Treasures of the Valley » Mike Lawler

The Lanterman Scandals

Mike Lawler is the former  president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at
Mike Lawler is the former
president of the Historical Society
of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at

Those who read my column regularly know that I love history’s so-called “dirty laundry.” It somehow makes history come alive for me to know that great historical figures were, after all, human with flaws and weaknesses just like us.

The founding Lanterman family of La Cañada has always been presented as squeaky clean. But I recently read an article by L.A. historian Hadley Mears, a writer for KCET, which detailed the extensive legal troubles that Dr. Roy Lanterman had during his life. It’s from her article that I write this.

Roy Lanterman was the son of Jacob Lanterman, La Cañada’s founder, and the father of Frank Lanterman, a man who did so much good (water accessibility and mental health reform) as a state assemblyman. Roy Lanterman received his medical degree in 1893, and set up an obstetrics/gynecology practice in L.A. He was wealthy and handsome, and very popular. He soon married his beautiful and cultured Emily, and they had two sons, Lloyd and Frank.

He had an enviable life. In 1906 he was elected county coroner as a reformer, and established our first county morgue. But, as often happens to reformers, he seems to have run afoul of someone very powerful, the details of which are unknown. He was almost immediately accused of election fraud, and his own Republican party tried to have the county coroner job eliminated. Political insiders claimed he was being pushed into “being good” and “taking orders.”

In 1907, Roy was arrested for attacking a prostitute at an L.A. brothel. Lanterman insisted it was a set-up and, as if to confirm that, the charges were dropped. But Roy got the “back off” message clearly, and resigned his coroner job to return to private practice.

But whomever he had pissed off was not done with him. The day he resigned he was arrested again, this time for “having sworn to false statements” about his election expenses. This time, he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to a year in prison. At this point his wife Emily jumped in and, at a time when cultured ladies were to be seen and not heard, she became his biggest advocate. With her help, and a team of lawyers, he was able to avoid a stretch in San Quentin. Disgraced, he returned to La Cañada and in 1915 built a gorgeous home (what is today the Lanterman House Museum) where he maintained his medical offices.

Despite his new status as a gentleman country doctor, legal trouble followed him. In 1916 Roy was arrested for performing an “illegal operation” (abortion) on a local 17-year-old girl. Although the charges didn’t stick, he temporarily had his medical license suspended. Following that, just a year later, he was again arrested, this time for murder after a married woman died following a botched abortion. He was found not guilty after testimony revealed that the woman had admitted just before she died that she had performed the abortion on herself.

Another year, another arrest. It was 1918 and Roy was back in jail. A 19-year-old stenographer in the Lanterman home claimed Roy had seduced her, and he was on trial for “contributing to the delinquency of a minor.” The outcome of this trial isn’t known. At this point Roy and his lawyers took a much-needed break, and it wasn’t until 1929 that Roy returned to court, once again for murder. This time he shared the charges with another doctor. It was revealed in the trial that, again, a woman had botched a self-administered abortion, and Lanterman and the other doctor had tried to save her life. From this point on, Roy Lanterman managed to stay out of trouble, and lived quietly in bucolic La Cañada, while Emily continued her social events and the two boys grew to maturity.

So what was happening here? Was Roy Lanterman a victim of his own bad judgment? Was he a target of a political or personal vendetta? Was he just plain unlucky? I guess we’ll never really know. But one thing is sure: You won’t hear these stories in any official La Cañada histories!

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