& The Hollywood Vice Queen Tap
From: Why I Quit, by Jim Vaus, 1951 Geddes Press
... I had become a wire-tapper! So far, I was on the right side of the law. The headlines were of the other fellow and some of the cases were interesting. For instance, I worked with Sergeant Stoker, Sergeant Dawson and Officer Riley on one which flared nationally as the Brenda Allen case.
The newspapers called Brenda Allen “Hollywood vice queen” (Los Angeles Herald, March 21, 1951). Brenda was typical of her ilk. She wore smart expensive clothes but even heavy make-up couldn’t cover the fact that she was as faded as a blanket which has lain too long in the sun. She was clean to the point of obsession and was crafty in her operations. Throughout all her dealings with the police, she retained a self-righteous attitude. Actually, no one is more self-righteous that this kind of person. She is positive that she is hurting no one and that what she is doing is strictly her own business.
Brenda Allen with attorney Max Soloman an attorney Bradley.
“I’m out to get that woman,” Stoker explained, as if he had a personal grudge against her. “She causes me more embarrassment! Whenever I pick up one of the gals she howls to high heaven because I won’t let her earn a living, while Brenda is running full blast.”
“If the girls are so bitter, why doesn’t one of them give you her address?”
“That’s just it. They can’t. Brenda is too smart. She doesn’t have the men and girls meet where she is, but arranges everything by phone. And she’s bold too. She runs her picture in The Players Directory as if she were an actress, with her phone number. Even has taxi drivers giving out her cards.”
“Must get some good clientele that way!”
“The best in Hollywood. Stars, actors, writers, and of course, some of the lesser lights.” He paused and frowned. “There are even rumors that she pays off the vice squad. Well, she doesn’t pay me and I’m out to get her.”
There the case stood until Stoker was tipped off that Brenda Allen lived at Ninth and Fedora Streets. We went there, checked the roster of names of people living in the apartment house and found a name which corresponded to an alias of hers. We investigated and found that she was in this particular apartment; then Stoker asked, “Jim, do you think you could listen in on her telephone conversations?”
“Child’s play,” I answered.
We went back to the police car, got my bag of equipment and went around to the basement door of the apartment house. One of the men started to pick the lock.
Believe me, this was risky business. Even though we were with the Police Department, in the United States a man’s home is still his castle and we were trespassing. I already had a jail record, which I hadn’t gone out of my way to tell the police with whom I was working. After a man has a prior, he certainly doesn’t want to be picked up again. Jail days can be long and barren. But as Stoker led the way into the basement, I took a deep breath and, like a kid, hoped we wouldn’t be caught.
We tried to be as quiet as possible but all of us were big, lumbering men and we sounded like a fireman’s brigade. In the darkness someone asked, “Who has a flashlight?”
No one answered.
“I presume then,” the voice suggested with a slight note of sarcasm, “that one of you does have a match.”
I took one from my pocket and rolled my thumb nail across the sulphur. It momentarily flared, then burned evenly, and by its dim yellow flame we located the telephone terminal panel. A moment later we had located the pair of terminals that were connected with Brenda Allen’s room and proceeded to tap the line.
The tap was a direct one. We employed a lineman’s hand set so we could hear everything that was said over he phone without interrupting the service in any way.
We sat waiting, tense and alert. Soon a call came. “Hi, Brenda, this is Marie. If anything breaks tonight call me and I’ll go on it.”
“Okay, what’ll you wear?”
“The can’t miss me. I’ll have on a full length mink coat. I’ll be waiting for your call. Bye.”
The line clicked and in a few minutes there was another call and a man said, “This is Harry. Got anything good tonight?”
“We’ve got some mighty nice books,” Brenda purred. “The heroine in one you’d like to read is a beaut! She has long black hair and is about 5’3 and would make your reading most enjoyable.
“Where can I get that book?”
“On the corner of Sunset and La Brea. There is a picture on the front cover of a gal in a long mink coat. How about being here about nine o’clock?”
