A Burning Cold Morning (Part 50)

Kress Building Pomona California

Kress Building Pomona California

Exactly why Leo thought it would be a good idea to return to Pomona is unknown, but it likely had something to do with his desire to keep track of the investigation into the shooting and Lester.  He realized that he was in danger by returning and vowed to keep a low profile, checking into a boarding house just down the street from the newly erected Kress Building under the name Lee O’Dare.  Knowing that he had enough money to support himself for awhile, he spent most of his time in his room, reading and day dreaming.  When he did venture out he used a variety of disguises and limited how much time he was actually on the street or in other public areas.  He made no friends and brushed off attempts by others to speak with him.  He was very aware of everything around him and would observe the streets outside for long minutes before leaving his room or a store he had reason to visit.  

Leo was actually in more danger than he knew even with his heightened sense of paranoia.  The Los Angeles police detective who had questioned Tom Brinnegan was energetic and resourceful, a veteran of twenty years on the force with a solid reputation for solving cases.  The information he had obtained from Brinnegan made him fairly sure that the Leo O’Malley who had been involved in the robbery was not local to Los Angeles and had likely used a false name.  Also, Leo had slipped up a few times, revealing some small details which would not have meant much except for the fact that Brinnegan proved to be an astute observer and recorder in his own right.  He was able to recount for the detective all of these small facts and that led the officer to start asking around at departments in surrounding communities.  Once he made it to Pomona it did not take long for him and the detectives there to link up the O’Malley and Humbert identities and to conclude that they were likely dealing with the same man.  The two departments agreed to work together in efforts to catch this criminal who had stained both of their communities and also to see what else they could learn about his past history.  All of this had happened in the ten days between the robbery and the day of Leo’s first phone call to the Pomona police department.

He had, of course, thought about it before calling.  He remembered telling the Pomona detective that he was planning to move to Los Angeles but wanted to be kept up to date on the Lester investigation.  He also realized that there was a possibility that his activity in Los Angeles might be linked to his past identity in Pomona, although he thought that was fairly unlikely.  He was confident that he had gone mostly unnoticed while in the bigger city and that Brinnegan knew nothing about him that could identify him.  Mostly though, Leo was driven at this time by his intense desire to see Lester punished for trying to kill him.  That action, that attempted murder, had been a step way beyond anything that Leo was used to or considered to be proper.  He and Lester may have been at odds but they were, after all, fellow members of the criminal world.  There had to be some justice for Leo after such an insult.

Granada Theatre Ontario CA

Granada Theatre Ontario CA

He was careful about it though, hiring a car to drive him to Ontario, California on June 25th and calling back to Pomona from a phone in the lobby of the Granada Theatre.  The conversation was short, with Leo asking for updates and the detective trying to get Leo to say where he was currently residing.  After five minutes Leo hung up in frustration after yelling into the phone, “You better find that murderer and get him locked up!  I’ll be calling you again!” 

That began a game of cat and mouse between Leo and the police department.  While continuing to live at the boarding house in Pomona, he would travel to other cities and call back to the department to insist on updates.   During this time Leo started to have problems sleeping, mostly due to a series of nightmares that replayed the shooting incident, often with the embellishment of his actual death or more prolonged suffering being included.  This lack of sleep eventually led to Leo becoming very ill with a range of symptoms including high fevers, nausea and loss of appetite.  He avoided any interaction with doctor’s as he feared this would lead to his identity being revealed and by July 20th he was weak and delirious along with desperate to get the nightmares out of his head.  Too ill to travel anywhere, Leo could not wait any longer for an update so he walked down to the Kress building, which housed a five-and-dime store, and called the Pomona police from their pay phone.  

1927 Public Pay Phone

1927 Public Pay Phone

That, of course, proved to be a mistake although Leo would not realize it for a couple weeks.  He knew at the time that making the call was not a wise decision but he was so desperate for information that he took the chance, limiting his time on the phone to two minutes.  Although he felt that this was too short of a time for the police to get any useful information on his location, it turned out that the Pomona police were a few steps ahead of him.  Based on some advice from the LA detective, they had alerted all of the city’s operators to take careful note of the origin of all calls requesting the detective section of the Pomona police department.  The operator that day dutifully noted the Kress building as the location where the call came from and the next day the detectives got that information from her.  Realizing that their suspect may well be right back in Pomona, they developed a plan to lure him into the station.  

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 49)

Tom did try to escape, making a break toward the same back office area where Leo had gone, but the officer was telling him to halt or be shot before he made it through the door.  He was taken into custody and, after several hours of unresponsive interrogation, finally told the police most of the truth including that Leo O’Malley had been his accomplice.  A detective took everything down before returning Brinnegan to his cell, stating that he should probably plan on being locked up, “for a good long while.”  

