In 1945, the Los Angeles Field Office of the FBI recorded in its General Crime Survey report that Larry Potter was a murder suspect who had come to the city from Utah after things got too hot for him there.
Potter was connected to a murder case in Utah, though he was not a suspect- at least not publicly. It was the violent murder of Dexter Moormeister, wife of Dr. Frank Moormeister, which took place February 21, 1930. Although it occurred outside Salt Lake City, many of the principal persons involved had ties to Los Angeles.
The following is based on the author’s own, original research.
Frances (Frank) Moormeister born about 1878 in Alsaise-Lorraine and attended medical school at the University of Munich. He came to the United States in 1905 and settled in Portland, Oregon. In July 1906 he was one of 19 (out of 44) to pass examination by the local medical board and therefore eligible to obtain an Oregon medical license. That September, he set up practice in La Grande, Oregon, with offices in the New Bank Building. Doc M advertised that he specialized in “surgery and diseases of women.”
Moormeister remained in La Grande through February 1907 but relocated to Salt Lake City later that year. In April 1908, he received a license to practice in Utah and later partnered with another physician, Dr. Theodore Hotopp.
In August 1911, Doc Moormeister wed Hannah “Hallie” Cowen in Salt Lake. The couple’s daughter, Peggy Ann, was born in Los Angeles in July 1914.
In May 1913, Moormeister made the first of many headlines when, driving on the wrong side of the road, he ran over an 11–year–old boy. The lad recovered and the doc, though arrested for violation of the traffic ordinance, did not serve time.
On April 19, 1915, a 19-year-old woman died after being operated on by Dr. Moormeister with assistance from Dr. Hotopp, for “ovarian cysts.” (Dr. Hotopp had been in trouble in Salt Lake twice previously, in 1913 and 1914, for performing abortions, illegal at that time). Moormeister was charged with manslaughter and found not guilty in October 1915. The patient’s family sued him for malpractice in civil court; the Doc settled the suit for $15,000 in 1917.
In October 1916, Doc Moormeister told local papers of his good fortune in having inherited a share of an $800,000 estate in Germany, to be shared with his two brothers. Given that Germany was now at war, it’s not clear when he would be able to collect it.
Then came tragedy. On January 25, 1917, Doc Moormeister’s wife was killed in a car accident in Los Angeles near Venice, where she’d been vacationing “for her health” with little Peggy for much of the new year. She was crushed to death when a car she’d been riding in with friends flipped over. The driver, identified as “Frank Goodrich” collided with another car. Goodrich and another passenger, a J.M. Smith, were hospitalized with serious injuries. On January 28 the LA Times reported that Goodrich, a man of many aliases, had been arrested in December 1916 in the lobby of the Alexandra Hotel after a guest recognized him as the man who’d swindled $4000 out of him in a bunko game in 1910. At the time of the accident, he was out on $5000 bond. He was ultimately freed of any manslaughter charges in regard to Hallie’s death.
Though the Doc told reporters he was taking his wife’s body back to Salt Lake, in fact she was buried in Hollywood. He arrived home in Salt Lake on January 31, telling reporters “Stories that my wife was robbed of $400 as she lay dying from an automobile accident are absurd” and that jewelry worth $1000 Hallie had been wearing was not touched.
In August 1917, the Doc’s partner Dr. Hotopp, was charged in the death of a patient as a result of a criminal operation (an abortion). He and Doc Moormeister had been charged in another abortion case but walked when the witness didn’t show up. Doc Hotopp pleaded guilty in the death case and was sent to state prison.
In 1919, the doctor met Grace Dexter Hugentobler. Born in Salina, Utah on October 1, 1897, the Doc said Hugentobler (who went by Dexter) was working as a waitress” in a hotel in Provo when they met. He proposed, but she had dreams of becoming an actress in Hollywood and wasn’t ready to settle down. She adopted the stage name “Dorothy Dexter” but does not appear to have successfully crashed the movie business. She and the doctor were married in Los Angeles on December 29, 1926 (not 1927 as was sometimes stated).
Lawrence Bennett Potter was born in 1894 in Silver City, New Mexico, the son of Newton G. and Francis (nee Bennett) Potter. As of 1910 the family had settled in Alameda County, where Potter ran a welding business. By 1916, young Potter had established himself in Salt Lake City. He had a welding business and also managed a hotel.
In September 1919, Potter and his wife Dorothy (aka Dora) were charged with pandering and living of the earnings of a prostitute at the Amherst Hotel, 159 West South Temple Street, in a case that involved a young girl under 18.
It was also around 1919, according to his later inquest testimony, that Larry Potter met Grace Dexter Hugentobler (the same year she met Doc Moormeister).
