Learning to Fly, Conclusion

Emergency vehicles screeched up to the Shoreham Towers. Diane Linkletter was on the sidewalk, bleeding profusely from her head. She was still alive. A near neighbor, Jimmy George, witnessed Diane’s fall.  He ran outside to see if he could render aid. She looked up at him but could not speak. Jimmy didn’t know what to do. Even if he had been a trained paramedic he could not have altered the outcome.

Diane was placed in an ambulance and rushed to the University of Southern California Medical Center. She was dead on arrival. The pretty girl with the bright smile, and future to match, was two weeks away from her 21st birthday.

Everyone wanted to know what had happened to Diane.  Sheriff’s investigators began to piece together her last several hours to see if her death was a suicide, an accident, or a homicide.

The last person to see Diane was Edward Durston.  Durston said he saw Diane on the day before her death.  He said she was depressed and he was concerned about her. Following her date with Robert, she stopped in at Durston’s apartment. It was 3 a.m.  She asked him to come by her place because she was going to bake cookies.

Durston told investigators that Diane had dropped acid that night. He said they talked for hours and she told him she was depressed. She went into her bedroom and telephoned her brother and, according to Durston, Diane seemed calmer.

Her calm demeanor is what fooled him, he said. He thought everything was fine until she walked into the kitchen, climbed onto the drainboard and into the window.  Durston said he was frantic. He tried, but failed, to grab Diane’s belt.  He said she went out the window and there was nothing he could do to stop her.

Durston’s account of events changed several times. He changing story made investigators suspicious, so they dug into his background. What they found gave them cause for concern.

The Tate/LaBianca murders were fresh in everyone’s mind and Durston was an early suspect in the slayings. Detectives asked Durston if he was willing to take a polygraph regarding the circumstances of Diane’s death and he agreed.  The results were never made public.

Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski

At the same time Durston was grilled by Sheriff’s investigators, Diane’s father addressed reporters.

As you would expect, Art was devastated by Diane’s death. He told reporters he knew what killed her –  LSD.  It wasn’t until after the autopsy revealed that Diane had no drugs in her system that Art offered a revised version. He said that Diane experienced an acid flashback and that is what propelled her out of her kitchen window.

Building on a tale of dubious origin, the media added a few flourishes and the next thing anyone knew Diane Linkletter had gone out the window of her apartment, high on LSD, because she thought she could fly.

The story degenerated into a false, but often repeated, narrative of Diane’s life. According to various sources Diane was into heroin at 13 and her drug use continued at a mad and dangerous pace until her death.  None of it was true. Did Diane experiment with drugs? If she did, it wasn’t a big part of her life.

Sheriff’s homicide detective, Norm Hamilton, interviewed Diane’s ex-husband Grant Conroy.  Theirs was a whirlwind marriage and it seemed doubtful Grant could offer any substantive information, but he had to be asked.

Grant said Diane used LSD and speed while they were married. How he knew intimate details of her life is a mystery—Diane never lived with Grant. During their brief marriage she lived at home with her parents.

Detectives turned again to Durston.  He was the last person with Diane. Could he have pushed her? They never found any evidence to suggest foul play. However, Durston was present at another mysterious death in 1985.

Actress Carol Wayne appeared regularly on TV shows during the 1960s and into the 1970s.  Her biggest role was in sketches on the Johnny Carson Show. She always played a ditzy blonde. When Carson asked the network to reduce his show from 90 to 60s minutes, Carol’s role was over.

She began to abuse alcohol and cocaine and it is rumored that she became an escort for wealthy men. In January 1985 she accompanied Durston to a resort in Mexico. The couple reportedly had a disagreement and Carol went for a walk on the beach to cool off.  When she didn’t return for their flight back to Los Angeles, Durston left without her.  He left her bags at the airport with a note that she would come and pick them up.  She never arrived.

Carol’s fully clothed body was found floating in four feet of water off the beach near the hotel where she and Durston stayed. There were no signs of foul play. People who knew Carol found it strange that she drowned. She was terrified of water.

It is ironic that the person most responsible for trashing Diane’s reputation was her father. With no verifiable evidence that Diane abused drugs, Art embarked on a nationwide anti-drug campaign using Diane as a tragic example of how drugs can kill.

Why was Art so keen to tarnish Diane’s reputation by alleging she was a drug user? The simplest explanation is that Art was in denial about Diane’s death and experiencing the pain and guilt that can come with surviving a loved one’s suicide. It isn’t unusual for the survivors to cast around for a scapegoat . Art chose drugs.

