Saturday, December 09, 2006

Not a Coward

Dec. 9, 1907
Los Angeles

Mayor Harper has restored E.J. Bowen to his old job in the Fire Department after the rookie police officer was fired for allegedly being a coward—a charge that Bowen, who is black, blames on racism.

Bowen transferred to the Police Department almost six months ago and his probationary period was almost over when he was accused of cowardice in two instances. In the first incident, Bowen allegedly refused to enter a house where burglars had been reported and in the second, he would not enter an unlocked store until another officer accompanied him.

He gave the following accounts: Two daughters of an attorney named Sturgis [possibly Alonzo A. Sturgis] thought they heard burglars in their home on Chicago Street, which was apparently in Boyle Heights. They ran out of the house and told a streetcar crew, who reported the incident to Bowen. Bowen allegedly was afraid to go into the house unless a streetcar motorman accompanied him, but the officer said he went to the home at once and searched it. The motorman came along on his own initiative, Bowen said.

He also said that while patrolling his beat, he found an unlocked cigar store, but refused to enter until another officer arrived, not out fear, but because he was afraid that if anything was missing, he would be accused of theft.

After the allegations were made, the streetcar motorman and the second officer from the cigar store incident visited Mayor Harper, saying that Bowen was being “jobbed” out of the department.

Police officials told The Times that Bowen wasn’t actually found guilty of cowardice, but lack of aggression and being too timid about taking responsibility.

e-mail: lmharnisch (AT)

Shout out to Nathan—Happy birthday, crime buddy!

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Whereabouts Unknown

Dec. 8, 1907
Los Angeles

I’ll apologize now, for this is an account with more questions than answers; a story of heartbreak and hope without an ending.

The Times features three members of the Schiffman family who are Jewish refugees from Baku, Russia (now part of Azerbaijan): Sigmund, the father; Benjamin, the 15-year-old son, and Emella [or Emelia], the 10-year-old daughter. The Schiffmans have been brought to Los Angeles as part of the Galveston Plan, in which Jews were taken to Galveston, Texas, for dispersal throughout the West because New York was overcrowded.

Although Sigmund is quite a scholar, speaking German, Russian, Polish, Greek, Latin and, of course, Hebrew, he is making a living as a door-to-door salesman. Benjamin, according to The Times, has had to abandon his education to work in tailor shop. “He is a faithful worker but his youthful spirit rebels at the change from study to ‘rubbing clothes,’ ” The Times says.

Emella is described as “one of the prettiest Jewish maids who has ever come out of Russia.” She is attending the California Street School, where she is studying English. So far, her knowledge of the language is limited to a useful American phrase: “Hurry up.” However, she is quite expressive in German and when told that The Times wanted to take her picture, said: “I must be a very important personage for the newspaper to desire my picture.”

The elder Schiffman tells of the horrific conditions in Baku at the hands of the Cossacks. “All people in Russia have the greatest fear of the ‘Black Hundred,’ ” he says, “which is not a single hundred but bands of the lowest and most brutal Cossacks, nightly let loose to work their will upon any person supposed to have thought adverse to the government. They lie around, stupid and asleep in the daytime. In the evening they are plied with vodka and drink-crazed, brutalized, are set to raid homes. They enjoy government immunity for any deed committed.”

What became of the Schiffmans? We simply have no record of them. Not in The Times, not in online public records—nowhere. Perhaps they changed their names or perhaps they left Los Angeles.

All we do know is that the local Jewish organizations, B’nai B’rith, the Hebrew Benevolent Society, the Jewish Women’s Foreign Relief Association and the Jewish Sisterhood helped them. Sigmund Schiffman was supposed to address a group about “Governmental Conditions and Methods of Persecution in Russia,” but The Times apparently did not cover his talk.

e-mail: lmharnisch (AT) gmailcom

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Confession of Morris Buck

Dec. 7, 1907
Los Angeles

“I asked if she received the letter. She said she had. I asked her if she would loan me a sum of money to be paid back monthly and I was going to open a bakeshop.

“She said that she had so many—several calls for money, that she didn’t see how she could loan me any and she says: ‘Why can’t you work?’

“I said I had been working but I never got anything ahead to start up in business. She says: ‘Have you any relations? Can’t you borrow any money from Will?’

“He is my brother. I told her that he was poorer than I was.

“I told her I was different from the others.

“She says: ‘You wait here’ and she went in the hall and she came out again. I was standing up.

“She came over toward me and I says: ‘Who did you ring up?

“She says: ‘I rang James, the coachman.’

“At the same time, she placed her hand in her vest and I moved to the left....

“As soon as I saw her hand in her vest I turned to the right and I pulled my gun and I says: ‘Throw up your hands.’

