In search of Schrödinger's loophole.
Hope springs eternal in the hearts of lifers. A convicted murderer named Benjamin Schreiber claims he should be freed because he fulfilled the terms of his life sentence when he died during a prison medical procedure. Schreiber, 66, suffered from acute kidney stones, and in March 2015 the condition triggered septic poisoning that rendered him unconscious. Doctors rushed him to surgery, where he died—only to be revived. This despite the fact that he had signed a do-not-resuscitate order, which did him no good at all as the doctors ignored it like it was a patient in one of their waiting rooms.
Fast forward to April of this year, when Schreiber filed an appeal stating that he had served his life sentence, and keeping him in prison was life-plus. Let's take a moment to bask in the incandescent genius of that idea. If we were ever to be friends with someone who bludgeoned a guy to death with an axe handle, it would be Schreiber. Unfortunately, an Iowa appeals court has denied his motion and he looks set to spend a second lifetime behind bars. Judge Amanda Potterfield responded to the sheer quantum weirdness of Schreiber's argument by stating, “[he] is either still alive, in which case he must remain in prison, or he is actually dead, in which case this appeal is moot.” Scientific observers say Schreiber is in fact neither, but none of them have jurisdiction over the case.
Legal rulings are dry by nature, but you can picture Potterfield reading the filing and saying to herself, “The fucking cojones on this guy.” Did she save the story for when all the judges meet up to bar crawl and boast about who contributed the most to mass incarceration? We suspect so. We also imagine that the bold attempt by Schreiber to obtain freedom via a metaphysical loophole has made him a legend in the cellblock. But the real point is this: there's a bestselling novel here, aspiring authors. Imagine the person who comes back isn't Schreiber at all, but some random soul who drifted into his body. His only chance is to thaw the chilly Potterfield, who slowly begins to see something... different... in the ancient convict's doe-like eyes. We're giving that to you. Run with it, and thank us in the foreword.
I'm telling you, dammit, something's changed. His eyes are like whirlpools of pain and sadness. Look for yourself and tell me you can't see that this is not the same man as before!
Nobody will suspect murder! You've told everyone you'd literally die if the Red Sox missed the playoffs!
Above, a September 1956 issue of Murder! magazine, which was the first issue ever published. It was put together by the same people who did Manhunt, was similar in content, with crime, procedural, and adventure tales, but lasted for only five issues. The action cover was painted by Frank Cozzarelli to illustrate Lionel White's “To Kill a Wife,” and it looks like the wife wins out definitively. Other contributors include Richard Deming, Carroll Mayers, Jack Ritchie, et al. And to Sox fans, better luck next year.
An L.A. woman's derailed life comes to an end by knife.
Another night in Los Angeles, another murder, and another Los Angeles Examiner photographer on hand to document the aftermath. This collection of shots shows Bill Stewart in police custody, and Miriam Lake, who he thought it would be good idea to stab in the back, dead on the floor. This is one destitute pair of Angelenos. Stewart is covered in grime and is missing a shoe, while Lake's Hermosa Beach domicile is a studio with stove, sink, three beds, and sofa all in one room.
We're not putting Lake down for being poor. Quite the opposite. Billions of people live modestly, and more should. But if you look around Lake's place, and focus past the disaster of a kitchen table, the general mess, and the stained furniture, you see a pile of boxes in the corner, stacked three high. We surmise that these are possessions she wished to hang onto, even though she had no space at the time. That tells us she wanted or even expected to get out of this flat one day. But no thanks to Stewart, those expectations never came true.
Below is twelve year-old Charles Pratt, a neighbor who saw Stewart leave Lake's house. He's been brought into the police station as a witness. Since he's too young to know what death really is, he seems pretty jazzed to be the center of attention. We imagine him bragging about it at school. That's probably what we would have done at that age too. But the fullness of time brings all of us to the edge of the abyss. If Pratt is still around he'd be about eighty today, and by now knows precisely what death is. We wonder if he ever thinks about Miriam Lake, murdered his entire lifetime ago. Probably. This all occurred today in 1951.
