Thanks to the wonders of self-publication, some of us may be named in Arthur Johnson's “TheNorman Rockwell Years” (CreateSpace, 2011), which recounts “an idyllic youth” in the La Cañada of the 1950s and early '60s, complete with references to the Youth House (now the Community Center of La Cañada Flintridge), St. Bede's, Flintridge Prep and Skunk Hollow. More importantly, there's a list of the author's girl crushes, with names like Kobayashi, Farina, Clarke, Tibbs and others. One can only hope that these ladies will receive part of the royalties, if any.
Brooks W. Wilson's “The Newport Harbor Murders Revisited: The criminal justice system found guilty” (CreateSpace, 2012) revisits La Cañada's most famous murder trial. Walter Overell was one of the wealthiest men in Flintridge. His wife, Beulah, was a lovely socialite. Beulah Drive was named for her. On March 15, 1947, the Overells' yacht blew up in Newport Harbor. Unfortunately, they were on it at the time. Four days later, their daughter, Beulah Louise, and her boyfriend, Bud Gollum, were charged with murder. Brooks Wilson, a retired law enforcement officer, believes that their acquittal was an outrageous miscarriage of justice.
The murder trial began on May 26, 1947. The defendants had known one another since childhood. Their mothers were friends. The investigators discovered that more than 30 sticks of dynamite had been wired to a clock attached to the yacht's battery. Inside Bud's car, they found matching machine screws and dynamite. Local radio station KVOE in Santa Ana was allowed to broadcast the trial, which was more riveting than the O.J. and Casey Anthony trials combined. While they were in jail, Beulah Louise and Bud wrote lurid letters to one another. The letters were leaked to the press, most likely by the prosecution, and considered to be proof of the motive. Despite this, defense attorney Otto Jacobs demolished the prosecution's case. On October 5, 1947, Bud and Louise were acquitted of all charges. People were outraged, nowhere less so than in our town.
Wilson's book picks up where the trial leaves off and happily notes that Louise died in 1965 in Las Vegas of alcoholism, and Bud died “in ignominy” in Wasilla, Alaska, in 2009.
Transcripts of another famous La Cañada murder have been released. In 1935, a La Cañada barber named Raymond Lisenba purchased a life insurance policy on his third or fourth wife, a manicurist named Mary. A few months later, Mary was dead, bitten by two diamondback rattlesnakes named Lethal and Lightning, both purchased by her husband. He was convicted of murder. On May 1, 1942, “Rattlesnake James” Lisenba was the last man to be hanged in California, and now, thanks to Amazon and the United States Supreme Court, we can purchase “The United States Supreme Court Transcripts of Record - Lisenba v. People of State of California” for $97.08 and “Lisenba v. People of State of California U.S. Supreme Court Transcript of Record with Supporting Pleadings” for $25.83.
For nights when murder is not one's cup of tea, one can revisit Michael Cunningham's “The Hours.” The novel has nothing to do with La Cañada history, but is guaranteed redemption for local school boosters still distraught over this year's local press coverage. Cunningham is an LCHS grad.
The nights are short and the days are long. Thankfully, there's more to read, right here in La Cañada Flintridge.
ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident and an attorney with Law Offices of Torres and Brenner in Pasadena. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @anitabrenner.