Thought Catalog
March 2, 2017

The Most Sinister Crime You’ve Never Heard Of: The Gatsby Killings Of 1947

Report This Article
What is the issue?
simpleinsomnia
simpleinsomnia

I will never understand why Instagram will remove the photo or profile of a #bodystagramer because they post a picture of half their ass, but won’t take down profiles which celebrate the work of infamous serial killers. What I also will never understand, is my inability to not click on these violent Instagram profiles whenever I accidently stumble on one, lying in my bed at 1 AM, trying to bore myself to sleep.

A few months back I ended up not boring myself, but falling into a cold pit of fear when I scrolled through the endless Instagram images related to notorious crimes in my hometown of LA.

I skimmed through the usual suspects – The Black Dahlia, The Night Stalker, The Freeway Killer, The Manson Family, Sharon Tate – I already knew everything there was to know. No need to waste time on them. I was just about to leave the profile, but then a picture of something I was familiar with caught my eye…my grandma’s house.

Tucked up into the highest folds of the Los Feliz hills in what was the fanciest part of LA back in the 20s, my grandma’s house was the subject of much old Hollywood lore, but most of the family never believed it. There was talk the house used to belong to a glamorous movie star from the 40s. One of those actresses with an old-school name like Gladys or Mabel, who someone’s grandpa would probably rave about.

There had never been tales or rumors about anything sinister being tied to the house though. Seeing the image of my grandma’s pale yellow house with the pointed roof and immaculate front yard lined with rose bushes on a profile celebrating murders was a true shock in the middle of the night.

I read through the copy next to the photo of my grandma’s house with my breath held.

This house at 3918 North Luker Street is the site of of the mysterious LA Gatsby Killings of 1947.

Due to a court case won by the current owner and inhabitant, the records of the case and the location were sealed for 60 years and were opened just a month ago to reveal the address and the full details of the case.

I dove into researching the LA Gatsby Killings of 1947. Here is just about word-for-word what I found on a blog.

The LA Gatsby Killings of ‘47 have long been shrouded in mystery, but the 60 year ribbon being taken off the case has finally shed some light on the rampant rumors which have swirled around the murders that took place, and the house which still rests at 3918 North Luker.

The case file confirms that a large party took place on October 31,1947. In the morning, the owner of the house, and heir to a manufacturing fortune, Abigail Hanover, (my grandma) called the police to report that she woke up to find the dead bodies of four partygoers in the bar room of the mansion.

The officers who arrived said they found four bodies which had passed away in the night and fallen to the floor. An investigation later revealed that the four – three men and one woman – had been poisoned. The exact source of poisoning was never determined.

Abigail’s story was that it was a very large party, around 50 people, that went well into the night and she retired upstairs to her bedroom around 1 in the morning while a mix of about 10 people, whom she did not know well (including the four victims), were wrapping up. Drunk and tired, Abigail said they could finish their drinks before they went, so long as they locked the door on their way out. She woke the next morning to find the dead bodies and called the police.

This was the outlaw days of the 40s when people thought there was no way a rich, white woman could have killed four people. The police reportedly didn’t even question Abigail and only did a light investigation into the crime. The three male victims were confirmed to be involved in the heroin trade and the female victim, Jessica Lucas, had been arrested multiple times on prostitution charges. Abigail admitted getting drunk and letting the party swell with far too many unsavory characters she didn’t really know and told the officers she was embarrassed about the whole thing and really just wanted it to go away.

However, an LA Times reporter conducted his own investigation and discovered from neighbors and the few acquaintances he tracked down that Abigail Hanover was an immensely private woman who never had parties, who was only seen a few times. The reporter also discovered that Abigail only had one living, documented family member, a brother who lived in New York, whom she had not seen in more than 10 years.

Abigail went after The Times once the first story was written about the case and won a court decision which barred the publication from further investigation because she had been cleared by the police. This stopped The Times from being able to publically report any further information about the case, but it did not stop the reporter from investigating privately.

