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Death of a Screenwriter
John William Tuohy
Gary DeVore, 55, had written several Hollywood films, some of them made with big-name stars. (Dogs Of War, Raw Deal and Time Cop) In the early summer of 1997, he was preparing to make a big budget film which he planned to direct. The film, a remake of the wonderful 1949 film noir classic The Big Steal, would take place in Mexico as did the original.
In the original version, a US infantry officer is robbed of a $300,000 army payroll and is suspected of stealing the cash by his superiors. To prove himself innocent, he pursues the real thief across Mexico.
In DeVore's version of the remake was to take place during the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama, where his hero would race across the country trying to catch Army intelligence officers who had robbed a Panamanian bank and made off with a secret CIA slush fund. However, the film was never made because DeVore suddenly and inexplicably vanished in the middle of the planning stages.
Devore had gone to New Mexico to see if he could work through a severe case of writer's block and had been staying at the ranch of his friend, actress Marsha Mason. Driving an Eddie Bauer-edition Ford Explorer, DeVore was dressed in blue jeans, cowboy boots and a straw hat. He has about $300 in cash in his wallet which was in a rear pant pocket. Before getting on to the highway for the 12-hour, 830-mile trip home, he dropped Marsha Mason’s niece at the Albuquerque Airport.
Earlier in the evening, On Friday, June 27, 1997, before he got on the road from Santa Fe, DeVore had dinner at the home of Adrien Gordon, an old friend. "Gary and I were lovers though not during his marriages and best of friends throughout our lives.” She said “Yet there was never any jealousy. There was no ownership kind of thing. Gary had a very secretive side to him," she said. "I think he was many different people. I think he was very compartmentalized. Part of him was a redneck who liked to drink with cowboys and be with his horse. Part of him was a total womanizer. Gary also had a bad temper. . . . But he was always sweet and lovely with me. He had rough times and depression."
DeVore was driving at night through the Mojave Desert to Santa Barbara, California. A security camera's image of Devore buying gasoline in Flagstaff, Arizona. He reached Fenner California on Interstate 40 at about 10:20 PM and bought gas at the High Sahara Oasis gas station and paid with his Visa Card. The roads around Barstow, the midway point to Las Vegas and Los Angeles, may have been crowded that night. Mike Tyson was fighting in Vegas.
“I was home, it was Saturday night,” his wife said “I was watching an HBO show that runs from 12:00 to 1:00. When he called me at 12:40 a.m., I was very involved in the show and I said, "Let me call you back at the end of it, it's over at 1:00." And he knew the show and he said OK.
So at 1:00 I called him back three times on the cell phone. He was traveling with my cell phone. I knew the range capabilities and the amount of hours that it would charge. There were no problems in any of these areas. I called him back three times between 1:00 and 1:10. Let the phone ring a long period of time, each time. He did not answer. I did not get the tape that says the subscriber is out of the area. Nor does my cell phone have the kind of little window that tells you when you missed calls.
At 1:15 a.m. my phone rang, and the first thing he said to me was, "Was that you calling me, sweetie?", which I later understood when I realized that something terrible had happened, that he had heard the phone and he was letting me know he heard it. He did not elaborate on it by saying, 'I didn't answer it for this reason or 'I couldn't get it to it for that reason' which is what he normally would have done.
I'm certain this was not a normal phone call. When he called me and he said, "Was that you trying to call me, sweetie," and I said, "Who else would it be at 1:00 in the morning," he then slid past that and didn't answer. And I said, Gary, "Where are you?" and he said, "I'm past Barstow." And that would have been a normal response as I didn't know the names of smaller towns in the desert.
So I said, "Oh, you'll be home in three and a half or four hours." And he said, "Something like that. Gary was a very precise person and he wouldn't answer me in generalities, especially it was his traveling he knew what his schedule was.
And I said, "Well, I'll tell you what, I'll wait up for you." And he said, "Don't do that." And this man had not seen me in a week, and we had a very close marriage and a new marriage. And normally he would have been flirtatious.
And I said, "Well, you know, you'll want to take a shower, you've been driving a long time, we'll take a shower." And he said, "Whatever."
Then I said to him, "Well, I'll go out, I'll open the gate," which I did about 4:30. And I -- he basically did not say he loved me when he hung the phone up.
