Roy’s grandfather subscribed to several magazines, among them Time, Field & Stream, Sport, and Reader’s Digest, but the one that interested Roy most was San Francisco Bay Crime Monthly. One afternoon Roy came home from school and found his grandfather reading a new issue.
“Hi, Pops. Anything good in there?”
“Hello, boy. Yes, I’ve just started an intriguing story.”
Roy sat down on the floor next to his grandfather’s chair. “Can you read it to me?”
“How old are you now, Roy?”
“I don’t know everything that’s in this one yet. I wouldn’t want your mother to get mad at me if there’s something she doesn’t want you to hear.”
“She’s not home. Anyway, I’ve heard everything.”
“You have, huh? All right, but I might have to leave out some gruesome details, if there are any.”
“Those are the best parts, Pops. I won’t tell Mom. Start at the beginning.”
Elmer Mooney, a plumber walking to work at seven a.m. last Wednesday morning, noticed a body wedged into a crevice between two apartment buildings on the 800 block of Gilman Street in West Berkeley’s Little Chicago neighborhood. He telephoned police as soon as he arrived at Kosztolanski Plumbing and Pipeworks, his place of employment, and told them of his discovery.
The dead body was identified as that of Roland Diamond, thirty-four years old, a well-known Bay Area art dealer and lecturer at the University of California who resided on Indian Rock Road in Berkeley. He was unmarried and according to acquaintances had a reputation as a playboy who had once been engaged to the Nob Hill society heiress Olivia Demaris Swan.
Detectives learned that Diamond had been seen on the evening prior to the discovery of his corpse in the company of Miss Jewel Cortez, twenty-one, at the bar of the Hotel Madagascar on San Pablo Avenue, where Miss Cortez was staying. When questioned, Miss Cortez, who gave her profession as “chanteuse,” a French word for singer, told authorities she had “a couple of cocktails” with Diamond, with whom she said she had only a passing acquaintance, after which, at approximately nine p.m., he accompanied her to her room, where he attempted by force to have sex with her.
“He was drunk,” Cortez told police. “I didn’t invite him in, he insisted on walking me to my door. I pushed him out of my room into the hallway but he wouldn’t let go of me. We struggled and he fell down the stairs leading to the landing below. He hit his head on the wall and lay still. I returned to my room, packed my suitcase, and left the hotel without speaking to anyone.”
Jewel Cortez confessed that before leaving the hotel she removed Roland Diamond’s car keys from his coat pocket and drove in his car, a 1954 Packard Caribbean, to Los Angeles, where, two days later, she was apprehended while driving the vehicle in that city’s Echo Park area. Miss Cortez was taken into custody on suspicion of car theft. Upon interrogation by the Los Angeles police, she claimed not to know that Diamond was dead, that he had loaned her his car so that she could visit friends in LA, where she had resided before moving to Berkeley. Miss Cortez also said she had no idea how his body had wound up in the Little Chicago neighborhood. When informed that examination of Diamond’s corpse revealed a bullet wound in his heart, Cortez professed ignorance of the shooting and declared that she had never even handled a gun, let alone fired one, in her whole life.
Betty Corley, a resident of the Hotel Madagascar, described Jewel Cortez as “a barroom butterfly.” When asked by Detective Sergeant Gus Argo what she meant by that, Miss Corley said, “You know, she got around.” Then added, “Men never know what a spooked woman will do, do they?”
Berkeley, California, May 4, 1955
“What does she mean by spooked?” Roy asked. “Frightened?”
“Yes, but her point is that women can be unpredictable.”
“Is my mother unpredictable?”
Pops laughed. “Your mother is only thirty-two years old and she’s already been married three times. What do you think?”
Excerpted from “Barroom Butterfly,” by Barry Gifford, copyright 2020 by Barry Gifford, included in the anthology Berkeley Noir, co-edited by Jerry Thompson and Owen Hill. Used with permission of the author and Akashic Books (akashicbooks.com).