Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history
Oct. 17, 1957
It was recently stated here that the origin of Murphy's Law, a derisive bit of whimsy among airplane people, was unknown. The "law" states, "If an aircraft part can be installed incorrectly, someone will figure out how to do it."
Now the man who formulated this precept of human fallibility, George B. Murphy of Venice, an aircraft factory inspector, has come forward to acknowledge responsibility. He has also recounted a recent experience bearing on the same subject.
A young machinist brought him a part to inspect and he found it was out of tolerance by .001 of an inch and rejected it.
The youth insisted it was in tolerance because he handled .005.
Murphy told him he didn't have .005 but .0005.
The young machinist argued so Murphy said, "OK, here comes Marty, your foreman. Since you don't know how many thousandths there are in an inch, ask him."
Murphy confessed, "Well, to tell you the truth, they're such little bitty devils I never did count them."
CULTURAL NOTE--A lady named Ethel and her husband, Bob, were trying to settle on a place of interest to visit and Ethel said she'd never been to the Huntington Library in San Marino--how about going there?
Whereupon daughter Stephanie remarked, "That's sure a long way to go to check out a book."
WHENEVER HE drives on the freeways Tom Cracraft is keenly conscious of the dangers of following too closely and he tries to keep several car lengths behind the auto in front.
But lately he has been wondering about this procedure. Inevitably, a driver in the next lane, who obviously abhors a vacuum, cuts in ahead of him.
When Tom drops back to avoid being sideswiped another joker scrambles in ahead of him. And so on.
It hasn't happened yet but Tom is beginning to get the feeling that one of these days he's going to be driving backward.
ONLY IN L.A.--A lady named Betty got into a delightful if clinical conversation the other day in a doctor's waiting room with two little girls of Japanese descent.
They gaily confided they had a big sister and baby brother at home and that their father had said he would kill himself if the little brother wasn't a boy and that they were going to have their tonsils out and get all the ice cream they wanted.
But what fascinated Betty was the 4-year-old's account of her sore arm. She'd recently been vaccinated and her baby brother had knocked off the scab with a chopstick.
AT RANDOM--The last two letters of the first word of the beachfront "Hotel Monica" sign were blacked out the other night...
A news story stated the Defense Department will cancel a contract with the Martin Aircraft Co. and John Richards has a suggestion for the firm: Change the name to Martian and operate accordingly...
Feature of Paul Heinley's booth at the decorators show is a TV set on which 3D color slides showing various shutter installations are shown. All day long people stop and exclaim, "Oh, look, color TV!" Actually the thing is done with mirrors and a projector behind the set with a revolving drum containing the slides The topper came yesterday. A man said, "That's the best color TV I ever saw--what channel is it?" He was told it was a private channel...
The jacket of Norah Loft's novel "Scent of Cloves" due out next month, will be scented with the stuff. It was inevitable I suppose...
Lost opportunity note: The menu at the Nikabob contains no shishkabob.
"Nothing would ever have happened to me," he said, "except that on her dead body was found my name.
"I had a job and everything was nice. I was living in Jersey, in Newark.
"It was headline in all the papers--that she was murdered.
"She lived in Phoenixville, in Pennsylvania, but it wasn't far from Newark. Sixty, 70 miles."
"When?" I interrupted. "When was all this?"
The young man paused. "That was...let's see--March of '54."
Unconsciously, he removed his dark glasses. He was probably older than his face showed, because it didn't show very old.
He continued. "Right off, I knew it was her. I was reading the story when I said, 'Holy cow, my name's in the paper!'
"My name and the names of 16 or 17 other soldiers. Written in a little book in her purse. You see, I was in the Army when I dated her. But that was half a year before--and I was stationed there--at Valley Forge Army Hospital.
"She was what we called a 'patriotic girl.' She dated anybody in a uniform."
He took a breath, a deep one.
"When I seen my name, I got scared. But I did what I thought was right. I called the sheriffs. I told them where I worked.
"They come and questioned me. Nice questions. The guys were all right. They left and I thought that was the end of it.
