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Bookie shot to death in Hollywood, December 1938

December 30, 2008 |  6:00 am


1938_1229_car

The murder scene, 6057 Selma Ave.

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Above, the Selma Avenue neighborhood today.

1938_1229_weldon_irvin_2 By the end of 1938, Weldon sensed that he was a marked man and that death was not far off. He could have stayed out of Los Angeles and maybe he would have lived--at least for a while. But he evidently decided to face whoever it was that killed him in what The Times called the "perfect murder case" -- a case that was never solved. 

Earlier that year, Weldon divided his extensive Los Angeles gambling operations with his four partners and used his share of the money to invest in Inland Empire real estate and buy the Morongo Valley Lodge near Palm Springs.

The IRS soon brought a tax lien on his earnings for 1936 and by that summer, he resumed bookmaking operations. On Aug. 10, 1938, he and three other men were arrested at 7404 Santa Monica Blvd. Under extensive questioning by the district attorney's office, Weldon freely discussed illicit gambling in Southern California, The Times said.

As operator of the lodge, Weldon had covered the walls of the dining room with bits of his poetry and on Dec. 26, 1938, the day before he was killed, he left one final verse:

"I have placed life's greatest bet and lost;
Far from the Great White Way,
The wheel of fortune coppers the bet
And the carrion wait for their prey."

Two days later, a landlady checked an expensive car (possibly a new LaSalle) that had been parked overnight at her apartment house at 6057 Selma Ave. in Hollywood. She found Weldon slumped on the floor, concealed by an overcoat the killers had tossed on the body.

Weldon L. "Ducky" Irvin, 55, alias George W. Rogers and H.W. Currier, had taken two slugs from a .38 semiautomatic in the back of the head; one in his neck and the other under the left ear. One bullet evidently went out a rear side window and the other penetrated the back seat.  A .45 magazine with six rounds was found on the floor, along with the brass from two .38 rounds. The Times later alluded to evidence that he was killed by two men, one of whom accidentally shot himself in the leg.

Investigators examining the car found a new leather suitcase containing letters, documents and Weldon's .38 revolver, and a cardboard carton in the trunk crammed with his clothing.

1939_0104_edna_cook_2 Weldon's murder was a typical mob killing and although homicide detectives never solved the case despite years of investigation, they discovered half a dozen good reasons that someone might have wanted to kill him.

Maybe he was murdered because he informed on his gambling rivals. Maybe it was because he got back into bookmaking after quitting the business. Maybe he was selling phony police protection against arrests. Maybe it was over gambling debts. Or maybe he was robbed.

As usual in such cases, many witnesses left town "on business" while a long list of underworld suspects had air-tight alibis. A police commissioner even charged that two high-ranking LAPD officials had taken bribes to protect the killers, but he refused to testify before the grand jury and nothing ever came of his allegations.

Testimony at the inquest painted this portrait of the last day of Weldon's life:

On Dec. 28, 1938, Weldon and his secretary, Edna Cook, left Morongo Valley Lodge for Los Angeles. He told Cook that he was being hounded by two men, whom he called "coppers."  That morning, he told a friend that he hated to return to Los Angeles because "my life isn't worth a nickel there."

"Then why don't you stay here?" the friend asked.

"Well I've got to face it some time, so I might as well do it now," Weldon said.

Cook said: "I let him out downtown and drove the car to El Segundo to visit my mother. He told me to meet him at 8 o'clock at a bowling alley at Pico and La Cienega boulevards (possibly the Pico Palace Bowling Center at 6081 W. Pico Blvd.).

"When I got there he told me to sit down in a booth with him because he was waiting for a telephone call. He said he had told some friends they could call him there. Irvin was called to the telephone almost immediately. A couple minutes later he hurried out of the booth and drove quite fast to Sunset Boulevard and Western Avenue, where he let me out after remarking he was going to meet 'a couple of friends.' He said he would pick me up in a few minutes."

But he never returned.

After waiting two hours in a drugstore at Sunset and Western, Cook called Nathan Burke, a friend who took her to her apartment at 115 S. Kenmore Ave. She spent the next day asking around Hollywood about him and learned he had been killed.

1940_0405_klegman_2 One of Weldon's former partners, David "Bad Boy" Klegman, an assistant director at Columbia, told police that on the night of the killing he was working at the studio and later went to a cafe.

"Irvin's murder was a surprise to me," Klegman said. "I saw him three months ago at the City Hall. For three years we were business partners in the bookie business and then I split with him because he drank so much. But we never had a personal beef. I have an air-tight alibi for that night."

Then Police Commissioner Raymond L. Haight dropped a bombshell, charging that Weldon's killers had bribed two high-ranking police officials to avoid arrest. Haight was called before the grand jury, but refused to testify, saying that the inquiry was an attempt to block the commission's investigation. He said the two officials who received the bribes were among the 23 officers who were forced out in Mayor Fletcher Bowron's reform of the department, but he refused to identify them and nothing ever came of his allegations.   

In the summer of 1939, after months of surveillance, police raided an apartment in Santa Monica and arrested five people in the killing, all of whom were quietly released.

What appeared to be the next break came in early 1940, when an unidentified movie director told investigators that he had paid $11,000 ($161,007.96 USD 2007) to Weldon shortly before the killing. Deputy Police Chief Homer Cross said: "Irvin, a well-known bookmaker, was unquestionably shot because he refused to divide up the $11,000 with four men who considered themselves partners in his bookmaking business."

Klegman was arrested in the murder, then released.

Police made one final, unsuccessful attempt to solve the killing in 1941 before abandoning the investigation of what remains the "perfect murder case."

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