Archive for March, 2011

A successful, failed bank job

Bank of America, Broadway & 7th (LAPL)

The desperate man walked into the Bank of America branch and crossed the lobby to the second teller window–to Mrs. Joy Holker, 28, the one with the kind eyes. He handed her a brown envelope and a note which read “This is a holdup. Fill up the envelope. Also have a jar of acid.” She obeyed, quickly stacking $540 in $10 bills and passing them across the counter. But as she counted, she gave her robber the once-over. She didn’t buy it, not from this guy. As he turned away, she came out from behind the counter and chased him onto Broadway, screaming “Stop that man!”

victim

A motorcycle cop, Charles Randolph, heard her cries, as did patrolman R. Mierdiercks. They took off after the robber, who had darted east on 7th Street. He turned south down Spring, and tried to hide in a parking lot mid-block. They busted him there, and he surrendered peacefully.

robber

Kenneth St. Onge, 35, had a cap pistol, a bottle of colored water and a sob story. He said he’d come out from Detroit with his wife and seven sons last September, but couldn’t find any work. For three weeks, the family slept in their 1947 Studebaker, until wife Esther found work as a waitress. They’d then moved into a quonset hut at 1480 Landa Street, rent $25 a week plus utilities. After two months, the electric bill came. It was $67, which is how they learned their landlord had wired up an apartment, a trailer and a garage to their meter. With only one pair of decent shoes for all the children, he’d spend his days driving first one, then another child to attend a class or two, then pick up Esther. Whatever she made in tips, that was their dinner fund. Everything else went to the landlord.

Then Esther got pregnant again, and couldn’t stay on her feet all day. They had nothing left.  He didn’t know what else to do, so he did this.  “I guess I knew I’d get caught, but I figured at least the State would have to take care of my wife and kids,” he mused.

Los Angeles briefly fell in love with the sad sack, especially after he appeared on local television bemoaning his fate. Over $1000 in donations poured in, along with clothes for the kids and a job for daddy at City of Hope. The family was offered a furnished home in La Puente for nothing down.

family

Just over a month after his life of crime fizzled out, a proud Kenneth St. Onge celebrated Easter with his wife and children in court, as Judge Thurmond Clarke ruled “Because of your record, your family and your children, I am going to grant you probabtion in this case. For robbing a national bank, I’ve certainly been very lenient.”

“People have been so kind. I know everything is going to turn out all right now. This is,” said St. Onge, “the best break I ever had.”

And all he had to do to get it was to cross over to the dark side. There’s a lesson in there somewhere, we guess, maybe nothing more profound than that most folks like to hear about someone who’s got it even worse than they do.

 

Photos: Bank of America from LAPL, others Los Angeles Times

March 31, 2011 at 10:09 pm Leave a comment

Ghosts of the Menlo Hotel

The old Menlo Hotel, corner of Winston and Main, was the way station for many a visiting Angeleno, and the last exit for a few. The Menlo offered moderate weekly and monthly rates to appeal to the varied respectable folk who flocked to the growing city. Most of them are long forgotten, but it’s hard to feel badly about this obscurity. When the names are known, too often there’s tragedy attached.

Case in point, Mrs. Harriet Mortimer Palmer, aged 25. On the afternoon of April 10, 1890, she used a revolver to shoot herself through the heart in her room in the Menlo. Harriet and her husband, both invalids, had come from Toronto during the winter. They lived quietly in the hotel, he struggling with his heart disease and she with consumption.

In March, her condition worsened, but when Dr. T.J. McCarthy was called, she refused his care, and demanded to move into an adjoining room away from her spouse. Once alone, Mr. Palmer spoke candidly with the doctor, complaining that his wife’s nervousness and irritability were a torment, as were her regular threats to do harm to herself. The worry was impacting his own health.

On April 10, Mr. Palmer had a crisis, and the doctor came several times to attend to him. It was during one of these visits that a shot rang out in the next room, and when McCarthy rushed in, he found Mrs. Palmer dying, sprawled across the pillows she had heaped upon the bed to catch her as she fell. The bullet passed through her left breast, spine and shoulder, and was recovered about fifty feet down the hall. A note in her satchel read “I am thoroughly tired of life and so end it by my own hand. Please kindly send notice of my death to my aunt in Canada.” As for Mr. Palmer, he was reported to be in critical condition, and it was feared the shock of his wife’s death would kill him. But if it did, his passing did not make the papers. The maids came in and cleaned their rooms, and life at the Menlo went on.

 

menlo hotel palmer suicide headline

Late one evening in March 1896, a respectable looking young woman in a gown of black, woolen brocade and a matching cape lined with salmon silk made her way out to Westlake Park. She removed her cape and hat, placed them neatly on a bench, and drowned herself in the lake. In the morning, her things were spotted by gentlemen walking in the park, and after a brief search, her corpse was found floating near the shore.

