Crime magazine gives readers the gifts of death and mayhem.
Produced by the J.B Publishing Corp. of New York City, Reward was a true crime magazine, another imprint designed to slake the American public's thirst for death and mayhem. Inside this May 1954 issue the editors offer up mafia hits, Hollywood suicides, domestic murder, plus some cheesecake to soothe readers' frazzled nerves, and more. The cover features a posed photo of actress Lili Dawn, who was starring at the time in a film noir called Violated. It turned out to be her only film. In fact, it turned out to be the only film ever acted in by top billed co-star William Holland, as well as supporting cast members Vicki Carlson, Fred Lambert, William Mishkin, and Jason Niles. It must have been some kind of spectacularly bad movie to cut short all those careers, but we haven't watched it. It's available for the moment on YouTube, though, and we may just take a gander later. Because Reward is a pocket sized magazine the page scans are easily readable, so rather than comment further we'll let you have a look yourself.
Beautiful jinx finally jinxes herself.
Confidential Detective Cases, for which see an April 1960 cover above, was published bi-monthly from 1942 to 1978 by New York City based Detective House, Inc. The magazine has an appropriately garish crime rag look and many stories of interest, breathlessly reported. The headers are entertaining: “She Stabbed Him—Rather Than Share Him!” “Parade of the Grave-Bound Redheads.” “The Dames All Die for Me.” All these tales are of interest, but today we're focused on one story—the piece about the unlucky death of Janice Drake. It's titled “Big-Time Mob Leader and the Blonde Murder Jinx.” A jinx is of course someone who brings bad luck to others, but what do you call someone who brings bad luck on herself?
Drake was a former Miss New Jersey who had competed in the Miss America pageant, was a semi-famous G.I. pin-up, a professional dancer, and the wife of comedian Allan Drake. She and her husband were known to have an open marriage, and among Janice's male friends were several New York City mobsters. One of these was Anthony Carfano, aka Little Augie Pisano, an associate of crime boss Frank Costello, who was pitted against mob rival Vito Genovese in a power play for control of the New York City rackets. Carfano had thrown his support behind Costello, causing Genovese to develop a homicidal grudge.
This was not a guy to go to dinner with, but on the night of September 29, 1959, Drake accompanied Carfano to a restaurant called Marino's, where they dined with a mob caporegime named Tony Strollo. Strollo was Genovese's right hand man, but Carfano had no idea Genovese was bent on revenge, nor that Strollo had been assigned the job. When Carfano and Drake left Marino's, they were planning to drive to La Guardia Airport to board a night flight to Miami. But two gunmen were stationed in the rear of Carfano's Cadillac and they forced him to drive to a secluded area near the airport, where they shot both him and Janice Drake twice in the head and once in the back of the neck.
Bad luck for Drake, but don't feel overwhelmingly sympathetic. She may not have been married to the mob, as the saying goes, but she was definitely playing footsie with it. Twice she had been present at a mobster's last supper. She went to dinner with Garment District kingpin Nathan Nelson the night he was murdered, and dined with Gambino crime family boss Albert Anastasia the night before he was whacked in a barbershop. Talk about a jinx. She was called to testify in court concerning both slayings, yet for some reason never seemed to comprehend the risks of running with a dangerous—and highly endangered—crowd.
More than a few police figures believed Drake was a mob courier, a high level go-between, a role in which she may learned the identities of Nelson's and Anastasia's killers. She may not have been a target the night she had her last supper and met a messy end, but it could be that since she knew too much, her loss as collateral damage was deemed an acceptable outcome. Others think she was just mob arm candy and finally ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time; anyone in the car with Carfano would have bought it the same brutal way. Whatever the specifics, Drake's early death—she was thirty-two when it happened—was probably inevitable.
New murder magazine puts a fright into British readers.
Who is this odd character on the cover of the UK weekly Crimes & Punishment? That would be John Linley Frazier, an Ohio born religious fanatic who this month in 1970 murdered five people at the behest—he claimed—of God. His victims were a wealthy Santa Cruz, California ophthalmologist named Victor Ohta, his wife Virginia Ohta, their two children Taggart and Derrick, and the ophthalmologist's secretary Dorothy Cadwallader. Frazier bound them all with scarves, shot them with a .38 or a .22, depending on the victim, and dumped their bodies a large pool behind the house. He did the same to the family cat. Then he burned the house down.
