Tiger Lil‘ and Cat Man

23 Sep

Dear fellow Flynn fans,

of all the tin roofs in Beverly Hills, none was hotter than Tiger Lil`s…

Cat Man went by many names- he was called by authorities “The Phantom of Bel Air”, “The Jersey Devil” and Willard Borton by birth certificate. Born and raised in Gloucester City, NJ, he adopted a what-you-see-is-what-you-get philosophy at an early age. TRUE DETECTIVE ran his CV in on of their issues as follows. “If another youngster had a toy he coveted, he appropriated it for his own. Occasionally these tactics got him into difficulty and it was no unusual thing for him to be called on the carpet to explain a black eye or a bloody nose incurred in a fight with some wrathful playmate.”

Various stunts (he once used a swordfish gaff to open a second floor window) led to various stints in reformatories. While in juvenile jail he behaved impeccably. His overall charming behaviour made sure he got released early every time he did time. Maybe it was the breath of fresh air that brought out that feline feeling again.

Arriving in Tinseltown with a wife and stepson in tow in December of 1934, he rented a bungalow under the name of Ralph Graham on formidable Formosa Street and put up a respectable front. At daytime he took the “See the movie stars` homes for 25 cents”- Tour.  “I`ll see them”, said Graham to himself, “and from the inside, too.” At nighttime he was prowling the perimeters of the rich and famous, the bold and the bejeweled. Hiding behind the heavy shrubbery of their vaulted villas, he could go on with his burglaries unnoticed.

Flynntimates Miriam Hopkins, Fred MacMurray and Fannie Bryce were amongst the many victims of Will the Cat. From Gary Cooper he took an unregistered colt and further on used it for protection. At Barbara Stanwyck`s place in exchange for furs and pearls he left the cryptic message K.P.G.G.L.X, meaning: Keep plugging good girl. Love & kisses. He snatched a gold cigarette lighter bearing the initials C.L. from Gable`s girl, while Tyrone Power yearned to get back the golden cross of the Order of the Knights of St. Louis, which had been in the Powers family for generations. Feisty swashbucklerette (…) Maureen O`Sullivan almost caught the cat red handed and alarmed the police about an intruder. When confronted by policemen he was able to talk his alleyway out, swearing he was a privat patrolman and had seen the burgler vanish in the opposite direction!

In July of 1938 he entered the home of renowned film director Frank Capra- ininvited. Unfortunately for him he ended up in the nursery of the family`s newborn baby who immediately turned on the siren. Nevertheless he managed another dashing escape. Afterwards he somehow felt he had overstayed his welcome in this prominent hood of Hollywood. So he relocated and bought a small house on 420 Howland Canal in Venice complete with boat. The furniture came courtesy of laundry magnate George M. Theodore. Never mind that his front door had to be cut out to give way to the grand piano…

Robbing the rich was not his first priority, he also gave back to the not so poor. Always the gentlemanly thief he first took off the engagement ring of another victim, only to give it back to her once he found nothing else to his liking at her home. “Is that really the only diamond you have?” “Truly it is.” “Well, there`s nothing here I want, here`s your ring.”

The then hot silent film diva Lili Damita also fell prey to the Cat. He stole all of her jewelery, escaping unscathed only because the Flynn bride to be hadn`t been at home at the time. Police was at a loss how sixty to seventy burgleries hadn`t delivered the tinniest trace of Jumpy Cat. $32.000 worth of riches were taken from a prominent motion picture executive. A multi millionaire with a household name donated $ 1.800.000 in stocks and bonds (fortunately for that Mr. DeMillions they were non negotiable). At Sonja Heine`s home CM had to contend himself with cans of Norwegian fish.

What California`s cobblestone cops didn`t know, was that, despite the Cat`s prowess, his effort had netted him only a few thousand dollars. A Hollywood Boulevard pawnshop owner named Morris Wasserman flew back and forth to New York with excessive baggage and had the loot remodeled. Mo` dinned on brilliants, but fed the Cat breadcrumbs. Fed up with coming up short time and time again a frustrated Catso confessed everything when questioned for a minor misdemeanor. Wasserman was put on probation, while Willard forever sang the Folsom Prison Blues.

