Chapter 9 ~ The Frolic Room & The Crown Grill

Elizabeth Short lived in Hollywood for much of the last four months of her life, and while some assumed she was working at Western Airlines or at the airport in Burbank, or elsewhere,  she was, in reality, unemployed and quickly becoming a bar scene regular.

* * *

Beth was known at Steve Boardner’s on Cherokee, just a few blocks from the Chancellor, where she lived, and at Melody Lane at Hollywood and Vine. They knew her at Tom Breneman’s Vine Street restaurant, where the popular radio program, Breakfast in Hollywood was broadcast. She was seen at Brittingham’s, next to CBS on Sunset Boulevard, and on Hollywood Boulevard at the Four Star Grill, Bradley’s 5 and 10, and at the Florentine Gardens.

* * *

Daniel Jackson was a private investigator  for Lucian C. Wheeler in the Equitable Building at Hollywood and Vine in the 1940’s.  He dated a girl named Marjorie, who worked as a secretary for a theatrical agency in the Pantages Building next door.

Jackson occasionally had drinks with Chuck Morgan nearby at the Frolic Room on Hollywood Boulevard.  Morgan described himself,  “as an expert mechanic, particularly on racing cars,” according to Jackson.  One day in November, 1946,  when Daniel and Marjorie were drinking in the Frolic Room, Chuck Morgan walked in with another man and Beth Short.

Jackson said, “I was working under cover on a studio strike taking place at that time, and I had been working day and night and keeping going by drinking whiskey and Benzedrine, and anything I could do not to sleep -.”

Morgan and the others joined Jackson and Marjorie. Morgan asked them if they would like to join his party and go for a ride. Jackson said, “-having probably had too much to drink , I agreed.”  They left with Morgan in his older model Ford sedan.  They eventually made their way downtown.  “I would say down on Los Angeles Street or San Pedro Street- someplace.” They  “stopped in a dark street in lower Los Angeles. Chuck got out of the car and went away and returned in about five minutes.”    Then, they headed back to Hollywood, making a few more stops. The group drove to  Sunset Boulevard and went to the El  Zarape, 2905 Sunset Boulevard, where Daniel and Marjorie separated and took a taxi back to the Frolic Room.

Later, after the murder, Jackson recalled the evening, but was never sure of the name of the girl that accompanied the group downtown.  He described  her, saying “She was  a brunette, very black hair, dark hair -.”

Jackson later found out that Chuck Morgan and the man that was with them that night were arrested for armed robbery and assault, he believed.  He and a friend, Tom Bickmore,  also a patron of the Frolic Room, went to visit Morgan in jail.

Jackson said:

I think as I remember, our conversation with Morgan, that he had been arrested several days or – I don’t remember how much time between his arrest and the murder.  After the murder took place and the pictures were in the paper- the pictures of this girl looked like the girl that was with Chuck Morgan very much, and that evening that Morgan was with this girl he told me that he and this other fellow had either met her in San Diego or picked her up in San Diego and brought her to Los Angeles, and as I remember she was supposed to  have been working in a burlesque house in San Diego, and there was some reference to San Diego in the newspapers following the murder, which also made me think of this girl.  So, in a conversation with a friend of mine- Tom Bickmore, who was a police reporter for the Los Angeles Examiner, I mentioned this incident to him and he said that Chuck was in the County Jail, which was the first I knew where Chuck was, and Tom said, “Let’s go up and talk to Chuck,” so using his credentials as a reporter, Tom and I went to the attorney’s room in the County Jail and talked to Chuck Morgan.

When Jackson and Bickmore asked Morgan if the girl he brought into the Frolic Room that night was Beth Short, Morgan replied, “Yes, it was,” according to Jackson. They also said she, “was a user of marijuana and frequented places that degenerates frequented,”  Jackson remembered.

Investigators told Jackson, “We do know it to be a fact that Beth Short was in that cocktail bar and around that locality numerous times just before  her murder.”

