THE NAKED DESERT

UNDER EVERY ROCK? SCANDAL! A GUIDE TO OUR MOST TORRID TERRAIN.

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.

Because the apparition was particularly effective after dark (when a WALK/DON'T WALK sign cast a glowing shadow of the image on the wall of a nearby Mexican restaurant), hundreds of curiosity seekers made nightly pilgrimages to gaze at the botanical oddity. Police officers were forced to reroute traffic through the area, while a fire marshal was dispatched to ensure that hundreds of blazing votive candles didn't destroy the "miracle."

Vandals took care of that. During the wee hours of January 22, police questioned two men who had been spotted snapping the stalk from the plant. The pair, a couple of self-proclaimed "renegade artists," claimed they planned to use the branch as the centerpiece of an art project.

The Mexican restaurant was razed last year, but the yucca continues to thrive. And the sacred stalk? It's now enshrined in Immaculate Heart Catholic Church.

Miracle yucca, northeast corner of 11th and East Van Buren streets.
Immaculate Heart Catholic Church, 909 East Washington.

CABIN FEVER On November 11, 1969, Phoenix FBI agents showed rock star JIM MORRISON the door when he was arrested aboard a jet that had just landed at Sky Harbor Airport. En route from Los Angeles to attend a Rolling Stones concert at Veterans' Memorial Coliseum, the inebriated singer and a pal reportedly ignored a stewardess's pleas to behave after they engaged in a food fight at 10,000 feet. Although Morrison was eventually cleared of all charges, he missed the Stones' show; he spent the night in a Phoenix jail cell. Jim Morrison arrest site, main runway at Sky Harbor, 24th Street and Buckeye.

FATHER OF THE BRIBE The news broke on February 5, 1991, but professional squealer Joseph Stedino did his damage months before by suckering numerous legislators into a political-corruption sting, later dubbed AzSCAM. Posing as pro-gambling lobbyist "J. Anthony Vincent" and handing out illegal cash in a bugged office on 24th Street, Stedino starred in the hottest political video footage ever shot in Arizona. His co-stars included legislators Bobby Raymond, Carolyn Walker and others too stupid to mention.

Site of Joseph Stedino's "office," 4742 North 24th Street.

STAIRWELL TO HEAVEN Dead men tell no tales. And that could explain why Phoenix accountant ED LAZAR was gunned down in the stairwell of a Central Corridor parking garage on the morning of February 19, 1975. The unsolved, gangland-style execution occurred the day before Lazar was scheduled to testify before a Maricopa County grand jury about his dealings with Ned Warren, the godfather of Arizona land fraud.

Rear parking garage (second underground level), 3003 North Central.

CLOSE CALL While local TV stations routinely promise to air opposing viewpoints, no viewer ever expected to hear the wacked-out manifesto that veteran KOOL newscaster BILL CLOSE delivered the night of May 28, 1982. Earlier that evening, a mentally disturbed cement finisher named Joe Billie Gwin forced his way into the downtown TV station at gunpoint, explaining that he wanted to deliver an urgent message on live TV. After Gwin held three employees hostage for nearly five hours, police finally agreed to Gwin's demands. At 9:30 that night, the station interrupted its regular programming for a TV first. As the gunman trained a pistol on Close, the newscaster calmly read Gwin's rambling treatise about racism, homosexuality and World War III. After Close finished reading the statement, Gwin relinquished his weapon and was immediately arrested.

Perhaps miffed because they missed the last half of Dallas, some viewers complained that the televised hostage situation was "boring." KOOL-TV studio (now KTSP-TV), 511 West Adams.

BUST STOP In March 1956, MARILYN MONROE rolled into Phoenix to shoot location scenes for Bus Stop, one of her better vehicles. And when she wasn't hanging around the old downtown Greyhound terminal, MM went ZZ (sans JFK) at the nearby Sahara Motor Hotel.