Lili meanwhile adorned herself with Errol.



— shangheinz


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  1. Gentleman Tim

    September 23, 2019 at 1:35 pm

    You are a true detective, heinzofhollywood. I am going to look more into this because this burglar (Ralph Graham, aka Willard Bolton) was thought to be involved in a very gruesome murder of a young women (18, I believe) in 1934 where I grew up in Florida. . In fact, I was at the victim’s locally-famous gravesite in the Crooked Mile Cemetery in July (when I was on Merritt Island celebrating the 50th Anniversay of the Apillo 11 launch from Kenjedy Space Center.)

    I had absolutey NO idea however of this Bel-Air Burglar connection, nor, do I think, does a screenwriter who’s a friend of a friend presently planning a motion picture about the cemetery (now known as Georgiana Cemetery.) I’ll try to get the word to the writer, heinz, letting him know what you’ve dug up (no pun intended.) Referencing in the film names like Lombard, Kapra, and Errol Flynn’s, wife would add dramatically to the screenplay.

    On the Space Coast of Florida this macabre (and still-unsolved) murder has a sort of Black Dahlia notoriety.…

    • rswilltell

      September 23, 2019 at 3:26 pm

      Great work by our very own house detective Heinz and for the Halloween creep show provided by Tim. The M.O. for the Florida ‘ripper’ does not sound anything like the gentleman ‘Cat Man’ of Hollywood. Still if there is a connection, I look forward to more and hope the screenwriter completes his script and gets the film off the ground. Ralph Schiller

      • Gentleman Tim

        September 23, 2019 at 9:07 pm

        I agree, Ralph, without more info it’s unlikely the Bel Air Phantom killed the ‘Girl with the Rose Tatoo’. It would however be an intriguing fact to reveal in the proposed film that he was a suspect.

        I do not personally know the original screenwriter who proposed this new film, but I do know his cowriter and producer very well. In fact, he is my brother’s best friend, who has had decades of very significant success in Hollywood. Unfortunately, though, I just checked and the project has not yet received enough funding. It’s planned to be an ‘intelligent horror film”, along the lines of ‘Carrie’.…

        Willard ultimately got his.…

        • Gentleman Tim

          September 23, 2019 at 10:07 pm

          An intriguing fact, which may have increased the interest of police in Willard Borten, is that the victim (Ethel Allen) apparently had the initials W.B. tatooed on her.

          And guess what! – he used to do burglaries in Pennsylvania! – where the mysterious, disappearing murderer of Ethel Allen was believed to be from! …All this internet info may not have been available in 1934 to local law enforcement in the small village of Rockledge, Florida – nor even all of it to authorities in California back then.

          Members of the EFB may have to solve this long-unsolved murder. Up for that? I know exactly where to do the research in Florida in Brevard County, including but not limited to lunch at Ashley’s, and more formal hours at the state of Florida historical archives.


  2. shangheinz

    September 24, 2019 at 9:18 am…
    Petrolman Tim & Rushstreet Ralph; Willard Borton vehemently denied knowing Ethel Allan, despite friends of her last saw her entering a dark Ford with Pennsylvania licence plates. Still I believe Cat Man was more of a pertty boy than a perverse killer. For the police press conference he had Max Faktor Jr. overshadow his black eye. Wasserman told authorities he mistook him for an actor when they first met. Leaving his initials on the body would stand for a very compulsive behaviour. But rage and rape was not his repertoire….

