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Authors: Robert Graysmith

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BOOK: The Laughing Gorilla
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Golden’s phone rang. He listened, then hung up. His face was ashen. “Frank Egan had escaped from jail,” he said.
“It has to be an inside job,” Dullea said. “Someone in the SFPD facilitated Egan’s escape.”
How deep the bought illegalities and official venality ran he could only guess.
The investigator at the scene must protect the deceased person’s property, attempt to uncover any facts that tend to throw light on the cause of death, and protect the evidence at the scene.
over San Francisco newsboys trumpeted: “Police deny hint escape was ‘staged,’” and “Who left the loopholes through which Egan fled last Saturday?” Many citizens believed Chief Quinn had allowed Egan to escape because he knew too much about graft conditions in the city and had to stay at large. To counter rumors of police complicity in the flight, the chief went on the radio again. “We’ll be glad to listen to any information Egan has of misdeeds by any member of the police department involving criminal activities,” he said, then challenged him to a personal showdown to discuss the allegations.
If Egan was not speedily found Mayor Angelo Rossi said he was giving “very serious consideration to the desirability of a shakeup and an investigation into the Police Commission and police department.”
“We put guards on Egan several times,” Golden said, “but always had to take them off when Hallinan complained we were violating his civil rights. But if the police and district attorney were fearful of Egan’s disclosures they would have passed it off as a hit-and-run accident and nothing further would have come of it. We will welcome Egan’s surrender and are confident that he will turn up, dead or alive.”
“By all means let him come in and tell us everything he knows,” added Dullea, “no matter whom it hits. We would like to hear anything he might care to tell us about the murder of Mrs. Hughes. Second, we’ll be glad to listen to any information he has of misdeeds by any member of the police department involving criminal activities. We did not arrest Egan earlier because the DA advised against it on the grounds that it would be exceedingly bad strategy to move before we had a case on which he could be held in prison once we put him there.”
Although he couldn’t find Egan, Dullea knew where Dr. Housman was and arrested him. “I am innocent of any charges that might be made against me,” the doc said from his cell, “tending to implicate me with the alleged murder of Mrs. Jessie Scott Hughes.”
As police searched for Egan in the hills surrounding Emerald Lake, the fugitive was partying inside Hallinan’s cabin with dark-haired, lovely Vivian Moore. When he heard Doran’s confession over the radio, he drove Hallinan’s car back to San Francisco to surrender. At the HOJ, Chief Quinn, in civvies, hat tilted over his right eye and a cigar in his mouth, questioned Egan publicly. A small tape recorder in a glass case on the desk was running as reporters and cops crowded around. Egan was dressed immaculately, plaid handkerchief peeking from his breast pocket. His mouth was drawn tight.
“Have you anything to disclose to me at this time that might show any crooked alliances between the chief of police,” Quinn asked, “or all or any members of the police department and any criminals, either organized or unorganized?”
“No, of course not,” Egan said flatly. “I have no disclosures to make about the corruption in the department.”
“Do you feel on account of me being chief of police that you might not be at liberty to disclose any information you may have, to me, on account of my position, or on account of the fact that I may be allied with the certain criminals referred to?”
“Absolutely no. I know you to be honest and conscientious in your duties.”
“Would you prefer to talk to someone higher in authority than me, the Board of Police Commissioners or President of the Board, Theodore J. Roche?”
“No. I have nothing to disclose to anybody.”
Although the escape and Egan’s demeanor had convinced Dullea there
something to disclose, he mollified himself that Egan was as bad as it would get. In the meantime he and McGinn investigated two unsolved murders. On May 15, a cousin of a municipal court judge, Will McCann, had been dumped at Marin and Kansas streets. Three days later bootlegger Luigi Malvese was gunned down in front of the Del Monte Barbershop. McGinn knew Genaro Campanello was the killer, but before he could locate him, the chief sacked him.
Quinn assigned Captain Arthur Layne, commander of the Central District Station, to replace him. Layne was a widower with five sons, $1,800 in the bank, a mortgaged home, and a reputation as the scourge of Barbary Coast gambling interests. In other words, he was an honest cop. At Central Station, Quinn replaced Layne with Captain Fred Lemon, a bull-necked thug. After Layne effectively swept the Tenderloin, arresting grifters, gambling syndicate thugs, and prohibition gangs, the chief sent him on a long vacation. Layne never returned to Central Station where he was so desperately needed, but ended his days running the Police Academy, making sure officers could type. Such was the reward of an honest cop in San Francisco.
