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.
Birdwell get wings clipped, ends up in cage.
It started as a fun evening, but twenty-year-old Joan Birdwell was later booked on charges of felony drunk driving, something that happened in Los Angeles today in 1951. And wouldn't you know it? Just to make matters worse, a photographer from the Los Angeles Examiner was on hand to document Birdwell's humiliation from beginning to end. In addition to her wild night ending with arrest and photographic infamy, she may have actually crashed her car, because a companion photo below shows her passenger Vernon Burgess in a hospital bed, though not seriously hurt.
Birdwell was the daughter of powerful press agent Russell Birdwell. L.A. tabloids obsessively sought good art, and a juicy jail photo of someone connected to a celebrity—however obscure that celebrity might have been—certainly qualified. Celebs, killers, thieves, and regular folk all got this treatment. We can't confirm that Examiner ever actually ran these shots. Either way they're out there now, thanks to the University of Southern California's online Examiner archive. Ah, the internet: where everything you hoped was long forgotten lives in mortifying perpetuity. Joan, if you're out there, sorry.
She always said his biggest problem was that he was pig-headed. Turns out she was right.
When you achieve something rare you want others to know. Usually these are minor things, like breaking 200 on bowling night or perfectly poaching an egg, and the subsequent boasts are basically harmless. But even people who do terrible things—and really should keep their mouths shut for the sake of self-preservation—will still at the very least hint at their accomplishments. Such was the case with 67-year-old Virginia Hayden, above, who regaled her grandson with tales of how useful pigs can be. Just like in those mafia movies, she explained how pigs will eat every part of a human body, except the cranium.
Visits to gran's house must have been heartwarming affairs. Picture her possibly baking chocolate chip cookies and making pleasant smalltalk, dispensing ageless wisdom like, “Did you know that if a woman were to kill her husband and feed his body to pigs, they would eat every part of that fat, hairy body, apart from the exceptionally hard cranium, which never seemed capable of letting through the things his wife told him, for example to pick up his damn socks and wash a fuckin' dish once in a while? Did you know that, my sweet?”
“Oh, good. The cookies are done.”
Rewind a bit from that cozy scene. In 2011 Hayden's third husband Thomas flew to Mexico for medical treatment and never came back. In early 2012 an unidentified cranium, with scalp and hair attached, was found near a rural Pennsylvania road. Nobody put cranium and hubby together until 2017, when Thomas Hayden's daughter, who had been estranged from her dad for more than a decade, contacted police with suspicions that his supposed one-way trip to Mexico was something other than it seemed.
Long story short, Virginia Hayden was arrested last week on suspicion of murder.
The lesson here may be that talking about heinous crimes will sometimes indicate how informed one is in esoteric areas of knowledge, but other times will indicate that one has, in fact, committed heinous crimes. Now some of Hayden's other wise utterances take on a darker tone. For example, she used to mention how stabbing a corpse before sinking it in water would keep it from floating, and how giving a person a heavy snootful of nitroglycerine spray could trigger a heart attack. Hayden's second husband died of a heart attack. And her first? He was a suicide. At the moment there's no indication foul play was involved in either death, but we'll bet you a batch of chocolate chip cookies the police are looking into it.
An errant pass leads to an infamous court case.
The National Insider takes on a controversial subject with this issue that hit newsstands today in 1963. The gist of the story is that forty-something George Brinham invited sixteen-year-old Laurence Somers to his London flat, made a pass by saying, “Give us a kiss,” and got clocked on the head by a shocked Somers with a wine decanter. Brinham died, and Somers went on trial for murder. As the details came out, the British public learned that Somers didn't merely hit Brinham once, but three or four times. He then dragged Brinham's body into the bedroom, hit him once more for good measure, and tried to stage the apartment to look as if a burglar had been the assailant. But haste makes waste—he left his coat and a pair of gloves in Brinham's flat. Police caught up with him shortly thereafter and he was arrested and charged with murder.
