Beware Susceptible Women
In August 1913, at least four Long Beach women told the district attorney’s office they had received threatening letters alleged to have been written and mailed them by F. E. Young, teacher of the young women’s Bible class in the Bethel Friends’ Church. F .E. Young, who also worked as a car salesman in Long Beach, was placed under arrest, charged with attempted extortion of money from women. When taken to county jail, Young admitted to writing a number of threatening letters to local women, but claimed he was driven to do so by blackmail threats from a man who knew of Young’s arrest on a forgery charge 33 years earlier. Because his nemesis, whom he knew only as “Sandy,” became so insistent in his demands that he couldn’t meet them, the extortion scheme evolved. District Attorney John D. Fredericks denounced Young saying Young was really a professional blackmailer hiding under the cloak of religion.
Mrs. Kittie Bahrenburg was the first to complain about Young. She told the court that shortly after she met Young, and before she knew he was married, he made love to her. Later she said she received a letter purporting to come from the Sunset Detective Agency in which the writer said he was aware of her relations with Young and demanding $600 for silence. Mrs. Bahrenburg told Young of the letter and he advised her to pay the demands.
Mrs. Bahrenburg then received a letter telling her to deposit the money in a hole in a wall at the Long Beach freight depot. When the woman tried to borrow the money from her bank, the real reason behind the need for her loan came out. Her banker told her to complain to the district attorney, which she did. Young was arrested.
The married con artist had decided he could get money from susceptible women. Using Sunset Detective Agency letterhead and an alias, Young would write to himself and a woman he had wooed, alleging improprieties which would be kept quiet for a price. Young and the woman would share their blackmail letters and come up with money to pay the blackmailer, though Young always contributed less than his female victim. Mrs. N. Bell Griggs was also hooked into the scheme. However, she was smart enough to sense his scam. “This man Young,” said Mrs. Griggs, “never got a cent from me, for I didn’t pay any attention to the letters I received. Three years ago I showed Young a furnished house that was to rent, but he never entered the place. In September, last year, I received letters from the Sunset Detective Agency demanding that I pay it $3OO hush money. The letters set forth that men from that agency had watched through the windows of the house that I showed Young two years before and had been seen in a room with Young. Young never was in the house at all. The latter was so full of discrepancies and so palpably a fraud that I paid no attention to it until I was summoned to appear before the Grand Jury. Shortly After I received this letter Young came to me and said that he had received a similar letter demanding money and accusing him of familiarity with me. He said he would have to pay the money, and I told him that as no such thing ever had occurred, I wouldn’t pay a cent. I told him that if he was any sort of a man he would take a gun and go after the men Young said were tracking him about the city. I believe his story of men following him was false.” (Daily Telegram, 8/7/1918)
On December 18, 1913, a gray haired man, prematurely aged, tottered weakly into court and scarcely able to stand alone before the bar, changed his plea from not guilty to guilty. He was F. E. Young, Long Beach auto dealer, whose sensational exploits with Long Beach women churchgoers drew to him notoriety as the head of alleged “love frauds. After he had changed his plea he almost collapsed into a chair and with his white hair pillowed on trembling, arms gave himself up to sobs for several minutes, according to the Los Angeles Herald. He was put on five years’ probation on December 23rd after pleading guilty to the charge of attempting to extort money from Miss Kittie Bahrenburg.
A Sexual Predator?
On July 1, 1913, members of the First Presbyterian Church of Long Beach received this telegram from their minister O. H. L. Mason then in Berkley.
“To the Session and Members of the First Presbyterian Church of Long Beach: “I hereby offer my resignation as pastor of the First Presbyterian church of Long Beach. “O. H. L. MASON.”
No explanation was given why he was giving up his $4000 a year position as minister of the large congregation. Days later it was revealed he was charged with various “indiscretions” with young women. If you couldn’t trust your minister with your daughter or wife, who could you have faith in? That was the question members of the First Presbyterian Church faced.
Mason claimed his innocence, the Los Angeles Herald of July 28, 1913 reported:
With tears coursing down his face, eyes hard with worry, Rev. O. H. L. Mason, pastor of the First Presbyterian church of Long Beach, yesterday listened while Elder C. F. Iredell read a resolution, adopted by the church board of elders, exonerating Rev. Mason from all suspicion of wrongdoing. In the sermon that followed Rev. Mason begged forgiveness and charity at the hands of his congregation, and then, while women wept and usually unemotional men wiped their eyes, he burled his head in his hands as they lay on the pulpit. This moving scene was the culmination of several weeks of investigation by the elders. The statement read by Iredell exonerating Dr. Mason of wrong doing mentioned “certain facts acknowledged by the pastor which seemed to constitute an indiscretion on his part.”
The alleged “indiscretion,” friends of the pastor said, was Dr. Mason met one of the young women of his choir in Los Angeles and invited her to lunch with him in a cafe. She ordered wine. He paid the bill for lunch and wine, although not partaking of the wine himself. But there was more to the charges which weren’t revealed in the press. Several young women in the church came forward telling of “inappropriate” advances made upon them by the minister.
Were the women just lying? That was the verdict of local church board members investigating the case when they gave Mason a morally clean bill of health. Several board members disagreed with the “white washing” that went on in the case and resigned rather than sign the report. What resulted was havoc in the church.
