The Naked City | Mondo Bizarro Jun 16 2017
DOPPELGANGSTER
A case of double trouble for wrongly convicted Kansas man.

Speaking of doubles, put this one in the amazing coincidences file. A Kansas man who spent seventeen years in prison was released Monday when a judge admitted that an exact double may have committed the crime for which he was jailed. Richard Jones, the man who was released, appears on the right in both mugshots, while an almost identical man appears on the left. This doppelgangbanger is an ex-convict who lived in Kansas City, Kansas in the vicinity of where several people were robbed at gunpoint in 1999, while Jones lived with his wife and kids across the state line in Kansas City, Missouri. Since Jones was convicted only on eyewitness identification by the victims, and there was no physical, DNA, or fingerprint evidence to link him to the crime, a judge ruled that there was sufficient cause to order his release.

Interestingly, after years of failed legal appeals it was Jones himself who broke the case by finally chatting with inmates in prison, who told him that he bore an uncanny resemblance to an ex-con named Ricky. Just over a year ago Jones contacted the Midwest Innocence Project, and they located a photo of this Ricky character, who it turned out had actually been questioned about the original robbery but had denied involvement. Why his interrogators failed to notice the resemblance to the accused is a mystery that is yet to be unravelled. Maybe Ricky had a perm that day. Anyway, photos were presented to one of the victims of the robbery, two eyewitnesses, and the prosecutor of the case, and none could tell the two men apart. Jones, who maintained his innocence all along, said, “When I saw the picture of my double it all made sense to me.”
 
The irony is strong with this case. Consider: it was mere proximity to the thief that got Jones sent upstate, but it also turned out to be proximity that led to convicts in the same prison as Jones knowing of Ricky. If Jones had been sentenced to a different prison he'd still be behind bars, which, while he must be thrilled to be breathing the sweet air of freedom, is a thought we imagine keeps him up nights. But that's not the only irony here. Ricky will not be charged with a crime. How can he be? The victims and eyewitnesses can't be relied upon. Absent physical evidence, DNA, or fingerprints there's no way to be sure he was the perpetrator. It could have been Jones, his double. It wasn't. But technically, it could have been. The lesson here is crystal clear—if you hear of someone that looks like you, take the opportunity to commit a heinous crime and you'll get away scot-free. 

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Vintage Pulp Jan 21 2017
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
The best defense is a good offense.

Four robbers knock off a bank in Kansas City with plans to split the money after the heat has cooled. The mastermind behind the job has arranged it so the crooks don't meet before the job, and wear masks during it, thus can't possibly identify each other. But each man has an ace, torn in half to create a unique mate, to match with the second half and confirm his identity when the time comes. It all sounds clever and foolproof, except the mastermind has framed someone for the robbery to throw police off their trail, and when this man is arrested but turned loose from police custody due to lack of evidence, he decides to track down the men who set him up.

This character, played by John Payne, is our anti-hero and looming wrench in theives' works. He quickly picks up the trail of one of the robbers in Mexico, but the police have too. In trying to discover who framed him, Payne could look to these lurking cops as though he's a member of the gang—if they spot him, that is. When Payne sees an opportunity to adopt one of the robber's identities—no difficult task since they've never seen each other—he leaps at it, but this draws him in even deeper. He's now in danger from the men he's playing imposter to, while to the cops he looks like a participant in the robbery.

There are more twists, including a star-crossed romance with Coleen Gray, but we'll stop there. This is a nice, multi-layered film noir, with good performances all around. Considering the risk Payne has to take we aren't sure we fully buy his motivation, but once he's made the decision there's no easy way out, and it's fun to watch him threaten and beat his way up the chain to the top guy. Coleen Gray always adds a nice element to any movie she's in, and Lee Van Cleef is good in a tough guy role. The only serious blemish here may be the silly final minute, but you shouldn't let it ruin the film for you. We recommend giving this one a whirl.

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The Naked City Nov 30 2016
CAPTIVATING PERSONALITIES
Just because they're kidnappers doesn't mean they're bad people.

This FBI wanted poster was issued for Clarence Vernon Stevens today in 1937, in connection with a kidnapping case dating back to 1933. Clearly, the FBI were having no luck finding their target. In May 1933 Stevens and three accomplices had kidnapped Kansas City rich girl Mary McElroy right out of her bathtub one night and demanded a hefty $60,000 ransom from her father for her safe return. In the end they got $30,000, but they also got caught—all except for Stevens. While his accomplices were tried and sentenced to, respectively death, life, and eight years, police scoured the state for Stevens. Eventually they decided he might have hidden himself somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. The FBI got involved in the search, resulting in the above poster.