Laughter turns to tears when a bully earns a reprisal.
A little teasing can be fun if everyone involved is good-natured about it, but when the person being teased doesn't think it's funny, it then becomes bullying. And bullying can lead to anything—all of it bad. A machinist named Harry Salmons had made a habit of teasing his co-worker Frank Capizzi for believing in astrology. Salmons also pranked Capizzi, hiding his office chair and tools, coating the handles of his equipment with grease, and smearing oil on his work bench. Maybe if Salmons believed in astrology he'd have seen what was coming next, but no such luck. Thus when Capizzi produced a pistol and shot him to death, he was probably quite surprised.
That happened in Los Angeles today in 1951. These photos from the Los Angeles Examiner show Capizzi in police custody, and in the second one LAPD Sargeant Jack McCreadie is telling him, “So, like, you know you're gonna get teased much worse in the federal pen, right? Those guys just love to tease.” Capizzi seems to be going, “Really? Huh. Never actually thought about that.”
People never think about the consequences before flying into a rage. The photo below shows the dead man's wife Ethel Salmons, and his two children, and the accompanying press caption suggests that the reality of being a destitute widow is just sinking in, which is an incredibly sad thought. Yes, she married a terrible asshole, and her mother probably told her that numerous times, but even bullies don't deserve to die. Well, usually.
As a side note, longtime visitors to Pulp Intl. know we used to write many more of these true crime stories. We've done fewer because the research has become nearly impossible due to all the newspaper scans being locked up by the overpriced paysite newspapers.com. The expense isn't really the issue. The issue is the website's 87% disapproval rating. We aren't kidding. On trustpilot.com 74% of users rate the service as bad and 13% rate it as poor. We aren't sure what the difference is between bad and poor, but whatever, newspapers.com is obviously a site to avoid like radioactive Fukushima water. But here's the good news. We'll probably start buying true crime magazines again, which means we can get much more detailed in our retellings. More mayhem to brighten your day.
De Mesa marital strife turns into murder.
Above is some random human chaos for your Friday. The photos show the aftermath of the death of Helen de Mesa, who was murdered in broad daylight on a residential Los Angeles street by her husband Nicona de Mesa. In the bottom photo Nicona is questioned in the back seat of a police car as his wife cools on the sidewalk, and we imagine the cop going, “Um hmm... yeah... uh huh... I hear you... but if that was a good reason to kill someone she'd have killed you years ago. You're toast, bud.”
It would appear, based on the blood and lack of a visible weapon, that Nicona shot his wife. We're guessing he was inside the family car and gunned her down as she was standing by the passenger side window, possibly prior to embarking on a drive together. Unfortunately, we can't confirm any of that because every newspaper article about the incident is locked behind a paywall, which has become the sad norm. We also can't confirm de Mesa's eventual fate, but we're guessing federal prison for many years. This happened today in 1951.
Edmond O'Brien tries to shield himself from the truth.
A cop runs across cash at crime scenes quite a bit. Maybe he snags a little here, a little there. Takes the girlfriend to dinner, buys himself a new fishing rod. He gets used to these little bonuses. Then one day there's $25,000 and nobody around to see him take it. Shield for Murder is the story of a dirty cop played by Edmond O'Brien whose theft of said cash leads to him finally becoming suspected of wrongdoing, which in turn causes him to be hunted by the original possessors of the cash, as well as investigated by his protégé. As the vise tightens O'Brien gets more desperate, and more dangerous. Redemption is never an option, but survival might be—with luck. O'Brien is good in every film role, so what you get here is a solid genre entry, enlivened by a drawn out action climax and a shootout at a public pool that's among the best throwdowns to be found in vintage cinema. Marla English co-stars, which helps plenty. Plus check O'Brien's crazy eyes in the production photos below. He gives this role his all. Shield for Murder premiered in the U.S. today in 1954.
