Friday, June 09, 2006

A Family's Curse

June 9, 1907
Los Angeles

Olga Miller was a comely young thing who worked at the Hotel Rosslyn and was considered quite attractive despite the scar on her temple from shooting herself in the head.

One day she fell ill and was taken to County Hospital, where she went into convulsions and died after a visit from Richard Hardy, who forced his way into her room and made her drink a glass of milk that police suspected was poisoned.

But her death was only the beginning of the complicated story, a morbidly Victorian tale that includes murder, insanity, false identities, suicides and fears of body snatching.

Shortly after Miller died, officials learned that she was actually Bertha Beilstein, the daughter of John Frederick Beilstein, a wealthy Allegheny, Pa., businessman and politician. Before his mysterious death in 1897 (some people suspected Bertha of poisoning him in a fit of insanity), he wrote a will putting all his money in a trust for his heirs as long as she was alive.

Then “on the night of Oct. 2, 1898, she shot her mother three times and took a hatchet and hacked the body almost to pieces,” The Times said.

“Afterward she walked the floor for hours, when a cloud seemed to leave her mind and she saw what she had wrought. She seized the same revolver and sent a bullet crashing into her skull just to the left of the temple. She fell to the floor and struck her head on the point of a piece of furniture.

“She lay there for hours—her murdered mother on the bed and the daughter unconscious on the floor. Then she regained consciousness and, raising herself, saw the bloody body of her parent on the bed. She seized the revolver again and sent a bullet into her breast over her heart.”

But still, she did not die and the neighbors found her the next day. She said: “I was tired of life. It had no pleasure for me. I wanted to die and did not want my mother to live and fret over my death. For that reason I killed her.”

At the trial for her mother’s murder, Bertha was declared utterly mad and imprisoned at the Dixon Asylum for the Criminally Insane outside Pittsburgh, where she became a model prisoner and was given free reign.

In the meantime, her brother Edward, apparently unable to live with the family scandal, killed himself by drinking prussic acid at the Voegtly Cemetery, where his body laid undiscovered for days. Shamed by the scandal, her uncle David Reich “threw himself in front of an express train and was ground to death,” The Times said.

Then in 1906, Bertha escaped from Dixon, and here is where the story becomes almost impenetrably complex. It may have been that her lover in Los Angeles, Richard L. Hardin (or Hardy or Harding), was also an attendant at Dixon and disappeared when Bertha escaped from the asylum. Or it may have been, as he said, that he only met her in California. Or maybe her brother Frederick Beilstein of Chicago sent her to Los Angeles under the name Olga Miller.

Whatever the cause, Bertha arrived in Los Angeles and moved into the Royal Hotel on South Main Street. Hardin said he met her at the hotel three weeks before her death. He said that they quickly became friends because they were both Easterners and when she got sick, he brought meals up to her room and had a doctor prescribe medicine for her.

Hardin said that although he helped get her admitted to County Hospital, he was distressed by her treatment there. “It wrung my nerves to see her tied down and her hands tied, so that is why I asked the doctor to unloosen her hands and the waist bandages,” said Hardin, who was freed when it was determined that Bertha died of brain tumors rather than poisoning.

Then the various factions of her family began fighting over the body. Some, to preserve the trust set up by her father, claimed that Bertha had gone to England and that the deceased was merely some unfortunate woman.

Her brother Frederick, however, insisted that the body was hers and warned officials of Evergreen Cemetery to protect her remains as some members of the family might try to steal it. As a result, police officers were stationed outside her crypt, allowing access only to the series of people sent to identify the body.

Trying to view Bertha’s remains became a popular pastime in Los Angeles as cemetery officials noted that more than 40 women had attempted to get a look by claiming to be a friend or relative. Cemetery superintendent Olneyman told The Times “that all are simply morbidly curious and always depart when their names and addresses are asked.”

After six weeks, Bertha’s body was conclusively identified and sent to Pittsburgh. Later that year, her brother Charles died when he fell from a ladder at his hotel in Vandergrift, Pa.

The Times said: “Charles was a firm believer in Bertha Beilstein’s declaration years ago that an avenging hand followed every member of the family. Less than a month ago the hotel keeper declared to a friend that he fully expected to die a violent death.”

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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Judge Wins Black Eye in Pasadena’s First Dog Show

June 7, 1907

After a hard day of judging Boston terriers, English bulldogs and foxhounds, John Bradshaw went to a local restaurant with two exhibitors, William J. Morris and James Ewins.

Over dinner, and apparently many drinks, Bradshaw told Ewins at great length what was wrong with his prize bulldog, Moston Barnone. Although Ewins had owned several great bulldogs, including one named Moston Monarch, he took Bradshaw’s remarks in stride.

After they left the restaurant, however, Bradshaw continued his lengthy critique, telling Morris exactly what was wrong with his setters. Morris defended his prize pets and the men began arguing.

“Bradshaw became indiscreet enough to let drive a hard right swing at Morris,” The Times said. “The latter ducked cleverly and encountered with a terrific right to the eye, which in the parlance of the pugs, immediately erected a substantial ‘roof’ over the optic.”