Leo, who had scouted out a secondary escape route to be taken on foot if things went badly, managed to use the alleyways of the area to elude capture.  It had helped that the officer who returned unexpectedly to the station had been alone, and that it took ten minutes for more police to respond to his call for assistance.  By that time Leo was almost a mile away at a city planning commission meeting, an event he had thought might be a good cover during any possible emergency escape from the robbery.  He had actually used the session as part of his planning, a fact he had not shared with Brinnegan, and slipped into the back row just as the chairman called the meeting to order.  He sat their dutifully for the next two hours of discussion, getting sleepy as the adrenaline eased out of his system, nodding off a few times before stepping out to use the restroom.  There, after closing himself into one of the stalls, he got to work.  Breaking the small clasp lock on the briefcase using a pliers he had brought with him, he transferred the money and his now unloaded gun to a black drawstring bag, and then wrapped the briefcase inside a burlap sack.  Stepping outside, he placed the the burlap package behind some large bushes next to the building, tossed his jacket into a trash can and then walked off down the road.  He had taken his glasses off to further alter his appearance, which made for a few challenges as he could not see well without them, but he managed to walk another two miles without incident.  Checking into a nondescript, but not too seedy, motel he drifted off to sleep with the black bag full of money under his pillow.   

The next morning he had some thinking to do.  He realized that he had been fortunate to escape capture the day before and that he was unlikely to get that lucky again.  He did feel a sense of accomplishment despite what had happened, as he felt his back-up planning had went well and he had anticipated possible problems.  The pliers, burlap sack, secondary escape route and hiding in plain view at a public meeting were all things he was sure he would not have thought of earlier in his criminal career.  He was becoming more accomplished and that made him feel good, plus he had all of the robbery money to himself.  Leo knew though that Brinnegan would give him up, in fact he probably already had, and that he needed to inconspicuously leave the area very quickly.  

Diner

Diner

Leo pondered all of this while sitting at a small diner that was associated with the motel, and he was interrupted by a small, thin man who was sitting at the table next to him.

“Hey friend, hey, hello, hello.”  

Leo shook his head, realizing that someone was talking to him.  He looked over and saw the man, dressed in a blue suit and white shirt, a red necktie hanging loosely around his neck.  

“What?” Leo replied.

“You, I was just trying to get your attention but you were way, way off in your dreams, I think?”  The man spoke in a rushed, clipped manner and his voice tended to squeak a little at the end of sentences.  It was fairly irritating.

“I’m thinking, not dreaming.  Leave me alone.” Leo turned his head away as he spoke.

“It’s ok, ok, no problem.  I just figured, you know, just wanted to make sure you were ok.  You were staring off into space for a long time, long time, maybe ten or fifteen minutes.”

“What’s that to you?” Leo snapped back.  “Leave me alone.”

The man inched his chair a foot closer to Leo, blocking the aisle way between the tables.  “Ok, ok, I just thought that maybe you were, you know, like me, out on the road too much and thinking of home.  I do that a lot, you know, a lot of thinking about home.  It’s hard to be out on the road so much isn’t it?
“Who said I’m out on the road?” Leo asked.

“Well, I guess, well I did, you know, because I thought you might be, I am.  I am on the road a lot.”  

Just then a waitress approached and the man had to slide the chair back toward his table.  Leo hoped that would be the end of it, but it was not.  As soon as she had sauntered past, poured coffee two tables away and then walked back, the man pulled his chair right up next to Leo.

“Like I was saying, I’m on the road all the time, all over the place.  Just leaving here today and gotta go to Pomona next, then San Bernadino, Palm Springs, it never ends you know.  But you know, you know, right?  You’re a salesman too, I bet.  What’s your product?”

Leo was very annoyed at this point but had heard one thing that caught his attention.  

“You say you’re going to Pomona?”

“Yes, yes, you going there too?  Maybe we can meet up after the day, you know, have a drink or dinner?  What’s your line, anyway?  Vacuums?”

“Actually, I’m needing to get to Pomona myself.”  Leo was thinking quickly as he spoke.   “My vehicle broke down here the other day, gonna take a few more to have it ready I guess.  You wouldn’t mind giving me a ride, would you?  I could pay for gas, I’ll even buy your breakfast.”

Pomona 1927

Pomona 1927

The man, who then introduced himself as Chuck Creely, eagerly accepted and then talked Leo’s ear off all the way to Pomona.  Leo never did mention what he might be selling or why he needed to get to Pomona, but Creely hardly seemed to care as it was clear he was just lonely and wanted to talk.   When Leo was dropped off, with a false promise to meet up for dinner at five o’clock, he almost felt bad for the man.