 

NOTE: If you or a loved one is contemplating suicide, please reach out for help.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Call 1-800-273-8255  Available 24 hours everyday

 

 

 

Learning to Fly, Part 1

 “If you remember the ’60s, you really weren’t there.”  Charlie Fleischer, comedian

The United States officially banned LSD in 1967.  The government, media and parents all over the country relied on fear-based tactics to keep kids off drugs. It didn’t work.

Attempts to terrify young people into abstinence is nothing new. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) held that there was no such thing as “moderate drinking”.  A small tipple always led to “an uncontrollable appetite” for more. They used the same approach regarding tobacco. Temperance Helps for Primary Teachers, offered a catchy verse meant to keep young men from smoking:

Say No! to tobacco, that poisonous weed.

Say no! to all evils, they can only lead

To shame and to sorrow, Oh, shun them, my boy,

For wisdom’s fair pathway of peace and of joy

(Preese 1901)

Does the “Just Say No” message sound familiar? If you grew up in the 1980s, you’ll recall First Lady Nancy Reagan’s anti-drug campaign.

Well-intentioned doggerel was replaced by  film.  Watch how a cowboy’s experiment with marijuana turns him into a killer.

In the 1930s film, The Cocaine Fiends (a remake of The Pace That Kills) the ham-fisted anti-drug message is very clear.  Small-town girls, beware.  Big city men will get you hooked on coke and lead you down a bad road.

Thirty years didn’t change the sledgehammer approach to anti-drug messages for young people. The 1960s saw its share of propaganda.  Drug users found the propaganda laughable.

Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) was criminalized in the U.S. by the government with the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. The act prohibits the manufacture, distribution, and possession of LSD without a license from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

If the possibility of a felony conviction didn’t deter people, maybe the stories circulated about LSD would scare them straight. A gruesome tale, the legend of the microwaved/baked baby made the rounds for a long time.  There are variations, but the gist of it is this:

The parents of a newborn leave their child with a sixteen-year-old hippie-chick babysitter. They go to a party. A few hours later the mother phones home to make sure all is well.  The girl reassures her that everything is great. She tells her “the turkey’s in the oven.”  The mom hangs up, looks at her husband and says, “The turkey is in the oven?  We didn’t have a turkey!”  They go home. Maybe there is something wrong with the sitter.

When the couple arrives home the babysitter, high on acid, is sitting in a chair freaking out.  The baby? The sitter, believing the baby was a turkey, popped the kid in the oven.

A film about LSD, produced and directed by the San Mateo Union High School District, came out in 1967. Ostensibly narrated by LSD himself, the film depicted screaming mental breakdowns and a variety of deadly accidents that could befall a person on acid.

The film carefully curates its message. Most of the horror stories associated with LSD use are apocryphal.  LSD doesn’t cause death from chemical toxicity, but deaths caused by behavioral toxicity are documented.

You’ve heard this one before—a young woman drops acid and, believing she can fly, jumps from a window to her death.

Here is the true story that launched the myth.

On Halloween, 1948, a fifth child, a girl, was born to radio personality Art Linkletter and his wife Lois.  The couple named the baby Diane. Her godfather was Walt Disney.

Art worked hard for everything he had. He was born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada on July 17, 1912.   Abandoned as an infant, Art was adopted and raised by a preacher and his wife, Fulton and Mary Linkletter.

Art passed his adopted family’s teachings along to his own children and raised his family in a traditional environment.  The kids were healthy and happy.  For a peek into the Linkletter family dynamic, check out this commercial Art and his three daughters made for Kellogg’s Corn Flakes

Diane’s life was untroubled until her teenage years. Like most teens, she tested boundaries and struggled to find herself.  Diane’s path to adulthood was complicated when she eloped at age 17 with  Grant Conroy (seven years her senior). Diane thought she was pregnant, and Grant offered to “do the right thing.” When she discovered she was not pregnant, her parents had the marriage annulled.  Diane and Grant never even lived together.

Diane moved into Shoreham Towers, a luxury building in West Hollywood.  The building’s residents were older than Diane, so she made friends closer to her age in the neighborhood.  One of Diane’s new friends was Ed Durston who lived with a roommate in a building across from hers.

On Friday evening, October 3, 1969, Diane went out with a friend, Robert Reitman, to a show at the Griffith Observatory.  Robert dropped Diane off at her apartment about midnight and she joined a street party on her block.

On Saturday morning, Dick Shephard looked out his bay window and watched in horror as a woman fell from the window of a sixth-floor apartment at the Shoreham Towers. She screamed, then hit the sidewalk with a sickening thud.

NEXT TIME:  A life ends and a myth begins.

Death of a Co-ed, Part 3

Sheriff’s detectives couldn’t catch a break. Marina’s case went cold.

