The Daily Mirror

Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

Category: Crime and courts

Bullet of Mystery -- Part 3

July 11, 1901, Lionel Comport lionel_comport_nd_crop

In case you just tuned in, I’m posting a small case study of research I did with Caroline Comport on her grandfather Lionel Comport for her master’s thesis. Researching Los Angeles is a treasure hunt, and every time I dig into the resources I find something new.

Bullet of Mystery – Part 1
Bullet of Mystery – Part 2
In Part 2, we looked at some of the resources for online newspapers. Caroline was also interested in the background details of the story. What was the neighborhood like?

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Bullet of Mystery – Part 2

July 11, 1901, Lionel Comport lionel_comport_nd_crop

In case you just tuned in, I’m posting a small case study of research I did with Caroline Comport on her grandfather Lionel Comport for her master’s thesis. Researching Los Angeles is a treasure hunt, and every time I dig into the resources I find something new.

Bullet of Mystery – Part 1
If you’re a fan of detective stories, you may remember that Sherlock Holmes routinely read all the newspaper coverage as part of his investigations (and no, we won’t be putting on disguises or bringing in the Baker Street Irregulars). But the papers are a good place start.

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Bullet of Mystery – Part 1

  July 11, 1901, Bullet of Mystery  

Nov. 26, 1959, Lionel Comport Los Angeles history in the 1900s is an acquired taste. Most people limit themselves to  the Raymond Chandler era, the 1930s through the 1950s, as if Philip Marlowe moonlighted as a historian. Perhaps they find the city’s horse-and-buggy days too remote, but for me that era is like watching a modern metropolis slowly rise from the dust of a Wild West town.

I revisited 1901 when I met with Caroline Comport on Tuesday to help research her grandfather for a master’s thesis on how personal history shapes a family’s self-image. Or, as Caroline puts it, “How does who we think we are impact who we become?”

After spending years at microfilm machines and in various archives, I am always amazed at the relative ease of doing research these days. Our session was at Foxy’s in Glendale (free Wi-Fi!) and we delved into Los Angeles history while toasting English muffins. Truly the civilized way.
To summarize the story of Caroline’s grandfather, Lionel F. Comport was shot in the back July 10, 1901, while delivering milk from a horse-drawn wagon at 20th and Toberman streets in the University Park neighborhood. Police suggested various motives (Robbery? Dispute over a woman? A mad assassin?) but despite an intense investigation, officers never found the attacker.

The bullet  penetrated Comport’s intestines and by all expectations of medical care in that era, he should have died. However, he was rushed to a hospital (as fast as a horse-drawn ambulance would go, anyway) and survived the operation. He died in 1959 at the age of 79.

Here’s a brief case study in how we went about the research:

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Lugosi to Appear as Weird Scientist

  Feb. 17, 1953, Ed Wood Jr.  

  March 4, 1953, Transvestite  

Feb. 17, 1953: This is how I got here. I started researching the Lionel Atwill sex scandal of 1941 and discovered that before his career was derailed, Atwill planned to produce a film of the novel “The Dark River” by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall. The project was never filmed, but the novel resurfaced in 1953 in a production that was to star Macdonald Carey.

That project was also never filmed, but  the Feb. 17, 1953, column by Edwin Schallert about the movie referred to the Edward D. Wood Jr. production titled “Transvestite” that was released as “Glen or Glenda?”

And in searching for “Transvestite,” I discovered the March 4, 1953, story of Arnold Lowman,  a chemist and part-owner of a cosmetics company who was suing his ex-wife to get upsupervised visits with their son, Brent. Lowman's ex-wife, Dorothy, objected to anything but supervised visitation, "principally on her former husband's admitted propensity for feminine apparel," The Times said.

Judge Clarence E. Johns decided in favor of Lowman, giving him custody one day a week and on alternate holidays.

Stay tuned for the Lionel Atwill case. It’s complicated, and The Times was squeamish about some of the details. 

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Libel Suit in L.A. Mayor's Race!

  May 12, 1961, Poulson, Yorty  

  May 12, 1961, Comics  

May 12, 1961: Mayor Norris Poulson accused challenger Sam Yorty of being “backed by the underworld” and Yorty responded with a libel suit.   The basis of Poulson's charge was that as an Assemblyman, Yorty supported a bill to legalize bookmaking and as an attorney, he received $12,500 from operators of a Las Vegas casino-hotel for trying to get them a gambling license in Nevada.

Also on the jump: A full-page ad for Moral Re-Armament, one of those cultural forces that took root in the 1930s and may be remembered for the Up With People traveling productions that began in 1965 and struggled to survive in the 1980s.    

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Another Good Story Ruined -- The Black Dahlia

  Jan. 16, 1947, Examiner  

The Black Dahlia has become so thoroughly transformed into a myth about what happens to nice, small-town girls in big, bad Hollywood  (“achieving in death the fame that eluded her in life”) that it’s almost impossible to write about the killing or the investigation with any accuracy.   

It’s a complicated case to begin with, and  matters have been made even worse by highly fictionalized “true” crime books and a craze of “daddy did it” claims -- I know of three purported “killer dads” but this is a thriving cottage industry and there may be more.
The latest errors appear in a Jacket Copy post on the videogame L.A. Noire:

On the movie “The Blue Dahlia”:

“And it was playing in theaters when actress Elizabeth Short was murdered in January 1947; journalists looking for a hook to talk about the unusual killing called her the Black Dahlia.”

Well, no. First, Elizabeth Short wasn’t an actress – it’s a stretch to even call her anything but a wannabe  actress. Elizabeth Short wanted to be an actress the way people want to win the lottery.

