The Dark History of Valentine’s Day in Los Angeles

No matter what Cupid or Hallmark say, tragedy and romance go together on any day, including Feb. 14.

“Happy Valentine,” the message reads, with a hand-drawn heart and “I love you” below. 

These words, written on a scrap of paper, were clenched in the lifeless hand of Diane Wells, who died by suicide in a Hollywood hotel room, weeks before she was due to go on trial for the murder of her husband.

Daine Wells’ Valentine’s note

Valentine’s Day is sold to us with boxes of chocolates, prix-fixe meals, maybe even a sparkly piece of jewelry, and, as David Byrne once sang with Talking Heads, “nothing but flowers.”  Yet no matter what Cupid says, tragedy and romance go together—at any time of the year, especially if you’re the editor of a daily paper at a time when this is where nearly everyone gets their news and entertainment.

Over 100 years ago, the Los Angeles Examiner ran an extraordinary headline about a “Ghost Woman” after a wealthy Oregon rancher named Vaden Boge had been found poisoned in his room at the Alexandria Hotel.

The 22-year-old Boge had registered himself and his wife at the hotel, saying she would be coming later with their luggage. He ordered lunch from room service, but soon after, cries were heard coming from the room, and he staggered into the hall gasping for help.

Vaden Elwynne Boge

Soon it was discovered that one of the coffee cups contained potassium cyanide, while the other was half-empty.

Boge’s wife appeared to be the number one suspect, only no one had even seen the woman. Even his shocked family only had a vague idea that he might be engaged. Police searched the docks and train stations, but there was no trace. 

As it turned out, Boge’s death was an elaborate, romance-inspired suicide plot that the Los Angeles Evening Herald suggested had been inspired by an Irish short story.

Police also found some sentimental song lyrics in Boge’s notebook, and 17-year-old Nadine Linginfelter, a distant relative who he had been writing to for several months, was interviewed, but no evidence was found of an illicit tryst. 

Poems, stories, and songs aside, it seemed that the explanation for Boge’s dramatic death was in a letter he had mailed a couple of days before he sat to, as the newspapers put it, “feast alone.” 


In May 1933, the Los Angeles Times reported the story of Alfred Alberts, a ticket tender at Wrigley Field, then a minor league baseball stadium in South Central Los Angeles.

For over 20 years, the then-68-year-old had been in unrequited love with Lottie Spinner, the waitress wife of a police lieutenant, after meeting her in a restaurant on South Main St.

Lottie Spinner and the note she received from Alfred Alberts (LA Herald Express Vol LXIII)

Alberts had often been to the Spinner’s house, and over Christmas dinner, he admitted he had been diagnosed with cataracts. He then confessed his secret love. The couple had been gracious and sympathetic, both seeing him as a kind friend, if also a lonely old man.

A few months later, Alberts went to Palisades Park in Santa Monica and shot himself in the heart. Before he died, he scribbled out a will on the back of an envelope, where he left his entire life savings of nearly $14,000 (over a quarter of a million dollars today) to his “dream girl.” 

Alberts’s cataracts, it turned out, left him terrified of going blind because that meant he would never be able to see Lottie’s face ever again.


Diane Wells

Heartbreakingly romantic for sure, but a look through the archives confirms that it’s sex and violence that really sells. And this was certainly the case for the tabloid coverage of the aforementioned tragedy of Diane Wells.

In the era of film noir, especially, the many rival L.A. newspapers often printed pictures of the victim of a jealous murder or when possible, the dead killer himself (it’s almost always a man…) with the gun still in his lifeless hand and a bloodstain nearby.

Suicide notes were also fair game, and all four left by Diane, including one that seemed confessional, were reproduced for readers in full. They could see how her handwriting became more illegible as the barbiturates took effect.

She was the much younger wife, number five, in fact. for successful mogul Cecil Wells. It was her alleged affair with Black musician Johnny Warren—also charged with first-degree murder—that really shook things up.

The case involved love letters, a bungled investigation, a secret abortion, and a Guatemalan “third suspect” with whispered-about mob connections. It also happened in Alaska, then a barely-known U.S. territory.

Diane came to Hollywood the moment she got out on bail in 1954 and checking in at a hotel on Valentine’s Day was one of her last acts as she fought addiction, loss, and trauma. In covering the accused widow’s case, the papers and pulp magazines saw nothing but her blonde hair and good looks. 

Determined to spare her 3-year-old son the chaos of her upcoming trial, a few weeks later she took control of her dismal situation and abruptly checked into another hotel —though for just one night.

The day after her body was discovered, it emerged that the trial was about to be postponed.  

Beneath the hand-drawn heart: “Happy Valentine. I love you.” Seemingly written on a piece of newspaper print, readers are still left to wonder just who her Valentine’s note was for. 

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