Finding Claire (my search for a tragic actress)

claire

After finishing my last blog I took a little break but got bored, resulting in my making another trip to Find-A-Grave’s Necrology Listing. Her story was different from the other actresses I had done so far, in that she was never a big star and had a very tragic and violent end. She’s probably better known for her later marriage to famed Hollywood cameraman Hal Mohr. Even her movie roles were generally uncredited. Her most famous movie was undoubtedly The Jazz Singer, but it was a small role for her. I had also already done a blog on another actor from that movie, and that was Otto Lederer

After doing my usual exploratory search on her I almost turned her down. There seemed to be a lot of family trees on her and many things were already known. I discovered early on however that these trees tended to be like the ones I usually complain about in my blogs, namely just copies of each other. Most of them were missing large chunks of information and someone had even attached the wrong person to her mother on Find-A-Grave.

In the end I found her very difficult, but not because I had a hard time finding any useful information. Quite the opposite. There turned out to be almost TOO much information, especially from the newspapers. Her family was locally prominent enough to warrant a lot of news coverage. Sifting through it all was at times very frustrating and confusing and there were a lot more family members to deal with than most of my blogs. Even as I write this I’m not 100% sure how I’m going to put it down coherently enough for you to read, understand and to enjoy at the same time.

I suppose I’ll just start all the way back in timeline fashion, just to keep it organized. Claire was born as Clara Eloise Loerch on 30 December 1898 in Bellevue, Kentucky. Claire’s mother was Eleise Reusser, who was born 9 October 1874 in Switzerland. She came to America with her family about 1884. I found a few possible families but wasn’t able to pin one particular family down as being hers, so this is where her beginning ends for now (more on this in the updates at the end). Here is a picture of Eleise.

eleise

Claire’s father was Karl Alfred Loerch, born 16 November 1873 in Seefelden, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany to Georg Jakob Friedrich Lörch and Anna Maria Erler. If you noticed the name change after Karl arrived, you have to remember that the German letter ö is pronounced like oe so the spelling is correct. Karl came to America about 1892 but I was never able to prove it concretely. It fits though with my first documents on him, the Cincinatti, Ohio city directories for 1894 through 1897. In them he is listed as Alfred Loerch, a watchmaker. Considering he was only 21 in 1894, he couldn’t have been a watchmaker for too long. 1894  1895  1896  1897

 Claire’s parents were both living in Cincinnati in 1895 when they ran across the Ohio River into Covington, Kentucky to get married. I found occasional references to their 20 November 1895 marriage but when I got to the document I found that this was when they filled out the license. The section for the marriage being performed was blank. This doesn’t mean they didn’t get married that day, but it doesn’t prove that they did. I left another couple’s marriage in the document so you can see what it should have looked like. Marriage

By 1898 they were living at 121 Division Street in Covington, but that same year Claire was born in Bellevue. This isn’t too difficult to understand if you see the map of that area. Cincinnati, Covington and Bellevue are all very close to each other. 

map

They must have left the Kentucky/Ohio area in 1899 because they don’t show up in the Covington city directory for 1900 (1899’s wasn’t available) but they do show up in the 1900 census on 2 June in Santa Barbara, California. In this census they are living with and paying rent to another family. Karl is now an optician (he’ll be an optometrist and jeweler for the rest of his life). It shows his 1892 arrival in America. Eleise shows her 1885 arrival and that she has borne one child, who is living. It also verifies they’re being married for about 4 years. You’ll find them at line 63: 1900 Census

On 10 June 1902 Karl became a U.S. citizen in Santa Barbara and then on 22 June 1902, Eleise gave birth to a son named Karl Alfred Loerch Jr. Two years later, in July of 1904, Karl moved his family to Anaheim. 1904 Move. In September of 1905 Karl moved them to Los Angeles. 1905 MoveIt was here and the same year that Eleise filed for divorce. She had to wait for one year for it to be finalized, as was the norm back then in California. It was finalized on 10 December 1906. Divorce

Well, this was a problem because I discovered that Karl had moved down to Clifton, Arizona and on 29 September 1906 had gotten married to Louisa Guadalupe Calles, who was born 6 August 1885 in Silver City, New Mexico. Marriage. So was he a bigamist? Or did he think he was already divorced? 