"But then after a couple weeks, they come back and kept coming back and asking real rough questions. They kept asking me and accusing me. They said they was going to take me to Pennsylvania the next morning.
"The way they said it got me more nervous. So I didn't wait.
"I took off.
"I hitchhiked here, to California.
"I been doing real good here, too, but I always been afraid.
"Then last February I proposed to my girl. I known her quite a while. I hadn't told her nothing about it though.
"She looks at me and asks me:
" 'What are you running away from? Shouldn't you tell me?'
"Girls can feel things like that.
"Right then, I picked up the phone and called the Pennsylvania police so she could hear. I told them my name and that I was in Los Angeles. I even told them why they wanted me.
"They started giving me a hard time and when they finally asked me where I was calling from--where I lived--I was too nervous.
"I just hung up.
"Like I told you, that was February. Then, six weeks ago--out of no place--they show up at my apartment. Two Pennsylvania cops and this other one, from here, I guess.
"My dog didn't even growl. You'd think if they'd been cops or crooks, the dog would at least growl. But she didn't
"They said they were taking me and I just kept asking about my dog--could I find somebody to take care of her.
"But they wouldn't let me. They put the handcuffs on me--all my neighbors seen it--and took me downtown to jail. I told them all that I had told them three years ago--all I knew.
"They threw me in a little cell and kept questioning me every 20, 25 minutes. Other murders. Any murders. They had me hollering and crying and screaming.
"A young cop came in and called me a dirty name so I picked up my bed and threw it at him. Accidentally, I hit the wash basin and broke it. I kept telling them give me a lie detector.
"Next thing I know I'm in court. They're using some big words like persecution delusion or some baloney. They sent me to the hospital. No TV for the World Series. Nothing.
"Finally, they say nothing was wrong with me in the first place. That I deserved to be nervous. They let me go.
"That," my visitor said, "was a couple days ago. I come right home to my apartment and what do I find?
"It's been robbed, cleaned out--everything. All my clothes.
"And the lady who took my dog after I left won't give her back.
"I could go to the lady's yard and take her but that would be breaking and entering or something.
"And, mister, I just don't want any more trouble."
[Note: The man was apparently questioned in the slaying of Marguerite Keota, 22, who disappeared on her way home from a dance and was found strangled in a cesspool, March 6, 1954. As far as I can tell, the killing was never solved--lrh]
That's what the landlady, Eleanor Lipson, had to say about murder victim Karil Rogers Graham. Her sister, Mrs. H.L. Manley, called her "a well-settled girl."
According to police, others described her as "intelligent, sympathetic, capable and personable" and noted that she had many friends, The Times said.
Police also questioned her former fiance, Leon McFadden, in the killing. Although The Times failed to interview McFadden, it reported that he insisted on taking a polygraph test and was cleared.
The most that can be determined about her is that she had been treated by seven psychiatrists in the last years of her life, according to police. Her brother-in-law H.L. Manley, 9020 Balcom St., Northridge, said that Graham was a "woman who since early teens had been driven by a compulsion to paint--but she lacked the native talent to paint well," The Times said.
"Mrs. Graham had studied art for several years, he said, and apparently eventually became convinced that she lacked the necessary spark of talent. She became, instead, the registrar at Art Center School, where as counselor to the students she could be nearer the art objects and artists she so admired."
That, presumably, is as close to the facts as we can come for now. Let's see what Jack Webb does with her in the opening sentences of "The Badge."
"The way it is with so many women who live alone, life had held back on Karil Graham. She was likable and attractive, still a year on the sunny side of 40, sandy-haired, blue-eyed, trim-figured. But there was no husband--a marriage hadn't worked out--no children, no other man in her lonely life.
"Karil bravely hid the hurt and filled the emptiness as best she could. Every day she went to work, on time, to her job as receptionist at a downtown Los Angeles art school. Nights, in her quiet apartment, she listened to music and dabbled in painting. She was just a dilettante, she know resignedly, but records and easel were gracious cover-ups for emptiness.