The case was fascinating. The judge immediately reduced the charges from murder to manslaughter. Defense attorneys portrayed Brinham, a former Labor Party official, as predatory and decadent. A pathologist testified that his body showed “physiological indications of the practice of homosexuality,” and added that his skull was “half the normal thickness.” Meanwhile, Somers' virility and youth was played up, how he once swung a sledgehammer in an abattoir and became unusually strong. At the end of the trial the judge flatly directed the jury to find Somers not guilty, stating: “[Brinham] attempted to make homosexual advances. I think that is about as clear a case of provocation as it is possible to have.” In the end the jury indeed set Somers free.
In general, bludgeoning someone to death for making a non-violent pass, further damaging the body, tampering with the scene, attempting a cover-up, and failing to report a death should result in some charge or other sticking. But not this time. Insider's take on the event pretends journalistic impartiality, but in reality weights the scales. Somers gets the final word: he discusses his incredulity at “setting out for an innocent Saturday night and finishing up a killer.” He'd heard about homosexuals, he says, but never met one. The same could be said of the British public. But after George Brinham was outed, it thought it had. The case confirmed mainstream Britain's toxic prejudices against gay men. But Somers was never forgotten by friends and advocates—his murder became a spark for the gay rights movement of the 1970s.
Yep, this guy's dead as hell. Too bad. He could sue the beer company for false advertising.
This photo, which is part of the archive of mid-century Los Angeles Herald press shots maintained by the University of Southern California, shows a suicide at the front entrance of Temple M.E. Church at 14th and Union in Los Angeles. The man was named Robert Palmer, and you can see that the poor guy shot himself in the middle of the forehead. You can also see that he bled profusely, which suggests his heart pumped for a bit before he finally died. L.A.P.D. detective Hugh Palmer (no relation) stands over him. Like many suicides Robert Palmer had a final drink before doing the deed. His choice? As you see in the zoom below, it was Lucky Lager, which conferred no benefits whatsoever. Maybe a rabbit's foot or a horseshoe would have been more effective. Or not. The photo is from today in 1957.
She was mysterious in life but all her secrets came out in death.
This National Insider published today in 1964 highlights an event that was of global interest at the time, but which has since been forgotten. Julie Molley, pictured on the cover, led a double life. She worked in a dentist's office by day and was a party girl by night. Apparently this hidden life began with placing newspaper ads for a friend who wanted to hook up with men but needed to protect his reputation. The responses seemed almost innumerable, and exposed her to the world of clandestine sex in repressive 1960s Britain. This in turn eventually led to full-fledged participation in underground bdsm orgies. Wealthy men rewarded her with money and expensive gifts for whipping and humiliating them.
When she was found dead of an overdose of sleeping pills in a Buckinghamshire mansion in November 1963, police labeled it suicide, but friends said it had to be murder. Found in her effects were 3,500 photos of her in compromising positions with various men. Two diaries she wrote contained the names of numerous high profile figures. Police believed Molley was involved not only in an underground sex ring, but may have been part of an extortion racket that took advantage of various well heeled Brits' kinky sex preferences. But as late as 1966—the last year we found articles about the case—police still had not found evidence of foul play.
This National Insider labels Molley the “High Priestess of Love” and "Pocket Venus," and compares her underground parties to those at the center of the Profumo Affair. But her death is today still officially a suicide. Police believed she was depressed, basically friendless, and they noted that her pill usage had been increasing for months before her untimely end. In the final analysis, authorities decided she ended it all because she was simply fed up with an unhappy existence. The general sentiment was summed up by her mother, who said, “I sent her to a convent school because I wanted her to be a good girl. But she wanted a good time—and it ended like this. It always does.”
Serial killer art released in effort to solve cold cases.
As pulp art fans we were a bit amazed by this next news item. The FBI has just released drawings imprisoned serial killer Samuel Little made of his victims, with the hope that the images will help in solving open cases. Little is serving life for three murders he committed in California, but he claims to have killed ninety women over nearly four decades. Law enforcement in various states have definitively linked him to more than thirty murders. Many of those killings were not classified as such at the time because Little's preferred method of dispatch was to knock the women out and strangle them, which meant that there were not always clear signs of foul play if the remains went undiscovered for any amount of time.
