The Wilshire Prowler, Conclusion

bashor-doomed_picDonald Bashor, 27, confessed to dozens of local burglaries and to the bludgeon slayings of Karil Graham and Laura Lindsay. Under intense police questioning Donald didn’t admit to any further offenses, and as far as investigators could tell he’d revealed the extent of his crimes.

Deputy District Attorney Tom Finnerty issued a subpoena for Officer Donald C. Wesley, who had shot and wounded Bashor during his attempt to evade capture. Among the others called to appear before the grand jury were Detective Lieutenant Jack McCreadie, and autopsy surgeons Dr. Frederick Newbarr and Dr. Gerald K. Ridge.

Bashor was indicted on two counts of murder and two counts of burglary. The burglary charges stemmed from the looting of the apartment at 215 South Carondelet Street shared by Dorothy Cowan, Marcella Drews and Eunis Wingel. Lester E. Olson of 325 South Occidental Boulevard, was also burglarized by Bashor. Both crimes were committed about thirty minutes prior to the murder of Karil Graham.

The twenty-seven year-old killer pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and his trial was set for August 14, 1956 in Judge Allen T. Lynch’s court. Because of the insanity plea Bashor would undergo examination by alienists for the State and the defense before the trial.

There are often delays in murder trials and Bashor’s was no exception, it didn’t get underway until October 4, 1956.  The four alienists who examined Bashor deterined that he was sane when he committed the murders.

With the ultimate penalty on the table it was going to be a tough trial. But before the jury could be sworn in the defendant interrupted the proceedings to enter a guilty plea. Terrence Cooney, Bashor’s attorney, was as dumbfounded by his client’s move as was everyone else in the courtroom. Cooney didn’t want any part of placing a banana peel between his client and the gas chamber so he refused to go forward. Bashor fired him.

With Cooney still standing next to Bashor, Superior Judge Allen T. Lynch explained to the defendant that the law prohibits acceptance of a guilty plea in a capital case without benefit of counsel. Cooney must have decided to bend to his client’s will because Judge Lynch accepted the guilty plea. Along with the plea, Judge Lynch also accepted responsibility for determining Bashor’s sentence.

On October 16, 1956, Judge Lynch was ready to pronounce sentence. The courtroom was quiet as the judge began to speak. “This is the most difficult duty I have ever had to perform. For the last four days I have been able to think of nothing else. These were cruel, brutal killings. I find no mitigating circumstances.”

According to newspaper reports Judge Lynch appeared to have difficulty speaking. He paused for several long beats and then continued. “On counts one and three (the two murders) the court sentences you to suffer the death penalty. May God have mercy on your soul!”bashor-doomed

It took about a year for the California State Supreme Court to review the automatic appeal and affirm the death sentence in Bashor’s case.

On October 10, 1957, the night before his scheduled execution, Donald Bashor refused a last meal and then he slept from 1:05 a.m. to 7:05 a.m. When he awoke he had toast and coffee. He read a handful of letters he had recently received and then turned to the Bible.

Photograph by Edward Gamer / Los Angeles Times Senior Deputy George Coenen, left, and Sgt. Howard Earle, right, escort convicted killer Donald Keith Bashor on his trip to San Quentin, Oct. 25, 1956. Bashor's story was the basis of a "Playhouse 90" episode by Jules Maitland. Bashor's slaying of Graham also plays a prominent role in Jack Webb's "The Badge," a not terribly accurate book reissued in 2005.

Photograph by Edward Gamer / Los Angeles Times Senior Deputy George Coenen, left, and Sgt. Howard Earle, right, escort convicted killer Donald Keith Bashor on his trip to San Quentin, Oct. 25, 1956. Bashor’s story was the basis of a “Playhouse 90″ episode by Jules Maitland. Bashor’s slaying of Graham also plays a prominent role in Jack Webb’s “The Badge,” a not terribly accurate book reissued in 2005.

Unlike many killers, Donald Bashor seemed genuinely remorseful for the murders. His last words were: “I’m glad my crimes are coming to an end. I am sorry I cannot undo the horrible things I did.”

