About jbartlett2000

Freelance journalist for LA Times, BBC, Atlas Obscura, Real Crime, KCET and others, host of "True Crime Tuesdays" book club at The Last Boosktore in downtown L.A., and author of the "Gourmet Ghosts" books, available at Amazon and across Los Angeles.

Extra! L.A. Murders on Halloween!

Thank goodness my apartment doesn’t have a creepy attic or an abandoned basement, and bumps, bangs and screams don’t make me make the choice between staying in, or going out and facing the Covid-19 pandemic outside.

At the moment the real horror is in the very air around us, so since I’m stuck at home like everyone else, I thought I would post a second Halloween-themed blog post about L.A. murder….

This was the Los Angeles Times headline on April 26, 1969, reporting that 35-year-old car salesman Jack Gentry Stearns has been sentenced to life in prison for shooting 32-year-old Kenneth A. Lindstrand to death in front of dozens of witnesses at a Van Nuys Country Club Halloween costume party back in 1967.   

Lindstrand was east to spot, as he was one of the few people not in costume, and when a man also not in costume ran after him shooting a gun, people thought it was a prank. One woman in a hula skirt began to dance over Lindstrand’s body and said “This will wake him up!” – until, of course, she realized he was dead!

Stearns had apparently objected to the way Lindstrand was dancing with his 22-year-old wife Maria, and would now have many years to think about what he had done when the green-eyed monster talked into his ear that fateful night…

Around 9pm on Halloween night 1974, the elderly Mrs. Low answered the door of her Chinatown home to three masked “trick or treaters” – one of them wearing the wolfman mask, another Frankenstein. They all pointed guns at her and forced their way into the house, but when nearly-blind 81-year-old Pok Suey Low came out from the bedroom, one of them shot him in the chest.

The killers fled, leaving behind several masks and – bizarrely – a large bag of candy and chocolates, and for months the police had no luck tracking them down.

In February the next year, two 15-year-old boys (15 years old!) confessed to the crime when they were caught after beating, robbing and kidnapping a 20-year-old man named Chan Wing Wong from Lincoln Heights. They had driven Wong out to San Bernadino, telling him they were going to bury his body in Cajon Pass, but luckily, he escaped and – though shot by the terrible duo – rang into the night, and finally managed to raise the alarm

I saved the juiciest story for last!

This happened on Halloween night 1957, and was another “trick or treat” murder. In this case, 35-year-old beauty shop owner Peter Fabiano answered the door of his Sun Valley home to two people dressed in Halloween costume and was shot once, dying later in hospital.

Again police struggled to find the gunman, only it turned out it was a gunwoman!

In March the next year, 43-year-old medical clerk Goldyne Pizer (who looks so happy in this photo), and 40-year-old photographer Joan Rabel pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. 

Goldyne – dressed in a white sheet as a ghost – was the one who pulled the trigger, firing from inside her handbag, and she told the jury that Rabel had spent nearly three months persuading her to hate Fabiano. They had taken joint trips to his beauty salon to have their hair done, and so that Goldyne knew exactly what he looked like, and it seemed that Goldyne was the easily-manipulated patsy in this diabolical and deadly scheme.

The motive? Rabel was once a good friend of Fabiano’s wife Betty, but was none too pleased Betty had let her husband back into her life after a temporary separation.

Perhaps this was her misguided way to try and “free” Betty from what she saw as a bad marriage, or maybe there was more to it than that… either way, Pizer and Rabel were both sentenced to 5 years to life.

And on that note, have a Happy Halloween!

Extra! Murder at the Drive-In Movie!

The pandemic looks like it might be the death of the movie theater, or at least the indoor ones. Already under pressure from streaming, they have been closed for months now, and only recently started to re-open to underwhelming audience numbers. Just recently, the Regal Cinema chain closed all its theaters.https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/10/05/920367787/regal-movie-chain-will-close-all-536-u-s-theaters-on-thursday

But there’s one form of moviegoing that’s risen like a phoenix, and it’s also thanks to the pandemic: the Drive-In.

Of course, it never really went away. For example, in the City of Industry in California, you’re the 1955 Vineland Drive-In has just reopened for business, and the Paramount in Paramount City (opened 1947, closed 1992, reopened 2014) is screening movies every night too.

The Mission Tiki in Montclair has been chugging away non-stop since the 1950s, albeit through some very thin times when they, like many other drive-ins, were used for swap meets, and their Pacific Island décor gives a clue to how popular these venues once were. It also indicates how they were perhaps almost part of history.

Many of us had only seen drive-ins in actual old movies, rather than actually jumping in the car and rocking up to one of them ourselves, and a trip across America often revealed the skeletons of the big movie screens and their empty, grass and trash-strewn parking spaces underneath.https://www.thethings.com/photos-of-abandoned-drive-ins-that-were-left-behind/

But now, thanks in part to the need for social-distancing, it’s back – and all over the world.

