The Gardenia Murder Case, Conclusion

ora_familyThe hunt for Ora Murray’s suspected killer continued without success.

While Sheriff’s deputies hunted for the mystery man Paul (later ID’d as Terry by a jilted girlfriend), Ora’s bereaved family was attending her inquest. The Coroner’s jury found that Ora Murray came to her death as the “result of a homicide, from strangulation and concussion, by person or persons unknown”.

Ora’s husband Sgt. William Murray, stationed at a Mississippi Army camp, had been granted leave so that he could come to L.A. and claim his wife’s body. Sgt. Murray’s only comment was, “I hope they catch the rat who did it–soon”.


Finally in March 1944 the man known as Paul, with whom Ora had gone on her last car ride, was seized in New York by the FBI. His name wasn’t Paul, and his name wasn’t Terry (as he had told Jeanette, his heartbroken fiancee), his real name was Roger Lewis Gardner.ora_suspect

The FBI wanted him on the charge of impersonating a Federal officer and called him “the most badly wanted fugitive in the United States”.  FBI agent E.E. Conroy described Gardner as a man of many aliases, an impersonator, swindler and philanderer.  Gardner had allegedly married more than nine women without divorcing any of them.

With Gardner’s resume it’s no wonder that it was a dame who dropped a dime on him to the law. Gardner was returned to Los Angeles to face a charge of murder for the slaying of Ora Murray.

Ora’s sister, Latona Leinann wore a white gardenia “in memory of my sister” to Gardner’s trial. A white gardenia wrapped in tinsel had been found crushed beneath Ora’s dead body.

Latona told the jury of her premonition that Ora was in danger when she left to go for a drive with the man they knew as Paul.  In fact Latona was so concerned that she wanted to take down the license plate number of his car, or at least make him produce an ID. Gardner must have sweated for a few moments before saying: “What’s the matter? Why don’t you trust me?” Latona told him that she was skeptical of strangers, but her fears made no impression on Ora and she drove off with Gardner anyway.ora_gardnerwife

Gardner’s defense strategy was simple, he said it was a case of mistaken identity and that he wasn’t Paul.

The jury listened attentively to the testimony in the case, and then it came time for them to decide Gardner’s fate.  Before beginning their deliberations several members of the jury got down on their knees and prayed for divine guidance.

The jury was out for two days — the prayers for guidance went unanswered.  They could not reach a verdict. The last count stood at 7 to 5 for conviction.  The jury foreman Carl Sell informed Judge Landreth that they were hopelessly deadlocked.

One woman juror commented: “I think he’s [Gardner] is a slicker, but that he wasn’t a murderer.”

Roger Lewis Gardner walked out of the courtroom into the waiting arms of the Feds. He still had a three year sentence to serve in Leavenworth for impersonating a Federal officer.

The Gardenia Murder case remains one of several unsolved murders of women in Los Angeles during the 1940s.

NEXT TIME: More unsolved murders of women in Los Angeles.

7 thoughts on “The Gardenia Murder Case, Conclusion

  1. Amazing at the number of unsolved murders involving women in LA in the 1940’s. Received Aggie’s book yesterday… to get to reading.

    • Yeah, there were quite a few unsolved. It must have been an enormous undertaking to investigate crimes in post-war L.A. There were so
      many young people with no fixed address. Add emotionally damaged vets to the mix and it is a recipe for violent crime — and LAPD
      stats bear that out. Aggie’s book is a fun read — wait until you see some of the cases that she covered. Wow.

  2. Ora Murray’s sister Latona may have been distrustful of strangers but it wasn’t because of the murder of Elizabeth Short. Short wasn’t murdered until 1947, some four years after Mrs. Murray’s murder.

    Nonetheless, great site. Keep up the good work.


    • Yikes, Will you are so right! Talk about lack of math skills! I’ll correct my mistake instantly, and I hope
      you’ll keep reading if I can’t add or substract worth a damn. I was thinking about Jeanne French while I was
      writing about Ora Murray. Phooey! Best – Joan

  3. Wow! was out in desert found an old house falling down, in the walls( used as insulation) was a badly decayed but still legible copy of a Nov. 1944 Los Angeles Examiner Newspaper,the Rodger Lewis Gardner murder trial had just gone to the jury that day! thanks to your site I now what happened! Thanks.

  4. Ora was my great grandma. I have a picture of her and my Grandma sitting together on a beach. My Grandma never talked about her mother and when I asked my mom why, she just said, “Its something that grandma doesn’t like talking about.” There was a detective I think in LA who believed his dad was the serial killer of most of those women who where murdered. I looked at the book but there was not much on Ora. This detective did contact one of my sisters but not much more was said. As I am getting older I’m very curious about my family history. I wish my grandma was still around so I could ask her more about her mother.

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