Signal 100 | When Love Goes Bad, Chapter 1

No. 12 in a series of 52 celebrating The Signal’s 100th anniversary

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

— Joan Rivers

Ain’t love grand? Is there nothing better? The birds tweet. Hearts are one. Music caresses as soft vows are promised. Normally intelligent people exchange: “But I wub YOU so much…!!” Santa Clarita, if not the world, is a better place.

It doesn’t happen very often, but love can sour. Jaws clench. Heavy sighs fill a room. Things are thrown. Hit men hired. Cars are backed into taverns. Nude people are thrown out of fast-moving cars.

That’s when The Mighty Signal shows up.

In our 100-year history, we may have sported a self-righteous smirk, but, truly, our hearts were heavy when being forced to cover The Worst Case Scenario Relationships.

Our First Sorrowful Story …

“Marriage has no guarantees. If that’s what you’re looking for, go live with a car battery.”

— Erma Bombeck

The very first story we covered on misguided love took place nearly a century ago, Sept. 26, 1919. That’s when Charles Conrad’s dance hall burned to the ground. The fire started about 3 a.m., with locals blaming an unnamed and despondent non-dancing boyfriend who had a beautiful girlfriend who loved to dance, flirt and giggle. Though never arrested, the beau may have been responsible for as many as five billiard room and dance hall arsons in a 10-year-period. Gladys Laney, a lifelong SCV resident and friend, told me in the 1990s that the arsonist and high-stepping beauty eventually wed. Again, no arrests were made, but the man, now demoted to husband, was questioned for burning down the Staughty Pool Hall in 1927.

He’d be far from the last social club destroyer on whom The Mighty Signal would snitch.

Fast forward 30 years to 1957. Patrons of Oscar’s Cove, a beer, blood and guts dive up Mint Canyon, were more than surprised when the building seemed to explode. At first, they thought it was an earthquake. But, another collision jarred the building and the front end of a big old Pontiac was sticking through the front door. The barstool polishers watched, in amazement, as the driver, Gene Gray, put it into reverse, rolled back a few yards, gunned it and rammed into the Tahitian-themed den of iniquity —

ANOTHER …

EIGHT …

TIMES.

Seems Gene didn’t want his 20-year-old wife, Lisa, frequenting the joint. He had politely asked her to leave. She refused. What’s a guy to do?

Who Says You Can’t Get Away With Murder …?

“A relationship without trust is like a car without gas. You can stay in it, but it won’t go anywhere.”

— Unknown


Our own William S. Hart was best of friends with movie producer Tom Ince (left) in the teens and 1920s. There’s a Hollywood story that billionaire William Randolph Hearst (right) accidentally murdered Ince aboard his yacht, mistaking Ince for Charlie Chaplin. Hearst thought Chaplin was having an affair with his girlfriend, Marion Davies (center). Hart wanted murder charges brought on the newspaper mogul.
Courtesy photo

In the mid-1920s, The Little Santa Clara River Valley, as we were called then, was a small ranching and farming community. Retired silent film legend William S. Hart would frequently wander down from his castle overlooking Downtown Newhall, pop into The Signal office and chat with editor A.B. “Dad” Thatcher.

He gave Dad quite the scoop, and Thatcher ran with it. In a Signal editorial, Thatcher opined that a grand jury should be convened and that a 1924 murder case be reopened in the death of Hart’s close friend, movie producer Tom Ince. Here’s the juicy story:

Allegedly, Charlie Chaplin and Marion Davies were having an affair. The actress was also the girlfriend of publisher William Randolph Hearst. The billionaire had caught Chaplain and Davies in a compromising position. The story goes that Hearst had a gun, Davies screamed and people started running in from all parts of Hearst’s yacht, moored off San Simeon. Ince tried to intervene and was “aerated” for his trouble. One eyewitness was supposed to be Louella Parsons, and Hart told The Signal’s Dad Thatcher that Hearst signed her to a lucrative lifetime career as a columnist in exchange for her silence. Ince was the producer who gave Hart his break in movies. The case was never reopened.