Site of Sahara Motor Hotel (now Phoenix Plaza hotel), 401 North First Street

DEATH OF A DOWAGER CrossLifestyles of the Rich and Famous with Unsolved Mysteries and you might wind up with something like the murder of 55-year-old socialite JEANNE TOVREA, a member of one of Arizona's pioneering cattle families. Although the Paradise Valley estate where Tovrea lived alone featured round-the-clock security, the wealthy widow was found shot to death on April 1, 1988. Her killer, believed to be a burglar, remains at large.

3500 East Lincoln, No. 26, Paradise Valley

MONKS' BLUES In the worst mass murder in Valley history, nine people were shot to death in the WAT PROMKUNARAM Buddhist temple on August 10, 1991. Four Tucson men were arrested and later freed. Two west-side teens now face charges in the blood bath, which received worldwide notoriety.

Wat Promkunaram, 17212 West Maryland.

NEW YEAR'S EVIL As one group of New Year's Eve revelers prepared to welcome in 1981, the sound of gunfire-not noisemakers-filled their North Central-area home. As they waited for party guests to arrive, Phoenix print shop owner William Patrick Redmond and his 70-year-old mother-in-law were shot to death. Although she wasn't accused of shooting the pair, JOYCE LUKEZIC, wife of Redmond's business partner, was charged with masterminding the crime. Several trials later, the long-running saga came to a controversial close when Lukezic was cleared of all charges. Some observers found the verdict every bit as implausible as actress Donna Mills' portrayal of Lukezic in a 1991 made-for-TV movie.

320 West El Camino.

PEARL-CRAZY
On October 4, 1969, an outdoor concert at Seattle Pilots Stadium in Tempe degenerated into a riot when 2,000 freeloaders who had been watching the opening act from a nearby hillside stormed the stadium, tore down several fences and pelted paying customers with rocks and firecrackers. But when order was restored and headliner JANIS JOPLIN finally arrived, many gatecrashers probably wondered why they'd bothered: Staggering onstage, the legendary "Pearl" was so drunk she could barely perform.

Seattle Pilots Stadium (now Tempe Diablo Stadium), I-10 and Alameda.

HEARTBREAK HOTEL When the empire of huckster CHARLES KEATING crumbled in the spring of 1989, a lot of other people also took the fallÏlike the 23,000 oldsters who lost their life savings. One congressman dubbed the puritanical Keating an "economic pornographer."

But that was just talk. For action, nothing could match what happened on November 16 of that year. At 2 a.m., federal agents stormed the financiopath's BastilleÏthe posh, $265 million Phoenician resort at the foot of Camelback MountainÏand seized it from King Charlie's control. The pate was finally over.

|Phoenician resort, 6000 East Camelback.

THE HONEYMOON MACHINE Claiming to be a millionaire who owned the Queen Mary, career bigamist GIOVANNI VIGLIOTTO swapped vows with more than 100 women during a three-decade matrimonial binge. But on November 16, 1981, the unlikely Lothario took a trip down the aisle that led to a jail cell: Following a quickie ceremony in a Mesa wedding chapel, Vigliotto stashed his latest bride in a San Diego motel room while he took off with her life savings.

²Although Vigliotto's latest victim very nearly let him off the hook when she contemplated suicide (concern for her poodle's future stymied that plan), the woman scorned sought vengeance through the courts. Thanks to her testimony and that of several other Mrs. Vigliottos, the much-married swindler ended his life a bachelor in prison. Mesa Wedding Chapel, 465 East Broadway, Mesa.

FORE SCORE AND 20 YEARS AGO...

Long before he became the court jester at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, fledgling vice president DAN QUAYLE could be found dodging golf balls at the family's Phoenix homestead. The house, where Quayle lived from the ages of 8 to 16, abuts the 11th tee at Paradise Valley Country Club.

6740 Desert Fairways Drive, Scottsdale.

WAYNE MANOR Today, he's the King of Vegas. But back in 1956, when his family lived in the Coronado neighborhood, WAYNE NEWTON was just that fat kid down the block who sounded like a girl.

2206 North Richland Street.
part 2 of 2

Show Pages
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Loading...