Even in the height of summer New York City can be a cold, cold place.
In this photo made today in 1930, a policeman stands over the body of Louis Riggiona, who had been shot twice in the heart by two gunmen as he and his brother Joe exited a restaurant in New York City's Bowery district. Joe fled and avoided injury, while the gunmen dropped their weapons (one pistol is visible in the foreground) and escaped. Louis Riggiona had become the latest casualty in what was known as the Castellammarese War, a Mafia power struggle whose opposing figureheads were Salvatore Maranzano and Joe Masseria. Maranzano was from Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily, thus the name of the conflict. He won the war, but got to be capo di tutti i capi for only five months before he too was murdered.
Gangster life has great benefits but the retirement plan leaves a lot to be desired.
It seems like the same lesson is imparted by nearly every vintage Mafia photo we run across—ambition is a double-edged sword. Dominick Didato, aka Terry Burns, who you see above in a photo made by Arthur Fellig, aka Weegee, lies dead on a New York City street where he was gunned down today in 1936. He was killed for interfering with rackets run by Lucky Luciano. It was a low percentage play. Luciano was literally the most powerful mobster in the U.S. at the time, and as the saying goes, you come at the king, you best not miss.
He was an innocent bystander. The stander part doesn't apply anymore.
The only information accompanying the above image, which is from the Los Angeles Police Department photo archive, is that an unidentified bystander was shot to death during a botched jewelry store robbery. That was today in 1932. The photo came to public notice when it was exhibited back in 2019 by L.A.'s Lucie Foundation, along with more than 80 other images.
Automobile fatalities in L.A. increase by one.
This macabre image, which showed up online a while back thanks to an exhibit of one hundred years of Los Angeles Police Department photos, shows an LAPD detective regarding a muder victim whose throat was cut while he was in his automobile. There's no information about who the victim was or why it happened, but it's an arresting image of a grisly end. The shot was made by Leon Driver, who when he arrived in L.A. from Texas in the early twenties was arrested for vagarancy, but by 1925 was one of the earliest official photographers employed the LAPD. He made this photo today in 1929.
The shots heard round America.
We suspect most Americans know of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, which occurred today in 1929, but somewhat fewer have seen its actual result. If you're one of them—Happy Valentine's Day!—you can now cross that off your list, as above are pictured six unfortunates who learned that the gangster life often ends bloody. Albert Kachellek, Adam Heyer, Albert Weinshank, Reinhardt Schwimmer, John May, and Frank and Peter Gusenberg were in the SMC Cartage Company warehouse on Chicago's north side when they were corralled by four rival gangsters, two of whom were wearing police uniforms and sporting fake badges, and blasted into oblivion with Thompson submachine guns and shotguns. May, who was probably there only because he was repairing a truck, lost the left side of his skull to a round of buckshot.
The murders stemmed from a turf war between the North Siders, who were headed by Bugs Moran, and the Chicago Outfit, led by Al Capone. It's Moran's men who got ventilated. Capone, in true gangster style, was away in Florida at the time. The photos show only six victims because Frank Gusenberg miraculously survived the shooting and was rushed to a hospital, where a few hours later he died of his fourteen bullet wounds while refusing to identify his killers. Even to this day their identities are not conclusively known, though ballistics evidence later suggested one was veteran hood Fred Burke. The massacre may not have resulted in murder convictions, but it drew the attention of Washington, D.C. authorities, led to broad new efforts to tackle organized crime, and eventually led to Capone's imprisonment for federal tax evasion in 1931. Please enjoy this romantic day.
It was the Whisper heard from coast to coast.
Above is a cover of the tabloid Whisper from January 1965, with actress Carroll Baker, convicted murderer Winston Moseley, and New York judge J. Irwin Shapiro starring on the front. But before we get into the magazine, we want to share the good news that our longtime scanning problems are fixed. We didn't get a new scanner, though. We got a new computer—a Mac Studio with plenty under the hood. It's quicker than the old Mac, but it also changed the functionality of the scanning interface. The whole process runs differently, and is about three times faster now. So you'll be seeing more magazines in the future.
Turning back to Whisper, Winston Moseley—who editors call William for some reason—was America's villain of the moment for the murder of Catherine Genovese, who he stalked, stabbed with a hunting knife, then found again where she had taken refuge in a building, and finished her off. Additionally, Moseley was a necrophiliac. He raped his victims—of which there were three total—post-mortem. Of the trio of victims Genovese is the one that's remembered today because her murder sparked a national reckoning about the relationship between citizens and the police, as well as life in big cities, because the press reported that thirty-eight people had seen the crime happening but had done nothing.
As it turned out, that number was wildly inaccurate, but never let the truth get in the way of perfectly cooked, juicy tabloid outrage. A quote appeared in nearly every story about the murder: “I didn't want to get involved.” New York City—where the crime occurred—and other metropolitan centers were criticized as uncaring places. Author Harlan Ellison, who at that time was writing urban crime fiction, weighed in, saying, “not one of [the witnesses] made the slightest effort to save her, to scream at the killer, or even to call the police.” Peak outrage was achieved by New York State Supreme Court Justice J. Irwin Shapiro when he expressed a desire to execute Moseley himself. In the end, Moseley wasn't executed at all. He died in prison in 2016 at age eighty-one.
