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Thelma Todd found dead
Alternative Title
Los Angeles Herald Examiner Photo Collection
Date Created and/or Issued
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Los Angeles Public Library
Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
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Images available for reproduction and use. Please see the Ordering & Use page at http://tessa.lapl.org/OrderingUse.html for additional information.
Used in the Exhibit: The First with the Latest! Aggie Underwood, the Los Angeles Herald, and the Sordid Crimes of a City.
The three-story, 15,000-square-foot Spanish style Thelma Todd's Sidewalk Cafe? was located at 17575 Pacific Coast Highway in Pacific Palisades. In the early 1930s, this structure housed a restaurant on the ground floor owned by actress Thelma Todd and her partner Roland West. The duo also held parties in their private nightclub named Joya's, located on the second story near her personal apartment. At the time Todd owned the building, the hexagonal-shaped, third-floor included a dance floor and bandstand, which was famous for its Joya's barbequed steaks.; On Monday, December 16, 1935, the body of screen star, Thelma Todd, was discovered slumped over in the front seat of her twelve cylinder, chocolate brown Lincoln Phaeton. Todd’s maid, May Whitehead, had gone to the garage as she did every morning to drive the big car down the hill for her employer’s use. When she saw Todd behind the wheel she thought that she was asleep—but on closer inspection she realized that Thelma was dead. May immediately telephoned Roland West, Thelma’s lover and her partner in Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Café, above which Todd had an apartment. West telephoned the police and the investigation into the star’s death began. From the moment that the story broke, the local newspaper covered it as if there was something sinister about the circumstances. The Record proclaimed: “Thelma Todd Found Dead, Investigating Possible Murder.” The Herald suggested her death was worthy of Edgar Allan Poe: “…if her death was accidental it was as strange an accident as was ever conceived by the brain of Poe.” At the autopsy, it was determined that Todd’s death had been the result of carbon monoxide poisoning. The twelve cylinder car would have filled the closed garage with deadly gas in a matter of minutes. Despite an inquest which ruled the death and accident, there were suggestions of foul play. Todd’s café was a roaring success and rumors had it that east coast mobster, Lucky Luciano, had his eye on it as the possible site for illegal gambling—but Todd wouldn’t go for it. Did Luciano have Todd murdered to get her out of the way? What about West? He had a tendency to be controlling and jealous. Todd had attended a party at the Trocodero the night before her death. Had she arrived home much later than West had demanded? Did he discover her asleep in her car and closed the garage doors? Perhaps he’d closed the doors to make her sick, not realizing how quickly the gas would kill her.
Captain Bert Wallis of the police homicide squad makes a check of the position of Thelma Todd's body where it was found in her car. The coroner's report said her death was caused by carbon monoxide poisoning, but doubt remained whether it was suicide, foul play or an accident. Date of death was December 16, 1935.
1 photograph :b&w
Photographic prints
Herald Examiner Collection
HE box 2177-B-1-Thelma Todd; HE-002-167 4x5
Todd, Thelma,--1905-1935--Death and burial
Murder--California--Los Angeles
Murder victims--California--Los Angeles
Dead persons--California--Los Angeles
Men--California--Los Angeles
Homicide investigation--California--Los Angeles
Lincoln automobile
Automobiles--California--Los Angeles
Pacific Palisades (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Herald-Examiner Collection photographs

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