On August 8, 1922, Citywide raids of rooming houses and “soft drink parlors” with federal, state, county and city law enforcement cooperating, netted the arrest of Larry Potter, along with “Florence Newman,” as proprietor of the Rex Hotel. The charges were later dismissed.
By 1926, Potter, through fronts, was running the Fairmont Hotel at 249 State Street. As of 1928 he also had an interest in the Red Wing Hotel at 127 West First South St. where in January 4 women and 2 men were arrested for having whisky as well as charges of “resorting.” Larry Potter posted the $300 bail for the women. In February it was revealed that Red Wing was licensed in the name of Mrs. Larry Potter after the City Commission denied a license to a “Florence Bennett” (Bennett was Potter’s middle name and his mother’s maiden name). On March 17, Florence pleaded guilty to charge of operating a rooming house without an inspection certificate. In September the City Commission denied Larry Potter’s application to operate the Fairmont Hotel, which Chief of Police Joseph Burbidge called a house of ill repute that also sold liquor. Potter claimed he was a victim of “discrimination” as similar establishments were given licenses. In any case, the hotel continued to operate.
On November 2, 1928, Potter’s wife, identified as Florence Virginia nee Edgar, 26, died of poisoning (aka she took an overdose of sleeping tablets) in her room at the Red Wing Hotel after “several months of ill health.” Funeral arrangements were delayed until Potter, who was in Los Angeles at the time, could return to Salt Lake.
Doctor and Mrs. Moormeister spent much of the Spring and Summer traveling- to the East and West Coasts of the USA and abroad. While in Paris in July 1929, Dexter reportedly began a romance with Prince Farid of Persia.
Back home, on October 25, Doc Moormeister performed an abortion on a local woman. On November 7, Doc Moormeister performed an abortion on a woman who had traveled to Salt Lake from California. On November 16, he was charged in the November 7 operation and faced the loss of his license. With that case still pending, on January 31, 1930 the state Attorney General filed a second complaint against Doc Moormeister for unprofessional conduct with the state department of registration (which regulated all kinds of businesses for which a license was required, including barbers, hairdressers, cosmeticians) over the illegal operation of October 25, 1929. At Moormeister’s hearing before the state board of medical examiners and the state department of registration on February 11, director S.W. Goulding was forced to drop the charges against Moormeister as the witnesses fail to appear in court to testify. He still faced charges in the second case, which was to be heard March 6.
In addition to his professional troubles, the doctor’s personal life may also have been a source of conflict. Dexter’s sister Amelia who had lived with the couple since their marriage, claimed that Dexter had told her only the day before her death that she planned to see a divorce lawyer the following day.
Doc Moormeister denied there had been any talk of divorce. He testified that he was unaware of Dexter’s affair with the Prince until after her death. Reporter Howard S. Benedict, writing a retrospective of the case for the Ogden Standard-Examiner on January 9, 1955, long after the fact, stated the doctor found out six months before Dexter died. (The basis for this assertion is unknown and should not be taken as fact).
What is apparent is that Dexter and the doctor did not spend a lot of time together in the Fall/Winter of 1929-1930. On the heels of the European vacation, in late December 1929, Dexter made a long, solo visit to Los Angeles. She returned to Salt Lake on January 20, 1930. She had a month and a day to live.
Exactly one week before her death, on February 14, 1930, Dexter was out until a late hour with Charles Peter, a failed mining investor (aka con artist) and longtime friend of Doc Moormeister. The Doctor later admitted he was “angry” at Dexter for being out so late but insisted he was unaware of any undue attachment between his wife and Charles Peter.
Born in Leipzig, Germany in 1887, Frederick Charles Peter came to the US in 1907. He married Lydia Heckel of St. Louis in 1910, about the same time he met the doctor. In 1924 Peter was convicted of using the mails to defraud. Doc Moormeister was one of the witnesses against him. The conviction was later overturned on appeal and the two men remained friends.
On the afternoon of Wednesday, February 19, Larry Potter later said he met Dexter downtown at the Newhouse Hotel and introduced her to Paul Mitchell. The trio had drinks then drove around for a while in Dexter’s car, a 1929 Cadillac. He claimed that Dexter gushed about her romance with the prince and said she told him she planned to divorce the doctor and settle in Los Angeles with the prince. Dexter apparently made plans to meet Mitchell the day of her death, as the appointment was found in a notebook she kept.
H. Paul Mitchell (alias Hiram Paul Mitchell or Henry Paul Mitchell among several others) was a Los Angeles racketeer. In November 1925, in Los Angeles, he had shot his younger brother, Marion, assertedly by accident, while the younger Mitchell was riding in a car with Harry F. “Mileaway” Thomas.