"Sometimes Karil counseled students who attended the art school. Often they were male students, and she took them to her heart in a mothering, protective way. She saw for them something more meaningful and zestful in life, the something that had somehow passed her by."
Is this powerful writing, heavy on the noir? You bet. Accurate? Not when she gets demoted from registrar to receptionist. And there's certainly nothing about her ex-fiance in Webb's portrait of Graham's empty life of heartache as a woman without a man.
Far more critical, for it colors all of "The Badge," is the world-weary, uncompassionate, superior tone Webb affects from the first sentence. Knowing what I do of Webb's life, I can't say the work-obsessed, alcoholic Jack Webb, who survived a nightmarish childhood, had any business acting superior to anyone. Why he did it is a question that only he could answer. But let this be a warning to readers who assume "The Badge" is an accurate account of historic crimes. The book is a shooting gallery for anyone intimately familiar with the facts.
ps: Among Graham's possessions retrieved from the crime scene was an original Raoul Dufy watercolor, The Times said. It would be interesting to know what became of it.
Graham's remains were claimed by her mother, Gladys Rogers, for a funeral that was held in San Diego.
Prodded by a reader who directed me to an ancestry website, I can fill in a few blanks about Linda Leabow, who figured in the Marie Wilson story. According to California death records, Linda L. Cairns, listed with the maiden name Leabou, was born March 5, 1936, and died Jan. 27, 1990, in Kern County at the age of 53.
I went into the archives last night and pulled the photos of Marie Wilson and her family.
The planet was a bead "blazing with bright glory in the southwest sky," he said. Nearby was a smaller bead, possibly one of Saturn's 11 moons. The rings on the left side, he said, seemed to be in shadow. There also was a dark streak across the center of the planet.
Unwilling to accept the verdict of his own eyes, he pointed out the unusual sight to neighbors and they said they saw the same thing.
"Here's this wonderful object spinning away at its business," said Chet, "and here we are worrying ourselves sick about Sputnik."
As everybody knows, Saturn is one of the prettiest things in the sky to see and I decided to let the fellows at Griffith Observatory in on it.
You know what they said? They said it's impossible to see Saturn with the naked eye.
The question is, what did Chet Kennedy and his neighbors see.
Take it away, spacemen.
NO ONE DIES harder than a high school yell leader and a tale sifts through from one of last Friday's football battlegrounds to prove it.
A dedicated yell king had just finished exhorting his followers to keep up their spirits although their team was trailing something like 33-0 when an opposing halfback ran 70 yards for another touchdown.
"OK," he consoled, "they're bound to get tired any time now."
NOTE OF IRONY--In 1911, George Hjelte recalled the other day, Los Angeles had a 14-animal zoo on Valley Boulevard. But it was getting so much competition from the nearby Selig Zoo it was decided to move it. First choice was Chavez Ravine, but the people there didn't want any smelly old animals around and it was moved to Griffith Park.
ON HER RETURN the other day from a trip out of state, a San Diego woman phoned her son who lives in Rolling Hills. A recorded voice told her the number had been disconnected.
She became extremely worried. Her son has a good job, but inflation being what it is, he has a struggle to keep ahead of the cost of living. Obviously he hadn't been able to pay his bill and the phone had been shut off. So she sent him some money, instructing him to make up the deficit.
The son is deeply embarrassed. His phone had not been shut off. The phone company had merely changed the numbers in the area and turned loose the recorded voice on callers without further explanation.
BY THE WAY, this beep beep about the Russian satellite is not fooling a North Hollywoodwoodian named Tom for one minute. Any day now, he figures, he'll read about a new Walt Disney production, "The True Life Adventure of Sputnik" and a subsequent exhibit of littleSput himself at Anaheim.
