Chronicles of L.A. Crime & Mystery
By Marvin J. Wolf and Katherine Mader
Los Angeles has always been known for its bizarre crimes of passion and madness. Here they all are, documented in vivid detail. It’s all quite gaudy, horrifying and fascinating.
Some of the crimes and mysteries served up in FALLEN ANGELS:
Raymond James, L.A.’s first serial killer, was a skilled barber with a charming manner.
Earl Rogers, the first American trial lawyer to apply science to the defense of an accused murderer.
Patty Hearst, whose months with the “Symbionese Liberation Army” captivated a nation.
Clara “The Tiger Woman” Phillips who beat out her rival’s brains with a dime store hammer.
Paul Wright, who surprised his wife and her lover dallying on a piano bench and quickly shot them dead.
Kenneth Bianchi, the serial murderer better known as the Hillside Strangler, who managed to elongate the trail for his blood murders into the longest in history.
And much, much more
Table of Contents
1. The Burglary Charge of the Dragoons (1847)
2. Last of His Breed: Tiburico Vasquez (1874)
3. A Visceral Issue: The Shooting of Jay Hunter (1899)
4. Greek Theater: Attempted Murder by Colonel Griffith (1903)
5. Organized Terror: The Bombing of the Los Angeles Times (1910)
6. Did Clarence Darrow Bribe Jurors? (1912)
7. A Heavy Crush Ruins Fatty Arbuckle (1921)
8. Love in the Attic: Otto Sanhuber & Walburga Oesterreich (1918-1930)
9. On the Trail of the Tiger Woman: Clara Phillips (1922)
10. Enigma: The Unsolved Murder of William Desmond Taylor (1922)
11. The Real McCoy (1924)
12. Motley Flint and the Julian Pete Scandal (1927)
13. The Kidnapping and Murder of Marion Parker (1927)
14. The Rape Trials of Alexander Pantages (1929)
15. Winnie’s Bloody Trunks (1931)
16. Justifiable Homicide by David Clark (1931)
17. The Enigmatic Death of Paul Bern (1932)
18. Mysterious Voices, Unexamined Clues: Thelma Todd’s Death (1935)
19. The Rattlesnake Murderer: Robert James (1936)
20. Paul Wright: White Flame of Temporary Insanity (1937)
21. Explosively Incorruptible: Harry Raymond and Clifford Clinton (1938)
22. “Admiral” Tony Cornero and the Battle of Santa Monica Bay (1939)
23. Louise Peete and her Deadly Lies (1944)
24. Famous in Death: Elizabeth Short (1947)
25. Bugsy Siegel’s Contract Is a Big Hit (1947)
26. The Red Light Bandit: Caryl Chessman (1948)
27. Skating Through the Vicecapades with Mickey Cohen (1948-50)
28. The Murderous Momma’s Boy: Harvey Glatman (1957-58)
29. Childish Quarrel: The Shooting of Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer (1959)
30. The Murder of Barbara (Mrs. Bernard)Finch (1959)
31. Who Killed Nick Adams? (1968)
32. Bestial Acts by a Murderous Menagerie (1969)
33. Patty Hearst and the SLA Shootout (1974)
34. Premature Oblivion: Sal Mineo Is Murdered (1976)
35. Hillside Stranglings by Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono (1977-78)
36. Stanley Rifkin and the Biggest Bank Robbery (1978)
37. The Random Killing of Sarai Ribicoff (1980)
38. John Belushi Strikes Out on a Speedball (1982)
39. Power, Lust and Despair: The Brutal End of Vicki Morgan (1983)
Power, Lust and Despair:
The Brutal End of Vicki Morgan
Vicki was beauty and glamour, money and power, corruption and perversion, a grandly crafted public image and a sordid secret life; she made a bold, exciting run along the edge of convention before being overtaken by a sudden, sickening unraveling into despair and penury and a brutal, senseless death. In a peculiar way, her story typifies the compellingly attractive but ultimately destructive Möbius Strip that circles the heart of Los Angeles.
At 17 Vicki Morgan was alluring. Tall, slender and bosomy, with sensuously full lips, she turned male heads, young and old. Strolling her insouciant walk down Sunset Boulevard in the spring of 1970, she caught the eye of a dirty old man.