H. Paul Mitchell said had been aiming for Thomas’ tires. He wanted to scare Thomas, whom he blamed for leading Marion astray. The older Mitchell said he’d been both father and mother to the boy since the death of their parents (Their mother had died in 1912 but their father was actually still living). Both Paul Mitchell and Thomas had long arrest records in California dating to the bootleg era. Mitchell was held for manslaughter but went free in February 1926 when the DA’s office was unable to locate Mileaway Thomas as a witness. Thomas was killed by the LAPD’s Dick Lucas on April 21, 1927 in what many believed was a set up arranged by then-LAPD detective Harry Raymond.
Friday, February 21, 1930
Attempting to recreate Dexter’s last hours is difficult due to conflicting witness accounts. Most notably, members of the household disagree about what time Dexter left the house that night. According to the maid it was 4:00 pm. Amelia Hugentobler, Dexter’s sister, said it was 5:00 pm. Peggy Moormeister said it was 5:30.
Also at odds are the doctor’s accounts of his movements: in his initial statement to Chief Deputy L L Larson, he said he talked to Dexter by phone at 6:00 pm, had dinner at a downtown cafe, then went to a movie for about an hour, then went home, where he received Dexter’s massage therapist at 9:30. In his inquest testimony, there was no phone call with Dexter. He said he left the office at 5:15, went to his lawyer’s office, phoned home from there about 6:30 and was told Dexter wasn’t home. He then went to dinner at a cafe, where he bumped into a friend. He and the friend dropped by to check on a patient, then brought the friend back to his house at 8:00 pm. After a chat, he drove the friend back downtown then went to a movie for about half an hour, and returned home for the second time at 9:30. In this version of events, the massage therapist arrived at 10:20. Amelia confirmed the doctor’s second timeline at the inquest.
Ultimately, the Salt Lake authorities could not account for Dexter’s whereabouts after 6:00 pm that night.
AP= Associated Press
UP= United Press
8:30 am: Doc M sees Dexter during breakfast at the family home, 904 East South Temple St. She tells him she was going out with a woman whose name he could not recall. He leaves for his office in Brooks Arcade. (inquest testimony)
10:30 am: H. Paul Mitchell leaves Salt Lake by train (newspaper accounts quoting Sheriff Patten). Mitchell had an appointment to meet Dexter in the afternoon (per her mysterious appointment book), but didn’t keep it.
11:50 am: Doc M goes to lunch at The Grill Café, 230 Main Street South, then visits brokerage firm J.A. Hogle & Co at 132 Main, for a few minutes (inquest testimony).
1:05 pm Dexter seen parked in front of the Rex Hotel, 202 West Broadway, talking to a man for 15-20 minutes (Salt Lake Telegram 2/24/1930).
1:30 pm: Doc M returns to the office (inquest testimony).
1:30 pm: Dexter at Walker’s beauty shop. (Salt Lake Telegram 2/24/1930). She was wearing a brown dress.
2:00 pm: Dexter leaves Walker’s and returns home (Salt Lake Telegram 2/24/1930).
2:30 pm: Dexter goes out again. Drives to the Educational Film Exchange, 214 East First South Street. Asks for a male friend, who was not in at the time (Salt Lake Telegram 2/24/1930). Employees of the exchange tell the Telegram on 2/25/1930 that this was erroneous. Investigators traced her to the building but could not confirm which one she entered or who she talked to.
3:10 pm Dexter visits a dressmaker, Minnie Brownmiller, in the Brooks Arcade building. She wears a brown dress, which she wants altered by 4:00 pm. Minnie tells her she can’t have it that soon, so Dexter changes into the dress she was wearing at the time of her murder, leaving the brown one. (Salt Lake Tribune 2/23/1930). Salt Lake Telegram 2/24/1930 says Dexter arrived at 3:30 and asked Minnie to make six suits of men’s pajamas, which she wanted the same day.
4:00 pm Conflicting reports:
- Per the Moormeister’s live-in maid, Anna Margaretta “Greta” Seddell, Dexter drove off in her car at this time, saying she was meeting a woman friend, Mrs. Cowley, but would be home in time to keep an appointment with her masseur.
- Per 2/23/1930 the Salt Lake Tribune she left the dressmakers and went to a beauty salon in the Walker Bank Building where she got a manicure. The 2/24/1930 Salt Lake Telegram seems to confirm this- says she parked near Second South and Main streets and went to a nearby beauty parlor for a manicure at 4:00 pm.
- Per 2/26/1930 Tribune, Dexter left the beauty salon at this time.