AROUND TOWN--A rumpled gent accosted Johnny Dvorak on Main Street and said, "Could you let me have a dime to telephone my garage? My car broke down." Johnny, who can spot a borracho a block away, considers this the ultimate in high-level mooching... "Dodger Pot Roast" was on the menu at the City Hall eight-floor cafeteria yesterday. Inevitably a cynical municipal employee wondered what was in it and a second one said it was probably a bum steer... Anyone else still awakening in the morning on Daylight Saving Time, thereby losing an hour's shuteye? You cannot fool your subconscious. I always say... Overheard somewhere: "There's nothing wrong with him that reincarnation wouldn't help!"... The ivy which as covered a cottage on Cypress Avenue nearVerdugo Road is now growing up the TV antenna. If it keeps going maybe it can grab hold of those rings of Saturn or something.
Oct. 16, 1957
The victim was rushed to Hollywood Receiving Hospital for emergency treatment. His condition was critical. He was then taken to General Hospital.
Nine hours later, he was pronounced dead.
That was still quite a few hours before his letter reached me. When it came, I read it a couple of times.
Then I called his wife.
"I've been expecting your call," she told me. "He mentioned it--that you'd contact me--in the note he left me."
"Do you know what he wanted me to do?" I asked her.
She couldn't be sure, she said. She asked to hear the letter. I read it to her.
"Dear Paul," it read. "I am on my way out.
"I have tried this before and it didn't take. This time it will.
"I am writing this to you knowing that I am gone.
"Paul, the only reason I have lived as long as I have is on account of my son. He is a fine boy, no trouble for his mother, but I couldn't send him enough money for his music.
"Paul, he is a wonderful pianist, loves and wants to practice every day, usually kids have to be punished to practice, but not him, Paul. I feel myself going.
"I addressed this before I wrote you so I know you will get it.
"I am not asking for charity for my boy but he has a great future ahead of him and if you heard him play you would see what I mean.
"This is not a sympathy or help letter, it is just some way to tell my son I didn't let him down.
"And you being a right guy, I think you will know how to do it.
"God bless my son and sweet little wife here."
It broke her up a bit. "He loved his boy," she said. "I guess he's right when he says he lived for him."
"The boy," she said, "was by his previous marriage. But he'd come to California to visit us."
We talked some more.
"He was really a wonderful man," she told me. "Every extra dollar he got he'd send to the boy."
She said she had met her husband five years ago, in the South.
I asked her again about the piano lessons, if there was something I could do.
"No. Really, the boy has a good home. A good mother."
She paused. The silence was heavy.
Then she spoke again:
"There were times when my husband was a rich man. he had, well, $100,000, maybe $150,000.
"But lately, both of us had been working. You understand?"
"I think so," I said.
She continued: "He never got used to it. He wanted good money again, to send to the boy."
We were on the verge of hanging up when she spoke again.
"If you want to write anything--well, I shouldn't tell you how.
"But it would be nice if you could write how beautifully the boy plays the piano.
"That's what his father would want."
I hope this one is interesting. Who is this woman and why am I running her picture? The other photos have been recognized so quickly, I'm sure someone will figure her out right away.
Karil Rogers Graham
- Adele Astaire. No.
- Adela Rogers St. Johns. No.
- Dorothy "Buff" Chandler. No.
- Mrs. Walter O'Malley. No.
- Virginia Hill. No.
- Roz Wyman. No.
- Queen Elizabeth. No.
- Geneva Ellroy (twice). No!
- Aggie Underwood. No.
- Anna Eleanor Roosevelt. No.
- Evelyn Scott. Interesting guess! But no.
- Rose Bird. No.
- Babe Didrikson Zaharias. Interesting guess! But no.
- Princess Margaret. No.
- Bernice Layne Brown. Very interesting guess. But no.
- Donita Woodruff. No.
- Edie Wasserman. No
- Marion Davies. No.
- Bea Korshak. No.
- Ariel Durant. That's a guess I never expected. But no.
- Molly Swett. No.
Gosh. I may be forced to give a clue at this rate.
Update: OK, here goes. The mystery woman figures prominently in a well-known nonfiction book about Los Angeles. The work was in bookstores within the last few years and is ranked among the top 100,000 in sales on Amazon.com. It was written by an iconic Los Angeles TV and film actor who grew up on Bunker Hill.
The mystery guest lived within easy walking distance of the Original Tommy's Hamburger at Rampart and Beverly.
