Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Review: Crime Buff's Guide to Outlaw Los Angeles

Crime Buff's Guide to Outlaw Los Angeles

Ron Franscell
WildBlue Press, 2017

Review by Robert A. Waters

In the city of dreams, nightmares haunt its sad streets like a plague. For everyone who makes it big, thousands, maybe millions, fail. Most do not revert to crime, but Crime Buff's Guide to Outlaw Los Angeles describes several hundred who did. There's the brutal, the wacky, and the mysterious crimes solved and unsolved. And, as an added bonus for the visitor or researcher, you can turn on your GPS and head directly to where these murders unfolded.

Los Angeles is unlike most cities. It was built on fantasy, and continues to enthrall the masses in the heartland. Film stars live in mansions while ghettoes steam like volcanoes ready to explode. But whether you live the high life or the low life, almost everyone seems dependent on some form of illicit drug.

Even the stars who have fame and ka-trillions of dollars can't seem to hold their lives together. The first story in Outlaw Los Angeles describes the murder of Lana Clarkson. A waitress at a high end bar, the House of Blues, Clarkson's dreams of movie stardom was fading with each passing year. So when music mogul Phil Spector entered the restaurant, Clarkson may have felt a spark of hope. When he insisted that she come home with him, she did so. Sometime during the night, a gunshot rang out and Lana Clarkson ate a .38-caliber slug. After two trials, Spector was convicted of second-degree murder. It turns out that the world-famous music producer hated being alone, and may have killed Clarkson because she saw how weird he was and wanted to leave.

When a celebrity dies, cover-ups are the norm. George Reeves, AKA Superman, committed suicide. Or did he? Gangster and serial wife-beater Johnny Stompanato was killed by Lana Turner's fourteen-year-old daughter, Cheryl Crane. Or was he? Marilyn Monroe overdosed. Or did she?

Some of the world's best defense attorneys seem to reside in LA for one purpose: to keep the stars out of prison. Robert “In Cold Blood” Blake was tried for killing his grifter wife, Bonnie Lee Bakley, but he was acquitted, leaving many questions unanswered. Michael Jackson beat the rap on child molestation charges.  O. J. Simpson's acquittal shook America but launched the careers of several lawyers. 

What happens when the world's biggest porn star becomes diseased and impotent? Since this is Hollywood, he turns to buying, selling, and using cocaine. Coke eats into bank accounts like cancer, so John Holmes soon became desperate for a quick cash fix. Cops accused him of setting up the robbery and brutal murders of his dealer and the dealer's cronies. Or did he commit the murders himself? We'll never know because Holmes was acquitted of the murders. But he wasn't acquitted of AIDS—he died of the disease a few years after his trial.

Serial killers flock to LA like vultures. The Hillside Stranglers. The Lonely Hearts Killer. Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker. But one of the strangest was Rodney Alcala. A creepy-looking dude, he actually appeared on The Dating Game...and WON—while he was wanted for child-rape and attempted murder. Alcala eventually plea-bargained those charges down to 38 months. As soon as he was out on the streets, he assaulted a schoolgirl and served two more years behind bars. Before he was caught the final time, he had murdered seven women and girls. Alcala currently sits on California's unused Death Row.

Outlaw Los Angeles is one of those books you can't put down. Every page seems more interesting than the last, and when the reader finishes reading it, he wants to contact the author and ask for Outlaw Los Angeles II.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

A Soldier's Sacrifice

"This just ain't our day" 
by Robert A. Waters 

On a hill overlooking Omaha Beach, a cemetery sits bearing row after row of white marble crosses and an occasional star of David.  It's the American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer.  Beneath those simple headstones lie the remains of 9,386 soldiers, most of whom died during the Normandy invasion. 

More than 70 years ago, at 0645 hours, on June 6, 1944, D-Day began. 

A big, strapping 26-year-old redhead from Virginia, Jimmie Waters Monteith, Jr., was in the first wave of soldiers who stormed onto Omaha Beach.  First Lieutenant Monteith commanded a platoon of 51 men from Company E, the 16th Infantry unit of the U. S. Army's 1st Division.  Before they even reached shore, disaster struck—their landing craft got stuck on a sandbar 75 yards from the beach.  Weighed down with supplies and weapons, many advancing soldiers drowned while others were picked off by the withering German fire. 

Within minutes of their ill-fated landing, half the men in Monteith's platoon were dead. 

Several dozen amphibious tanks had been assigned to provide support, but almost all bogged down in the mud.  As Monteith, who had miraculously made it to shore, looked back and saw the tanks floundering and exploding after being hit by shells, he exclaimed, "Man, one thing's for sure, this just ain't our day." 

Sgt. Aaron B. Jones, a squad leader in Monteith's platoon, described the scene, and Monteith's heroism: 

"When we hit the beach the air was thick with machinegun, rifle, and shell fire.  Lt. Monteith brought his men together and they faced the first obstacle, layers of heavy barbed wire.  After selecting a place where it could be blown open, he led men with a Bangalore torpedo in blasting the wire open. 

"Beyond this were two mine fields and he led the way through these.  The field was traversed by machinegun fire from two enemy emplacements and from a pillbox, and when the men took cover, he stood studying the situation and then ran back to the beach. 

"On the beach were two tanks, buttoned up and blind because of heavy machinegun fire that was directed on them.  [Lt. Monteith] walked through all that fire to bang on the sides of the tanks and instruct the men inside to follow him.  Then, walking in front, he led the tanks to the pillbox, where they put it out of action.  He then led his men against two machinegun positions and knocked them out and then set up a defensive position to hold until more units could be brought from the beach. 

"In that sector the enemy was not fighting from fixed positions but was moving around in the hedgerows and setting up automatic weapons.  In this manner, a fairly large group started an attack on [our] position and set up machineguns on the flanks and rear.  The Germans yelled to us to surrender because we were surrounded.  Lt. Monteith did not answer but moved toward the sound of voices and launched a rifle grenade at them from 20 yards, knocking out the machinegun position. 

"Even with a larger force the Germans couldn't break through our positions, so they set up two machineguns and started spraying the hedgerow.  Lt. Monteith got a squad of riflemen to open up on the machinegun on the right flank.  Under cover of fire he sneaked up on the gun and threw hand grenades, which knocked out the position. 

"He then came back and crossed a 200-yard stretch of open field under fire to launch rifle grenades at the other machinegun position.  He either killed the crew or forced them to abandon the weapon.  Back on the other flank enemy riflemen opened up on us again, and Lt. Monteith started across the open field to help us fight them off but was killed by the fire of a light machinegun that had been brought to our rear." 

In his article, "Agony at Omaha Beach," Pete Lamb wrote that Monteith "single-handedly turned defeat into victory on that bullet-swept, corpse-strewn beach-head called Omaha." 

Jimmie Waters Monteith, Jr. is buried at Colleville-sur-Mer, Section I, Row 20, Grave 12.  Among other awards, he received a Medal of Honor and Purple Heart. 

NOTE: Much of the information about Lt. Monteith came from an article by Clara B. Cox in Virginia Tech Magazine.  Monteith attended Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University  (now Virginia Tech) for two years.