[ENG] Doctor de River – from glory to shame

Hello to all of you readers of my mad dreams ! I’m Jusan, a good friend of the people who created this blog. My interests are unusual. In my personal life I spend a lot of time researching all that is connected to psychiatry, psychology and forensic medicine, and so my posts will usually deal with my passion for interesting stories in all different forms of media, books, films and my research on the criminal past of different countries and times. I really hope some of you may find it curious too.

My first article is dedicated to doctor Joseph Paul de River, he was a known psychiatrist of Los Angeles Sex Offence Bureau during the middle 30s and end of 40s. He also the author of two books “The sexual criminal” and  “Crime and the sexual psychopath”, both of which i read, and find them very interesting literature. But he wasn’t a totally good person, sometimes maybe even the opposite, but I won’t choose for you is he a hero or a villain, that’s what you decide yourself. Part of the narrative quotes the essay on de River from John Brian King, the other part is my own researched material from newspaper archives. Also i warn you that some of the writing can be pretty disturbing, so please if you are sensitive better not read this.

So, let’s dig into history. 

Joseph Paul de River was born November 6, 1893, in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Mayer Israel and his wife, Rosa Lazard. In 1916 De River graduated from Tulane University in New Orleans, LA with a medical degree. Then went a long way to build a successful career in surgery, which he then left to become a psychiatrist. 

Initially he worked in Washington and New York, but in 1923 he applied for a license to practice medicine in California, so until the late 1920s de River worked in two San Francisco hospitals. In 1930 he began a private medical practice in Los Angeles. In 1931 he returned to Washington, D.C., to evaluate disability cases for the Veterans Administration. In 1933, at the request of President Franklin Roosevelt, he left his successful practice in New York and accepted an appointment to a special board reviewing disability cases for war veterans in Los Angeles.

In 1934 he began cooperating with the courts and officials of the Los Angeles Probation Department, in which he offered his advice on some of the department’s criminal psychiatric cases. At first, he offered his services voluntarily and without any remuneration in order to further his research on sex offenders, which had interested him since his days in med school.

Highlights of his career: In 1937 he founded the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Sexual Offenses, was its director. There he was also a consultant psychiatrist for the municipal and superior courts, a consultant for the Bureau of Arson, a criminal psychiatrist, an instructor in criminal psychiatry and sexology. In the LAPD he held the rank of police captain. In fact, it is this period that interests us. From 1937, the doctor began his journey of gaining credibility and respect, which continued until the end of the 1940s.

The first significant event that gave de River a significant advance in his career was, of course, the case of the three Inglewood girls slaying. Little Melba Everett, with her younger sister Madeline and their friend Janette Stephens disappeared from Centinela Park on June 26, 1937. They soon will be found brutally ravished in Baldwin Hills ravine. Dr. de River made first in the history of the USA a psychological portrait of a criminal, he stated that girls must have known their abductor and trusted him. Soon police arrested mentally handicapped Albert Dyer, who confessed to the slayings and immediately became the face of evil for the press. In our times there is already lots of material that makes it clear that Dyer was innocent and that the confession was forced. If you want to know more I recommend you read the book “Colder Case: How California Executed the Wrong Man” and also the book “Little shoes” written by the relative of the three slain children Pamella Everett. 

Here i will make highlights of  main points of Dyer’s innocence:

  1. A huge part of the witnesses claimed to have seen the man who took the girls out of the park and he was definitely not Albert Dyer.
  2. The girls were taken away in a car, and Dyer never had a car at all.
  3. Dyer did not fit the description of the witnesses; he had no mustache, no tattoo in the right place, and he was really short compared to the kidnapper’s height.
  4. Dyer’s confessions were inconsistent, and when the investigators did not guide him with their questions, he was openly confused about testimony and facts. Albert’s low 60 IQ didn’t do the situation any favors.
  5. Dyer had nothing to do with the crime, no fingerprints were found at the murder scene or any other evidence.
  6. There was a much more reliable suspect, Fred Godsey, who in the end went untested.

When Dyer ran into the police headquarters and asked why they were looking for him? (Although no one was looking for him) Albert was assured by officers that no one was looking for him and they let him go, while doctor de River, on the contrary, said that they had missed the one they were looking for.

