September 14, 2019
“Murder on Horse Road”
A Concise, Brief But Complex Tale
With Few Unnecessary Words
by Paul Saevig, ‘67
Colonel Chadwick F. Parmalee, M.D., U.S. Army (retired), 1887-1977, lay dead on his back below Horse Road, behind North Richman Knoll to the north. Neighbor Dr. Roland R. Slauson, MD, born 1924, discovered Parmalee’s body on Friday, August 23, 1977 at 3:46 AM, after Slauson’s Lakeland Terrier Mickey barked repeatedly. Slauson called the Fullerton Police Department and officers arrived at 4:01 AM. A team from the Orange County Morgue arrived at 5:23 AM to remove Parmalee’s body. They knew he had not been dead long.
The police made no significant progress in solving this case by the following Friday. The coroner ruled the death a homicide. Cause of death was a cardiovascular accident due to fright, or a stroke. Neighbors professed no information who might have murdered Parmalee, or would want to.
Mrs. Priscilla Tremaine Hooper, born 1881 in Fullerton, had serious doubts about the murder. She had trained as a registered nurse and served with the Red Cross in both France and Belgium in 1917, 1918 and 1919. There she met Dr. Albert Hooper, MD, 1880-1959, an army physician and best friend of Dr. Chadwick Parmalee. In 1920, she married Dr. Albert Hooper, later an obstetrician and gynecologist in Fullerton for sixty years. She disliked and distrusted Parmalee, who had several times made sexual advances to her that she spurned.
Mrs. Hooper asked Dr. Slauson what he’d seen. He told her he thought maybe there was a coyote killing a cat, and ran up in his bathrobe and slippers.
“Chadwick looked awful, with his neck at an abnormal angle, pale, shocked expression on his face. His wrist was still warm when I tried to take his pulse. I think somebody grabbed him and pushed him off the trail.”
“Chadwick was six feet six inches tall and weighed two hundred twenty pounds, Rollie. Even at his age, I don’t think anybody could do that to him,” she protested.
“Somebody could have surprised him,” Slauson argued.
“Who would want to?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it was somebody from out of town. A vagrant, maybe.”
Mrs. Hooper thanked him and went to question Parmalee’s housekeeper at his Valencia Mesa home. Mrs. Cassandra Polk, born in 1920 outside Greenwood, Mississippi, said Parmalee was petty, stingy, violent, vengeful and hateful, and had made numerous sexual advances to her, which she spurned. She also said every white person she knew in Sunny Hills hated him.
Then Mrs. Hooper interviewed Dr. Keyword W. Guthrie, MD, born 1913, formerly Parmalee’s medical partner. Both Guthrie and his wife Mildred said Parmalee had changed since his wife Mabel, 1890-1969, died of cirrhosis of the liver. They said he became impatient, rude, and threatening. When Mrs. Hooper asked the Guthries who Parmalee threatened, Mildred answered, “Negroes, Jews, Mexicans, Catholics, Orientals, homosexuals, crippled people and Communists.”
Next Mrs. Hooper approached Herbert Ardmore, born 1929, a local real estate attorney she had alway suspected of being homosexual because he seemed so effeminate. She asked him if he’d known Parmalee very well and Ardmore said yes. How? Mrs. Hooper asked. Ardmore said:
“I represented him in the late 1950s when he wanted to pursue an assemblage up by the lake. He owned several parcels of land there. Ultimately the attempt failed and he refused to pay my fee, which would be approximately $400,000 today, with inflation and interest. Later on I collected $150,000 but it wasn’t worth my time to continue.”
“When was the last time you saw him?” Mrs. Hooper asked.
“Thursday morning about 8:30, the day before he died. Driving his car on Valencia Mesa. He gave me a dirty look, like always,” Ardmore said.
“Did he have any close friends that you knew of in Fullerton?” Mrs. Hooper inquired.
“I think he was pretty close to Edgar Spaulding on Rodeo. They went to Pasadena High School together,” Ardmore replied.
Mrs. Hooper knocked on Mr. Edgar Spaulding’s door. He was a retired citrus rancher, born in 1899. He answered and invited her to sit with him on his patio.
“I’m shocked about Chaddy’s death, but not surprised,” Spaulding told her.
“What makes you say that?” Mrs. Hooper asked him.