In August 1969, the news that five (*see NOTE below) victims were slaughtered at the Cielo Drive home of actress Sharon Tate and her husband, director Roman Polanski shook Angelenos worse than a 9-point earthquake. The brutal, some thought ritualistic, slayings of Tate, Abigail Folger, Voytek Frykowski, Jay Sebring, and Stephen Parent terrified everyone. Rumors that the murders were drug-related caused a panic among Hollywood celebrities.  It wasn’t only the glitterati who felt their lives were in danger, average citizen flocked to gun shops and dog kennels seeking to protect themselves against an unknown evil.

Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski

People over 40 saw every long hair as a potential mass killer, and even hippies were paranoid of one another. The murders drove a stake through the heart of the Summer of Love. Was it only two years ago that baby boomers believed they could change the course of the world with beads and flowers?

The level of fear in the city ratcheted up several notches when Los Feliz residents Rosemary and Leno LaBianca were murdered. Eerie similarities between the Tate and LaBianca slayings gave the cops cause to believe they could be linked.

Who committed the cruel murders? Charles Manson, an ex-con conversant with the basic tenets of Scientology and an avid student of Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” had a gift for convincing rootless teenagers to follow him. He lured them  into the desert. He painted mind pictures of free love and great dope. Had he convinced his followers to murder for him?

Charles Manson

As investigators scrutinized the “Savage Mystic Cult” who lived in squalor in the desert, they considered the possibility that the Manson Family committed over seven murders.

What about Marina Habe? Someone stabbed the teenager to death. The killer, or killers, used a knife to butcher several of the victims at Cielo drive.  Another link?

The unsolved homicide of a young woman, Jane Doe #59, whose body was found close to where Marina was found might the Family’s grisly handiwork.

On November 16, 1969, a teenager who was bird watching on Mulholland Drive discovered Jane Doe’s remains. The young man was gazing through binoculars, checking out the various species of birds that populated the area, when his eyes came to rest on the nude body of a woman.

Police arrived at the scene. The victim was young.  She was pretty despite the 157 stab wounds to her neck and upper body.  Defensive wounds on her hands and arms meant she fought hard for her life. She was dead about two days.  Overkill suggested to detectives that the murder was personal. A spurned lover might be capable of such rage; or the killer could be a madman.

Los Angeles Police Department detectives investigated the murder of Jane Doe #59, with the same zeal as their counterparts in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department had done in Marina’s case. Both agencies hit a wall.

NEXT TIME: Who killed Marina Habe and Jane Doe #59?

*NOTE: Thanks to Cheryl, a reader who reminded me of a very important fact. There were six victims on Cielo Drive. We should remember Sharon’s and Roman’s son, Paul Richard Polanski.

Death of a Coed, Part 2

Sheriff’s investigators first believed someone kidnapped Marina. They, and her parents, waited for a ransom demand.  The wait ended almost as soon as it began with the discovery of Marina’s body in the heavy brush down a 30-foot embankment in the 8800 block of Mulholland.

Associated Press index card for Marina Habe

Sheriff’s homicide investigator, Lieutenant Norman Hamilton, told reporters they could not tell if her killer threw or carried Marina down the slope.  Marina still wore the brown capris, white turtleneck sweater and a brown coat with fur cuffs that she wore when she left John Hornburg’s house for her mother’s home.

There were no obvious signs sexual assault.  An autopsy, conducted by coroner Thomas Noguchi, determined Marina’s cause of death as exsanguination and found no evidence of rape. The small amount of cash in Marina’s wallet seemed to rule out robbery as the cause of her abduction and murder.

Her car, left in her mother’s driveway, had the emergency brake pulled up.  Investigators said that it took great strength to get the brake into that position and it was doubtful that Marina could have done it on her own.

Lt. Hamilton speculated that her killer (s) abducted Marina and intended to rape her, but she resisted.  According to Hamilton,  In recent weeks Eloise’s neighborhood, located  three blocks below Sunset Boulevard, was the scene of several recent rapes.

The autopsy revealed that Marina’s killer (s), cut her throat, severing her left carotid artery, and stabbed her multiple times in the chest.  She suffered two black eyes inflicted by a fist and someone beat her with a “small blunt object.” She bled to death.  Despite no physical evidence of forcible rape, detectives felt Marina’s death was an attempted sex crime.

Her parents and 350 others mourned the pretty coed at her funeral. Marina converted to Catholicism in 1966 and they held a requiem Mass for her in the Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Beverly Hills.  Father Acton, who knew Marina in life, said, “We wonder about a society, the products of which can be a large in our midst and capable of such heinous crimes.  There you have the perfect formula for bitterness, resentment, hatred, perhaps despair.  This we must guard against.”

