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Sunday, February 02, 2014

HAVING FAITH Part Five IMAGE

I believe the outcome was preordained. Conventional wisdom said that Asa "Ace" Keyes had all the power. He was male, and as District Attorney he could play the legal system like a musician played a tune. And he was willing to do whatever the law allowed to convict those who violated the law. But the truth was the uneducated Sister Aimee Semple McPherson held a winning hand, if she played her cards right.. She was willing to do what ever was required to defend her favorite child, her church. And she had one advantage that she had the disadvantage of being a woman. It was the professional cynic from Baltimore, H.L. Mencken, who most succinctly described her ultimate weapon, when he surprised his readers by writing in her defense, "What she is charged with, in essence, is perjury...uttered in defense of her honor." And in 1926, that was not only a justification for perjury, it was a requirement.
“Before the God in Whom I have every faith and utter belief in, every word I have uttered about my kidnapping is true.”
Aimee Semple McPherson 1926
It was a former USC classmate who offered the kindest description of the 28th District Attorney of Los Angeles. In his daily column "The Lancer" Harry Carr observed that during a 20 year career in the department "Ace" Keyes (above) proved to be "a careful slow minded trial lawyer". He was also honest and fair. Appointed in late 1923 to replace his ill predecessor, in 1924, Asa ran for the top job. He was praised from the pulpit by Sister Aimee.
And oil magnate Courtney Chauncey "C.C." Julian (above) called Keyes the "squarest District Attorney’ that ever held that office”. As soon as he was elected Keyes replaced most of his staff, while cutting the length of the average felony trial from 120 days to just 51. But by the end of his only term, the city of Angles had found his weak points and cracked him wide open..
"What brought about District Attorney Keyes’s change of belief? Did the overlords of the underworld who are fighting me, and who are heavily interested in Los Angeles, have anything to do with it?”
Aimee Semple McPherson September 1926
The roaring twenties, described by Franklin Roosevelt as "a decade of debauchery and of group selfishness", found the weak points in a lot of people, especially in Los Angeles . Just as the post war population boom produced a rush to subdivide the Los Angeles basin for new homes, as much as 10 billion barrels of oil was discovered under that very same land. One oil man observed, "They ruined a perfectly good oil field by building a city on top of it.” Brand new houses were bought and leveled to erect drilling derricks, as the locals went "stark, staring, oil mad." Some, like Edward Doheny, hit a gusher and got stinking oil rich. But the high fever of greed made it easy for the confidence men like C.C. Julian and Sheridan C. Lewis to fleece the vast majority.
“You may call it a ‘Fight the Devil Fund’ if you wish, because that’s what it will be used for....I am here to say that when I am proved innocent he will certainly have to go.”
Aimee Semple McPherson September 1926
At the top of The Julian Petroleum Company pyramid was a "Bankers Pool" of wealthy "preferred stock" holders, millionaires like movie mogul C.B. Demille, mine owners and recent oil men like Edward Doheny, and businessmen like Harry M. Haldeman, grandfather to Watergate conspirator H.R. Halderman. For a $1 million investment, they each made as much as 19% annual return by selling 4 million watered down general shares to 43,000 dreamers. 
After taking over "Julian Pete" in 1924, by 1927, Sheridan Lewis (above) had printed up and sold general shares equal to 3,614% of the company's worth. Lewis secretly unloaded his own shares, but retrained control and his generous salary by simply not telling anyone. He even used his now non-existent worthless stock as collateral to borrow millions from the biggest banks in Los Angeles, avoiding any questions by agreeing to interest rates so high they were illegal.
“Everybody knows that Asa has his hands pretty tight around my throat just now and wants to squeeze a little tighter every day until he chokes the life out of me.”
Aimee Semple McPherson 1926
Eventually it began to be whispered that there was far more "Julian Pete "stock on the market than was supposed to exists. In response to these rumors, Lewis (above) publicly formed a new "Millionaires' Pool" supposedly to save the company. In fact it merely extended the scam until the total fraud reached $150 million ($2 billion today). As Lewis reassured one of his nervous "Bankers' Pool", "You have made more money out of this Julian play than any other living man." And they all had.
“The vile insinuations which fell from the lips of Mr. Keyes during his examination today could not, in my opinion, exist in the mind of any pure man! He has subjected me today to the most exquisite cruelty and suffering that the human mind can conjure up.”
Aimee Semple McPherson 1926
Into this den of thieves stepped the "careful slow minded" Asa Keyes. Tempted by the enormous bribes offered for seemingly minor compromises, District Attorney Keyes began drinking and gambling, which is another way of saying he went into debt. Debt made him plastic. And by 1926 those in the know, knew the District Attorney was for sale, the price depending more on "Ace's" losses at the gaming tables than on the moral compromise he was being asked to make.
“Mr. Keyes means to do a-plenty to me right away! He has already blasted my name with trumpets with trumpets across the world—settling it for everybody—if his word is the Gospel—that I am the worst ever.”
Aimee Semple McPherson 1926
In mid-September,Asa Keyes announced his indictment of Aimee, her mother, Kenneth Ormiston and two others. At the press conference Keyes assured the press, “Mrs. McPherson is not and never has been a victim of persecution in so far as the law-enforcement agencies of this city are concerned...This office has its duty to perform and must do it regardless of who is hurt. I am sorry for Mrs. McPherson, but that cannot influence my sworn duty.” After her arraignment on the charges, Aimee's mother, Mildred Kennedy, told the courthouse reporters, “Jesus distinctly taught that His church should have persecution. As far as we know we are the only church in the world today to have this honor.” And in her next Sunday sermon broadcast, Aimee added, “ The sole purpose of this dastardly attack was to persecute me and besmirch my character, and possibly to destroy this temple. To my mind this is itself evidence of a hidden motive.”
“Asa Keyes—if you are listening in, you are a dirty, lecherous libertine! I urge every single taxpayer listening to my voice to contact your office and demand immediately an accounting of the money—thousands upon thousands of dollars—that you have been squandering—you and your wife and your assistants and their wives—on trips to vacation resorts in Carmel, Douglas, Arizona, and Mexico for what we are supposed to believe are investigations into my integrity.”
Aimee Semple McPherson 1926
Just as the charges were being filed against Aimee, Reuban F. McClellan, Chairman of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, swore under oath that Keyes had misused county funds in his investigation of Aimee.   McClellan, a retired mining engineer, was running for Governor, and he was depending on Aimee's Four Square congregation to support him. But by mid-October the court proceedings were over and although they produced a few headlines, the charges were proven to be empty. And then McClellan lost in the Republican primary, finishing him as a political force. But it was clear that Aimee was now using every weapon she could lay her hands on, and in a far more sophisticated way than ever before.
"Whether you like it or not, you're an actress."
Charlie Chapman speaking to Aimee Semple McPherson
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