Maybe it’s the name that keeps people away, because, you know, we’re actually very welcoming here in Tough Town.
Tough Town appeared in 1952 as a reprint of 1946’s The Ragged Edge. It’s the story of three impoverished siblings who are dragged into the seamy side of life in a fictional New York City slum called Marshall Place. There's lots of juvenile delinquency here, a bit of low level mob activity, a couple of fatal shootings, backroom abortion stuff, political corruption, and so forth.
Two of the siblings have a rough go, but one of them vows to clean up the town and eventually makes it all the way to a position as district attorney. This is an attempt at serious literary art by author Jack Karney, who revisited the subject of the pernicious effects of poverty more than once in his novels. But America is, sadly, a much less sympathetic place toward the poor today, and we doubt this story would resonate for modern readers. The cover art is by Frederick Meyer.
Get me to the church on time.
The cover of this February 1965 issue of True Detective featuring a strangled woman and an evil garden gnome is impressively horrific, but thankfully the scene was posed by a model. The crime mentioned in the second inset—“Girl Scout’s Body Found in the Church Furnace”—was, unfortunately, real. Seven-year-old Janet Young had been dropped off by her mother at Bethany Evangelical United Brethren Church in Queens, New York City, to attend a Brownie Scout meeting. She was late. The meeting had begun at 3:30 and the church doors were locked. Mrs. Young watched as a church handyman and aspiring minister named John Ebbs let her daughter in a side door. At that point she drove away. And it was at that point that the eighteen-year-old Ebbs, who people in the community described as slow-witted but harmless, suddenly, in his words, “had an urge.” He dragged Janet Young to the basement, and as the Scout meeting proceeded overhead, he sexually assaulted her, choked her with a belt from her uniform, and dumped her in the church furnace to burn with no idea whether she was alive or dead.
When Mrs. Young came to retrieve her daughter, she found the church empty. She called the Scout leader and was told Janet never attended the meeting. This prompted a frantic call to the police, who quickly found the girl’s charred body. They arrested Ebbs at home hours later. The crime, once it hit the news, aroused a furious reaction in the community. Two civilian participants in a police line-up with Ebbs punched, kicked and spat on him. Though the police of course denied this assault ever happened, they put together an armed detachment of thirty-five men to forestall trouble at Ebbs’ arraignment. At his trial, which lasted eight days, four psychiatrists testified that he was legally insane, but four others pronounced him sane. He was convicted of first degree murder, and sentenced to life in prison. Ebb’s only reaction, at least according to accounts of the time, came when he saw the camera crews gathered to film him. He wondered aloud, “What will they think of me?”
Some decisions don’t need explaining.
Top Secret packs several top celebs onto the cover of this issue published today in 1958, but gives center position to the relatively unknown Elsa Sorensen, the 1955 Miss Denmark referred to here as “that nude model.” Sorensen was indeed a nude model—she was a 1956 Playboy centerfold under her own name, and afterward continued to model nude as Dane Arden. Top Secret editors claim to know why multi-million-selling pop singer Guy Mitchell married her, but we don’t need their help to figure that out. See below:
The magazine also spins the tale of how the calypso/caribbean themed NYC club the African Room sued Eartha Kitt for more than $200,000. Allegedly, one night while Kitt and some friends were in attendance to see house act Johnny Barracuda, aka the King of Calypso, she flew into a rage, poured Champagne on patrons, shattered glassware, and kneed one of the owners—an ex-homicide dick named Harold Kanter—in the gonads. The lawsuit claimed Kitt shouted, “This is nothing but a clip joint! You are nothing but thieves!” Supposedly, this was all over a $137.00 bar bill. In case you’re wondering, that’s about $1,100 in today’s money.
Kitt’s side of the story was simply that her group ordered three or four splits (mini-bottles) of champagne—though none for her, as she never drank alcohol—and when presented with an exorbitant tab asked for an itemized bill, only to be met with major static. We’re siding with Kitt on this one, since Kanter, who somehow had enough money to leave the police force and buy a share of the African Room three years earlier at age twenty-five, had already been busted for watering down his liquor, then trying to bribe his way out of trouble. Kitt said succinctly of the episode, “To me a $137 bill was preposterous. I asked for the bill so I could have it sent to my office. They would not give it to me. That’s all there is to the whole story.”
And that’s all there is from Top Secret today, except to say that for us the most interesting part of the Kitt saga—aside from the tantalizing allegation by Kanter that she “disported herself onstage in a lewd and suggestive manner”—is the fact that she’s pasted-up on the mag’s cover with Sidney Poitier, when in fact her date at the African Room that night was Canadian actor John Ireland. Poitier was nowhere in sight. We'd love to know why Top Secret tried to drag him in, however obliquely, but we're not counting on ever getting the answer. When you dig through the past, unanswered questions are not the exception, but rather the rule.