Church of the Good Shepherd, Beverly Hills

Sheriff’s Lieutenant Harold White joined in the hunt for Marina’s killer (s).  He said, “We’re tying very hard. But we have turned up nothing that is even remotely interesting.  There are all kinds of things to check out, but there’s nothing conclusive.”

White told reporters they assigned six homicide investigators to the case full-time and 20 deputies were also working the case.  Despite their best efforts, Marina’s case went cold.

NEXT TIME: Is Marina’s murder connected to a Jane Doe case, and is Charles Manson involved?

Death of a Coed, Part 1

Nineteen-sixty-eight was one of the must tumultuous years of the 20th Century. Globally, it began  with the Tet Offensive. Tet is the beginning of the lunar new year and the most important date on the Vietnamese calendar. It was then that the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong launched surprise attacks on cities throughout South Vietnam. It was a turning point in the Vietnam War, which dragged on for another several years. Student and labor protests during May in Paris and throughout France during the month of May tore the country apart.

In the U.S. hopes for the future died on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel on April 4th in Memphis and in the Ambassador Hotel pantry in Los Angeles on June 6th with the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.

New Year’s Eve 1968 began the countdown to a better year, at least that is what everyone hoped.

Mulholland Drive, the 21-mile long, mostly two-lane road that follows the ridgeline of the eastern Santa Monica Mountains and the Hollywood Hills, is a scenic route that offers breathtaking views of the San Fernando Valley to the north and Hollywood and beyond to the south.  There is scant foot traffic along the road, too many blind curves and a narrow footpath make it tricky to navigate. But the views are spectacular, so on New Year’s Day a couple from Playa del Rey decided it was too nice to stay in their car.

It was 2 pm, and the couple walked along a fire road off Mulholland where they discovered a woman’s handbag.  The bag contained a small amount of cash.  The couple turned the purse over to the police.

Marina Habe  (Credit: LAPD)

Police tentatively identified the bag as belonging to Marina Elizabeth Habe. Seventeen-year-old Marina had disappeared from the driveway of her mother’s West Hollywood home at 8962 Cynthia Street about 3:00 am on Monday, December 30, 1968. The young woman was home for Christmas vacation from the University of Hawaii where she was a freshman studying to be an artist.

Marina’s father and mother were divorced when she was a child. Her father, the author Hans Habe, was living in Zurich, Switzerland. As soon as he got word of Marina’s disappearance he hopped a plane for Los Angeles.

Hans Habe, (Békessy János) 13.08.1968. Ascona (Photo by Karoly Forgacs/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

Eloise Hardt, Marina’s mother, was an actress whose most recent film GAMES, starred Simone Signoret, James Caan and Katharine Ross.

Eloise Hardt. Columbia Pictures promo shot c. 1941

Marina was last seen by John Hornburg, 22, her date on Sunday night. John was a longtime friend of the Habe’s. John and Marina joined two other couples, Dennie Boses, 25, Wendy Kleiner, 18, Norman Elder, 22, and Laurie Kramer, 18, for an evening at  the Troubadour where comedian Larry Hankin was performing.

Troubadour c. 1957 (Photo courtesy DWP)

According to John, he and Marina, and the other two couples, left the Troubadour at 11:30 pm. John drove Marina to his home at 13326 Sunset Blvd, Brentwood, where she parked her car.  Marina changed out of her date outfit into brown capris and a white turtleneck sweater.  The two hung out for a few hours and Marina left for her mother’s home at 3:15 am.

Eloise heard loud exhaust blasts in her driveway and got out of bed to see what was going on.  She saw a black car and a man running toward it yelling “Go.”  The man jumped into the car and it sped away. Marina’s car was parked in the driveway, but the girl was gone.

 NEXT TIME: What happened to Marina?

Death of a Latin Lover, Part 3

Ramon Novarro’s funeral. [Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library]

LAPD Detective Lauritzen played it cagey with the press when they asked for details regarding the arrests of Paul and Thomas Ferguson. He said only that they had “physical evidence” of the brothers’ involvement in Ramon’s murder. The reporters interpreted Lauritzen’s comments to mean they found fingerprints at the crime scene. The County Grand Jury indicted the Fergusons and they arraigned the brothers in a Van Nuys courtroom.

Attorney Cletus Hanifin (second from left) confers with murder suspect Paul Ferguson (left) while another attorney talks with Ferguson’s brother and fellow suspect Thomas (second from right). [Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library]

Busted in early November, the brothers awaited trail in county lockup. Early in December new drama in the case erupted with a report that Paul attempted to gouge out his own eyes.  At first he told jailers other inmates attacked him, but they proved he injured himself. If he hoped to eradicate the vision Ramon’s murder from his memory, he should have plunged a knife into his heart. The general feeling was that Paul’s self-inflicted injuries were an attempt to garner sympathy.