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 45)

As it turned out, Stanley did have the nerve to do it, and he quickly left town after taking all of the money he could find in the room, not just the cash that was sewn into Leo’s valise.  He was not sure exactly what prompted him to look through every drawer, every pocket and every piece of Leo’s belongings, but he did it and managed to secure a total of five hundred and eighty-five dollars.  Afterwards he would realize that he was angry at how he had been used, his talent with metals corrupted by a criminal and turned into something bad.  That act had now made it necessary for him to abandon his father and a relatively simple life, making him into a fugitive.  He would understand later that he was scared about the future and that the money made him feel at least a little bit more secure.  In the moment though, rifling through the room at the Mayfair, he just did what felt right and that was to take all of the cash he could find.   Right before he left he paused at the door, reached into the small burlap sack in which he had collected all of the money, and put a twenty dollar bill on the table for Leo.  That way he was not leaving him totally broke.

twenty dollar bill as issued until 1929

twenty dollar bill as issued until 1929

Leo healed slowly at the hospital, experiencing a few complications in the days immediately after Stanley left which had the result of denying the police the opportunity to talk to him.  In the moments he was awake and lucid Leo spent most of his time thinking about how angry he was with Lester and planning out a way to get back at him.  He knew that although the police were currently cutting him some slack due to doctor’s orders, that this would change soon enough and legal trouble could follow.  The remainder of his time was spent doing more reading on civil engineering, his books and other personal belongings having been brought to his room when the hotel officially kicked him out.  Upon the delivery of his property he had soon figured out that all of his money, save the twenty dollars, was gone but he had kept his own counsel about that issue.  It was something he would deal with later.  It was January 3, 1927 when a detective, different from the one who had first spoken to him, next sat down for an extended discussion with Leo.  

“Feeling better?” the detective, a heavy-set, green-eyed and balding man in a black suit, asked. 

“Well, a little but not much.  I’ve had some other issues.”  Leo had decided he was going to play out his injuries for all they were worth, trying to gain extra time to effect some kind of an escape.

“Yes, we were told, but they say you are now healing up pretty quickly.”

“We’ll see,” Leo replied slowly, trying to look as feeble as possible.

The detective went over his story again, pressing him for more personal details and not being as easily dissuaded as the last officer.  After a few minutes of verbal sparring about this the detective closed his notebook.

“Look Leo, you’re going to have to start being straight with me.  I’m going to track down the info on you and something tells me it’s not going to be all charity work and honest employment.”

“You have such little faith in me?”

“I’m not new to this game.  Besides, the Bakersfield PD already called down and want to speak with you.  That surprise you?”

“What do they think I did?” Leo asked.

“Well, they just said they have some questions for you, that’s all.  I guess if they really thought they had something on you, well then they’d be down here to arrest you.  But they do definitely want a chance to talk.”

“Hmm, well, I guess I’ll try real hard to get better than,” Leo replied sarcastically. 

He feigned drifting back to sleep and the detective left, although not before announcing rather loudly that he would be back soon.  Leo did his best to remain in the hospital’s care, coming up with a continuing list of ailments for them to check out, none of which proved to be medically significant.  None, except one that is, as a nurse had informed him that they thought he might be a diabetic but a few more tests would be required.  As all of this was going on, the questioning by the Pomona police continued and then, one day in late February, a Bakersfield officer accompanied the detective.  That interview was difficult for Leo as they did seem to have a good amount of information on his scheme but just not quite enough to arrest him.  He did his best to seem cooperative while not giving them any information that could seal his fate, a plan which worked because the Bakersfield officer left with only an admonition to Leo that he had better never return to the city.  After that, Leo knew his time was running out and he needed to get at least a little bit of distance away from Pomona.  

In his last interview with the heavy-set detective on March 3, 1927, Leo spent most of the discussion stressing that he wanted everything possible done to track down and arrest Lester for attempted murder.  Although he could not know where his old partner had run off to, he did provide what information he knew about his time Washington, Hawaii, and California, just in case that helped in finding him.  As they were talking a nurse came in, telling Leo that it was time for him to go for the additional diabetes tests, but Leo waved her off stating that he felt fine and did not want to have any more needles jabbed into his body.  She protested for a few moments but then withdrew, stating that a doctor would need to come speak with him.  Leo then told the detective that he was planning to move to Los Angeles but would stay in touch and be ready to come back once they apprehended Lester.  Later that day the doctor did speak with Leo, telling him that it was critical that he take part in the tests as an untreated case of diabetes could be deadly.  Leo promised to be more cooperative the next day and then, late that night he packed up his belongings and slipped out of the hotel during a few minutes when there was no one at the nurse’s station. 

van nuys blvd 1926 courtesy ciclavalley.org

van nuys blvd 1926 courtesy ciclavalley.org

He checked into a cheap motel on the outskirts of LA the next morning, registering as Leo O’Malley.  

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 44)

He definitely was much worse than when Stanley had left him in the bed.  The blood had leaked onto the sheets and although Leo opened his left eye when Stanley touched him, he managed only a groan in reply to the question of if he was feeling any better.  Realizing that they had absolutely nothing in the room that was going to be useful in trying to save Leo, Stanley left again and picked up a collection of medical supplies.  Twenty minutes later he was back in the room.  It took another twenty for him to get Leo bandaged up enough to stop the bleeding after which he collapsed into an arm chair, exhausted by the entire ordeal.  He napped for the remainder of the day, getting up hourly to check on Leo and change his bandages when necessary.  At one point, around seven-thirty p.m., his patient was alert enough to be asked just what exactly had happened, and Leo had responded by pointing to the envelope from his sister which still lay on the floor.  After a few more questions, which elicited short, pained answers from Leo, Stanley managed to understand some of what had happened.  By ten o’clock that night, with Leo more responsive and having regained some color in his face, Stanley was feeling pretty good about himself, thinking that he had actually been involved in saving a man’s life.  He drifted off to sleep in the armchair after eating some soup for dinner.