Frazier left a note on one of Ohta's cars. It read: "Halloween... 1970. Today world war 3 will begin as brought to you by the people of free universe. From this day forward, any one ?/or company of persons who misuses the natural environment or destroys same will suffer the penalty of death by the people of the free universe. I and my comrades from this day forth will fight until death or freedom against any single anyone who does not support natural life on this planet, materialism must die or mankind will.” He signed the note four times—as the Knight of Wands, the Knight of Cups, the Knight of Penticles [sic], and the Knight of Swords, all identities from standard tarot decks.
Frazier's similarity to Charles Manson is impossible not to notice. Both had grandiose ideas about reshaping the world and believed in a coming war; one claimed to talk to God while the other was strongly influenced by the Book of Revelation; both were part of the California hippie scene, and both were of tiny stature and compulsively needed to influence others. In the end it was Frazier's constant talking about the evils of materialism and consumerism that did him in, since people tended to remember his lectures. In particular, he had railed against Ohta's ostentatious lifestyle and the trees he had uprooted on his ten acre property to build his house. Tips from acquaintances, as well as Frazier's estranged wife, helped police zero in.
Frazier was arrested at his shack not far from the Ohta mansion four days after the murders and he went to trial a year later in October 1971, with the first proceedings designed to establish guilt, the second to determine sanity, and the third to decide upon a sentence. In the photo above he's being led to court during the sanity phase, and he's shaved half his head, half his beard, and one eyebrow as a representation of the two sides of a hippie. If the haircut was an attempt to look crazy to the jury it didn't work—they sentenced him to death, a penalty that was commuted to life in prison when California later banned capital punishment.
This is the debut issue of Crimes & Punishment, dating from 1973. We don't think it published past that year, but as a weekly at least a couple of dozen issues were produced. We may try to track down others, because this one was very involving. Inside you get profiles on Leopold & Loeb, Ma Barker, Gaston Dominici, Charles Manson, the Zodiac, and even Adolf Hitler. Nearly all the crimes took place in the U.S., which we imagine the magazine's British readership found curious and disturbing. We know because we live overseas and whenever another U.S. mass killer hits the news our friends are curious and disturbed. For that matter so are we. We have quite a few scans below to put a fright into you as Halloween approaches, and we'll share more true crime magazines a bit later.
Jealous murder strikes a John Wayne movie set.
This Master Detective published today in 1960 has a nice cover by Al Drule, and inside the issue are several interesting stories, but the one we're looking at today is “The Crime that Wasn't in the Script,” about a murder that took place during the filming of John Wayne's western The Alamo. The story is kind of forgotten, but basically, an actress named LaJean Etheridge was killed by her boyfriend Chester Harvey Smith, who was angry that Etheridge had decided to move closer to the movie set in Brackettville, Texas. Such a killing is impossible to understand under any circumstances, but putting on your jealous madman cap for a second you can picture a possessive man losing it over his girlfriend moving thousands of miles away. Like if someone told you the story you'd nod and go, “Umm hmm,” because you could see it.
But Etheridge wasn't moving thousands of miles. She and Smith had both scored work as extras on The Alamo, had traveled from Hollywood together, and were living in Spofford, Texas with three other extras in lodgings set up by Wayne's Batjac Productions. Etheridge had decided to move from Spofford to Fort Clark, ten miles north, a relocation precipitated by her landing a larger part in the film. Was she simply moving closer to the set to facilitate the changed demands of her role? Or was she leaving her boyfriend? Still wearing your jealous madman cap, you can picture Smith believing the latter. Etheridge would be out of sight, living with unknowns, possibly having fun with production staff and carousing with handsome actors. But she never got the chance—as she was packing Smith stabbed her in the chest with a Bowie knife, and she died on the scene. He was arrested when police arrived fifteen minutes later, pled guilty to murder, and was sentenced to thirty years in prison.
The final assessment by Smith's lawyer was that the murder was a crime of “passion and professional jealousy.” As details emerged a clearer picture of Smith formed. He had once struck his ex-wife's roommate in the head with a hatchet, and earlier had tried to run her, her roommate, and their dates down with his car. His rage wasn't reserved only for ex-lovers. He also once attacked a bus driver. So Smith needed no excuses to hurt people. It's just what he did. But maybe this particular episode really was a so-called crime of passion. Rumors circulated during the trial that Etheridge had been seeing John Wayne, but he never testified nor was officially involved with the case in any way. And under the circumstances, it was probably inevitable that such rumors would spring up. Yet Etheridge had completed her part, and Wayne, according to several accounts, had asked her to stay on at Fort Clark. So there's no telling.