After Dyer’s arrest, the doctor interrogated him in the presence of the investigators and in his opinion heard a coherent story, however this statement is highly questionable, in de River’s book, the chapter about Dyer – sadistic pedophilia – there are no fragments of the interrogation that are included in most other chapters of the book, there is only a report that makes Albert look like a complete sexual pervert, with the doctor partially contradicting himself in his own writings first stating: “He says he knew that it would rip and tear them, if he had sexual intercourse with them, but that would rather thry be dead so that he would not hurt them, and then the girls would not resist him.” And literally on the next page tells this: “He was asked if in killing them he became more sexually exited, and W. states that with each killing he became more and more passionate. And that their suffering only served to exite him sexually.”

Do you see how Dyer suddenly from the idea of not hurting victims, turning into a sadistic fiend who feasts of suffering. Pretty suspicious considering everything else in this case. But anyway, after the press turned Albert into a monster, there is no question why he was executed. Some people were still fighting for the free Dyer, but that was useless. 

After that case the career of de River flew higher and higher, i made a list of the criminals that were caught by Sex Offence Bureau and were interrogated by doctor, and so you would know in his books, names of the offenders are deleted to make them anonymous. But I managed to recover some of them by using keywords in an archive of newspapers, so a lot of these fellows you probably hear for the first time. Also in my list they are shown not in chronological order.

Case 1

Virgilio “William” Spinelli

That was an Italian born man, who used to be poor, always quarreled with his wife and had incestious relationships with some of his daughters. In 1938, after another fight with his wife he murdered her and burned her body in the furnace. When he was arrested,  tried to lay the blame on his son, who in turn denied it and blamed the father. Eventually Virgilio confessed and was sentenced to death by the gas chamber. De River described him as a sexual psychopath, rapist and a pedophile with an incestuous complex.

Case 2

Campbell McDonald

In a sort of dream-like state, McDonald killed his actress-mother with a hammer. De River (that you can also see in the pictures) stated that he was an insane fellow, and in the end he went to a psychiatric hospital.  

Case 3

DeWitt Clinton Cook

McDonald was suspected to be a moonlight fiend that attacked multiple girls in Hollywood, but in the end it was a different person that you can see here. Cook is a case of a sadistic rapist. He was declared sane and was sentenced to death.

Case 4

Arthur Robert Eggers

Was a sheriff’s office clerk that shot his wife out of jealousy, cut off her head and hands and threw her body in the ravine. Body was identified by a specific foot anomaly. Eggers at first was denying his guilt, so interrogation with de River was more provocative, he was asked to state his opinion in which way and by who his wife could’ve been slain, and he told to the doctor a sort of 3rd person opinion with gruesome details. Psychiatrist also tried to provoked him to confess incest relationships with two of his step daughers. In the end Arthur made a confession and even showed a place where he left a saw that he used for dismembering. Was found sane and sentenced to death.

Case 5

Rosary Shelfo 

Italian born woman who cut off her own newborn son’s head with a bread knife. De River noted that Shelfo’s stare was very strange, she sometimes refused to talk and that she has certain psychological problems, maybe first signs of postpartum depression. Rosary in the end was found insane and sent to psychiatric hospital. 

Case 6

John Michael Planagan 

In “The Sexual criminal” described as a juvenile sadist, he stabbed to death a 12 girl that was his friend. Though he confessed some people still don’t believe that he was the one who comitted the murder, at the same time relatives noticed that John was strange kid. He was sentenced to prison term, and later went free.

Case 7

Chloe Davis

Little Chloe was also listed as a juvenile sadist. At first newspapers declared that her mother killed her 2 sisters and brother, also attacked Chloe and committed suiside, scene of the crime looked like nightmare. But when talking with de River, girl confessed murdering her family. She in the end was sent to jail, her father pretty quickly could get her out, the second psychiatric report of the child stated that Chloe was a normal child, who confessed under influence of shock and inadequacy. This was the first public failure of de River, after which he was prohibited to get interrogations with minors. But like you see, he still included Chloe in the book, even after she was called innocent. This shows him as a person very narcissistic, that only cares about his own opinion, even the court and other experts doesn’t matter for him. Nowadays this case raises many questions, some people believe in “Lolita” theory, that father of the girl had some connection to the crime, and probably had incestous relationships with at least Chloe, they think so because of the photographs where the father touching his daughter’s legs and kisses her on the mouth, that seems to be intimate way. But it’s only theories. I don’t know if there is a way now to find out the truth behind all this. All i know is that following rumors Chole in her future life married and had sort of a decent life.

