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.
Extra, extra, read all about it!
The above photo shows the murder scene of Los Angeles mob lawyer Sam Rummell who was messily dispatched in front of his Laurel Canyon villa via shotgun blast in 1950. Around 1:30 a.m., as he climbed the steps to the sprawling house, someone or someones with deadly aim blew off the left rear quadrant of his head. Rummell ran with the notorious mobster Mickey Cohen for years, and had been neck deep not only in Cohen's multimillion dollar prostitution and gambling operations, but also in schemes to oust mayor Fletcher Bowron in a recall election, and to take control of the LAPD.
The insider theory was Rummell was killed to prevent his appearance before a grand jury to testify about an alleged conspiracy between the L.A. County Sheriff's Department and a company called Guarantee Finance, a front for a massive Cohen-controlled bookmaking operation. The insider theory was also that L.A. Sheriff's officers pulled the trigger. These remained mere theories, because the killer or killers were never caught.
All very interesting, one more dead mob underling, but that isn't why we shared the photo. A close look reveals, at center, a man holding an edition of the Los Angeles Mirror with a headline reading: Cohen's Lawyer Shot To Death. Yes, Mirror staff were so quick with their Extra edition that it hit newsstands before Rummell's murder scene had been cleared. That's journalism—late night, coffee-fueled, time-pressured, editor-with-a-whip journalism. And the photo is an fascinating example of it working perfectly, sixty-six years ago today.
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.
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.
Tabloid dunks readers in a pool of vice.
Exposé for Men is a new tabloid for us, which is saying something, since we've posted about 350 inside Pulp Intl. You can pick your way through those at our tabloid index. Exposé was originally launched as Sensation by Skye Publishing of New York City. The rebranding came sometime in 1959. This issue, which was published this month in 1960, flogs similar themes as other tabloids, including the blaming of women for rape in an article by criminal specialist Robert Mines where he proclaims that “frequently it's not the perpetrator but the victim of a [sex] crime who is most responsible for it.”
You'd think one article of this type would be sufficient, but Exposé offers up another piece called “The Weird Love-Hatred That Binds a Prostitute to Her Pimp.” This time the male expert on female minds is Joseph Le Baron, but at least his reasoning makes sense—i.e. prostitutes feel they need pimps around to protect them from “house dicks, bartenders, [and] vice cops out to shake them down and get tricks for free.” We'll buy that part, but we don't buy that the choice is voluntary, which is how Le Baron makes it sound.
Elsewhere readers learn that women have a natural propensity to lie, Mexico is wonderful because every man can afford a mistress, and insomniacs can't sleep because they're thinking about sex all night. Exposé also has celebrity gossip, including the claim—first we've heard of it—that Diana Dors' 1956 fall into a swimming pool was actually a publicity stunt. Considering the fact that the subsequent brawl generated terrible press we doubt the veracity of this one, but you never know. We do like the photo of Dors wet. Scans below, and more tabloids to come.
Some hangovers can't be cured.
When Thomas Barrington and Harry Hancock walked into Eddy's Bar in Los Angeles and sat down for drinks they seemed like normal customers, but they were actually robbers armed with guns and bad intentions. These were hardened types who had spent a combined fifteen years in prison. Both been free for less than a year. Their plan was to wait until Eddy's closed and force its employees at gunpoint to open the safe. Since the place was a combined bar, restaurant, and liquor store, and it was Saturday night, they knew the safe would have plenty of money inside.
The night wore on and eventually last call came. At that point four workers were present—two bartenders, a waitress, and a hat check girl, who was not a girl but rather was the waitress's mother. In addition, one of the bartender's wives was there, and two cooks were sleeping in quarters on the premises. A lot of people for two robbers to handle. One of the bartenders herded the stragglers out, including Barrington and Hancock. But in the parking lot the robbers drew their guns and forced their way back inside. In those few moments of confusion, with so many people around, one of the women slipped away and called police from a nearby pay phone.
The cops showed and gunplay soon followed. Barrington shot one of bartenders point blank in the back and nailed a deputy named Harold Blevins in the head from a distance, killing him instantly. A second deputy named Charles Covington returned fire and hit Barrington numerous times, killing him, but not before taking a Barrington round in the chest. More cops arrived and a standoff ensued with Hancock that finally ended with teargas rounds fired into the building and police rushing the entrance. The photos above show the aftermath of all that, with Barrington's body in the doorway and detectives milling about. That was today in 1957.