After the divorce, Eleise married a Julius G Pegel. Like Eleise, Julius had just gotten divorced the year before. Divorce. Eleise and Julius’ marriage was very probably in 1907. All the evidence points to it but I couldn’t find a single document to back it up.

Meanwhile, Karl had set up shop in Clifton, Arizona. Here’s a typical ad of his from their local paper in 1908.

karlsrcliftonaz1908jun18

The following year, on 27 February 1909, Karl’s new wife (Louisa) gave birth to their daughter Esther Carmen in Clifton. 

By the 1910 census both of Claire’s parents are in very different places. Continuing with Karl, he and his new family have moved to Santa Ana, California during the past year. Their census, taken on 28 April, shows them as living at 414 E Walnut Street. It shows that this is Karl’s second marriage and Louisa’s first. They’ve been married 4 years and Louisa has borne one child, and who is living. Karl is an optician and is renting their home. Esther Carmen is shown as being one year and 2 months old, which matches exactly to her birth month. You’ll find them at line 60: Karl 1910.    

As far as Eleise, she and Julius have moved the family to Brooklyn, New York. Their census was done on 29 April and it shows them as living in an apartment building at 174 Fifth Avenue. Julius is listed as being from Germany, and having arrived in the U.S. in 1879. He is a naturalized citizen and his occupation is carpet designer.  Everything matches on Eleise and it shows they’ve been married for 3 years. It also shows her as having borne two children but the enumerator put both children as being deceased. I’ve stated in most or all my blogs that ALL types of documents will have errors. You have to remember that humans are involved when making them, so errors will occur. Claire and Karl Jr are also there, and it verifies their birth locations. Here is the census. They start at line 86: Eleise 1910

Back to Karl, Louisa gave birth to their son, Alfred Fredric, on 14 November 1910. Here is Alfred.

alfred

By December of 1910 Karl has set up his office at 114 E Fourth Street in Santa Ana and begins placing one of his many ads that continued on for years in various forms: 1910 Ad. There were also tons of the typical gossipy snippets throughout the years but most were of minor importance. I also found that Karl made at least one trip back to Germany (in 1913). There’s nothing much of note with either Karl or Eleise after 1910 until the WW1 time-frame.

Although she maintained her address as Brooklyn, Claire had at some point gone to live with her father and had graduated high school in Santa Ana. She had then gone back to Brooklynn. While attending high school in Santa Ana she had met Charles Douglas Swanner, who had been born there on 31 May 1894. By 1917, Charles had become a Lieutenant in the California National Guard and was a fresh young attorney who was now the deputy district attorney there. He telegraphed her and asked her to join him back in Santa Ana and get married. She agreed and hustled back to California. They were married at her father’s home. Here’s the marriage document and the news clipping all about it:  Marriage  News. And here is a picture of Charles.

charlessr

Charles was off to the war in March of 1918, and two months later Claire gave birth to their son, Charles Douglas Jr, on 10 May. Here’s a picture of their son at age 24.

charlesjr2

Charles Sr was released from the military in April of 1919 and he and Claire set up house at 841 Garnsey Street in Santa Ana. This is where they were living when the census was taken on 3 January 1920. There isn’t any major revelations from this census but it verifies things we already know about the family. 1920 Census

Back to her parents, Karl’s 1920 Census was done on 5 January. They were living at 310 Orange Avenue in Santa Ana. The only thing to note about his entry is that he has incorrectly given his citizenship date as 1898, when it was actually 1902. 1898 would have been when he did his Intent to File papers. Louisa shows her father as being from Spain and her mother from Mexico. Both children are listed but nothing much else is of any new value to the research. You’ll find Karl at the bottom of the first page and the rest of them at the top of the second page:  1920 Page1  1920 Page2

