Saturday, October 14, 2006

Nine out of Ten

Oct. 14, 1907
Los Angeles

“In nine cases out of ten, where there is a shooting, there is also a woman,” said The Times.

In this case, there was Oscar E. Otto, a young chauffeur with a hot temper and a gun. There was his 19-year-old wife, the former Irene E. Jester, “a silly little creature with futile tears and French heels.” And there was J.C. Henderson, another chauffeur with a gun and better aim or more luck.

Untangling the story of this fatal triangle—at least it was a triangle in the mind of Mr. Otto if no one else—is difficult, in part because of the charges and countercharges and partly because the presses weren’t properly inked and much of the text is faint.

But a few things seem clear: In May, about the time of the Ottos’ first anniversary, Henderson was hired to take a man and two women from the Saxonia apartments to Fred Ward’s roadhouse on Mission Road, otherwise known as the East Side Athletic Club.

“Both women were introduced to him as single women and it was not until their return to the city, when one of the women refused to ride down Pico Street, that Henderson suspected she was married,” The Times said.

The next day, Henderson said, he received a phone call from Mrs. Otto, asking to meet him on Main Street. He said he barely recognized her because her face was swollen from a vicious beating. She asked him for $10 ($205.24 USD 2005), explaining that after her husband beat her, he ripped up her clothes and threw her out of the house.

Sometime later, she barged into Henderson’s hotel room and darted into a closet, claiming that her husband was out to kill her. Mr. Otto, although he was a smaller man, followed and beat Henderson viciously.

Of course, Mr. Otto had a different story. He sued Henderson for alienation of affection in August, charging that his wife and Henderson had gone for many long drives, and visited resorts and cafes, where his wife “drank intoxicating liquors to excess,” The Times said.

Since then, witnesses at the murder trial said, Otto had talked constantly of revenge. On the night of the killing, a friend said, the two of them had gone for a drive to East 9th Street and Tennessee, where Otto said he had an appointment with a man.

Finding Henderson (at right) at the garage at 9th and Tennessee, Otto said: “There’s the _______,” according to The Times. Although it was too dark to see much, the friend said, he noticed a man backing away from Otto, who cried out: “I am shot!” Otto ran back to the car, drove almost two blocks and collapsed, saying, “Get a doctor.”

Henderson testified that he had been driving down Broadway when Otto jumped on the running board and threatened to kill him before jumping off at 9th Street. Henderson said he took his car to the garage on Tennessee Street and spent about 15 minutes putting it away when Otto arrived.

As Otto jumped out of his car, Henderson said, he saw a flash of light and was sure that Otto had fired at him. He was afraid to run because Otto might shoot him in the back, so Henderson stood with his hand on the pistol in his pocket until Otto got close.

“He called out as he came near and as I kept backing away, ‘Pull it out, you _______. That’s just what I want. Pull it out,’ ” Henderson said.

“I backed as far as I could, and then, as he reached out his left hand and struck me on the face, I fired. I did not dare to take my hand away from my gun as I thought it was his intention to provoke me into doing so and that then he would shoot me.”

“I did not think that I had hit him and it was not until he had run back to within 15 feet of his auto that I heard him say, ‘I’m shot.’ Still, I thought he had only been hit slightly. I did not fire but once as I was satisfied when I saw him retreat.”

The jury in Henderson’s murder trial returned a verdict in two minutes: Not guilty.

And in an intriguing but unexplained footnote to the story, shortly before he died, Otto asked to see Miss Jossie Golman. She said he was nothing to her but a friend and refused to go.

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Friday, October 13, 2006

2 Die in Tong War

Oct. 13, 1907
Los Angeles

Gunmen imported from out of town by the Hop Sing Tong entered the tailor shop of Lem Sing at 806 Juan St. in Chinatown and under the pretense of having some clothing made, wounded him when he turned to reach for some material. The men also killed Wong Goon Kor, who was, according to The Times, “lying in a bunk under the influence of opium.”

