Posts filed under ‘location tag’

Babies 4 Sale

 A girl of 16, Sadie Engelmann, left her family to try her hand at fame and fortune on the stage.  In San Diego, her beauty, if not her craft, won her many admirers, among them a dashing stenographer with the US Navy by the name of John Harvey.

When Sadie found herself abandoned by John and in need of a midwife, she checked in to the Bellevue Avenue Lying-in Institute in Los Angeles, where she deposited a newborn boy, whom she left in the care of the proprietress, “Dr.” Catherine Smith. At this point a disagreement ensued between Sadie and “Dr.” Smith concerning the details of the babe’s status.  Sadie claimed she left the child temporarily in “Dr.” Smith’s care, in order to earn enough money to pay the bill she incurred during her delivery. She testified that once she had settled her debt she would re-assume custody of the child.  “Dr.” Smith alleged Sadie sold her the newborn outright to pay off her debts and to free herself from the undue burden of its care.  Whatever the exact nature of their understanding, “Dr.” Smith appears to have taken possession of the child, and in turn sold the baby boy to a Mrs. W.W. Wilson, who had already acquired three other infants in a nefarious plot to appear as if she were the mother of quadruplets.

Stole baby quartet

The miraculously sudden appearance of the quartet of babies attracted the attention of the authorities, who promptly summoned Mrs. Wilson, “Dr.” Smith, Sadie Engelmann, and other parents of the illegitimate infants in to court to sort out the affair.  During the course of the trial, Sadie Engelmann claimed to have been accosted and threatened by various burglars “of Mexican aspect,” who, she alleged, were sent by “Dr.” Smith to dissuade her from testifying.

According to court testimony, Mrs. Wilson grew despondent after many years of trying to bear her own children, and eventually conceived the plan to to fill her and her husband’s home with a readymade brood of abandoned youngsters. She enacted this plan years before the quadruplets affair, procuring three children, whom she presented to her husband as his own, each time using an ingenious series of pads and pillows to trick him into believing she had indeed carried each child to term. The children were in the couple’s possession at the time of Mrs. Wilson’s attempted quadruplets heist. 

The trial ended with the conviction of “Dr.” Smith on the charge of child stealing. Upon appeal, the court handed down a sentence of 5 years probation, during which Smith was to cease and desist the practice of midwifery. 

Eventually, Mrs. Wilson was permitted to adopt the three children in her care before the trial, and to become a foster-mother to the two girls among the quadruplets. The boys, including Sadie Engelmann’s son, did not survive infancy. Mrs. Wilson went on to take on more foster-children, and to run a daycare facility in Hollywood. 

June 11, 2010 at 1:06 am 1 comment

Fate Rolled the Dice of Fortune for “Farmer” Page

 

Image courtesy of the LA Times Historical Archive

By the time he was 12, Milton B. Page had his own corner of downtown Los Angeles, as well as his nickname “Farmer,” for his shambling gait and ill-fitting clothes.  By morning, Farmer Page sold newspapers at 2nd and Spring; by night he rolled dice and played poker with his fellow newsboys in the alley nearby.   After a stint playing valet to his younger brother Stanley, a famous jockey, Farmer returned to the city and eventually conducted a big game in the basement of the Del Monte Bar on West Third Street.  Club after club followed, until Farmer owned controlling interests in five establishments, and was the de facto leading gambler in Southern California. 

While Page and his dealings were well known to the downtown police force, his first significant clash with the law didn’t come until 1925, after he bested a disgruntled former employee, Al Joseph, in a gunfight at the Sorrento, on 1348 West 6th Street. Page claimed the shooting was in self-defense, the culmination of a drawn-out underworld feud between himself and Joseph, who had become a member of the notorious “Spud” Murphy gang of San Francisco, and had made repeated threats on Page’s life.  Page turned himself into the authorities after the slaying.

In the court proceedings, Joseph was portrayed by the defense as a vicious and turbulent man, a hijacker and a thug, who “packed a business gun of large caliber, and a smaller social gun for festive occasions.”  Farmer was found innocent of murder, and was excused his 50 thousand dollar bond. 

