Genealogist’s tip leads to identity of George Hodel’s confidant/accomplice
Thanks to a recent email from JIL ANDERSON, a genealogist/researcher, the fifty-nine year-old mystery of the identity of “The German Baron” overhead speaking in conversation with my father on the February 18, 1950, DA HODEL- BLACK DAHLIA SURVEILLANCE TAPES has been solved. Here is JIL’s verbatim e-mail to me, describing her findings:
Sent: Thursday, February 05, 2009 7:42 PM
Subject: Identity of Baron Herringer
After having read all of your website, I forgot to mention that I think I may have discovered the identity of “Baron Herringer” – not that it will make any difference, but thought you might be interested to know what popped up on a genealogy website. (I have frequently done “random acts of genealogical kindness” for people searching their ancestry; and likewise, people have helped me with discovering my own family tree.)
Maybe you already know about him, but your intriguing statement that no one knew who he was, made me wonder if I could locate him in the genealogical databases. Since he was German, and I know that families wanting to express nobility frequently use the name “von” in their names, I looked him up that way. The fact that he was called “Baron” makes me think that was a nickname, leading people to believe him to be of noble heritage. So I have attached some records of one “Ernst Von Harringa” who emigrated from Germany, via Chungking China, to the United States. He applied for naturalization 5 times and wed an American in 1939. (Actually he had changed his name from Ernst Franz Meyer which was his name in Germany.) He was a writer and an art dealer and married a socialite by the name Alene.
Also in a book about Aleister Crowley, titled The Unknown God, there is a mention of “Baron Ernst Von Harringa”.
I’ve attached these documents . . . the extent of my suspicion of who “Baron Herringer” was.
Having just completed two months of research on the name provided by JIL , I can say with complete confidence that-SHE HAS IDENTIFIED THE RIGHT MAN.
The Back-Story on “Baron Herringer”
Those of you who have read the updated version of BDA will be familiar with the heretofore unidentified “Baron” from the DA/LAPD- HODEL – BLACK DAHLIA TAPES. (BDA pages 468-471)
This man initially identified by LAPD on the tapes as “a man with a German accent”, (and then in later transcripts named as, “Baron Herringer” (phonetic) is first heard on the tapes in conversation (live, not phone tap) with Dr. George Hodel at the Franklin House– on February 18, 1950.
In that conversation, George Hodel makes the following incriminating admissions implicating both himself and “The Baron” in various criminal activities. Here is a brief recap [sic] from the DA transcripts:
Hodel to the German – “This is the best pay off I’ve seen between Law Enforcement Agencies. You do not have the right connection made.” Hodel states, “I’d like to get a connection made in the D.A.’s office.”
General conversation between the two – “Any imperfections will be found. They will have to be made perfect. Don’t confess ever. Two and two is not four. Much laughter. “We’re just a couple of smart boys.” More laughter.
Hodel then -in exact detail-explained to the German about his wife being stopped on Wednesday morning by McGrath and Morgan of the District Attorney’s office when they stopped her going up her steps to the house on Franklin. It should be noted that every question asked of Mrs. Hodel was repeated ver-batum by Hodel to this German. He then began to explain to this German about his recent trial – making statements that, “There out to get me. Two men in the D.A.’s officer were transferred and demoted because of my trial.” Hodel then explained about his being questioned at the D.A.’s office on Wednesday morning, and told in great detail as to questions perpounded to him at that time. One statement made to the German was as follows: “Supposin I did kill the Black Daliah. They couldn’t prove it now. They can’t talk to my Secretary anymore because she’s dead.”
One point of the conversation was also, “Have you heard from Powers”.
Hodel talking to a man with an acent, possibly German. “Telephone men were here. Operator..? Realize there was nothing I could do put a pillow over her head, and cover her with a blanket. Get a taxi. Call Georgia Street Receiving Hospital right away. Expired at 12:39. They though there was something fishy. Anyway, now they may have figured it out. Killed her. Maybe I did kill my Secretary.”
(SKH Note- This conversation relates to the murder of his personal secretary, Ruth Spaulding in 1945 by overdose of barbiturates. LAPD actively investigated him at that time, but were unable to prove a case. Two weeks after these statements are made, we find in DA Lt. Jemison’s March 4, 1950 notes that he has reactivated that investigation and is preparing to reinterview all of the original 1945 witnesses in the Ruth Spaulding investigation.(See Book Gallery Photo Section, Image 25)
The February 18, 1950 tapes go on to document a series of events at the Franklin House which involve George Hodel, “The Baron” and an unidentified woman who could well have been the victim of –a murder in progress.
Briefly summarized, the woman is first heard crying. Later she is heard dialing the operator, more crying. Then later still, she is heard to scream out. George Hodel and The Baron are heard digging in the basement. The woman screams again. A sound of a pipe hitting something solid, then the woman is silent. While this is all recorded on tape and reported in the DA transcripts, incredibly NO ACTION IS TAKEN BY THE OFFICERS.(Had I been monitoring those audio tapes, both my partner and I would have been out the door of the police station in seconds and driving code-2 (damn fast!) to the Franklin House which was about five-minutes away. We would have kicked down the door and forced entry in hopes of saving a life. It is just unbelievable that the two-man surveillance team sat in the basement of LAPD Hollywood Station and –DID NOTHING.)