Photograph by Larry Harnisch / Los Angeles Times
The apartment where the mystery guest lived was at the site now occupied by this building.
Karil Rogers Graham, 271 S. Carondelet, was beaten to death with a lead pipe. Her blood was spattered four feet up the wall and a piece of her skull was found eight feet from her body.
Donald Keith Bashor was convicted of her murder and executed in the gas chamber at San Quentin on Oct. 11, 1957. His final words were: "I'm glad my crimes are coming to an end. I am sorry I cannot undo the horrible things I did."
Photograph by Edward Gamer / Los Angeles Times
Senior Deputy George Coenen, left, and Sgt. Howard Earle, right, escort convicted killer Donald Keith Bashor on his trip to San Quentin, Oct. 25, 1956.
Bashor's story was the basis of a "Playhouse 90" episode by Jules Maitland. Bashor's slaying of Graham also plays a prominent role in Jack Webb's "The Badge," a not terribly accurate book reissued in 2005.
Her mother was a strikingly pretty, unmarried 21-year-old music student at UCLA who had become pregnant and decided to give up the baby girl for adoption by a Hollywood couple: Marie Wilson, star of the "My Friend Irma" pictures, and her husband, producer Robert Fallon.
In 1955, the couple had adopted a young boy after seeing him during a benefit performance in Tennessee, naming him Gregson, The Times said. They had since decided to adopt a girl and on June 28, 1957, the Fallons had taken custody of the 3-day-old baby, whom they named Christine.
Today, it is virtually impossible to imagine the stigma surrounding an unwed mother. But in 1957, The Times took diligent precautions to avoid identifying the UCLA student. Such incidents were so shameful that The Times took pains to note that the pregnancy "did not result from a romance at the school."
The young woman and her mother arranged the adoption with the Fallons, who used the names Robert and Marie Friedman, The Times said. The young woman dropped out of classes to have the baby and the Fallons paid her $75 a month for five months, The Times said.
However, the mother changed her mind when it came time to sign the adoption papers. She wanted her baby.
Marie Wilson said: "We love her. Greg loves her. We're going to court."
The young woman, still unidentified in The Times, replied:
"It's my baby. I can't let someone else have her. I only saw her for those three days--just those three days in the hospital."
The woman's mother added: "Our daughter made a terrible mistake, but she knew that if she decided to keep the baby, we'd be on her side. She wants her baby."
And so, despite warnings of terrible publicity, the young woman revealed her identity. She was Linda Leabow, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. I.G. Leabow, 3123 Queensbury Road, an apparently dazzling beauty described in The Times as "statuesquely thin." Such was the shame, however, that she refused to be photographed or to name the baby's father:
"Identity of the father of the child will never, if they can help it, be known. Mrs. Leabow firmly maintains that her daughter has not revealed his name even to her," The Times said.
On Oct. 17, the tear-streaked actress gave the baby to Leabow.
The Fallons said: "It is with great reluctance and a heavy heart that we have decided to return Chris to her natural mother. We both believe that further airing of this incident in court would only make a legal football out of an innocent baby and cause further grief to everyone concerned.
"As any parents, our only thought has been for the welfare of Chris. We have always thought that Chris' place was in our home, but we sincerely hope now that her natural mother will give her all the love and affection that we had planned for her."
The Fallons took the baby to Dr. Gilbert Jorgensen, 1019 Gayley Ave., Westwood Village, where the Leabows were waiting in another room.
"As soon as they departed, Linda and her mother were taken to the baby," The Times said. "It was then that Linda broke down and wept as she admired her infant."
Marie Wilson said: "It's nobody's fault. It's just the adoption laws." (Above right, a Times editorial about the incident).
Wilson died of cancer Nov. 23, 1972, at the age of 54. The Times never published an obituary on Robert Fallon, although imdb.com indicates that he is dead. California death records list a dozen Robert Fallons and it's unclear which one may be the man in question.
The Times never wrote another word about Linda Leabow or her daughter. They apparently disappeared without a trace. We can only hope for the best.