New York City
, The African Room
, Top Secret
, Eartha Kitt
, Sidney Poitier
, Elsa Sorensen
, Dane Arden
, Harold Kanter
, John Ireland
, Johnny Barracuda
Good aim is helpful for committing murders, and absolutely crucial for solving them.
Front Page Detective shows on this November 1971 cover how to attract eyeballs with lurid art and titillating text. Eisenhower’s social secretary murdered? That sounds intriguingly political, but it turns out Eisenhower’s only connection is that his White House had more than a decade earlier employed the murder victim in a secretarial position. Though no political angle exists, the crime itself is still very interesting. Laura Carpi, scion of a prominent Philadelphia family, disappeared in February 1971. In June the decomposed body of a woman was found in New York City’s East River, labeled an accidental drowning victim, and twenty days later interred on Hart Island as a Jane Doe in the potter’s field there. After the body was identified as Carpi’s, the New York Times published a sensational story claiming that her head had been removed before burial for study by junior pathologists, or, according to some sources in the pathologist’s office, simply to be used as a desk ornament. The Times claimed that a technician had been cleaning out whatever grisly remnants of flesh were still attached to the skull and happened to find a bullet lodged in its neck tissue. Dealing now with a suspected homicide, police focused on missing persons, and eventually summoned Carpi’s dentist. Recognizing his own work, he made the positive identification.
The ME’s office became the center of a storm, with Chief Medical Examiner Milton Helpern blasting the Times story for insinuating that “the doctors in this office are cutting off people’s heads to make ashtrays.” He pronounced the entire article “grossly distorted.” Perhaps it was, but uncovering a murder by chance never looks good, and he didn’t help his cause when he responded to a question about why his staff had failed to discover the bullet by saying that he ran a mortuary, not a graveyard, and was extremely busy. Though his answer was callous, it was also correct. His office had a contant flow of bodies coming through—that year more than 1,800 alone that had been victims of murder—and his staff was overworked. Add to this the facts that Laura Carpi had thick hair that concealed the small caliber entry wound at the base of her skull, the slug had left no exit wound, and the head had been four months in the water, and it’s possible to see how mistakes could be made. As to why the head was kept, the unconvincing official reason was that it was because the dentalwork would allow for possible future identification—which only made sense if all the Jane and John Does on Hart Island were also headless.
In any case, the finger of suspicion for the murder immediately pointed toward Carpi’s estranged husband Colin, at right, who was battling for custody of their four children. Not only would the loss of this battle and subsequent divorce settlement wipe him out financially, but he was also well aware that his wife had been seeing another man. For various reasons—jurisdictional issues and general reluctance to pursue the crime—Colin Carpi didn’t go to trial for two more years. A mountain of circumstantial evidence pointed at him, but his acquittal was deemed by most legal experts to be the right decision. The prosecution simply bungled its presentation to the jury, and even if the courtroom aspect had been perfect, much of Colin Carpi’s suspicious behavior could be chalked up to the circumstances around the custody battle and his wife’s affair. Perhaps a not-guilty verdict was an anti-climax after the high drama associated with the identification of Laura Carpi’s body, but not finding the perp is the way it often goes in true crime, and real life.
New York City
, Hart Island
, East River
, New York Times
, Front Page Detective
, Laura Carpi
, Colin Carpi
, Milton Helpern
, true crime magazine
For a lonely boy he sure has plenty of company.
Awesome cover art here for Alan Kapelner’s proto-beat novel Lonely Boy Blues, originally published in 1944 and dealing with a cast of NYC oddballs during the 1930s and leading into World War II. By proto-beat we mean it was a precursor to Kerouac and the like—verbally experimental, trying to capture with its prose the rhythm of jazz and bop. It was panned in its day but seems to be enjoying a bit of a revival. The person responsible for this masterpiece of a cover for Lion Books' 1956 re-issue is Arthur Sussman.
Glass Key paperback art is tops thanks to another Italian master.
Brian Donlevy and Veronica Lake’s film noir The Glass Key, which was Hollywood’s second try at Dashiell Hammett’s novel, premiered this month in 1942. To be exact, it opened yesterday in New York City and throughout the U.S. on October 23. The poster most often seen online is the theatrical release version we showed you several years ago, but alternates were produced and two of them appear below. What we really wanted to share, though, is this great paperback cover from UK-based Digit Books. It’s from 1961 and features the art of Italian illustrator Enrico de Seta, who we’ve mentioned before. If you haven’t watched The Glass Key we recommend it, and if you haven’t read the book, just know that it was Hammett’s personal favorite.
