May 16, 2013
With good reason, conspiracy theories abound about the shooting deaths of oil scion Ned Doheny and his companion/secretary Hugh Plunkett at the fortress-like mansion Greystone in Los Angeles.
by Benjamin Welton
On the night of February 17, 1929, two would-be writers converged together in order to make history in Los Angeles, America’s fabled land of never-ending sunshine and raw economic opportunity. These two men—Leslie White and Raymond Chandler—did not knew each other that night, nor were they writers yet. They would learn and apply that craft in the 1930s in the various pulp magazines of the day, with White taking the lead while Chandler was busy drinking himself out of a job at the Dabney Oil Syndicate. The hardboiled and cynical worldview that these men shared captured the zeitgeist of the Depression, but the seeds of this bitter harvest were planted in the late 1920s, right before America’s decade-long party came crashing down. In the era before James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, the seedy world of Southern California was rife with corruption and an almost expressionist tapestry of nihilist violence and amorality.
In the same way that the double murder that occurred on February 17, 1929 foreshadowed darker things to come (at least in the literary world), the events of that night were partially based on an even greater scandal of that age. President Warren Harding, America’s 29th commander-in-chief, is often placed near the cellar of the historical rankings of U.S. Presidents, and much (if not all) of that is due to the Teapot Dome Scandal that consumed his entire administration, even after his sudden death in San Francisco in 1923 (which is another crime for another day). Between the years of 1920 and 1923, President Harding’s Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall took and pocketed bribes in order to lease U.S. Navy petroleum reserves (which were then primarily located at Teapot Dome, Wyoming, as well as California) to private oil companies.