The trial might have freed Farmer, but the testimony of his many associates revealed the extent of the gambler’s bootlegging operations, and resulted in eventually driving Farmer out of downtown and on to a gambling boat moored off the coast of Santa Monica. From there he followed fellow kingpins Guy McAfee and Tudor Scherer to Las Vegas. These big shots of the Roaring Twenties banded together and bought controlling stakes in such hotels and casinos as the El Rancho Vegas. Fittingly, “Farmer” Page died in a hotel at 2205 West Sixth Street in 1960, at the age of 73.  He was survived by a son, the seemingly mild-mannered bookstore owner, Milton B, Page, Jr.

March 20, 2010 at 1:39 am Leave a comment

Interview with a Murderess


Aurellia Scheck, a 19-year-old laundry girl, loved Ernest Stackpole, a handsome, well-off young man, ten years her senior, who had come to Los Angeles from out east and rented a room in her mother’s boarding house. Together, she and Ernest plotted to murder Aurellia’s husband Joel, a plumber, so that they could collect the $500 for which his life was insured.

On June 14, 1906, Aurellia let Stackpole into the bedroom at the rear of 524 San Julian street where Joel lay sleeping, and Stackpole shot Joel – once in the heart and once straight through his forehead. 

Aurellia claimed that two burglars had fired their pistols when Joel woke up and surprised them. The police didn’t believe her, not least because armed burglars were rare in the San Julian street area in those days, there being little worth stealing in any of the dilapidated houses.

The lovers were arrested and Aurellia soon cracked under interrogation, turning state’s witness in exchange for immunity from prosecution. After a trial that occupied the front pages of the city’s newspapers that summer, Stackpole was sentenced to life imprisonment, and Aurellia was remanded in custody on a charge of perjury, which never came to trial but which kept her locked up for three months. 

Shortly before her release from the city jail, a Los Angeles Herald reporter secured the only interview that she ever gave the press, in which she spoke about her awful life and how she had become involved in murder. 

Understandably, the interview differs to a large degree from her testimony in court. In order to condemn Stackpole, she had had to damn herself, too, by describing in detail the murder plot and her part in it. Speaking to the Herald’s reporter, she naturally tried to distance herself from the crime. Also, although the article claims to report Aurellia’s actual words, they were obviously prettied up by the journalist, as they lapse occasionally into the purplish and melodramatic language that was a mark of the paper’s feature pages. 

Still, her story is worth reading, not only for the insight into the mind of a woman who got away with murder but for the glimpse of a life that, in its early particulars, is probably similar to the lives of many of those who drifted west in the early 20th century, heading for the bright lights and dark streets of SRO land. 

“It won’t take long to tell all I know about myself,” Aurelia said. “I haven’t been on earth very long, and while things have happened rather rapidly in my life this last trouble has so far overshadowed them all that I can think of nothing else.

“I was born in lowa not quite twenty years ago. My mother and father separated two years after my birth, and after that I travelled about with my mother and sister.

“My mother was a nurse of experience and she made a good living that way until she met a man whom she thought she loved.

“At any rate they married, and from that time on I begun to realize what the world really was. We lived a gypsy life, travelling day and night through the hills and woods of Missouri, Arkansas, lowa and Nebraska.

“It was beg for food in the day time and sleep about a camp fire out in the woods at night.

“Strange fancies came to me then in those wild surroundings and I feared the dark, feared the shapes and shadows of the smoke from the camp fire and wondered what the world was made for and why we were all living on it. I have thought those same thoughts lying in my cell over there, with some woman of the town snoring off a drunken sleep within a dozen feet of me, and I have never found an answer to it.

“At last, my mother separated from my father. Their last quarrel was as violent as the life had been. I can see my mother now, pointing across the Missouri river to the far bank and my father slowly trudging toward its shadowy forests. That was the way they parted, and then we came to California.

“I was 11 years old then, and I managed to get one year’s schooling, then it was work for me, hard work at the washing machine, until, I thought my back would break. It was there that I met Joel Scheck, a slender lad who worked one of the wringing machines.

