1953: A Bad Week for Dogs, Birds, and Cat Burglars

News from the Nov.12, 1953, edition of the Lemon Grove Review.

A look back at Lemon Grove, 59 years ago this week.

Despite the onset of the holiday season, there was a noirish tone to life in the best climate on earth. The quotes are priceless and could be matched only by Raymond Chandler or perhaps Ernest Hemingway at his most terse.

Punk Poisons Pooches: After six pet dogs fell over and died of strychnine poisoning, angry locals descended on the Lemon Grove Sheriff's office demanding a manhunt.  

Ellsworth Marsteller, Vista Drive, paid $45 to have his dog's stomach contents analyzed and sure enough, "They were soaked in strychnine." A neighboring boxer escaped a grisly fate (see photo). Marsteller also said the neighborhood was full of children, all at risk of accidental poisoning.

Deputies discovered size 12 footprints near a clump of weeds where strychnine-laced bread had been found and vowed to check rap sheets for any malcontent with big feet.

Perp Punches Parakeet: The Review declared Lemon Grove the Parakeet Capital of the World due to the huge number of the birds kept as pets, and the fame of Jensen's Bird Farm, established in 1921 at Adams and Washington Streets, where exotic parakeets were raised.

But on the night of Nov. 10 while the Carston Adairs, Alton Drive, were sound asleep, some bum broke into their aviary and punched "Chirpy," their rose-ringed parakeet, who had just learned to say three words. The Adairs found Chirpy prone on the aviary floor, footprints around the cage, and a hole in the cage netting.  

"This heartless perpetrator deserves to be roasted alive," said Mrs. Adair.  "Now we'll never hear Chirpy say "Wow," "Boo," and "Help" again."  

Would that Chirpy had had that last word.

Crowbar Crook Cracks Counter:  The rear door of Haizlip's Pharmacy (today, Starbucks) was jimmied open with a crowbar in the wee hours of Nov. 8 and $1,000 in cash from the register and cigarettes from a display counter stolen, said Larry Claxton, pharmacist.  Deputies found fingerprints on the cracked counter but said "no other merchandise was molested." Haizlip's back door was in a "labyrinthine" area hidden from the street.  

"Anybody can break in here, clean the place out and leave," noted the salesgirl.  "I'm just glad I wasn't here as I would of screamed and fainted."

Blonde Slays Hubby, Self: The Review vied with Life Magazine in breathless coverage of "the crime of the 20th century," the saga of "stunning blonde" Diane Wells, 31, who two-timed her millionaire, auto dealer hubby, Cecil, 51, with jazz drummer Johnny Warren, 33.  J

Johnny and Diane, who was Cecil's third wife, shot Cecil in the head as he slept in his luxurious Fairbanks apartment, then fled to Seattle. Tracked down by intrepid gumshoes, Diane denied all knowledge of the hit job and said she "barely knew" Johnny. She was indicted in Fairbanks, AK, and then freed on $5,000 bail. The prosecutor was former Alaska governor Ted Stevens ("The Bridge to Nowhere") on his first big case as Fairbanks district attorney.

Taking her four-year-old son, Diane fled to Hollywood, where she checked into a hotel as "Diane May, Denver." She left her son with friends, then committed suicide by swallowing 30 sleeping pills. The hotel maid found her seven hours later. She had $1.80 in her purse.  

Johnny was indicted but never brought to trial, prompting accusations of police incompetence. After all, who beat up Diane with flowerpots on the night of the murder, leaving her black and blue?

Cecil was buried amid pomp and circumstance as lengthy obituaries proclaimed his civic service, business success and political accomplishments (he had been mayor of Valdez). 

Bandit Bungles Break-In: Somebody fell over a chair while trying to steal frozen turkeys from McMahan's Furniture, Broadway, on the night of Nov. 10. Earlier that day, Adams Turkey Ranch, La Mesa, had delivered the birds for a Thanksgiving promotion at the store ("Buy a dinette suite and win a turkey").

But the bumbling bandit blew it by blundering into a desk chair in the dark, apparently lacerating a portion of his anatomy and leaving a trail of blood all the way to the freezer. Bloody but unbowed, the bandit pried open the freezer, but was too butter-fingered to finish the job. Next morning, deputies found turkeys "thawing all over the place." 

"Somebody took it on the lam and now we have to roast all these Toms or leave them to rot," said a deputy. 

Bow and Arrow OK: "Use of pistols or rifles is prohibited in taking of pheasants, quail, sage hens or chukar partridges." This cryptic note was placed next to a photograph of comely Pat Boland, the ax-wielding Miss Optimist of 1953, as she chose her turkey at the Adams Turkey Ranch, Upland Street, La Mesa. (See photo)

By the way, a chukar partridge is not the one you find in a pear tree. We learned that the cute little chukar ranged through the Middle East to India and was later bred on California ranches as a "gourmet treat."

Wisdom of the Ages:  In case you didn't get the memo, the Review ran these fillers: 

  • "Traffic deaths and accidents take a sharp rise after dark when vision is reduced." 
  • "Those not driving cars while walking in the middle of the street are 40 times more likely to be hit."
  • "Half of all pedestrians are hit by cars."
  • "Untended babies are more likely to be poisoned at home while crawling under the kitchen sink."


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