Written by: Bob Brumfield
As a freelance reporter for the LA Times, it has become harder and harder to find stories of any substance that would entice anyone to subscribe to the written word. My editor, Paul Schaefer, assigned me to the true crime division of said newspaper with the directive that I should research the archives and come up with the goriest, most entertaining murders in the auspicious history of Los Angeles.
Elated that I still had a job, I set out on my quest at once. I ghosted the tombs, strained my eyes over transcribed cellulose sheets and scanned stories that made it to our computer hard drives. I came up with five in three weeks of investigation.
These are the headlines I chose:
1. The Ice Block Murder.
2. The Asphalt Grave
3. The Lollipop Killer (No information available)
4. Death By Design
5. The Fisherman’s Lament
The cities of New York, LA, Rome, and at the top of the list, Paris all have three things in common: great food, beautiful women, and fashion. The names of fashion houses Chanel, Lauren, McCartney (Paul’s little girl), Dior, Prada, and the late Givenchy are well-known to anyone who has ever perused the pages of a fashion magazine. Joining these illustrious ranks were newcomers Steven Paulson and Billy Patterson.
In 1959, old man winter was late leaving New York’s fashion district. Filthy piles of snow, measuring five feet, surrounded the Manhattan Garment Center. However, the streets were alive with garment workers pushing racks of that season’s fall offerings.
The big shows were only a week away. Hotels had no vacancies. Models, photographers, stars, and starlets adorned every venue, hoping to grace next week’s fashion week with their presence. Some undoubtedly would, while others would only be seen in random photographs snapped hurriedly by hungry photographers.
Hosting minor shows but very important ones were up-and-coming design houses of Patterson and Paulson. Only one designer would succeed, and which one was yet to be determined. Their rivalry was becoming a source of amusement around the inner circles.
The whole spring is devoted to preparations. Models are carefully chosen to walk down the runway. Lorraine Davies, Suzy Parker, and China Machado were names being wooed by the big fashion houses. Dior models were in demand. Twiggy was there. More lettuce was eaten in those months leading up to the shows than in the whole entire year, but that was just my opinion, of course.
The model pool was slim for Steve and Billy. Paulson caught a break. On a whim, he sent a pantsuit to Twiggy in care of the Hilton in Manhattan. She liked it and a lucky photographer snapped a photo of her in Central Park feeding the pigeons. In the interview, she mentioned Steve’s name when they asked about her outfit. Within two days, his photo was in the Times next to hers. The funny part is that they never met in person.
The Fourth of July passed. There were fireworks, cookouts, flag-waving, parades and politics. Elections were next year. There’s politics in the fashion district too. The morning news shows were enviously sought for and when acquired, everyone knew it. An affiliate of NBC News interviewed Steven Paulson. There was no mention of Billy Patterson. Fashion Week opened on July 19th, and over the next seven days, no fewer than 3,757 visitors viewed Paulson’s Autumn Delight collection of forty-two ensembles. Big-name magazines such as Look, Time, Fashion Weekly, and Harpers Bazaar paid special attention with their own photographers. Paulson received three contracts with mid-range outlets. He received $100,000 as an advance from JC Penny. He could say he was at least swimming in the big pond of fashion designers.
Billy Patterson wasn’t so lucky. Just two hundred thirty-one people attended Patterson’s show. He couldn’t pay his bills, including his models. The news spread through the fashion district even before the closing show. In disgrace, Patterson was ruined.
While Steve partied, Billy plotted revenge. He blamed Paulson for his failure even though he wasn’t as talented, a fact he would never admit. Putting on a smile, he went to Steve’s party, congratulated him, slapped him on the back, pretended to get drunk, and staggered out the door just as the festivities were winding down. It was a stroke of fortune that he and Steve lived in the same apartment building. Steve was in a flat one floor below Billy’s studio apartment. He knew it would be forfeited when the rent came due. He had one last design to create. Steve Patterson didn’t come home until 4:45 am drunk, but alone. Billy waited in the shadow as Steve fumbled with the key. Coming into the light, Billy offered to help unlock the door. The unsuspecting Steve relinquished the keys and waited for the door to open. Billy stepped aside and waved him through the door. As soon as his back was to him, Billy struck him with a concealed pipe. Steve slumped unconscious to the floor.
At his trial, Patterson gleefully recounted every detail of his crime. How he carried the still form of Paulson up the stairs to his apartment and how he had to knock him out two more times, finally tying him and gagging him to give him enough time to complete his plans. He wanted to dress Steve in his final creation. Then the world would know what a true genius he was. He worked feverishly through the night and, by the early morning light, knocked Steve unconscious again. Stripping him naked, he dressed him in the custom suit and waited for him to revive.
Billy waited patiently for Steve’s eyes to open. When they did, his whole body shivered. Steve stared into Billy’s eyes and tried to move. He tried to speak, but a gag muffled his voice. He was surrounded by electric fans and his clothes were soaking wet. But these weren’t his clothes. Slowly, realization dawned on Steve. Billy was laughing now. Yes, now he knew. Billy had sewn him into a wet leather bag he had been stretching for the past few days. As they gradually dried the leather, the fans would shrink the bag, slowly suffocating him! Billy was drooling while he verbally painted the gruesome image. It was his greatest design.
It was the putrid odor that gave it away. Billy still had two weeks left on his rent. Steve had been dead since the first or second of August. Patterson did not attempt to escape. He had spent his remaining free time designing the suit he would wear at his trial.
Steve’s body was unrecognizable. His face was bloated and black, and his eyes protruded from their sockets. Dried blood had run from the ears and nose, and the leather suit was saturated with body fluids. The stench was almost a physical thing.
Billy Patterson was smiling as they led him away in handcuffs. Passing the coroner as he came up the stairs, Billy stopped, smiled and politely asked him to dispose of the trash. It was beginning to smell.