“And she says: ‘Put down that gun’ and she turns and says ‘Go back, he has got a gun’ and she would not put her hands up.

“And I says: ‘Would you strike an old man?’

“And she says: ‘Yes.’

“I says: ‘Would you put me into an asylum?’

“And she says: ‘Yes.’

“And I pulled the trigger and she hollered: ‘Help!’

“I pulled the trigger the third time. It only went off twice. I pulled it twice and then I pulled it the third time and it wouldn’t fire. I was about two feet from her. I was afraid of my own life. I didn’t see any weapon that she had. But I didn’t want to take any chances.”

.... “She fell and I said something over the body. I don’t remember what.

“Then I went toward the railing and I saw a lot of men in the road and I put the gun up to my head and I said: ‘Gentlemen, must I blow it out?’

“Nobody said anything that I could hear. I said: ‘Gentlemen, it relies on you.’

“Somebody says: ‘Who has got a gun? Shoot him.’ And then somebody says: ‘Give me the gun.’

“I was sitting down on the rocking chair. Then I got up and I says... I was sitting down and says: ‘Don’t any of you shoot. Let an officer take charge of this.’

“Then they says: ‘Kill him. Hang him.’

“And I got up and I pulled my gun. I had two guns. And they says: ‘Look out, he has got another gun.’

“I stepped back and I run. I jumped over the rope on the side porch and run to the next corner. I must have lost my other gun. It dropped out of my pocket. I ran down on 4th Street and then down as far as Westlake.”

... “I run into the ice cream parlor and I says; ‘There is a fellow after me.’ And I says: ‘Close the door and don’t let him in till an officer comes.’

“And he says: ‘We know it. Lean over’ and she [he?] shut the door. And an officer came and brought me here.”

Morris Buck was convicted in the Jan. 27, 1906, slaying of his former employer, the wife of Charles A. Canfield, an oil executive and partner of E.L. Doheny, at the Canfield home at 8th and Alvarado. According to The Times, Buck shot her once after she refused to loan him $2,600, and her young daughter screamed and ran into the house. The wounded woman wrestled with Buck as he shot her again.

Buck claimed that he was insane, having once been kicked in the head by a horse. He had been held in the mental ward at the County Hospital for two months in 1903, but the insanity plea was rejected as a ruse.

An expert on Bertillon criminology said: “Buck is one of the most interesting criminals I ever saw. I do not believe he is insane; he is, in my opinion, a low degenerate from the effect of vicious personal habits.

“His eyes are dull and perfectly lifeless; his lower jaw lops open and his scrawny, limp body seems to be giving away at the knees. It seems as though there is not a drop of real life in him.”

The criminologist warned: “If that man is ever hanged you can be prepared for something horrible. I have seen men of just his stamp hanged—weak degenerates. Awful! They break down and are dragged to the gallows weeping and sobbing like children and are held up to have the noose put on.”

In fact, Buck went quietly:

“This morning, he awoke early, and after dressing himself in the clothes in which he was to be executed, he ate a hearty breakfast,” The Times says. “Father Callopy remained with him until he was declared dead.”

“A few moments before the time set for the execution, the warden entered the condemned cell and read the death warrant. Buck’s hands were then strapped to his sides and the march to the gallows was begun at 10:50. Warden Hoyle took the lead, then came the priests, chanting prayers for the dying and following came the condemned man, a guard on each side.

“He then stood upon the trap. Guard Albrogast placed the rope around his neck, drew the black cap, the signal was given and his body dropped.

“Below the trap stood the prison physician, Dr. Stone, and Dr. Galehuse of San Rafael. In 14 minutes, the condemned man was declared dead. The body was cut down and placed in a prison coffin.”

In an interesting footnote, five of Canfield’s children received $500 a piece from her estate. Another woman named Hattie Elizabeth Bryant or Dorothy Canfield was given $5. “It is not my desire that she be recognized as one of my children,” Canfield’s will said. Years later, it was revealed that Dorothy was a foundling taken in by the Canfields.

In 1911, Canfield’s son, Charles, fled to Mexico after passing worthless checks. His father said: “I don’t know where he is and I don’t care.”

In 1917, the five Canfield daughters, as trustees of $100,000, sought to sell their late father’s real estate to establish a school for girls.

In 1933, daughter Daisy Canfield Moreno died when the car in which she was riding plunged off Mulholland Highway on her way home from a late-night party at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.

In 1972, the Canfield Foundation dissolved, giving $700,000 to Mills College and $1 million each to Pepperdine and Stanford.

