The Biggest Liar in Los Angeles, Ch. 1

One

TOM Hickey rented in a court near the intersection of Wilshire and Normandie, halfway between downtown Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. He shared the cottage with his sixteen-year-old sister Florence. Almost six years ago, Tom had snatched her away from their mother, Millicent Hickey, a seamstress for Universal Pictures.
He hadn’t spoken to Milly since the day he and Florence ran off with nothing but his clarinet and a suitcase of clothes between them. At first he believed their mother would track them down, have him arrested or beaten by a gang of her fellow spiritualists. But all these years, she had left him alone.
He credited Leo Weiss for that blessing.
When Tom was in fourth grade, Milly rented a two-bedroom bungalow on Orange between Highland and La Brea. The owners, who lived next door, were Violet Weiss and her husband Leo, a detective with the LAPD.
At first, Leo and Vi appreciated Milly. She kept the house spotless, and her passion for gardening transformed the yard into a wild yet orderly scene reminiscent of Eden. But soon, Vi caught Milly whipping Tom with a rope while shouting in “tongues.” Leo warned her, politely, hoping to keep Tom and Florence next door where he and Vi could observe and react.
Then Vi rescued Tom after Milly lashed him to a fence post in the back yard and left him while she ran errands. For that offense, Leo threatened jail next time. Milly moved them to Hollywood, several miles away.|
Tom snatched his sister when he was sixteen, Florence eleven. A few days afterward, he reported to Leo what his mother had done to the girl. Then Leo informed Milly that although minors running from their guardians was only a misdemeanor, torture was a felony that got rewarded by long prison terms.

NOW, in 1926, before Tom was twenty-two, the other musicians in the dance band he joined last year drafted him to lead, on account of his skill at arranging, though most of them were twice his age.
Tonight the musicians roamed around the vacant storefront owned by Archie the drummers uncle, trading jokes and filling the room with a smoky blue haze.
Tom hoped a high C would grab their attention. He lifted the clarinet to his lips.
Then Oz came loping in. He carried the tattered case that protected his alto sax, and a fistful of leaflets. He shoved a leaflet at each of the boys. As Tom took his, Oz said, “None of you white folks go telling me the Klan don’t be here out west.”
The leaflet was a broadside entitled The Forum.
It declared:

LYNCHING.

We who ask to live in peace; who came to this City of Angels hoping to leave the terror behind; who judge no man without cause; who take only our meager share of the promise this nation affords to those unbound by color; who wish to believe that justice will someday prevail, must now pause to weep.

On Monday, the 11th day of October, a gentleman who shall here go unnamed went out walking in Echo Park just as sunlight spilled over Angelino Heights. In the glare of dawn, a vision appeared. So terrible it was, the gentleman believed he had not risen but was in the throes of a nightmare.

A dark man hung limp from the live oak not ten yards off Park Avenue, not fifty yards from Sister Aimee Semple McPherson’s majestic temple.

Before this heinous act, the “Invisible Empire,” resurrected by Mister D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation,” would have us believe that in our locale they limit their hooded activities to preserving the Good Book’s values by smashing the furniture and windows of speakeasies, flogging the occasional adulterer, marching to protest the election of our first Negro assemblyman, and rallying voters to elect candidates opposed to unfettered growth. Now, with one act, despicable in both substance and symbolism, they have declared war against peace and decency.

The test of a community lies not in the occurrence of sinister deeds. Evil will always live among us. No, the test of our mettle lies in our reaction to manifestations of evil. In the case of this deed, more vicious than simple murder because it targets the spirit of a people, we who seek truth, peace and justice must mourn to our depths more than the loss of an innocent. The implications of the lynching go so deep, they mock the very concept of justice. When public servants attempt to obliterate the truth, they shatter our dreams of a world that could be.

Members of the Los Angeles Police Department carried off the body in such haste, only one early-rising gentleman witnessed the shameful deed. Let the reader judge: has the briefest account of this heinous crime appeared in the Times, the Herald, or the Examiner?

To our knowledge, no publication but the Forum has risked offending the powerful by reporting the murder of Franklin Gaines.

THE FLOOR beneath Tom rose and fell, as if another earthquake had struck, and worse than any earthquake he had known. He back-stepped and leaned against the brick wall. “Frank Gaines,” he muttered.

 

 

print