By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Poet, painter, actress, gangland den mother-perpetual publicity hound LIZ RENAY may well be the most colorful character ever to emerge from Mesa. In and out of the Valley since she won a 1949 beauty pageant sponsored by a national bra manufacturer, Renay began piling up headlines when she was grilled by a grand jury investigating the 1957 slaying of mobster Albert Anastasia in a New York barbershop. Following a three-year prison stretch for perjury, Liz continued to mop up ink when she drafted her daughter Brenda into a mother-daughter strip act, starred in a John Waters film and dated Sylvester Stallone's younger brother. Now living in Vegas, the glamorous great-grandmother is reportedly working on a sequel to My Face for the World to See, her 1971 memoirs.
Former Phoenix home of Liz Renay, 2417 East Oak.
THE GANG'S ALL HERE The night of December 2, 1958, mob hit men paid a visit to the Encanto home of Las Vegas crime kingpin and Riviera hotel president GUS GREENBAUM, onetime associate of Bugsy Siegel. When Greenbaum's housekeeper reported for work the next morning, she found Greenbaum and his spouse, Bess, dead, their throats slit. Cognoscenti speculated that the heavy-drinking Greenbaum may have been getting a little sloppy for the mob's taste. Thirty-five years later, the double murder remains unsolved.
1115 West Monte Vista.
SLICE OF LIFE On the evening of May 27, 1981, police were called to the McCormick Ranch home of restaurateur STEVEN STEINBERG, who led them to the body of his wife. Elana Steinberg, 34, had been stabbed to death in her sleep-26 times. In one of the most controversial murder verdicts in Phoenix history, Steinberg was acquitted by reason of temporary insanity and walked out of court a free man.
8521 Via de Viva, Scottsdale.
SEX, LIES AND VIDEO STORES On July 20, 1989, Valley TV viewers were riveted to their sets by the saga of 19-year-old SHANTIH SCHMID, a Mesa video-store clerk who had apparently been abducted during a robbery attempt. Because a bloody handprint had been found at the store, speculation over her fate ran rampant.
Three days later, the missing teen reappeared, as mysteriously as she had disappeared. Sporting a new hair color, she blithely explained that she'd been held hostage in a locked bathroom by "two black men" who had supposedly robbed the store.
Her 18-year-old boyfriend eventually told police that the "kidnaping" was a ploy to extort $60,000 from Schmid's grandmother. After emptying the video-store cash register, he said, the pair joined another teenage girl in a Tempe motel room. According to the boyfriend, the trio spent the weekend in a cocaine-fueled frenzy of sex and hair dyeing, eventually abandoning their ransom scheme after being spooked by extensive coverage of the "kidnaping" on local TV. Later convicted of robbery, Schmid was sentenced to four months behind bars. Site of Universal Video, 810 South Alma School, Mesa.
Woolley's Petite Suites hotel, 1635 North Scottsdale Road, Tempe.
THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY While wintering in the Valley during February 1958, Columbia Pictures czar HARRY COHN (at that time, one of the most powerful-and most hated-men in Hollywood) suffered a heart attack at the Arizona Biltmore resort; the legendary tyrant died in an ambulance en route to St. Joseph's Hospital.
Arizona Biltmore, 24th Street and Missouri.
FETAL VISION In August 1962, KTAR television personality SHERRI FINKBINE "known to thousands of Valley youngsters as Romper Room's beloved "Miss Sherri"-made national headlines when she went public with her plans to have an abortion. Alarmed over news reports linking the tranquilizer Thalidomide (which she had taken during her pregnancy) to birth defects, Finkbine flew to Sweden for the abortion. (Publicity had forced a Phoenix hospital to cancel the operation.) The doctor who performed the procedure later verified Finkbine's fears that the fetus was deformed.
KTAR-TV ®MDNM¯Romper Room studio (now KPNX-TV), 1101 North Central.
BOOM TOWN Retiree "William Nelson" had lived rather quietly in his then-rural East Bethany Home Road neighborhood for six years. But on the morning of November 4, 1955, he died rather noisily. He walked out to his driveway, slipped behind the wheel of his pickup truck and turned the ignition keyÏsetting off a bomb that shattered windows three blocks away.
Law officers never had any doubts about why "Nelson," actually former Al Capone henchman WILLIE BIOFF, was murdered; the extortionist had signed his own death certificate years earlier when he ratted on mob colleagues to save his own skin. Not that there was much left of it after the unsolved blast.
1250 East Bethany Home (Bioff's home is now part of an apartment complex).
THE MOUTH THAT ROARED During his rocky reign as governor of Arizona, EV MECHAM was rarely happy with anything the local fourth estate ever printed about him. But during the mid-Sixties, he could always count on good press from one newspaper. Namely, his own, the short-lived Evening American.
Site of the Evening American offices, 4120 North 38th Avenue.
|Site of former "Mecham Recall" headquarters, 12 West Camelback.
OUR LADY OF VAN BUREN When Phoenicians contemplate a path of spiritual uplift, East Van Buren Street does not spring readily to mind.
That only made it seem all the more miraculous when, during mid-January 1989, someone noticed that a yucca plant growing along that squalid boulevard had sprouted a twisted stalk said to resemble the silhouette of the VIRGIN MARY, OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE.