave a damn.

And on my third try, I got an embittered old lady.

"Madam," I stated, "I'm conducting a poll for the Mirror-News. What is your personal reaction to the announcement by Walter O'Malley that the Brooklyn Dodgers are coming to Los Angeles."

I could hear her clearing her throat. I picked up my pencil.

"You're with the Mirror-News?" she questioned.

"That's correct, ma'am."

"So why don't you do something about the smog," she snapped. "Your friends over in City Hall tell me I can't burn a few little scraps of paper in my incinerator, and yet you let cars and trucks and buses run all over the place.

"That's what's causing it. Cars! Not incinerators!"

"Please madam," I interrupted. "I'm talking about the Dodgers..."

"Well, I'm not," she cracked back. "Get rid of the cars and you get rid of the accidents, too. It'll be safe for pedestrians to cross the street again.

"Like it was when I was a girl."

1957_1010_adsShe snorted indignantly and hung up.

I dialed again. It was a man who answered this time.

"You happy about the Dodgers coming here?" I asked.

"I'm glad you called, Mr. Coates," he told me. "I was going to call you."


"I wanted to ask you how come they got that satellite up there before we did?"

"Well, frankly, I don't..."

"Like you to conduct an investigation on this."

I promised him I would and said goodbye.

But I don't discourage easily. I dialed another number.

"This is Johnny," responded a young voice.

"Johnny, this is the Mirror-News," I said. "We're taking a poll on the Dodgers."

"Dodgers?" he pierced.

"That's right."

His laugh cut into my ear. "Baseball! When are you guys going to grow up? Why don't you tackle something serious like juvenile delinquency. Take a poll on that?"

"But Johnny..." I interrupted.

He cut me short again.

"It's a crying shame," he screamed, "the way this younger generation is running around nowadays.

"It wasn't like that when I was a kid," he finished. "Two years ago."

I may not be an Elmo Roper, but at least I'm persistent.

Because, undaunted, I continued my survey on the Dodgers. And here is what I learned:

Three percent of the people believe L. Ewing Scott should be acquitted.

Three percent said they'd never let Confidential magazine into their homes, but they'd read it in somebody else's house.

Seventeen percent were watching an old Western movie on TV.

And 87% voice objections to smog, delinquency, Russian moons, traffic tie-ups,  and/or public opinion polls.

After adding it all up, I found I had surveyed 110% of the people, which is impossible.

I'm sorry I started the whole thing.

Location sleuth

Another shot from "Act of Violence," showing downtown Los Angeles.



As crazy as two waltzing mice



Oct. 9, 1957
Ventura, Calif.

1957_1009_alameda_pix Renzee Louis Alameda, 36, was the quietest man on the block. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound ex-Marine, a USC graduate, was unmarried and had lived alone at 2412 Ridgeley Drive for the last 10 years. He spent his days as a substitute music teacher with the Los Angeles Unified School District and his nights at home playing the piano by the hour.

He was a member of the Screen Actors Guild, The Times said, and had appeared at the Pasadena Playhouse and in films as Richard Azano.

On the evening of Oct. 8, 1957, Alameda noticed that his landlady had placed trash cans at the curb. Realizing that this was a signal that the Communists were coming, he fled to Santa Barbara, The Times said.

At 7:40 p.m., California Highway Patrolman Robert E. Reed, 36, pulled over a car on the southbound 101 near Point Mugu because the driver refused to dim his lights.

As Reed began writing a ticket, Alameda made a U-turn and sped north on the highway at 90 mph with Reed in pursuit before crashing into barricades on a section of freeway that was under construction. Alameda jumped from the car and began running, but was caught when he twisted his ankle, The Times said.

Reed, Highway Patrolman Dale Fletcher and another officer transported Alameda to Ventura General Hospital for treatment of his injured ankle. A fight broke out when hospital staff tried to put Alameda in the psychiatric ward because he grabbed a bottle of disinfectant from a surgical tray and drank it.