“I quit work there and went to work in a box factory. I spent four years at that, making berry boxes at 6 cents a hundred.

“What chance did I have? I had no education, I had been reared as a gypsy and at the time when every young girl is budding into womanhood and having a good time with her friends in little entertainments I was compelled to kick away at a box making machine.

“I married Joel Scheck when I was 17 years of age. He was only a boy and we went to live on San Julian street.

“At that time I went to work at my mother’s lodging house. I did the work for her for a while, and would then hurry home and do the work at my own home.

“I had never had the fun that other girls have, of going to theaters, and entertainments, so that what wonder was it that I should be lonesome when my husband left me in the evening? He rarely ever spent an evening with me.

“He went out early and came in late, and I was there all by myself, fearfully lonesome, while he was out enjoying himself.

“Then came the voice of the tempter.

“It was at my mother’s house that I met Ernest Stackpole. He was a boarder there, and in that way we met every day. He said he was just in from Arizona, and he always had plenty of money.”


(At this point, I should state what Aurellia did not then know: that the dashing young Stackpole was actually a convicted burglar and armed-robber, who had just fled Utah after a successful heist.)

“At first he would tease me when I went to his room to make up the bed and sweep. Then he wanted me to drink, and he showed me what nice drinks he could make. I paid little attention to him until he became so persistent that in a moment of weakness I accepted a small glass of wine from him.

“That was the beginning of the end. After that he was always importuning me to drink. When my husband was around we all three drank, and so I didn’t think it was so bad after that.

“Then we gradually became more intimate. We went to downtown cafes at all hours of the night, my husband being always along. We went to theaters and entertainments, to beaches and parks, and Stackpole was always putting up the money.

“My husband drank the liquor and accepted the hospitality and never paid a cent. I was only a girl and knew nothing of the ways of a girl’s ruination. At the cafes I saw other young girls drinking. Many of them became drunk and had to be carried away.

“Stackpole offered me all the things I had never enjoyed. He spent money lavishly. He took us places, and for the first time In my life. I had a chance to see pretty plays and enjoy the beaches.

“The evenings were awfully lonesome until he came, and then it was my downfall.

“I thought my husband was unkind to me, and the easy, polished ways of Stackpole appealed to me. A woman sometimes forgets the right for the easy downward path.

“It was a sorry day for me that I accepted Stackpole’s invitation to go to an afternoon matinee, for we later went to a cafe. There he made a drink for me, and when I had swallowed the stuff I didn’t know what had happened to me. My mind was a blank. When I came to my senses I was in a room with him.

“Then he had me, and he knew it. When he went away he wrote five times to me before I answered, and then he began to talk of the killing. I did not appreciate what it meant until he had written many times. I dared not tell my husband, for I feared Stackpole. He told me that if I told he would kill us all.

“To protect my husband I dared say nothing. When he returned he told me to come to him or the killing would begin at once.

“What could I do? I went to him and was his slave again. I did as he said. I drank the drugs he gave me and did not know what I was doing. I threatened to tell the police, and he said that if I did it would only precipitate the murder, for he would kill us all. On the night of the killing he told me that he would kill us all if we dared to say anything against him.

“The events of that night seem to be more like a hideous dream, a dream which has been with me constantly until I feel that I will lose my mind. I see it all over again until my eyes start from my head.


“Would l care If they had hanged Stackpole? I would not have anyone hanged, but I have ceased to think of him. I never want to see him again.

“I am homesick, so homesick until I feel that I will go crazy.”

The Herald journalist asked what Aurellia was homesick for – her mother? The lonely surroundings of her previous life?

“Neither,” she answered, her eyes beginning to fill with tears.

Perhaps she was homesick for Joel, the journalist suggested. (“A moment later I realized how heartless the question was”, he admitted.) He saw her reel back as if she had been struck. Then she slumped and held her face in her hands.