The police found more than fingerprints at Ramon’s home. While Paul beat Ramon in another room, Thomas was on the telephone with his girlfriend of six months, Brenda Lee Metcalf. Brenda flew out to Los Angeles on the county’s dime to testify before the Grand Jury. She was a wealth of information about the night of the murder.

She testified that Thomas told her he and Paul were at Ramon’s house because the actor was going to get him into the movies—then he said no, it was Paul who Ramon was going to get into pictures. While he chain-smoked cigarettes and drank beer, Thomas told Brenda, “… he knew there was $5,000 somewhere in the house behind a picture.” Thomas and Paul had plans for Ramon’s money. Brenda said, “They would tie him up to find out where the money was.”  Brenda told Thomas not to get into trouble.  Brenda said, “He said no matter what happened, he wasn’t going to have nothing to do with it because he didn’t want to get in any trouble.”  The screams she heard in the background sound like trouble to her.  “He (Thomas) said he (Paul) was just probably trying to scare him or hit him with something.”

As the phone called neared an end, Thomas said, “Well, I better go now because I’m going to see what’s happening. . . I don’t want Paul to hurt Ramon.”

Another woman surfaced in the case, Paul’s estranged wife, Mary.  Mary identified the mysterious “Larry” – the name scrawled several places at the murder scene.  Larry was Paul’s brother-in-law, the person Paul blamed for his problems with Mary. Paul’s attempt to frame his brother-in-law was amateur hour, but then nothing about the crime was a stroke of genius.

Brenda received one last telephone call from Tom during his stay in Los Angeles. He telephoned her on November 2.  He said, “Well you know about Novarro.  He is dead.  When I bent down over him I saw he was dead and that if we have enough money, we’ll fly back.  Otherwise, we will have to hitchhike back.  Before they could leave Los Angeles County, they were in police custody.

On August 5, 1969, four days before the murders of Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger, Voytek Frykowski and Steven Parent at Tate’s rented home on Cielo Drive, Paul and Thomas were on trial for Ramon’s murder.

The jury of seven men and five women heard Deputy District Attorney James Ideman outline the State’s case in his opening statement. He said he would prove that the brothers tortured Ramon to death on October 30 while trying to discover a hidden cache of money.

Paul and Thomas did not differ from any of the other idiot criminals who murdered people they believed kept large amounts of cash at home.

Defendants Jack Santo (left), Emmett Perkins (center) and Barbara Graham (right) in court for the murder of Mabel Monohan.  [Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library]

On March 9, 1953, in Burbank, California, Barbara Graham, Emmett Perkins, Jack Santo, John True and Baxter Shorter invaded the home of Mabel Monohan, a widow. The gang believed she kept a large amount of cash in a safe for her former son-in-law, a professional gambler and local mob affiliate,  Tutor Scherer. The gang walked away with nothing but a ticket to the “green room” (San Quentin’s gas chamber).

Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, two ex-cons, made the same mistake in 1959 in Holcomb, Kansas.  They believed a cellmate when he told them one of his former employers, a farmer named Herb Clutter, was rich and kept his money in a home safe.  It was a tall tale, told by an idiot, to two other morons who believed it. Hickock and Smith executed Herb, his wife Bonnie Mae, and the couple’s two teenage children, Kenyon and Nancy. The killers walked away with fifty dollars in cash, a pair of binoculars and a transistor radio.  Hickock and Smith went to the gallows on April 14, 1965 on the grounds of Leavenworth prison.

Truman Capote with his bestseller, In Cold Blood. [Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library]

Truman Capote turned the sordid murders into a brilliant narrative in the mostly true account of the case, In Cold Blood.

Paul and Thomas made the same mistake as their predecessors, but would they pay the same price?

NEXT TIME: Paul and Thomas Ferguson pay for Ramon’s murder.

Death of a Latin Lover, Part 1

The calendar may turn a page, but crime is a continuum.

At 8:30 a.m. on October 31, 1968, forty-two-year-old Edward Weber let himself into the home of his employer at 3110 Laurel Canyon Boulevard.  As he always did, Edward entered the home through the kitchen door with his key . Once inside, he knew immediately that something was wrong.

Edward Weber [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Furniture was overturned in the living room and den, and there were what appeared to be bloodstains in at least three rooms in the house.  When Edward entered the master bedroom he found the nude, bludgeoned body of his employer, actor and former silent film superstar, Ramon Novarro.