Westlake Park Boat House, usc collection CHS-32466  

above: Westlake Park Boat House circa 1900, California Historical Society Collection, USC

Unidentified, her body was exhibited for most of the day in the undertaking parlor of Orr & Hines, where a stream of grim voyeurs trailed through, each pretending they hoped to give a name to the victim. In the afternoon, a friend finally gazed upon the face and knew it: William Davis, restaurant man, declared “This girl was until recently my mother’s chambermaid at the Menlo Hotel. She left a week ago last Sunday, giving us no reason.”

In her purse was found a pawn ticket from Mr. Morris’ shop, showing that she’d left a watch under the name Nellie Emerson. This was the name the Davises first knew her by, although over the five months of her employment they had accidentally found that she was really called Minnie Judy. Minnie was 24 with family in the Northwest, and had been out on her own since the age of 16. She was described as unfailingly good natured, so her departure and apparent suicide were a mystery.

 

menlo hotel judy suicide headline

Two men came forward with stories of having seen the girl before her fatal plunge. Veterinarian R.T. Whittlesay, offices on Broadway near Seventh (just a block from the funeral home where she lay on display), remembered a sad face gazing into his window on Tuesday night and was certain it was she. And an unnamed colored man who worked in a Winston Street corral and had known her for a year claimed he saw Minnie Judy the night of her death coming out of the old Los Angeles Theater with a dashingly dressed, dark-haired man. He said he heard the man suggest they catch a cab, as the last streetcar had passed. But officials had doubts about this tale, as the witness described the girl as wearing a large, feathered hat, not the small, modest one found on the bench in the park.

Why would a girl drown herself in 1890s Los Angeles? We have the usual suspicions. Had she been “ruined” by some cad, or did she have an inner sadness she didn’t show to other people? Was she really out at the theater with an unknown man the night she died? We’ll likely never know. But spare a moment to remember this poor lost girl of the city, and Messers Walters, Irving, Holt and Canserd whose morning constitutional was shattered by their discovery of the waterlogged lass, and the hundreds who took a few moments of their day to gaze upon a dead, drowned face for their amusement. And remember too the old Menlo Hotel, which was briefly home to thousands of anonymous souls, and to a very few whose names we know.

March 29, 2011 at 5:57 pm Leave a comment

The Case of the Medical Electrician aka Abortionist


“The girl was thirsty and wanted ice water constantly.  She wouldn’t eat much, and vomited black stuff.  She was in a great deal of pain on her left side and her abdomen.”  So ended the short life of Lillie Hattery, age 22, on February 5th, 1897, in the clinic of “Dr.” Calvin S. Hastings, Medical Electrician, according to testimony presented at his murder trial.

When Lillie Hattery came from San Bernardino to visit her sister in Los Angeles in late January, she arrived with the names of people rumored to perform “criminal operations.”  “Dr.” Hastings, who practiced without the benefit of a medical license, was third on the list.  According to testimony at the trial, Lillie paid $200 for Hastings’ services, which included multiple applications of electrical current to the back and abdomen, as well as a surgical procedure, which resulted in copious blood loss by the patient.  Lillie suffered from fever, convulsions, and severe pain for a week, during which Hastings treated her solely with electrical stimulation. Two licensed medical doctors examined Lillie’s body after it had been delivered to the morgue, and determined that the cause of death was septicemia due to blood poisoning.  They also determined that she had been pregnant and undergone an attempted abortion.

At his trial, Hastings testified that Lillie Hattery suffered from an injured ankle, which he treated with electrical stimulation.  He claimed that she appeared in good health until the very last moment before she succumbed to what he assumed must have been an internal abnormality such as a diseased heart or some other affliction.  Although the prosecution presented evidence of perjury and intimidation of witnesses on the part of both Hastings and his nurse, along with surgical instruments found in Hastings’ offices that were commonly used for abortion procedures, as well as closed court testimony from a young woman who had recently undergone the criminal operation in Hastings’ care and had almost died, the jury still found Hastings innocent in the death of Lillie Hattery.

Hastings was even able to post bond during the trial, thanks to the generosity of a female admirer, and re-located his Medical Electrician clinic for business down the street in the Hammond Block at 120 1/2 South Spring.  Hastings’ Medical Electrician Clinic’s Grand Opening so provoked a dentist in residence there that the man came to blows with the rental agent, and promptly moved out of the disgraced office building, where, he claimed, no decent woman would now darken a door.


Spring Street, looking south from First Street 1900-1910
USC Digital Archive

After his acquittal, Hastings married the woman who posted his bond.  In later years she turns up as one of the many sufferers who find miraculous relief at the hands of the great healer, Rama, of the Rama Institute at 305 ½ South Spring Streets, Los Angeles. One can only wonder why Mrs. Hastings’ own husband was unable to heal her deafness with his electrical stimulation.


LA Times Historical Archives

Dr. Calvin S. Hastings was still practicing medicine without a license in 1911 when the state attorney filed a complaint against him during a campaign to shut down so-called “Quack Chink Doctors.”

March 23, 2011 at 7:26 pm Leave a comment


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