Wiretapping mystery

A mystery worthy of novelists who wrote about the Los Angeles of the 1930s or 1940s. Are there any historians or history buffs out there who can give a plausible explanation to what you read below?Back story. When I got the manuscript of “Midway Bravery” back from my editor, he, a fellow newspaper guy, pointed out an obvious “hole” in the story, something left dangling. I was well aware of it, too, but left it in, hoping for a miraculous solution.

Craig Lancaster, my editor, suggested cutting this chunk out as part of my goal of paring a 65,000-word manuscript down to my target of about 60,000 words.

The context is this. In the summer of 1941, Jim Muri participated in Army Air Corps training on the East Coast, and he also took part in the Army’s famed Louisiana Maneuvers — what might be better called war games — in late summer 1941. He and his fiance, Alice Moyer, living in her hometown, Riverside, California, stayed in touch with regular letters. One of those letters contains a lasting mystery. ...

Alice mailed a letter, postmarked August 1, 1941, in which she told Jim about having a couple of hard days at work. They made her “so tired and nervous by the time I get off, I’m not worth kicking.”

The puzzle begins.

"Someone tried to do that job the other night. The only thing that saved me was a prickly feeling at the back of my neck,” she said.

Alice described the setting: it was after dark, and she was walking to a local department store. As she came to the end of the street, she saw a car. Its driver appeared to be looking for a house number.

"I didn’t pay any attention but kept on walking. When I got down in the arroyo, their headlight suddenly swung over, covering me, and they came on in a rush.” Alice said she didn’t have time to scream or turn around.

"I just jumped up on the bank and thanked God for a telephone pole that was in front of me, keeping them from swerving any closer. As it was, they brushed against the leg of my slacks and then they went roaring off.”

Alice told Jim she couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to kill her, but she added a clue: “It may have been just a warning to mom (her mother). I’ll tell you about it when I see you.”

It wasn’t “very safe” to write, Alice said, without telling why, and using the phone was problematic, too.

"I do know our telephone is tapped but that doesn’t worry me because it’s for a good reason. This must all sound very mysterious, and it is to all of us, but I’ll explain sometime.”

If Alice furnished an explanation for whatever threat was hanging over her family, and why their phone line was tapped, no record of that exists. Jim and Alice's children, James and Sylvia, said in 2018 they never heard their parents explain their mother’s apprehension.

Meanwhile, back in Southern California, talk of wiretapping and government snooping continued. Almost 80 years later, it’s almost impossible to determine why Alice Moyers’ family’s telephone was being tapped. If it was. And why she expressed a nonchalant attitude towards a clear of violation of her family’s privacy.

Perhaps the most that can be said is that the Los Angeles of the time — and the Moyers lived in adjoining Riverside County — was trying to rid itself of mob corruption that spread throughout the growing metropolis in the 1920s and 1930s. That was a time when underworld figures such as Bugsy Siegel and Mickey Cohen set up shop in the City of Angels. It was just before William Parker, who hailed from the legendary South Dakota frontier town of Deadwood, became LA police chief and set out to end the rule of the “Combination,” the consortium of business tycoons, politicians and criminal figures who effectively ran the city.

Novelist Raymond Chandler captured the period in his novels, giving rise to the term “LA Noir” to describe the glamor and danger of the era. When Parker became police chief in the 1940s, his crusading inspired the popular TV series of the 1950s, Dragnet. The show’s lead character, Sg. Joe Friday, became legendary for his greeting to female informants: “The facts, ma’am, just the facts,” or perhaps more accurately, “All we want are the facts, ma’am.”

Alice Moyer, her mother and her siblings may have been aware of an explosive development in Los Angeles during the U.S.’s last summer of peace before the country’s entry into World War II. On July 31, 1941, the Los Angeles Times published an article headlined “Bribe Charge Brings Storm.”

The story said an ex-convict’s charge that he paid off Los Angeles Police Department Capt. Theodore J. Mailheau amounted to tainted evidence because of the way it was obtained. Mailheau headed the department’s “bunko” squad, charged with investigating swindles where someone was cheated at gambling or persuaded to buy a nonexistent, unsalable, or worthless object, or otherwise victimized. The row centered on District Attorney John F. Dockweiler, Police Chief C.B. Horwall and a county grand jury looking into the matter.

"A scheduled grand jury inquiry collapsed at least temporarily because in the opinion of Dockweiler and other high authorities, evidence obtained by Chief Deputy District Attorney Grant Cooper with a powerful dictograph might run into a stane (sic - apparent typographical error, presumably “stone”) wall of Federal prosecution for wire tapping,” Times readers were told.

("Dictograph” is a brand name for a telephone device with a highly sensitive transmitter that makes a mouthpiece unnecessary. This allows someone to secretly listen to and record a phone conversation.)

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