1929 Political Plot to 'Frame Auditor'

By: 
Gerrie Schipske

In November 1929, the Los Angeles Grand Jury turned its attention to the alleged graft, vice, gambling, boot-legging and corruption in Long Beach City government. The investigation would center around charges that there was a plot to “frame” and oust City Auditor Myrtelle Gunsel in response to her exposing graft.

Gunsel, who was always a thorn in the side of the elected officials, would often refuse to pay invoices without back up information. The Mayor and Council were especially upset with Gunsul for failing to pay $250,000 to the federal government for dredging the channel connecting the Los Angeles and Long Beach harbors. Members of the City Council declared to the press that Gunsul was “an embarrassment to the city and was delaying the $5 million  harbor project.” Backers of the harbor project threatened to mount a recall of Gunsul if she did not explain her actions. When confronted in her home, her personal physician told Councilmembers that Gunsul had slipped in the bathtub and could not receive visitors. The City had to file a writ mandating the City Treasurer to pay the money.

To put it mildly, the mayor, city council and financial interests tried everything to get rid of Gunsul. After Gunsul brought corruption charges to the County Grand Jury, she began receiving telephone threats. First it was that her house at 243 Prospect would be dynamited. She had to move to a “secret location.” Then her life was threatened if she kept cooperating in the investigation.

The Grand Jury was also investigating charges that former city officials had stolen large amounts of shrubs and planted them on their own property. Also being examined were charges that after the Southwest Exposition which the City hosted in 1928 in the port area, an official had stolen the lumber from the razed exhibition halls and used the lumber to build a lake front home.

At the very same time of this investigation, the Grand Jury began looking into the death of Earl Boruff, a Long Beach private investigator hired by Gunsel to find evidence of the corruption going on in City Hall. Boruff was found shot to death and at first his death was ruled incidental to a robbery ... except nothing was missing from his bullet riddled body. It was rumored that Boruff had witnessed “the passing of documents in an illegal municipal transaction.”

Churchmen, lawyers and newspaper reporters also urged the grand jury to investigate “every important municipal officer in the City of Long Beach.” Specific targets included the Mayor and Council, the police, recreation and engineering departments. The County District Attorney declared: “Long Beach was a rendezvous for crooks and bunco artists who could only flourish with the protection of the Long Beach Police.”

The grand jury deliberated for a month and then announced there would be “no indictments.” However, it admonished the city officials that they were responsible for “ferreting out and taking action” against anyone committing illegal acts.

Gunsul went on to be re-elected many times until her retirement in 1951.

gerrie@beachcomber.news

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