Case 8

Leroy Harris Geiger 

This fruit is called to be “latent sadist”, he while being drunk, opened his inner sexual desires and stabbed to death a known prostitute. He was arrested that same night even before body was found. In the end he was sentenced to 5 years in prison.

Case 9

John Ernest Barton

Young man tried to seduce a young girl, but she objected to his offer, after that he forced her to go to the school stadium where he beat her to death, after this he called the police and confessed. The impulsive sadistic murderer was sentenced to life in prison.

Case 10

Robert Brasco

De River classified him as a “moron”, who butchered his elderly lover with a hammer and a knife. Psychiatrist calls him a cold blooded, narcissistic sadist, who in the end was sentenced to life in prison.

Case 11

Betty Hardaker 

Stated that her little daughter “was too good to live”, so she slammed her head on a concrete floor of the park’s public bathroom, and left. When she was arrested, she was thought to be connected to some dark cult, in the end she was plain crazy, hysterical and inadequate. De River claimed she was insane, and she was sent to asylum. During some miracle she was found healed quickly and left the hospital, but soon was sent to jail again, because she assaulted her past husband with acid.

Case 12

Virginia McElhiney 

She loved her husband so much that poisoned him. But as far as i know, she had a lover, and had a plan to gain money from her darling’s demise, which she failed miserably, even after she was released from prison.

Case 13

Lela Eva Prutt 

And yet another infanticide, this women beat her little child’s head on the edge of a chair. She was sent to prison for 5 years.

Case 14

Robert Folkes

I know little about this one. I know he was a cook on the train, and was suspected of butchering a young woman inside one of the vagons. But this case is also controversial, just like the Dyer one, but here the case could be fabricated for reasons of racism and some gain for high standing people. There is a book – Color of the night –  which uses documents to prove a false accusation theory. I still haven’t read it, but I believe it, since even interrogation of de River looks suspicious. In the end Folkes was executed for probably a crime he didn’t commit. 

Case 15 

Otto Stephen Wilson

This fellow, probably the favorite patient of de River, since the conversation with him is the largest in the whole book and goes really in gruesome details. Wilson horribly butchered two women in hotel rooms, so you know he was called a new “Jack the Ripper”. Psychiatrists found him to be a “Thrill slayer”, being fetishist of razor blades and knives. In the end was sentenced to death. 

Case 16

Peter Hernandez

De River describes him as that mexican macho boy, that is a cruel sadist, that fiendishly mutilated a young mother at a parking lot, then called her at home and said that he killed her, so they knew. In the end he was sentenced to life in prison.

Case 17

Neale Butterfield

Another case of a “sadistic pedophilia”, young boy kidnapped a little girl, manipulated on her genitals and slashed her head with a screw-jack, body was later found in the river. Butterfield gave to de River an artifact, a few letters of self biography. 

Case 18

John Honeycutt

Brutally slain his own wife right on her mother’s eyes. She objected to coming back to him, so he decided to kill her. Was sentenced to death in a gas chamber, before death asked to give him a mask to cover eyes.

In his books there are lots of other interesting subjects but I wasn’t able to find their names and photos, so if you are interested you can find the books and read for yourself. Let’s return to the personality of doctor de River, and his success and fall. 

De River himself had gained credibility among the public, police and medical circles during his ten or so years of practice. He was soon granted special status. Initially he earned $300 a month, and later more than $500, at that time it was very good money. In Los Angeles the newspapers sometimes printed brief summaries of events at which the doctor spoke out.

At one meeting, for example, he commented on how psychology could be used to fight crime.

“He said that if a police psychologist interrogates a suspect before he has a chance to contact attorneys who specifically tell them not to say anything, the person who committed the crime will trap himself and confess. So Dr. de River cited several cases in which he was able to gather information that led criminals to their sentence.” 

Reading this I remember the Dyer case and ironically say “of course, it worked so well that time”. Anyway, here’s another article about sex education at schools.