A couple of months ago in Belfast, Northern Ireland, there was the first of a series of drive-ins held at the Harland and Wolff shipyard, where the Titanic was built. Around 2000 turned up to see the 60-meter screen, and there was a public vote for what would be shown. The Goonies and Toy Story won, and yes, 1997’s Titanic was on the list too, though it only made the top 10!

The first drive-in opened in Camden, New Jersey, in 1933, but today even unexpected places like zoos, parks, restaurants and American Legion posts have set up impromptu screens, and are showing mainly comfort watching for these uncertain times. New releases are limited, and the star-studded blockbusters have mainly been postponed, so cult classics feature heavily too.  

They all quickly sell out, no matter what the ticket price, and it seems the chance to go back in time and turn on the radio, buy a bag of popcorn, and relax in your own car is as popular as it ever was – and will continue to be for a long time yet.

A number of drive-in screenings will be all horror as Halloween approaches, and naturally, Gourmet Ghosts is going to have to take you to the dark side and delve into the Los Angeles Times newspaper archives for a few examples of some REAL horror at the drive-in…

In January 1954, Clarence Ogg, a 43-year-old attorney whose had been diagnosed as a manic depressive and whose psychiatrist described as “very dangerous,” was booked on suspicion of trying to murder his three children alongside himself. He felt he had bought them “nothing but trouble,” and that them having to live with his suicide would be an “awful disgrace.”

Two of the Ogg kids with their mother after their ordeal….

Ogg took Jimmy, 12, Judy 10, and Tommy, 8, to a drive-in movie theater in Burbank (either the San-Val or the Pickwick; both now long-demolished) for a screening of British WWII movie The Cruel Sea. En route he got some sedative pills from his office, and put one each in the drinks he bought for his children during the show.

He “wanted them to go to sleep,” which they did, and then he drove them to an empty lot in Sun Valley, where he set up a contraption that ran from the exhaust into the car so it would fill it with deadly carbon monoxide. The cries of one of the woken children alerted a person living nearby, who called the police, and Ogg was arrested.

More shockingly, in May 1975 three employees at the Edgewood Drive-In Theater in Baldwin Park – the manager, Florine Anderson, and two teenagers aged 15 and 17, were shot to death, while one of the young victims’ father was shot, but survived.

It appeared that they were all victims of an attempted robbery that occurred when the armored transport truck arrived to collect the theater’s money, and police were guarding William Gaudett, who was in a critical condition, as they searched for the killers. The drive-in closed in 1985.

A few years later in December 1989, Irene Franco, 20, and her boyfriend Jesus Martinez, 26, were abducted by three armed men from the South Bay 6 Drive-In in Carson.

They drove them both to an alley in an industrial area north of the city, where Martinez was badly beaten and tied up with an electrical cord, and Franco was then driven away.

Her body was found the next day in a field in South Los Angeles; she had been raped before being shot in the head. Composite photos of the suspects were released on February 14 the next year, but by December there had been no arrests, and a $50,000 reward was offered. The drive-in, which opened in the early 1980s, closed for good in 1997.

Like many of the horror movies that we’ll watch this Halloween, this murder went unsolved, and the killers are still on the loose…

Extra! Jack The Ripper in L.A.!?

There have been countless movie and TV versions of the Jack the Ripper story, but was there ever any chance that “Saucy Jack” ever visited Los Angeles?

Believe it or not, there were real suspicions that Frederick Deeming, a strong suspect who had brutally killed his wife and family in England and later murdered another wife in Australia in 1892, may have been in L.A. a few years earlier, in 1888 – before the first Ripper murder in Whitechapel. 

A man called Charles Williams (the same pseudonym Deeming used) conned and scammed people here – including the woman he married – so was it The Ripper at the beginning of his career, before he turned to slashing with a knife? 

I wrote a story about it for the LA Weekly, but the link seems to not show the photos now, so I wanted to put them here – especially since the monthly true crime book club I host at The Last Bookstore (come and join us!) recently featured a Jack the Ripper book.

My story about a possible Ripper suspect here in L.A. led me to visit a Melbourne cemetery to see the grave of Emily Mather, the murdered wife (and last victim) of Deeming, and ultimately to an appearance on the excellent history “Dead and Buried” podcast.

There’s also some material about The Ripper from Scotland Yard’s famous – and private – “Black Museum”, which held a rare exhibit at the Museum of London a few years ago, and I wrote about for the Los Angeles Times.

 

Extra! Ghosts in the Canadian Rockies!

Before the world went into pandemic lockdown, I was lucky enough to visit the Northern Rockies in British Columbia, Canada. It took three flights to get there from LA, but my time driving along the Alaska Highway, staying at the fantastic Northern Rockies Lodge,  taking a Cessna flight over endless mountains and frozen lakes, relaxing in the Laird Hot Springs, taking a dog ride at Streeper Kennels, and seeing bison (and even a wolf!) were really unforgettable.