Elsewhere in Whisper, you'll notice that the magazine is—unsurprisingly, given the time period and nature of the publication—antagonistic toward gay men, as demonstrated by the panel with the blaring text: “Who's Queer Asked the Peer?” But what is a surprise is that later in the issue the editors run a detailed piece on transvestites and transsexuals, and the approach is very different than the contempt shown toward homosexuality. As we've pointed out many times before, mid-century tabloids had a deep interest in trans issues. The story is titled, “A Doctor Answers What Everyone Wants To Know About Sex Change Operations.” The tone is as follows:
The condition he referred to was the common plight of all male transsexuals. Physically he was a man, but emotionally and personality-wise he was a woman, a condition that made it difficult to find successful employment, and to live at all happily. Fortunately, in his case, he had a lawyer and a wise judge who were able to help him in his wish to go to Europe for a sex change operation so that his body could be brought into greater harmony with his mind, and enable him to work and live with a degree of happiness he had never known before.
That's respectful—if not even compassionate—for a 1965 publication considered lowbrow by sophisticated readers. Is it a paradox that the magazine could be so evil toward gay men, yet so civil toward transsexuals? We think so, and we'd love to know the thought process behind it. While we're puzzling that out, you may want to move on to Whisper's slate of celebrity news. Everyone from Romy Schneider to Ernest Borgnine get their due exposure. We've uploaded the magazine's “Behind the Whispers” feature, so you can get the dish on a few Hollywood stars. Please enjoy.
The never ending quest for the ultimate shot.
Back during the heyday of on-scene crime reporting, mayhem-chasing news photographers were a standard sight at situations in progress, and they got very close to the action. The photos above were taken today in 1957 after police responded to a robbery, trapping the bandits inside a Los Angeles bar, where they were holed up with hostages. In the zoom, just above, note the photographers angling for a good shot. This in a situation in which bullets were likely to fly. They were a different breed of lensmen back then.
The police teargassed the bar, stormed the premises, rescued the patrons, and conducted the malefactors to jail. You see the aftermath below, courtesy of the numerous photographers on hand. The images came from the collection of the Los Angeles Examiner, which is held by the University of Southern California. We've mined their crime photo stash many times. You can see all those images by clicking the Examiner's keywords at bottom, but if you're very interested we recommend visiting USC's website. Just be careful—you could spend all day there.
A ghost of Christmas past.
Just in case the holiday season was putting you in too upbeat of a mood, above is a dead guy for you. Nice of us, right? As the notation at the lower right of the photo indicates, this poor fella was found today in 1926, and documented by a police photographer named Stewart. This was in Los Angeles, at 503 North Plymouth, which is right in the heart of town not far from the Wilshire Country Club and Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery (now known as Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where movies are shown on summer weekend nights, projected onto the side of a mausoleum). The body has a gun in its hand, but loosely. We thought we'd find a police report indicating whether this was suicide or a staged murder, but sadly this person vanished nameless into the snowdrifts of history.
The photo first popped up in public because it was part of an exhibition called To Protect And Serve: The LAPD Archives, which was put together by two Los Angeles art gallery owners back in 2001. Before that it had been part of a trove of images found in a warehouse by the same two gallerists, and had previously been held by the LAPD’s Scientific Investigations Division, which was formed in 1924 and eventually accumulated close to a million images. The photo has now appeared in numerous exhibits in the U.S. and Europe, and been reproduced online countless times, but usually without context, which is why we're explaining its provenance. Let it be a reminder that this really is the season to be jolly—because you're alive, and that's a priceless gift.
I'll tell you one thing. After today we won't complain so much when someone steals a couple of our towels.
The two photos above show an LAPD detective and two witnesses re-enacting a robbery (notice the detective is aiming a gun in the top photo) that occurred today in 1951 at the Garden of Allah Hotel on Sunset Boulevard. Two gunmen had gotten away earlier in the day with a bundle of cash. Newspaper accounts differ about how much. The San Bernadino County Sun, in its evening edition published later, pegged the amount at $1,073 ($12,275 today), but the Los Angeles Times morning edition printed the next day claimed it was $500 ($5,731). The Times is probably a more reliable source, and with more time to get the amount right we'd tend to think its report is correct, but $500 is a conveniently round number, whereas the $1,073 reported by the Sun is very specific. Either way, we imagine the terrified hotel employees surrended every dollar on hand.
The reason the story caught our eye, though, is because the Garden of Allah was one of the most famous hotels in Los Angeles at the time. The Spanish revival complex consisting of a main building, villas, restaurant, bar, pool, and landscaped grounds, opened in 1927 and quickly became a favorite stopover for Tinseltown glitterati. Everyone from Lauren Bacall to Orson Welles spent time or stayed there, and the place was described by one resident as in “continual tumult” because of all the intrigues, disturbances, and minor scandals. But all of its celebrity history and architectural significance amounted to nothing among the ranks of those who sought so-called progress, because like so many other Hollywood landmarks, this iconic property fell to the wrecking ball when it was demolished in 1959 to make way for a bank. |
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