The Naked City Aug 28 2015
BUCKED OVER
Putting the pieces back together.


How many slayings over the years have been called “jigsaw murders”? Plenty. All a killer has to do is cut up the body and “jigsaw” becomes the go-to nickname. The particular jigsaw murders referred to on the cover of this August 1947 True Police Cases are ones committed in Lancashire, England during the late 1930s. A doctor named Buktyar Rustomji Ratanji Hakim—“Buck” for short, and aka Buck Ruxton—strangled his wife Isabella. And in a sad but classic case of wrong-place-wrong-time, a maid who had the misfortune of witnessing the event was also strangled.

But Ruxton wasn’t finished. He yanked out the women’s teeth, cut off their faces, chopped up their bodies, and disposed of the pieces in a stream 100 miles from his home. The guy was really using his head. Other than needing to explain the absence of his wife and maid, he had to feel pretty confident about going undetected. But he had wrapped some of the remains in newspaper—a newspaper sold only in his area. That helped police zero in. And when they noted the precision of the butchery, they immediately narrowed their search to medical professionals. Needless to say, there weren’t too many doctors in the Lancashire area whose wives were suddenly missing.
 
You may wonder what the trigger was for all this carnage. It was jealousy. It always seems to be jealousy. Isabella was socially quite popular, and Doc Ruxton thought she was cheating on him. He anguished over this constantly, and the couple fought often, which is the reason the poor maid didn’t realize until too late that she wasn’t witnessing just another fight. Ruxton had no actual evidence his wife was cheating, but in the end his lack of proof didn’t matter—that only meant she was too clever to be caught.

Because the police used newly developed forensic techniques to help solve the crime—for instance, superimposing photos of Isabella’s face over the decomposed head to aid identification—the case generated a lot of attention. True Police Cases scribe Alan Hynd wasn’t the only journalist with an interest. Many true crime writers wrote about it, and the story eventually became an entire book by T.F. Potter in 1984 called The Deadly Dr. Ruxton: How They Caught a Lancashire Double Killer. All these years later, of the many jigsaw murderers, Buck Ruxton remains among the most famous.

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Vintage Pulp Jul 25 2015
EAU NO
Maybe I’ve been working in this lab too long, but I’d really like to meet whoever produced this beautiful urine sample.

The Smell of Murder has nothing to do with bodily fluids, but when we see yellow liquid in a test tube that’s where our minds go. Especially after a couple of nights in Magaluf, hereafter referred to as Malagoof, where the streets run with liquid gold. The rest of Mallorca, however, was very nice. The Smell of Murder is a mystery with a gangland focus and a secondary character who works for a perfume company—hence the test tubes. That character, interestingly, is named Grace Allen and is based upon the famous comedienne. Her Vaudeville partner George Burns appears too—he’s the owner of the perfume company. 1938 publication date, plenty of reviews online, unknown cover artist. 

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Modern Pulp Apr 11 2015
MAKING A CASE
El Caso documented the underbelly of Spanish society for thirty-five years.

Our friends in Spain are really getting the hang of this pulp thing. The first item we received from them was a set of photos on Spanish post-pulp artist Vicente B. Ballestar. Next they e-mailed us scans from the Burgos-based fanzine Monografico, which had used a 1960s men’s magazine cover for an art piece. Now we’ve been sent some scans from the Spanish crime tabloid El Caso, which was published out of Madrid by Empresa Eugenio Suarez. For thirty-five years—from 1952 to 1987—El Caso was an important post-Spanish revolution publication, topping 100,000 readers per issue at one point. The copy you see here appeared today in 1981, and it has splatter photos, tales from Spain’s mean streets, and interesting art from A. Arnau. We have four more scans below and if we get lucky maybe we’ll be sent more (hint) later.

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Vintage Pulp Mar 31 2015
THE CRUEL ZOO
The only real murders committed may have been of the animals.


Murders in the Zoo is a brisk little sixty-two-minute thriller for which you see two excellent promos above. A dealer in large animals uses the menagerie he’s recently procured in Asia to dispose of his wife’s suitors. The cast is good, especially Kathleen Burke as the straying spouse. You’ll notice she’s called The Panther Woman on the posters. That’s a reference to her role as a woman bred from a panther in the previous year’s hit thriller Island of Lost Souls, and here she retains a hint of animal cunning that makes her the most watchable cast member. Other aspects of the film are less watchable. Zoos are sad affairs even today, but during the 1930s they were tawdry places rife with choke collars and tiny cages. Watching Murders in the Zoo explains why today’s productions have the American Humane Association on set defending the animals’ wellbeing. 

Late in the proceedings, the villain tries to facilitate his escape from justice by (spoiler alert) releasing all the big cats from their cages, triggering a feline free-for-all of slashing claws and gnashing fangs. This is no special effect, folks. The sequence is brief and uses footage from two angles to extend the running time, but still, injuries surely resulted. At the least, the leopard that was held down and gnawed on by a lion probably had PTSD until the end of its days. Sometimes we point out scenes in vintage cinema that fall into the could-not-be-filmed-today category, and usually those exemplify the visionary artistry of the past. What is mostly exemplified by Murders in the Zoo’s cat scrum is the cruelty of the human species. But from a purely cinematic perspective it’s a powerful scene, and indeed, the entire zoo setting heightens the overarching dread. As 1930s movies go, Murders in the Zoo is an excellent one. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1933.

