Saturday, May 18, 2013

Evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson Disappears at Ocean Park Beach 1944


Aimee Semple McPherson (October 9, 1890 – September 27, 1944), also called Sister Aimee, was a Los Angeles, California evangelist and media celebrity in the 1920s and 1930s. She founded the Foursquare Church. McPherson has been noted as a pioneer in the use of modern media, especially radio, which she drew upon through the growing appeal of popular entertainment in North America.


On May 18, 1926, McPherson went with her secretary to Ocean Park Beach north of Venice Beach to swim. Soon after arriving, McPherson was nowhere to be found. It was thought she had drowned.


McPherson was scheduled to hold a service that day and her mother Minnie Kennedy preached the sermon instead, saying at the end, "Sister is with Jesus," sending parishioners into a tearful frenzy. Mourners crowded Venice Beach and the commotion sparked days-long media coverage fueled in part by William Randolph Hearst's Los Angeles Examiner and a stirring poem by Upton Sinclair to commemorate the tragedy. Daily updates appeared in newspapers across the country and parishioners held day-and-night seaside vigils. One parishioner drowned whilst searching for the body and a diver died from exposure.

Kenneth G. Ormiston, the engineer for KFSG, had also disappeared. Some believed McPherson and Ormiston, who was married, had developed a close friendship and run off together. After about a month her mother received a ransom note (signed by "The Avengers") which demanded a half million dollars, or else kidnappers would sell McPherson into "white slavery." Kennedy later said she tossed the letter away, believing her daughter was dead.


Shortly thereafter, on June 23, McPherson stumbled out of the desert in Agua Prieta, Sonora, a Mexican town across the border from Douglas, Arizona. She claimed she had been kidnapped, drugged, tortured and held for ransom in a shack by two people, Steve and Mexicali Rose. Her story also alleged that she had escaped from her captors and walked through the desert for about 13 hours to freedom.

However, her shoes showed no hint of a 13-hour walk in the desert but rather, carried grass stains. The shack was not found. McPherson had vanished wearing a bathing suit. She returned fully dressed, wearing a wristwatch (a gift from her mother) which she had not taken on the swimming trip. A grand jury convened on July 8, 1926, but adjourned 12 days later citing lack of evidence to proceed.

Five witnesses claimed to have seen McPherson at a seaside cottage in Carmel-by-the-Sea. One claimed to have seen Mrs. McPherson at the cottage on May 5 (he later went to see her preach at Angelus Temple on August 8, to confirm she was the woman he had seen at Carmel). His story was confirmed by a neighbor who lived next door to the Carmel cottage, by a woman who rented the cottage to Ormiston (under the name "McIntyre"), by a grocery clerk and a Carmel fuel dealer who delivered wood to the cottage.

The grand jury reconvened on August 3 and took further testimony along with documents from hotels, said to be in McPherson's handwriting. McPherson steadfastly stuck to her story, that she was approached by a young couple at the beach who had asked her to come over and pray for their sick child, that she was then shoved into a car and drugged with chloroform. However, when she was not forthcoming with answers regarding her relationship with Ormiston (now estranged from his wife), the judge charged McPherson and her mother with obstruction of justice. To combat the bad newspaper publicity, McPherson spoke freely about the court trials on her private radio station.

Theories and innuendo abounded, that she had run off with a lover, that she had gone off to have an abortion, taken time to heal from plastic surgery or had staged a publicity stunt. The Examiner newspaper then reported that Los Angeles district attorney Asa Keyes had dropped all charges, which he did on January 10, 1927.

The tale was later lampooned by Pete Seeger in a song called "The Ballad of Aimee McPherson," with lyrics claiming the kidnapping had been unlikely because a hotel love nest revealed "the dents in the mattress fit Aimee's caboose."


 

1 comment:

  1. This information should be updated, for example, all the five prosecution witnesses against McPherson at Carmel were discredited one way or another.
    --none claimed the $25,000 reward offered for McPherson
    --none except the grocery boy got an unobstructed view of "McPherson," they saw a woman 30 to 100 foot away, dressed in a combination of driving goggles, hat and scarf and identified her as McPherson, one did so while driving by and through sun glare on his windshield; another identified "McPherson" by her exposed eyes alone.
    --
    --Several other witnesses who actually got a good look at the woman in Carmel, stated the woman was not McPherson.

    Documents from the hotels were taken by the police and discovered to not at all to look like McPherson's handwriting, but Elizabeth Tovey, a woman traveling with Ormiston. Of McPherson, Ormiston said his name connected in such a way to the evangelist "was a gross insult to a noble and sincere woman."

    Hundreds of reporters, police and $500,000 spent ($6.4 million in 2013 dollars) to prove her story wrong, they could not do it.

    If convicted, McPherson and her mother were on the hook for up to 42 years in prison, but there simply was no evidence.

    The Court of Historical Review and Appeal in San Francisco, which holds no legal authority, is made up of members of the bench who examine and retry historical cases and controversies. In April 1990, a decision was handed down regarding the matter of McPherson's kidnapping story. George T. Choppelas, the then presiding judge of the San Francisco Municipal Court, ruling for the Court of Historical Review, found the issues involved both serious and fascinating. He concluded that "there was never any substantial evidence to show that her story was untrue."

    Wikipedia, based largely on the citations of more responsible biographers, gives a more balanced and factual based account of her life.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aimee_Semple_McPherson

    ReplyDelete