The three fleeing men threw away their revolvers as they ran down Marchesault Street, through Stab in the Back Alley to Apablasa Street, where they got into a vegetable wagon that took them away.

But apparently unfamiliar with Chinatown, the gunmen went into the wrong business, mistaking it for the shop at 802 Juan St. run by Joe Fong.

At the hospital, Sing told police: “I owe Chan Mon money. He asked me for it today. Then he sent Deputy Constable McCullock to collect it. I could not pay. Then three Hop Sing Tong men came to my store and asked for clothes. When I turned around, they shot me and my tailor. I fell upon the floor and remember no more until I was brought in here.

“One of the men was about 20 years old, had no queue and was about 5 feet, 6 inches tall and wore American clothes. The second man was about 30 years old and had chin whiskers, and the third man was about 43 years old and wore a queue. He did the shooting.”

Gravely wounded, Sing died the next day after identifying three men as the assailants, although his statement was questioned because he had previously identified three different men.

A few days later, an arraignment was held for Charley Wing of Portland, Ore., a man of mixed ancestry described by The Times as “a man of good education, speaks English fluently and is a power among the yellow men. His hair is brown, his mustache light brown and there is but little appearance of the Oriental in his makeup. In court yesterday, he looked more like some student of theology than like a murderous highbinder.”

Charges were also filed against Charley Sam Foo Ling, known as “the Bakersfield Kid,” and Wong Chung.

The Times noted: “Chinese tong men yesterday buried the dead tong gladiators. From the Pierce Brothers’ morgue, a dismal procession wended its way to the Chinese Cemetery in Boyle Heights. There, the Chinese were interred, money being thrown into the caskets, together with food and paper prayers to see them safe on their journey to heaven.

“On top of the grave, other food was placed to attract the attention of evil spirits lingering near. The chief dish was a fine roast chicken. As soon as the Chinese left the cemetery, evil spirits in the form of barefooted Negro youngsters swarmed down upon the grave and carried off the roast fowl as a prize.”

Historic details like that are certainly vivid, and it’s nice to have them, but they make me wince at the same time.

Unfortunately, there is no further information on the three defendants in the tong killing.

Bonus fact: Apablasa Street was named for the owner of the rancho where the original Chinatown (now the site of Union Station) was built.

Read the Marsakster’s posts on the tong war here and here and here.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

A Foul Wind Blows Over Boyle Heights

A Foul Wind Blows Over Boyle Heights

Oct. 12, 1907
Los Angeles

After repeated complaints to police because half a dozen dead dogs had laid in the streets for two weeks,  the health department tried to charge C.T. Hanson, who held the contract for removing carcasses. But according to the city attorney,  Hanson was only guilty of not abiding by his contract and nothing more.

In fact, Hanson had tried to get out his contract, claiming that he was losing money, but the city refused. “The opinion expressed at the City Hall is that Hanson has grown lax in the collection of carcasses, thinking that he may be able to force the city to more favorable terms,” The Times said.

Hanson also operated a fertilizer company plant in Boyle Heights, drawing the fury of neighbors. He apparently used the issue of not removing dead animals as a bargaining chip in deflecting attempts to close his fertilizer plant.

“I don’t blame those Boyle Heights people for kicking,” Mayor Harper said after visiting the plant. “The stench from that so-called factory is awful. I wouldn’t live on Boyle Heights to the windward of that plant if they would give me the whole hill.”

Unfortunately, no further information is available. Removal of dead animals is now handled by the Bureau of Sanitation.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Death of a Millionaire

Oct. 11,1907
Los Angeles

Perhaps John Bryson’s early life was something out of Horatio Alger, but the death of the Los Angeles developer and self-made millionaire could have easily been taken from the pages of Charles Dickens.

Born in Lancaster, Pa., in 1819 and one of 13 children, Bryson served an apprenticeship as a carpenter and cabinetmaker. Lured by the opportunities of the West, Bryson and his wife, Emeline, moved to Ohio in 1845. From there, the couple moved to Muscatine, Iowa, and then to Los Angeles.