When he awoke at three a.m., neck sore and right arm asleep from the awkward position he had been in, Stanley stumbled over to the bathroom to get a drink of water.  Putting the glass to his lips, he began  drinking while turning around to check on Leo.  As he drained the glass Stanley realized that he had not seen his patient breath once in the entire time since he had gotten up.  Rushing over to the bed, he was relieved to find that although Leo’s respiration was extremely shallow and slow, he was in fact still alive.  Efforts to rouse the injured man failed though and in a panic, not wanting anyone to die on his watch regardless of the consequences, Stanley called the front desk and told them to send an ambulance.  When it arrived the attendants were accompanied by a police officer.

Stanley really did try to bluff the officer but he quickly lost track of the story he was trying to tell and finally broke down and told the truth.  That of course prompted the call for more police and soon a detective showed up just as Leo was being moved out of the room.  Just a few minutes later a reporter arrived and listened in as the detective interviewed Stanley.  They both then escorted him to a vehicle which took them all to the hospital where they were told that Leo was in surgery.  It was ten-thirty the next morning, December 26th, before anyone was allowed in to speak with him.  The detective and reporter both entered Leo’s room at the same time leaving Stanley sipping cold coffee in the waiting area.

Leo told some of the truth during that interview, including clarifying that although the hotel and Stanley all thought the man who shot him was Lorane North, the man’s real name was Robert Lester.  He dodged most of the questions about himself and filled in a few of the details about the supposed “Christmas check” that Stanley had told them was the source of the incident.   After that they left, the detective leaving an officer at the door and the reporter running off to file a story for the next edition of the paper.  When Stanley asked to speak with Leo the young officer on duty would not allow it but several hours later, when he was relieved by a grey-haired and bored looked corporal, he was allowed into the room.   Leo smiled slightly at him as he approached the bed.

excerpt from san bernadino paper on humbert shooting 27 dec 1926

excerpt from san bernadino paper on humbert shooting 27 dec 1926

“You better now?”  Stanley asked.  

“Yeah, yeah.  Much.  Just gotta figure out a way outta this place.”

Stanley looked down at the floor.  “I’m really sorry about getting you here, calling the cops and all.  I mean, I’m sure it’s gonna be trouble for you.  But I thought you were about to die.”

Leo waved a hand weakly in his direction.  “It’s ok.  I could’a done without you telling them what you did but it’s ok.  I probably would’a died back there, so it’s better that I ended up here.”

“I, I just didn’t know what to say.  The cops scare me, honest, they really do.  I just…’” his voice trailed off as he continued to look at the floor.  

“Really, it’s ok.  I’ll fix it.  Now come here, closer,”  Leo replied softly, his voice starting to lessen in strength.  

When Stanley bent down so he could hear, Leo reached an arm up and grabbed him by the back of the head.  His touch was cold and clammy, causing Stanley to wince involuntarily.   He looked up and Leo’s piercing blue eyes were staring at him.

‘You gotta get out of town Stan, you gotta leave.”  His voice was very low, just a faint whisper.

“Why?  What do you mean?  I’ll stay here and make sure they take good care of you.”

“No.  It’s time to get your facts straight.  You know we were breaking the law back in Bakersfield and being tangled up in this thing here ain’t going to make things easy.  They’re gonna get you too.  I might’a got you involved in some stuff you weren’t ready for, so consider this me making up for it.   There’s some money back at the room, it’s sewn into the lining of my valise.  Get back there before they think to collect it up and leave, go far away, and hide.”

Stanley had started to sweat profusely while Leo spoke, suddenly facing up to some of the facts that he had known internally for quite awhile.  He took a handkerchief from his pocket to dry off his face and neck.  

“I can’t, I mean, oh no,”  Stanley replied, wiping his face again.  “I cannot just leave, what about Dad, my stuff back there?”

Leo’s grip on his head had loosened due to the sweat but returned in full force.  “No.  You gotta go now.  Get the money and go.  Try Minneapolis, they’ll never think of looking for you there.”  Leo released his hold after that and closed his eyes, seemingly falling back asleep.  Stanley stood there, hat and wet handkerchief in hand,  wondering if he really had the nerve to follow through on Leo’s advice.  

