The unsolved Hollywood murder of boxer Eddie Diggins


By Allan R. Ellenberger

During prohibition, speakeasies where bootleg liquor was sold, dotted the streets of Hollywood. One such establishment opened in March 1927 in a commonplace looking bungalow on the northeast corner of Cherokee and Selma, just one block south of Hollywood Boulevard. Called the Crescent Athletic Club, it was open only one week and already catered to some of Hollywood’s biggest celebrities.

The site of the Crescent Athletic Club at 1626 N. Cherokee Avenue just north of Selma. (Google maps)

During the early morning hours of Saturday, March 26, 1927, the crowd at the Crescent was still in revelry mode when Charles Meehan, “an actor turned real estate man” arrived with his wife, actress Irene Dalton. Meehan, who earned most of his income selling bootleg liquor (for which he had been convicted five time), entered the dining room where film director Jimmie Sinclair, screenwriter Jack Wagner, and stuntman Billy Jones, was at a table with comedian Lloyd Hamilton and Eddie Diggins, a former light-weight boxer now trying his hand at acting.

At this point, Diggins had had three supporting roles under his belt in which he played a boxer in all of them opposite Billy Sullivan, the nephew of boxer John L. Sullivan.

Diggins was born in San Francisco on January 8, 1902 to Edward Ayer Diggins Sr., a physician, and his wife Bessie. He attended St. Mary’s College High School in Berkeley before trying his hand at amateur boxing. On June 28, 1921, he debuted as a professional lightweight against Joe Brown. Over the next seven years he fought against some of the greatest boxers of the day including Eddie Landon, Tommy Cello, Johnny Nunes and Harry Eagles. During his career, his record included 72 bouts, of which Diggins had 34 wins (11 KOs), 22 losses (2 KOs) and 16 draws.

Moving to Los Angeles in July 1924, Diggins boxed at several area venues: The Arena in Vernon; Hollywood’s Legion Stadium, and the East Fourth Street Lyceum A. C. where, in a fight against John Battling Ward, he broke his hand.

While his hand healed, Diggins became friendly with many Hollywood elite including actors Bull Montana and Lloyd Hamilton, among others; some from Hollywood’s darker side. Hoping to broaden his talents, he tried the movies by landing a supporting role in The Goat Getter as champion pugilist ‘Lightening Bradley’ who is stocked by a fighter he knocked out played by actor Billy Sullivan. Diggins followed this with two more films opposite Sullivan: The Patent Leather Pug and One Punch O’Day.

On Friday, March 25, Diggins and his wife Marian, met Lloyd Hamilton at the crowded Crescent Athletic Club. Charles Meehan and his wife Irene joined Hamilton, Diggins, Jack Wagner, Billy Jones, Jimmie Sinclair and others, at their table.

Shortly before 3 a.m. the next morning, an argument arose between Diggins and Jack Wagner in which the latter was knocked down. Later, Charles Meehan exchanged blows with Billie Jones, who reportedly had made an insulting remark about Meehan’s wife Irene. One thing led to another and according to Jones, “Everybody was pretty woozy. Everybody seemed willing to fight. I heard someone yelling ‘le’ go, le’ go,’ and after that all I remember is a lot of feet.”

The patrons in the other rooms flocked to the dining-room door to see what was happening. Legs were torn from heavy tables for clubs; bottles were hurled in every direction. Suddenly, someone struck Meehan over the head with a chair, while Diggins squared off for battle with half-a-dozen other trouble-seekers. Then the lights in the nightclub went out.

Patrons made a mad scramble for the doors and windows. Witnesses claimed thumps and crashes could be heard in the darkness. A woman said she heard “a scream of pain.” When the lights were turned on, Billy Jones was getting up from all fours and saw Diggins lying on the floor among broken chandelier glass with blood streaming from his chest.

In the darkness, Jimmie Sinclair had taken Irene Dalton by the arm and led her outside to his car. They drove around the block to allow the excitement to die down until Irene told Sinclair, “Charlie will get killed,” so they returned to the now nearly empty club. Irene found her husband in an adjacent room, unconscious with wounds to his head.

By now, Lloyd Hamilton had returned from the barroom and was holding a bloodied Diggins in his arms, trying vainly to revive the boxer. Within minutes, police had arrived and rammed open the front doors and rushed through the club. However, it was too late for Diggins who had died in Hamilton’s arms.

Detectives immediately concluded that Diggins’ wound was caused by a knife, but one could not be found in the surrounding debris. The club’s employees and lingering patrons were interviewed by the police and the place was searched for liquor (six gallons of wine, five gallons of alcohol and twenty-six bottles of gin were found).

Somehow, a drunken Charles Meehan was found collapsed in the alley behind the club. After reviving him, Meehan curiously told police, “I slugged him through the window,” repeating it several times before being removed in an ambulance.

Eight people, including Lloyd Hamilton, were interviewed at Hollywood’s central station on Wilcox Avenue. Hamilton claimed that when the fight started, he left the dining room because he “didn’t want to get mixed up in it.” After the commotion died down, he returned and saw Diggins on the floor. “I was trying to revive him when the police came in,” he said.

Not surprisingly, many of the witnesses had a lapse of memory, didn’t see what happened, or gave conflicting stories. Charles Meehan was briefly detained as a suspect but was exonerated at the coroner’s inquest.

After a police investigation, it was thought that Diggins wounds were not caused by a knife, but by a sharp piece of glass from a broken chandelier. Thus, his death was accidental. The clothing above Diggins wound showed two distinct cuts while there was only one small wound about an inch wide and an inch and a half deep below his heart. This indicated the death instrument was two-edged, sharp on either side but with two points, one shorter than the other and insufficient enough to penetrate the body.

District Attorney E. J. Dennison said he could find no evidence indicating that Diggins was murdered. “A knife is lacking as none was to be found at the scene or on any of the persons who were there,” he said.

Even though the police and district attorney believed Diggins death was accidental from him falling on a jagged piece of glass, seven members of the Coroner’s jury reached a decision that Eddie Diggins met his death from “a sharp instrument in the hand of a person or persons unknown to us, with homicidal intent.” The eighth member believed the “wound was caused by a piece of glass, accidental.” The autopsy surgeon testified that Diggins’ wound “could have been caused by broken glass,” but couldn’t confirm it. The word “homicide” was formally written on Diggins death certificate. Officially, Eddie Diggins death was ruled a homicide, and as such, is still unsolved.

During the investigation, several theories surfaced about Diggins death. One was that the mob had induced the fracas at the Crescent as a diversion, and they had covertly murdered Diggins. To support this theory, some witnesses claimed that six men had swiftly driven away during the brawl.

Pudgy-faced comedian Lloyd Hamilton supposedly became a scape-goat after the Diggins murder, reportedly being banned from the screen for two years. Strangely enough, Hamilton and Irene Dalton, a frequent co-star of the comedians and the wife of Charles Meehan, were married three months later and divorced in 1929.

Funeral services for Eddie Diggins was arranged by the Catholic Film Guide and held on March 30, 1927 in the chapel of the O’Connell Sunset Mortuary.

Interment was in Hollywood Cemetery in Section 6, Grave 0318. Eddie Diggins grave is directly across from the peacock pens on the north side of the cemetery. Diggins is in the third row from the curb.

The grave marker of boxer/actor Eddie Diggins at Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Please check out a rare five-minute clip of Eddie Diggins from his last film, One Punch O’Day (1926) with Billy Sullivan. Diggins is the boxer in the dark shorts.

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