Sex education has no place in schools, according to Dr. Joseph Paul de River. “It’s against the law in Los Angeles to talk about sex with underage children, and teachers are no exception. I think that’s the way it should be. I would object if my son was forced to watch intimate details of sex on the screen. When a child asks questions about sex, he should be answered at home.” De River is not opposed to sex education in high school, for students, but not mixed groups. “In recent years we’ve been having freer and freer discussions about sex among children, but we’ve still seen cases of child delinquency, lots and lots of times.”

Paul de River was also one of the first people to promote the idea of a criminal registration system. The file needed to record name, address, and fingerprints. Even people who only attempted degenerate acts were to be put on the registry too.

When the wartime crime boom happened in the ’40s, information came out about the number of people who were on the registry. There were more than 45,000 of them, the most frequent group of offenders being men between the ages of 50 and 55 who committed sexual crimes against children. They were not murderers, but quote “teaching kids bad habits” The younger group usually turned out to be murderers in sex crime cases. The trend of such crime soon reached 75%, Los Angeles was even dubbed “sex crime heaven.” De River also reported: “80% of these people can be cured. They can be taught to control their unhealthy appetites.”

And things seemed to be going great for Joseph Paul de River, but a case appeared on the horizon that turned the game completely upside down. The case of Elizabeth Short, aka “Black Dahlia. I won’t explain what happened here, because the story is too extensive. All you need to know is that a girl was found dismembered and mutilated in an unimaginable way on the side of the road, the culprit had to be found and arrested, but in the end the case was left unsolved. It was in this setting that de River’s career came to an end.

A brutal murder case has gone through a great amount of suspects, and everything seemed hopeless until the newspapers begin to publish information that there is a suspect who allegedly knew such details about the murder as are only found in the case file, which is exactly what Dr. de River stated with certainty. Everyone holds their breath, but then word comes out that the suspect is innocent. This deliberate showmanship infuriated a lot of people. The police looked downright stupid. As they said in the newspapers at the time, “If they had said less, they wouldn’t have had to blush.

But who was the suspect? What happened? The story is surreal.

Here i would like to quote the essay on life of Dr de River, from John Brian King, that is a part of the new edition of “The Sexual criminal” book.

(((In late November a young man from Miami wrote a letter to de River in response to the Dahlia article. In the letter he noted that he himself was a writer who was also professionally interested in matters relating to criminal sexuality and sadism, and if de River needed any assistance in solving the Black Dahlia case he would be only too happy to lend a helping hand. His name, he said, was Jack Sands; he had lived in Los Angeles during the time of the murder, employed as a hotel bellhop in Santa Monica, and as such was quite familiar with L.A.’s milieu.

Jack Sands’ letter captured de River’s attention. Here was a man who perfectly fit his criminal profile of Short’s murderer: a “studious type” obsessed with sexual sadism who possessed a “super-abundance of curiosity.” Better yet, de River knew that by writing to him Sands was exhibiting an unconscious desire to “boast of the crime that shocked the nation.”

De River reached Sands by telephone and, feeding the young man’s ego, engaged him in a series of conversations wherein he suggested that if Sands were to come out to Los Angeles, he might be able to help de River with the Black Dahlia case. If money was a problem, de River said, he would hire Sands as a secretary for his upcoming book and perhaps even pay for his airplane flight from Miami. Sands enthusiastically agreed.

De River was convinced that Sands knew too much about the Black Dahlia case and was somehow involved with Short’s death. It appears that he went to someone in the LAPD, most likely Police Chief Horrall or Assistant Police Chief Reed, and obtained funds to buy an airline ticket for Sands. Then de River arranged for Sands to fly to Las Vegas, apparently so that he could conduct the investigation on his own terms and away from the eyes and ears of detectives Harry Hansen and Finis Brown. In any event, Sands arrived in Las Vegas on December 28, 1948, and was picked up by de River and his driver.

It was the beginning of a bizarre odyssey. In desert motel rooms scattered between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, de River, acting as Sands’ friend and possible employer, questioned Sands on a myriad of subjects. Surreptitiously recorded on sound discs, the friendly interrogations yielded the following information from Sands over the next six days: his real name was Leslie Dillon, he was twenty-seven years old, and “Jack Sands” was his pen name; he had previously been arrested on pandering charges in San Francisco and liquor charges in Oklahoma City; he had received a dishonorable discharge from the Navy for stealing some watches from his ship’s canteen; he had recently lost some weight because he took amphetamines; and what he knew about the Black Dahlia was what he had read in the detective magazines or what he had heard from a friend in San Francisco who knew Elizabeth Short.