Gas began to fill San Quentin’s death chamber at 10:03 a.m. and at 10:12 a.m. Donald Keith Bashor was pronounced dead.

EPILOGUE

There was something about Donald Keith Bashor that set him apart from many other killers. It may have been his movie star good looks, or it may have been the fact that he  sought atonement for his crimes in the gas chamber. Whatever it was, Bashor’s story became an episode of the prime time TV series PLAYHOUSE 90 in 1958.  Bashor was portrayed by Tab Hunter and the episode was narrated by former Los Angeles Mirror columnist Paul Coates. The highly rated episode was directed by Arthur Penn who would later direct such great films as The Miracle Worker and Bonnie & Clyde.

The episode was not without behind-the-scenes drama. One of the sponsors for the  episode, entitled “Portrait Of A Murderer”, was the Southern California Gas Company. They wanted to eliminate Bashor’s trip to the gas chamber from the script. Producer Martin Manulis flatly refused and the episode aired as written.

Donald Bashor’s story also claimed the attention of ten-year-old James Ellroy.  In 1958, his father gave him a copy of THE BADGE written by TV cop Jack Webb who portrayed Sgt. Joe Friday on DRAGNET. Bashor’s case is the first one covered in the book. In large part it was THE BADGE that inspired Ellroy to become a novelist. It definitely sparked his interest in Los Angeles crime.  Now it’s time for a shameless plug — I was fortunate to work with James Ellroy, Glynn Martin, Megan Martin, Nathan Marsak, and Mike Fratatoni on the book LAPD ’53. The book project was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.

EXTRA CREDIT

First, let me direct you to a clip from James Ellroy’s CITY OF DEMONS (2011) in which he glibly recounts the Bashor case.

Next, a far more serious scene from the PLAYHOUSE 90 production of PORTRAIT OF A MURDERER

The Wilshire Prowler, Part 4

According to LAPD homicide detectives Jack McCreadie and S.W. Beckner, Charles Hart fit the profile of the Wilshire Prowler to a “T”.  But then it’s one thing to LOOK like the Prowler, but another thing entirely to BE the Prowler.

For days following Hart’s arrest detectives probed the suspect’s background and, importantly, his whereabouts for the murders of Karil Graham and Laura Lindsay.

Suddenly there was a break in the case–and it had nothing to do with Charles Hart. Police Technician A.R. McLaughlin worked diligently to find a match for a bloody palm print found at the scene of Laura Lindsay’s slaying. He painstakingly compared the bloody print against all the burglary suspects that had popped up since Laura’s murder until he found a match. The suspect was no stranger to law enforcement, he was two-time loser and confessed burglar Donald Keith Bashor.

bashor-nailThe hunt for Bashor was on. The twenty-seven year-old man was discovered by LAPD officers and detectives as he prowled the alley between two apartment buildings at 325 and 337 South Occidental Boulevard.

The suspect was wearing gloves but he was in his bare feet, which was a lucky break for the cops. Bashor ran and it looked like he was going to escape but then he leaped on a pile of lumber and stepped on a nail.

Bashor stopped. Policeman Donald C. Wesley took the opportunity to fire his weapon. Bashor fell, wounded in the arm.

Once he was in custody, Bashor was confronted by Chief of Detectives Thad Brown about the Lindsay murder. He denied having anything to do with it and refused to submit to a lie detector test.

bashor-charged-picBashor could refuse the lie detector test but the palm print was damning. Ironically, it was Officer McLaughlin who had been Bashor’s nemesis in 1949 when he was sent up the first time on a burglarly conviction.

Still denying the Lindsay murder, Bashor copped to nine burglaries in the neighborhood where he was captured. Thad Brown believed the burglary confession and he also believed that Bashor was a killer times two. He liked him for both the Karil Graham and Laura Lindsay bludgeon murders.bashor-confesses_headline

When detectives dug into Bashor’s records they found that he was in prison, working as a trusty at Harbor General Hospital on March 9, 1950, when he escaped and fled to Oregon.