And of course there were some ghost stories and true crime tales! I went past the ghost Summit Cafe (elevation 4,250 feet, empty for over 20 years years) and later I read someone’s story about breaking down and leaving their VW Bus back there in 1972; I swear I saw that VW Bus still there! I was also told about the spirit of Anna Mikunda, the wife of a hotelier in Fort Nelson. Her body was found on October 18, 1980, and Philip Joseph Vigna was charged with the murder. Anna’s ghost apparently haunts the local theatre and city hall – several people mentioned it. There’s also the more recent murder of two tourists, and more below too…

 

 

 

Robert the Ghost Doll in Key West, FL

I am just back from a trip to the hot and humid Conch Republic – The Keys and Key West – in Florida. Quite a place with plenty of tales of shipwrecks, smuggling and man’s attempts to fight the forces of nature.

Some forces can’t be battled though – including Robert the Doll

Extra! Ghost Signs in Toronto, Canada

I was recently in Toronto, Ontario and came across a few worth a look:

 

Extra! The Whiskey Au Go Go Fire in 1973

When I was doing some research for my recent trip to Brisbane, I found out about one of the biggest mass murders in Australian history that happened there when 15 people died in 1973 at the Whiskey Au Go Go Club.

Amazingly it’s a story that’s still ongoing, with the case being reopened in 2017 despite two men being convicted for it years ago. Below is a picture of the building now – it’s a gym below and upstairs (where the club was) is an architect’s office.

It seems I missed the – small – plaque in the ground (only placed there in 2014), but I did later see one of the petrol cans the killers used on display at the Queensland Police Museum. Anyway, there’s an interesting website about it and for fans of history and crime, it’s worth a look.

Extra – Ghost signs in Tasmania

Maybe I posted these before – have been to Hobart twice – but am sorting through all my ghosts signs, and thought these deserved a look. And those Minis! If I could, I would have bought them both back – they were just in a driveway at Battery Point!

 

Extra! GG goes to Brisbane, Australia

Just back from my first trip to Brisbane, Australia – a fantastic city – and thought I would share the ghost signs I found. I also popped to Melbourne to play my first official game of trugo as a member of Yarraville Trugo Club, and snapped a couple there – included them as well. And a few from Fairbanks, Alaska, when I was there earlier this year – bonus!

These are the Melbourne ones:

And Fairbanks – from Australia to Alaska!

September 3 – a VERY bad day in L.A

As you know, I post “Daily Deaths” on my Facebook/Twitter and Instagram feeds (@GourmetGhosts), but today seemed to deserve a blog post of its own, as it was a particularly deadly day in the City of Angels…

Sep 3, 1910 – there was the second accident in two days at the Alexandria Hotel in downtown L.A., which was having an annex built.

Alexandria Hotel ext with sign - Copy

Alexandria Hotel

Iron worker Martin Burkwitz slipped from a girder and fell three floors, suffering many broken bones – though it’s unknown if he died of his injuries. The day before, worker Louis Jeffries had been crushed by a girder, and as his body was removed a riot broke out among the surrounding crowd.

Sep 3, 1919 – Dr. BF Church, 55, jumps to his death from the 10th floor of the Brockman Building in downtown L.A. Apparently suffering from illness and “mental issues”, Church evaded the grasp of a nurse before making his fatal leap.

Brockman Building LAPL archives

Sep 3, 1931 – Al F. Maltby, 75, is close to death after being taken to hospital from the Cecil Hotel. It appears he might become the fourth victim of denatured alcohol (known as methylated spirits; ethanol with chemicals added to make it undrinkable). It seems the poisonings were a result of desperate binge drinking, but it’s not clear. The three victims all lived on East 5th Street.

Sep 3, 1932 – funeral arrangements were announced for Fred Baylies, 52, who had died of a heart attack in his room at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood.

Roosevelt Hotel black and white pic

Roosevelt Hotel, Hollywood

Sep 3, 1934 – the most astonishing and bizarre death of heartthrob singer Russ Colombo

Russ_Columbo

Russ Colombo

at his home alongside the mountaintop Yamashiro, a Japanese-inspired palace in the Hollywood Hills.

Yamashiro(small)

Colombo, who was once engaged to Carole Lombard, was showing his friend Lansing Brown an ancient gun. Brown was handling the gun and lit a cigarette; a chip from the match landed in the trigger chamber and shot Colombo right through the eye.

Debated has raged over whether it really was a freak accident, but either way it was the end for Colombo.

Astonishingly though, the family never told his mother. She was in poor health and near-blind, so for the following years until she died, everyone around her faked letters, phonecalls and postcards, all for the “merciful fraud” of showing her that Russ was still alive, just always touring or in foreign climes. Amazing!

Sep 3, 1976 – An elderly woman in her 70s was founded murdered, her apartment ransacked, in downtown L.A. Police were worried a serial killer was on the loose, as just a few months before another elderly woman had been killed in her room at the Stillwell Hotel. Were the murders connected?

Downtown & Hollywood pics for GG June 15 072

Stillwell Hotel