Signal 100 | When Love Goes Bad, Chapter 2

No. 13 in a series of 52 commemorating the 100-year anniversary of The Signal

“My best birth control now is to leave the lights on.”

— Joan Rivers

Years ago, under the pseudonym of Count Sauguslavsky, I used to pen a gossip column every Friday called “Who’s Sleeping With Whom…” Each week, I’d include five couples, “… who, on good authority, are sleeping with one another.” One day, got a call from an enraged reader. I gave her an entire hardware store of rope as she questioned my morals, ethics and right to be alive for printing such salacious material in a community newspaper. When she ran out of breath, I pointed out: “The five couples mentioned are all married. Happily.”

She said, “Oh…” apologized, chuckled at her rampage and went on her merry way.

If only some of us could be as forgiving.

One of the awful by-products of being human is we love gossip. We may add a Southern “Well, bless their hearts,” but how we love to do the backstroke in the miserable and polluted waters of failed relationships.

Other people’s failed relationships.

For the past century, sure — The Mighty Signal has taken courageous editorial stands, tattled on monsters, shined light on the craven. But we’ve also sold many a newspaper for reporting on marriages that have drifted toward or cascaded directly into the abyss.

TODAY, IT’S CALLED, ‘FEMINISM’

It’s a story older than civilization. We put foot-pounds of energy into attracting a mate and sometimes 1,000 times the energy either enduring or trying to concoct a plot to rid ourselves of their company.

In March 1921, this newspaper was still a baby. We made note of hopefully a short-lived organization, formed by several young ladies, called “The Saugus Man-Haters.” They filed a legal charter, which included a by-law: “Never spend more than three or four minutes of your spare time conversing with young men, ages 10 to 100 years of age, as they are not worth your precious time.” The Man-Haters also called themselves: “Future Old Maids of Tomorrow.”

In June 1927, The Signal snitched on a Saugus man who had quite the opposite problem. He was arrested, tried and sentenced to 10 years in prison for having three wives — that’s two more than allowed by the Motor Vehicle Code, if memory serves. On the bright side, the gentleman was from Saugus, Massachusetts, our sister city.

Sometimes, love goes wrong simply from miscommunication. We covered this on the front page, Feb. 11, 1951, right before Valentine’s Day. According to police reports, Mrs. Elizabeth McGee was cleaning a .22-caliber rifle. She had the barrel pressed against her chest when the supposedly empty weapon discharged and sent a bullet through her. It missed her heart by 2 inches. It gets stranger. Her husband, Don, instead of taking her to the local Newhall Hospital, drives her — repeat this with me out loud — ALL THE WAY INTO LOS ANGELES — to search for their family physician. He wasn’t home. Don then motors down to HUNTINGTON BEACH (You know; south of where they’d eventually build Disneyland?) to search for a hospital. Wonder if Don stopped for a cheeseburger?

In March 1949, The Signal noted that Mrs. Marital Romero Goldbaum was arrested for pummeling her husband, Marcus Max Goldbaum, with firewood. Marcus, who was mucho borracho, had first struck the missus, who responded by going Mickey Mantle with the kindling. Marcus Max turned himself in to the hospital to have an ear sewed back on.

NOT THE BEST WAY TO CELEBRATE THE HOLIDAYS

The Signal covered this tragic tale in 1950. Sheriff’s deputies Richards and Strammers answered a hellish call the day after Christmas. A woman on Fourl Road lay weltering in a pool of her own blood. Nearby, a man lay prostrate with another man savagely kicking him in the head. Dorothy Helen Hester, 37, would die an hour later at Newhall Hospital. It was a tangled family affair involving Dorothy’s two ex-husbands. Dorothy had children by both men. They had come to visit the kids over the holidays. The second ex came to shoot the first ex and accidentally ended up murdering the woman he still loved. Not a great holiday.