Little did he know, in a Shakespearean motif, Hart himself would be embroiled by a jilted wife in the longest and most spectacular court case in SCV history. It went on for a decade after Hart died in 1946. Do make sure you read NEXT Saturday’s Signal for the sordid details.

Honey. I’m NOT in the Mood …

“I was married by a judge. I should have asked for a jury.”

— Groucho Marx

Cripes, I love this story The Signal covered O So Delicately in 1957. Mr. and Mrs. Bill Ockert at the Agajanian hog ranch in Haskell Canyon went to bed on an uneventful Saturday night. As wives are sometimes wont to do, she kept wiggling away from his “frisky advances.” Mrs. Ockert kept elbowing Mr. Ockert to cut it out and save it for next year or the Winter Solstice, whichever came last. Sunday morn, the couple rose (on different sides of the bed) and did their various constitutionals. He went to run errands and she cleaned up from breakfast. When she came back to make the bed, she found the source of what she thought were her husband’s affections: a 3-foot-long rattler. It had been curled up in the middle of the bed between them — all night.

Mrs. O ran next door to fetch neighbor Mike Diller. Mike brought a double-barreled shotgun. At first, Mike was going to shoot the rattlesnake smack dab in the middle of the bed. Mrs. Ockert screamed and pointed out it was their only bed and she didn’t want to sleep in it with a big cartoon hole in it surrounded by snake guts. Mike used the barrel of the gun to push the snake on the floor, where it rattled into the corner.

Mike, not being one to see The Big Picture, blew the rattler to Snake Heaven, but not before knocking out part of two walls and a floor.  

And this happened in broad daylight, Aug. 5, 1936, so you can just imagine the serious Woo-Hoo Factor: We reported a spat between Mr. and Mrs. Frank and Alice Robinson, at a community picnic in, where else, Canyon Country. Words and blows were exchanged. Alice ran off and came back on a horse. Just like Lady Godiva: except for her long, blonde hair, she was stark, raving, completely naked.

CAN You Kill Your Ex For Trespassing … ?

“If you want to know how your girl will treat you after marriage, just listen to her talking to her little brother.”

— Sam Levenson

These next two cases The Signal covered illustrate that you don’t just marry the person. You marry the family.

One of the most shocking murder cases in a decade was the Mary Logan case, ironically close to St. Valentine’s Day 1946.

Logan was the stunningly beautiful 26-year-old mother of five who had left her husband to move in with Bob Hathcock — at the house of Amelia Zemik, Hathcock’s older sister.

In 1946?

Farm country?

That was just a plain no-no.

But, did it happen that way?

Slicing together a series of newspaper accounts from both The Times and The Signal, there were many factual discrepancies over the months following Logan’s murder. Piecing it together, including transcripts from the trial, this is the best account:

Hathcock claimed under oath he and Logan were NOT romantically involved. He was just staying at her place in Honby after returning from World War II. He, Logan and her husband were supposedly childhood friends.

At her murder trial, Zemik confessed she thought her brother, Bob, was living with Logan and the five kids. Zemik, Hathcock, Logan and some of the children were having an amiable conversation when Zemik (in her home in Los Angeles, not Newhall) excused herself from the dinner table. Zemik marched upstairs, came back with a shotgun, and shot the former French Village waitress dead center in the chest at point-blank range, killing her instantly in front of the assembled and horrified diners. According to Signal accounts, when Los Angeles Police Department officers rolled to the scene, Mrs. Zemik was sitting at the table near the corpse, calmly finishing her dinner. She told the first cop in: “I just didn’t particularly care for her attitude anymore.” Zemik sobbed at her murder trial, saying she had just meant to scare Logan and didn’t know the gun was loaded when she pulled the trigger.

Hate to leave you hanging, but after too much research, there was never another story following the trial about the fate of Mrs. Z.