In his questioning the psychiatrist became fixated on Dillon’s San Francisco friend. His name was Jeff Connors, said Dillon, and they had met in 1946 when they were both employed as busboys at a cafeteria. Connors had told Dillon that he was also a writer who was working at the cafeteria to “gather atmosphere” for his pulp fiction stories, and they became friends outside of work. The last time Dillon saw Connors was in July of 1947, at which time Connors appeared nervous when they discussed Connors’ relationship with Elizabeth Short. Dillon later said, “I thought maybe something about the Black Dahlia case was bothering him.”

On January 3, 1949, de River and Dillon drove to San Francisco to look for Jeff Connors, with two police detectives following in a separate car. Unsuccessful in their search, the group stayed overnight before returning to Los Angeles. In the hotel Dillon was handcuffed to a radiator by the detectives and interrogated about Connors and the Black Dahlia slaying. The psychiatrist told Dillon that Connors simply didn’t exist; instead, de River theorized, the young man was projecting his guilt about being involved in the horrendous Short killing onto an “alter ego,” and therefore he was exhibiting the classic psychiatric symptoms of a split personality. Surprised to find himself in custody, Dillon denied any involvement in the murder; he later said of his interrogators, “They seemed sincere. I just couldn’t understand why they didn’t believe me.”

The group stopped over in Paso Robles for another round of questions and arrived in Los Angeles on January 7. They booked a suite under the name of “O’Shea” at the Strand Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, and de River and the police continued to grill Dillon while holding him in custody. Tiring of his predicament, Dillon threw a postcard out of the hotel window on January 10 addressed to famed attorney Jerry Giesler in which he wrote on one side, “If found, please mail,” and on the other, “I am being held in Room 219-21, Strand Hotel, phone FE. 3101 in connection with the Black Dahlia murder by Dr. J. Paul de River as far as I can tell. I would like legal counsel. [signed] Mr. Leslie Dillon.”

It was snowing in Los Angeles for the first time in seventeen years when Dillon’s postcard was found that afternoon in a gutter near the intersection of Seventh and Union by Evening Herald and Express employee William Chance. News of the postcard got back to de River and the police, and Dillon was booked that evening on suspicion of murder. Chief Horrall met with reporters and stated that Dillon was “the best suspect we have ever had in this case. Dillon without prompting revealed details of the crime which police never have been able to explain. These details include significant explanations of the mutilation of Miss Short’s body and her movements before she died.” De River also spoke with the press, stating that Dillon

knows more about the Dahlia murder than the police did, and more about abnormal sex psychopathia than most psychiatrists do. . . . From what he told me, I gathered that in the past two years Dillon had lost forty pounds. Those are the two years since the Dahlia was murdered. Dillon also told me that because of “a certain event” in his life two years ago, he had been trying to achieve a complete change of personality. But he wouldn’t say what the certain event was.

De River’s case against Leslie Dillon, however, was now out in the open and under the intense scrutiny of other investigators, notably detectives Hansen and Brown, Homicide Captain Francis Kearney, Chief of Detectives W. J. Bradley and veteran Assistant District Attorney John Barnes. Tucked away in a small police station near downtown L.A., Dillon was questioned by the investigators while a lawyer hired by his mother filed a writ of habeas corpus ordering the disclosure of the bellhop’s whereabouts. On the evening of January 11, Chief of Detectives Bradley sent his men on a new search for Jeff Connors; he told reporters, “Dillon has given us the name of a man who would be capable of committing this crime. This man knew Elizabeth Short, the ‘Black Dahlia.’ It is up to us to attempt to locate this man from the addresses and descriptions given us by Dillon. This will prove or disprove Dillon’s story.”

