Posts filed under ‘murder’

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

Dance Hall Siren

In ancient times, the Greeks wrote of three beautiful Sirens – women who were part bird and part woman, and who lived only to seduce sailors with their haunting songs.Sailors who charted a course near islands inhabited by the Sirens were inevitably shipwrecked, their vessels smashed to bits on nearby rocky shores.

In modern times, Sirens were more likely to inhabit a bar stool than an island. The unlucky sailor who fell for a modern Siren may not have been literally dashed to bits, but he would suffer a similar symbolic fate – a broken heart.

Dominga Villa, a young sailor from the Philippines, first laid eyes on Emma Hanmore in a Main Street dance hall. Emma danced her way into Dominga’s affections, and then slipped a greedy hand into his wallet. The lovesick sailor lavished the dancer with gifts and cash until he was tapped out.“She broke me,” he said. “I love her. I give my life for her but she just fool me and then say bah, she not want me.”

After turning up unannounced at Emma’s apartment with the last of his cash, Dominga was crushed when he saw another man’s clothes draped over a chair. He demanded an explanation, apparently not realizing that what he’d bought and paid for was Emma’s time and the pretense of a relationship, not her love. Perhaps her secret heart wasn’t for sale, or maybe the man’s clothing in her apartment belonged to another in a long line of suckers.

Emma was able to divert Dominga’s attention from the mystery man’s clothes in her apartment by agreeing to meet him at the dance hall that evening.They later returned to Dominga’s hotel room, where Emma told him that she was finished with him.

Dominga was shattered — his love had been abused. Even worse, the woman didn’t show any remorse for having played him. In fact, she sardonically sang him a love song, and laughing, prepared to walk out of his life. Dominga later recalled “I went mad”, pulling out a pistol and gunning Emma down.He then turned the weapon on himself but was only injured, and lived to tell his story in court.  

October 13, 2009 at 2:39 am 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.”

September 8, 2009 at 6:34 am Leave a comment

Tarzan’s Dad at the Hickman Trial

In an era where a celebrity journalist like Dominick Dunne (1925-2009 R.I.P.) covered the sordid murder trials of O.J. Simpson, Robert Blake and Phil Spector it should be noted that this is not a new phenomenon. 

Hickman Court Hearing: William Edward Hickman sans necktie at his court hearing. Immediately to Hickman’s right is longtime Sheriff Eugene W. Biscailuz and to his immediate left is his lead defense attorney for the trial Jerome Walsh.

 

Case in point- was the 1928 trial of William Edward Hickman for kidnapping, murder and dismemberment of Marion Parker.   For two tension packed weeks the trial created such a sensation of tabloid headlines that even Charlie Chaplin came to the Hall of Justice to get an up close and personal look at Hickman.  Famed journalist and screenwriter Adela Rogers St. Johns attended and reported on the trial just as she had done during the prosecution of Loeb and Leopold and later Bruno Hauptmann for the Lindberg kidnapping. 

 

Edgar Rice Burroughs famed fantasy author best known as the creator of Tarzan of the Apes covered the duration of the trial in 13 columns for the Los Angeles Examiner.  The articles can be found at http://www.erbzine.com/mag17/1768.html

It is particularly interesting to see how Burroughs in this series of OP-ED pieces  thinly disguised as columns gave it his best effort to seal Hickman’s fate.   Hickman’s guilt was never in doubt but his counsel presented one of the earliest attempts at the insanity defense.  Not only did Burroughs not buy into Hickman’s defense attorney’s contention that their client was insane, Burroughs protested that he didn’t see any need for a trial at all.  And Burroughs sarcasm was evident when he mocked the defense’s dermatography demonstration by trying it at home with his own son. In the test actually performed at the trial, Hickman removed his shirt and his skin was scratched with a metal object.  According to the defense in explaining the significance of dermatography, a bright colored long lasting mark was supposed to prove mental instability.  

Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1934

On the other hand Burroughs nicely encapsulated a couple of the trial’s most dramatic and emotionally wrenching moments.  When the autopsy photos of Marion Parker’s nude dismembered body were passed to the jury, the woman in the third seat was so overwhelmed by the first of these black and white 8X10s that she fainted on the spot.  And the most dramatic moment in the trial was the appearance and testimony of the prosecution’s last witness, Marion’s father Perry Parker.  In the winter darkness of December 19, 1928 Parker delivered the ransom to Hickman on South Manhattan Place. When Hickman opened the car door, Marion tumbled out just as Hickman sped off.  Parker ran up to find an unspeakable horror.  Lying in the gutter was the lifeless body of his daughter still wearing her little gingham dress.  Rouge had ghoulishly been painted on her cheeks.  Her limbs were missing and her eyelids had been sewn open.   It was a crime that continues to shock for its brutality over eighty years later.  Hickman’s insanity defense was rejected by the jury and he was executed by hanging at San Quentin on October 19, 1928.  Hickman got weak in the knees as he began to climb the steps of the platform and had to be carried the rest of the way to the top.  But that was just a prelude for the real drama. Hickman’s head hit the opening of the chute when he dropped, breaking his fall rather than his neck.  It took William Edward Hickman over 15 minutes to die that day by suffocation.  Observers reported that the drawn out death scene was so disturbing to watch there were shrieks from the audience and numerous people fainted, including Dick Lucas one of the key detectives who had been involved in the investigation.

