My mom’s dad was a fellow named Robert Cords. This is what we know about him:
Robert Cords came from a family of German immigrants that settled in what is now the decidedly non-German immigrant region of Fruitvale, California.*
He filled out a census report near the turn of the century wherein he described himself as a “Capitalist,” full stop. At some point he worked for Union Pacific–whether as an employee or roving “Capitalist,” we don’t know–and as part of his commission bought the land that would become the Los Angeles Train Station. He managed a pair of businesses in San Francisco called the Western Tallow Company and the Imperial Glue Company. A story in the San Francisco Chronicle for June 27, 1918 refers to him as a “man of considerable wealth.”
That story was about his wife’s attempt to murder him. She shot him four times with a Colt .38, three in the chest and once in the arm, in their apartment at San Francisco’s famous (and still extant) Fairmont Hotel.** He survived.
She had wanted a divorce. She was angry at him because he’d installed his fling as his secretary at Western Tallow. He walked down to the front desk smoking a cigar and was quoted as telling the desk manager, “I am shot pretty badly. I think you better get me quick to a hospital.” The police found his wife on the floor of their room saying “I shot to kill!” over and over.
Later, the detectives brought his wife to his hospital room–don’t recall seeing that in the procedural shows–and he told her “don’t say a word, Jo. Don’t admit anything.” Snitches, etc. Her name was Alice. We don’t know why he called her Jo.
Robert and Alice/Jo stayed together. At least for a few years. We assume they divorced at some point. But then, we really have no idea. Grandma said the two were still married when she met him.
Of course, when that happened, so was she–to Dick Nores, an out-of-work actor/newspaper columnist, which is so perfect I can’t even try and joke about it. Nores was a drunk; not terribly surprising, given his vocation(s). In 1932, Nores, Grandma, her Aunt Rose and Aunt Rose’s boyfriend Otto went to Tahiti on Otto’s yacht, The Katedna.
In Tahiti, Mr. Nores finally stopped arguing with his demons and “went Native,” according to family legend.*** Meanwhile, Robert Cords, also vacationing in Tahiti, with or maybe without Alice/Jo, met my grandma and liked what he saw.
If he was still married, her unavailability didn’t faze him (and given what we know of his predilections, why would it?), so on the trip back to mainland America–aboard a cruise ship this time; Nores was too out of hand to be allowed back on the Katedna–he approached her husband with something less than a business proposition.
Here’s the deal. Your wife is moving into my cabin in 1st Class. In return, I’ll foot your bar bill for the remainder of the trip. But she’s staying with me. Thanks!
Robert Cords and grandma were married two years later. They had two daughters, Jane (my mom) and Mary.
On New Year’s Eve 1940, Robert Cords shot himself in his room at the Barclay Hotel in downtown L.A., where he’d been living for several years.**** Mom was six. Grandma said that it was a car accident. Mom discovered the truth years later in a news clipping hidden in the pages of an old book. There are no photos of Robert Cords.
He was buried in a pauper’s grave in Valhalla cemetery in Los Angeles,***** his money–the Chronicle had him worth more than a million dollars in 1918, and I’m not great at math, but–evidently gone. No one knew what happened to it, or, really, to him. Not my mom, not my grandma, not his cousin who called my mom in the early ’60s demanding answers.
It was just gone. Mysteriously gone. A legend without substance, a shadow on the cave wall. Like Robert Cords himself. Don’t say a word, Jo. Don’t admit to anything.
*OK, so: I was convinced that this was actually Lake Merritt, but mom insists that I’m wrong, and, well, she’d know (she did literally all of the research for this, by the way, I’m just a compiler). I was loathe to lose the Lake Merritt angle because of the Digital Underground connection, but we’re not writing a novel, here. That said, one last time: Crazy guts, crazy guts.
**That story led the front page of the day’s Chronicle in two-inch type. The editors rightly thought it more newsworthy than the other major news of the day, a piece about a big American victory at some place called Belleau Wood.
***I like to think he spent his days painting nudes on the beach like Gaugain, but I have a feeling the truth is somewhat more prosaic.
****I can only assume the guy preferred living in hotels.
*****A few years back, my mom and Mary bought him a headstone.