Early the next morning de River’s “alter ego” theory collapsed when Jeff Connors, 40, was found sleeping at his girlfriend’s home in Gilroy (a small town south of San Francisco) by the local police. Connors was taken into custody by Assistant Police Chief Reed and two other officers and questioned in Fresno. Meanwhile, Assistant District Attorney Barnes ordered the immediate release of Dillon. Bradley spoke again to the press:

We have insufficient evidence to warrant holding [Dillon]. Until this morning, we thought his story was phony and that the “Jeff Connors” he told us about was a figment of his imagination. But then Jeff Connors was arrested in Gilroy – and now what can we do but believe Dillon? And, I guess, that now we’ll have to sugar Dillon up a bit.

Shortly before noon de River drove over to the Highland Park police station where Dillon was being released from custody and privately spoke with him for fifteen minutes in an attempt to “sugar Dillon up.” Afterward the two men walked outside to face a barrage of questions from newspaper reporters. De River, in an astonishing display of chutzpah, denied in front of Dillon and reporters any involvement in the man’s arrest, according to the Daily News:

Together, De River and Dillon explained that they had gone to San Francisco to hunt for the man Connors, and, for some reason not clear to either of them, that’s where Dillon was arrested. . . . De River said he hadn’t the slightest idea why Dillon was taken into custody, all they wanted to do was get that man Jeff.

Dillon, however, told reporters about his letter to the psychiatrist, their phone conversations, the airline ticket, and his odd road trip with de River and the police; he also vehemently denied naming Jeff Connors as the Black Dahlia killer. “I never said Jeff killed her,” he said, “I never even said he was implicated. All I said was that Jeff knew her.” Obviously not taking his little talk with de River to heart, Dillon also said:

I have been in custody for a week. I was handcuffed as early as January 3 – a week before my arrest was announced. I have been guarded in hotel rooms by detectives ever since. I’m going to have to talk to my attorney before I decide whether or not I’m going to sue anybody for what’s been done to me.

Detectives Hansen and Brown loaded Dillon’s luggage into de River’s car, undoubtedly chagrined at having to act as bellhops for a man arrested in a debacle that had been orchestrated solely by the psychiatrist. Dillon was then chauffeured by de River to his aunt’s house on Crenshaw Boulevard.

Not forgotten, however, was Dillon’s friend from San Francisco. Jeff Connors arrived in Los Angeles the next afternoon, January 13, and was interviewed by de River and detectives at the Highland Park station. They discovered that “Jeff Connors” was the budding writer’s pen name; he admitted his real name was Arthur Lane, and to support himself he worked odd jobs. On the night of Elizabeth Short’s murder Lane said he was working a long shift as a laborer at Columbia Studios. Lane’s alibi was confirmed by the film studio and he was released on January 14, 1949 – the two-year anniversary of the Black Dahlia murder. 

On January 20 a reporter named Sarah Boynoff wrote an article on Dillon and de River that was featured on page three of the Los Angeles Daily News. Headlined “INVESTIGATE BLACK DAHLIA FIASCO,” the article began with Dillon stating that he had retained the services of famed attorney Morris Lavine to examine all aspects concerning his arrest, and that he had turned over to Lavine his correspondence with de River. Boynoff also interviewed de River for her article:

The psychiatrist said he became interested in Dillon’s correspondence with him because he was then reading the galley proofs of his forthcoming book, “The Sexual Criminal,” and that Dillon’s letters, therefore, intrigued him greatly.

Dillon wrote him, the doctor said, that he could “put the finger on the A-No. 1 suspect in the murder of Elizabeth Short,” and finally came here from his Florida home to do so. . . .

“I have only acted in good faith – doing my duty. I was only acting scientifically. I am not a police officer. I am a doctor.”

Dr. De River also disclaimed responsibility for newspaper statements quoting him as saying he ever believed Dillon himself to be a suspect.

“In due time I’ll give you a very good story,” he said. “Right now I can’t make any statement. I would be more than pleased if police authorities urged me to tell everything I know.”

