Friday, December 6, 2013

King D. Gray -- Death, the Great Revelator

At noon on June 30, 1938, a pedestrian walking by a parked car outside the Hollywood post office at 1615 North Wilcox Avenue noticed a man slumped in the vehicle's front seat.  The driver, dead from a single .32-caliber gunshot wound to the chest, was identified as studio cameraman, King David Gray, active in films since 1915 when he shot The College Orphan for Universal Film Manufacturing Company.  Born in Danville, Virginia, on March 9, 1886, Gray photographed over 50 films (The Mark of Cain, 1916; The Scarlet Car, 1917; Forgive and Forget, 1923) in a twenty year career.  From 1932, he worked exclusively for Universal Pictures as either a camera operator (The Invisible Man, 1933) or as second cameraman (The Black Cat, 1934).  When found, the 52-year-old married father of two was holding a letter in his right hand postmarked from New Castle, Pennsylvania bearing the salutation, "Dear Daddy."  Police established the identity of the letter writer as Frances Bleakley, a 29-year-old University of Southern California student once employed in the art department of a Hollywood department store, but now living in Pennsylvania.  During their four year relationship the cameraman passed himself off as unmarried and rented a secret post office box to hide the deception from his family.

Although baffled police ultimately settled on the theory that Gray was shot during a robbery attempt no valuables were taken from the dead man or his car.  The death weapon, a .32-caliber automatic, was retrieved a few days later from a vacant lot at Santa Monica Boulevard and El Centro Street eight blocks from the murder scene.  Ex-convict Joseph L. Chester, considered a suspect in the Gray murder, committed suicide to avoid capture on an unrelated matter on July 20, 1938, following a high speed car chase with authorities in Ventura County.

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