“Well, he turned into a first class jerk. He’d started to carry a .32 revolver, and he liked to take pot shots at birds and rodents on his morning walk, for one thing.”
“Did anyone complain?” Mrs. Hooper asked, and she knew she must have too hard of hearing to notice the shots, even if she had lived in hearing range.
“Beats me. Probably. I don’t know.”
“That made people mad, huh?”
“Of course. Well, he almost got in some fights at the Barn, where he’d go square dancing. That’s what I heard.”
“Fights with neighborhood men?”
“That’s what I heard, Priscilla. That’s all I know.”
By now it was noon and Priscilla went home to Brookdale Avenue near North Richman, where she fed her Golden Retriever Annie, eleven years old. Priscilla’s two daughters lived in Newport Beach, and her grandchildren were students at USC. Annie was her only company, and Priscilla spoiled her.
She decided Murray Frenk would be the next logical person to talk to, and started for his house on Miramonte.
Dr. Murray Frenk, DDS, born 1919, had seen heavy combat as a U.S. Marine at Guadalcanal, Tarawa and Iwo Jima. He was a retired oral surgeon who practiced calisthenics, isometrics and lifted weights.
“Yeah, I knew Parmalee, the dirty son of a bitch! Pardon my French! Where I came up, we’d call him a panty-waisted faggot! Featherbed Lane, The Bronx. I used to fight lightweight, before Pearl Harbor. They used to put me in ‘black and whites’, against a colored kid. There were lots of great Jew boxers then. I was 16-7 before I enlisted. Yeah, I knew the bastard.”
“Murray, I’m not accustomed to that kind of language, if you please.”
“I’m sorry, honey. Old habit of a Leatherneck! Say, do you like to dance?”
“I’m too tall for you, Murray. Did you ever fight Dr. Parmalee?”
“What a thing to say! That hurts my feelings, Priscilla. I’m 5’4” in my shoes, and that’s enough. Are you kidding? I would have torn his head off. You don’t think I killed him, do you?”
“I’m just asking, Murray. He was my husband’s best friend, after all.”
“Listen, Albert was a good man, your husband, but he had temper on him. One of the truest shots I ever saw. I saw a Mexican caddy lip off to him once, and Albert — “
“Speak well of the dead, Murray. Do you know anybody who might want to kill Dr. Parmalee?”
“Well, not offhand. Nobody liked him much. I remember that land deal he tried to make, back when Eisenhower was president. That always seemed shady to me, and I know Henry Rossmore lost a bundle in court costs. He’s a pretty tough cookie, but I’m not saying nothing.”
Mrs. Hooper thanked him and when she could get away, drove up to Catalina to see Henry Rossmore, born 1904, formerly a big shot in the country assessor’s office, and who'd been in a tank division in Germany, and known as an alcoholic with an eye for young redheads.
She found him working on an antique motorcycle in his garage, and sipping a railroad glass of vodka and 7Up.
“Tell you the truth, I’m sorry about what happened to Chad Parmalee, Priscilla. He operated on my daughter’s heart twice, saved her life both times. We had our differences, but he was a good man. Know who killed him?” Mr. Rossmore said.
“Not a clue, Henry. Did you know him very well?”
“Not any more. In the old days, we used to go hunting with Trent Lindenhurst, Rollie Slauson, Duane Ogden. Deep sea fishing sometimes. You know, at get-togethers. But after Mabel died, hardly at all. He was athletic, even as old as he was. I don’t see him slipping off a trail. Somebody must have pushed him. I don’t imagine he drank much any more.”
“No, I don’t think he did. Are you going to ride that motorcycle when you finish?” she asked him.
“Me? I’d crush it like a bug! Oh, I might just in the driveway. It belongs to my son in law, actually,” Henry explained, and narrated the history of the motorcycle for Priscilla until she said she had to go.
Pricilla knew Trent Lindenhurst, born a week before she was, lived in the old folk’s home over behind Hillcrest Park, and had terrible emphysema. Priscilla stopped at the little market by the Fox to buy him a Vernor’s Ginger Ale because he always used to like it. But Trent didn’t recognize her, not at first, and then thought they were at a Fullerton High School hayride. He enjoyed his ginger ale and fell sleep. Priscilla waited and he woke up in five minutes.