When Boynoff asked about his medical training and background, de River said, “I’ve had exceptional training, if I do say so myself.” He spoke of his medical degree from Tulane and detailed his employment with the Veterans Administration as a specialist in “brain surgery,” noting that, in addition to his work at St. Luke’s and St. Francis in San Francisco, he had also been previously employed at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., New York Neurological Institute in New York City, and University Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Unfortunately for the psychiatrist, Boynoff’s article did not end there; she also uncovered the unpublicized judicial order that arose from the Chloe Davis case barring him from interviewing juvenile suspects. She told de River that she had spoken with Judge Fox and Judge Scott, the officers of the court who had issued the order, and he shot back, “I don’t care to involve myself in any altercation with the judges.” Superior Judge A. A. Scott of the Juvenile Court defended his friend and colleague, however, stating that “in my opinion, Dr. De River is the best qualified sex psychiatrist in the country. I have appointed him in a number of cases where it has been called to my attention that the adults involved in offenses against children are homosexuals.”

De River admitted to Boynoff that he did not hold a certificate from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology because he had never bothered to take the exam; he had, in fact, not taken any exam for his position in the LAPD, but had instead been approved by the members of City Council. When the reporter noted that he was also not on the State Department of Mental Hygiene panel of approved medical examiners or the Superior Court panel of approved psychiatrists, de River said:

If they like you, you’re on. If they don’t like you politically, you’re not on. I have enemies. I don’t know why some people don’t like me. I’ve been courteous to everybody. But there are many men not in the present set-up who will verify what I say about my qualifications.

The next day’s events were more calamitous for the doctor. The front page of the January 21 edition of the Daily News featured two articles about him under the headline “DR. DE RIVER BACKGROUND REVEALED.” Boynoff had checked extensively into de River’s employment record and found that the hospitals he had mentioned working for in Washington, D.C., New York and Ann Arbor had never heard of him. Further research by the reporter had also revealed something even more curious: “de River” was not his real name. According to Boynoff’s article, in 1923 the doctor had changed his name in San Francisco Superior Court from Joseph Israel to Joseph Paul de River.

A copy of de River’s death certificate lists his name as “Joseph Paul deRiver,” his parents as “Paul M. deRiver, France,” and “Helen Harper, Louisiana,” and his birthday as November 6, 1894; this information was confirmed in an interview with de River’s eldest child, Jacqueline, who also stated that their religious background was “French Huguenot.”

A look at birth certificates in the Louisiana State Archives, however, revealed that no one named “de River” was born there in 1894. Further research revealed the birth of a Joseph L. Israel in New Orleans, Louisiana on November 15, 1894. According to the birth certificate, the baby’s parents were merchant Mayer Israel, 37, and wife Rose Lazard, 29, both natives of New Orleans; the family’s religion is not indicated.

It will probably never be known why de River changed his name and lied about his family background. One can only speculate that if he was Jewish – or was perceived as Jewish – he had changed his name and background to avoid the anti-Semitism that he had most likely encountered early in his life.

The second story in the Daily News that day covered the City Council’s reaction to the previous day’s story. Councilman Ernest E. Debs introduced a resolution that called for a public hearing on de River’s qualifications and his role in the Black Dahlia and Chloe Davis cases. “I want to know about this man whom we have hired,” Debs said, “and what his skills and qualifications are. This is not the first time he has been under fire. I wonder if we passed blindly in hiring this man.” Councilman Ed J. Davenport seconded the resolution, stating that de River “has placed the city and the Police Department in an embarrassing position. Several times in the past he hit the headlines and had to recant his original moves.” The resolution was promptly passed.

De River refused to speak to the press and instead released a statement through his attorney, friend and former D.A. investigator Eugene D. Williams:

I have been police psychiatrist since 1937. As part of my duties I have examined and reported upon thousands of persons accused of sex crimes including sex murders. The sex criminal is a growing menace to society. The study of such criminals has been my life’s work. If open hearings concerning my work or the work of the Police Department in the battle against sex criminals will be of service in acquainting the public with these serious problems I shall be glad to cooperate.)))


Then everything went to hell for the psychiatrist, details emerged about qualification problems, Leslie Dillon wanted to sue de Rivera for $100,000 for his humiliation ( which failed, though, Dillon was soon jailed for theft and the suit never went through), his new book, The Sexual criminal, was criticized for its use of photographs of victims and criminals, and for revealing intimate and personal details that should never have been exposed.And as the cherry on the cake, the court convicted him of prescribing illegal painkillers for his wife. And at the end of it all, he lost his job with the LAPD.

