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 Ripper suspect who brutally killed his wife and family in England in July 1891, and then later murdered another wife in Australia in 1892, may have been in L.A. in 1888 – just before the first Ripper murders began in Whitechapel, London.

In 1888, a man called Charles Williams (the same pseudonym Deeming used) conned and scammed people in the City of Angels – 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 read a Jack the Ripper book.

My story about a possible Ripper suspect 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! 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 Colombo

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


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

Extra! My Unexpected Triple Killing…

I was out jogging the other evening when I went past a very funky looking building:

When I got home I looked it up online – was there anything interesting about it? I then started searching the LAPL’s newspaper archives and checked out the LA Times – wow!

On June 30, 1959, 52 year old Lillian Engel, a secretary for the IRS, and her (presumed boyfriend) Sumner Packard, 53, a city engineering inspector, were moving out of their apartment here.

Packard was approached by salesman Elmer Engel, who opened fire and shot Packard in the heart, killing him instantly. Elmer then went into the apartment, locked the door, and shot Lillian in the head before turning the .32 caliber pistol on himself.

In just seconds, three people were dead.

A lawyer confirmed that a restraining order had been filed against Elmer, who had allegedly beaten Lillian up, but he had always tracked her down despite her moving several times (including this latest attempt to leave).

Tragic enough, but the report revealed that Packard was known in the building as “Thomas Perkins,” and had been living there with his ex-wife Georgia, who he had been trying to commit to an institution.

Packard also apparently owned and lived at an apartment building in Burbank, where residents know nothing of his secret life!

Just goes to show what happens behind closed doors….