He was captured in Portland the following July and confessed to numerous burglaries in the area. Bashor was sent to Oregon State Prison where he was confined for a year. When he had finished his time he wasn’t free, he was returned to San Quentin as an escapee. He was paroled in 1953.

When questioned about his recent activities, Bashor said that he had been working as a painter on and off between burglaries. He kept up his denials about the homicides for a number of hours. Finally he broke down and wept, and confessed to killing Karil Graham and Laura Lindsay.

bashor-confesses_2According to Bashor he entered the residences of the women intending only to steal, but then why was he armed with an 18-inch length of lead pipe when he broke into Karil’s apartment? Bashor said that he had been ransacking the place when Karil awakened and began to scream. He hit her on the head and he continued to beat her until she went still. He didn’t bolt and run after the murder, he stayed and searched until he found Karil’s purse. He found $20. The next day he took the weapon and his bloody clothing and dropped it off the pier at Ocean Park.

More than nine months passed before Bashor hit the streets again, this time he was armed with a ball-peen hammer. Laura Lindsay’s murder was nearly identical to Karil Graham’s. Again he beat the victim until she fell and died. He said that he saw a llight fall across Laura’s nude body and the sight of the blood bothered him. He found a shawl and placed it over her.

In the dark, with Laura’s body nearby, Bashor searched her home until he found her purse. He walked away with another $20.

The next day he wrapped the hammer in his bloodied shirt and tossed the bundle over the pier at Ocean Park.

While he was in a confessing mood, Bashor also admitted to 40 burglaries in the L.A. area since his parole in 1953. Had he committed any other murders?

NEXT TIME: Donald Bashor’s crimes and his punishment.

The Wilshire Prowler, Part 3

For eighteen months a mystery assailant had been terrorizing women in L.A. The man, described as blonde, medium build and about 26-years-old, had killed Karil Graham in her apartment in January 1956 and he was a suspect in several other violent attacks on women.

laura-linsay_picOn May 25, 1956 the Los Angeles Times reported that there had been another murder the night before. The circumstances were very similar to Karil Graham’s slaying and it was in the same general neighborhood. The victim was Laura Lindsay, a 62-year-old legal secretary. Her home at 2536 West 5th Street was in the MacArthur Park district.

According to Captain Robert Lohrman of LAPDs homicide detail Lindsay’s killer had crawled through a 3’x3′ wood box which lead into the living room of the home. Laura was in her underwear when she was confronted by her killer. The assailant struck her repeatedly over the head with a hammer or similar blunt instrument. Laura got to her feet and staggered to the living room sofa where she fell face down and never got up again.

The Coroner’s chief autopsy surgeon, Dr. Frederick D. Newbarr, said that Laura had been struck multiple times on the right side of her head and that the woulds were “extensive and deep.”

burglar-sought

The killer emptied Laura’s purse and jewelry box onto the bedroom floor. He went into Laura’s bathroom and washed her blood from his hands, wiped them on a towel, and threw the towel on the floor. He brazenly left through the front door.

Irving M. Walker, an attorney and Laura’s boss for 30 years, stopped by her house at 8:45 a.m. on Thursday, May 24. Walker had left his home at 400 South Norton Avenue and was on his way to his office in the Van Nuys Building downtown. He stopped at Laura’s because he often drove her to work. He found the wood box open and the front door ajar. Walker said “I called Mrs. Lindsay at the door. When she did not answer I entered the front room and called her again. Then I found her lying face down on the couch.” He saw that Laura’s head was covered with blood and that the room was in complete disarray. Walker said, “I placed my hand on her shoulder and knew she was dead.”

lindsay_vic1

After discovering Laura’s body he went next door to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Negrete. Mr. Negrete accompanied Walker back to Laura’s apartment while Mrs. Negrete phoned the police.

