THE NAKED DESERT
IT IS 1975. Sixteen years after it first appeared in France, the legendary book Hollywood Babylon rolls off the presses in its first authorized U.S. edition.
While the rest of the nation gasps over Kenneth Anger's juicy compendium of Tinseltown tattle, Phoenix yawns.
For starters, we'd seen it all in 1965, when a bootleg translation of Anger's scandalous tome (now a much-coveted collectors' item) was issued by a fly-by-night publishing outfit operating out of a rented office across the street from Chris-Town Mall.
Besides, there is no shortage of sensationalism right in our own backyard. Here are the murders, suicides, scandals and other prurient points of interest that have earned Phoenix its own place in the sun. Bring your cameras.
PACK UP YOUR TROUBLES She was Phoenix's first lady of crime, the Valley's answer to Lizzie Borden.
"Trunk murderess" WINNIE RUTH JUDD began her six-decade affair with notoriety on October 17, 1931. That was the day the petite medical secretary decided to take a train trip to Los Angeles with Anne LeRoi and Hedvig Samuelson, a couple of girlfriends from Phoenix.
Unfortunately, Winnie's two pals had to ride in the baggage compartment. During an argument the previous night, they had been murdered, butchered and stuffed in trunks (presumably so Winnie could dispose of the bodies in the Pacific Ocean). Had Winnie worked alone? Amid rumors of accomplices and cover-ups, the stoic "Tiger Woman" remained mum. She eventually copped an insanity plea and was carted off to the state mental hospital, where she spent the next 40 years demonstrating a flair for escape artistry that would have put Houdini to shame. Pardoned in 1971, the eighty-something Judd now lives in northern California.
Site of LeRoi/Samuelson murder house, 2929 North Second Street.
Arizona State Hospital, 2500 East Van Buren.
GOING OVERBOARD Twenty-four years before finding themselves center stage in Hollywood's most tragic buoy-meets-girl story, Locustland lovebirds NATALIE WOOD and ROBERT WAGNER caught the love boat right here in the Valley. Hoping to avoid Tinseltown paparazzi, the star-crossed couple quietly slipped into Scottsdale (home of Wagner's parents) on December 28, 1957, where they were married at Scottsdale United Methodist Church. Following a small ceremony, the wedding party (which included Nick Adams, Wood's Rebel Without a Cause co-star) adjourned to the nearby Ramada Valley Ho resort. Five years later, they divorced, but in '72, they took the plunge again.
Scottsdale United Methodist Church, 4140 North Miller.
Ramada Valley Ho resort, 6850 East Main, Scottsdale.
BLAST FROM THE PAST Talk about a plan that backfired! When the Tempe man who called himself "Joseph Nardi" started his car on the morning of October 6, 1975, a dynamite explosion ripped through the vehicle and blew out 75 of his neighbors' windows.
"Nardi" was actually mob informer LOUIS BOMBACINO, an underworld snitch whose testimony was responsible for helping crack a multimillion-dollar gambling racket in 1969. The case remains unsolved.
201 East Hermosa, Tempe.
DYE HARD In 1966, the local press touted this massacre as "the worst crime in Arizona history." Few readers argued the point; some were too busy organizing lynch mobs.
On Saturday morning, November 12, an 18-year-old Mesa High School student named ROBERT BENJAMIN SMITH walked into Mesa's Rose-Mar Beauty College and opened fire on the staff and customers with a .22-caliber six-gun. By the time police led the grinning killer out of the shop, five victims (including a 3-year-old girl) lay dead; two others (including a 3-month-old infant) were wounded. According to news reports, Smith's parents had given their son the weapon as a gift, for "target practice."
During a rare prison interview in 1985, Smith was unable to adequately explain what had triggered his homicidal rampage, but told a reporter he was "sorry."
Rose-Mar Beauty College (now LaVonne's Classic Beauty College), 42 North Stapley, Mesa.
"YELLOW" JOURNALISM In the mid-Sixties, downtown's Vista Theatre made headlines when it wrapped up its year-plus engagement of The Sound of Music, the longest-running film in Phoenix history.