Second, “The Blue Dahlia” was long gone from theaters by January 1947.

Third, and this is one of our beloved myths: Reporters nicknamed the case. The Herald-Express frequently nicknamed killings, like the “Red Hibiscus Murder,” and in fact tried to nickname the Black Dahlia as “the Werewolf Murder.” Elizabeth Short got the Black Dahlia nickname from customers at a drugstore lunch counter in Long Beach as a takeoff on the title of “The Blue Dahlia.” 

Then we have:

“we know the Black Dahlia was left naked, washed of all blood, elegantly coiffed and cut in two.”


Another favorite Black Dahlia myth is that the killer gave her a complete makeover: hair, nails, etc. Unfortunately, morgue shots of Elizabeth Short are all over the Web and it’s easy to determine that this is ridiculous.

U.S. Launches Astronaut Alan Shepard: 'Boy What a Ride!'

  May 6, 1961, Times Cover  

  May 6, 1961, Comics  

May 6, 1961: Astronaut Alan B. Shepard Jr. was rocketed 115 miles above the Earth in a flawless suborbital flight and recovered safely 302 miles down the Atlantic Missile Range to become America's first man in space, Times space-aviation editor Marvin Miles writes. 

Also on the jump:

--Shepard’s 1998 obituary

--W.C. Jones spends $4,500 trying to convert Mickey Cohen to Christianity.

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Yorty Seeks to Limit L.A. Mayors to Two Terms

  May 3, 1961, Sam Yorty  

  May 3, 1961, comics  

May 3, 1961: The Times editorial page backs Mayor Norris Poulson, who lost to  challenger Sam Yorty. Although Yorty advocated a two-term limit for mayors, he served three terms and was seeking a fourth when he was defeated by Tom Bradley.

And in case you are keeping track, The Times endorsed Yorty against Rep. James Roosevelt in 1965 (I can’t imagine The Times of this era endorsing a Roosevelt, can you?), Bradley against Yorty in 1969 (Bradley was defeated) and again in 1973, when Bradley won. 

I have been rummaging around the Daily Mirror HQ for my copy of “Maverick Mayor: A Biography of Sam Yorty” by The Times’ Ed Ainsworth. Must be in the annex, a.k.a. the garage. 

On the jump, Deputy Dist. Atty. J. Miller Leavy is awarded damages over his appearance in the film “Justice and Caryl Chessman.” Leavy said he was promised that the film would only be shown on television and not in theaters. “Justice and Caryl Chessman” is being shown with “Cell 2455, Death Row” at the Roxie in San Francisco later this month.

And Spade Cooley is hospitalized for heart trouble while being held in the killing of his wife. Some stories refer to Cooley as “the king of western swing,” but the Bob Wills fans would argue with that.

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Garden Grove Teenagers Find Severed Head

  May 11, 1961, Severed Head  


  Lampson and Knott  
  Lampson Avenue and Knott Street via Google street view.  

April 30-May 18, 1961: Three Garden Grove teenagers riding their bikes along Lampson Avenue near Knott Street, an area of tomato fields, find a woman's head wrapped in a plastic bag that had fallen out of a box marked "fragile."

In the next few days, other body parts were discovered across Southern California: A leg near Big Pines in Angeles National Forest and a torso in Box Canyon in Ventura County.

The victim was initially identified as  Dorothy Hamilton, but she and her husband were found in Las Vegas. Then local newspapers published a sketch of the victim and her family identified her as Hildreth Shaw, 51. 

Her husband, Darlington W. Shaw, a cabinetmaker, admitted killing her and dismembering the body in the bathtub of their Santa Monica apartment. He was sentenced to life in prison.

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From the Stacks – 'Portraits of Crime' (1977)

  Portraits of Crime  

Two years after writing about  LAPD Det. Ector Garcia, I finally located a copy of his book, “Portraits of Crime,” which arrived in the mail from the U.K. while I was on vacation. No one will ever mistake this book for great literature. The editing is weak (as in “Leo” LaBianca) but the rough, raw writing gives “Portraits” a freshness and immediacy that might be missing in a more polished work.

Written by LAPD artist Garcia (d. 1987) and Charles E. Pike, “Portraits” consists of composite sketches and brief summaries of  29 cases from the 1950s to the 1970s. Aside from the Tate-LaBianca and Son of Sam murders, most of the subjects are obscure killings, kidnappings and rapes that could easily be the raw material for several seasons of TV crime shows. 

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'The Chinese Murder,' April 29, 1891

  April 28, 1891, Wong Ark      

  April 29, 1891, Chinese Murder  

April 29, 1891: The Times reports the death of a Chinese woman named Ah Gue/Goot Gue, who was shot in the abdomen by her husband, Wong Ark/Gam Duck, outside a brothel on Apablasa Street. Ark allegedly killed Gue because she didn't give him all the money he wanted for gambling. The Times covered this case extensively, and said that because the Chinese witnesses were “heathens,” they were unconcerned about telling the truth under oath.

The first jury deadlocked. In his second trial, Ark was sentenced to life in prison for first-degree murder, but the conviction was overturned on appeal because the dying woman’s statements were inadmissible. (The Times reported that she said "him killee me.") Ark was convicted of manslaughter at his third trial and served six years at San Quentin.

Bonus factoid: Apablasa Street vanished during construction of Union Station, which was built on the old Chinatown.

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UC May Have to Charge Tuition – Someday



  April 27, 1961, Eichmann  

April 27, 1961: The Senate Education Committee turns down a proposed tuition fee for University of California students but says one may have to be imposed -- eventually.

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