Mary McElroy had developed a bond with her kidnappers and lobboed for more lenient sentences for the three that had been caught on the grounds that they had treated her decently. She successfully petitioned Missouri governor Guy Brasfield Park to have the death penalty handed one of her captors commuted to life, explaining in a letter, “Through punishing a guilty man, his victim will be made to suffer equally. [snip] In pleading for Walter McGee's life I am pleading for my own peace of mind.” She was very likely being truthful about her mental state—after the event she suffered from all sorts of mental disorders, problems she attributed to concern for the imprisoned men she now considered friends. We're sure a modern headshrinker would have a more in-depth explanation, something along the lines of PTSD.

Whether McElroy's problems originated from the kidnapping itself or from subsequent anxiety concerning the state punishing them on her behalf, the rest of her life did not go well. She had several nervous breakdowns—as such incidents were called back then—never moved out of her father's house, and became addicted to opium. In January 1949 she committed suicide at age thirty-two by shooting herself in the head with a pistol. She left a note that read, “My four kidnappers are probably the four people on earth who don't consider me an utter fool. You have your death penalty now - so - please - give them a chance. Mary.” But her death brought about no change in her kidnappers' status. One had already been paroled as scheduled, but the other two remained in prison. As for Clarence Vernon Stevens, he was never caught.

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The Naked City Jan 20 2015
BAD GAMBLE
Even if it sounds like a bluff, don't call it unless you’re willing to lose everything.


This photo made today in 1959 shows a woman named Jessie Mae Noah, who Los Angeles police had arrested and were questioning in connection to a crime that had occurred seven weeks earlier. On that December night a Samuel Goldwyn Studios suit named Kenneth Savoy walked into the In Between Café on Melrose Avenue during the time two men—one holding a sawed-off shotgun—were in the process of robbing it. Having collected the money and valuables of eight patrons and the contents of the cash register, they demanded Savoy’s wallet, and perhaps having watched too many of his own movies, he replied that if they wanted it they’d have to shoot him. That hard-boiled response earned him a load of buckshot in the stomach. The robbers scampered to their getaway car—where Jessie Mae Noah was waiting in the rear seat—and fled the scene.

After police published composite sketches of the robbers in the newspapers, Noah contacted police, resulting in the photo op above. The robbers—George Scott and Curtis Lichtenwalter—were arrested later (for those who wonder whether composite sketches ever work, check the comparison between Scott and his likeness at bottom).

Scott had fled all the way to Texarkana, Arkansas, and gave up only after a shoot-out with police at a motel. Jessie Mae Noah claimed she’d had no idea her two acquaintances were planning a robbery, and that she had simply gone for a ride with them for kicks. She avoided a murder charge, but Scott and Lichenwalter were both found guilty of robbery and first degree homicide. Scott—the triggerman—was gassed to death by the state of California in September 1960. And as for the victim Kenneth Savoy, you have to wonder what he thought in that instant when the shotgun went off. We suspect he thought that maybe calling bluffs was something best left to the stars of action films.


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Femmes Fatales | Musiquarium Sep 27 2014
ROSE FROM OBSCURITY
And now, ladies and gentlemen, my next feat will be to make several career-killing mistakes.

Above is a 1957 promo photo of American dancer/singer Rose Hardaway, who came from nowheresville Arkansas and achieved international stardom that saw her perform on the glittering stages of New York, London, and Paris. Unfortunately, she also spent a lot of time in tabloids, district courts, and eventually federal prison, but perhaps we’ll get to that later. Instead, as a bonus, below is the sleeve of the 1960 album she made with The Sammy Lowe Orchestra It’s Time for Rose Hardaway, which has one of the great covers of the period.

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The Naked City Aug 6 2012
HOMICIDE HOLLYWOOD STYLE
Two mobsters meet a messy end on the boulevard of broken dreams.

They were known as the Two Tonys—Brancato and Trombino, a pair of wild mobsters out of Kansas City. In May 1951 they robbed the cash room at the mob-controlled Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas. They and their three henchmen had been wearing hats, but Tony Brancato lost his mid-robbery, was caught on camera, and from there ended up on the FBI’s most wanted list. Brancato and Trombino were also identified by a mob subordinate who recognized them because he’d been robbed by them in Beverly Hills. The pair were arrested for the Flamingo robbery, but made bail, then promptly headed to Los Angeles. There they shook down a mob bookmaker’s right hand man, which put them on L.A. crime boss Jack Dragna’s most wanted list. But the difference between his list and the FBI’s was that Dragna’s had nothing to do with capture and trial. He ordered the Two Tonys to be killed, and mob shooter Aladena Fratianno, aka Jimmy the Weasel, took on the task. Brancato and Trombino desperately needed money for their legal defense, and Fratianno told them he’d help them take down a high stakes poker game worth $40,000. The Tonys were thrilled and grateful, but the heist was fiction. Instead, in a car on Hollywood Boulevard, Fratianno had two subordinates murder them. The aftermath appears above and below. Today, 1951.