In the fall of 1969, the Vista should have made headlines but didn't. The theatre was raided during a screening of the Swedish sex shocker I AM CURIOUS, YELLOW. Thanks to puritanical policies at the Arizona Republic and the Phoenix Gazette (both newspapers refused to make any mention, even in news stories, of X-rated films), the bust wasn't reported in either newspaper. Several months later, the newspapers were forced to reevaluate this stance when the X-rated Midnight Cowboy won the Oscar for Best Picture.
Site of Vista Theatre (now Valley Bank Center), 215 North Central.
GOODBYE CHARLIE Despondent over the death of his wife and concerned with his own declining health, French-born film star CHARLES BOYER cut short a visit to a Scottsdale friend's home by swallowing an overdose of Seconal on August 26, 1978. Later that day, the 78-year-old Gaslight star died at St. Joseph's Hospital. Before the announcement of his wife's death just two days earlier, few people were aware that Boyer had quietly lived in Paradise Valley for a number of years.
Charles Boyer suicide house, 6806 North Desert Fairways Drive, Scottsdale.
WHINE CELLAR It may look like a Tucson medical plaza (her father is a proctologist), but this north Scottsdale hideaway was actually the teenhood home of performance kvetch SANDRA BERNHARD. Chez Bernhard served as the backdrop for the high-school-angst chapters of Confessions of a Pretty Lady, the comedian's autobiography.
6725 East Gary, Scottsdale.
I WANT TO MARRY! Hoping to avoid a postnuptial rehash of messier moments from her purple past (a headline-making suicide attempt and a hair-pulling cat fight with a much younger starlet topped the list), Hollywood actress ¯ SUSAN HAYWARD eloped to Phoenix on March 7, 1957. During a simple ceremony in a Phoenix JP court, the tempestuous thespian traded vows with Georgia lawyer Eaton Chalkley, her secondÏand finalÏhusband.
The old Phoenix courthouse, 17 South Second Avenue.
HANKY PANKY Try as he might, GEORGE JUAN KUEHME just couldn't keep his nose clean. Which might explain why the 20-year-old Jack in the Box fry cook found himself up to his snout in trouble on the evening of December 10, 1990. That was the night Kuehme made the mistake of using a hamburger bun for a tissue, then serving it to a Phoenix cop who had ordered a Jumbo Jack.
Unfortunately, the officer was a discriminating diner. Hence, this excerpt from one of the more bizarre police reports in the annals of Valley crime: "I had taken three bites of my hamburger when I felt something squirt out of the right side of my burger. ... I wiped the right side of my mouth and immediately recognized it as nasal-type mucous."
Jack in the Box, 1001 North 24th Street.
ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL Be true to your school! Rockers ALICE COOPER (class of '65) and RICKIE LEE JONES ®MDNM¯(a sophomore in '69) attended the same west-side high school-Cortez. Could it be something in the water? If so, it might have something to do with the much-joked-about sewage treatment plant located right across the street from the school's snack bar.
Cortez High School, 8828 West 31st Avenue.
MOTEL SEX "Toto, I don't think we're in Howard Johnson's anymore." Tricked out with water beds, mirrors and closed-circuit porn, the aging De Manana motor court on East Van Buren received a 1974 face-lift, reopening as the EROTICA, the Valley's most notorious no-tell motel. Despite a tongue-in-cheek movement to have the horny hostelry designated a historic landmark, the passion pit was razed several years ago to make way for a freeway.
Site of the Erotica motel, 5200 East Van Buren.
TRYST AND SHOUT Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO features one of the most famous opening shots in movie history-a panoramic sweep across the downtown Phoenix skyline before the voyeuristic camera finally comes to rest in a hotel window, capturing half-dressed Janet Leigh and John Gavin in the aftermath of a nooner in the Luhrs Building.
Well, it looked like the Luhrs Building. Prior to the start of production in late 1959, Hitch boasted that the film would begin with a helicopter shot of Phoenix that would cover four miles before zooming in on the hotel window. Although Hitchcock was forced to abandon the shot because of impossible logistics (an airborne camera crew spent four days here before throwing in the towel), he achieved a reasonable facsimile through skillful editing. (The window the camera really zooms in on is a building on the Universal back lot.)
Luhrs Building, 11 West Jefferson.
