Reading between the lines

Location: 350 Clay Street
Date: November 25, 1919

John Roebling tells police that as far as his confused memory can be relied on, a man and a young woman clad in boy’s clothing chloroformed him in his room and relieved him of $20 before fleeing in a car. We cannot but suspect the full story is more interesting, and regret Mr. Roebling’s discretion.

Trouble at the Bella Napoli

Location: Second and Hill Streets
Date: September 2, 1917

When George Luvich walked into the Bella Napoli Cafe with the intention of encouraging Mrs. Ethel Vluanik to leave with him,  he certainly didn’t expect to make the next morning’s headlines as a "crazed Austrian" who had "[run] Amuck." But you know how these things can escalate.

Sure, Ethel didn’t want to go, but she would have, if it wasn’t for that do-gooder movie actor Eugene Corey (presently residing at the Hotel Northern, real name Gino Corrado), who took it upon himself to come to the lady’s aid and remove Luvitch from the building.  

Well, what would you do? Luvitch pulled a gun, went back in and chased Corey out the back door, where he hopped the fence and went straight to the cops, the dirty fink. Patrolman R.P. Marks, several colleagues and a few newspapermen drove towards the Bella Napoli, arriving on the scene just after Luvitch shot at a man standing across the street, then ran south down Hill Street. As Marks pursued him, Luvitch wheeled out of a doorway and pulled his trigger twice, but the gun misfired. Marks managed to disarm the gunman, and he was marched off to the pokey on charges of attempted murder and assault.

If you’re a serious L.A. crime buff, you have been reading this tale with a slight sense of familiarity. Bella Napoli, you muse, isn’t that the place where the visiting New York mobsters got it and went face down in their ragu? Ah, but that was a different Bella Napoli, on Vermont Avenue, in the distant year 1933. Here’s a nice little apology ad the proprietor took out in the Times after the incident.

And the photo at the top is Eugene Corey in middle years, channeling George Luvich for a role.

Goodbye, mother!

Location: 360 South Hill Street
Date: September 15, 1910

The anonymous rooming house cyanide suicide seemed calculated to deliver himself into an unmarked pauper’s grave, but a last impulse led him to pen a letter of farewell to his mother. He did not name her, but addressed the envelope with their hometown, Benkelman, Nebraska. A telegraph to the postmaster of that burg soon brought the reply: the dead man was one Judson Graves, 35, from a good family but for some time bumming broke around the west. His sorrowful mother has asked Dr. Lockwood of Pasadena to go to Pierce Brothers and claim the body, and ship it home for burial.

A Wayward Lad

Location: 4th and Olive
Date: April 6, 1898

When the first reports came in about the 14-year-old boy lying drunk and insensible on the streets of Bunker Hill, he was over on Clay Street. But by the time Officer Broadhead went out to have a look, some boys had dragged him to a vacant lot near 4th and Olive, and it was from here that he was taken to receiving hospital. Once conscious, he proved stubbornly unwilling or unable to identify himself, answering "I don’t know" to all questions. He did, however, admit to attending the Olive Street School, and it is hoped someone will come forward soon to take this lost lad home.

Red Light Raid

Location: 310 Clay Street
Date: June 15, 1915

The Redlight Abatement Act is now law, and the first establishment to be entered by crowbar, ax and the strong arms of police and DA’s men was the Hotel Clayton, formerly the Lorraine. The authorities interrupted a gay midnight dinner party and made prisoners of all 25 inside, including some panic-stricken ladies who begged to be turned loose as their husbands didn’t know they were out. In all, 17 men and 8 women were seized.

Among those arrested, 75-year-old proprietress Mrs. Florence Cheney (held on $5000 bail for pandering and $2000 for contributing to her 16-year-old granddaughter Florence Emery’s delinquency). Florence is now in the hands of juvenile authorities and her mother Ella Emery is being held on vagrancy charges.

Also arrested were Special Officers W.C. Becker and A.S. Ross of the Nick Harris Detective Agency, both in the process of devouring sandwiches and claiming to be doing some investigating of their own, attorney Chauncey Gardner, who refused any comment, a fellow named Jones who had no trousers, and a number of people named Smith or Jones. All came before Police Judge Frederickson and were bailed at $50 each after pleasing not guilty, save Mrs. Cheney, jailed on the statutory charges, and the two detectives, released on their own recognizance.

When the place was called the Lorraine it was site of the murder of the notorious Nellie Buck, Hite’s shooting of his wife and several suicides, and seems to still be a place of notable ill favor.

The Most Beautiful Woman on Spring Street

nellie murdoch and slayer claude mathewson at Hotel Lorraine

Location: 310 Clay Street

Date: April 11, 1914

Claude Mathewson lived and died by the philosophy "The better the day, the better the deed." He’d often slip this bon mot into conversation in the basement dives of Spring Street, and if his tipsy companions didn’t know what the hell he meant in life, they got an inkling today as he lays dead.