I said to him, "Are you tired?" He said, "No, I'm pumping pure adrenalin here." I thought that was a large answer to a small question. This is a man who deals with words for a living. He knew exactly what he was saying. When he said, "I'm pumping pure adrenalin here," I got very, very alarmed in some way. I didn't understand why.
And then he simply said, "See you later."
The roads around Barstow, the midway point to Las Vegas and Los Angeles, may have been crowded that night. Mike Tyson was fighting in Vegas.
DeVore’s cell phone records showed that he had turned off his phone at 1:20 AM, however, the story goes, there was no record of his call to his wife, leading some to believe that DeVore had called her from a landline or perhaps a different phone. However, no evidence of that has been presented to the public.
And that was last anyone ever heard from him. Wendy DeVore hired private detectives, air and ground searchers, bloodhounds, even psychics and posted a $100,000 reward to help find her husband. Police did an extensive air and ground search for DeVore, even having his wife submit to a lie detector test. (She became ill and the test was never completed. The police never considered her a suspect.) There was a public appeal on "America's Most Wanted" and numerous TV news programs, but they found nothing.
In July of 1998, a lawyer named Douglas Crawford, who was something of an amateur detective called the police and said he believed DeVore had driven his car into the Aqueduct. Crawford read about a crash that had happened in more or less the same area. Police acted on the tip and found DeVore, and his car, sunk about 12 to 15 feet in the middle of the Aqueduct.
Investigators determined that DeVore, probably tired and disoriented, (His headlights were turned off making it easy to several do not enter signs “Do not enter” signs after he accidentally turned on to the wrong side of the road.) must have fallen asleep at the wheel, hit a guard rail and flipped into the California Aqueduct near Palmdale California, which is about 50 miles North of LA. His badly decomposed body was found a year later, still strapped in his seatbelt. He more than probably drowned but the exact cause of death is unknown. The airbag deployed and, considering the downward angle of the car, may have trapped in his seat.
The coroner found no outward signs of trauma. The most insane story to arise from the tragedy of DeVore’s early death is the story that DeVore’s corpse was missing its hands and that the few pieces of hand bones found according to “a medical examiner” the bones that were found belong to a 200-year-old man. One would think that a county coroner would have noticed the corpse he was examining was missing its hands and made note of it in his report.
Devore laptop and pistol, a colt 45 normally stashed in the glove compartment weren’t found in the car, which the conspiracy crowd pointed as evidence of foul play by the CIA. However, it's more than likely that both items floated out of the car from the open driver’s side window and are buried in mud in the canal. (Also missing from the car was $20,000 in camera equipment, running gear, sunglasses, a diet journal, two large boxes of horse riding equipment)
At the time he died, Devore was involved in a complicated 1994 tax battle with his ex-wife Maria Cole, the Widow of Nat King Cole, and her children, including singer Natalie Cole. The courts had ordered DeVore to pay almost $2 million but he appealed, and the case was pending. He also financial problems with two other ex-wives. However, his wife told NPR Radio “Gary had a $2.5 million tax judgment against him several years earlier that he had completely finished paying off. I don't think you would kill yourself before -- you know, after. I think you would kill yourself before. Also, he had script problems and things, but he always did, and he was not in a serious depression.”
But in fact, DeVore was said to be depressed about the direction is career as a script doctor was taking. "He was very bummed out about where his life was," said friend and former manager Frank Wuliger.
He was close to his mother and she had died only a few months before. One of his former wife’s, who stayed in touch with him over the years, had had lunch with DeVore and sensed that he was depressed. "In all fairness, he sometimes represents himself as being OK he's a dramatist," she said. "He may have said to other people, 'I'm fabulous, I'm great,' but he had a long history of doubting himself."
Another friend added that "Depression would be a part of his makeup. He used to get writer's block and it would just kill him. He'd just feel this one tool, which was his big tool, was not in his grasp anymore and it wasn't going to come back. . . . He would berate himself for having lost it."
The lunatic fringe came out in numbers to explain his disappearance and later his death. The loon theories ranged from he had gone missing on purpose to alien abduction to a CIA hit. The theory says that DeVore was working for the CIA and had learned about the agency’s covert operations in Panama and that DeVore planned on putting some of those actions by the CIA into his film, so they killed him.