(((Because he was not protected by any civil service provisions during his time at the LAPD, de River received no pension and was, in the opinion of the city attorney, “entitled to no pay during the period of his suspension.” A letter from the city clerk denying his claim was sent to his home on September 26, 1950. Not giving up, the doctor filed a lawsuit six months later; according to his daughter Jacqueline, he eventually lost his case.

On February 28, 1951, de River appeared before the State Board of Medical Examiners in a conference room at the Biltmore Hotel. The board, according to the Times,

found Dr. DeRiver guilty of having written prescriptions in the names of persons who did not receive the narcotics. For this Dr. DeRiver’s license to practice medicine was revoked. But there was a stay of revocation for five years on condition that the psychiatrist would do the following things: 1 – Surrender his narcotics license. 2 – Appear before the board at each of its spring meetings. 3 – Obey all the laws of the United States and its possessions.

Chastened by the board but still a practicing physician, de River returned to work at the Veterans Administration. In 1956 Charles C Thomas published an expanded second edition of The Sexual Criminal, and de River was still credited on the cover as the “Founder and Director of the Sex Offense Bureau.” Friends from his days in the LAPD contributed to the new edition, Two years later his second and last book – Crime and the Sexual Psychopath – was published, it wasn’t as gruesome on photo material as “The Sexual criminal”, but still contained pictures of corpses and some criminal’s eyes on mugshots were censored.

During all this time, however, the psychiatrist could not forget the “Black Dahlia” case. Through a mutual friend, de River was introduced to Donald Freed, a young writer fascinated by the murder of Elizabeth Short. Freed is now best known for his controversial books on the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, as well as the O.J. Simpson trial. In a recent interview, Freed recalled how, during his first visit to the psychiatrist’s house, de River cautiously opened the door with a gun in his hand. Nevertheless, the writer considered de River “a very civilized man … intelligent, warm, generous.”

During a series of friendly evening meetings at his home on Rogerton Drive, de Rivera convinced the writer that Leslie Dillon was the Black Dahlia killer. Freed later recounted that the psychiatrist’s script (allegedly backed up by tape recordings of countless interrogations of Dillon by de River and the police) was that Dillon was the immediate villain.

Apparently, de River also convinced his daughter Jacqueline and reporter Aggie Underwood that Mark Hansen and Leslie Dillon were responsible for Short’s death. Trying not to name any names, Jacqueline de River, in response to questions, said only that Dillon was associated with “a high-ranking political figure” in the Black Dahlia case and she shared the belief that her father was right.

There are many theories regarding Elizabeth Short’s murder, and de River’s theory is likely only one of them, adding to the list. It is possible, however, that the following scenario is more likely: having violated the rights of an innocent suspect and unreasonably committed the young man’s arrest because of his far-reaching pseudo-psychiatric speculations, de River later laid out to friends and family a theory that made him look like a super investigator who had been brought down by a corrupt system with no interest in law and order.

Eventually de River retired. After his wife Gladys died in 1961 from the effects of amyotrophic lateral sclerotic disease, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, he moved to Orange County to live with his daughter Jacqueline. In retirement age, the psychiatrist continued to write occasional articles for Aggie Underwood (she also helped one of his sons get a job at her newspaper).

On the morning of April 12, 1977, Joseph Paul de River died at the age of eighty-two at Good Samaritan Hospital in Anaheim, California. His death certificate listed the official cause of death as “myocardial infarction” due to “arteriosclerotic and hypertensive heart disease.” No obituaries or notices of death were published in local newspapers in Los Angeles and Orange County, and he was buried three days later in the cemetery.

Perhaps a more fitting epitaph for de River’s achievements was published in a Los Angeles Times issue noting that there are more than 82,000 registered sex offenders in the state of California, “all of whom are required to be marked annually by local law enforcement agencies under a law in effect since 1947.” Joseph Paul de River would have been proud.


So my friends, what do you think ? To me it was a very interesting story to dig in. To me personally de River still seems an important person that led to lots of both good and bad decisions, his writings are still quoted by lots of modern authors and I guess that means something, he is sure a man that was important to exist, with all his ups and downs, let me know what you think. And if you are interested in some certain stories i discussed let me know, maybe i could dig into it and write a full on article based on books and newspapers research, ciao, hope to see ya all very soon !


2 pensieri riguardo “[ENG] Doctor de River – from glory to shame


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