At the time of his death Claude was joint proprietor of the Hotel Lorraine with his paramour Nellie Buck, aka Nellie Murdock, the black-haired Irish of 24 who was known as "The Most Beautiful Woman on Spring Street" — a phrase that damns as it praises, for it is a certain kind of woman who frequents the rowdy cafes of this avenue.

And Claude too was well known along Spring, as former proprietor of the Rathskellar Cafe, one-time ward politician, deputy sheriff and fireman. When Nellie came from the north on a lark and met Claude, he had already divorced once and would soon enough lose track of wife #2. He’d never taken a woman seriously before, but when he saw Nellie, he was gobsmacked. He contrived to pay for her drink with a $50 bill, and was rewarded when the lady smiled and said to her friend, "He’s some sport." Claude’s captivation became the talk of the town, as his wife filed for divorce, his bank accounts were emptied to buy dresses and wraps, and he even sold his cafe on Nellie’s whim, because she wanted to run a rooming house. He paid $5000 for the Hotel Lorraine (later to be called the Hotel Clayton) and established her there on Clay Street. But soon the police discovered the type of establishment it was and blocked new tenants from arriving, and Claude found himself short of cash.

Worse still, Nellie developed an affection of her own, and began traveling to the Vernon Country Club to dally with a cafe singer. Anxious, Claude retired to Murrietta Hot Springs to lick his wounds, and there he brooded. On his return to town, his jaw was set, and his friends could see he had made some big decision. It was hoped he would scare up some cash and redeem his cafe partnership with Walter Lips, former fire chief, but this was not his plan.

Late Thursday night, he went to the hotel to look for Nellie, and waited until she returned from Vernon. They fought, and she told him she intended to leave him, and had been saving her money to get away the very next day–Good Friday. Is that so, mused Claude. Because he too had been waiting and planning something for the morning, only his plan was to kill Nellie. He had waited fourteen days to perform this grim act on the most auspicious date. Nellie sat shocked, then ran to a friend’s room to say that Claude was mad. But she must not have taken him seriously, since she returned to her room and continued the discussion, and all night they quarreled.

nellie murdoch slaying headline at Hotel Lorraine

And when the dawn broke, Claude announced "Good Friday has come, my dear, and it is time for you to die." She screamed. He took her own gun from her desk and aimed. She hid in the closet, wrapped in silky things he’d bought for her, which were no defense against two slugs from the little lady’s .25. And after satisfying himself that she was dead Claude rolled and smoked a last cigarette, then shot himself in the head.

Nellie was buried at Rosedale, and her lover cremated after services at the Peck & Chase chapel. Mrs. Mathewson, who returned from Seattle to handle the arrangements, is at her sister’s home on West 41st Street, and will not speak of what has happened, but we think the disposition of her husband’s body says it all.

“I Am Going to Bakersfield!”

jerome hite and wife whom he shot at hotel lorraine

Location: 310 Clay Street
Date: June 19, 1910

Jerome Hite, former bookkeeper at the Woolwine Motor Car Company, is a jealous man. He drinks to excess, and likes to chase his wife with a revolver. In an attempt to prove she had been faithless, he pretended to leave on a business trip to Bakersfield, but returned to their room at the Hotel Lorraine a few hours later, saying he had forgotten a pair of shoes. But his wife was alone. He took the shoes and again "left for Bakersfield," but returned later that evening; again, nothing was amiss. Damned stubborn woman!

His behavior frightened his wife, so she went to the room of proprietress Florence Cheney to hide. Hite pounded on the door and demanded she see him, whereupon Mrs. Hite announced that she would, but only if he surrendered his weapon. He went away for a while and came back, and when he knocked Mrs. Hite opened the door and said, "Now give me your gun and we will talk." Instead he shot at her, the bullet passing through her raised arm and into her neck, where it lodged. Hite fled, and his wife, while initially thought mortally wounded, rallied at Clara Barton Hospital.

On July 7, Hite was discovered on Catalina Island, where he had obtained employment at the Metropole Hotel under the name Hal Reynolds, but was promptly dismissed for drinking on the job. He was arrested and brought to Los Angeles to stand trial, although as his wife was recovering well, it was hoped they might reconcile. But it was not to be–July 28, 1911 saw her asking for a divorce on grounds that he had been convicted of a felony (presumably her shooting) and general cruelty, and we cannot imagine there is a judge cruel enough to deny her her freedom.

A Sick Man Jumps

Location: 201 South Grand Avenue
Date: June 9, 1931

Richard Veit, mechanic, resident of the Minnewaska, aged 67 (or so it appears, through the blotchy ink of the news clipping), took his life today by leaping from the eastern end of the Second Avenue tunnel. He was gravely injured, but managed to tell detectives he had been chronically ill for many years and wanted to die, which he soon did after arrival at Georgia Street Receiving Hospital. He left a note to a Mrs. F.A. Schofield in Chicago directing her to dispose of his property there.