by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Carl I. Jacobson (1877-1960) was a member of the Los Angeles City Council on a moral crusade against vice and corruption when the stunning news came, in early August 1927, that he was under arrest on a morals charge when he was found in stripped down to his underwear in the home of Mrs. Callie Grimes, who wore even less clothing.
According to the officers who burst into the Grimes household on the evening of the 5th, a bewildered Jacobson, who was married with two children, cried out that he was ruined and begged one of them to hand over his gun so the council member could shoot himself. Yet, almost immediately after news broke of the arrest, Jacobson alleged that he was framed by the powerful forces of vice he’d been fighting since he joined the council two years earlier.
In fact, Jacobson, a native of Skedsmo, Norway, just outside Oslo, and raised in Wisconsin, came to Los Angeles in 1909 to work for the Southern Pacific railroad as an engineer and rose to be a union activist. He ran for the thirteenth district council seat in spring 1925 and lost by a mere twelve votes. When his opponent, though, was soon convicted of accepting bribes on a city’s Second Street tunnel project, Jacobson was appointed to the seat.
He immediately became a morals crusader. fighting, among other vices, gambling, drinking, prostitution, and organized crime. He also lambasted the Los Angeles Police Department’s Central Vice Squad for looking the other way when it came to vice, or, worse, being in league with crime figures like Charlie Crawford and Albert Marco. It was even said that Marco offered Jacobson $25,000, a small fortune, to back off his efforts, but that Jacobson not only refused Marco’s offer, but supported a federal tax evasion investigation against Marco, who was fined a quarter million dollars.
Jacobson’s efforts against Marco led to his accusation that Police Chief Robert L. Heath, Vice Squad commander James E. Davis and District Attorney Asa Keyes were delinquent in the duty to fight vice. Early in 1926, Heath resigned and was replaced by Davis. Jacobson’s efforts continued into 1927 when he won election to his seat and culminated in a mid-July shakeup of the police department (mainly transfers in and out of the Vice Squad) and citizen commission charged with oversight of the LAPD. Late that month, federal agents raided Marco’s North Side Pleasure Club on Spring Street on charges of violating Prohibition.
At council meetings on 3 and 4 August, Jacobson commended these efforts against organized crime and called for local investigations against a reputed gambling establishment in the city. The next night, the bust at the Grimes residence took place, with Jacobson claiming he went to her home to discuss her complaint about a tax assessment for improvements on her street.
The five LAPD officers who were at the house later said they were there because of an anonymous telephone call about a wild party, though a neighbor later testified that she saw some of them at the house hours before. Jacobson, who supposedly stated at one point that he did have amorous feelings for Grimes, took up the argument of a trap set up by his enemies. It turned out that one of arresting officers was none other that a brother-in-law of Grimes, who was estranged from her husband, a former LAPD officer and initially gave her name as “Helen Ferguson.”
The council member said that, after he arrived to discuss the assessment question, the lights went out and he was hit sharply on the back of the neck, pushed onto Grimes’ bed, and his jacket, pants and shoes removed, while his glasses were knocked off his face. When the lights were turned on, the five officers and a reporter from the Los Angeles Times were in the room. Allegedly, the reporter happened to be in the office of one of the LAPD detectives when the supposed anonymous call came in.
The officers claimed they were at a window when they observed Jacobson fondling Grimes, leading them to rush and arrest the council member, who, along with Grimes, was charged with vagrancy and lewd conduct (despite this being in a private home.) Not only did one of the officers claim that Jacobson told him he was finished as a council member and asked for a gun to kill himself, another stated that Jacobson inquired about a way to settle matter, as if he was suggesting a bribe.
For his part, the council member claimed he was handed a blank confession to sign on the spot, which he refused. He was then taken, not to jail, but to the Chamber of Commerce Building, where D.A. Keyes was waiting. He later said he came to offer advice as the city prosecutor apparently could not be located. Again, Jacobson stated, he was asked to sign a blank confession, this time by Keyes. This was also refused and it was not until 2:30 the next morning, that Jacobson was booked into the city jail.
The council member demanded a grand jury investigation and then a trial, even though the case involved a misdemeanor. He had many supporters, among them the powerful “Fighting Bob” Shuler of the Trinity Methodist Church and well-known for his pugnacious radio broadcasts in which he railed against politicians, business figures, crime figures, Hollywood celebrities and many more.
At the proceeding, which started in early September, it was said that he admitted to having an “immoral interest” in Grimes, but said he did nothing further. Grimes, whose attorney was purportedly Marco’s lawyer and who left Los Angeles before the trial and had to be brought back, stated that Jacobson complained of an overtly devout spouse and a “dying for love” as he showered her with compliments on her beauty. Moreover, she claimed he offered to provide her money for herself and her daughter.
The jury was deadlocked and it was reported that there was possible jury tampering, but, after the mistrial, the prosecution headed for a second trial. Suddenly, in October, all charges against Jacobson were dropped. He remained on the council and secured reelection two more times, in 1929 and 1931, continuing to fight against the issues on which he built his career and reputation.
As for Albert Marco, he got involved on a fracas at a Venice Pier restaurant and was jailed for shooting and wounding an adversary. Unable to make payments allegedly promised to Grimes for her role in setting up Jacobson, she went to the authorities telling them she’d been party to the frame-up job on the council member. Marco, Grimes, the five arresting officers, and Crawford were all indicted on a conspiracy charge in 1929, but that case resulted, like Jacobson’s, in a hung jury. Chief Davis, always suspect in his purported dealings with crime figures, was demoted at the end of 1929, reassigned to oversee the traffic division of the LAPD.
Marco did face two more trials on assault and attempted murder charges for the Venice fracas and was convicted and deported to Sicily, where he was born. Though Crawford escaped the pen, he could not evade street justice and was killed by a former deputy to Keyes (and a failed candidate for city judge) who was angry because of a demotion allegedly for his role in prosecuting Marco.
Keyes, as noted in a series of recent posts on oil promoter C.C. Julian, wound up being convicted on a charge of taking bribes from the Julian Petroleum Company. He served part of a sentence at San Quentin before it was commuted and he was released in 1933, though he died of a stroke a couple of years later.
Callie Grimes took her maiden name of Michael and continued living in Los Angeles until at least 1940, in which in that year’s federal census she worked as a manicurist at a beauty parlor, but her whereabouts afterward are not known.
Jacobson ended his service on the City Council after losing reelection in 1933 and went into real estate, though he mounted one more unsuccessful council campaign two years later. He testified in a 1938 case involving the car bombing of one of the men who arrested him over a decade before (Grimes’ brother-in-law, Frank Cox, had a role in this sordid tale, as well). The incident led, in part, to the recall of Los Angeles Mayor Frank Shaw and LAPD Chief Davis, who was reinstated by Shaw upon the latter’s becoming mayor in 1933, abruptly retired the same year.
Tonight’s highlighted artifact from the Homestead’s collection is a press photograph of Jacobson, holding his straw hat in his left hand, standing with his attorneys in a courtroom a couple of days after his arrest. A caption reads:
Considerable sensation was caused in Los Angeles when City Councilman Carl I. Jacobson, a reform leader, was trapped in an alleged love nest with Mrs. Callei Grimes, also known as Mrs. Helen Ferguson. Police said the couple were in the woman’s bedroom.
The Jacobson-Grimes affair is one of the strangest political scandals in a decade filled with them in Los Angeles. It involves deep-seated organized crime, entrenched corruption in law enforcement, media fascination with the lurid and sensational, and much else. This photograph is a remarkable window into that world.