On June 4, McGinn captured Tinnin and held him incommunicado at the Whitcome Hotel under security so tight Tinnin’s own mother sought legal action to learn where he was sequestered. Tinnin claimed that the day of Josie’s murder between 7:30 P.M. and 11:00 P.M., he was in Mrs. Burton Darren’s hotel apartment trying to interest her in an invention. The “inventor,” Frank Yelavich (with whom Tinnin had been tried for robbery in 1916), didn’t keep his appointment. Mrs. Darren wasn’t any more reliable. A year earlier, she had been arrested on two charges of violation of the Corporate Securities Act and one charge of Grand Theft. Egan had represented her in court. Nine days later, McGinn drove to the Salinas Hotel and brought back the register Tinnin had signed to forge “the final link in the story.” Now that Dullea had all the conspirators in hand, he could pit them against each other.
Those in law-and-order circles, sick of the devious tricks Egan had been using to get guilty criminals off, had been floating a ballot proposition to abolish the public defender’s office. His continued association with his ex-con clients long after their cases had been disposed of made abolition of the office a real possibility for the first time. “Naturally it cannot be suggested lightly that the office be abolished since it was created by the people,” said State Senator Roy Fellom, author of the act creating the office in 1921. “It was never the intention that it was to be used for the defense of seasoned criminals, but to provide counsel for defendants too poor to hire lawyers.”
It was functioning well in other California cities, but not in San Francisco, where Egan’s staff seemed “unnaturally large.”
The Hughes murder trial began on August 8 before Judge Frank Dunne, who had adjudicated the historic police graft cases in the 1920s. As Egan was led into court in handcuffs, a man detached himself from the crowd and lunged at him. “My wife was one of your victims,” Ed Cook screamed. “You and Dr. Housman took her away in an ambulance and kept her a virtual prisoner. You placed powders in her drinks and after she signed over her property you bastards let her die.”
Jailers held Cook back—“Pull yourself together, mister.”
As murder charges against the conspirators were read, Doran locked his eyes on the floor, Tinnin looked straight ahead, and both moved perceptibly away from Egan. By the time the clerk finished, a wide gap separated all three. Tinnin was represented by Nate Coghlan and Egan by Vince Hallinan and William McGovern.
When the defense put former San Quentin convict Charles Colonna on the stand, he suggested Doran had killed Josie himself during a botched burglary. “I met Doran on Mission Street a week before the murder,” Colonna said, “and he tried to interest me in burglarizing a woman’s house by Balboa Park.”
Next, Doran’s county jail cellmate testified Doran said he was going to give up Egan and Tinnin “to save his own skin.”
“It seems that [Egan] is to be made the victim of a police persecution,” Hallinan said, “similar to another internationally known scandal that has disgraced the police annals of San Francisco.”
The 1922 conviction of radical labor activist Tom Mooney had resulted from a frame-up engineered by the DA with the complicity of the SFPD. Hallinan called Egan to the stand as his final witness. By restricting his direct questioning to the murder day and preceding day he got Egan’s denial on record while denying the prosecution the chance to cross-examine him about earlier events. “Josie recently had begun to let friends use her garage for parking,” Egan testified, claiming she had told him by phone that she had just scrubbed the garage floor.
On September 2 at 4:00 P.M., prosecutor Golden was engaged in the last minutes of his closing argument when Vince Hallinan made “unduly loud, boisterous, harsh, offensive and contemptuous” interruptions and was hauled to the county jail for twenty-four hours. In his absence Golden continued: “You have heard what Doran said about borrowing Postel’s car to take Egan riding, of later paying Postel $1.50 from Egan for oil and gasoline.”
As the jury was closeted the next day to begin deliberations, Dullea said ominously, “I fear we have only scratched the surface yet.”
On Tuesday, September 6, the jury was ready to return its verdict. Hallinan was not permitted to return and Acting Public Defender Gerald Kenny took his place. Though the “friendliest relation” between Kenny and Egan was apparent, he was unaware of his place on Egan’s death list. In only ten minutes, the jury returned verdicts of first-degree murder against Egan and Tinnin, who were each sentenced to a quarter century in prison. Years later, when Egan’s attorney, Vince Hallinan, was asked about Egan’s claim of innocence he only smiled and rolled his eyes. Doran went to Folsom on a manslaughter conviction and under protection from any inmates who might injure him for having turned state’s evidence. He was assigned to Dormitory No. 2, the “old man’s dormitory” separated from the yard by a locked iron gate.