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 43)

Stanley had gone on a pretty good tour of the hotel, even stepping outside for a few minutes despite Leo’s instructions to not do so.  He had picked the small side entrance door for his quick excursion and was just stepping back inside when he first heard about the shooting.  A tall man, well dressed and with a silver-headed cane, strode past quickly while commenting, “watch out for bullets” in Stanley’s direction.  It had been an odd thing to say and caught him off-guard as he had not heard anything out of the ordinary.  Not thinking too much of it, he continued on down the hallway toward the lobby.  It was the second person who mentioned it, a hotel bellman, that sprung Stanley into action.  That man had stopped him as he entered the lobby saying, “There have been some shots fired inside the hotel, sir.  Manager says all guests are to stay in their rooms until the police get here.” 

elevator 1926

elevator 1926

That comment had scared Stanley and he had complied, turning around and heading for the elevator.  Before he got on, it occurred to him that his roommates could have been involved in the shooting, which left him conflicted about returning to the room.  Stepping off the elevator, he paused in the hallway, listening for anything that might indicate danger.  Instead, he heard a low groan which prompted him to quickly open the door.  

It was obvious from his first look that something had happened in the room as the furniture was out of place and some items had been knocked to the floor.  He could not see either Lester or Leo and at first thought maybe the sound he had heard originated from another room.  He stepped through the door, closed it softly, and was just turning around when he heard it again.  It definitely came from inside this room.  Stanley stepped around the end table which had been pushed into the pathway toward the kitchen and saw Leo lying on the floor by the sofa.  His face was very pale and some drool and blood had leaked from his mouth and run down his cheeks.  The shirt he had on was partially pulled up and soaked in blood, and a small pool of it had also formed on the floor.  Stanley stayed there, frozen in shock, as Leo mumbled softly for help.  It took him so long to recover that his former partner had started to struggle to sit up, which prompted him into action.  Kneeling down, he touched Leo’s shoulder and pushed him back onto the floor.

“Easy, easy.  Lay down and stay still.  I’ll ring for an ambulance.”

“No,” Leo replied in a soft but urgent voice.

“I have to Leo.  I heard about the shots and, well, it’s you that got it.  I can’t fix this and you’re bleeding all over.  You need a doctor.”

“Shh, shut up. No.  I can’t go to any doctor or hospital.  Just help me up.”

“I can’t, I don’t know how to fix you from getting shot.  We need help.”

“We don’t damn it!” Leo snapped back, some strength back in his voice, “Get me up and onto a bed.”

Reluctantly Stanley complied and a few minutes later had managed to get his former partner situated somewhat comfortably, although blood still leaked out of the two bullet wounds.  Leo seemed to pass out for several moments but then woke back up and grabbed Stanley’s arm.  

“Listen, you have to keep the cops out of here.  Did they get called?  Are they here yet?’

“I’m not sure if they’re here but the hotel manger called them I think.  They told me to go back to my room until they arrived.”

“Damn!  How did they know it was our room?”

“Huh?” Stanley replied.  “Oh, no, not that.  I mean, I was in the lobby and they told me that all the guests had to go back to their rooms until the police arrived.  They don’t know nothing about me or us up here.”

“Oh, good, good.”  Here Leo paused and closed his eyes, breathing erratically for a minute or so.  Then he continued.  “Ok, so listen.  You gotta keep them out of here.  I can’t move right now, I gotta rest.  You gotta bandage me up, but that’s for later.  Right now you gotta keep them out of this room.” 

“How the heck am I supposed to do that?  Don’t ya think they will want to talk to all the guests, check their rooms?  I mean, what could I say?”

“I don’t know, I really don’t, but you’re going to have to figure it out.”  Leo then lay back slowly and either fell asleep or passed out, leaving Stanley to ponder what to do next.  It took him a few minutes but then a thought occurred to him and he ran out of the room.  He was just getting to the lobby when the police walked in the front door.  Fortunately, the bellman he had previously spoken with was not present.   Striding up to the officer Stanley began to speak excitedly about how he had been smoking outside the side door and had heard the shots coming from the alleyway that ran behind the hotel.  The officer pointed out that they already had several reports of them coming from inside the hotel, which prompted Stanley to tell about the man he had seen running out of the alley just a few seconds after he heard the sound of shooting.  That seemed to sway the officer who took the description and then stopped the next officer who entered the hotel, saying they had a suspect on foot who had left the scene.   Expecting that his ruse would not last long, Stanley hung around the lobby for another twenty minutes but the police never returned.  He would find out in the next day’s newspaper that his story had become the “facts of the situation” and the police had apprehended a known criminal who fit the description but had the audacity to insist that he had not been involved.  By some fateful stroke of misfortune this unlucky man also had a pistol in his pocket with some empty shells in the chamber. When he read it, Stanley just shook his head at the charmed turn of events that had occurred to cover up the truth.  For now though, once he felt comfortable that they would not be back soon, he rushed back up to the room to check on Leo.  

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 42)

It all began innocently enough, with Christmas breakfast being brought up to the room and Leo, Stanley and Lester telling past Christmas stories about themselves.  Stanley actually dominated the conversation as he had none of the reservations about detailing his past which the other two men possessed.  He told very specific stories, about presents, food, company and decorations, while Leo and Lester limited their contributions to references about the weather or maybe a gift they had received.  It was after the food was gone and the men were drinking coffee that Lester started in on Leo again. 