“Oh, how I miss him,” she said. “In the daytime I want him until I wish I could die. But at night I lie over there in my cell and look up at the darkness and wonder if he can know how I want him. I see his face and hear his voice calling to me and there I lie until the first gray light of the morning streaks in through the east windows and the birds in the matron’s room welcome the morning.

“Then I feel that I have lost all that is worth while in life and it fairly tears my soul from me.”

The journalist left after asking about what she planned to do when she was released. (Live with her brother in Garvanza. Learn a profession. Make someone happy.) As he stood outside the door, waiting for the matron to open the iron gates, he heard “a low, heartbreaking sob” from inside the room; the last recorded utterance of Aurellia Scheck.

At the time of Aurellia’s release, Ernest Stackpole was just beginning his life sentence in San Quentin. He was violent enough to quickly establish himself as a jailhouse bully, but he occupied this station for only a few months until he received a humiliating beating from a four-foot-high Puerto Rican dwarf who had been imprisoned on a charge of statutory rape. 

He was paroled in 1927, after serving 21 years – he was in his 50s, and seemed “quite an old man”, according to the warden. He immediately resumed his career of crime and was captured the following year after being shot in the leg during a hold-up in Sacramento. He spent the rest of his life in jail. 

Sources: Los Angeles Herald, Sep 16, 1906 (the main interview and picture of Aurellia). The case was reported on frequently in the same paper from June 15 to August 31, 1906. Los Angeles Herald Sep 28, 1906 (the dwarf story); and the Oakland Tribune, June 17, 1924 and May 14, 1928 (the details of Stackpole’s later life). 

March 2, 2010 at 10:46 pm 1 comment

Woken With A Bang

Sleeping Joe Schutton was roused from his rest by an ungodly clash and clatter, and when he lit his lamp found a pair of thrashing man’s legs dangling from the ceiling as the man above made obvious attempts to escape back onto the roof through which he’d broken. Irked Joe would have none of that, and clung to the kicking feet, screaming loudly for aid.

Patrolmen Sweeney and Kierscey were quick on the scene, and taking an accounting of the situation, raced to the roof where they extracted O.W. Coppington, 35, and asked what the hell he thought he was doing.

“I’m the victim here,” swore Coppington, who told a convoluted tale of being halted at Winston near Main by a pair of highwaymen, who he’d eluded by racing up the first stairwell he spied, then out onto one roof, then another, then another–searching for an open skylight he could escape through. But when he leapt from a tall roof to a lower one, the shingles, lath and plaster broke away, waking Joe Schutton and leading to Coppington’s arrest. Skeptical, Sweeney and Kierscey took their prize back to City Jail for further conversation, while Joe Schutton shook the ceiling chips out of his sheets and tried to get back to sleep.

February 13, 2010 at 4:19 pm 4 comments

“Officer Chokes Horse”

 

The Angelus hotel, 1905

Photo credit: USC Libraries Special Collections

Hearing shouts of alarm from down the block, the office workers, tourists and shoppers in the lunch-hour crowd thronging the corner of Fourth and South Spring streets one cold afternoon in 1905 turned to see a runaway horse, pulling a light runaround cart, charging towards them with frightening speed.

Some of them ran for safety, some froze, too scared to move; none of them tried to stop the horse – it would be madness even to try.

Luckily, the police officer who was on duty at the intersection that day was Patrolman Billy Matuskiwiz, who happened to hold the record among patrolmen for stopping runaway horses, having bravely halted 20 during his 12 years on the force.

Officer Matuskiwiz stepped to the middle of the street and waited as the horse sped towards him. When it drew near, however, it swerved and dashed straight toward a crowd of tourists outside the Angelus hotel. Matuskiwiz leaped at the horse but found that it had no bridle or halter. Some men would have given up at that point, but not Officer Matuskiwiz, who decided to throw his arms around the animal’s neck and squeeze its throat with all his strength, clinging on as it flung its head back and forth to throw him off.

Half a block later, Matuskiwiz had succeeded in choking the horse into submission, and brought it to a halt just outside the hotel. As Matuskiwiz led the animal away, the crowd burst into heartfelt applause.

