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.

Dome Denizen Smith

July 14, 1949

Grace E. Smith made the Dome her home. From there she made the trek to work down to the Belmont Grill. It’s 1949. She’s a B-girl.

domeup2ndfromolive

Vice has been coming down on prosties of late and joints like the Belmont that run B-girl operations are a thorn in the side of decent society. The racket is simple: the gals chat up the fellas, and as a gal mingles with the patrons she induces them to buy more drinks. Her bourbons are colored water or ice tea; she gets a commission of those sales. And if she takes off with her new friend, we’ll call him, oh, John, the tavern owner gets a cut of her earnings. Repeat.

After a while Vice gets tired of dealing with pimp beat downs, or customers given the mick finn, so it’s time to round up the ladies. Grace E. Smith, 28, won’t get to go home to her little room at the Dome tonight, popped as she was at the Belmont for violating the municipal B-girl ordinance. Tomorrow morning she’ll be out on $100 bail.

b-elmont

Grace’s boss Nathan Bass, owner of the Belmont, has been supbeanoed to testify before the county grand jury in its current vice inquiry into the Brenda Allen police pay-off probe. (Bass had been in the news last month when he, as a pal of LAPD Lieutenant Wellpott, had wiretaps of his phone calls played at the PD/Allen vice hearings.) Bass went on to testify that famously dirty Sgts. Stoker and Jackson would meet in the Belmont.

The next mention of Grace E. Smith—one wonders if it’s she and the same—is in 1953: a Lena S. Reed, 72, was to leave her $8,000 estate ($61,857 USD 2007) to her family but just before her demise opted to bequeath it to Mrs. Edna W. “Mail Fraud” Ballard (aka St. Germain, aka Joan of Arc, aka Lotus Ray King), cofounder of the I AM religious movement. A judge blocked probate when the family filed contest, accusing Mrs. Ballard of “exerting undue influence on Mrs. Reed while she was in ill health and mentally disturbed.” The same accusations were made against the secretary of the organization’s St. Germain Foundation, and executor of the will, one Grace E. Smith.

No mention as to whether this Grace E. Smith lived in the Dome.