The Annie Larsen Affair Comes to Bunker Hill

July 10, 1917

A resident of Bunker Hill was arrested today as part of a secret indictment issued by the Federal grand jury in San Francisco.  Ladel P. Varna, aka L. Percy Ram Chandra of 318 S. Flower Street was charged with violating the President’s neutrality proclamation.  He was suspected of being involved in the recent Annie Larsen affair, part of a "wholesale plot to assist the Hindus in an effort to throw off the British yoke."

The affair, and the trial that followed is too hopelessly confusing to relate here in any detail, but involved "German spies," the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and India’s Ghadar Party.  The Annie Larsen, a barely seaworthy vessel, was loaded up with approximately 4 million round of ammunition, 3758 cases of small arms ammunition, 10,000 Springfield rifles, 10,000 bayonets, and 10,000 cartridge belts, and sent out to rendezvous with the Maverick, and transfer the cargo to the larger ship, which would then head for Southeast Asia.

But back to Bunker Hill for now…

A graduate of Delhi University, Varna had lived in the United States for about four years at the time of his arrest.  When he arrived in San Francisco, he operated a fruit stand that did enough business to allow him to save up his money and purchase some real estate around Berkeley.  Then, two and a half years ago, Varna moved to Los Angeles and took a job in a cafeteria on Fourth Street.  He lived in a room at 318 S. Flower with four other men, and spoke perfect English

Of the charges brought against him, Varna said, "I know nothing about it except as the complain was read to me.  It is all like a dream to me.  I was in no conspiracy to violate the laws of this country and can bring witnesses to show what I have been doing ever since I landed.  I have saved some money, but do not like to spend it on a lawyer.  I won’t hire an attorney."

Varna had recently registered for military service, and said that he was wiling to go to war for the United States if he was called. 

Bunker Hill: A Hotbed of Spiritualist Fraud!


On October 16, 1924, Los Angeles Times reporter Charles Sloan took rooms at the Alexandria Hotel under the name of Dr. Chamberlyn Snow, and arranged a meeting with William A. Jackson, President of the National Independent Spiritualist Association, Inc. (NISA).

He wanted to set up practice as a spiritualist and medium in Los Angeles, he told Jackson, but was unable to get a permit under the city’s ordinances regulating the operation and advertisement of spiritualist practice. That license would require that "Snow" be ordained by a recognized spiritualist organization, and the problem was, he told Jackson, "I don’t know a damn thing about spiritualism."

This was, Jackson said, no problem at all. All Snow needed to do was to produce a check for $175, and he could be ordained as a spiritualist minister and healer. Snow gave his money to Jackson’s wife, Lois A. Jackson, secretary of N.I.S.A., and all was in order.

On November 7, 1924, acting on Sloan’s information, warrants were issued for the arrest of the Jacksons, the 8 other directors and officers of NISA, and 36 mediums and spiritualists in Los Angeles, on charges of criminal conspiracy, attempts to obtain money by false pretense, larceny by trick and device, and other related charges.

lankershim building The NISA headquarters were located in the Lankershim Building at 3rd and Spring, and many of those arrested lived right on Bunker Hill.

Besides the Jacksons, who resided at 223 S. Flower Street, were Professor Bernard of 316 1/2 S. Broadway, Mabel Tyler of 318 W. 3rd Street, and Michael Crespo, BS, MS, and PhD, the so-called "miracle man," who lived at 145 S. Spring.

The bust led to an investigation of over 200 spiritualist groups, 48 of them located in Los Angeles. The cities of Alhambra and Long Beach set about passing ordinances that would make the practice of spiritualism illegal.

Crespo was the easiest target and first major conviction of the bunch, found in violation of the State Medical Practice Act, and guilty of performing illegal marriages and divorces.

NISA records revealed that the organization boasted a membership of over 235,000 people, and held property valued at $112,000; more importantly, they had ordained approximately 5500 people. In many cases, they had not followed the organization’s rules that those ordained would have to "demonstrate the gospel, philosophy, and science of continued existence after so-called death according to some commonly accepted or approved methods of the NISA."