5:00 pm Conflicting reports:
- Per 2/26/1930 Salt Lake Tribune Amelia Hugentobler, Dexter’s sister who lived with the Moormeisters, says Dexter left home for the last time. This also conflicts with Gretta.
- Per inquest testimony of Peggy Moormeister Dexter was in her room getting ready to go out at about 5:00 pm and left the house half an hour later.
5:07 pm: Pearl Evans, the doctor’s longtime nurse, leaves Doc M’s offices. Says the Doc was heading out to meet his lawyers. (inquest testimony)
5:15 pm: Doc M leaves his office. Indeed, meets with his lawyers Irvine, Skeen and Thomas. (inquest testimony)
- Peggy Moormeister says Dexter left home at this time. (inquest testimony)
- S.F. Walker tells police he saw Dexter driving West on South Temple between H and I streets.
5:35 pm (approximately): Mr. and Mrs. John W Jones and their 3 sons are driving behind Dexter’s car travelling West on the Salt Lake-Magda Highway 2 miles east of the pole line road. They see a woman dressed in a black coat with ermine trim driving alone. They describe the doll hanging from the back window At the Granger meeting house corner, the car turned onto the pole line road. (Salt Lake Tribune 2/26/1930)
6:00 pm: Conflicting reports:
- W. Tenney Cannon Jr., whose offices, like Doc M’s, were in the Brooks Arcade, says he saw Dexter coming out of the building “looking perturbed.” (newspaper reports) Probably not credible.
- Dexter calls Doc M on the telephone and tells him she was just leaving their house to visit a woman. (Doctor’s initial statement).
- Dexter’s car is seen parked near the Hotel Utah and shortly thereafter leaves with two men and a woman (Salt Lake Telegram 2/24/1930). Investigators could not find the other persons and were generally dismissive of this account.
6:30 pm: Doc M phones home from his lawyers’ office and is told Dexter will not be home to dinner. Says in that case, he’ll eat out also. (inquest testimony; this conflicts with his initial statement)
Before 7:00 pm: Per Sheriff Patten in Ogden Standard 3/9/1930 Dexter’s car is seen heading southward out of Salt Lake.
7:00 pm: Doc M leaves his lawyers. Dines at The Grill Cafe again. (inquest testimony).
7:15 pm: Doc M leaves The Grill with a George S. Koshaha, a friend he ran into at the café. They go to the New Grand Hotel, where Doc M drops in on a patient. From there they went to the Social Hall garage at 133 Motor Avenue near Eagle Gate, where the Doc got his car. (inquest testimony).
8:00 pm: Doc M and Koshaha arrive at the Moormeister house. Dexter’s sister Amelia confirms this. (inquest testimony)
8:15 pm: Having talked for a while, Doc M drives Koshaha to the wrestling matches at McCullough’s arena. Amelia confirms this. Doc M then drove into town and stopped at the Capitol Theater where he went in and watched a movie, The Bishop Murder Case, for about 30 minutes, up until the scene where an old man swallows a vial of poison. He left, “not caring for the murder picture.” (inquest testimony)
9:15 pm Witnesses Mr. and Mrs. H.B. Woodbury see a large sedan resembling Dexter’s leaving the pole line road with two men in it (Salt Lake Tribune 2/25/1930).
9:30 pm Conflicting reports.
- Erland Druselius arrives at the Moormeister house for his appointment with Dexter (Doc M’s initial statement)
- Doc M arrives home again. Amelia corroborates this. (inquest testimony)
10:20 pm Conflicting report
- Erland Druselius, arrives for his massage appointment with Dexter. He and Doc M talk, and Druselius plays the piano. (Doc M’s inquest testimony; this conflicts with the doctor’s initial statement that Druselius arrived at 9:30. Druselius could confirm the time–and obviously alibi the doctor for an absolutely critical period of the evening, He was scheduled to appear at the inquest but if he did, the press did not find his testimony important or dramatic enough to report).
10:30 pm Mrs. W.W. Garrett of 1118 West Fourth South Street asserts she saw the “death car” parked on Second West Street (Salt Lake Tribune 2/23/1930) Two girls, Sarah King and Mona Wilson waiting for their boyfriends claim they saw Dexter’s car pull up to the curb near 3rd South and 2nd West streets. A man got out, locked it, and ran away.
11:00 Druselius leaves the Moormeister home (initial statement and inquest testimony agree on this)
11:20 Doc M decides to turn in. But, worried about Dexter, he is restless and can’t sleep.