Five years later, Matuskiwiz was interviewed for a short piece in the Los Angeles Herald, which introduced him as a remarkable man “who bears the enviable record of having saved a human life for each of his seventeen years of service.”

The character sketch portrays a humble, hardworking figure: “William Matuskiwiz, who holds down a night beat on Spring and Main streets between Sixth and Seventh streets … is a blunt, plain spoken man and a poor politician. He wears no sergeant’s stripes on his sleeve and despite the years of faithful service in the interest of the city he is still just a plain patrolman with no ax to grind in the politics of the police department.”

The piece focuses on one particular aspect of his character, which it holds up as something of a novelty: “Unlike many of his fellows, he is in full sympathy with the prison reform movement.”

How bizarre! At the start of his career, Matuskiwiz was apparently “a firm believer in the iron hand for the man in the shadow of the law”, but he soon came to believe that “kind treatment of prisoners and a recognition of their rights bring the best results.”

The newspaper allows the officer a few paragraphs in which to relate the event that made this horse-choking man of steel adopt such a tender philosophy. It features runaway horses, which may well have been a necessary element of all of Matuskiwiz’s stories.

“I was taking Juan Silvos, a young Mexican charged with a heinous crime, to San Quentin,” explained Matuskiwiz. “Silvos had ten years at hard labor staring him in the face. I kept him handcuffed to me on the train. At San Francisco we missed our boat by a margin of several minutes. It would be an hour before the next one would leave. My prisoner complained of being hungry, and somewhat in the same frame of mind myself, we started across Market street in the direction of a little restaurant. Silvos was handcuffed and I held him by a small chain.

“When we reached the center of the street I heard a woman’s piercing scream and looking back saw a little child some four or five years old toddling from its mother into the path of a runaway team. The horses were within several feet of the child. I forgot all about the prisoner in the child’s danger, and springing forward almost before I realized what I was doing, had snatched the little girl from under the horses’ feet. In the meantime the mother had fainted and in the excitement of the gathering crowd I ran to her side with her daughter and lifted the mother to her feet. The woman recovered and wanted to know who I was. Her question brought to my mind the fact that a ten-year prisoner was in my charge. Silvos in the meantime had had plenty of time to escape, but turning around I found him at my side quietly looking on. I asked him why he had not attempted to escape. He told me that I had thought of him when he was hungry.

“Instead of taking him to San Quentin on the next boat I immediately took the handcuffs from his wrists and showed him the town. We took in everything that was doing, had several good dinners and caught the night boat to the prison. I told the warden of how he had acted and the chief promised to take his good behaviour into consideration.

“Silvos was released less than a year and a half after he had been confined. I meet him on the streets occasionally and he is profuse in his thanks. That little experience changed my whole idea of criminology. From that time on I became a firm believer in giving the prisoners a show and treating them like human beings.”

Billy Matuskiwiz was as tough and fearless as any police officer who ever walked the streets of SRO land, and he was a liberal, too! All Angelenos should remember him with admiration – and all Angeleno horses should remember him with respect.

Sources: Los Angeles Herald: Jan 20, 1905; May 16, 1910.

 

January 26, 2010 at 9:18 pm 5 comments

Flames of Peace

October 15, 1967

Late on Sunday morning, Florence Beaumont, 56-year-old former English teacher, Unitarian peace activist and mother of two, gathered a selection of literature pertaining to her activities in the anti-Vietnam war movement, climbed into her pickup truck with its Peace and Freedom Party bumper sticker and drove from her home in La Puente to downtown Los Angeles.

At 1:05pm, after climbing the steps of the new Federal Building, Florence poured most of a can of gasoline over herself, put the can down on a wall and lit a match. She immediately erupted in flames, let out a cry, and walked about 40 feet before collapsing, an unrecognizable charred mass. Over by the gas can was her purse, with a card taped to the front which read “Hello, I’m Florence Beaumont.”