On September 9, the press revealed that Dullea had foreknowledge of the plot. “From what Egan had said over the Dictograph,” said Dullea, “I knew in a general way where to look for his men—among the former convicts for whom he had obtained parole and given jobs.”
Alameda County DA Earl Warren, when asked what he would have done about the wiretap if he were Dullea, replied, “I would have destroyed the transcripts and killed everyone who knew about them.”
Nate Coghlan said he liked Dullea personally but thought he should find another line of work. “I don’t see much of a future for the captain,” he said.
These were tough times for Dullea, who continued to be tortured by the thought he could have saved Josie Hughes. If only he had been more forceful, if only he hadn’t hesitated, if only. . . . At times a cold shadow fell over Dullea. Then he heard that mirthless chortle on a shadowed staircase. The Gorilla Man had laughed and hefted his huge Bible, and the city had been afraid, and then the nation. Three thousand miles away, for the first time in over four years, the shadow of the Gorilla Man stretched over a bloodstained carpet. A razor was clutched in his huge hand.
In New York, mobster “Monk” Eastman, barrel-chested, with long arms and a bulldog jaw, killed twenty men with his bare hands and could crack a beer keg with his enormous knuckles.
, October 21 was a typical New York day. Senator Wagner, the labor senator, was leading a protest against the Nazi treatment of Jews and calling for a boycott of German goods. On that day the Erie Railroad had just advertised a New York to Chicago World’s Fair round trip with two nights in a hotel plus fair admission for $24.75. It was also a day of turmoil and excitement and especially of unexpected and unexplained deaths.
On that day, the best-known cabby in the Village, Edward Tyrrell, for thirty years the Hotel Brevoort’s driver, died while driving his horse and open barouche to the stable. The horse knew the route and finished the trip with a dead man at the reins. On that day, on the island park in Allen Street between Delancey and Rivington streets, two gray-haired women sat pleasantly talking and eating grapes. One was poor. The other had $6,305 in the bank. Two hours passed before both women pitched onto the concrete walk—suicides by poisoned grapes. On that day, the evicted family of Joe Romola, a bookkeeper, stood freezing around a pile of their household goods. Their landlord had stacked them in front of their former home at 851 West 177th Street. He did not want to accept Romola’s home relief rent vouchers because the city was slow to pay. The eldest child grew deathly ill and would not last the night. And on that day over on 70th Street in Brooklyn, lawyer A. B. Epstein, depressed over his meager earnings, blew himself up in his basement with a stick of dynamite.
But the worst death of the day had been the last. Wilhelm Johnston; his wife, Florence W. (aka Margaret Johnston); and their two kids, William and Margaret, lived in a Washington Heights apartment. Around four o’clock they’d shopped at the A&P around the corner. They bought a pound of porterhouse for 35¢ and a half pound of chuck for 9¢. They seemed happy enough, but later that night neighbors heard piercing laughter issuing from their third-floor rooms. A voice, louder than the other, seemed to be speaking in a foreign language, possibly Swedish. At 11:00 P.M. a heartrending shriek echoed from their apartment, then a second. Finally silence. Neighbors called the police.
Two New York cops pushed past a dozen tenants and at the middle turn, where the stairs changed direction, found a large blood stain. Forcing the Johnston’s door, they entered with drawn guns to find the lights blazing and the apartment in wild disorder—furniture thrown in all directions and a shattered pot on the floor. They hurried from the living room to the bathroom to the kitchen, really only a closet arrangement of a disappearing sink and stove called a kitchenette. The back of a mechanical refrigerator separated the kitchenette from the rest of the apartment—a small bedroom and the master bedroom. Florence was dead on her bloodstained bed, strangled, stripped, and horribly autopsied with a razor. But four people lived here. Where were the other three? A large stain of blood on the landing, as large as the one Officer Malcolm had left, suggested a body or bodies had been dragged down the stairs. At 11:45 P.M. police located the Johnstons’ children at a neighbor’s down the block. They could tell the police no more than they already knew, which was nothing, and authorities began dragging the river for Wilhelm. The Johnstons were just the beginning of a long chain of motiveless crimes that would involve a San Francisco Gorilla Man and Captain Dullea.
BOOK: The Laughing Gorilla
11.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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