Feb 22, 1930
12:45 am Dexter’s car found on Second West Street near 3rd South by special policeman H. Merrick. He notifies police. Patrolman U.F. Nelson investigates. The gears and ignition are locked, and the keys are gone, so the officers push it to the station. (Joel P. Dastrup and H.W. Clark were also involved with the handling of the car and later testified at the inquest, as did J.S. Barlow of the id unit, who found a fingerprint on the right hand door. Alvah Stout, the Sheriff’s fingerprint expert confirmed. (Salt Lake Telegram 2/23/1930).
1:00 am Smelter E. Ray Peterson, driving home from work at a copper mine in Magna along the pole line road, spots a dark object along the road. Reaching home, he thinks it might have been a body. He and his wife go back to verify it was a body then report it to the sheriff’s office at Midvale.
1:00 am Peggy returns from a dance at the Elk’s Hall.
- Doc M says he tells her “Dexter is not home yet.” (inquest testimony)
- Peggy says she went to bed unaware that Dexter wasn’t home (inquest testimony)
2:00 Doc M finally drops off to sleep.
3:00 am Midvale Deputy Sheriffs Cliff T. Taylor and Perry Holt find Dexter’s body on the pole line road. Perry calls the Salt Lake Sheriff’s office. Sheriff Patten and Chief Deputy L.L. Larson drive out to the scene.
4:00 am Police come by to tell Doc M they found Dexter’s bloodstained car and there’s a body out on the pole line road. Doc M tells Amelia he thinks Dexter hit someone with her car and killed the person. He calls his nurse, Pearl Evans, as “his closest friend,” and asks her to go with him to the police station. Pearl later says on the way to the station, Doc M told her he feared Dexter had been robbed but then began to wonder if she was dead.
Doc M and Pearl drive to the pole line road. Later, asked how he was able to find it so easily, Doc M says he followed the police’s directions and he used to know someone who lived in the vicinity. L. L. Larkin later testifies that at about 50 feet from the mangled corpse, Doc M cried out “Oh my God, it’s Dexter.” (Nurse Evans claimed he’d actually said, “I think that’s Dexter”).
The sometimes–conflicting witness accounts aside, the story as established by Salt Lake officials was this: That Dexter, dressed in evening clothes and high heels, drove her own car to the murder scene, which was roughly 10 miles out of town. Authorities believed, at least initially, that the car was coming from Bingham headed to Salt Lake when the crime occurred. Her killer was in the vehicle with her.
Initial reports stated that Dexter struggled with her murderer inside the car, which caused the vehicle to swerve, and that Dexter managed to get out and ran before being run over. Mercifully, this horrific scenario turned out to be incorrect.
As county physician Ray T. Woolsey testified at the inquest, there was no sign of a struggle inside the car. Woolsey also concluded that Dexter had not been moving when she was run over. Damage to the outside of the car, a piece of iron ore found at the scene, and a hole in the close-fitting hat Dexter had been wearing led the authorities to believe she’d been struck over the head while standing behind the vehicle and the blow crushed her skull, knocking her out. The murderer then ran her over numerous times, got out, dragged the body by her hair back into the middle of the road, got back into the car and ran over her several more times. He then pummeled the body with boulders, as indicated by several bloody stones at the scenes. (These disappeared, carried away by souvenir hunters).
As it turned out, Dr. Woolsey was only partly right. The murder of Dexter didn’t happen this way at all.
Dexter was ostensibly robbed of $5,000-$15,000 worth (accounts vary) of valuable jewelry, though a $200 watch and her wedding ring were left behind. AP’s reporting in the Ogden Standard the morning after noted that although her jewelry was stolen, because of the brutal nature of the crime, authorities believe “some other motive than robbery” actuated the murder. There was supposedly a suitcase in the trunk of her car, packed as if she was planning to go on a long trip.
The killer afterward drove the car back to town and abandoned it on Second West Street near Broadway.
The murder involved more than one law enforcement agency. Dexter’s car was found abandoned in downtown Salt Lake, which was the jurisdiction of the SLPD. The crime scene was in county territory, and therefore the purview of the Sheriff’s department. Ultimately, the Sheriff’s office, led Sheriff Clifford W. Patten and his Chief Deputy Leroy L. “Roy” Larson, would have charge of the investigation.
Patten and Larson were both previously SLPD officers. The two had worked together as patrolman in the Teens and then as detectives.
Patten was elected sheriff of Salt Lake County in November 1926 and Larson resigned from the SLPD to become his chief deputy.
The sheriff and chief deputy Larson grilled Charles Peter for hours on Saturday February 22, based on statements from Amelia Hugentobler about his alleged infatuation with Dexter.
If the doctor was subjected to a similar grilling, it was done with such discretion that the newspapers (which had slashed sensational headlines about Charles Peter across their front pages) did not get wind of it.