On February 26, 1925, the Jacksons were found guilty of issuing certificates to unqualified persons, allowing them to circumvent city ordinances regulating the practice of spiritualism. William was sentenced to 90 days in prison and a $500 fine, and Lois to 30 days in prison and a $250 fine.

City Prosecutor Friedlander said of the proceedings, "If this prosecution… has done nothing else, it has at least stripped the highly colorful veneer of an organized group of religious imposters who were preying upon a class of credulous, superstitious, and unthinking people and brought to the surface a detailed and elaborate method of fraud."

When NISA’s charter was revoked by the state on December 2, 1925, Harry Houdini wired his congratulations to the staff of the Times, saying "It was well done. You have thrown an obstacle in the path of fraudulent spiritualism which will last for years to come."

Image from the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

Susie Miller on the Loose

Date: July 3, 1904
Location: 200 Block of Flower Street

susie115-year-old Susie Miller was a pretty brunette with a vivacious disposition who loved to play the violin. She also loved Willie Miller, a 15-year-old butcher’s apprentice, and he loved her — the two were already talking about marriage. But Susie’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Miller disapproved of the match so strongly that they uprooted the family from their home in San Francisco and moved to Los Angeles in the hopes of squashing the love affair.

The family settled in at a pretty little yellow bungalow on the southwest corner of Flower and Second, and Susie’s brothers quickly found work — although the Times was quick to point out that they only took jobs to occupy their time, not because they needed the money. Samuel Miller was somehow affiliated with the streetcar business in San Francisco and described as "a man in good circumstances." Even little Susie got in on the fun, taking a job as an operator at the Home Telephone Company, just down the street.

And then, on the morning of July 3, 1904, Susie Miller disappeared.

She told her mother that she’d asked to work the 6 a.m. shift at the telephone office in order to have the 4th of July off, and left home at 5:30 that morning. However, when Susie didn’t come home for lunch, Mrs. Miller began to worry. She called the telephone office and was informed that Susie had, in fact, tendered her resignation on June 28, and that there was no 6 a.m. Sunday shift. The family began to panic, and called police to report her missing. However, they just as quickly lied and told the police that she’d returned home, not wanting the story to be reported in the paper.

By July 5, there was still no word from Susie, and they decided to come clean.

Yes, there was Willie in San Francisco, but Susie also had another beau in the wings, a man named Harry, last name unknown. Mrs. Miller said, "Susie met him over the telephone in conversation to begin with and afterwards saw him and told me he was an awfully pretty boy and that she could almost love him." All they knew about Harry was that he claimed to be from San Diego, and that his father owned a gold mine. Their suspicions were heightened when Willie sent a telegram from San Francisco saying he had not seen Susie.

Millie Leach, one of Susie’s co-workers at the Home Telephone Company, told police that she’d accompanied Susie to the train station that Sunday morning. Susie told her she was going to San Diego, but when she purchased her ticket, Millie swore she heard her say, "Frisco."

So, where was she? Had she run off with the derelict son of a gold miner, eloped with her hometown sweetheart, or fallen prey to a worse fate?

The Times wrote, "The scheming of a Sherlock Holmes could not have more successfully covered her tracks."

But where police and reporters alike were stumped, Susie’s family rose to the occasion and worked to track her down. Samuel Miller went to San Francisco, and submitted young Willie to some hard questioning, during which the boy cracked. Susie had gone to a San Francisco hotel owned by her aunt, a woman with whom the family did not keep in touch. Once she heard her father was on the way, she crossed the bay to stay at the home of another aunt in Vallejo.

After being recovered and returned safely home to Los Angeles, Susie explained herself saying that she meant to write home, but after taking off, it seemed like "a good joke" to let her family wonder where she was. Then, once the police got involved, she was too scared to tell them where she was. Outsmarting the LAPD is one thing, but dear old dad is quite another.