Etheridge's part in The Alamo was left on the cutting room floor. No surprise. The murder caused enough bad publicity as it was, so naturally there was no way she could have remained in the film. It wasn't until an extended version was released in 1993 that her role as Mrs. Guy was seen by movie fans. Though the story of the murder hasfaded somewhat, author John Hegenberger used the events as the backdrop for a 2017 crime novel called Stormfall. Chester Harvey Smith, John Wayne, and others are characters, and the star is Hegenberger's detective creation Stan Wade. The book opens with the murder, and Etheridge uttering her final words to Smith before she dies. What were the words? According to the statement Smith gave police, Etheridge said, mortally wounded and bleeding to death, “I love you.” You can take off your jealous madman cap now.
Axe and you will receive.
Above and below are the cover and assorted interior scans from a February 1953 issue of True Police Detective, a magazine we've discussed once or twice before. You get the usual collection of true crime tales, explored in procedural detail, with striking photo spreads posed by professional models, as well as some actual crime scene shots. One story we noticed here concerned the murders in London of 16-year-old Barbara Songhurst and 18-year-old Christine Reed in May 1953. The two had last been seen alive embarking on a bike trip. Songhurst's body was found the next day floating face down in the Thames, while Reed's was located five days later when a section of the river was drained. Reed had been raped, and both had been beaten unconscious and hacked with an axe. The physical evidence was clear: an assailant had surprise attacked both victims, beaten them unconscious, axed Reed and disposed of her before turning his attention to the helpless Songhurst.
One curious part of the tale is that the girls disappeared while biking from London to Brighton, according to the author. It seemed to us like a pretty long trip and we were right—as the crow flies it's more than forty miles. So we think the magazine got that part of the story wrong, since the girls' families were expecting them back home by evening. In any case, our interest derived from the simple fact that the crime hadn't been solved at the time True Police Cases went to press. A man named Alfred Whiteway had been arrested, but the story ends with, “Whiteway is awaiting trial that will determine his guilt or innocence.” Since we had already invested the time to read the entire saga, we wanted to find out how it ended.
The case almost turned on chance. A month after Songhurst and Reed had been found, Whiteway was arrested for raping a woman and assaulting another on Oxshott Heath. He had the Songhurst/Reed murder axe in his possession when police picked him up. While being driven to the station he managed to hide the axe under the car's rear seat, where it remained until the vehicle was cleaned some time later and an officer discovered the weapon. Instead of realizing its significance, the officer took the tool home and used it to chop wood, blunting the edge and obliterating any blood evidence. If he had simply realized how suspicious it was to find it under the seat of a police car the case would have been solved.
In the end, old-fashioned procedural work finally cracked the case. Whiteway had been maintaining his innocence the entire time, but forensic investigators finally found minute traces of blood in an eyelet and seam on one of his shoes. Confronted with blood evidence he broke down and confessed. He had attacked the girls in a rage, raped Songhurst, and tossed both bodies in the Thames. If he expected his admission to earn him leniency he was disappointed—he was convicted in court of what became known as the Towpath Murders and hanged at Wandsworth Prison in December 1953. And the axe that almost but didn't break the case ended up in the Black Museum at Scotland Yard, where it still resides today.
Always wear clean undies in case you end up in the hospital.
Often, early true crime magazines aren't very useful for sharing online due to their tendency to short-shrift the art, but Police Detective is a very visual exception, well worth uploading. Above is the cover of an issue from 1956, and below are assorted scans of the interior photo-illustrations, all eye-catching. Of the stories, probably the most interesting deals with hitchhiking women who are in reality brutal thieves. The magazine makes this sound like an epidemic but we seriously doubt it was ever a problem. According to the editors, men who picked up these highway hooligans were hit over the head with wrenches or tire irons, robbed, stripped down to their size 38 tightie whities and left unconscious or dead in a ditch while the thieves found the nearest pawn shop to sell off whatever they'd acquired. The description of the hapless men's heads being “crushed like eggshells,” according to the magazine, creates a disconcerting visual image, especially after that whole Sunday night Walking Dead baseball bat incident the entire internet is buzzing over. Not a good way to go. We have about thirty images below and many more true crime magazines inside the site.