As far as Eleise, sometime between Claire’s marriage in 1917 and her 1920 census done on 3 January, they had moved to Santa Ana also. She, Julius and Karl Jr show up in it living at 1022 W Bishop Street. Only a couple of things stand out. They now own their own home and Julius has transitioned from a carpet designer to an art designer for magazines. You’ll find them at the very top of the page:  Eleise 1920

From 1921 to 1923 I found Claire and Charles Sr living on Spurgeon Street in Santa Ana, but it appears that they divorced about 1924. Unfortunately the 1924 directory wasn’t available, nor was I able to find anything about it in the newspapers. Charles Sr got married again on 6 June 1925 to Helen Elizabeth Dana, a 23 year old Iowa girl who hadn’t been living long in the Santa Ana area. Here’s the news story about it: Marriage

At some point between 1923 and 1926 Claire moved to Los Angeles and she was living in Hollywood on 14 August 1926 when she married Harold Leon Mohr, the award-winning cinematographer better known as Hal Mohr and who was already making a name for himself. Hal was born 2 August 1894 in San Francisco. His bio would take up too much room on this blog so I’ll refer you to the one on the IMDB website. Bio. Their marriage record shows both of them as divorced and as being their second marriages. Hal lists his parents as Michael Mohr (from Germany) and his mother as Rosalia Remarque (from New York). Here is their marriage record (in two parts) and a news story about the wedding. Marriage-1  Marriage-2  Wedding. Hal’s first marriage was to Winifred Aileen Gocher, who was born in Sydney, Australia in 1900.

I assume that Hal got Claire into acting and he did well by getting her start into movies with The Jazz Singer, but it didn’t seem to help. After a couple more movies she was pretty much done, and this brings up another thing. I mentioned at the beginning of the blog about the large amount of news stories I came across, almost too many of them. The one thing I rarely saw were stories on her as an actress. They were almost non-existent. As big as The Jazz Singer was when it debuted you’d think there would be some mention of her, especially in her hometown of Santa Ana. There was absolutely nothing, though I did later see a very brief positive review on her for the 1928 movie The Grain of Dust. Review

On 23 May 1929 Claire and Hal returned onboard the SS Sonoma from a long south seas cruise. Arrival.  I found one small article about it. It was a story on the ship and the captain but mentioned notable people that made the trip. Hal was mentioned but Claire was not.

Two months later, on 29 July 1929, Claire filed a petition to regain custody of her son. She had initially gotten custody but Charles Sr had gotten it changed at some point on the grounds that she didn’t have the means to care for him properly. I never saw another story on how it turned out but she must have won because the following year Charles Jr is living with her and Hal in the 1930 Census. Custody

Claire’s 1930 census was done on 10 April and it shows them living at 6225 Rinconia Drive. There are a few little things to note. They own their home and have a young divorced Nebraska girl named Freda Scott with them as their servant. And, as I said earlier, Charles Jr is now with them. Notice also that Claire does not say actress for her occupation. Next, look at the marriage info and there is a category that asks Age at First Marriage. In this case they incorrectly put their ages from their current marriage, a very common error in the 1930 census. If you cant find a marriage document on the current marriage then this error is actually helpful, but if it’s filled out correctly it will help tell you if a person was previously married. You’ll find them near the top of the page. 1930 Census

Back to her parents, Karl and his family are living at 310 Orange Avenue in Santa Ana. The only thing of note is that Claire’s sister, Esther Carmen, is now a trained nurse and works in a doctor’s office. Karl Sr 1930. As for Eleise, they are also still in Santa Ana. There are only two things of note in her census. Her husband has gone back to designing carpets and Karl Jr is now an optometrist, like is father. Eleise 1930

Any site I saw mentioned that Claire and Hal divorced in 1929, or 1928 for a few of them. You now know of course that this is entirely wrong. As a matter of fact it was a few more years before they did. For example, Claire’s brother (Karl Jr) had gotten married in June of 1930 to a 25 year old English girl named Mabel Marian Schofield. Here’s a picture of her.

