It was a warm August morning. I sat on the deck with an iced tea. On the table before me was a file folder, stuffed full with news clippings. The clippings were a gift from the Anonymous Source, an attractive lady in her 40s who keeps me supplied with long-hidden, hitherto secret yet sometimes salacious accounts of local history.
Case in point: William Gettle, a 500-pound Beverly Hills millionaire, who was kidnapped from his weekend home in Arcadia, then stashed for ransom in La Crescenta.
Soon after Gettle’s rescue on May 15, 1934, scores of La Cañadans traipsed to 4256 Rosemont La Crescenta to tour the bedroom in the rental house where Gettle had been held captive.
Local historian John Newcombe has a photo of a sign placed on a car in front of the house — an old-timer’s version of “Maps to the Stars’ Homes.” The house was owned by a lady from Palm Springs. Her agent was a realtor on Foothill. The realtor had rented the house to the kidnappers.
The rent: $22 per month.
By May 16, while sightseers from La Cañada and elsewhere gawked at the kidnap house on Rosemont, three kidnappers had “confessed. . .been tried and sentenced to prison for life, the trial lasting only 14 minutes.”
These swift events gave new meaning to the constitutional right to a speedy trial. The prosecutor, of course, was Los Angeles District Attorney Buron Fitts. He had offered the defendants a deal they could not refuse — life sentences instead of the gallows. William Gettle danced a jig when told of the results.
The next day, less than 60 hours after their capture, the three convicted defendants were admitted to San Quentin to begin their sentences. Within the month, two women and another man would be arrested and given sentences ranging from one year to life for their roles in the abduction. Death threats against Gettle and the prosecutor continued — some thought the prosecutions of the female accomplices to be heavy-handed.
But the case did not end happily for the Gettle family. Fourteen months later, on July 2, 1935, his wife, Fleeta Gettle, died. She was 34. Six years later, William Gettle died at the age of 54.
In 1937, prosecutor Buron Fitts was ambushed and shot outside his house in Monrovia. He survived and went on to serve in World War II.
Kidnapper James Kirk, summed it all up: “Kidnapping is a lousy racket. It wasn’t such a paying proposition as we thought.”
ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a La Cañada resident and attorney in Pasadena. You can e-mail her at anitasusan.brenner- @yahoo.com.