The 69-year-old’s face and torso showed unmistakable signs of a brutal beating. Edward phoned the police.

Los Angeles Police Department Lieutenant  Lauritzen spoke to reporters, “We have no evidence yet of anything missing.  Of course, this is a large house, and contains many valuable items.” The lieutenant would not speculate on the weapon used in the murder. However, it was revealed that the blood at the scene was dry, indicating the crime was committed several hours before Edward made his sad discovery.

The police were puzzled. Ramon had no known enemies and the house was not broken into. Ramon had likely known his killer.

Ramon was smart with his money and invested in real estate. His residence on Laurel Canyon is impressive, but even more extraordinary is the home he owned in Los Feliz.  In 1928, Ramon’s then business manager Louis Samuel used money he embezzled from the actor to build his dream home.  When Ramon discovered the theft, he took ownership of the place and hired Lloyd Wright (Frank’s son) to design an expansion. It is an astonishing home and was owned and restored in the 1990s by Diane Keaton.

Ramon Novarro home in Los Feliz. Photo found at Archinect.com

At the time of his murder Ramon was worth between $500k and $1M, giving police ample reason to wonder if money was the motive for the slaying.

First, they would follow the trail of clues left behind at the scene. The most intriguing of them was bloody clothing, a man’s denim shirt, pants and underwear, found discarded on a neighbor’s fence 40 yards from the home.

Ramon’s cause of death was pending an autopsy. Police could only hope that between the results of the autopsy and the clues left at the scene they could find a killer.

 

NEXT TIME:  Extra detectives assigned to Ramon’s brutal murder find important physical evidence belong to a killer, or killers. The case continues into 1969.

 

Peace. Love. Murder.

The argument has been made that 1968 was the most tumultuous years in modern U.S. history. It is tough to disagree. The year marked seismic shift in American life and nothing would ever be the same

The changes didn’t occur overnight, although it seemed that way. It was no accident that the changes coincided with the first wave of Baby Boomers hitting their teen years. The music of the late 1960s was as eclectic and schizophrenic as the time. A pseudo-group called the Archies had a smash hit with Sugar, Sugar, but the music that would come to define the era was flying under the radar of the Billboard Top 100. Woodstock changed that. A couple of notes into Jimi Hendrix’s version of the Star Spangled Banner and you knew the Earth had shifted on its axis.

The assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy in 1968 lit the fuse of the bomb that would blow society apart in what remained of the decade. The smoke and ash rained down throughout the 1970s and ripples from the initial explosion are felt today.

January 1969 gave subtle hints of things to come. Richard M. Nixon was sworn in as the 37th President of the United States on January 20, 1969. His election meant more young men would die in the jungles of Southeast Asia.  Elvis Presley recorded “Long Black Limousine” in Memphis, Tennessee which kicked off his comeback. Jimi Hendrix appeared on a BBC1 show, “Happening for Lulu” and Led Zeppelin released their debut album.  The BEATLES performed for the last time in public on the roof of the Apple building at 3 Saville Row in London.

Reflecting on 1969 is mind bending. Consider a year in which the U.S. put a man on the moon, and the era later dubbed the “Golden Age of Porn” (1969-1984)  began.  Sexuality explicit films shown in public on the big screen instead of on a bedsheet in someone’s dingy basement became reality with Andy Warhol’s 1969 film “Blue Movie.”  The only X-rated film to win an Oscar®, “Midnight Cowboy” was released. At the time the X-rating didn’t mean the film was hardcore porn, all it meant was that the subject matter was unsuitable for underage people.

No retrospective of the 1960s is complete without addressing the Hippie aka Flower Power movement which reached a zenith during the summer of 1967 in San Francisco. The Human Be-In at Golden Gate Park on January 14, 1967  paved the way for the Summer of Love. The local underground newspaper, the San Francisco Oracle, offered the following description of the Be-In:  “A new concept of celebrations beneath the human underground must emerge, become conscious, and be shared, so a revolution can be formed with a renaissance of compassion, awareness, and love, and the revelation of unity for all mankind.”  A beautiful sentiment. It was an illusion.

The people who wandered the streets of San Francisco during the summer of 1967 smoking dope, dropping acid, tucking flowers into their hair and anointing themselves with Patchouli oil didn’t know that the Hippie movement was already on life support and about to flatline.

The cancer of drug dealers, pimps and others preying on the naivete of lost children looking for love and acceptance in Haight/Ashbury grew into an inoperable tumor. One cell of the malignancy had a name which, in two years’ time would become infamous, Charles Manson.