Arriving about 1879, Bryson used his knowledge of construction and the lumber industry to begin as a developer. One of his main projects was the Bryson Block on the northwest corner of Spring and 2nd Streets, a site now occupied by the Los Angeles Times. Active in local affairs, he was elected mayor in 1888 and served one term.

But by 1907, his life had unraveled. Aged and ill, he had separated from his wife and was almost constantly in the company of his longtime nurse, Gladys Lamberton. At odds with his family, Bryson fought constant legal battles with his wife and children, who were seeking to declare him mentally incompetent and under Lamberton’s control so they could obtain control of his vast financial holdings.

Granting an interview to reporters from his bed at the Hotel Alexandria, Bryson answered when asked about Lamberton’s purported influence over him:

“Why, what on earth do you think I am?” Then, bending forward and shaking a bony finger at the reporter, he said: “I paid her for what work she did and for things she purchased for me and not one cent more. To tell the truth, I lived cheaper with her than I did before I left my wife. It used to cost me at the least estimate $1,000 ($20,523.57 USD 2005) a month to run the house before my separation from my wife, and afterward less than $400 a month covered my expenses.

“Hell, man, this thing makes me mad. Here I have lived in this city for over 25 years and have been spoken of as having the usual amount of common sense. The people of Los Angeles elected me mayor. I have amassed a comfortable competence in this city and then someone says that a woman makes me follow her about like a dog and that I take orders from her, and, in short, that I am crazy and a fool. Well they will find out that I am not. I made my money and I am going to keep it to the end.”

I don’t claim to be intimately familiar with Alger’s works, but I doubt his heroes talk this way.

Sadly, the fighting between the nurse and the family continued after Bryson’s death. He was hurriedly buried in a secret ceremony at Rosedale Cemetery.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Want Ads

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Confidence Woman

Oct. 9, 1907
Los Angeles

She was known as Trellis C. Harris or Trellis Blessing—or Edna Hall. But her method was always the same. She would commit some theft, then fake an epileptic fit, spitting up blood from a capsule hidden in her mouth.

On a train to Los Angeles, Harris stole claim checks from another woman and made off with two trunks. When officers tracked her down in Pasadena, she fainted and was taken to a physician. At the doctor’s office, she faked one of her fits and was transported to the county hospital. She finally admitted taking the trunks, but blamed the theft on her illness and pleaded with authorities to send her to Kansas City.

Police discovered that Harris was well-known to authorities and had worked her scam in Arizona, with stops in Phoenix, Bisbee and Prescott, and in Kansas City.

“In Prescott, she secured from oversympathetic persons considerable money,” The Times said. “It is stated that she spilled blood over herself and the bedclothes in her room and then sent for a physician. After she had gone, it was learned that she had secured a bucket of blood from a butcher shop.”

In fact, Harris had staged a scam in Los Angeles several months earlier. In February 1907, she claimed to have been hurt by a trolley at 4th and Spring streets, but ran away from county hospital, charging that doctors kept her under the influence of opiates.

“Suffering from an operation made necessary by the accident,” The Times said, noting that she had no money, “the young woman applied to the police yesterday afternoon for help. She had been vomiting blood and was put to bed in the women’s ward of the Receiving Hospital.”

After her latest fraud, Harris was taken from the hospital to the County Jail, but there is no further word on her fate.

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Sunday, October 08, 2006

White Croaker

Oct. 8, 1907
Los Angeles

Health officials and a deputy district attorney have joined to urge the Board of Supervisors to ban fishing within a half-mile of the city’s Hyperion line that pours sewage into Santa Monica Bay.

“It is claimed that the city markets are flooded with fish taken near the sewer outlet,” The Times says, “and that they have fed upon sewage until they are unfit for food and spread disease among fish-eaters.”

Question from 2006: Is it safe to eat fish caught in Santa Monica Bay?

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