Although the officers hours after the body was discovered confidently predicted a swift solution to this murder mystery, that would not be the case.
The Coroner’s inquest opened on Wednesday, February 26, 1930, conducted by County Attorney John D. Rice. The jury viewed Dorothy’s body at Larkin mortuary that afternoon, then the “death car” being held at the jail garage. Sheriff Patten and Chief Deputy Larson requested an autopsy hoping that “some clue” might develop from it that would lead to a solution to the crime. Rice duly ordered one, after Doc M gave his permission. The autopsy, performed by county physicians Ray T. Woolsey and Dr. Orin A Ogivie, concluded that every bone in Dexter’s body had been broken.
On February 27, Amelia Hugentobler, who clearly had it in for Charles Peter, told the jury that the doctor’s friend was a frequent caller at Doc M’s and that Dexter talked of divorce after a late-night car ride with him on Valentine’s Day.
Charles Peter, again questioned at length on the stand, denied having discussed divorce with Dexter and said he rarely went out with her without Doc M. Peters’ wife Lydia alibied him for the night of the murder. He’d been home with her, she said.
It was Amelia, also, who shut down the proceedings by blabbing about love letters to Dexter from Prince Farid, which she said she burned. Recalled to the stand, Doc M said he didn’t know about Dot’s affair with the prince until he read a letter to her from him “several hours” after her body was found.
The inquest was paused until March 4 to investigate the prince situation.
It’s not clear why the letters would be of particular importance, other than giving the doctor a reason to be angry if he had actually known about them before the murder. The newspapers loved this juicy detail, however, and ran with it. Thereafter Dexter, the victim, was portrayed in a different light- not a “doctor’s wife” but a frivolous gadabout.
On March 1, Doc M told Ogden Standard reporters: “I will spend every nickel I’ve got to find the murderer of my wife!”
Doc M offered to hire noted criminologist Edward Oscar Heinrich of Berkeley, California, to help with the case. Sheriff Patten and L L Larson, demurred, and also pooh-poohed the doctor’s suggestion of a reward as a bit premature.
Patten told the assemble pressmen: “I believe we shall soon have the complete solution of the case, the murderer in jail and the motive clearly established.”
That same day, the Deseret News had reported on the possibility that there was a hired killer involved. The theory, attributed to the sheriff, was that despite the utter chaos of the crime scene, the murder had in fact been very carefully planned and carried out. Had Dexter’s body not been discovered by chance early that morning, a bad storm that came up later in the day would likely have washed away the clues- footprints, blood, rocks, tire tracks- and left the impression that the murder was the work of some sort of maniac.
Patten was not far off the mark.
When the inquest resumed on Tuesday March 4, Larry Potter testified. The Ogden paper called him a “local underworld character while the Salt Lake papers more generously referred to him as a “man about town.”
Potter stated: “I knew her for 10 years. The last time I saw her was last Thursday afternoon. Her car was parked on State Street, below Second South. It was about 4:00. I didn’t talk to her then. On Wednesday, 2 days prior to the murder, I saw ;er for an hour at the Newhouse Hotel. I was with Paul Mitchell of Los Angeles. It would not be embarrassing to me to say what Paul Mitchell’s business is but it might be embarrassing to him. No, he wasn’t here after 11 am on Friday. For at that time he left for Los Angeles. I introduced her to Mitchell.. The 3 of us had a drink together. Then we took a ride in her car for half an hour. She told me she was desperately in love with another man, that she was going to get a divorce and marry him and settle down in Los Angeles. Yes, she told me he was a prince and she expected him here in the Spring. She said her husband did not know, that she was careful he would not know. She told me her husband required her home for dinner every night and to go to bed early. She talked in detail of her trip to Paris and her later trip to Los Angeles. Said her stepdaughter Peggy caught her and the prince together in a room in Paris but she was not afraid the girl would tell on her. He had not seen her since she returned from Los Angeles [on January 20]. She thought she was being watched and was very careful. No, she was not in fear of her life. She told me all about falling in love with this prince who was an intimate friend of her husband’s. I asked her why the divorce since the doctor gave her everything and she told me, ‘I used to think of nothing but money but now I think only of him.’ ”
Sheriff Patten requested records on Mitchell from the LAPD and told reporters he wanted to interview Mitchell to find out if Dexter said anything to him that might be useful. He told the Salt Lake Deseret Times that he was inclined to believe Potter was telling the truth. But “others” (not identified) thought there was more to it and were investigating the relationship between Potter and Dexter.