mabel

Anyway, here’s a story from 4 January 1931 discussing Claire and Hal spending New Year’s Eve with the newlyweds back in Santa Ana, so obviously they are still together. New Year’s. The earliest I found any signs of trouble was in 1933. There were two items in particular. The first was her April 1933 arrival back in the U.S. from a trip to Europe and she is alone. Notice though that she lists herself as single. 1933 Arrival. A few months later, on 7 November, comes this gossip item where she is called Miss Claire Delmar. Gossip. I think she was separated at the time and filed in November or December of 1933 because of the stories about Hal’s 7 December 1934 marriage to the much-better-known actress named Evelyn Venable. Story Part1  Story Part2. This story from 17 December shows why I think Claire filed when I said she did.  Elope Reason

The next I found Claire was on her September 1936 arrival from yet another trip to Europe. Nothing special comes from this except to give her residence as 8915 Sunset Blvd, in Hollywood. 1936 ArrivalShe next appeared in the 1938 voting list and the 1938-1939 city directories. In all three of these she was living at 8625 Lookout Mountain Avenue in Los Angeles. 1938 had to be an unusual year for Claire because she lost both of her step-parents within a few months. Louisa died in Santa Ana on 29 June and Julius Pegel died on 11 November.

In the 1940 Census, Karl and Eleise are both now widowed and living in Santa Ana at the same addresses they had lived at for years. Eleise is living alone and Karl has a housekeeper and her daughter living with him. Other than that nothing else stands out.

When it came to Claire, I had a very tough time finding her. I knew from the 1938 and 1939 directories and the 1940 voting record that she was probably still at the Lookout Mountain Avenue address but I couldn’t get her to turn up at all. Finally, I went page by page for that area and her house wasn’t even listed. This meant it was vacant, so she had moved yet again sometime during the past year. I expanded my search area and still nothing. When I went nationwide one caught my eye. It was one I had noticed earlier and had discounted without looking at it because it was for a Flora E Moke living in New Hampshire. Out of desperation I went to it to see if it was just a horrible transcription. There she was, plain as day. So what was she doing in Marlboro, New Hampshire? Well, the answer was living with her. It was her son the doctor, Charles Jr. He was a chiropractor. You’ll find them at the bottom. 1940 Census. I got lucky and found her in the local city directories there for 1940 and 1942, where I discovered that she now owned and operated Tenney Tavern on Jaffrey Rd. I never could find anything on the tavern. 1940 Dir  1942 Dir

I am not sure why the were living there. I had also found Charles Jr on the 1940 California voting lists so they both moved to New Hampshire at or about the same time. Regardless, Charles Jr joined the Army on 16 December 1941 in Manchester, New Hampshire and left for the war.

By late 1942 Charles Jr was stationed at the ordnance depot in Stockton, California and living in town at 535 E Miner Avenue. Claire was also living with him. In the 1942 city directory she was shown as being a packer but it doesn’t say where. Claire 1942  Charles Jr 1942. They were both there again for 1943 but the 1944 directory wasn’t available. In the one for 1945 they are missing. They don’t show up again until after World War II. In 1947 they’re both living back in Santa Ana at 116 E Washington Avenue. Claire 1947  CharlesJr 1947On 8 February 1948 Charles Jr married Dorothy Lee Bradshaw, a 29 year old widow born in Kansas. 1948 is also the last year I found Claire in any voting record. She was still living at the 116 E Washington Avenue address in Santa Ana. 

Now that Claire and Charles Jr weren’t joined at the hip anymore, let’s get back to Claire. Her father had passed away on 21 March 1946 in Santa Ana and when I found Claire again it was 1953 and she was living in Carmel, California. Her mother was now 79 years old and living with her. You’ll find both of them on the same page. Claire 1953. In the 1957 and 1958 directories I also found Charles Jr and his wife living with them. 