Was it a coincidence that Laura’s home had been burglarized just a few days prior to her murder on Sunday May 20th? Police aren’t big fans of coincidence. They thought it was likely that the earlier break-in was committed by the same man who murdered Laura.bashor_mccarthy

Ironically, the last person to see Laura alive was Detective Joseph Oaks. He had been to her apartment on May 23rd to interview her about the burglary. He said “She expressed concern about prowlers in the neighborhood and the fact that she lived by herself.” Walker had seen Laura earlier on Wednesday night when he brought her home from work. He said, “At the time we discussed the Sunday burglary and I told her that another incident like it might not happen in 15 or even 50 years. But we both agreed that inside locks should be placed on the wood box immediately.” Laura never had the opportunity to burglar proof her home before she was attacked and killed.

On May 31st, Clarice McCarthy was returning from the bank to the apartment building at 257 South Kenmore Street that she managed with her husband. She found a blonde man standing in the hallway outside her door. He told her he was there in answer to an ad for an apartment to rent.

Clarice took the man to apartment 310 and as soon as they were inside he grabbed her and began to choke her. Clarice fought with him and he pulled out a sharp linoleum knife and cut her several times on her hands. During the struggle the man lost control of his weapon and then fled. One of the strangest things about the attack was that Clarice’s assailant never uttered a word.

bashor_kniferLAPD Motorcycle Officer Robert Knight found the suspect in the vicinity of Clarice’s apartment shortly after the attack. Detectives Jack McCreadie and S.W. Beckner of the central homicide squad said that the attacker, identified as 30-year-old Charles Hart of 2176 West 27th Street, fit the description of the Wilshire Prowler to a “T”.

It appeared that the police finally had the Prowler in custody.

NEXT TIME: The Wilshire Prowler story continues.

The Wilshire Prowler, Part 2

Karil Graham’s former flame, Leon McFadden, passed a lie detector test and was cleared of her murder.

Investigators were back to square one.

Square one in this case was to conduct a thorough search of police department records for recently paroled “hot prowl” burglars living in the area. Hot prowl burglars are the creepazoids who enter a home while it is occupied. The risk is increased for the perpetrator, and that may be the point of it. Sneaking around in a home while the inhabitants watch TV, listen to the radio or, even more terrifying, as they sleep, is a major rush for some of the more twisted souls who walk the planet.

three-suspectsThe records search turned up the names of three possible suspects; although only one of them, a 37-year-old ex-con named Clifford Russell Pridemore, was arrested. LAPD picked him up near 7th and San Julian Streets downtown–the heart of Skid Row. According to detectives, Pridemore was well-dressed when they busted him–a fact which they found to be very suspicious given he had no visible means of support.

Pridemore had been released from Folsom in July 1954 after serving a term for burglary. His modus operandi as a burglar was eerily similar to the circumstances in Karil’s murder case. And the fact that Pridemore had a history of assaulting women made him a solid suspect.pridemore

Curiously, three nurses who lived a few doors down from Karil had slept through the hot prowl burglary of their apartment on the same morning that Karil died. Their empty handbags were found on the porch outside their door. It seemed likely that the person who killed Karil had creepy-crawled through the nurses’ apartment too. Was that man Clifford Pridemore?

While detectives continued to sift through the few available leads, Karil’s brother-in-law, H.L. Manley, made arrangements to clear out the dead woman’s apartment.  One of Karil’s prized possessions was an original water color painting by Raoul Dufy. The painting was valued at about $1800 (over $16,000 in 2016 dollars). Manley told reporters that the painting, along with Karil’s other belongings, were headed for storage “at least until we can decide what to do with them.”

Karil’s body was released by the Coroner on February 23rd and taken to the Heath Funeral Home in National City for a funeral in San Diego–which is where her mother lived.

Police leaned hard on Pridemore but he never wavered in his assertion that he had nothing to do with Karil’s slaying. LAPD assigned another team of detectives to work with Jack McCreadie and Charles Detrich–Howard Hudson and Harry Hansen. Hansen was one of the principal detectives in the 1947 mutilation murder of Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia. (The case was unsolved in 1955 and remains so to this day.)

A possible witness, unnamed by the cops for fear of reprisal by the killer, came forward. The witness had observed a man loitering in the immediate vicinity of Karil’s apartment at least twice. Once on the night she was killed.

sluggingA couple of weeks following Karil Graham’s murder police announced they were investigating the slugging of Emily Jones, 26, a local dance hall hostess. Jones had awakened in her apartment at 474 South Hartford Avenue as a prowler attempted to assault her. He beat her with a bottle and his fists, then he fled through a window. Evidently Jones’ assailant had entered the apartment after removing the screen from an unlocked window.