What the reporter learned privately over the next 10 years would end up deepening the mystery and eventually earn it the “Gatsby Murders” moniker.

The reporter was able to document his findings in a long out-of-print zine called Crime Noir Vault. The articles are not available online, but can be found in the media archives at the LA library.

After Abigail’s brother passed away, his children took Abigail to court to try and get her half of the family inheritance, because they believed her to be an imposter. They believed the Abigail who was living in 3918 North Luker was actually Jessica Lucas, the prostitute who supposedly died from poisoning at the party and that Jessica had poisoned Abigail.

The family revealed that Abigail was a closeted homosexual. Her sexuality was actually the main reason she distanced herself from all family and most friends. Her deeply religious brother told the children the reason he cut himself off from her was that he discovered she regularly used the services of prostitutes. They believed Jessica Lucas was one of those prostitutes and that Jessica hatched a plan to swap identities with Abigail so she could assume her identity, home and fortune. The two women had a striking resemblance and the children believed Jessica relied on the incompetence of law enforcement and forensics of the time to allow her to pull it off. The children argued Jessica poisoned the real Abigail along with a few male flunkies to tie the crime to the drug trade so the cops would be more inclined to write it off.

And it worked. Abigail (Jessica) won her court case against the family. She kept her money and mansion.

Abigail (Jessica) married shortly after the murders and had a son (my dad) and daughter. She reportedly still lives in the house to this day alone as her husband passed away in the 70s and she never remarried.

My mind was blown in a way I never thought it could be. My grandma was an imposter? And a murderer?

I didn’t even know how to absorb the news. I thought about calling my parents and asking if they had ever heard anything about it. Thought they could maybe offer some reassurance, but decided against it. I didn’t want to blow up their worlds until I could get a little more concrete information. The whole thing could have been Internet bullshit.

I actually had the perfect chance to do so coming up in the morning. The next day was my weekly day of serving as my grandma’s nurse, at her house, at 3918 North Luker.

92 years-old and barely able to move, my grandma required 24-hour assistance, seven days a week. Being the superstar grandchild that I was, I offered to handle the task of caring for my grandma one day a week to give her usual caregivers a break and to bond with her. Well…and she gave me $500 every time that I did it.

All I usually did was eat three meals with my grandma, read the newspaper and paperback novels during the day, watch the news and some game shows at night and put her to bed. Once my grandma was in bed, I watched shows on my tablet and texted with friends until I went to sleep in the guest room and left early the next morning.

beetlejuice

I was on just a few hours of restless sleep when I used the heavy, lion head-shaped door knocker on the front door of my grandma’s house and waited for her to come to the door. The snarling tongue of the iron lion seemed to take on a menacing quality this gray, November morning in LA as morbid thoughts swirled in my brain.

I heard the familiar sound of my grandma’s stair lift slowly transporting her down the steep flight of stairs which connected the first and second story of the house. The chair lift was the only way my feeble grandmother could get up and down the stairs.

I heard the chair grind to a halt and soon looked at my 98-pound grandma through the open door of her house.

She greeted me with a hug which felt just a little bit hollow for the first time.

beetlejuice

Breakfast and lunch went by as usual. I wasn’t able to force out a passive attempt to bring up the story from the Instagram account, but the three glasses of chardonnay I downed at dinner made sure the third meal of the day would not pass without bringing it up.

I coughed my way into the confrontation…

“Uh, ahaha, so grandma…I saw this really crazy thing on this site that’s like Facebook, called Instagram. It, uh, had photos of haunted places in LA and places where people were murdered, and I saw, uh, your house, this house, on it.”

My face was as red as one of those cherry lollipops you get with the bill at a Mexican restaurant when I looked up across the long dining room table at my grandma. She stopped picking through her salad.

“That’s funny,” my grandma answered back with a flat tone.