“Did you open that letter yet?”

“What’s it to you?  I told you it was my own damn business and not yours.”

“Why are you afraid to open it?” Lester taunted back.

“Leave it alone!” Leo replied, “just leave it alone.  Maybe we should all go back to silence.”

“Sounds good to me,” Stanley said.

“Let’s just take a look at it, can I see it?” Lester asked. 

“No, damn it!” Leo shouted back, standing up quickly and pointing, “you just need to leave this whole thing with the letter alone, ok?”

“You sure are a sensitive type, aren’t you?” Lester replied.

Stanley got up, collected the coffee cups and placed them on a tray that sat on the sideboard.  Then,  saying he was going to just go walk around the hallways and lobby to stretch his legs, he left the room.  A few minutes later, Lester also got up and walked toward the door.  However, as he passed by Leo’s overcoat, he quickly reached inside and felt for the pocket, then withdrew his hand.  Leo had turned to watch him and now strode quickly over toward Lester, who stood with the envelope in his hand.

“You give me that, you bastard!”

“Ha!  I knew that was where you stuck it.  Great hiding place.” Lester pushed Leo back as he approached, sending him stumbling lightly into a nearby side table.  “Just settle down.  I just want to see if it’s from that pretty little sister of yours.”

“You better shut up about her and you better give me that letter, right now,” Leo demanded, his face bright red in anger.  

“Come on now, open it up, let’s see if she sent another picture.”

“God damn you! Give it to me and stop thinking about her that way!”  Leo swung and connected with Lester’s side although the blow was partially deflected and did not seem to cause much damage.  The two of them wrestled around for a few moments before Lester turned in an advantageous direction and Leo took the opportunity to snatch the envelope back.  Both men were a little out of breath from the yelling and rough-housing and stood about ten feet apart, collecting their breath.   Three minutes later, Leo sat down and waved the envelope mockingly at Lester.

“Maybe I’ll go ahead and open it now that I have taken it from you.”

Lester did not reply and Leo ripped the edge of the envelope off, snapping it in the air as he did so.  That caused a smaller piece of paper to fly out of the envelope, one which drifted for a second in the air before landing just a few feet from Lester, who promptly picked it up.

“Well, well, my friend, it looks like you have come into a little money here.”

“Give me that,” Leo demanded.

“You just wait,” Lester replied, “because we both know that you owe me a bit of money.”

“Yes, yes I know.” 

“Now, this here check is for one hundred and five dollars, kind of a nice Christmas gift from your pretty sister.”

“You shut up.  You’ll get your money when the bank opens up Monday.”

“And, I have this check and you do not.”

“What does that do for you?  You can’t cash it so what good will it do you?”

“Well, I think we need to negotiate a little change in the repayment terms.  Like, due to my patience, and the fact that I had to come find you here, inconveniences, et cetera, I think you owe me seventy-five dollars now.”

“Bushwa, you crook!  I’ll pay you the fifty and not a penny more.” Leo lunged out of his chair but stopped about a foot from Lester, who was holding up his hand. 

“You did not let me finish, friend.  You pay me seventy-five or I plan a visit to your hotsy-totsy sister, you know, just to strike up an acquaintance, maybe a few dates, marriage, who knows.  I did read the return address on that envelope so finding her shouldn’t be much trouble.”

“I will kill you if you so much as mention her name again.  Now give me that check and I’ll get you your fifty dollars on Monday.”

“Like I said, it’s seventy-five or I start taking up an interest in your sister.”

“You stand up and fight me right now!” Leo shouted, dancing back and forth with his fists cocked up.  “Get up, damn it!  I won’t have this!”

Lester laughed but did not stand up.  Instead he leaned back and looked at Leo, who did not notice he also had slipped a hand behind his back.  

excerpt from san bernadino paper on humbert shooting 27 dec 1926

excerpt from san bernadino paper on Humbert shooting

“I won’t take this!”  Leo then strode over toward the fireplace and picked up the poker.  Whirling around, he rushed at Lester who calmly stood up, pistol in hand, and shot Leo twice.  He then tucked the check into his pocket, took several minutes to collect up his belongings, and walked out of the room while Leo groaned and bled on the floor.  A few minutes later he climbed into an Essex 5 and drove off.

1926 Essex 5

1926 Essex 5

 

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 41)

After a moment of recovery Leo stepped into the doorway to block Stanley from entering.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

“Hi!” Stanley replied brightly, not picking up on the wariness in Leo’s voice.  “Boy, it took a bit to find you, but I did it!  I must have been to every other place in town but I should have started here.  This is a nice place, a good place for you.  Can I come in?” 

Leo repeated his question in a slightly more hostile tone and Stanley’s face reflected that he was getting the message.

“I didn’t mean no offense, I really didn’t.  I just, well, I had to get out of Bakersfield and I knew you were coming here and maybe could help me.  Besides, the mail came,” Stanley said while extending an envelope he had taken from his pocket.