 
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Vintage Pulp Jun 28 2012
IN HIS PRIME
It’s a mostly forgotten flick, but in Prime Cut Lee Marvin reminds us he was one of the all time screen tough guys.

Prime Cut is another one of those movies that falls squarely into the could-not-be-made-today category. Starring Lee Marvin and Gene Hackman, it’s the story of a Chicago mob enforcer sent to Kansas City to make a local meatpacking and prostitution kingpin pay a debt of $500,000. The meat aspect of Hackman’s KC operation is both literal and metaphorical, with his enemies occasionally ending up ground into actual hot dogs, and young girls being sold like cattle. Marvin starts as just a debt collector but soon becomes a white-haired angel of retribution, an avenger intent on righting a few moral wrongs. When Marvin gets that familiar look in his eyes, is there any doubt Hackman and his sleazebag underlings are in seriously deep shit? Prime Cut is an uneven flick with a few jarring 1970s quirks, but we sure enjoyed it. It’s bold, violent, and offensive by today’s standards, but nicely rendered by director Michael Ritchie and cinematographer Gene Polito. Of special note is Sissy Spacek, who makes her first credited film appearance. Prime Cut premiered in New York City today in 1972, but what you see above is the great Japanese promo, with its alternate title Kansas City Prime. If you like 1970s crime thrillers, you’ll certainly appreciate this one. 

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Vintage Pulp Jan 31 2012
PAGE TURNER
Bettie, we're not in Kansas anymore.

It's been a while since we've had any Bettie Page on the site, so we were pleasantly surprised yesterday to have found some shots of her in a 1953 issue of Carnival magazine. Actually, there were about forty great images of various people, but rather than try to scan all of them, we decided to break the issue into two or more posts. So today, we're uploading only the below shots of Page demonstrating for readers the various legal constraints on disrobement for strippers in different states, with Kansas being the most conservative and Louisiana being the least. We'll have more from Carnival later.

Update: We've posted more images from the magazine here.

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The Naked City Feb 17 2011
FALLING STAR
Another smalltown beauty meets ruin in Hollywood.

She was born Ellen Louise Stowe in Little Rock, Arkansas, but she called herself Star because of her fascination with the sky. She even got a big blue star tattooed below her bikini line. She moved to Los Angeles with ambitions to become a dancer and caught the eye of a Playboy scout while performing at a strip bar. From that point forward she met lots of celebrities and made connections. She was acquainted with Kiss bassist Gene Simmons, dated him, and posed for a Kiss picture disc. Offered an opportunity to be a Playmate of the Month, she accepted and was featured in the magazine’s February 1977 issue.

The relationship with Simmons eventually fizzled and her dancing career never took off. But while she didn’t become famous, she did eventually meet a man, who she married and had a son with. But the union ended in divorce and Stowe moved to Fort Lauderdale in 1986, where she returned to stripping. Former centerfolds typically make good money on the dance circuit and, though little is known about Stowe’s life in Florida, it’s safe to assume that she did okay at first. But she liked to party, and drug problems eventually forced her into prostitution to survive.

On March 16, 1997 she was found strangled and dumped behind an Eckerd pharmacy. Another area prostitute named Sandra Kay Walters had been strangled in the same manner weeks earlier, leading policeto believe both women had been victims of the same assailant. But leads were scarce. Later in 1997 another woman named Tammy Strunk was found dead in a shopping center trash bin in the city of Plantation, Florida. Before the year ended a woman named Theresa Kettner was found dead in Coral Springs. By then police had to admit they probably had a serial killer on their hands.
 
When two more strangled women turned up in 1999, what had been a strong theory became an ironclad certainty. But then the crimes stopped. Since 1999 there haven't been any new killings fitting the modus operandi of the previous strangulations, and today the cases are unsolved. Of all the former Playmates who died before their time, Stowe’s story is among the most tragic. Her nickname was meant to tell the world of her poetic spirit, but when she fell so far, and burned out so fast, it also provided a metaphor for her life.