“Yeah, it said this thing about how four people were poisoned here in 1947. The whole thing sounded made up. Did you ever hear about that? Or see anything about it?” I pressed on.

“Yeah, there was a bunch of crap about that. They had the wrong house. It was the house four doors down. The Wainwright’s live there now,” my grandma explained and turned her attention back to her salad.

I let it go. I took my grandma’s answer as good enough. I think my brain really just wanted her excuse to be true, despite knowing the amount of detail in the Instagram post and blog showed that there was no way it was just the “wrong house.”

I figured I needed to wade into this thing like cold water at the beach – step-by-step and inch-by-inch. There was no real reason to be worried or in a hurry. If the whole thing was true, it just meant that I would eventually inherit some money I didn’t deserve from someone who didn’t deserve it from someone who stole it from someone who didn’t deserve it.

beetlejuice

Those tall glasses of chardonnay and the gin and tonic I topped them off with sent me to bed just a few minutes after my grandma’s 9 PM bedtime. I was tucked into the luxurious king size bed with silk sheets (another reason I didn’t mind my caretaker duties) and fighting off sleep by the time 9:30 rolled around.

But that boozy sleep would not last. A swollen bladder woke me just a few sweaty hours later and I found myself rustling in the bed in the dark.

I started to fight that childhood battle of burning bladder vs. childish fear. I desperately needed to pee and take a couple Advil out of my purse, but I was petrified of the dark cavernous hall which led out of the guest room and towards the nearest bathroom.

The battle raged for a few minutes until a grinding sound outside of the door took over the fear department in my brain. I knew the sound as soon as I heard it. It was my grandma’s stair lift – rattling and rumbling around the hallway outside my door.

Was my grandma riding her chair in the middle of the night?

I got up out of bed and headed for the door to the hallway.

I threw the door open and watched the empty cushioned chair of my grandma’s stair lift slowly roll past my door and head back in the direction of the stairs. I breathed a brief sigh of relief, but it was short lived.

Maybe she had taken it downstairs and fallen off and now it was rolling around on its own?

I followed the chair lift down the stairs and found no sign of my grandma. The thing probably just turned on accidently. I started to search around the track on the ground floor to see if I could find its home base where I could turn it off.

I managed to lose track of the chair during my first floor investigation. I had never noticed it before, but the chair looked to snake around the west wing of the first floor where I rarely went. I followed its metal tracks around the corner of the foyer and into a hall that led to a dining room and prep room that were never used.

The chair’s path seemed strange to me. I was surprised my grandma rigged it up to go all the way down a hallway I assume she never went into.

I followed.

I flicked on a light as soon as I got into the hallway and noticed an open door to the left just before the end. It seemed like the sounds of the chair’s gears grinding were coming from in there. The little prep room which connected to the formal dining room.

I followed.

I stopped just inside the doorway and tried the light switch in the little prep room, but it didn’t work.

I squinted in the dark and made out what looked to be the bookcase I was accustomed to see in the room, turned sideways as if someone had pulled it away from the wall. The gap in the wall the bookcase left looked to open into another little room I had never seen before.

A horrible feeling rumbled in my gut. Like that flushing drop to the pit of your stomach you get not long after eating something rotten.

I fought back the fear. I figured at this point that if someone, or something, had something sinister in mind for me, they would have already done it. If anything, going into this dark, secret room was going to give me information which may be useful.

I followed.

The scent of thick perfume came over me as soon as I walked into the room. I instantly sneezed, twice, and it delayed me taking in the room for a few moments.

The room slowly came into focus in the soft light provided by a flickering candle in the corner. Just left of the candle was a vanity mirror, perched on top of an ornate counter. Seated in front of the counter on a velvet stool was who I recognized as a younger version of my grandma.

I watched for a few chilly seconds as she combed her hair while staring at herself in mirror – showing not an ounce of recognition of someone else in the room.