But now, by circulating these drawings, authorities hope to close dozens of cases scattered throughout the United States in places the nomadic Little is suspected to have traveled. The feds are being helped by Little himself, who agreed to cooperate in exchange for being allowed a transfer to a new prison. He's 78 years old and in poor health, which means it's basically now or never in securing his assistance.
After Little dies in prison it will be interesting to see what eventually happens to these drawings. In the past such artifacts tended to end up in repositories such as the Black Museum and similar places, but in this day and age we suspect they'll be destroyed once their usefulness is agreed to have passed. Since they're incredibly sad when considered in context, destruction may be a fitting end for them. But it's also possible, though not likely, that they could be sold and the proceeds used to compensate victims' families. One thing is for sure—there are plenty of collectors of the morbid out there who would buy them.
From out of a clear blue sky.
This photo is from an archive maintained by Sydney Living Museums and shows a dead man in a public toilet in Sydney, Australia. Police records are incomplete, but suggest he fell from a footpath atop a wall located above the enclosure. It was a brutal fall. The man's right leg snapped just above the ankle and spots of blood are on his shirt, indicating a possible cranial fracture. While the report is vague about the man, it's clear about his bottle—it's Waterbury’s Compound, a tonic and cough remedy popular then and still in existence today. In contrast to the man, the bottle is intact. We wonder if he was reading the label and didn't watch where he was walking. Texters beware. The photo was shot around 1937 or 1938.
Crime pays with a series of beautiful mugshots.
Above is a collection of police booking photos of women arrested in Sydney, Australia during the late 1910s to early 1930s. These were originally shot and developed using a dry glass plate process, warehoused for decades, unearthed several years back, and shared online by Sydney Living Museums. They weren't curated as a women-only group—we grabbed only women because we were struck by their remarkable faces. We also like the last shot, just above, which features a mystery figure in the background keeping her or his—looks like a dude to us—face lowered.
Charges on the group range from robbery, to “attempting to procure a miscarriage on behalf of a third party,” to plain old murder. You notice a booking photo was a little different back then. Full body framing in open rooms was common. Because of the composition, shallow focus, and hyper-detailed glass plate process, these are (presumably accidental) art shots. They serve as a companion collection to the previous set of Australian mugshots we shared, which you can see here. You'll notice we've repeated a couple, which means you can learn specifically what they did to get arrested.
L.A. man ends the holidays with a bang.
We've always been fascinated by splatter shots from the mid-century period. When did someone finally decide people had a right to privacy even in death? We don't know, but we think it was a good idea. Before that change came about press photographers routinely tramped around crime scenes documenting mayhem for profit. These images show the aftermath of a murder-suicide that took place today in 1951. Pictured are L.A. cops Detective Lieutenant George A. Encinas and Detective Lieutenant Bill Cummings, along with the bodies of Charles Sullivan and his wife, identified only as Mrs. Charles Sullivan. Maybe a new year would have brought new hope to this household, but we'll never know, nor will we know exactly why Sullivan shot his wife and himself. The images are part of the always compelling collection of Los Angeles Examiner photos maintained by the University of Southern California.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1959—Khrushchev Visits U.S.
Nikita Khrushchev becomes the first Soviet leader to visit the United States. The two week stay includes talks with U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, as well as a visit to a farm and a Hollywood movie set, and a tour of a "typical" American neighborhood, upper middle class Granada Hills, California.
1959—Soviets Send Object to Moon
The Soviet probe Luna 2 becomes the first man-made object to reach the Moon when it crashes in Mare Serenitatis. The probe was designed to crash, but first it took readings in Earth's Van Allen Radiation Belt, and also confirmed the existence of solar wind.
1987—Radiation Accident in Brazil
Two squatters find a container of radioactive cesium chloride in an abandoned hospital in Goiânia, Brazil. When the shielding window is opened, the bright blue cesium becomes visible, which lures many people to handle the object. In the end forty-six people are contaminated, resulting in illnesses, amputations, and deaths, including that of a 6-year-old girl whose body is so toxic it is buried in a lead coffin sealed in concrete.
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