And nowhere, in any of these news stories, do we learn Mrs. C.A. Canfield’s first name. It is almost beyond belief.

e-mail: lmharnisch (AT)

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Note to "Dahlia Avenger" Fans

Here’s a publicity still of “Maddy” Comfort from “Kiss Me Deadly” for sale on EBay. Her name is also spelled “Mattie” and “Mady.”

Comfort is referred to in the Los Angeles County district attorney’s files on George Hodel. Investigators checking on his possible involvement in the Black Dahlia murder discovered two photos of her, one by herself in which she is nude and another in which she and George Hodel are holding a cat.

When shown the photos
, Hodel’s former wife Dorothy was unable to identify the model. But she is identified elsewhere in the district attorney’s files as “Mattie Comfort, 4028 W. 28th St. RE 2-0207 HO 4-0266.”

By the way, the woman in one of the photos that Steve Hodel claims shows Elizabeth Short has positively been identified as Marya Marco a.k.a. Maria San Marco. Just as I’ve been saying from Day One. I don’t read Steve Hodel’s website, but people who do informed me that Hodel says Marco recognized herself in publicity photos about the case and contacted him. As with all the important witnesses in “Avenger,” she is given a phony a name.

Here's another picture of Comfort in a screen grab from "Kiss Me Deadly."

And another photo for sale on EBay:

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Shout Out to Nathan

The Price of a Daughter

Dec. 5, 1907
St. Louis

A Los Angeles couple have a novel way of making money: Antonio Thompson and his wife sell their daughter Marie to the Gypsies, then go to court to get her back. According to statements taken in St. Louis, Marie has been sold off several times as a Gypsy princess.

The girl’s father obtained a writ of habeas corpus to get custody of Marie, 16, who was living with “King” Peter Adams, 17, in a local Gypsy encampment, The Times said. Thompson claimed that a Gypsy named Leon Lehan eloped with Marie when she was 12 and sold her to man named Elihi. The father says that as soon as Marie eloped, he and his wife set out after her and have traveled thousands of miles trying to get her back.

Adams, however, accused the Thompsons of running a scheme in which they sold off their daughter repeatedly, most recently for $800 ($16,418.86 USD 2005). “Pete Adams asserts that his wife has been sold four times by her father within the last year for sums aggregating $2,700,” The Times says. “He declares that Thompson now intends to get the girl back for the purpose of selling her again.”

The next day, the Thompsons were awarded custody of Marie, but were immediately arrested on charges of selling her into slavery.

Antonio Thompson refused to deny the accusation, shrugging his shoulders and saying: “Does a man sell his own daughter?”

Unfortunately, The Times never pursued this story, so we don’t know what became of the Thompsons or Peter Adams.

e-mail: lmharnisch (AT)

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Ambush in Arcadia

Dec. 4, 1907

Charley Chew, the water superintendent on the Lucky Baldwin ranch, had fired two Mexican workers several months ago and one dark night near the Unruh residence, they ambushed him, shooting him in the back. Chew drew his pistol and shot Francisco Ramirez and Miguel Palamoratz in the stomach, then fled.

Badly wounded, Ramirez and Palamoratz struggled to walk about a mile to a friend’s house in a small settlement near the Baldwin store in Santa Anita, leaving a trail of blood along the railway tracks through Baldwin’s vineyard.

Arcadia Marshal O.C. “ Jack” Berdie, upon learning that Chew had been shot, visited him, dressed his wounds and questioned him about the attack. Chew said it was so dark when he was ambushed that he couldn’t see how badly he had wounded Ramirez and Palamoratz.

“The Mexican and Chinese laborers on the Baldwin ranch are always looking for trouble with each other, and the Mexicans bitterly resented Chew’s action,” The Times said. “Knowing of the bad blood between the Chinese and Mexicans, all of the houses of either side were searched by the marshal and his assistant, Charles Davis, without avail.”

Bertie finally found the men and took them to the county hospital, where Ramirez died and Palamoratz was in critical condition.

The Times never published any further stories about the incident, leaving us to wonder about ethnic feuds on Baldwin’s ranch. By 1914, Berdie had given up his post as Arcadia marshal and was working as a bailiff in downtown Los Angeles. It is difficult to believe that “Palamoratz” is a correct spelling, but California death records are completely unhelpful in locating that spelling or anything more typical, like Palomares.

And in the continuing story of the Mexican revolutionaries, authorities are taking extreme precautions to prevent an escape attempt aided by the crowds surrounding the men during the daily walks to and from court.

Due to fears of an attempted rescue, officials now require people entering the courthouse to state their purpose and sympathizers of the revolutionaries are barred from the corridor outside the courtroom, The Times says.

e-mail: lmharnisch (AT)

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Sunday, December 03, 2006

In the Line of Duty

Dec. 3, 1907
Los Angeles

Officer Patrick Lyons had been on the force for four months when he was shot in the head while trying to arrest two robbers a little after 11 p.m. at Central Avenue and 14th Street.