A Red Light Raid: 317 S. Flower St

May 22, 1919
317 S. Flower Street, Saratoga Hotel
saratogahotelA building permit for a 3-story brick lodging house that would become the Saratoga Hotel was issued to W.W. Paden and Louis Nordlinger in the summer of 1914. A year later, the hotel was offered for sale, exchange, or lease, offering "long lease, good furniture, and cheap rent."

By 1919, the hotel had already acquired something of a reputation, and was home to many show business types. On May 22, A.W. Gifford, head of the City’s Purity Squad led a raid on the hotel and arrested 32 people on charges of living in a house of prostitution. Members of the Purity Squad had taken rooms at the Saratoga during the week prior to the raid, and gathered evidence during that time.

Police tore apart the Saratoga’s 200 rooms, confiscated hundreds of bottles of liquor and beer, and questioned all occupants. Anyone who could not prove steady employment, and any man and woman found together in the same room without a marriage license were taken to City Jail.

Many of those arrested said they worked in the movies as extras, but police determined that "extra work is not considered real work."

The next day, however, 22 of those arrested were released without charges. The owner of the hotel, Charles H. Price of Monrovia, assumed responsibility, and promised to install a new building manager in an agreement forged with City Prosecutor Widney. Widney explained away the releases, claiming that the raids were staged merely "to break up certain conditions believed to exist."

So, it wasn’t a whorehouse… but it might have turned into one if left unchecked. Thanks Purity Squad!

An angry letter to the editor followed on the heels of the raid, signed only "Justice." It read:

"How is a stranger, a girl alone in a strange city, for instance, to know positively that she is in a respectable neighborhood or house? She may have places recommended by the YMCA, the YWCA, the Bible Institute, and yet find herself in an undesirable location. Nobody can be certain.

What do you think of five men in civilian clothes with no badges or authority — or, at least none visible — bursting into the room of a girl at an unseemly hour, insulting her, accusing her of crime, when she knows absolutely nothing of the reason for such an assault… Do you think five ruffians like that, cowards, would do so if a man were in the room with a gun? Hardly."

We’ve Got a Live One

309 S. Flower Street

January 21, 1940


Following his breakfast at the little cafe at 309 S. Flower Street, 25-year-old James D. Bland was full of bacon, eggs, and bad intentions.

He was not armed, but pantomimed a weapon under his coat, and threatened to shoot the waitress, Heide Ogawa, unless she emptied the register. Bland also herded three other cafe employees into a back storage room.

Ogawa handed over the restaurant’s $18 take, and then, for reasons known perhaps only to himself, Bland decided to free the other employees before making his departure.

There are two versions of what happened next, but both make for pretty good stories.

According to police, a Negro dishwasher named Arthur Sanders bashed Bland over the head with the handle of a meat cleaver when he was on his way out the door. Then, while Bland was unconscious, the cafe employees tied him up with cords from a laundry bag, and waited for help.

However, at his court date, it was reported that after Bland released the other employees, Ogawa saw her chance and gave him a good shove. Bland lost his balance and stumbled into the arms of a cook, who shoved him in a laundry bag and tied it shut.

Bland entered a guilty plea to second degree robbery and was sentenced to 5 years probation and 1 year in County Jail.

Kiddie Cop on the Beat

kiddie copMore than anything, 5-year-old Ronnie Bell wanted to be a police officer when he grew up.

Six weeks ago, he and his mother moved to 111 S. Figueroa, right next door to the local traffic division, and Ronnie was overjoyed. He started hanging around the station, and got to know the officers, who adopted him as a mascot of sorts. He also followed them out on the streets, mimicking their lingo and actions. Rather than being annoyed, the officers were so impressed with little Ronnie that they gave him a hat and a whistle, and put him to work. Today, Ronnie directed traffic at 2nd and Figueroa, and Sgt. C.W. Nanney declared that his performance would be a credit to any veteran traffic cop.

However, Ronnie proved surprisingly easy to lure from his post. When his mother appeared at the corner with an ice cream bar for her son, the hard-working lad went AWOL.