She could not bring herself to tell Trent about Chadwick Parmalee, so she held his hand instead and sang an old black-face song they sang in high school.
She's ma lady love, she is ma dove, ma baby love,
She's no gal for sittin' down to dream,
She's de only queen Laguna knows;
I know she likes me, I know she likes me
Bekase she says so; She is de Lily of Laguna,
she is ma Lily and ma Rose.
His eyes changed suddenly and he said:
“I know who did it.”
“She knows judo and she flipped him!” he added distinctly.
He said no more and slept. Priscilla decided not to wait any longer, and the big Dutch girl who worked there gave her that look: “You need to leave.”
Pricilla took a chance and gave the girl a $50 bill, and said, “Call me if he says anything else. There’ll be more.”
In her car, she tried to remember if any women of her acquaintance knew judo, or ju-jitsu. Her mind remained blank until she reached the Valencia Mesa bridge, and then she remembered. She continued to Richman Knoll, turned down to the gully and came up at Cerritos to turn right.
There was a young couple she met years ago, and the woman taught physical education at one of the junior high schools. Her husband was an arborist.
The woman answered her front door and wore a tennis outfit damp from perspiration.
“Mrs. Hooper! It’s been forever! Come inside, please!”
Mrs. Hooper crossed the threshold into a cool hallway and living room, and remembered the young woman’s name was Amanda Curson. She must have been about sixty now.
“Iced tea? Lemonade? Purified water?” Amanda Curson suggested. “Please, sit down.”
After small talk, in which no mention of the murder was made, Mrs. Hooper asked Amanda if she still practiced judo.
Immediately the woman blanched and looked away. There were pink-red scratch marks on her thighs and knees.
“Not so much. I concentrate on tennis now, and SCUBA diving,” she said.
Mrs. Hooper told her that was wonderful, and how her own daughter and son in law played tennis three times a week. She admired the home’s interior design, and still Amanda seemed anxious, on edge.
“Well, I was just in the neighborhood and had an impulse to say howdy,” Mrs. Hooper said. “An old lady’s impulse! Scratch yourself in your garden?”
“Oh, these? No, not at all. Playing softball with my granddaughters. Took a spill! Ha ha! Getting too old for that!”
“Oh, that sounds like fun! Where do the girls live?”
Amanda hesitated and said, “Mission Viejo, actually. They come up often.”
“Wonderful! Well, I’ll be scooting along, Amanda!”
“Oh, I’m so glad you stopped by, Mrs. Hooper,” Amanda said, although she hurried to show her to the door.
As Mrs. Hooper drove off, she watched her rear view mirror and saw Amanda making a cell call on her front porch.
Mrs. Hooper didn’t need to check on the grandchildren. That had been a bald-faced lie.
She decided to visit Marcia Hauser, born 1951, a painter who lived on Valley View near North Richman. She entered marathons and was often seen running fast along Horse Road, and on the trail up to the lake, and back. Mrs. Hooper had bought several of her paintings and knew Marcia well enough to walk beside her house and out to the workshop in her back yard.
“Priscilla! Yikes! Wow!” the woman said, and bear-hugged her. “What brings you by?”
“Well, I’m trying to figure out what happened to Dr, Parmalee, you know. I figured you probably saw him when you ran,” Priscilla said.
“Oh, I sure did! That man was not friendly! Not at all! I always smiled at him like I do to everybody and sometimes I said hello, but all I got was a dirty look! Was he losing it? I mean, that old?”
“I don’t think so. See him up on Horse Road?”
“Yeah, mainly. No matter how early I went out, he was almost always there, walking. Pretty good pace, too, swung his arms like you should. I kind of felt sorry for him, because I heard his wife died a long time ago. Have any ideas?”
“Not a clue. He walked alone?”
“Always? My Border Collie runs with me. Wacky? Wacky? Say hello to Priscilla, an old friend!”
A female Border Collie raced into the room, turned the corner with her paws skidding, and sprinted to within five feet of Priscilla, and stood on her hind legs to bow, offer her front paw for a shake, and nodded. Priscilla had to smile.
“Border Collies are supposedly the most intelligent of all dogs,” Marcia boasted. “Good GIRL!”
The dog resumed her footing, trotted fast to a window, jumped on a couch and rested for no more than ten seconds. Then she streaked back to where she’d come from.