, New York City
, Digit Books
, The Glass Key
, Dashiell Hammett
, Enrico de Seta
, Alan Ladd
, Brian Donlevy
, Veronica Lake
, poster art
, cover art
, film noir
Who can take a tragedy and make it a success? The Candyman can.
A world-weary Sammy Davis, Jr. appears here in a photo shot by Peter Basch in the back of a Chicago limousine. Davis was about to go to New York to star on Broadway in Clifford Odets and William Gibson’s Golden Boy, a musical involving a boxer’s turbulent career, doomed interracial romance, and eventual suicide. Not exactly an uplifting night out, yet the show ran for 569 performances and the cast album cracked the Top 40. That’s called star power, and Davis, who was already huge in Hollywood and the music industry, had it to spare. The photo dates from 1964.
Cheapie tabloid offers priceless advice to American males.
Remember when Midnight explained that virgins make lousy wives? Not to be outdone, this issue of Rampage published yesterday in 1971 reveals what type of women make the best wives. Can you guess? Give up? The answer is—wait for it—prostitutes. The magazine’s reasons are many, but the one we agree with unreservedly is this: “They’ve already seen the worst men have to offer.” Elsewhere, the editors tout a cure for inverted nipples, reveal “lezzies slurping over female bodies,” and tell the tale of a woman talked into smuggling heroin in her vagina from Istanbul to New York City. Because this is a tabloid, after all, there’s an actual heroin stuffed dildo involved that the amateur smuggler secrets inside her lady parts for two days of air travel. Quote: “I felt full down there, like I was being perpetually screwed by a guy with a really big dick. It was a funny feeling, but sexy. I may have had an orgasm on the plane.” Everybody who thinks that was written by a dude raise your hands. Yep, we’re unanimously agreed. We also get America’s most popular seer the (not so) Amazing Criswell (on loan from his regular gig at National Informer), who drops this nugget: “I predict a lawsuit will reveal that one of our top glamour girls has a wooden hand!” Rampage is a gift that keeps on giving and we have about ten more issues we’re going to share. We know you can hardly wait. Scans below. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1959—Lou Costello Dies
American comedian Lou Costello, of the famous comedy team Abbott & Costello, dies of a heart attack at Doctors' Hospital in Beverly Hills, three days before his 53rd birthday. His career spanned radio and film, silent movies and talkies, vaudeville and cinema, and in his heyday he was, along with partner Abbott, one of the most beloved personalities in Hollywood.
1933—King Kong Opens
The first version of King Kong
, starring Bruce Cabot, Robert Armstrong and Fay Wray, and with the giant ape Kong brought to life with stop-action photography, opens at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. The film goes on to play worldwide to good reviews and huge crowds, and spawns numerous sequels and reworkings over the next eighty years.
1949—James Gallagher Completes Round-the-World Flight
Captain James Gallagher and a crew of fourteen land their B-50 Superfortress named Lucky Lady II in Fort Worth, Texas, thus completing the first non-stop around-the-world airplane flight. The entire trip from takeoff to touchdown took ninety-four hours and one minute.
1953—Oscars Are Shown on Television
The 26th Academy Awards are broadcast on television by NBC, the first time the awards have been shown on television. Audiences watch live as From Here to Eternity wins for Best Picture, and William Holden and Audrey Hepburn earn statues in the best acting categories for Stalag 17 and Roman Holiday.
1912—First Parachute Jump Takes Place
Albert Berry jumps from a biplane traveling at 1,500 feet and lands by parachute at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. The 36 foot diameter chute was contained in a metal canister attached to the underside of the plane, and when Berry dropped from the plane his weight pulled the canopy from the canister. Rather than being secured into the chute by a harness, Berry was seated on a trapeze bar. It's possible he was only the second man to accomplish a parachute landing, as there are some accounts of someone accomplishing the feat in California several months earlier.
1932—Lindbergh Baby Is Kidnapped
The twenty-month-old son of aviator Charles Lindbergh, Charles Augustus Lindbergh III, is kidnapped from the family home in East Amwell, New Jersey. Over two months later the toddler's body is discovered in woods a short distance from the home. A medical examination determines that he had died of a massive skull fracture. A German carpenter named Bruno Hauptmann is arrested, tried, and convicted for the crime. He is sentenced to death and executed in April 1936.
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