As Reed, Fletcher and two orderlies struggled to restrain him, Alameda grabbed Reed's revolver and shot him in the chest, killing him almost instantly.

Alameda's only explanation: "I couldn't stand the idea of being locked up."

The Times noted that "Alameda admitted homosexual activities in Los Angeles, of being a peeping Tom and other abnormal activities," as if this explained his behavior. The next day, Alameda broke a light fixture in the Ventura City Jail and tried to slash his throat with a piece of glass.

On Oct. 23, 1957, a court ruled that Alameda was insane and committed him to Atascadero State Hospital. He died in San Luis Obispo County on July 28, 1960, at the age of 39. His behavior was never explained.

Reed was survived by a wife, Marilyn, and daughters Janet, 9, and Christy, 4. The Times said he was the first officer killed on duty in Ventura County. Robert Eugene Reed, who would have been 37 on Oct. 16, 1957, was buried at Ivy Lawn Cemetery.

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Dodgers EXTRA!

Oct. 8, 1957

City Hall gets a Dodgers cap. And UFOs.




Oct. 9, 1957

Also note yet another discarded proposal to ease traffic: elevated bus lanes on freeways. 


Location sleuth

Here's The Times Building as seen in "Act of Violence," 1948



Larry Harnisch / Los Angeles Times, Oct. 6, 2007

Trees and buildings prevented me from precisely re-creating this shot. The camera was north of where I was standing when I took this photo from the top of the parking structure south of Disney Hall at 1st Street and Grand. Recall that Bunker Hill was lowered during urban renewal.

A fifth of whiskey


Oct. 8, 1957
Los Angeles

1935_0522_rejebian How can such smart crooks be so dumb? The short answer is: They just were.

In the last few months, half a dozen seasoned pros had been involved in systematically burglarizing the homes of wealthy individuals on the Westside and in the Hollywood Hills. The thieves usually took jewels, furs and bonds.

At many of the crime scenes, police found a half-empty fifth of whiskey left by the burglars. Detectives recalled that this was the trademark of Gerald B. Santley, who was supposedly serving a Florida jail term for a $20,000 jewel theft. Further investigation with Florida authorities revealed that Santley had been paroled to Jacque Robert May, an accountant living at 688 S. Mariposa Ave. Upon arriving in Los Angeles, Santley moved to 473 E. 55th St., Long Beach, and registered as an ex-convict.

Police placed the two men under surveillance and on Sept. 20, followed them into the Hollywood Hills. Officers arrested the men and found their car full of jewelry and furs. The men quickly confessed. May said he selected wealthy victims through his work as an accountant. He drove Santley to the victims' homes after calling to make sure no one was there. When Santley was through, he called May to come pick him up.

Unfortunately, The Times never followed up on the trial, so we don't know what happened. California death records show that Santley died Dec. 3, 1971, in Orange County at the age of 49  and May died Nov. 11, 1995, in Los Angeles County at the age of 80.

But that is only part of the story, for the ring included a couple of colorful characters. One of them was  career card player William Zevon and the other was a man with a long list of aliases named Vahan Rejebian, who was being sought in the burglaries. (Above, Rejebian with one of his aliases).

Rejebian was part of another sophisticated burglary ring of half a dozen people that operated in the 1930s on the Westside and in San Marino. Like Santley and May, his ring compiled a list of wealthy residents, including film stars Jean Harlow, Mae West and Eddie Cantor.



The Rejebian ring of the 1930s included a woman with almost as many aliases, Frances/Francis Krug. If you aren't familiar with her, you will probably recognize the name of her onetime boyfriend: underworld figure Paul "Paulie" Gibbons, who was shot to death on a Beverly Hills street in 1946.

By 1949, Krug and Rejebian had moved their burglary operation to Miami Beach, where Rejebian, nicknamed "the California Phantom," was shot by police while burglarizing the home of newspaper executive Charles McAdam.

As I noted earlier, The Times never pursued the Santley story, so we don't know what became of Rejebian, nor can I find anything on Krug. The Social Security Death Index lists 14 women with that name.

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