The never-gets-old-CIA -did-it theory was made into a 2014 documentary called The Writer with No Hands. The documentary offers the remarkably simple-minded story that Panama’s dictator, General Manuel Noriega had compiled a stash of sex tapes featuring top-ranking US officials. To get the films out of the general’s hands, the US invaded Panama.
The scandal sheet The Daily Mail claimed that a British research team was warned to drop its investigation in DeVore death by a Department of Defense contractor. However, the paper never offered the research teams origins, who was paying them, why they were looking into DeVore’s death or what their names were. Nor did they offer the contractors name. The Mail also claimed that DeVore was working for the CIA in Panama, but again, without any evidence to back up the statement.
According to Wendy Devore a week after her husband’s disappearance, the FBI came to her home and wiped the contents of DeVore office computer. The raid didn’t make the news, which, at the time, had run several features stories on DeVore’s disappearance. She also said that her husband was in near constant phone contact with CIA officials in the month leading up to Devore's death.
She said “When we first married he told me he got a lot of calls from government agencies. He told me to ignore it, so I did. If the phone rang, I could take a message or say he was out, but not to speak to them really. We had a few at first, then not very many. Then in the last month, one man was calling all the time. He was dealing in things that you're not necessarily supposed to deal in. I found out a lot of people in Hollywood had these connections with the CIA and knew things that will never be made public. After he disappeared, things just didn't add up. It's very easy to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but when you're married to someone you know little things about them that seem insignificant but are actually crucial. I know there are things that don't add up.' She added that DeVore traveled to Panama with a senior CIA official when he had said he was going to a location with his production team.
What’s the answer? As Sgt. Mike Burridge, a spokesman for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department. "I think if anything is unique about this case, it's that after all the investigative time and all the media attention it received, there is nothing evidentiary-wise to point in any one direction and that is unusual."
Mickey Cohen and the Hollywood Starlets
John William Tuohy
Mickey Cohen (Born Meyer Harris Cohen on September 41913 in Brooklyn, New York) moved to LA in 1920, where his family ran a drug store. As a teenager, Cohen began to box in illegal prizefights before heading for the east coast to train as a professional boxer. He would turn pro and loss a match against World Featherweight Champion Tommy Paul.
Afterward, Cohen may possibly have been part of the Al Capone’s operation in Chicago.
He was arrested there for his part in a gun brawl. Cohen ran a few illegal gambling operations, possibly working the Matt Capone. Al’s Brother, in those operations. Cohen supposedly worked for a time for Jake Guzik, Capone numbers manager before moving to Cleveland to work for the gangster Lou Rothkopf. It was Rothkopf who arranged for Cohen to work for Bugsy Siegel in LA as a bodyguard. After Siegel was murdered in 1947, Cohen took over Siegel's massive gambling, dope and protection operations. The problem was that LA Mafia Don, Jack Dragna, wanted every piece of Siegel’s operation and when Cohen grew in power, he wanted Cohen’s operation as well. And so began the Cohen-Dragna war.
Dragna decided that the quickest way to win was to murder Cohen. In late July of 1949, Cohen, a bodyguard named Edward (Neddie) Herbert, a woman named Dee David, gossip columnist Florabel Muir and Harry Cooper, a special agent from the office of the California attorney general assigned to be a Cohen’s bodyguard went out for the evening to Sherry’s Restaurant 9039 North Sunset Blvd. (Some 65 years earlier there was an attempted murder of a rap mogul Suge Knight at the same address) Sherry’s was a nightclub, popular with movie stars and the underworld.
As the Cohen party left., at 3:55 a.m., four shots rang out from across the street. Cohen was struck in the right shoulder; Agent Cooper took two bullets in the stomach. Cohen was shot in the right shoulder. Dee David was shot in the back and Herbert was wounded in the side, arm, foot, and wrist. He later died from the wounds. Florabel Muir was struck in the rear end.
Agent Cooper, left
The shooting was probably ordered by two highly placed LAPD vice detectives that Cohen had publicly accused of shaking him down for thousands of dollars. The rumor was that the cops needed Cohen dead before he could testify before a grand jury.
In the middle of all this was the disappearance of actress Jean Spangler, 26, who vanished off the face of the earth in 1949. She left behind a young daughter and a promising career that was just starting to take off.