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The Naked City Mar 24 2015
DEATH EXAMINED
Tragedy plus a photographer equals sales.


Above and below is a fascinating series of photos from the Los Angeles Examiner during the heyday of tabloids, showing just how invasive such publications could be. The photo above shows the aftermath of a murder-suicide at the Ansonia Apartments in L.A.’s MacArthur Park neighborhood. A mother jumped from a window with her six-year-old son. The photos below show the scene from different angles, then a priest administering last rites to the boy, and finally the father grieving over his son’s body. The Examiner focused on crime, corruption, and Hollywood scandals, and was for a time the most widely circulated newspaper in Los Angeles. Possibly its most famous scoop was breaking the story of the 1947 mutilation murder of Elizabeth Short, better known as the Black Dahlia.

In the references we dug up on the Clouart tragedy the wife’s name is never given—she’s called only Mrs. Gerald Clouart. That was of course common practice at the time, but it’s ironic the way it renders invisible a woman who might have received help had anyone truly discerned her troubles. But in yet another example of the Examiner’s extraordinary access, one of its photos is of Mrs. Clouart’s suicide note, and we were able to get her name from that. The note said: “I’ve reached the point of no return. It’s not your fault. You’ve been a wonderful husband and father. Am taking [John] with me to spare him the disgrace. I’m just inadequate.” It was signed Terry. That was today in 1952.


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The Naked City Feb 13 2015
A LOW EBBS
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?” 

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Vintage Pulp Jan 28 2015
DR. SINISTER
A prescription for murder.

As long as we’re doing Spanish language pulp today, we might as well share this cover for El siniestro Doctor Crippen, or The Sinister Doctor Crippen, written by Enrique Cuenca for Barcelona based Ediciones G.P., and published in 1960 as part of its low cost Enciclopedia Pulga collection. Eventually, about five-hundred books appeared as part of the collection, including translations of Jules Verne, Robert Lewis Stevenson, and other classic authors. This particular novel is of course based on the strange story of Hawley Harvey Crippen, aka H.H. Crippen, the American physician and fugitive who murdered his wife Cora in 1910 and was eventually hanged in London’s HM Pentonville Prison. Many of the covers we’ve seen from Enciclopedia Pulga are nice, so we’ll try to revisit the collection a little bit later.

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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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Vintage Pulp Jan 15 2015
TRAINING DAY
Good boy. Now that you’ve got begging mastered let’s see how you do at playing dead.

Above, Marked for Murder, written by Robert O. Saber, aka Milton K. Ozaki, published originally in 1955, with this edition from Australia’s Phantom Books appearing in 1956. Artist unknown.

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The Naked City Jan 12 2015
FINAL SHOT
Life and death in the cinema.


Police Lt. Hugh Crowley lies dead in the Fox Westwood Village Theater in Los Angeles after being shot today in 1932. Crowley had gone to the theater after closing time to retrieve box office receipts, but instead surprised two thieves. Crowley reached for his sidearm and fired, and one of the crooks gunned him down. Both men were captured and tried, and Joseph Francis Regan, who had fired the fatal shot and actually been hit in the abdomen by a bullet fired by Crowley, was sentenced to death. Jack Green, who had no prior criminal record, had not fired a shot, and had cooperated in the police investigation, nevertheless also was sentenced to death, probably because he had planned the crime. Regan was hanged at San Quentin State Prison in August 1933. Green came close to the gallows, but received numerous reprieves after public pleas for leniency from his parents, and rulings from higher courts. Eventually his sentence was commuted to life in prison.

Although Green was probably never aware of it, legal authorities often cited his case during the long battle over the constitutionality of the death penalty in California. The idea put forth by the pro-death penalty side around 1960 was that even though Green’s commuted sentence specified “without possibility of parole,” there was no actual reason in California jurisprudence or the state constitution that he could not be released. All that was required was for an appropriate state authority to decide to do it. They felt therefore that anti-death penalty campaigners’ assurances that criminals could be imprisoned for life if such punishment was deemed necessary meant nothing. No matter the language of the original life sentence, any criminal could later be released. Green doubtless would have found all this fascinating, but none of it ever came to affect him. As far as we can tell, he did in fact spend the rest of his life in San Quentin.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
August 28
1963—King Gives Famous Speech
In the U.S., Martin Luther King, Jr., at the culmination of his march on Washington for jobs and freedom, gives his famous "I Have a Dream Speech," advocating racial harmony and equality.
1981—Scientists Announce Existence of New Disease
The National Centers for Disease Control announce a high incidence of pneumocystis and Kaposi's sarcoma in gay men. These illnesses are later recognized as symptoms of a blood-borne immune disorder, which they name AIDS. The disease is initially thought to have developed in the late 1970s among gay populations, but scientists now know it developed in the late 1800s or early 1900s in Africa during the height of European conquest of the continent.
August 27
1975—Haile Selassie I Dies
Haile Selassie I, former Emperor of the Kingdom of Ethiopia, dies of respiratory failure. Selassie was most famous for his landmark speech before the League of Nations in 1936, in which he pleaded for help against an Italian invasion, but to no avail. He warned that fascist aggression would not end with Ethiopia. His words, "It is us today; it will be you tomorrow," turn out to be prophetic when Germany's fascists later spark World War II.
August 26
1939—First Baseball Telecast
The first televised baseball game, a doubleheader between the Cincinnati Reds and the Brooklyn Dodgers, takes place at New York City's Ebbets Field.

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