Charles Manson in court. [Photo courtesy LAPL]

The summer of 1969 had a few of the trappings of the Summer of Love, and it turned into a nightmare of violence and terror when word of  murders of Sharon Tate, Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski, Steven Parent, Rosemary and Leno LaBianca hit newsstands in mid-August.

For the next few months, as we approach the 50th anniversary of the brutal Tate/LaBianca murders, Deranged L.A. Crimes will intermittently look at some of the crimes that made news during 1969.

So, put on your love beads, memorize the lyrics to “Fixin’ to Die Rag,” and don’t bogart that joint.   See you in the ’60s.

Candlelight Killer, Conclusion

At 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 12, 1970 an unidentified woman telephoned the Huntington Beach Police to report a drunk man lying beside the road. The man, sprawled in the muddy ditch, was twenty-five-year-old Thomas Astorina, but he wasn’t drunk, he was dead. Someone shot Thomas in the stomach with a .22 caliber pistol.
Police speculated that Thomas, arrested in February for possession of stolen property and reckless driving, may have crossed someone and paid with his life.

The killer, or killers, denied the twenty-five-year-old father of two, separated from his wife, a chance to make things right. Why did Thomas die?

Before his death, Thomas lived at 350 Avocado Street in Costa Mesa with three roommates, one of whom, Randall G. Allen, police booked on suspicion of murder. The other two roommates, Robert Connolly and Robert Liberty, remained at large.

Detectives knew of Robert’s trial for Marcella’s murder. His violent past and his release six months earlier from a state run mental institution made Robert a compelling suspect in Thomas’ death.

Robert flew under law enforcement’s radar from March until June when he embarked on a crime spree.

On Saturday, June 6, Robert and a female companion paid an unannounced visit to his mother’s home in Westminster. There, Robert pulled out a .22 caliber pistol and forced his mother to hand over $45. He claimed she owed him the money. Police did Robert’s mother a kindness when they declined to identify her for the newspapers.  Having Robert for a son was a big enough cross to bear in private.

Following the armed robbery of his mother, Robert and the unnamed woman hitchhiked south. A teenage boy picked them up and drove them to the apartment of Robert Irion in old town San Diego. Irion and Robert met in a state run mental facility. It was the same way Marcella Landis, Robert’s first victim, met him.

Rather than turn him loose, Robert and his companion forced the teenager into Irion’s apartment where he watched in horror as Robert and the woman shot and strangled the man.

The couple left the teenager tied up and stole Irion’s Peugeot. The kid escaped his bonds and called police. When police arrived, they found Irions on his bed surrounded by lit candles.

A note scrawled in pencil on a closet door near the body read: “The Candlelight Killer Strikes Again.”

Detectives feared Robert would pay another visit to Orange County, and they began a search of his usual hangouts. He wasn’t in any of his favorite haunts—he was on his way to Colorado.

On the way to Colorado, Robert and his companion, identified as twenty-four-year-old Kendell Bierly of New York City, picked up a 17-year-old boy, Glenn Allen Fawcett, from Midland, Texas. In Colorado Springs, the three of them rented a motel room where, according to Assistant Police Chief Carl Petry, “They harassed everyone quite a bit.”

Around midnight on Tuesday, June 9, the three entered the motel office and tied up the owner, his wife and their small child, and then stole $100 from the cash register. They then searched the adjoining house for more valuables. While they were busy ransacking the house, the manager broke free and ran to another motel and called police.

Robert discovered the manager gone and in retaliation he took the man’s wife, Edna Brenek, hostage. The four left the motel in Brenek’s car.

Detective Bernard Carter and Sergeant Neal Stratton arrived at the motel moments later. Stratton stayed at the motel while Carter took off to search for Brenek’s car. He spotted the vehicle and gave chase.

The chase continued along Interstate 25 south of Colorado Springs and reached speeds of 100  mph. During the chase Robert held Mrs. Brenek up in the rear window of the car and pointed a gun at her temple. He motioned for Carter to stay back.

Carter said, “I felt if he was going to shoot the woman, he would shoot her regardless of whether I was there. Somebody was shooting at me from the back window, but the bullets all went wild—didn’t even hit my car. When I pulled up pretty close behind them, I fired three shots into their car.”

Nine miles and five minutes after the chase began, Robert threw his weapon out of the window and the car pulled to the curb. They arrested Robert, Kendell, and Glenn without further incident.

Charged in Colorado Springs with armed robbery, kidnapping, and assault on a police officer, they set Robert’s bail at $200k and $100k each for the other two.

Huntington Beach and San Diego authorities began extradition proceedings on murder charges against Robert and Kendell.

Robert used his time in the Colorado Springs jail to make a new friend, James E. Jackson Jr., accused of the fatal beating of a local pawnbroker. The two men dug through a cinder block wall at the jail, and they made it halfway through before steel rods stalled their progress.  Someone discovered them and the intended jail break failed.