This brings us up to the night of 10 January 1959. Keep in mind that there were many versions of this in the news and the accounts varied some as to the details. Some even said her name had been Claire LaMarr. I’ll give you the basics of it: Sometime between 7pm and midnight that Friday night, Claire had gone outside wearing a red nightie with matching panties covered by a red bathrobe. At this point she had been hit on the head with a blunt instrument and dragged inside. She was thrown on the bed, clothes ripped off and then sexually assaulted. She was then stabbed with a seven inch steak knife about 12 times. The knife had been cleaned and then hidden under her body. The following morning a neighbor became concerned when Claire didn’t answer repeated phone calls and she discovered her body.  Murder News 

It wasn’t solved and then in May of 1991 her murder became news again when a lady who had been undergoing therapy had witnessed the crime as a two-year old and repressed the memories for 30 years. She was able to identify the killers as Claire’s brother, Karl Jr and his wife Mabel. More here: 1991 Story

Now, do I believe it? No I don’t. The little girl was two years old and by herself at night in Claire’s home. The brother not only kills his sister, but rapes her. And in front of his wife no less. Also, all with the full knowledge of his mother. The hypno-therapy regression stuff was popular in the 80s and 90s but has since been fairly well shown to many times be unintentionally implanting memories instead. Also, assuming the little girl did visit there a few times with her mother, she had probably met Karl Jr and his wife and these are the most likely people she would remember.

I mentioned at the beginning that someone had attached the wrong person to Eleise’s grave-site. It was a Karl Loerch that lived and died in Pennsylvania. I went ahead and created a grave-site for our Karl and attached it to her. I also notified the owner of the wrong one about the error.

So what happened to everybody else? Eleise ended up passing away a few months after Claire on 15 June 1959. Her brother Karl Jr died in Cochise County, Arizona in March of 1990 and his wife died there on 24 September 2000. Claire’s half-sister Esther became a nurse and never married. She died in the Los Angeles area on 14 June 1999. Claire’s half-brother Alfred Fredric died two years after Claire, on 12 January 1961, but I never saw where or how. I assume it was the Los Angeles area though because he is buried there.

As for Claire’s husbands, Charles Swanner Sr died in Orange County, California on 6 January 1979 and his wife 10 years later. Hal Mohr passed away in Santa Monica on 10 May 1974 and his wife Evelyn died in Idaho on 15 November 1993.

Lastly, for her son Charles Jr, he and Dorothy had at least one child I know of. His name was Richard Douglas Swanner and he was born in Carmel in 1950. This means they were in Carmel earlier than I thought. A second probable son is Thomas C Swanner, born in Merced County, California in 1959. Charles Jr’s wife passed away in Sacramento on 4 October 1995 and Charles himself just passed away there two years ago on 26 July 2014.

By the time I was done writing this one, her story had gotten me depressed. Her life didn’t turn out the way she expected, I’m sure. All in all though, she now has her story and I hope it helps clear the air on her meager biographies out there.

 

Update 8 Nov 2016 (part 1): Found this news article from 7 October 1942 about Charles Jr enlisting and getting stationed in Stockton as discussed earlier. Charles Jr 1942

Update 8 Nov 2016 (part2): I was finally able to pin down Eleise’s family. I’ll first have to work on her part of the tree for a bit and then I’ll post it here.

Update 9 Nov 2016: I discovered Eleise’s family by tracking down the only Reusser/Reuser family in the Cincinnati city directories, namely the one named Adolph. I had also earlier seen two possible immigrant arrivals with an Eleise Reuser around the 1885 time-frame, both about the same age. One of these had a brother named Adolph with her and the rest of her family. They had arrived in New York on 8 February 1884, but I still needed to confirm the connection between Adolph and our Eleise. When I came across Adolph’s obituary she was listed as his sister so I now had her whole family. Her father was Gottfried Reuser and her mother was Elizabeth Bütschi. After I got to working on her family’s line it turned out they had almost immediately ended up in Cincinnati. They began appearing in the city directories there in 1884, the same year as their arrival. By the 1900 Census most of them had moved on to California, just like Eleise.

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Thanks for stopping by! -Ray

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