A Road Map to L.A. Murders: Book Points to Scene of Infamous Crimes
Marvin J. Wolf and Katherine Mader hope a lot of people want to know where the Black Dahlia’s body was found.
And where Hillside Stranglers Angelo Buono and Kenneth Bianchi lived and killed, where John Belushi struck out on a speedball, and where “the most dangerous man in America,” Benjamin (Bugsy) Siegel, got a taste of the kind of services offered by his partners in Murder Inc.
The locations of these and 35 other of the most notorious crimes in the city’s history are recounted in their book, “Fallen Angels: Chronicles of L.A. Crime and Mystery” (Facts on File Publications; $17.95).
To help pinpoint the sites, the authors have included Thomas Brothers map coordinates, directions from major intersections or freeway ramps and street numbers so the morbidly curious can see where each Angel (and quite a few devils) fell.
But their little ghouls’ look at L.A. is more than a guidebook with directions to the scenes of murder most foul since 1847. Each chapter also recounts the history of the most bizarre and notorious crimes committed here since American law was first applied 139 years ago.
“I hope about 35,000 people want to know where Bugsy Siegel bought it because I didn’t do all this work for the advance we got from the publisher,” said Wolf, a fast-talking free-lance writer of unbounded optimism.
Mader, a deputy district attorney in Van Nuys, hopes to sell enough books to do a sequel because she spent hours sifting through old court records, news clips and lawyers’ personal files and has another two dozen infamous crimes whose history and locations she wants to see in print.
Wolf, a founder and past president of the 400-member Independent Writers of Southern California, initially wanted to write a book on the Hillside Strangler case. He sought out Mader, who had formerly been a private attorney and, with Gerald Chaleff, had defended Angelo Buono.
Tired of criminal defense work and seeking more time to care for her family, Mader was looking for a new challenge. She said a book about crime intrigued her, recalling the time in junior high school when her teacher assigned students to interview someone in their neighborhood. Mader strolled down the street to a Brentwood ice cream parlor to question its owner, mobster Mickey Cohen, and, she recalled, they had a lively conversation.
Complement Each Other
Wolf and Mader hit it off well, too--so well that when they talk they often finish each other’s sentences.
Mader told Wolf that people she met wanted to hear all about the jury’s trips to Buono’s house and other sites associated with the 10 murders.
“The Strangler Tour,” Wolf called it.
” . . . We got to talking about how there must be lots of people interested in this . . .,” Mader said.
“We started talking about the people who stand on street corners selling maps to the homes of the stars . . . ,” Wolf interjected.
“But,” Mader said, “we didn’t want to sell maps. . . .”
“So then we thought,” Wolf said, “we’d do a quick book for the Olympics, do 100 crimes with two or three paragraphs on each and a list of characters and a map.
“For the map we wanted to mark each location with a logo of a chalk drawing, the kind the police do around a body--with a halo over it” denoting the City of Angels.
“Kathy then would give me armloads of files--everything she could find on the case--and I’d take the files to bed with me and I’d get so engrossed I’d read until 2 in the morning and wake up with files all over me and I’d get up--no breakfast, unshaven--and start writing. And I realized she had gotten so much good stuff I couldn’t do them in two or three paragraphs each.”
Mader said that except for those retrieved from court records or private collections, the pair had no police files. And for some crimes that proved a major problem.
“The news clippings were pretty accurate,” Wolf said, although competing papers sometimes gave different locations for crimes during the first day or two of coverage. But many news reports gave crimes without addresses.
One of these was the lurid 1947 Black Dahlia murder.
“The Black Dahlia’s still an active police file,” Wolf said. (Whoever cut Elizabeth Short in two pieces in January 1947 has never been arrested--one of nearly 5,000 unsolved murders in Los Angeles police files.)
“The location where the Black Dahlia’s body was found was nowhere in the news accounts and we couldn’t find it in the court records. I was about to give up, but then I went to a police person I know,” Mader said.
Voice on Answering Machine
Then, she said, she came home one night, ready to give up on the Black Dahlia case, when “I turned my telephone answering machine on and I hear this (police person’s) voice saying ‘the location where the Black Dahlia’s body was found is. . . .’ ”
“Now it’s a housing tract near Fox Hills Mall,” Wolf added.
Readers can also find out where Carl Switzer, who played Alfalfa in the “Our Gang” movie serials, was shot in 1956; where Col. Griffith J. Griffith tried to murder his blue-blooded wife seven years after donating the park that bears his name; and where “red light bandit” Caryl Chessman robbed and raped.
Crimes without addresses didn’t make it into “Fallen Angels.”
But the rape and murder case that ruined the career of silent film superstar Fatty Arbuckle made the book--even though the incidents occurred in San Francisco--because it prompted creation of the Hays Office, which regulated morality in movies, and affected Hollywood for decades.
“We almost dropped one of our best cases, Otto Sanhuber, the lover who lived in the attic, because we couldn’t find the address,” Mader continued.
Bizarre Love Affair
She was talking about Otto Sanhuber and Walburga Oesterreich, who had what must have been one of the most bizarre love affairs in the city’s history, a tale feasted on by competing Los Angeles newspapers in the ‘30s.
According to newspaper accounts, she was the wife of a dour and hard-drinking apron manufacturer. Sanhuber was her lover, a quiet man who for 20 years lived in the attic directly over the wealthy couple’s bed. At night, Sanhuber read mysteries by candlelight and wrote steamy pulp fiction set in the Orient. By day he made love to Walburga and helped her keep house.
This curious arrangement began in Milwaukee after the turn of the century. Sanhuber lived in three attics there. When the couple came to Los Angeles in 1918 he quietly moved in right over them. But then one day he heard them quarrel, came out of his hideaway and shot the cuckold dead.
Mader found a death certificate with an address but no street with that name existed. “But,” Wolf said, “I found someone at Thomas Brothers maps who knew someone in the city Planning Department who knew that South St. Andrews Boulevard had become Lafayette Park Place. So we got that one in.”
“There’s still one address we couldn’t find,” Mader said. “The gravel pit of the Sleepy Lagoon murder.” (The case became a cause celebre and basis of the play and film “Zoot Suit.”)
In 1942, a teen-age boy was killed at a party, his body later found in the pit. Wolf began: “The cops hauled in 15 people, who were convicted and, ultimately, exonerated because. . . .”
“Alice Greenfield McGrath organized defense committees,” Mader added. “She . . . mobilized public opinion to get money for the defense. No witnesses at the trial saw anyone strike the deceased--some defendants couldn’t even be placed at the scene. And when the defendants were held in jail they were only allowed to see their attorneys once before trial. And they weren’t allowed to bathe or shave.
“In contrast,” Mader continued, “Bugsy Siegel, when he was arrested for murder in 1940, had his meals brought in to the jail. . . .”
“Meals!” Wolf exclaimed. “He had a hooker brought in. He even got released on his own recognizance to go out for lunch with a movie star.”
The criminal life of Siegel, the Chicago mobster who a half century ago launched the transformation of a sleepy desert town named Las Vegas into a garish gambling center, is recounted in “Fallen Angels” along with details of his murder in his Beverly Hills mansion in 1947.
The book also recounts Siegel’s few weeks behind bars for the 1940 murder of Harry (Big Greenie) Greenberg.
“All the witnesses disappeared,” Mader said.
“Some quite suddenly,” Wolf added.