With special guests the Slaymates of the year.
Today we have some beautiful rarities, a set of door panel posters made for the 1968 Dean Martin spy movie spoof The Wrecking Crew. Martin played the wise-cracking and woman-loving Matt Helm, a character created by novelist Donald Hamilton. There have been a lot of loveable drunks in cinema, but Martin certainly was one of the most popular. Boozy Matt Helm was a perfect role for him, and the first film became the launching point for a series that stretched to four entries.The Wrecking Crew was the last film, coming after 1966's The Silencers and Murderer's Row, and 1967's The Ambushers. The movies were populated by a group of women known as “Slaymates,” and the actresses on the posters below are posing as members of that deadly cadre. They are, top to bottom, Sharon Tate, Elke Sommer, Nancy Kwan, Tina Louise, and a fifth woman no other website seems able to identify, but who we're pretty sure is Kenya Coburn.These posters are 51 x 152 centimeters in size, or 20 x 60 for you folks who measure in inches, and they caught our eye mainly because of Tate. There's been renewed interest in her, including portrayals in two 2019 films—The Haunting of Sharon Tate and Quentin Tarantino's new effort Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Her poster is definitely one of the nicest pieces of Tate memorabilia we've seen.
We glanced at The Silencers a while back and found it just a little too dumb to consider slogging through the series, but maybe we'll have another go at it. We're sort of newly interested in Tate too, and since The Wrecking Crew was her next-to-last screen role, we want to have a look. Allegedly, Dean Martin quit this highly successful franchise because it felt wrong to go on with it after the Tate–LaBianca murders in August 1969. From what we've read about the era, Martin was far from the only person who felt as if that event changed everything. These days Tate's death makes anything she's in seem ironic and portentous, even, we suspect, a piece of fluff like The Wrecking Crew.
She's dangerous when her abacus is against the wall.
Above, a cool shot of one of mid-century cinema's agreed upon top beauties, Italian actress Virna Lisi, here standing against an abacus wall that she needs to keep track of all her admirers. We've never seen a wall like this before. Never seen a woman like this before either. The photo was made for her 1965 romantic comedy How To Murder Your Wife, in which she starred with cinematic treasure Jack Lemmon. Definitely see that film. It's incalculably fun.
Pageant winner fulfilled show business and personal ambitions. Then things went wrong.
Beauty pageants are a bit silly, perhaps, but the participants are generally ambitious people who see them as stepping stones to show business or modeling. And in mid-century Los Angeles in particular, even minor pageants occasionally led to stardom. In the above photos high school student Barbara Thomason wins the crown of Miss Muscle Beach 1954. Listed at 5 foot 3 inches and 110 pounds, she was a body-building enthusiast, and in the shot just below she celebrates her hard fought win by pumping a bit of iron while photographers click away and a crowd watches.
Did Thomason's victory lead to bigger things? Maybe not directly, but it probably helped. She was a habitual pageant participant who also won Miss Huntington Beach, Miss Van Ness, Miss Bay Beach, Miss Southwest Los Angeles, Miss Pacific Coast, Queen of Southern California, andten other titles. All that winning finally got her noticed by Hollywood movers and shakers. In 1955, performing under the name Carolyn Mitchell, she made her acting debut on the television show Crossroads, and in 1958 co-starred in two Roger Corman b-movies, The Crybaby Killer and Dragstrip Riot.
But she put her career on hold when she met and married a star—Mickey Rooney, who was nearly seventeen years her senior and nearly two inches her junior. Their union had problems from the beginning. The couple married secretly in Mexico because Rooney was still awaiting a divorce from actress Elaine Mahnken. They would have to wait almost two years before the law allowed them to wed in the U.S. Legalities, though doubtless bothersome, were the least of their problems. During the next six years, during which Thomason bore four children, Rooney indulged in numerous affairs.