In August, after eight more church official resigned, Reverend Mason said he would leave the church if there would be no more “pot stirring” and if the entire matter was dropped. On August 2, 1913, Dr. O. H. L. Mason resigned from the pulpit of the Long Beach First Presbyterian church, effective October 1. The resignation was accepted by the Los Angeles Presbytery, but many in the congregation stood behind Mason and wanted answers. They asked the overseeing presbytery in Pasadena to re-open the Mason case. The presbytery refused, stating they would not inquire into the guilt or innocence of Dr. Mason, but they would try to fix things up among the congregation. A dissenting minister, Reverend Graham, expressed a different view. He believed the presbytery committee refused to hear the case because such “indiscretions” were “common” among ministers and they must stick together.
When the founding members of the First Presbyterian Church of Long Beach threatened to withdraw from the church, the presbytery decided to hear the case, as long as there would be no women present. A “gentlemen’s agreement” was reached that Reverend Mason should not preach again in the First Presbyterian Church, that he would confirm his earlier resignation and that the charges against him would be dropped (not withdrawn). Mason issued the following: “To the Session and members of the First Presbyterian church of Long Beach: I hereby offer my resignation.” (LA Times 9/9/1913) His not giving a world of explanation set tongues wagging with renewed vigor. A dissenting report was filed by six elders, three ministers and one deacon, from Long Beach, pleading that the whole case be reopened in formal trial, that witnesses be sworn, testimony taken and the whole matter settled on a judicial basis, on its merits, was denied.
But not everyone was against Mason. In November 1913, friends of Mason formed their own church, the Calvary Presbyterian Church of Long Beach, and made Mason their minister. The newly organized Calvary Presbyterian church decided to withdraw from the Presbytery and continue as an independent Presbyterian church, not governed by the California Presbytery Synod. Mason took over the pulpit of the new church on December 1, 1913, and spoke before a congregation of 400.
The following year Mason did vent his anger over what had occurred to the Los Angeles Times:
“Conditions in Long Beach are somewhat similar to those in Europe. There is a social storm in this city. Everywhere you are beset with heated conversation, and the likelihood is that any man in town may land in jail before sundown. Newspapers can, by the publication of charges against a man do great harm and wreck a man’s life. Such newspapers should be burned and the editors put in the penitentiary. I want to say that any editor who says `It is rumored,’ or `It is alleged,’ without having positive proof ready, should be put in jail, as should any editor who publishes charges against a man before they are proven. If you want to get into the papers be charged with something. If a man escapes after he is charged with something the newspapers say he has been whitewashed. Put the editors in jail and some of this business will stop.” (LA Times 11/23/1914)
When the United States entered the war in 1917, Mason resigned his ministry and went to New York as a Y.M.C.A. secretary for World War service, a posting which sent him and Mrs. Mason through the war zone in Europe. His three sons, Cleon, Verne and Bruce also volunteered for military service. Following the war, the Y.M.C.A. sent Dr. Mason to Siberia and China. Upon his return to America he did post-graduate work at Harvard, eventually returning to the ministry in Pennsylvania and New York. He retired in 1930, returning to Long Beach where he lived until his death on March 9, 1940.
Preying on Men
Some women in the early days of the 20th century, such as Ara Lindsay, had no option but to take advantage of a situation to secure a financially sound future. Mrs. Lindsay, a widow left in dire straits by her deceased husband, was hired as a housekeeper for Mr. & Mrs. John Rockwell in 1907. The aged couple, in ill health, began to depend more and more on their housekeeper. When Mrs. Rockwell died, Mrs. Lindsay took over completely, dominating the old man. The Reverend Sibley was quite surprised when Mrs. Lindsay approached him less than a week after Mrs. Rockwell’s death and asked him to marry John and her. He put her off awhile and talked to Long Beach Police Chief Williams about the matter. Williams visited the Cedar Avenue home and found Rockwell listless and confused; the chief sent a telegram to Rockwell’s son who immediately asked that his father be sent north. Williams arranged for a nurse to accompany John Rockwell to his son’s home and advised Mrs. Lindsay to pack her trunks, not to accompany John but to get out of the man’s life forever. (Long Beach Press 4/7/1908)
Mrs. Lindsay wasn’t the only Long Beach woman hunting for a husband. Mary Ruth Martin took advantage of men who advertised for wives in a Chicago matrimonial paper. In August 1909, Long Beach police were contacted by August Hoffbrauer of Sharon, Pennsylvania, asking for information about Mary. He was worried about her because she had written him that she was sick and friendless and was asking him for more money. It hadn’t dawned on him that she could be scamming him. Police found that Mary had left the city, but they also discovered she had been getting money from various bachelors and widowers who wanted a wife. To each Mary offered a different story. To Hoffbrauer she portrayed herself as a widow, whose husband had been killed in a train wreck. She earned her living by sewing, and wanted a good home and someone to love her. To C.J. Orwig of Forest Hill, Michigan, she told another tale. She was a wealthy widow, fond of good company, but anxious for a home of her own and someone to call her dearie. With Andrew Smith of Wassau, Wisconsin, she was a woman of modest tastes who preferred married life to anything else, and she felt he was the ideal man of whom she had dreamed.