Personal Sidebar about Burroughs.


Bob Clampett and John Coleman Burroughs: Clampett and Burroughs reminisce while holding original John Carter of Mars material. This photo is from the early 1970’s.

My dad was only a couple of years older than Marion Parker.  About the time of the murder he attended the original Otis Art Institute downtown which he would travel to by streetcar. Another student driven by chauffeur in a limosene became one of my dad’s lifelong friends.  It was John Coleman Burroughs, second son to Edgar Rice Burroughs.  My dad, already a big fan of Burroughs’ books, visited the Burroughs home frequently and soon got to know the elder Burroughs.   Several years later when my dad was an animator at Warner Bros. studio he partnered with  Edgar Rice Burroughs and son John Coleman to bring Burroughs’ vision of his Mars series to the silver screen via animation.  They worked nights and weekends for over a year and completed quite a bit of development artwork, script treatment pages and a one minute sales reel showing what a John Carter of Mars animated feature might look like.  At that time MGM couldn’t see past the success of the live action Tarzan films they were producing.  To finance an animated feature was not a proposition that appealed to them at all.   Here’s a youtube link to the reel with an audio track of my dad narrating.  

This piece originally appeared on the DVD, Beany and Cecil The Special Edition Volume One released in 2000.  There have been many other unsuccessful efforts over the years to bring Burroughs’ Mars stories to the screen.  However Pixar/Disney is now at work on John Carter of Mars, their first film that will include live action characters blended with CG animation.

Other notable Otis alumni from the 1920s included the two very talented brothers Bob McKimson (creator of Foghorn Leghorn) and designer and layout artist Tom McKimson.  Both brothers later worked with my dad at Warner Bros. Cartoon studio. There was also George Maitland Stanley (designer of the Oscar statue, the Astronomer’s monument at the Griffith Observatory, and the fountain at the Hollywood Bowl),  John Hench (Key Disney artist for over 65 years and Tyrus Wong (another Disney artist who worked on Bambi) and is now 99 years old. (Otis later became Otis College of Art and Design.) 

My dad stayed in close contact with the Burroughs family throughout his life.  Danton Burroughs, John Coleman’s son and keeper of the Burroughs legacy, passed away last year. 

Thanks to Bill Hillman of Erbzine.

Thanks to Sarah Russin, Director of Alumni Relations at Otis College of Art and Design.

Thanks also to The Watson Family Archive and to Delmar Watson (1926-2008 ) who was like a second father to me.

September 8, 2009 at 2:49 am 2 comments

A Rubbish King’s Last Stand

They called Hamayag Saroyan the rubbish king, and like any king, he was jealous of his subjects. When a restaurant canceled his hauling contract, King Hamayag left his Montebello castle and went to Main Street to stake out the place and learn what other potentate dared to pick up his trash.

His majesty, 64, stood watching from a parking lot next to the Jeffries Banknote Co. at 117 Winston Street, just one more set of eyes in the naked city. Then suddenly a man broke away from the crowd, brushed against Saroyan, and left him reeling. The old man cried out, and stumbled across the narrow street, then up the steps of a coffee shop at 128 Winston Street. He looked around at a room full of strangers and croaked, “Help me! I’m hurt. A Negro did it.” Then he fell, dead from two knife wounds in the heart, $49 in his pockets.

Witnesses saw a black man running east on Winston, and said he’d first taken off and neatly folded his bloody coat. Someone gave chase, but lost the fleeing man near 5th and Wall. A month later, J. H. Knox, wanted for a New Orleans stabbing, was picked up on suspicion when he left his Wall Street hotel room for a smoke. But witnesses didn’t think he was the regicide, so cops shipped him back to Louisiana to face justice there.

Hamyag Saroyan’s slaying would go unsolved, and authorities declined to use it as a reason to reopen their year-old grand jury investigation into allegations of a rubbish war between rival contractors.

Those 1955 public hearings, held by Mayor Norris Poulson, had spread some pretty stinky stuff around City Hall, including allegations that large garbage collection agencies were conspiring with dump owners and Teamsters to freeze out independent operators. Trash collectors had to join “the combine” (their local rubbish union plus the Teamsters’ union) or be forced out of business.

One such small fry was William C. Crowder, who picked up 1250 San Fernando Valley customers by offering attractive trash bins with a built-in deodorizer—housewives loved them. But dumps began refusing his loads after he objected to the local union demanding half of his customers as a tithe, and Crowder had to drive all over L.A. until he found a cooperative dump. Then there was Sadie Olive Frank, another Valley trash collector, who testified about harassment, vanishing bins, and sugar in her truck’s gas tank. But it wasn’t just sheeny men who had to toe the line: businesses that hired non-union trash haulers were threatened with picket lines.

Ultimately, Teamsters secretary-treasurer Frank Matula, called the “czar” of west coast trash, was sentenced to prison for his perjured testimony about the rubbish racket he headed. His pal Jimmy Hoffa gave him the going-to-jail present of naming him one of three international trustees of the union, a poke in the eye to the Feds. And Mayor Poulson, stunned by the magnitude of the fraud, ordered his staff to begin work on developing a municipal trash service, which would dump in city-owned ravines.

Muse on all this next time you’re about to complain about the size of your L.A. city trash collection bill.

July 22, 2009 at 1:36 am Leave a comment


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