A decade earlier, in 1940, Harold Carey, 42, committed suicide via carbon monoxide poisoning at the base of the Oak of the Golden Dream in Placerita Canyon. The historic tree was where gold was supposedly first discovered in the SCV in 1842 — seven years before the big northern California rush of 1849. Carey was despondent over a marriage break-up. He was a tree surgeon, hence his choice of location.

The same year, we reported on the use of succinct albeit creative writing. Horatius Manley of old Sagg Canyon found a note in the ranch kitchen from his recent wife that she was leaving him. Manley noted that he had taken her to her first coffee shop, first movie, first play, bought her sheer underthings and gifts galore. She ran off with one of the hands. Seems when they got hitched, Horatius was 46 and the missus, 16.


Oscar-winning musician Frank Edwin Churchill owned Paradise Ranch in Castaic in the 1940s. Some say his wife and his foreman staged his suicide and made off with his fortune.

Frank Edwin Churchill married a younger woman. The Castaic ranch owner was one of America’s most famous composers, earning Oscars and writing such classics as “Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It’s Off To Work We Go,” “Some Day My Prince Will Come,” “Whistle While You Work” and “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf,” just to name a few. Churchill secretly married Walt Disney’s personal secretary, Carolyn Kay Shafer, and it was Carolyn who reported finding her husband dying from a self-inflicted gunshot wound March 14, 1942. According to The Signal, Churchill’s last words were a simple, “I’m sorry.”

There were some odd things about the legendary Castaic musician’s apparent suicide. First, Carolyn and the young ranch foreman Donald Durnford were the only people at the Paradise Ranch, and reportedly ran in to find Churchill dying on the sofa.

Second? Churchill had rewritten his will, left his beloved daughter out of it, granting her just $1 and a tidy fortune to Carolyn.

Third? Just a few weeks after his death, Mrs. Churchill sold the ranch and disappeared — with Durnford.

The Signal reported: “Shafer’s great niece, Carla Lakatos, wrote the sad epilog to this story when she said, ‘I do know that Carolyn married Frank Churchill and, after his death, Donald Durnford — who stole her assets — and she died July 26, 1977, penniless and nearly blind.’”

This has nothing to do with romance, but it is painful. I met the son of a man who later bought Paradise Ranch in the 1960s. He recalled being a boy and helping his dad clean out some of the smaller buildings. His dad threw away thousands of pages of notes and original sheet music and scores from Frank Edwin Churchill. Probably would be worth millions today.

SOMETIMES, LOVE IS HELPFUL

In our Feb. 25, 1971, issue, we covered an unusual order. Muriel Klahs wandered into the sheriff’s station on 6th Street, slapped the counter and ordered a beer. Mr. Klahs was arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct. That night, his wife comes in to bail him out. While she’s waiting, she slid off the bench, landing spread-eagle on the floor. Mrs. Klahs was arrested for being drunk and disorderly. Must run in the family.

I’ve always held that, no matter what they’re paying our local sheriff’s deputies, it ain’t nearly enough. The Signal reported an unusual chase back in October 1970. Deputies J. Sylvies and R. Nere chased two nude young people from a parked car in the Oakridge estates. They caught up with the completely stark raving nude man, a 21-year-old from Van Nuys. The girl, also stark raving naked, led the deputies on a merry chase. They couldn’t catch up to her but did find a trail consisting of “a brassiere,” blanket and, ahem, “personal items.” The young man was taken to the poky, no pun intended, where he told officers that he had just met the young woman, whom he assured them was 22 years old, at a local restaurant an hour earlier. The man was released because, well, frankly, he didn’t do anything. The woman? She might still be out there, running naked around Calgrove.

A SECRET LASTING DECADES

The Signal covered this case in 1935, and it set the town on its ear for decades. The wife of a sheriff’s deputy shot and killed her teenage baby sitter and maid, then turned the revolver on herself in a failed suicide attempt. Sheriff’s deputy A.C. Carter heard quarreling just as he was coming home from work at Substation 6 on Spruce Street. Carter reported hearing the gunshot and rushed into the house. As he was trying to revive the dead girl, his wife, Gladys, pointed the gun to her chest and fired.