Spangler, right, in a Three Stooges film
On October 7th, 1949, at around 5:00 PM, Spangler dropped her daughter with her sister-in-law, Sophie. She said that she had an appointment with her former husband, Dexter Benner, to discuss an increase in the amount of child support check.
The couple married when Spangler was 19, but filed for divorce only six months later, alleging cruelty. After the divorce was finalized, courts granted Benner custody of their daughter due to Spangler’s infidelity during the marriage. Benner also claimed that Spangler’s hard-partying lifestyle made her an unfit mother.
Before leaving that afternoon, Spangler added that she would be returning late because she was scheduled for a night-shoot on one of the film lots. She was seen at a Farmers Market a few blocks from her home at about 6:00 PM. A sales- clerk noted that she didn’t buy anything and that she appeared to be waiting for someone.
At around 7: 00 PM, Spangler called home and spoke with Sophie as well as her daughter. She said the schedule had changed and that she would have to work at least an eight-hour shift and would be home much later than she thought if, in fact, she returned at all that night.
That was the last anyone heard of her. Her ex-husband said that he didn’t have an appointment scheduled with her, and the studios didn’t have her listed in a night shoot. Two days later, her purse was found in Griffith Park, Los Angeles, with the handles torn off but nothing was stolen. Inside the purse police found a handwritten note “Kirk, can’t wait any longer. Going to see Dr. Scott. It will work out best this way while Mother is away,”.
Oddly, the note ended in a comma, so it appeared to be unfinished. Sixty police officers and over one hundred volunteers searched the 4,107-acre natural terrain park, but no other clues were found.
Police learned that Spangler’s mother was out of town. She had gone to Kentucky to visit a son. They never learned who the person named Kirk was, or who Doctor Scott was. Spangler had a reputation around town as a well-liked and popular party girl and several friends told police that Spangler was three months pregnant. The police speculated that she had arranged for an abortion, illegal at the time, which explained who Doctor Scott was. Perhaps the abortion had been botched, common at the time, and Spangler had died as a result. The cops learned that Spangler had cheated on Benner, her ex-husband, with a man she called “Scotty”, but the relationship ended because Scotty had physically assaulted her and threatened her life. The also tracked down a lead about a former medical student who went by the name “Doc,” and who performed illegal abortions, who may have known Spangler from the nightclubs scene.
The cops never located a Doctor Scott.
Spangler's mother, Florence, told police that someone named "Kirk" had picked up Jean at her house twice but stayed in his car and did not come into the house. Investigators learned that Spangler had been an extra in a film starring actor Kirk Douglas, (Young Man with a Horn)
When rumors started to float that Kirk Douglas may have been the Kirk mentioned in the note, the actor called the police to clear his name. He recalled her and said that he "talked and kidded with her a bit" but that was the entire extent of the relationship.
"I told Detective Chief Thad Brown” Douglas said “that I didn't remember the girl or the name until a friend recalled it was she who worked as an extra in a scene with me in my picture Young Man with a Horn ... then I recalled that she was a tall girl in a green dress. I talked and kidded with her a bit on the set ... But I never saw her before or after that and have never been out with her."
Spangler told her friend, actor Robert Cummings, that she was having a casual affair but mention any names. Cummings asked if it was serious and said that she responded: "No. But I'm having the time of my life."
Other suspects included at least two prominent movie stars, a well-known college professor, a wealthy nightclub owner, and a playboy but nothing panned out except one lead; Davy Ogul.
Spangler was dating Ogul, who was part of gangster-dope pusher Mickey Cohen operation and it more or less became an accepted fact that Spangler had run off with Ogul to start a new life.
David “Davy” Ogul was born in Chicago (As was his boss Mickey Cohen) in 1919. He first came to the public’s attention in July of 1938 when he tried to rob a secretary.
The secretary, Debra Altshul had gone to the bank and was carrying $1,000 in cash back to her offices in the Loop when Ogul, age 19, ran up from behind her and, with his hand thrust in his pocket, told Altshul he had a gun and that he wanted the money she was carrying. Altshul screamed “Robber” and Ogul punched her in the face, grabbed the money and ran. However, at the corner of Wells and Adams Street, a young parking lot attendant named Melvin Walker tackled Ogul to the sidewalk and help him until police arrived.