* * *

The Crown Jewel Cocktail Room, at 754 South Olive Street, in downtown Los Angeles was a favorite drinking spot of Elizabeth Short and her friends, according to Frank Jemison. He testified before the 1949 Grand jury hearings about his investigation. In a written statement he said that, “Elizabeth Short and her friend Marjorie Graham and Anne Toth were known drinking customers of this bar located at 9th and Olive, which is two blocks from where Elizabeth Short was last seen alive.”

Several employees of the Crown Grill identified Elizabeth Short as a regular customer. Frances Campbell, a waitress there, identified Beth by a photo shown to her by authorities. She was working at the Crown on January 9, but said she did not remember seeing Beth that night. According to Lt. Jemison, “Officer Ed Barrett was told by a bartender in the Crown Grill that victim was in there that night alone.”

Two other waitresses, Bernice Smith and Majorie Underorbok “all knew victim as a customer of this bar two blocks from the Biltmore Hotel,’ Jemison said. He also stated that Joe Scalise, a Black Dahlia murder suspect, “was a bartender on duty the night of January 9, 1947 at the Crown Grill, the night Short was last seen alive. He was bartender on the Olive Street side. It will be remembered that victim Short was last seen alive walking in the direction of this bar as she left the main door of the Hilton on the Olive Street side. This suspect had a reputation for being high-tempered with any woman who would not date with him after closing time. When questioned at his home in the Adson hotel he appeared very nervous and stated, ‘Yes, her body was found right over here’ (pointing to where it was found eight blocks away) and said, ‘I was sleeping in a room right across the hall at the time.’ But he denied that her photograph looked familiar to him as a customer of the bar.”

Beth had been to the downtown area many times in the past. Anne Toth recalled dropping her off near the Biltmore about two weeks prior to her leaving for San Diego on December 6. Anne’s boyfriend, Leo Hymes, recalled the drive downtown to Frank Jemison:

I know it was a rainy day. Anne was with me; we took her downtown somewhere.  Either she had an argument; was going away or something.  Now I think I gave Anne the car at that time; I got out on Eighth Street; I believe she was going to take her somewhere – I don’t quite remember.  I know it was raining to beat the – because that is why I know it was at that time, but I don’t  know if she was going away on a trip.  It seems to me she was mad about something.

When Jemison asked him if she could have been going to the Biltmore, Leo replied, “It’s strange, but I really think she did.  I wouldn’t swear to it, but it seems to me there was some comment about the Biltmore – maybe she was going to catch a plane or train or -.”

At the time, Leo’s office was on the corner, close to the Crown. He said, “Well, I used to eat there quite a bit; that would be at noon, but I would say I would go in there, oh, late in the afternoon different times.  I knew the boys there that owned the place.  In fact I am very friendly with them right now.” He also said he would drink there at night.  “Yeah, lots of times.”

But he never saw Elizabeth Short at the Crown Grill.

* * *

FBI Report

According to the FBI Black Dahlia files, Elizabeth Short met an enlisted soldier by the name of Peter Anthony Vetcher near the Crown Grill and the Biltmore Hotel in September of 1946.

First Sergeant Vetcher was stationed at Fort McClellan in Alabama. He was in California with another soldier, First Sergeant Charles Moffett to return an AWOL soldier to Ft. McClellan. Both men were given unofficial leave to sight-see around Los Angeles for a few days. Vetcher was a decorated solder who was held prisoner during the war in Stalag 3B near Fuerstenberg, Prussia. His capture was first reported to the International Committee of the Red Cross on January 30, 1944. He was held prisoner for at least 526 days. He was older than Beth, born in 1915.

Sergeant Vetcher said he wrote the LAPD after the murder, but said the police never contacted him. Eventually, he was interviewed by FBI “special agents” on March 27, 1947. He recounted his story to the agents.

On September 20, 1946, he “proceeded to downtown Los Angeles.” He then, “wandered around the downtown section of Los Angeles until about 1:45 P. M., when he stopped and stood leaning against the wall of a store on the corner of what he recalls was 6th and Olive Streets. While he was idly watching the passers-by, he observed the victim, accompanied by another young woman, walk by at about 2:00 P. M. After passing him, the victim turned around and walked over to Sergeant Vetcher,” and inquired about a friend who had been in the service. She explained that they had been “childhood sweethearts in their hometown of Medford, Massachusetts.”