“Okay.” There was a clicking of receivers, a short silence, then Brenda phoned Marie and told her of the appointment.
In this fashion, she sent girls to the various meeting places. Since Stoker had the addresses to which the girls were going and their descriptions, it was with almost vindictive satisfaction that he arranged to intercept the couples and arrest the girls.
Once we started picking up her girls, we knew Brenda would become suspicious. The basement grew too hot for all of us.
We moved out, and using rather crude methods, we dropped a line from the apartment house basement out into the street, let it run along the curb for about a block, then up into our automobile where we had a telephone. This phone was normal in every way way except that the microphone cartridge had been removed. That made it possible to leave the phone off the hook, yet it would ring and not interfere with normal operation at the other end. We could hear everything said, but the subscriber to the service would be totally unaware that anyone was listening. The following night we worked in this fashion. There were no telephone calls for such a long time that we began to wonder whether or not Brenda Allen was in. Riley was the newest recruit of the three. He was Irish, quick-tempered and short. When I say he was short, I mean short for a policeman. Anyway, he was the one who ran the errands. He went to see if Brenda was in her apartment. He soon reported back that she was, so we waited for the calls.
Stoker was behind the wheel and I was sitting next to him in the front seat. I had my instruments on my lap and my elbow sticking out the window. It was dull waiting. Suddenly, I felt someone grab my arm.
I looked up straight into the face of Brenda Allen!
She had heard Riley step on a squeaky board outside her door and watched him leave the building. her hard face, with its high cheek bones, was livid with anger.
She exploded, “If you . . . . guys think you’re going to catch me, you’ll have to be a . . . . smarter than any flatfoot I’ve ever seen. I don’t like your . . . . snooping around. I’m going to get your jobs. All of them.”
Then her eyes narrowed as she saw the wire running into the car. “What’s this?”
I stiffened. I’d been caught . . . wire-tapping!
Stoker and another officer jumped out of the car and hustled her off with the excuse that they wanted to shake down her apartment. That gave me time to roll up the line and get my equipment out of sight. I’d had a scare. You’d think I’d decide to quit while I was still coming and going to suit myself. But no, I only decided to design equipment which could be better concealed.
Soon after this, Brenda moved and the police and myself lost track of her for awhile. Meanwhile I’d been friends with some of the police and had learned that you can’t label a man like you can a jar of fruit. You often hear it said “I wouldn’t think he’d do that, he’s a policeman,” or “I wouldn’t think he’d do that, he’s a doctor.” People seem to think that a man’s business guarantees his ethics like a label does a can, but it doesn’t.
The same as the general public tries to classify a man by what he does, so the press fictionalizes the members of the Police Department. They make them fair-haired heroes. They do so partly because the police do guard our homes by arresting the thief and the murderer. But also, the press does it because the public enjoys reading about heroes.
No doubt, many a policeman starts with ideals but they soon wear thin as they find themselves arresting the dumb crook while the big time operator isn’t touched. A uniform doesn’t automatically raise a man’s ethical standard. All too many policemen want TV sets, music lessons for their children and fur coats for their wives. When the opportunity comes along to get these things for their families, they take it. Could it be that despite any label stuck on a man, he’s still an old-fashioned sinner? Many of them proved to be just that when the Brenda Allen case flared into a national scandal.
One of the most fascinating conversion stories of the 20th century, My Father Was a Gangster tells the dramatic life story of Jim Vaus, former associate of crime syndicate boss Mickey Cohen. In this book, son Will Vaus tells the inside story of his father's nefarious activities in organized crime and describes how close his father came to losing his life in a "Sting" operation. The author then describes the dramatic transformation that took place in his father's life as a result of attending the 1949 Billy Graham meetings in Los Angeles.
This story has been recounted in Time, Life and Reader's Digest, and was chronicled in a motion picture, The Wiretapper. Now it is told from a son's perspective, a son who watched his father reach juvenile delinquents across America with the same message of hope that changed his own life.
Return to Murray's