After his release from Statesville prison for the robbery, Ogul was a knock around guy with the Chicago Outfit before drifting west to LA and became gangster Mickey Cohen’s driver and gofer.
Leo Ogul, 47, Davy Ogul’s brother was already in LA. Leo held up a jewelry store in LA in 1946 and served five years for the crime. He was nabbed on suspicion of grand theft, conspiracy and receiving stolen goods in the form of 38,000 bras valued at $134,000. Ogul and five others had robbed the bras from a storage facility in a railroad yard. They had planned to peddle the bras wholesale for $1.83 apiece (The actual retail value was from $7 to $18 each.) The newspaper called it “An up lifting crime”
It was widely known that Cohen held Ogul in low regard and considered him unreliable. As an example of that, in mid-October of 1949, Ogul was standing on the sidewalk in front of Cohen’s clothing store, Michael’s Haberdashery, in downtown LA, (Cohen owned the building, 8804 Sunset Blvd. Cohen’s headquarters was on the top floor.) when Cohen, a lethal ex-professional boxer, pulled up in his car, leaped out and punched Ogul repeatedly, knocking him to the sidewalk again and again. Cohen then entered an adjacent to Cohen’s jewelry store, Courtly Jewelers and beat up another one of his men Harold Meltzer. When asked about the incident, Cohen mumbled: "I got nothing to say, whatever."
A few days later, Ogul, Mickey Cohen, three LA police officers, an attorney, seven Cohen henchmen and a clothing manufacturer were indicted for conspiring to beat and rob Alfred M. Pearson, radio shop owner, March 19, 1949.
A few weeks, prior to the arrest for the beating, Ogul, who said he was a furniture salesman, was facing a 90-day jail sentence for giving a fictitious name for a driver's license. The cops pulled his car over as part of their ongoing harassment of underworld figures and discovered that Ogul had two driver’s license, one in his actual name and one in the name of Dave Owen. The cops took both licenses, impounded his car, issued a traffic violation and released him on a $5,000 bound.
A few days after Spangler disappeared, Davy Ogul also disappeared. However its important to note that a direct relationship between Spangler and Ogul was never established by the police and Spangler’s family and friends denied that she knew Ogul.
It was Mickey Cohen who reported Ogul missing. Cohen had put up a $25,000 bond on Ogul, a very substantial amount of money at the time, so it was in his best interest to see him alive.
Frank “Frankie Burns” Niccoli, a close friend of Cohen’s disappeared six weeks before Ogul disappeared. Both of their cars were found in their driveways and their apartments were undisturbed.
It's entirely likely that both men were murdered and buried by the Dragna’s, the LA-based Mafia family that was locked in a war with Cohen in the late 1940s. However, the LA police believed that Niccoli and Ogul were alive and hiding out in Texas or Southern California.
In March of 1950, there were reports that Niccoli and Ogul had been seen in Chihuahua City, in Mexico, just south of El Paso where police believed they had been hiding out. Les Porter, assistant customs chief, positively identified a photo of Ogul as the person who crossed the international bridge February 26 on return trip from Mexico.
Porter said that Ogul was traveling with another person, male, that Porter couldn’t identify. Another customs agent had a lead that said that Jean Spangler had registered at an El Paso hotel. When she was recognized by the staff, she checked out and registered at another hotel and left soon afterward. The following month, a reliable police source reported seeing Ogul in Mexico City.
Police received reports that Spangler was sighted in Palm Springs, California, with Davy Ogul. Over the next several years more sighting were reported throughout California, Arizona, and Texas.
In 1952, as sighting tapered off, Spangler’s mother said "I just don’t feel that she is alive anymore. Somehow I have lost the feeling that she is alive; I know that Jean would never have left willingly. She loved her home and her baby too much to ever do that"
In 1950 Mickey Cohen was investigated by the Kefauver Commission and, as a result, was sentenced to prison for four years for tax evasion. It was probably a good time for Cohen to go to jail. Los Angeles mob boss Jack Dragna, not a bright man, decided he wanted all of Cohen’s rackets. He had a hood named Sam Bruno plant a bomb under Mickey Cohen’s home. The bomb left a crater ten feet deep and broke every window in every house for 5,000 feet around. The problem was they had placed the bomb directly under a double laid cement floor where Cohen kept his safe. Because of that, the bomb blasted sideways instead of upwards. The explosion lifted Cohen up out of his bed and threw him back down again, other than that, he was fine.