Vetcher “stated that after this conversation he inquired of the victim whether she would give him a date for the evening.”

“The victim’s girl friend separated from them, and the victim and Vetcher eventually proceeded to the Columbia Broadcasting Station Studios, where they saw TONY MARTIN[sic] broadcast.”  Tony Martin was enjoying the success of his first million selling record, “To Each His Own,” which he sang on radio.

“Thereafter they proceeded to Tom Breneman’s. Vetcher stated that at the corner of Hollywood and Vine they met First Sergeant Charles Moffett who accompanied them to Tom Breneman’s. Upon arriving at Tom Breneman’s, they observed that a number of people were waiting in line for a table, but as soon as they entered the door, the head waiter came over to the victim and escorted her, along with Vetcher and Moffett to a nearby table. Vetcher stated that during the time they were at Tom Breneman’s, he observed that the victim appeared to be well known to all of the waiters there.”

They talked again of the “childhood friend” from Medford. The man reminded her that he only knew this friend of hers under “combat conditions.” Lieutenant John P. O’Neil was the hometown boy and Beth and Pete Vetcher wrote him two postcards the next day, according to Vetcher, stating they were married and living “in Hollywood and very happy.” Beth signed one card Betty Short Vetcher.” The sergeant “also stated that the victim was very well dressed and caught the attention of many of the guests at Tom Breneman’s He stated that he caught snatches of conversations of people seated in the immediate vicinity and heard some of them suggest that she must be a professional actress employed by RKO or some other studio.” According to his statement, they left at about 12:30 A. M. and separated from Moffett.

Pete Vetcher told the special agents that they returned to downtown on a trolley and as they walked about five blocks from the stop, “a black car drove up beside them and stopped. Vetcher stated that there were five men seated in the car who appeared to be dark complexioned and possibly were Mexican, three of whom jumped out of the rear of the car and yelled, ‘There she is.’ Vetcher stated that he suggested to the victim that he beat these individuals up, but she told him the best thing to do would be to run. Accordingly, he stated, they ran and escaped from these individuals, who apparently were unknown to the victim.”

When they reached her hotel, Beth invited him upstairs. Her roommate was working that evening and said Vetcher could sleep in her bed if it was alright with Beth. After sneaking into her room and making advances to her, the soldier states that they made love several times throughout the night, but “that at no time was the victim in a passionate mood, which led him to suggest the possibility that she was a Lesbian.”

“In order to corroborate this statement by VETCHER, he pointed out that during his conversations with the victim, she related to him that she at one time frequently visited a wealthy woman who resides either in Hollywood or Los Angeles, and that this woman had made improper advances towards her, which she resisted.”

Vetcher spent time with her the next day, before they went their separate ways. He watched her enter the Figueroa Hotel with a girl friend and “stated that as the girls entered the hotel, he observed the victim in a heated conversation with a short, chunky, well-dressed man who appeared to be 40 or 45 years of age.” The soldier said, “he had not seen the victim since that time, and had never had any correspondence with her.”

The report said,

“VETCHER stated that during his various conversations with the victim, she never expressed fear of anyone, but she did mention that Los Angeles was a tough city and that it was dangerous for a girl to be alone on the streets at night. She told him that she was afraid to be alone on the streets at night, and while they were reading a newspaper in the lobby of the Figueroa Hotel, she pointed out to him an article which featured a resume of the number of murders and rapes which had occurred in Los Angeles over a short period of time. In addition, VETCHER stated that the victim told him that she was going with a man whom she did not like very much, but she stated that she did not want to hurt his feelings by stopping to go with him. VETCHER advised that he did not know the name of this man. It may be noted that VETCHER vigorously denied that he had ever been married to the victim.”

 

 

 

3 Responses to “Chapter 9 ~ The Frolic Room & The Crown Grill”

  1. Maurice Says:

    Maurice…

    Original material….

  2. Rhetta Says:

    Hansen.

  3. Bob Says:

    I think Bette Short knew how to manipulate men with her sexuality, and she probably was a bit of a cock tease as well.
    I can understand how she might have crossed paths with the wrong people.

    Not a very smart woman in regards to the company she kept either.

    Very sad ending to her life.

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