Speaking of in-laws, real or imagined, in January 1977, The Mighty Signal covered an interpretation of the law possibly a smidge askew.

Recently divorced Rimon Asmar came home to find his ex-wife, her mother and her two aunts in his Newhall home. She had dropped by to pick up her things. Asmar screamed that because they were in his home without his permission, he could legally kill them, which, I’m guessing, is an actual law in some countries with an abundance of dirt roads.

Chasing them out of the house with a butcher’s knife, Asmar picked up an empty flower pot and chucked it at his high-stepping and retreating former mother-in-law, hitting her bullseye in the back of the head. One of the broken pieces hit his ex, leaving a large gash in her leg.

Talk about love gone wrong, Richard Tefft murdered his wife, then was placed in a cell overlooking her grave. Courtesy photo

In late April of 1973, the ex-wife of Richard Teftt, mental patient and murderer, didn’t get off so easy. Tefft was arrested in Pennsylvania en route to his wife’s funeral there. Tefft had bludgeoned his estranged wife to death in Valencia, disappeared and was captured on the eve of his spouse’s burial. Ironically, before he was extradited back to Santa Clarita for trial, Tefft was temporarily incarcerated in the Fayette County Prison. His cell overlooked the cemetery where the woman he had once loved would sleep forever.

Who says Barter Is Dead … ?

“No! Please don’t eat me! I have a wife and kids! Eat THEM!!!”

— Homer Simpson

Back in the hot days of August 1975, The Signal reported on the arrest of a Canyon Country woman and her 18-year-old stepson.  Seems they contracted a hit man to kill her 54-year-old husband. The woman offered a man — whom she thought was a stone-cold killer — $500 cash, a Honda motorcycle and — I just love this part — a secondhand Gremlin to off her better half. The “hit man” snitched to local police. Get this. Upon hearing that his wife was trying to murder him for his $5,000 life insurance policy, he went to the Valencia station to try and bail her out. His son was booked down in Lennox.

No one got killed in this story. But the bride sure was embarrassed.

Back in the 1980s, a jilted boyfriend was arrested for littering. On closer inspection, the young man had printed hundreds of photos of his ex-girlfriend naked, in rather compromising positions. Insult to embarrassment? The Signal noted he was dumping the X-rated photos on the lawn of a community center rec room where his ex and her new husband of 20 minutes were celebrating their wedding reception.

Striving for that Higher State of Romance …

“One day, you will kiss a man you can’t breathe without and find that breath is of little consequence.”

— Karen Marie Moning

Perhaps we should end this segment about covering the dark side of love on a positive note. After all, deep down, most of us at The Signal are actually hopeless romantics.

This is a sweet story.

In January 1953, the good men and women in a Santa Clarita jury banded together to vote that, yes, indeed, Love IS Grand.

We covered this in The Signal but it ended up making national headlines later.

Fred J. Friedmeyer had been driving the speed limit and doing everything on the up-and-up when he was pulled over by a local CHP officer. The Chippie ticketed him for violating Section 596 of the Vehicle Code for unsafe driving because he observed Friedmeyer driving with just one hand on the steering wheel and with his arm around his “girlfriend’s” shoulder. Friedmeyer, 29, pleaded not guilty and demanded a trial by jury. The 12 Santa Clarita men and women found him not guilty.

Friedmeyer won the hearts of the jurors when he explained that the woman in question wasn’t his girlfriend, but his wife of 11 years.

A matter tried in the little Newhall courthouse went all the way to the California Supreme Court in 1953. It was called, “The Right to Cuddle” case. Courtesy photo

I can’t imagine what Crabby Appleton in the state attorney’s office was stupid enough to press this, but the state appealed. Newspapers of the day called the Newhall infraction, “The Right To Cuddle Case.”

A year later, California’s Supreme Court upheld the little Newhall court’s verdict. A man has the right to drive with his arm around his sweetheart.

John Boston is the local historian, author and columnist for The Mighty Signal. Come back next Saturday for Part 2 of “When Love Goes Bad.”

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