06 April 2008

Los Angeles: A DNA 'Brand'

There's an excellent LA Times story by retiring columnist Cecilia Rasmussen ("Then and Now"). FamilyTreeDNA.com and Bennett Greenspan play an essential role in determining the DNA of Glendale mover-and-shaker Leslie Coombs Brand.

For more than 20 years, I've been writing about local history, and never once has Southern California let me down. I've found no shortage of tycoons and beggars, dreamy spiritualists, mad-eyed killers. This 227-year-old city has had a few angels, but it's the others who often make for the most fascinating storytelling. The housewife from Milwaukee who in the 1920s lived in a house above Sunset Boulevard -- secretly keeping her lover in the attic for a decade until he came downstairs to murder her husband. The religious cult that called itself the Divine Order of the Royal Arms of the Great Eleven and used sex, religion and animal sacrifices to separate believers from their money. The 18-year-old who in the 1880s fatally shot her boyfriend in the eye and was acquitted after her lawyers called her a victim of "menstrual madness."

I've written about cowboys and swindlers and crazy inventors, about a one-eyed Swiss watchmaker and a silent screen star who broke into film at age 75, after real-life dramatic experience as a Civil War spy.

To get those stories, I've had to do quite a bit of sleuthing -- trekking through mountains, visiting crumbling mansions and knocking the dust off ancient court files.

But in all the years, I've never gone to quite the lengths I had to for this, my final Then and Now column.

There was no way around it. To be sure this story was true, I needed DNA tests. But I'm jumping ahead of myself. Maybe I should start at the beginning.

An unlikely affair

If you live in or work in or ever pass through Glendale, you no doubt have seen signs that say Brand. It's the name of the library, the biggest park and the boulevard that cuts right through the center of town.

The Brand in question is Leslie Coombs Brand, known as L.C., who is called the "Father of Glendale."

Read the complete story and how DNA confirmed certain rumors here.

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