What do you do when your jailbreak fails? You get married. Robert and Kendall exchanged vows in a double-ring civil ceremony in the El Paso County Courthouse at Colorado Springs. District Judge John Gallagher officiated. A deputy public defender acted as Robert’s best man, and a female inmate was Kendell’s matron of honor. The groom wore no shoes and dressed in dark green pants and a green button-down shirt with its tail hanging out. The bride recited her vows wearing a medium length red-and-white striped dress, with brown shoes.

Robert and Kendell described the day as the “happiest” of their lives. They paid no special attention to the “until death us do part” pledge. Following the ceremony a sheriff’s deputy placed handcuffs on each and led them to separate jail cells where they continued to fight extradition to California.

California won its extradition fight with Robert, and on September 18 he left Colorado for San Diego to stand trial for murder. Kendall joined her husband in San Diego Superior Court where the newlyweds pleaded innocent to the charges against them.

Robert Connolly, the other suspect Thomas Astorina’s slaying, turned up in Waukesha, Wisconsin. The FBI arrested him in Milwaukee on December 10 on a charge of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.

The case against the Candlelight Killer and his accomplices was coming together.

Robert shared a cell block with two other murder suspects—New Yorker, Timothy Earl Dudley, and Carl Raymond Riggs of Romulus, Michigan. Timothy stood accused of strangling a young man with a bootlace, and they charged Carl with murdering an off-duty San Diego police officer outside a bar.

At 7 a.m. on January 20, 1971, jailers did a routine check of the three killers. They returned at 10:50 in response to an alarm bell. They found Robert dead, face down on his bunk with a blanket pulled up to his head. There were scratches on the knuckles of his left hand, an abrasion on his left elbow and discoloration on the sides of his neck.

Carl admitted to the murder. He said he executed Robert because he believed he was a police informant. Some would say it was a fitting end for the Candlelight killer.

Candlelight Killer, Part 1

8382 Westminster Boulevard
Westminster, CA
Saturday, June 4, 1966

Westminster police received a call late Saturday night, June 4, 1966 from a man who identified himself as Robert W. Liberty, nineteen. He told them his girlfriend, thirty-one-year-old Marcella Landis, was dead in the apartment they shared.

A black and white rolled out to the building on busy Westminster Boulevard. The apartment complex was typical for the time.  The buildings were rectangular with minimal ornamentation.

When police arrived, they found Marcella dead on the couch. Lit candles surrounded her and Robert sat on the floor near her body strumming his guitar and humming.

Robert’s behavior was bizarre, and the circumstances of Marcella’s death suggested homicide—she had a single stocking knotted around her neck. The police arrested the teenager on suspicion of murder.

During questioning, Robert said he and Marcella met as patients in the County Hospital psych ward after they admitted both following unsuccessful suicide attempts.

Three court-appointed psychiatrists examined Robert.  Two of them declared him insane. Two out of three convinced Judge Robert Gardner to send Robert to Atascadero for 90 days or until he could assist in his own defense.

They deemed Robert well enough for trial in mid-March 1967.  He pleaded innocent by reason of insanity to Marcella’s murder.

Weird details of Marcella’s murder came out during Robert’s trial. Robert strangled her with one of her own stockings. After he killed her Robert played mortician. He applied eye makeup, arranged her body on the couch, placed a Bible on her chest, and surrounded her with lit candles. Then, in the company of her pets, the onetime glue sniffer conducted a funeral sevice. When he finished, he phoned the police.

Judge Byron McMillan had no qualms finding Robert innocent—the young man was insane at the time of the crime. Robert went to Vacaville State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.

* * *

During his confinement, they transferred Robert from Vacaville to Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk, and it was from there he walked away.

The facility was unaware that Robert, considered a dangerous mental patient, was missing. Sheriff’s deputies claimed to have no record of Robert’s status, and a hospital supervisor said he knew nothing about the case.

While Robert was walk-about, he contacted his attorney who convinced him to surrender. The district attorney’s office recommended Robert be held at the Orange County medical center in Santa Ana where Superior Judge William Speirs ordered Robert to submit to new psychiatric tests.

In a shocking turn of events, they released Robert in September 1969 after six court-appointed psychiatrists concurred he was sane. The shrinks offered a caveat, Robert would be harmful if he used drugs or alcohol.

Deputy District Attorney A. A. Wells argued Robert should remain in custody on the strength of the caveat. Judge Gardner disagreed and noted mere speculation was not enough to hold Robert released him.

NEXT TIME:  What will Robert do with his freedom?