“She’s my heart!” Marcia explained. “But you know, I’m not surprised someone killed Dr. Parmalee, if that’s what happened. Just a vibe I got. He looked like somebody that somebody else really had it in for, you know?”
“Anyone you know of?”
“Not exactly, but he just looked that way, like someone would be mad enough at him. There is one other runner — Cassie — who lives on Carhart — she told me Dr. Parable propositioned her once, actually offered her money. While she was running. She slows down to say hello to people sometimes, and she said that’s when it happened. In fact I think it was on Horse Road. She just laughed at the time. I mean because he’s so old, or was. But she realized it was creepy. She wasn’t too worried, because she knows karate, but it grossed her out. You know?”
“I agree,” Priscilla said.
“Is he the kind of dude who does that? Was?”
“Apparently he was, Amanda. I’ve known him since World War One, and he was always flirtatious. A tomcat. We used to look the other way, unless a husband knew it was his wife. Or sister or daughter. It used to be, well, almost expected of a certain kind of man.”
“I don’t follow.”
“Well, Dr. Parmalee was born in 1887, and that was the Victorian Era. Women had almost no rights at all. It may sound like a cliche now, but it was true. Women were supposed to be obedient, pretty, have babies, and not rock the boat. Men could get away with those things a lot. So as I said, we kind of turned the other way. He was my husband’s best friend, and not the worst of those wolves. I knew some of his conquests, as they say. I haven’t thought about it in a long time, though.”
“He wasn’t a rapist,” Mrs. Hooper pointed out. “That I knew of.”
“That’s a good word for it. Do you think you could introduce me to your friend Cassie?”
“Sure. I’ll call her right now.”
Mrs. Hooper felt out of sorts and walked to a window. In a minute she heard Amanda say, “It’s all set. Want to go over now?”
So she did, and found Cassie working in her front yard, picking weeds in her flower beds. The two women introduced themselves and went into the kitchen.
“I’m glad someone’s asked me about that man,” Cassie began by saying. “I know he’d dead now, and I’m sorry, but what about the women he harassed? Because that’s what he did, Mrs. Hooper. I didn’t know him but I knew who he was and that he was rich, probably powerful, too. It’s bad enough when an ordinary guy says that to you, but when it’s a rich man, well, you don’t know what might happen. He might have people with him or something. To drag you away, maybe. It’s just such an insult, you know?”
Mrs. Hooper agreed that was true. She was thinking of how her own mother warned her about men, and instructed her in how to act and where not to go.
“How can I help?” Cassie asked her, and her huge St. Bernard lumbered into the room. He made Cassie smile, and she introduced her as Camille to Dr. Hooper.
“Camille’s been with me for thirteen years. She’s a dear,” Cassie said.
Mrs. Hooper wondered if she might invite the young women and their dogs to come over to her place. Her backyard was deep and they could swim in the pool, too.
“Well, you already have, Cassie. It just gets more confusing. I’m strictly an amateur at this detective business, obviously. Maybe I should just let the city detectives do their job,” Mrs. Hooper admitted, and that was a lie.
“I guess maybe so. It’s sad,” Cassie admitted.
They talked a while and Mrs. Hooper told Cassie that she and Camille would have to come over some time, and Amanda and Wacky, too. The woman agreed, and Mrs. Hooper left.
The sun was lower in the sky as she reached Brookdale, and saw her own Annie romping slowly in the alley, as an old dog will. Mrs. Hooper had been denying that Annie was mischievous, and sometimes wandered off at night, because she knew ways to sneak out of her doghouse in the yard, or out of the house in cold weather. She always came back, but she’d wandered as far as the gulch by North Euclid, and anywhere people had horses.
She was a dog who loved being near horses. Mrs. Hooper had to go inside and sit down to catch her breath.
She remembered now how Annie had bruises on her nose and by one of her eyes a few months ago. There was no way to explain it and nothing Mrs. Hooper could do about it. Annie was a big girl and still strong, and more than once she’d bowled Mrs. Hooper over in her own Golden Retriever excitement.
Mrs. Hooper hugged Annie close, stroked her fur on her shoulders, and got up to get a steak for her from the freezer. Annie was a good girl.
The old lady was a kind soul and she abandoned her search for the killer of Dr. Parmalee. Rest in peace.