This raises a second obvious question – Why did law enforcement, not conduct any follow-up on “The Baron?”
WHO WAS “BARON” ERNST VON HARRINGA?- BIO-TIMELINE
Here is what my research has produced so far:
Born Ernst Franz Meyer in Netteln, Germany on March 4, 1899.
Fought aa a soldier in WW I, during the Second Reich (Weimar Republic 1919-1933)
Worked as a “banker” in Chungking, China
Meyer sailed from Shanghai, China to San Francisco on the vessel, Taiyo Maru and entered the U.S. on August 21, 1925
On December 11, 1932 “The Baron” writes a lengthy article for the L.A. Times, entitled,
I FOUGHT AMERICANS-But, they healed my hate.” His introduction begins, “My first contact with them was on the battlefields, and they were such good sports I decided to become an American citizen myself– which I’ve just done.” (His entire article is a blatant attempt to help him gain citizenship, which was denied.)
Legally changed his name to “Ernest Von Harringa” and on a 1933 “Declaration of Intention” the document lists his physical description as: Male, White, age 34, 5-10, 175, blonde hair, blue eyes, occupation- “Writer”. Residence, 947 Parkview St., Los Angeles, California. Marital Status- Single.
On November 4, 1931 Von Harringa is arrested by LAPD for “attempted extortion.” The victim was Dr. H. Clifford Loos and his former wife, Mrs. Anita Johnson. The charges alleged that “Von Harringa demanded $5,000.00 from Dr. Loos and Mrs. Johnson under threats of defaming their character in published articles.” Baron Harringa is found guilty of the charges, but then the case is later overturned on appeal.
On April 2, 1933 “The Baron” writes a lengthy article which is published in the L.A. Times entitled, I WAS A BANKER IN CHINA. The introduction begins, “Far in the interior, near the Tibetan border, I ran into strange customs-forty-course banquets, ninety kinds of currency, bandits who robbed one politely…and business methods, which will make you smile.”
1935, Los Angeles artist, Robert McIntosh creates a portrait of Ernst Von Harringa entitled, “The German Art Dealer.” (The oil is currently on display at the Trigg Ison Art Gallery, 511 N. Robertson Bl., West Hollywood. Asking price $30,000.00)
1937- Baron von Harringa opens his art gallery in the posh OVIATT BUILDING and receives a write-up and opening announcement in the Los Angeles Times from then art-critic, Arthur Millier who had this to say about Baron Harringa’s gallery:
Los Angeles Times, May 9, 1939
Good clothes and good pictures consort well together. So we have the Oviatt Galleries, just opened by Ernst v. Harringa in the well-known clothier’s establishment downtown.
Some excellent pictures by older masters are in this first showing, among them two exceptionally fine “Scenes Galeantes” by Pater of eighteenth century France, a very pure “Madonna,” attributed to Luis de Morales, the great sixteenth century Spanish religious painter; a fine anonymous Flemish “Bearing of the Cross,” done about 1820; Joseph Highmore’s, “Portrait of a Gentleman,” better than many an alleged Gainsborough; an exquisite small circular river scene by Herman Saftleven, pupil of Van Goyen, a portrait by Rembrandt’s pupil, Levecque, and canvases by Gillis van Tilborch, Charles Le beran, Berne-Bellecour, Charles Hoguet and an anonymous Spanish painter of “St. Francis.” The choice of works shown inspires confidence in the future of this enterprise.
(SKH Note- The Oviatt Building, 617 So. Olive St., a striking art-deco was built in 1928, and remains one of L.A.’s finest architectural buildings. The clothier with its clock-tower restaurant was home to Hollywood’s rich and famous. See video trailer for its remarkable history. The building and Baron Harringa’s art gallery were just one-block from the Biltmore Hotel and three blocks from Dr. George Hill Hodel’s then private medical practice at 7th & Flower St.)
Here is how the Art Deco Society described the OVIATT building for a 2008 lecture and film screening:
Through lecture and film screening, here is the untold story of downtown Los Angeles’ first Art Deco jewel: the 1928 Oviatt Building and its opulent penthouse. Virtually a second home to Clark Gable, Errol Flynn and other male stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age; the Oviatt Building housed L.A.’s finest haberdashery and catered to filmdom’s titans. For eight decades, its glamorous and controversial history has been shrouded in mystery and clouded by misinformation…until now. Full of long-lost archival images and long-forgotten events, this myth-busting documentary spans more than a century and interviews the men and women who shaped the Oviatt Building’s turbulent history. Trailer | More
On a 1939 Petition for Naturalization, Von Harringa provided additional information: Residence address listed as, 946 Arapahoe St, Los Angeles. Occupation- “Art Dealer” He claims he was married to Alene von Harringa on 1/14/39 in Calabasas, California, declaring his wife to be a U.S. citizen with a birth date of 5/12/12. He listed her residence address as, 3747 ½ W. 27th St., Los Angeles. (Documents indicate Harringa had previously requested but was denied citizenship in 1931.)