Sam Bruno had to save face after the bomb fiasco. He laid in wait for Cohen to return home one night. As Cohen returned home, Bruno stepped out of some tall bushes and fired at the little gangster with both barrels. The buckshot smashed Cohen’s car door and shattered the cars windows but, again, Cohen, was unharmed. After that, mobster started saying that Cohen made a pact with the devil. In Las Vegas, they were actually taking odds on how long it would take to kill him off and the odds were in Micky Cohen’s favor.
On April 4, 1958, Good Friday, the Cohen mob was involved in yet another Hollywood scandal when the daughter of actress Lana Turner stabbed Turner’s hoodlum boyfriend, Johnny Stompanato, to death in their Beverly Hills home.
As gangster go, Stompanato was an interesting guy. Born and raised in Woodstock Illinois (About 50 miles west of Chicago) Stompanato joined the US Marines in 1942 and saw combat as an infantryman. While stationed in China in 1946, he met and married a Turk named Sarah Utish. Stompanato, a Roman Catholic converted to Islam in order to marry her.
Stompanato and Cohen
The couple returned to Illinois, had a child and an otherwise normal middle-class life until Stompanato walked out of the marriage and moved to Hollywood, California in 1947.
He eventually became a bodyguard for Mickey Cohen and occasionally acted as an enforcer when needed with arrests for vagrancy to suspicion of robbery. But otherwise, Stompanato, tall, dark and handsome and not without charm, moved easily in Hollywood circles.
After another two failed marriage, in 1957 he took up with actor Lana Turner, just as her career was slowing down.
Crane, Stompanato and Cheryl Crane,
There is a well-known story that when Turner was filming “Another Time, Another Place” in London, that she became involved with her co-star, Scotsman Sean Connery, a former competitive weightlifter. When Stompanato caught wind of the alleged affair, he flew to London and confront Connery and waving a gun in his face. Connery, known for his flash temper, took the pistol away from the gangster, beat him and threw him off the set.
Turner and Connery
Exactly what happened on the night Stompanato was stabbed to death will probably never be known. According to Lana Turner’s daughter, Cheryl Crane, Stompanato and Crane were arguing. According to friends of Turner, Stompanato had beaten her in the past and was verbally abusive as well. Turner characterized him as hyper-possessive and prone to fits of violent rage and said that while they were in London Stompanato held a razor to her face and threatened to disfigure her saying he would "'cut you just a little now to give you a taste of it.'"
Turner had tried to break it off but Stompanato refused to leave the relationship. On the night of murder, Turner said she told her daughter "I'm going to end it with him tonight, Baby. It's going to be a rough night. Are you prepared for it?"
When she told Stompanato it was over, "He grabbed me by the arms and started shaking me and cursing me very badly, and saying … that if he said jump, I would jump; if he said hop, I would hop, and I would have to do anything and everything he told me, or he'd cut my face or cripple me. And if … when it went beyond that, he would kill me and my daughter and my mother. I broke away from his holding my … holding me … and I turned around to face the door, and my daughter was standing there, and I said: 'Please, Cheryl, please don't listen to any of this. Please go back to your own room.'"
Cheryl returned to her room just as Turner was saying "Don't … ever touch me again. I am … I am absolutely finished. This is the end. And I want you to get out."
"I was walking toward the bedroom door” she said “and he was right behind me, and I opened it and my daughter came in. I swear it was so fast, I … I truthfully thought she had hit him in the stomach. The best I can remember, they came together, and they parted. I still never saw a blade."
There was a long and very public inquiry into the death and many people believed then and now that it was actually Lana Turner who stabbed Stompanato to death and her daughter, who was still a minor, took the blame.
Mickey Cohen paid for Stompanato's funeral and apparently paid for it by selling Lana Turner's love letters Stompanato to the press.
Cohen was convicted for tax evasion in 1961, serving part of his sentence at Alcatraz prison. While he was there another inmate beat him with a lead pipe “Scrambling my brains” as Cohen put it.
He was released from the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary in 1972, but he was never the same mentally or physically due to the attack. Cohen died in his sleep on July 29, 1976, in LA.