It should probably be noted here that Thomason was Rooney's fifth wife. Among the predecessors were goddesses like Ava Gardner and Martha Vickers. We don't know what Thomason's expectations of marriage were, but clearly Rooney didn't know the meaning of the phrase “for better or worse.” The affairs continued, and eventually Thomason did the same with a temperamental Yugoslavian actor named Milos Milosevic, who performed under the name Milos Milos. But what was good for goose was not good for the gander—Rooney found out about these international relations, moved out of the Brentwood house he shared with Thomason, and filed for divorce, charging mental cruelty. The nerve, right?
On the morning of January 31, 1966, while Rooney was in St. John's Hospital recovering from an intestinal infection he'd picked up in the Philippines, Thomason and Milosevic were found together on the bathroom floor of the Brentwood house, dead. Milosevic had shot Thomason under the chin and killed himself with a temple shot using a chrome-plated .38 Rooney had bought in 1964. The consensus is Thomason had decided to dump Milosevic and he flipped out.
The photos below show Thomason on Muscle Beach during her halcyon years there, a mere teenager, frolicking in the sun, filled with youthful hopes for a good life. She won beauty titles, acted in films, married an icon, and had four children. Any of those accomplishments would have been good legacies. Instead her death at twenty-nine overshadowed all the rest, and she's remembered as another celebrity murder victim, Hollywood style, which is always somehow both sensational and banal.
Last stop—the city morgue.
Watching lots of movies eventually brings everything your way. The promo poster for Grand Central Murder lured us, and we found ourselves watching an archetypal Sherlockian whodunnit, complete with the villain unmasked in the final moments. When a Broadway showgirl is murdered on a private train car the police gather a gaggle of suspects and go through each of their stories trying to uncover the killer. Among the detainees—her escaped convict boyfriend, her sad sack ex-husband, her jealous co-worker, her phony psychic stepfather, her theatrical understudy, and others, including the convict's lawyer, played by lead actor Van Heflin. Various alibis and reminiscences are shown in flashback until the killer is revealed via a monologue that wraps everything up nice and neat. We wouldn't call the movie screamingly thrilling and funny like the poster does, but it's okay if you like mysteries, and the mass transit backdrop is actually kind of interesting. Grand Central Murder premiered in New York City today in 1942.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1916—First Battle of the Somme Ends
In France, British Expeditionary Force commander Douglas Haig calls off a battle against entrenched German troops which had begun on July 1, 1916. Known as the Battle of the Somme, this action resulted in one of the greatest losses of life in modern history—over three-hundred thousand dead for a net gain of about seven miles of land.
1978—Jonestown Cult Commits Mass Suicide
In the South American country of Guyana, Jim Jones leads his Peoples Temple cult in a mass suicide that claims 918 lives, including over 270 children. Congressman Leo J. Ryan, who had been visiting the makeshift cult complex known as Jonestown to investigate claims of abuse, is shot by members of the Peoples Temple as he tries to escape from a nearby airfield with several cult members who asked for his protection.
1973—Nixon Proclaims His Innocence
While in Orlando, Florida, U.S. President Richard Nixon tells four-hundred Associated Press managing editors, "I am not a crook." The false statement comes to symbolize Nixon's presidency when facts are uncovered that prove he is, indeed, a crook.
1938—Lysergic Acid Diethylamide Created
In Basel, Switzerland, at the Sandoz Laboratories, chemist Albert Hofmann creates the psychedelic compound Lysergic acid diethylamide, aka LSD, from a grain fungus.
1945—German Scientists Secretly Brought to U.S.
In a secret program codenamed Operation Paperclip, the United States Army admits 88 German scientists and engineers into the U.S. to help with the development of rocket technology. President Harry Truman ordered that Paperclip exclude members of the Nazi party, but in practice many Nazis who had been officially classified as dangerous were also brought to the U.S. after their backgrounds were whitewashed by Army officials.
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