In November, 1952 Harringa reportedly leaves the U.S. “for a job building dams in India. “
Baron Harringa, and W.T. Smith – Church of Thelema connections:
In my further search for information on Baron Harringa, I found very little personal information available but did find some important insights in the book mentioned by Jil Anderson in her email, The Unknown God: W.T. Smith and the Thelemites, (Teitan Press: November 2003) by Martin P. Starr.
An excerpt from the publisher’s description of the book:
The first documentary study of Aleister Crowley’s contemporary followers in North America, told through the life of their de facto leader, Wilfred Talbot Smith (1885-1957). Smith. …To promulgate the Crowleyan teachings, in 1934 Smith incorporated his own “Church of Thelema”–known to Los Angeles newspaper readers as the “Purple Cult.” The following year he initiated OTO activity in Los Angeles which attracted its own cast of occult characters.
It turns out that Wilfred Talbot Smith and Baron von Harringa, according to author/researcher, Martin Starr, were close friends in Los Angeles. Mr. Starr in his book includes some brief but quite remarkable insights into Ernst von Harringa and his personality. I quote from the excerpted pages of Starr’s book:
The Unknown God, page 322-323:
In the hiatus, Smith had befriended Baron Ernst von Harringa (b.1899), a naturalized German art dealer and importer who worked as the director of the Oviatt Galleries in Los Angeles. Von Harringa had studied in Count Hermann Keyserling’s “School of Wisdom” which had been founded in Darmstadt, Germany in 1920; he also claimed the passing acquaintance of Theodor Reuss. However, he knew nothing of Crowley’s work prior to his friendship with Smith. The Baron was a lover of Chinese art and bestowed many prize objects of virtu on Smith and Helen. Calling on his training as a cabinetmaker, he had Smith construct replicas of Asian furniture for sale in his gallery. Helen cheerfully waited on her two “big boys” as they spent long hours drinking tea and sharing their ideas. Given von Harringa’s level of understanding, Smith considered him the equivalent of an Exempt Adept; Jane, too, was impressed by his person, thinking him a second Crowley, but changed her mind after she read several analyses of the Baron’s horoscope, including one prepared by Phyllis Seckler. Von Harringa was an extreme individualist and he felt that any effort for humanity was a waste, in view of the catastrophe that he believed was just around the corner. …
Smith felt himself loved and understood by von Harringa, who left California in November 1952 for a job building dams in India and never saw his friend alive again. Helen and Smith kept up a regular correspondence with the Baron, and frequently lamented his absence from their lives. To his intellectual soulmate Smith revealed his thoughts on politics, gender roles and the future of humanity, sometimes all rolled into the same paragraph:
We are headed for a radical social change; which among other things, will ultimate in the ladies fulfilling the function nature (not man) adapted them to better grace, and less intrusion into spheres of activity they are so unsuited to occupy. Men will find them at hand when they are needed and in the interim enjoy tranquility and peace, or the company of an intellectual, wise, and understanding companion. (Smith to Ernst von Harringa, June 28, 1954, WTS Papers.)
What was the George Hodel — Ernst von Harringa connection?
With the identification of “The Baron” it seems we have created more questions than found answers. (Frequently the case.)
Did George Hodel and Ernst von Harringa’s friendship in L.A. trace back to his arrival in the mid-twenties? Perhaps.
Did Ernst Harringa as a high-profile art-dealer know and possibly even represent George Hodel’s close friend, artist, Fred Sexton? Very likely. At the very least, they must have known each other-perhaps much more?
Was Baron Harringa associated with many or most of the men and women of the L.A. art world, listed in Mark Nelson and Sarah Hudson Bayliss’ book, Exquisite Corpse: Surrealism and The Black Dahlia Murder in their listing and map of the, Los Angeles 1935-1950 A Web of Connections”? Almost certainly.
We now know that Harringa and Hodel’s L.A. offices were within three blocks of each other and in their chosen professions as art dealer and physician both socialized with the rich and famous, as well as city politicians and men in power.
It is obvious the two men were kindred spirits. Both had a love of art and enjoyed intellectually stimulating conversation. Both shared a burning desire to travel and had been to many of the same locals in China, including Chungking and Shanghai. Both were extremely eccentric and from what we know from the bugging tapes were politically connected and at the very least were involved in payoffs to law enforcement, as well as accomplices in the assault or possible murder of a female victim at the Franklin House. “We’re just a couple of smart boys. Don’t confess ever.”
What other crimes had the two men committed? It is likely we will never know? But, now, thanks to JIL ANDERSON’s efforts, we do know “The Baron’s” identity and have gained some fairly good insights into his background.
Should any of my readers have additional information on this mysterious Baron Harringa, please feel free to forward it to me via email.
Stay tuned; I’m confident that this is not the last word on Baron Ernst von Harringa.
(Double click photos to enlarge)
Harringa extortion 1931
Lt. Jemison “Spaulding” reinvestigation