WHERE'S WALTER? For nearly 40 years, he was the most powerful newspaper and radio columnist in America. But by the time WALTER WINCHELL moved to Paradise Valley in the Fifties, the scandalmeister was best known as the staccato-voiced announcer who barked machine-gun-style narration on The Untouchables. Following his death in Los Angeles on February 20, 1972, Winchell's body was returned to the Valley for burial in a family plot that already held his wife and his son, the latter a 1969 suicide. During a graveside interview at Greenwood Memorial Park, daughter Walda Winchell told a reporter her father had died "technically of cancer but actually of a broken heart." Former home of Walter Winchell, 6116 North Yucca, Paradise Valley.
Greenwood Memorial Park, 2300 West Van Buren.
WHEELS OF MISFORTUNE For racing greats BOBBY BALL and JIMMY BRYAN, life in the fast lane led to a permanent pit stop at a Phoenix cemetery. The 29-year-old Ball (whose name continues to be synonymous with racing), cruised into Greenwood Memorial Park in 1954 after an accident at a Southern California midget-car track. Six years later, he was joined by his buddy Bryan, a three-time national champ who died at age 34 when his car cracked up on a Langhorne, Pennsylvania, racetrack.
The two graves (Bryan's headstone is adorned with an etching of a race car) are located in the southeast corner of Greenwood's Section 50, within earshot of cars speeding down I-17. And while it might be romantic to imagine that the twin speed demons had predetermined their final resting places, both men died before the freeway was built.
Greenwood Memorial Park, 2300 West Van Buren.
MYSTERY DATE If the late schlock filmmaker Ed Wood Jr. had scripted an episode of TV's The Partridge Family, it couldn't have been any weirder than last spring's true-life sitcom starring then-Power 92 deejay DANNY BONADUCE. On March 31, the aging enfant terrible was accused of robbing and beating a beefy transvestite prostitute after Bonaduce reportedly paid for a sex act in a gay cruising district near his downtown apartment. Bonaduce was found hiding naked in a closet of his apartment shortly afterward.
The court later ordered Bonaduce to pay for corrective facial plastic surgery for victim Darius Barney.
Saint Croix Villa apartments, 100 East Fillmore.
THE FINAL DEADLINE Was Arizona Republic investigative reporter DON BOLLES on the trail of something big on June 2, 1976? Someone thought so. The muckraker's car was blown up that day as he left the Clarendon hotel parking lot in midtown Phoenix. Bolles had gone to the hotel to meet a source who apparently never showed up. Local lowlife John Harvey Adamson is in the slammer for the killing, but who put him up to it? Hmmm.
Site of Clarendon hotel (now Les Jardins hotel), 3738 North Fourth Avenue.
STALAG MOVIE On June 6, 1978, former Hogan's Heroes star BOB CRANE went from being a "has-been" to a "was." In town to appear in a show at the now-defunct Windmill Dinner Theatre, Crane was found bludgeoned to death in his Scottsdale apartment. The pad was filled with porno videos starring his truly. Fourteen years later, prosecutors are still trying to unbungle the investigation.
Bob Crane murder apartment, Winfield apartments, 7430 East Chaparral, No. 132A.
|Site of Windmill Dinner Theatre (now a nightclub), 10345 North Scottsdale Road.
LAST RIGHTS Until 1966, ERNESTO MIRANDA was a household name known only to fellow residents of the big house. But all that changed for the small-time Mesa crook after a landmark Supreme Court decision that year. Ruling that Miranda had not been advised of his right to remain silent before confessing to the 1963 rape of a Phoenix woman, the court overturned his conviction.
Although Miranda was subsequently convicted of the rape in a retrial, he was out on the streets again on the evening of January 31, 1976. And after dropping into a (now bulldozed) skid-row watering hole called La Amapola, Miranda inadvertently discovered another reason to remain silent: During a fight over a $3 poker bet, the 34-year-old Miranda was fatally stabbed in the chest. When police finally arrested an illegal alien on suspicion of murder, they dutifully read him his Miranda rights.
Site of La Amapola, 231 South Second Street.
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THE NAKED DESERT UNDER EVERY ROCK? SCAN... v2-05-92
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