“What? The mail, oh yes, the mail.  My mail, you mean?” Leo replied while looking at the envelope.  “Well, thank you,” he concluded and started to shut the door.

“It’s the police though, that’s why I’m here right now anyway, so fast, I just had to leave so fast.”

Leo stopped closing the door.  “The police?” he inquired.

“Yes, you bet,” Stanley replied in a nervous and excited voice that was gaining in volume, “they were right at Dad’s door,”

“Shut up and get in here,” Leo interrupted, grabbing the other man’s arm and pulling him into the room.  He closed the door promptly and, as he started to question Stanley, Robert walked out of the sitting area that was tucked into one corner of their room.  

Texaco truck circa 1926

Texaco truck circa 1926

It took a few minutes to get the younger Bittenhoffer calmed down but once that was done, the details came out fairly quickly.  Apparently, just the day after Leo had driven out of Bakersfield, the postman had delivered a letter to the clock shop which had been addressed to Leo Humbert.  This particular postman, new to the job just three days ago,  had actually taken the time to ask Stanley a few questions about, “who this Humbert was and why was he getting mail at the clock shop instead of a regular address.”  Stanley had managed to convince him that the addressee in question was a friend who was moving to the area and just needed a temporary place where his mail could be delivered.  As this part of the story was being told Leo had commented that it sure seemed odd that the post office was so interested in that piece of mail and that this did not bode well for his own prospects in the area.  Lester agreed and added they may all of them were in danger and should make plans to leave soon.  Stanley had then continued, revealing that his original plan had been to wait until after Christmas to contact Leo about the mail.  That had all changed later in the day, when he had been walking back to his Dad’s house after going into town to pick up some grocery items.  As he approached there were two policemen standing at the front door, already talking to Ben Bittenhoffer. Stanley had quickly hidden behind a large mulberry bush and watched for several minutes.  Although he could not hear what was being said, it looked like a tense conversation and his father looked extremely confused and worried.  That had been enough to spook Stanley completely and he had grabbed the few items of clothing he kept at the repair shop, some money from the bank and started to figure out how to get out of town and down to Pomona.   He had managed to pick up a ride from a Texaco truck driver headed out of Bakersfield and he had arrived late on the night of the twenty-second.  After a long night spent walking to hotels and boarding houses, and being met with hostility in more than one place due to his early morning inquires, he had finally decided to check the Mayfair.  That caught Leo and Lester up on the story and Stanley had slumped back in the chair with a, “I’m so relieved I found you, now I’ll be safe.”  Lester, who had remained quiet for most of the story, burst out laughing.

“You are about as stupid as I figured you would be,” he commented and walked back into the sitting area.

“What’s he mean by that?” Stanley asked.

“Never mind it.  Just let me think,” Leo replied.

After fifteen minutes or so, during which Stanley fell asleep, Leo sat silently, staring at the fake flowers in a vase on the mantle of the fireplace.  Then he got up and walked over to where Lester was sitting, reading the paper.  What followed was an argument that managed to wake up Stanley, who then overheard the details of how much Lester wanted him out of the room, Leo’s insistence that he needed to look after him, and both of their desire to get out of town quickly.  When they finished, Stanley feigned still being asleep and then “woke up” five minutes later.  

“What are we going to do now?” he asked Leo.

“We’re all going to stay right here in this room for now, and that means no one leaves.  We can’t be out on the streets right now.”

“But, this is Pomona.  They aren’t looking for us here.” 

“Boy, you really are,” Lester started, then cut himself off following a glare from Leo.  “Listen, here’s some information.  Police talk to each other, okay?  Pomona cops could easily be looking for us too.”

“Really?  I didn’t, I mean, yeah, I understand.  I guess I do.  So what do we do?”

“We stay here,” Leo repeated, “so just settle in and stay quiet.”

They passed a few hours in relative silence, Lester calling down for lunch for all of them around noon and managing to carry on a civil discussion with Stanley about clocks as they ate.  Just as they were finishing, Lester asked Leo a question.

“You know, you never did open that letter, did you?”

“Don’t worry about it, it’s none of your concern.”

“Well, I mean the man did come all this way to bring it to you,” Lester replied while gesturing over at Stanley, “don’t ya think we should see what it’s all about?”

“It’s personal, so shut up about it,” Leo snapped back at him.

“Sure, sure,” Lester replied with a sly smile.

The three of them managed to get through that day and the next, passing Christmas Eve playing cards, napping and reading newspapers.  They all even shared a small spice cake for dessert and listened through the windows to some carolers outside the hotel.  It was a pleasant night overall and none of them would have believed that the next day, Christmas, would include an attempted murder. 