You can't hide from the FBI.
Talk about a shitty day. The artful above photo shows Eleanor Kindig, who was arrested for giving false information to the FBI. The Compton, California native disappeared, and after being found in New Mexico, spun a fanciful tale about being abducted. She had run away to avoid legal troubles back in California. Thanks to her fib, her troubles were just starting. That was today in 1952, and the photo is from the Los Angeles Examiner collection held at the University of Southern California.
Murderous juvenile says he did it just to see what it was like.
Seventeen-year-old Walter Tjunin, sometimes referred to in historical accounts as Vladimir Walter Tjunin or Walter Tunin, sits in the rear of a police car after his arrest today in 1962 for the murder of fourteen-year-old Suzanne Grskovic. Tjunin strangled the girl to death in Queens, New York, after walking her back from a dance. Asked why he did it, Tjunin said, “I just wanted to feel what it was like to kill someone.” Newspapers of the time focused on this macabre utterance, but there was much more to the crime than that.
Tjunin and Grskovic were sweethearts—an old-fashioned term, but one that surely fits considering the girl wore a charm necklace bearing the inscription “Sue and Walter.” The young couple left the dance together that night, witnesses recalled. About five blocks from her home Tjunin steered Grskovic into a weedy lot, ripped off her dress and raped her, then strangled her with her bra and carved an “S” and “X” on her abdomen with a beer can opener.
The murder, then, seems to have been committed not out of mere curiosity, but as a clumsy attempt to cover up the rape by disposing of the only witness. This thought process may well have come easily to Tjunin, since he had been in trouble since age twelve, and was actually on probation from reform school at the time of the crime. He eventually stood for second degree murder. After the shortest murder trial in Queens history—one and a half days—an all male jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to serve twenty years to life.
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 caviar, wine, expensive shoes, and a mink stole. She was finally recognized by a beat cop and captured, and the cabbies and bellhops that helped her were later charged with various 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 at 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.
Light and darkness in New York City.
Alfred Statler honed his camera skills in Europe documenting the chaos of World War II and brought his gritty sensibilities to bear on his fine art photography once he returned to the visual utopia he called home—New York City. This shot is from the mid-fifties and captures a nighttime scene in Manhattan, with its neon signs and sky aglow with metropolitan lightbleed. We love this.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1981—Ronnie Biggs Rescued After Kidnapping
Fugitive thief Ronnie Biggs, a British citizen who was a member of the gang that pulled off the Great Train Robbery, is rescued by police in Barbados after being kidnapped. Biggs had been abducted a week earlier from a bar in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil by members of a British security firm. Upon release he was returned to Brazil and continued to be a fugitive from British justice.
2011—Elizabeth Taylor Dies
American actress Elizabeth Taylor, whose career began at age 12 when she starred in National Velvet
, and who would eventually be nominated for five Academy Awards as best actress and win for Butterfield 8
and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
of congestive heart failure in Los Angeles. During her life she had been hospitalized more than 70 times.
1963—Profumo Denies Affair
In England, the Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, denies any impropriety with showgirl Christine Keeler and threatens to sue anyone repeating the allegations. The accusations involve not just infidelity, but the possibility acquaintances of Keeler might be trying to ply Profumo for nuclear secrets. In June, Profumo finally resigns from the government after confessing his sexual involvement with Keeler
and admitting he lied to parliament.
1978—Karl Wallenda Falls to His Death
World famous German daredevil and high-wire walker Karl Wallenda, founder of the acrobatic troupe The Flying Wallendas, falls to his death attempting to walk on a cable strung between the two towers of the Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Wallenda is seventy-three years old at the time, but it is a 30 mph wind, rather than age, that is generally blamed for sending him from the wire.
2006—Swedish Spy Stig Wennerstrom Dies
Swedish air force colonel Stig Wennerström, who had been convicted in the 1970s of passing Swedish, U.S. and NATO secrets to the Soviet Union over the course of fifteen years, dies in an old age home at the age of ninety-nine. The Wennerström affair, as some called it, was at the time one of the biggest scandals
of the Cold War.
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