A rich, powerful, perverted, 53-year-old man named Alfred Bloomingdale. Heir to the Bloomingdale’s Department Store fortune, and founder of Diner’s Club, Bloomingdale lived a public life that seemed like the pot of gold beneath the far rainbow of the rosiest American Dream. Not just rich but filthy rich, he’d enjoyed a long and outwardly tranquil marriage to Betsy, a handsome society matron who was a close friend of Nancy Reagan. Thus Alfred became a buddy of Nancy’s husband, Ronald, or Ron, as Al Bloomingdale called him. Ron was an actor who became governor of California. But Ron and Al and some of their other rich friends—the so-called “Kitchen Cabinet” of informal advisors that had Reagan’s ear—had big plans for Ron. Between wealth and charisma, Reagan became president of the United States in 1980.
But that was well after the afternoon when a bewitched A1 Bloomingdale followed Vicki Morgan down Sunset and into the Old World Restaurant. And struck up a conversation. And demanded her phone number before he could leave. “He was so persistent, I had lunch with him,” said Morgan.
Within a week she had been inducted into Bloomingdale’s secret, phantasmagorical world of leather and chains, featuring Al as sadistic dungeon master. Along with as many as three other women at the same time, Vicki took off her clothes so that Al could bind and whip her. Thus aroused, he had sex with Vicki, then with other women, all the while being encouraged and caressed by the “slaves.” Other sex games at the Bloomingdale hideaway explored the infinite permutation possible with multiple partners.
Soon Vicki “found herself falling in love” with Blooming- dale. She became his mistress, a liaison which continued, with brief interruptions at the outset, for a dozen years.
One of the brief interruptions was an affair with another man, which resulted in the birth of her son, Todd, in 1971. Later that year she became pregnant by Bloomingdale. An abortion soon followed.
And then came the best years of Vicki’s life. Bloomingdale paid her rent, gave her spending money, and helped launch an exciting if ultimately flaccid movie career. He spent a lot of time with her, considering his other obligations to the President, to his wife, and to his myriad business dealings.
His illicit relationship with Vicki became even stronger. In the final months before Bloomingdale succumbed to cancer in August 1982. Denying the futility of his struggle against impending death, Bloomingdale began planning a new enterprise, a nationwide chain of pizza parlors. In July, Betsy Bloomingdale had discovered the carefully hidden truth about her dying husband’s relationship with Morgan. Betsy had her evicted from the house Al had rented for her.
And then Al died. Hardly was he cold when the lawsuits were filed. Vicki wanted $10 million in palimony. Although the couple never lived together, Vicki claimed that she had tried to cure Bloomingdale of his “Marquis de Sade” complex. She also wanted the $10,000 a month that she said he promised to pay her for “personal services,” and she wanted a half interest in Bloomingdale’s prospective pizza chain, since, she alleged, that was what Bloomingdale had promised her in return for her business advice. That’s what Vicki Morgan wanted.
What she got was an avalanche of sensational publicity, heavy legal expenses and a shortcut to the oblivion of the grave.
In September 1982, Superior Court Judge Christian Markey heard the palimony case. Vicki claimed her relationship with Bloomingdale was that of “business confidante, companion and mistress.” The judge said it was a relationship based mostly on sex and therefore the palimony precedent of Michelle Triola Marvin v. Lee Marvin was not relevant.
No trial and no palimony millions. Not a dime.
Vicki’s two other claims were less easily resolved. They would be tried on their merits, in due time, as the court’s calendar permitted.
Meanwhile Vicki, now 30 years old and without specific job skills or the sort of experience that lends itself to executive employment, had a more basic problem: survival. Evicted from the house that Bloomingdale had rented she and son Todd moved from one friend’s place to another for weeks. Early in 1983, she rented a condo in Studio City from Los Angeles Times calendar section editor Robert Epstein for $1,000 a month.
By June of 1983 things were looking down for Vicki Morgan. Still unemployed, her lawsuit inching forward through the cluttered court calendar, she was desperate for money. She sold her Mercedes, a gift from Bloomingdale. Still unable to hack the rent, she took a roommate, a gay man she’d known for about four years.