Look at the state of this guy's underwear. How disgusting.
I don't think he was driving with them that way. I think he crapped himself when you crushed his skull.
You think so? Oh. Still though.
Seeing him so peaceful almost makes me forget how much I'm going to enjoy humiliating and torturing him.
Above, a July 1966 cover of the Mexico City-based true crime magazine Mundo Policiaco, with a random male about to have his blissful slumber interrupted by a gun toting femme fatale. The text says, “He called for help for seven hours.” The art is by the as yet unidentified A.Z., whose signature you can see cleverly placed on the carpet border. We find this failure to credit the painter annoying, especially since others got their names on the masthead, from director Alberto Ramirez de Aguilar on down. Oh well. Moving on, the insides of these have no illustrations, just unattributed black and white photos and a lot of text, though the rear covers are sometimes painted. Magazines of this type were generally called nota roja. Want one of your own? We've seen them online for about $300.
That centerfielder can really run! Look at her go! It’s almost like she hasn’t noticed the game is over.
Robert Baker and Trudy Jo Baker had just been married, aged twenty-six and seventeen, and were driving across the U.S.'s rolling midwestern states. They were embarked on their honeymoon, but when they saw a soldier named Larry Kirk hitchhiking outside St. Louis, trying to get home for Christmas, they gave him a ride. They later shot him in the back while he was sleeping in the car, robbed him of $12 and his watch, then dumped his body in a weed-choked field near Xenia, Illinois. When the couple was finally caught and tried, Robert Baker was sentenced to 99 years in prison, and Trudy Jo got 30 years at the Illinois Reformatory for Women.
That’s the backstory. This cover of Inside Detective published this month in 1957 uses a model to reenact Trudy Jo’s subsequent escape from prison. As center fielder of the prison softball team, she quickly realized the seven-foot outfield fence would be easy to scale. She soon did exactly that, made her way to Chicago, but realized she had no way to survive except through prostitution. Though new to the practice, she took to it like a duck to water and procured customers, mostly men in town for conventions, via the aid of local cab drivers, as well as what would grow into a collection of seven bellhops at a few of the city’s best hotels.
Living this way, she managed to evade capture for four months, and earned $6,000—more than $50,000 in today's money—all but $60 of which she spent on plush treats like caviar, wine, designer shoes, and a mink stole. She was finally recognized by a beat cop and subsequently captured, and the cabbies and bellhops that helped her were later charged with assorted crimes thanks to Trudy Jo turning state’s evidence against them. Thus the wheels of justice turn.
When asked how her time on the lam went, Trudy Jo, who you see above right during one of her many court appearances, replied, “I like wine and caviar and horses. In fact, I like anything that’s a gamble. I’ve been in all the best hotels and in the finest nightclubs. I've had the time of my life.” Her one regret? The prison permanently revoked her softball privileges.
The kids are definitely not alright.
Back to Mexico today with this cover of the Mexican true crime magazine Mundo Policiaco, which appeared on newsstands this week in 1964. The text, “Mis hijos se estan quemando,” means “My kids are burning.” Mundo Policiaco came at the tail end of an era of true crime magazines that launched during the 1930s and 1940s with Magazine de policia, Policia, and the amazing Detectives, which we've shown you here and here. You can see another Mundo Policiaco here.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1938—Alicante Is Bombed
During the Spanish Civil War, a squadron of Italian bombers sent by fascist dictator Benito Mussolini to support the insurgent Spanish Nationalists, bombs the town of Alicante, killing more than three-hundred people. Although less remembered internationally than the infamous Nazi bombing of Guernica the previous year, the death toll in Alicante is similar, if not higher.
1977—Star Wars Opens
George Lucas's sci-fi epic Star Wars premiers in the Unites States to rave reviews and packed movie houses. Produced on a budget of $11 million, the film goes on to earn $460 million in the U.S. and $337 million overseas, while spawning a franchise that would eventually earn billions and make Lucas a Hollywood icon.
1930—Amy Johnson Flies from England to Australia
English aviatrix Amy Johnson lands in Darwin, Northern Territory, becoming the first woman to fly from England to Australia. She had departed from Croydon on May 5 and flown 11,000 miles to complete the feat. Her storied career ends in January 1941 when, while flying a secret mission for Britain, she either bails out into the Thames estuary and drowns, or is mistakenly shot down by British fighter planes. The facts of her death remain clouded today.
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