On March 8, Patten told AP reporters he now believed offering a reward for information leading to the identification of the killer would be helpful in locating persons who saw the “death car” after 6:00 pm that night. Doc M said he was considering offering such a reward. He and Patten agreed that a reward of not more than $5000 and preferably $2500 would be “about right.”
On March 17, the Coroner’s jury returned a verdict of murder by person or persons unknown.
By then, the sheriff’s office was apparently ready to throw in the towel. Doc M announced on March 19 that, after discussing the matter with Sheriff Patten, he was hiring E. O. Heinrich to take on the investigation– which had, after all gone on now for almost a month.
In an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune on March 23, Heinrich said he’d come to Salt Lake to take on the case if the physical clues available “is of such a nature at this stage of the case, and with such a lapse of time that I can make it available for scientific purposes adapted to my way of working.” (Heinrich worked mostly with physical evidence). The Ogden Standard reported that Heinrich was to be paid $1000 outright, as well as $100 a day plus expenses.
On March 25, AP reported in the Ogden Standard that the Board of County Commissioners had received complaints about a person involved in the case (Doc M) paying for services of the investigator. Board says it is willing to have another criminologist besides Heinrich, if the Sheriff thinks he needs the help. “The Commission believes the county owes it to the people of Salt Lake to get a man not hired by an individual but by the county itself, to assure the people of security under the law. If anyone is hired he should be clearly independent of any person with a person interest in the case.” J. Clark Sellers of Los Angeles (handwriting expert who later worked on the Lindbergh kidnapping case) and Luke S. May of Seattle are mentioned as possibilities. In the end, no other criminologist was hired. In a minor concession, while Heinrich’s services were to be paid for by Doc M, he would ostensibly report to Chief Deputy Larson (who traveled to Berkley and met with Heinrich in his lab).
The physical evidence consisted largely of a piece of galena (thought to have been what was used to hit Dexter over the head. Police believed it to be part of a specimen collection for some time, not a random bit of ore), Dexter’s clothes (including a tight-fitting black felt hat), a burned paraffin match found on the floor of her car, blood spots on the car, and some fingerprints.
Heinrich arrived in Salt Lake on March 30 and got to work. On April 1, he put aside the physical evidence for a while and, uncharacteristically for him, began tracing Dexter’s movements for the last three weeks of her life, up until the time she was last seen. He visited the crime scene and traced all possible routes of the killer.
On April 8, the papers reported that a note purportedly written by Dexter declaring she was planning to get a divorce had been found in a “secret compartment” in her room. Heinrich had it and was en route back to Berkeley with it, along with the physical evidence in the case!
Heinrich returned to Salt Lake on April 20. Sheriff Patten says the criminologist made a “scientific examination of the physical evidence” gathered during his first visit and “believes he is on the right path to identify the murderer.” The Sheriff intimated that after Heinrich’s “discoveries” were turned over he would “probably” ask for a complaint charging murder. Heinrich said he had definitely determined who had NOT committed the murder! If so, neither he nor anyone else ever revealed it publicly.
Patten departed for Los Angeles to locate and interview H. Paul Mitchell. Aided by Charles Kelley of the LA Sheriff’s office, he also interviewed Kathleen Parrish Walsh, a young woman formerly of Utah, now said to be attending business school in Hollywood and rooming with an LAPD Hollywood Division officer F.E. Jaggers and his friend Marion B. Hightower. The Austrian native had come to the USA with her mother but had since been adopted by the Parley P. Parrish family of Centerville, Utah. She was believed to be the woman some witnesses had seen with Dexter the night of the murder.
Patten told the LA Times the investigation had reached the state where “one or two persons” are suspected. He returned to Salt Lake on April 25 convinced both Walsh and Mitchell were washouts as leads. Paul Mitchell had left town before the murder, just as Larry Potter had claimed, Patten said. He’d even showing Patten his now two month old train ticket stubs as proof. And Walsh had convinced the sheriff she’d not been in Salt Lake at all in February and had no information to impart.
On June 12, Kathleen Parrish Walsh was found dead of a gunshot wound in her Hollywood apartment, 1129 N. Hoover Street. The weapon was Jaggers’ service weapon. The case was ruled a suicide. Jaggers claimed Kathleen had become despondent and tried to kill herself once before with gas.
The following month, on July 21, Heinrich, in Salt Lake conferring with Sheriff Patten and L L Larson before dashing off to Europe, announced they had evidence indicating who killed Dexter but did not know who the murderer was because several witnesses are “withholding vital facts.” He told a group in Salt Lake: “We are not yet ready to suggest to the inflamed minds of the public who the murderer is but I am optimistic that our present knowledge can be converted into legal evidence which can be presented to a county grand jury. When we do tell who the murderer is we will be so sure of ourselves that there can be no contradiction.”