Ewins helped Bradshaw to his hotel, where they tried to reduce the swelling so that Bradshaw could see well enough to judge that night’s competition. However, he failed to return by 10 p.m. and the event was postponed until the next day.

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Shout Out

General Motors ( Windows 2000? Upgrade!

The Netherlands (

E! Entertainment ( “E! Mysteries and Scandals,” my first TV interview, by the guy who did “Real Chases of the Highway Patrol.”

Department of Veterans Affairs (

My pal in Kerkira, Greece (

Simpson Thacher and Bartlett llp (

And no, I still haven’t heard from Donald H. Wolfe about his bogus document. Something tells me I’m not going to.

Here’s a factoid for you: Olga Rutterschmidt, who is being held on suspicion of an insurance fraud scheme involving the deaths of two homeless men, lives at 1776 N. Sycamore in Hollywood, the site of Bobby Fuller’s mysterious death in 1966. A building with seriously bad mojo!

Hurry back!

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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A Horse Avenged

June 6, 1907
San Bernardino

The miners of the Silver Lake camp out in San Bernardino didn’t take the tenderfoot too seriously. His name was Fred Myton and he presented himself as the son of a wealthy Salt Lake City family, come fully outfitted to strike it rich in the gold fields.

One of the miners’ amusements in the remote desert was Bobbie, a horse owned by contractor Sidney Barber but belonging to almost everyone in the camp as he was treated like a pet. Allowed to roam untethered, Bobbie would forage from one miner to the next looking for some kind words, maybe a pat or two and whatever the men could spare from their meals.

“One day when Myton was absent, skirmishing for a bonanza, Bobbie dropped around for 5 o’clock tea. But there was no host to welcome him in the style he had been used to, and after knocking around the tent for a time, Bobbie stuck his head inside and investigated. There, right in plain sight, evidently for his special benefit, was a plate of baked beans with tomato sauce,” The Times said.

“Bobbie lost no time in getting inside of the tent and outside of the beans and during these two interesting operations [he] stepped in the frying pan and knocked over a few articles of furniture which he was not in the habit of seeing in the desert. In fact, by the time Bobbie had turned around and made his way out again, the tent looked as if a Texas zephyr had got loose in the kitchen.”

Myton was furious and the miners got a good laugh out of the tenderfoot’s predicament. Later that day, Myton caught Bobbie with a rope, led the horse out in the desert and shot him in the head with his brand-new Winchester.

Men have been lynched for less than this and The Times pointedly remarked that the fact the miners didn’t string Myton up reflected a new civility in the desert.

Instead, Barber came to Los Angeles and filed a legal claim against Myton seeking $300 for Bobbie, $400 damages for loss of time to his freighting business and $5,000 in punitive damages, a total of $116,984.35 USD 2005.

“Thus does the law avenge Bobbie, once the pet of Silver Lake,” The Times said.

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Sunday, June 04, 2006

Down She Goes

A Tough Case

June 4, 1907
Los Angeles

After months of inquiries that involved undercover investigators posing as patients, the State Board of Medical Examiners has taken action against Chinese herbalists in Los Angeles. In addition to arresting the doctors in question, authorities charged everyone involved as investors in the companies, issuing warrants for some of the most prominent members of the Chinese community.

“It is alleged that in one case a patient who was charged high prices for Chinese treatment received a bottle that contained simply the juice boiled from alfalfa,” The Times said. “It was contained in a fancy bottle that looked as if anything it held might be good for what was the matter with almost anybody. It was a fine piece of glass with Chinese hieroglyphics up and down the sides and there was an odor about the fluid different from ... anything else sold in a pharmacy or doled out by the ordinary physician.”

Although it was sold as an exotic potion, a chemist who analyzed the liquid said it had never been “nearer to China than the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Alvarado Street.”

“Most of these places are beautifully furnished with Oriental draperies, teakwood furniture, Chinese porcelains and other fittings calculated to create an impression of culture and wealth,” The Times said.

In a subsequent story, the newspaper catalogued the treatments to which the investigators subjected themselves. Deputy Nicholas Harris received “vital sparks” from one herbalist, “tiger fat” from another and “nerve balls” from a third.

Still, Harris, who survived the experience, had praise for the dealers.

“These Chinese herb sellers are the most thorough gentlemen I have ever met,” he said. “I never met one in all my rounds who did not treat me in a kindly, courteous manner. This is so different from the crusade we conducted against the white fakers. With those fellows we had to be constantly on guard, but with the Chinese it is different. That is, with the exception of one case.

“At the Wong company on South Main Street, I met Drs. Chan and Young. Both treated me well. They behaved like princes and it is really hard to prosecute such people. We have not the slightest enmity against them. In fact, we find that it really hurts to prosecute them because they are such gentlemen, but we simply want to find out whether the state will permit them to practice their form of medicine without first security a license.”

One of the arrested men, Dr. Tom Leung, was described as a millionaire with offices at 9th Street and Olive who accompanied the emperor of China during a U.S. tour.

Leung died in 1931 at his home at 1619 W. Pico Blvd., at the age of 57. His obituary noted that he was in business for 30 years and was survived by wife; five sons, whom he named for U.S. presidents; and three daughters.

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