    • Gentleman Tim

      September 24, 2019 at 12:14 pm

      Interesting also that Cat Man’s axe murderer at Folsom shared the same last name as Ethel Allen.…


      • rswilltell

        September 24, 2019 at 2:13 pm

        Speaking as one armchair detective to two others, I do not believe in coincidence. The game is afoot here. Too bad about the screenplay because it would have made a great motion picture. By the way Formosa Street is next to the Samuel Goldwyn studios where an old rail car was converted and expanded into a popular Chinese restaurant called Formosa and bar where many things happened. It is still there and reputed to be haunted with tunnels underneath? Ralph Schiller

        • shangheinz

          September 24, 2019 at 5:02 pm

          Coincidence sometimes is sheer synchronicity and more often than not can lead to new clues in a straight line. I wonder if Morris Wasserman residing on Hollywood Boluevard 6500, was related to Lew Wasserman, super Hollywood agent of later years…if only as the black sheep of the family.

      • shangheinz

        March 6, 2022 at 8:41 pm


        For those Chandlerites amongst Flynnmates, who enjoy putting on a trenchcoat and the matching thinking hat, the book above is small in volume but big in content. The Cat Man is out of the picture, I believe the motif to be raging jealousy. “If I can‘t have her nobody will.“, said the man who knew her from when she was little. By the way the restaurant Ethel is supposed to be haunting still, was called Gentleman Jim‘s for a while.

    • Gentleman Tim

      September 24, 2019 at 3:00 pm

      superb, supersleuthheinz. Do any of your sources say why he was suspected of the pre-Space Coast slaying in the first place, and/or why he was ultimately not charged for the murder??

      I’m not saying or concluding that he’s the murderer, of course. What I’m saying is that the fact that an infamous Hollywood burglar was a suspect in the murder would add enticing interest to a movie on the subject. Being able to drop the names of Carole Lombard, Frank Kapra, Errol Flynn and all the rest could be cinematically cool. …. Well, okay, maybe not so cool to drop the name of George Hormel, who many are still quite perturbed with for creating Spam ……

      • shangheinz

        September 24, 2019 at 3:43 pm

        RR & GT; When the investigating captain back in Cocoa, Florida asked Ethel‘s friends about any recent aquaintances, they knew where Borton lived, what car he drove and that he was married with stepson. That’s awful lot of information in an open murder case if you ask me. That and the initials on the body could mean frame up. Willard knew her alright and bolted when police found her in the swamps. But that‘s just judging from across the big pond, more on impulse than instinct.

        • Gentleman Tim

          September 24, 2019 at 7:27 pm

          For such a self-professed gentle soul, he certainly packed a fair share of firepower.

          P.S. According to this Asbury Park article from ’39, one of his aliases was William Wilson! That’s the name reported in ’34 as the last person seen with Ethel Allen.



          • shangheinz

            September 25, 2019 at 11:08 am

            Great background research, Tommygun Tim. That fella had quite a temper and was definitely a narcissist. Possibly a split personality. In order to learn more, one would have to locate ex-wife Charlotte Graham and stepson Robert.

            • Gentleman Tim

              September 25, 2019 at 1:52 pm

              Do you know if Charlotte and her son Robert from up north, down south, or out west, easteuropaheinz? If from down south, I can search the Florida archives under Graham crackers.

              Speaking of Merritt Island (where NASA has launched all manned space shots), I just read that there’s a great new Austrian place to eat – SpaceBee’s Bistro, I believe. I will visit there during my Phantom Killer of Cocoa research.


              • shangheinz

                September 27, 2019 at 3:24 pm

                I no know, Coconaut Tim. I reckon they were from the last town he used as homebase for his shopping trips to Florida, before he skipped to California. PA? If I were to write a script, I would use the streetname where he lodged in FL as unmistakable killer clue.
                By the way did you notice Lili gave her jewels worth with $1200, while all the other big shots summed em up in the ten thousands. I guess they were well insured.
                PS: Vienna Schnitzel waits for you!

  3. shangheinz

    November 23, 2019 at 3:54 pm

    Yesterday, on November 22nd, marked not only JFKs assassination for the 56th time, but also Ethel Allen‘s 85th murder anniversary:…

    • Gentleman Tim

      November 23, 2019 at 6:37 pm

      The plot thickens, georgianaheinz

      We’d better check to see where Oswald was back in the fall of ’34.