Marvin Pancoast was 33, an admitted homosexual who had worked as a clerk at the William Morris Agency. He had a long history of mental problems. He, too, was unemployed.
Vicki and Marvin were surely the odd couple. Since her teen years, she had been the pampered plaything of a very rich man, and had participated in the kinkiest of sexual shenanigans. He was a confused and mentally unbalanced homosexual, a veteran of the gay bar and massage-parlor circuit who had for many months worked closely with the cream of internationally famous show-business figures. And both of them were broke.
Vicki was imperiously distant with Marvin. He was not attracted by her still considerable charms and couldn’t come up with his share of the rent money. She was used to fawning, obedient men who showed appreciation for her beauty. The odd couple quarreled often. Finally, early in July 1983, almost broke and feeling the strain of an uneasy relationship with Pancoast, Vicki made plans to move in with a girlfriend in Beverly Hills. Pancoast, at least temporarily, would go to Thousand Oaks. Vicki called Elephant Movers, in West Hollywood, and arranged for them to move her belongings. They were scheduled to come on July 7. First thing in the morning.
Vicki was a slinky, sexy woman. Among the mighty, many men would have killed for the privilege of sharing her home. But by the night of July 6, Pancoast had had all he could stand of her. “I was tired of being her slave boy,” he said later. He considered strangling her in the living room. Instead, he waited for her to go to sleep. After midnight, he rose, adjusted the lighting in the living room, turned up the stereo so that the neighbors couldn’t hear any of the sounds that would soon be coming from Vicki’s bedroom. Then he took one of Todd’s wooden baseball bats, walked into Vicki’s bedroom and beat her on the head and chest for several minutes.
At about 3:20 a.m. on July 7, Pancoast walked into the North Hollywood division police station and asked to speak to a homicide detective. “Why?” asked the desk sergeant.
“I just killed someone,” said Pancoast.
Vicki Morgan’s brutal death sent shock waves through Hollywood. Some of them bounced off Washington, D.C. On July 11, Los Angeles attorney Robert Steinberg announced that he’d seen three videotapes depicting Morgan, Bloomingdale, and a number of unnamed “top government officials” engaged in sadomasochistic sex orgies. The tapes, claimed Steinberg, contained “things of high risk to the national security of the country.” He said that the people involved “would definitely embarrass the President, just like Mr. Bloomingdale did.”
The announcement stunned the city and fueled wild speculation that Morgan was killed to silence her, that Pancoast, with his history of mental illness, was a pawn, or had been framed by powerful interests that wanted Vicki Morgan dead. The tapes, said Steinberg, were proof that high government figures were involved.
But where were the tapes? On July 12, Steinberg said they’d been stolen from his office. The next day, porno publishing king Larry Flynt announced that he’d made a deal with Steinberg. He would pay Steinberg $1 million for the tapes. But Steinberg never appeared to conclude the transaction and later denied ever speaking to Flynt.
Pancoast pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. On September 14, 1984, after a short trial, he was convicted of murder in the first degree. The jury also found him sane. He was sentenced to a term of 26 years to life died in the California Institution for Men in Chino, while undergoing treatment for AIDS-related diseases.
In May 1985, Steinberg plead “no contest” to misdemeanor charges of criminal contempt. The charge of filing a false police report was dropped. The district attorney would have had to prove the disappearance of an object that only Steinberg claimed to have seen, a conundrum of double negatives he did not wish to attempt unraveling. The tapes, if they ever existed, have never turned up.
Vicki Morgan died in a rented condo at 4171 D Colfax Avenue. Studio City. Exit Ventura Freeway (US 101) at Laurel Canyon, go south to Moorpark, east to Colfax, south to just before the concrete flood control channel.
The Old World Restaurant where in 1970 Bloomingdale first spoke to Morgan, is at 8762 Sunset Boulevard, on the corner of Sunset and Palm. Exit the Hollywood Freeway at Highland, go south to Sunset, then west to Palm.
© 1986, 2012, by Marvin J. Wolf and Katherine Mader
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FROM Marvin J. Wolf
On this page are true stories, magazine articles, excerpts from books and unpublished works, short fiction, and photographs, each offering a glimpse of my life, work and times. Your comments welcome. © Marvin J. Wolf. All rights reserved.