There’s no picture of him in The Times, and news stories say nothing about his past or his family. His superiors at University Station said the 30-year-old officer, who lived at 720 E. 5th St., had previously worked as a special patrolman and was “a most promising young policeman.” We know far more about the killer, Daniel Meskil, and his companion, Rolla Robe. They had barely met before they began the holdups that would climax in Lyons’ death.

Meskil arrived from Chicago a month earlier and had just rented a room at 933 S. Broadway when he shot himself in the left hand trying to catch a heavy revolver he knocked off a table. At the Receiving Hospital, doctors amputated portions of his index finger and thumb.

Investigation showed that Meskil had been the terror of the Nebraska town where he had grown up, inflicting violence on his family. He was frequently in trouble with the law and had served time in reform school. Meskil said he once killed a man by knocking the victim down a cliff, simply because he felt like it. A few days before the slaying, Officer Roller had searched Meskil because he looked suspicious. “For that I made up my mind to kill you just as soon as I got an easy chance,” Meskil said during his trial.

Robe, a union plasterer, said he met Meskil on Nov. 30 at the Arizona poolroom on Main, which served as the union hall. Meskil asked him to have a drink “and we went out and had several drinks, eight or 10, and Meskil paid for them because I was broke,” Robe said.

“Meskil seemed to have plenty of money and said he got it by holding people up, and that the Los Angeles police were easy, and he asked me to join him in getting a place that night and said I need not be seen. I told him I was not in that business but at last I said I would join him as I was broke.”

More drinks followed, and Meskil went into Hoegee’s hardware store, where he bought an old Colt Bisley .45 with an outdated box of black powder cartridges. Then they went to hold up Gerleman’s market at 813 S. Central Ave., where Robe used to work, only to be run off when the owner’s daughter yelled “Here come two policemen!”

The men fled in the market’s horse-drawn wagon, which they crashed trying to avoid a streetcar, then went to a winery at 14th and Central. In scooping money from the cash drawer, Robe scattered dimes all over the floor and Meskil forced him to pick up the money, saying: “Damn you; if you do a job like that again I’ll kill you.”

Lyons was standing across the street and saw the men. Winery owner Arthur Grosser said he heard Lyons order: “Throw up your hands. Give me that gun or I’ll kill you.” As Lyons searched Robe, Meskil drew the Colt .45 and shot the officer. Grosser said he saw Lyons “lying on the sidewalk with a gaping wound in his forehead, one eye shot out and the blood was running in a thin stream to the gutter.” The men fled, although Robe was quickly captured.

During the autopsy, investigators recovered fragments of the bullet, which shattered when it hit Lyons’ skull. By weight, police determined that it was too heavy to have been from Robe’s .38, but had been fired from a .45. Because of the old, caked grease on the bullet fragments, investigators determined that it was an obsolete military cartridge and soon located receipts from the sale at Hoegee’s store, the only place in town where such ammunition was sold. A search was begun for a man missing a left index finger and thumb.

Walking his beat the next day, Officer Anthony Connelly noticed a suspicious stranger watching a game of checkers in a poolroom at 7th Street and Central. Making sure he had his pistol ready, Connelly asked to see the man’s left hand, which was in a pocket. “What the hell business is it of yours?” the man asked.

As soon as Connelly pulled out the man’s left hand, Miskel drew a pistol and the men fought, but Connelly was able to jam his hand against the hammer of the gun so that it wouldn’t fire. “Billiard cues were scattered about the room and everything breakable had been broken,” The Times said. Meskil’s fight for his life ended when Connelly yelled at one of the men to help and someone cracked Meskil on the head with a pool cue.

The men were convicted of Lyons’ murder. Robe was sentenced to life in prison and Meskil was sent to the gallows. It was sometimes thought that Meskil would undergo a jailhouse conversion as he was frequently visited by gospel singers and ministers. “One day a preacher asked Meskil to pray with him in the jail office,” The Times said. “They both got down on their knees and the murderer arose with tears streaming down his face.”

“I never heard about that before,” Meskil said. “And that is as near conversion as he ever got,” The Times said.

At San Quentin, Meskil became known as one of the hardest and toughest men, often attacking his cellmates. There were the usual appeals and for a time it looked like Meskil would not be executed. But then a final date was set.

Before he could be hanged, Meskil tried to commit suicide by escaping from his cell and jumping from the roof. He spent the last months of his life dying by inches in constant pain with “tuberculosis of the spine” as a result of breaking his back.

“He shrieks in agony until given opiates,” The Times says.

e-mail: lmharnisch (AT)

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