Months later, after she recovered from the self-inflicted gunshot wound, Gladys Carter was tried for murder. Jealousy was listed as the motive. The teen baby sitter was Francis Walker, daughter of famed Placerita Canyon pioneer Frank Walker and sister to Melba Walker Fisher.

On the stand, A.C. Carter broke down in tears under fierce questioning. His wife had murdered Francis Walker after discovering the baby sitter was having an affair with her husband. Mrs. Carter was sent to a mental institution for her recovery. Mr. Carter was fined $1,000 and sentenced to one year in jail for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Speaking of, we ran a story in the early 20th century about a local dentist who was caught having an affair with the family’s teen baby sitter. When she turned 18, the doctor literally moved her into the family’s home — while the wife still lived there.

From the Love Is Blind Department, in December 1976, The Signal noted that trucker John Doan got off lucky, albeit psychologically damaged. Doan picked up a fetching hitchhiker on Interstate 5. Her name was Candy. She confessed she was “working” her way back and forth from L.A. to San Francisco and asked if John wanted to be, well, a john. They pulled off the road so he could, ahem, rest. When she lifted her skirt, John was rather wide-eyed. Besides showing off the wrong plumbing, Candy exposed a blue steel revolver and liberated John of his wallet and probably a lifetime of trust.

THANK GOODNESS FOR THE FIRST AMENDMENT

But first, let us chat about the Eighth Amendment, outlawing cruel or unusual punishment. The Signal noted in April 1939 that it wanted to bring back horsewhipping as a punishment for spousal abuse.

Seems a Mr. Lewis Butler of Ravenna (a community that up until the 1960s existed between Acton and Agua Dulce) got 60 days in the poky for using a club to beat his wife. She was nude and he chased her outside. She tried to get away from him by climbing a fence, but got stuck atop the fence. Butler got off with an extremely light sentence, according to Judge Art Kennedy. Kennedy, in handing down his sentence, noted that there used to be a law on the California books that allowed wife beaters to be given 20 lashes with a bullwhip. Kennedy lamented that it should have been Lewis’ punishment.

Talk about low overhead. A minimalist brothel was busted in 1986. Seven prostitutes were arrested in a raid rivaling the Normandy Invasion of World War II.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on the losing end of the argument with an editor over: “You Can’t Say That In A Newspaper.” Frankly, it’s a good — no, GRAND — day in journalism when the front-page banner headline cries: “BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN SAUGUS.” In November 1986, 30 deputies raided the San Francisquito creek bed and arrested seven Latino women for operating an outdoors bordello for migrant farm workers. It wasn’t exactly idyllic and certainly not romantic. The “house” consisted of a couple of mattresses dragged out to the reeds by the riverbed.

Would anyone care to join in a rousing chorus of, “My Tart Has Fleas?”

The sex worker-ettes drew a 10-day jail sentence and had to promise not to come back to the SCV. The love nest was unearthed on The Newhall Land & Farming Co. property. Signal Editor Ruth Newhall, related to the corporation, delighted in pointing out: “Newhall Land & Farming always bragged they were the oldest business in the valley. Now we know it’s just the second oldest.”

IN CONCLUSION, LOVE IS GRAND

In a right world, where ideals are shining examples, the heart is pure and poetry is not just possible, but reality, I thought we should end with love not going wrong, but going right.

The Signal has covered so many weddings, anniversaries and the proof of what life is all about when we happily shouted out birth announcements.

We also printed poems.

The Signal had a columnist named Solemint Mike so long ago. He penned this piece about his neighbor and sweetheart in June 1940.

I think it reflects something terribly missing from our modern culture, something we all could use in 2019 — sweetness:

“Miss Mary Sagg on a Summer’s day Raked the meadows sweet with hay. You hardly expect a girl, you know, In the midst of June to shovel snow.”

John Boston is the local historian, author and columnist for The Mighty Signal. Come back next Saturday for Chapter 3 of “Love Goes Bad: for Wm. S. Hart.”

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