It never happened.
In the meantime, Doc M’s hearing on his abortion case, postponed from March 6, had been held on April 14. He lost, and appealed. The case went to the state Supreme Court, which ruled on June 7, 1930 that the state board has the right to revoke his license. (see Moormeister v. Dept. of Registration of State et al 76 Utah 146 147). At a heated hearing on August 20, Doc M argued against having his license revoked for unprofessional conduct. The State Board of Medical Examiners, consisting of 5 physicians, ultimately recommended to the State Board of Registrations that the license be revoked. Before Director Golding could authorize it however, Moormeister’s lawyers came to the rescue with a “temporary” restraining order.
As the Fall of 1930 approached, the Moormeister murder case appeared to be at a standstill.
Sheriff Patten was up for reelection in November. On October 27, 1930, the anti-vice Social Welfare League took to the airwaves to assail Patten’s deputy L L Larson, asserting corruption in his dealings with bootleggers and demanding Larson’s resignation. One of Patten’s opponents in the race also attacked Patten on his record of unsolved murders– Dorothy Dexter Moormeister among them. (In fact, most of the others listed were within the jurisdiction of the SLPD, not Sheriff Patten).
On November 4, Sheriff Patten lost reelection to S. Grant Young. The next day, the County Board revealed that Patten was the subject of a corruption investigation over his enforcement of liquor laws and allegations of official “protection.” L L Larson was also implicated.
The same day, November 5, Mayor John F. Bowman accused Salt Lake Police Chief Joseph E. Burbidge of corruption, going after small time operators while letting the big bootleggers continue unmolested. As an example, he noted Burbidge’s anti-vice squad closed the Lennox Hotel, run by a longtime former employee of Potter who went into business for himself after the two had a falling out. The Fairmont, however- Potter’s place– was still operating and in fact had never actually closed despite having had its license revoked.
In late February 1931– a year after Dexter’s murder– Mayor Bowman and Chief Burbidge clashed again at a City Commission meeting after Burbidge recommended granting application of the Lindy Hotel, ostensibly run by Jacqueline Burke, though the Mayor believed Potter was still behind it. Norval E. Calister, a lawyer representing a client who’d been denied a license,accused the City Commission of allowing “big fellows” such as the Newhouse Hotel and other to sell bootleg liquor openly, but shut down the “small fry.” Chief Burbidge denied it, asserting the Newhouse’s manager did not allow liquor traffic in his establishment or know liquor was being sold there. (Again, the Newhouse Hotel where Larry Potter said he had “drinks” with Dexter Moormeister and H. Paul Mitchell on February 19, 1930). Bowman lobbied, unsuccessfully, for Burbidge’s ouster.
On March 2, 1931, there were rumors flying that Potter was trying to establish himself in Ogden.
“Larry Potter, who for years was known to wield a powerful influence at Salt Lake and who operated questionable hotels and rooming houses in that city, recently lost large sums of money and was practically forced to relinquish some of his interests,” including the Fairmont, the Ogden Standard wrote. “It is understood, however, that he retains an interest in the notorious Red Wing on West First South Street and a rooming house on South State Street.”
Wishful thinking, but Potter was not going anywhere– yet.
Read Part II here.
NOTES TO PART 1
FBI report on Potter: Thanks to Skyscrapers.com Noirish Los Angeles forum, username Lorendoc post #18870 on 1/15/2014. The author is currently seeking a copy this document from the FBI and will update this post with any new information.
The sad story of Dr. Volp, Doc M’s partner in Oregon, could be the subject of its own blog post. Doc M was likely unaware, but Volp actually had no medical license. Having tried and failed to pass the state exam, he’d been issued a “temporary” one, which he later forged to extend the expiration date.
The name appears as Grace D. Hugentobler in the 1900 census. In later records she listed it as Dexter Grace Hugentobler.
Both Lucas and Raymond were forced to resign in 1929 for their involvement in the frame up of City Councilman Carl Jacobson.
Dexter’s sister Amelia Hugentobler inherited Dexter’s estate, reportedly appraised at $21,293. She married in May 1930 and changed her last name to Nilson.
On June 27, 1930 the Moormeister’s live-in maid, Greta, married and changed her name to Stenquist.
In a final indignity, on July 8, 1930, the County Commission approved a resolution authorizing the County Attorney to make DEXTER pay for the cost of her own inquest. That’s right- County Attorney Rice wanted to bill Dexter’s estate approximately $500 for cost of the inquest. The effort failed in court. Rice was voted out as County Attorney in November 1930.