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Vintage Pulp | Politique Diabolique Feb 5 2010
STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL
History depends on who’s doing the telling.

The above issue of Confidential is less visually chaotic than usual on the cover, but packs a wallop inside. The communist tag they’ve slapped on Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus stems from his having attended a leftist school. His political opponent in a 1954 election run-off tried to use it against him, but Faubus won anyway. In 1957, Faubus, at the time facing a serious primary challenge from an unapologetic segregationist, called in the National Guard to close high schools in Little Rock in an effort to prevent black students from attending them. The event made him, for a time, the face of the conservative South, as photos of Faubus speaking to crowds from the front stairs of Central High School circulated around the world. Two years afterward, in 1959, Confidential published this issue. So Faubus was branded a leftist, then a rightist. then a leftist again.

Many historians argue that Faubus, who was actually a lifelong desegrega- tionist, harbored few if any racist beliefs, but by closing schools was merely trying to win an election by proving to the sizable racist electorate in Arkansas that, yes, he too could deny equal rights to African Americans. There’s also the question of whether he did it to prevent white mobs from taking violent action against black kids, and it could be argued that if his rightwing rival had defeated him, years of Faubus’s progressive work might have been jeopardized. The first reading paints Faubus as an opportunist, the second as a good-intentioned pragmatist. Both speak to the reality of politics, where sticking to your principles becomes a dodgy proposition when doing it might cost your job. But viewed from the perspective of a black highschooler, any man who enforces the prevailing apartheid is a bad man—political realities nothwithstanding. So what was Faubus in the end? We may never know. 

But enough politics—the story that really sings here is the one on Bing’s brat pack. American crooner Bing Crosby’s four sons, all born in the 1930s, followed their father into show business and formed a vocal group called The Crosby Boys. Gary, Dennis, Phillip, and Lindsey performed at nightclubs and on the Ed Sullivan Show, but their careers never reached the heights of their father's, who sold something like five-hundred million records. Confidential tells stories of the boys misbehaving all over Hollywood and generally acting like spoiled kids with serious problems. The possible root of their troubles became public knowledge in 1983, when eldest sibling Gary Crosby wrote Going My Own Way, a biography of his now-deceased father that detailed mental and physical abuse—not just hide tannings of the type common in those days, but whippings that drew blood. 

Needless to say, quite a furor erupted over the revelations. Even today, you can find apologist websites explaining that Bing’s childrearing techniques were not so harsh for the times, and attack websites that paint him as a murderous tyrant. Phillip Crosby disputed many of the claims inhis brother’s book, but Lindsey and Dennis backed Gary’s account. Their suicides by gunshot, six and eight years later, respectively, serve as the debate’s curious exclamation points. But Bing Crosby—whether monstrous abuser or victim of slander—remains an American icon to this day, and books written by other family members portray him as a loving father. As with Governor Faubus, in the end, we may never know what he really was. Both stories prove the old adage true: History depends on who’s doing the telling.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
September 19
1934—Arrest Made in Lindbergh Baby Case
Bruno Hauptmann is arrested for the kidnap and murder of Charles Lindbergh Jr., son of the famous American aviator. The infant child had been abducted from the Lindbergh home in March 1932, and found decomposed two months later in the woods nearby. He had suffered a fatal skull fracture. Hauptmann was tried, convicted, sentenced to death, and finally executed by electric chair in April 1936. He proclaimed his innocence to the end
September 18
1919—Pollard Breaks the Color Barrier
Fritz Pollard becomes the first African-American to play professional football for a major team, the Akron Pros. Though Pollard is forgotten today, famed sportswriter Walter Camp ranked him as "one of the greatest runners these eyes have ever seen." In another barrier-breaking historical achievement, Pollard later became the co-head coach of the Pros, while still maintaining his roster position as running back.
1932—Entwistle Leaps from Hollywood Sign
Actress Peg Entwistle commits suicide by jumping from the letter "H" in the Hollywood sign. Her body lay in the ravine below for two days, until it was found by a detective and two radio car officers. She remained unidentified until her uncle connected the description and the initials "P.E." on the suicide note in the newspapers with his niece's two-day absence.
September 17
1908—First Airplane Fatality Occurs
The plane built by Wilbur and Orville Wright, The Wright Flyer, crashes with Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge aboard as a passenger. The accident kills Selfridge, and he becomes the first airplane fatality in history.
1983—First Black Miss America Crowned
Vanessa Williams becomes the first African American Miss America. She later loses her crown when lesbian-themed nude photographs of her are published by Penthouse magazine.
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