“That damn thing,” I heard a groggy voice call out from behind me.

I literally jumped up into the air and screamed as loudly as I ever had in my entire life.

I gathered my bearings in an instant and spun around to see the shadow of my present day, elderly grandmother wobbling in the doorway to the hidden room.

I looked back around the room in a flash and saw no candle, no mirror and no younger version of my grandma combing her hair.

“That thing keeps acting up and riding around the house all night for no reason,” my grandma went on as she stumbled out of the doorway and back towards the prep room.

I tried to put things back together in my head for a moment, but couldn’t even get close. The room I was standing in was now just a dusty, empty room with a cold floor on my bare feet.

“Funny the thing found its way in there,” my grandma’s voice faded away as she walked away.

I followed my grandma out of the room.

“I have the chair stored in the old secret powder room so the ugly thing is out of sight most of the time and it must have decided to head back home after roaming around all night. I guess you had never actually been in there. Your grandpa loved it for drinks, but I had no use it for it so I never used it,” my grandma went on.

I made my way out of the prep room and into the hallway where my grandma was speaking from, but she was no longer there.

I stopped in the hallway and listened to her little feet trot up the stairs, back towards her bedroom and the guest room where I slept.

“Try to get back to bed and get some sleep dear,” I heard my grandma call down.

“Actually, if it’s okay. I think I might go home to get some more sleep. I have a work event in the morning,” I called back.

I waited for a few moments before I heard a response back from my grandma.

“That’s fine…but you know…sometimes it’s best to let secrets lie, if they work in your favor.”

I choked on my tongue. Tried to form a coherent response, but could only get out noises.

“Uh, um, uh, yeah.”

“Good night,” my grandma’s voice echoed from upstairs before I heard her bedroom close and I ran outside to get into my car.

beetlejuice

I didn’t actually have a work event the next morning. I just slept in until almost noon since I barely got any sleep the night before. I turned off my phone so I wouldn’t get any texts, emails or notifications which would shake me from my much-needed slumber.

I was shocked when I turned on my phone, felt it vibrate and heard it ding for what felt like two full minutes before it calmed down. I woke it up and looked to see my home screen flooded with little notification indicators.

The first piece of communication I cued up was a voicemail. Judging by the familiar sobs of my mother which greeted me as soon as the recording started, whatever prompted all this communication was not good.

“It’s your mom. I hate to have to call you and tell you this, but your grandma passed away last night. Just, call me as soon as you get this and we can talk. I’m sorry.”

beetlejuice

I called my mom back. She knew I stayed the night before at grandma’s and she had a lot of questions. The authorities would likely have some questions, but they could get to that when I got to my parents’ house across town.

I decided to go to my parents’ house as soon as possible, but needed to clean myself up a little bit first. My hair was particularly a mess and my hoodie had drool on it from the night before.

I started to take my hoodie off to change into something clean, but stopped. I felt something hard in one of the pockets. I reached in and pulled out the item.

Looking back at me was a golden comb, worn with age. I marveled at it for a few moments and noticed an inscription, in cursive, on the handle – JL.

I looked into the mirror in front of me and smiled.

I put the comb to my head and started to fix my hair.

beetlejuice

There weren’t a lot of questions for me from family or the authorities. I told them I had too much to drink at dinner and both of us fell asleep a little early.

I told them I woke up around 1 AM because I was sobering up and thought it would be easier to go sleep at home, so I headed home without talking to my grandma. I didn’t get the news until I received my mom’s message just before noon.

I thought about telling them about the incident with the chair and the secret parlor, but held back, especially because of a key piece of information the coroner shared with my parents, which they shared with me.

The coroner assured my parents that my grandma passed away not long after she went to bed, just after 9 PM.

Did I tell my parents that I saw my grandma walking around, hours later, after 1 AM? I thought about it for a bit, but decided against it.

Sometimes it’s best to let secrets lie if they work in your favor. TC mark

Read This