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 40)

View of Pomona, CA

View of Pomona, CA

It was only about one hundred and forty miles from Bakersfield to Pomona but Leo took his time, stopping twice to eat some sandwiches he had brought with him and once to hide when he thought someone was following him.   He also stopped to assist a woman and her son who were having some car problems and had pulled off on the side of the road.  He had enough knowledge to get their vehicle running again and was rather pleased when the woman called him a, “heaven sent stroke of good luck,” before she drove off.  Leo was not much for providing such acts of kindness but he admitted to himself that it made him feel pretty good, in a way that was different than when he pulled off a scheme or outwitted the police.  He drove without stopping again after that and by the time he actually drove over the hills and down into the “Queen of the Citrus Belt” it was evening and he was fairly tired. 

Pomona Hotel in better days

Pomona Hotel in better days

He took a room for the night at the Pomona Hotel, left most of his belongings in the car, and went to bed before ten o’clock.  At six a.m. he was awoken by a persistent knocking on the door.  When he opened it he found the smiling face of Robert Lester, who was holding two cups of coffee in his hands.

“Good morning friend.  I though you might want some room service.”

Leo, who had been quite startled to find his former partner standing there, recovered quickly.  Rubbing his hand across his face and feigning indifference he replied.  “Well, I don’t remember ordering anything but sure I’ll take some coffee if you’re bringing it to me.”

“Good, good, here you go,” Lester replied, pushing past Leo and walking into the small room.  “Not exactly the best place in town but I guess it suits you, huh?”

“It was late when I got in and this place was right on the road.  I took it and figured to look around today for something better.”

“Well, that’ll be the Mayfair for sure, if you’re figuring to step up a bit around here.  It’s a nice place but a bit expensive to live at, ya know?” Lester was grinning too much as he spoke and Leo realized what he was looking for although he was not going to give him satisfaction on that if he could help it.

“Hmm, well I’ll see about it when I go out.  Right now I’d like to have some peace and quiet.”  

“I can help you look around, we can look around together, check things out,” Lester replied, sitting his empty cup down on the floor.

“Sounds like you already know the place.  Why don’t I meet you somewhere later?”

There was no reply from Lester who had gotten up and was looking out the one window in the room, seemingly lost in thought.  Leo opened the door and stood to the side.

“I’ll see you later, Rob.”

Lester turned around slowly and walked up to Leo, stopping when the two were face to face.  “I know you’re wondering how I found you, and you’ll just have to keep on wondering my friend.  Take it as fact though that I can find you and I won’t be forgetting about my fifty dollars.  You go look around then and I’ll meet you for lunch at the Mayfair.”

“Maybe you will,” Leo replied defensively.

“I will.” 

Lester left without another word and Leo sat down on the bed, shaken on the inside more from the fact Lester had found him so quickly than by the actual encounter.   An hour later he checked out of the hotel and drove toward the center of town.  If he was going to stay around for awhile he wanted to be closer to the action.  By eleven a.m. he had grudgingly admitted to himself that Lester was right and the Mayfair Hotel was exactly the place he needed to stay at in Pomona.  The manager told him that there would be a room coming available later in the day and Leo, who had only had the cup of coffee as breakfast, sat down to eat lunch in their restaurant.  He found a little bit of humor in the fact that Lester had been correct but was not looking forward to having the fact brought up whenever his former partner arrived.   Ten minutes later Lester slid into the chair directly across from Leo and laughed right in his face.

Mayfair Hotel Pomona CA

Mayfair Hotel Pomona CA

“Pretty smart, aren’t I?” Lester asked after he had regained his composure.

“Fuck off,” Leo shot back loudly which turned the heads of a few nearby diners.

“Little testy aren’t ya?  Just lighten up a little my friend, I knew this place would appeal to you, that’s all.  Don’t take it so hard.”

Leo did not reply but resumed eating and neither of them spoke again until their meals were complete.  Shifting back in his chair while sipping on a whiskey, Lester nodded toward the approaching manager.

“Coming to get you for your room, I think.  How about you and me share it?  I could use a place to sleep for a bit and it’ll make it easier for me to keep an eye on my money.”

“Not likely.  Why would I want you around me that much?  Besides, I’m sure it’s a single set up so there’s nowhere for you to sleep.”

“It’s a double.  And you want me living here with you so I don’t follow you all over town.  That’ll get rather bothersome I suspect.”

Leo glared back at Lester.  

“Sir, your room will be ready in a few minutes.  Please come to sign the registration documents,”  the hotel manager asked.

“I don’t suppose it has a second bed, does it?”  Leo replied.

“Certainly it does sir.  Is that ok?”

“Yes, yes.  This gentleman will also be staying with me.”

“Very well.  I’ll need you both to sign of course.”

“Of course,” Leo replied sharply as he got up and followed the man, Robert Lester trailing close behind with a satisfied look on his face.   They registered as Leo Humbert and Lorrane North and twenty minutes later had settled into the nicely furnished two bedroom suite on the third floor of the hotel.  

The next morning, December 23rd, Leo experienced a sense of deja vu as he was awakened again by persistent knocking on the door.  He opened it and was met with yet another surprise when he saw Stanley Bittenhopper standing in the hallway, nervously tapping his fingers together and humming an unrecognizable tune under his breath.  

…to be continued