Federal Building guard Ben Brown heard a scream, ran outside and saw the woman in flames. He returned to his post for a fire extinguisher, but arrived too late to help her. Retiree John Osberg was sunning himself on the steps nearby and heard a moan, looking up to see Florence burning and walking along the veranda. “There were flames all over her. She didn’t say anything, she just moaned. She was burning from head to foot.”   

Two nights earlier, Florence had told a friend, Ada Pettigrove, that she had been thinking of immolating herself. Ada told her not to talk like that, and put off mentioning the conversation to Florence’s husband George because she had to leave for San Diego to retrieve a lost dog. “I really didn’t think she would carry it out. I guess I really didn’t know her that well.”

On Tuesday, Florence’s widower George held a press conference at the Greater Los Angeles Press Club, where he read a prepared statement saying that he had not known what she planned to do. He said his wife had been deeply troubled because it seemed that elected officials didn’t care about her concerns.

She had “a deep feeling against the slaughter in Vietnam… She was a perfectly normal, dedicated person, and felt she had to do this just like the [monks and nuns] who burned themselves in Vietnam. I never felt she would take this road, but I can see how she might have felt she had to do it…. This was no suicide. There were no indications of escapism or frustration. This was an immolation, a supreme sacrifice to humanity, to peace and freedom for all mankind. In a sense, it was a religious rite far beyond the hypocritical posturings of orthodoxy… The barbarous napalm that burns the bodies of the Vietnamese children has seared the souls of all who, like Florence Beaumont, do not have icewater for blood, stones for hearts. The match that Florence used to touch off her gasoline-soaked clothing has lighted a fire that will not go out–ever– a fire under us complacent, smug fat cats so damned secure in our ivory towers 9,000 miles from exploding napalm, and THAT, we are sure, is the purpose of her act. “

Exactly one week after her death, 500 people gathered at the site of Florence’s immolation to honor her memory. She was one of five people who died after setting themselves ablaze in America to protest the war in Vietnam. Eight years later, the war ended.

image credits: Los Angeles Times

January 20, 2010 at 5:09 am Leave a comment

Quick Death for a Dime in Downtown

Up until the fall of 1906, an Angeleno could walk into a pharmacy downtown (or discreetly dispatch a messenger boy) without a doctor’s prescription and buy morphine, cocaine, opium, codeine, heroin, laudanum, carbolic acid or other potentially fatal poisons, packed for his or her convenience in nickel, dime, or 25 cent bags.

Image Credit: LA Times Historical Archive

Of course, many of these drugs were highly touted miracle ingredients in the elixirs of the day, thought to be so beneficial, in small doses, that they were suitable for children.

Image Credit: Addiction Science Network

But 1906 brought a slew of new ‘poison control’ laws, which required pharmacies to employ only registered pharmacists to dispense drugs, to maintain a “poison registry” of the names and addresses of customers who purchased medications deemed dangerous, and to refrain from dispensing such drugs without a prescription from a licensed physician. The laws were not strictly enforced until May of 1907, when a crusading Secretary of the State Board of Pharmacy by the name of Charles B. Whilden made a sweep through 33 drug stores in downtown Los Angeles and bought dope at 16 of them. 


At Wilson’s Pharmacy at 6th and Figueroa a young boy behind the counter sold Whilden carbolic acid; a few days later a young lady, presumably the boy’s mother, but no registered pharmacist, sold him laudanum.  Similar transactions occurred at Frank T. Rimpau at 355 North Main Street, F.J. Giese at 108 North Main Street, Los Angeles Pharmacy at 212 West Fourth Street, Angelus Pharmacy at 801 West Third Street, and many other downtown retailers. The pharmacies were fined $100 for each violation. Several of the owners argued at sentencing that if future regulations prohibited them from selling opiates they would have to close their doors, as these products accounted for more than half their total profits. 

In June Whilden continued his poison investigation in Chinatown, where he arrested four proprietors of opium dens, even though the dens were licensed  and the opium sellers paid a monthly fee of $25 to the city.

 

All offenders were released after payment of fines, and business returned to usual in the downtown dens of vice.

 

January 14, 2010 at 11:13 pm Leave a comment

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