For reasons that they didn’t make public, LAPD detectives were convinced that Jones’ attacker was not the same perpetrator who had bashed Karil’s head in.

Karil’s inquest was held on March 8, 1955 and it took the jury only 10 minutes to decide that she had been murdered “by unknown person(s).”

However, the killer was not Clifford Pridemore–police were able to clear him.woman-beaten

In May 1955 a woman was brutally beaten near the scene of Karil’s slaying. The victim, Nadia Copmpaneitz, a social science student on a visa from France, was attacked by an intruder who ripped the screen from a window in her apartment at 143 North Reno Street.
Nadia told police that she awakened at 4 am–certain that she was not alone in her room. Suddenly gloved hands tightened around her throat. She was able to roll away from the man. Enraged, the intruder beat her and left her with wounds to her scalp and eye. Nadia was fortunate. She lived.

The leads in Kari’s murder dried up and the case went cold.

NEXT TIME:  A knife attack, another murder, and a suspect in Karil Graham’s murder.

The Wilshire Prowler, Part 1

graham-picKaril Graham, an attractive divorcee in her late 30s, had always wanted to be an artist. She studied fine art in New York, but eventually she realized that she didn’t possess the natural talent to have a successful career. Unwilling to completely give up on her dream, Karil found a great way to be involved in what she loved most–she became the registrar at Art Center School, 5353 West 3rd Street. She spent much of her working day counseling budding artists, and the rest of her time in the company of talented faculty members. Karil had a warm smile that lit up her face. She was so well liked by the students that she was thought of as their “mother confessor”.

On Friday, February 18, 1955, Karil prepared dinner in her poolside apartment at 271 South Carondolet Street for two men she knew from school. One of them, Phil Hays, was a student, and the other man, Jack Potter, was an instructor. The dinner was in celebration of a painting, “Bird of Paradise”–a gift to Karil from Phil. After dinner Phil and Karil went for a swim in the heated pool behind her building, while Jack relaxed on the patio. The two men left after midnight.

graham-friends-picKaril had a midnight snack and then prepared to go to bed. She removed her makeup, slipped into her nightgown and put her hair up in curlers. Then she turned on the electric blanket and got into bed.

About 5 am Anita Loeber, who lived in the apartment above Karil’s, heard what she thought was a muffled scream. She had just moved into the apartment and was still getting accustomed to the unfamiliar sounds and habits of her neighbors. She didn’t hear any other noises and, because her phone hadn’t been installed yet, she couldn’t call the police. Anita went back to sleep.

At 2 pm on Saturday, February 19th, Eleanor Lipson, Karil’s landlady, walked past Karil’s apartment and noticed that the door was open. When Eleanor looked closer she saw a bare leg: “I didn’t think it was Karil because she wouldn’t be lying nude with the door open.” Eleanor didn’t investigate further until 6:30 pm. Whose naked leg did she think it was? And why did she believe it was unnecessary to investigate further until over four hours later? In truth it wouldn’t have altered the outcome. When Eleanor and her husband entered Karil’s small studio apartment and found their tenant dead. Karil’s face was covered with her own nightgown, a blanket, and a bedspread. There was blood spatter on the walls of the ransacked apartment, and Karil’s bed was soaked with blood.

fiance-passes-test_page_1Los Angeles Police Department homicide detectives, Jack McCreadie and Charles Detrich, arrived and tried to make sense of the scene. Karil had sustained at least two devastating wounds to her head, but no weapon was found. During their examination of the crime scene they discovered a bloody fingerprint on the inside of the front doorknob. The knob was removed and sent to the crime lab, along with human hair found under one of Karil’s fingernails.

The detectives thought it was possible that Karil was killed during a burglary. They also considered another scenario, that someone had killed her and then staged the scene to look like a burglary.fiance-passes-test_page_2

The first person of interest in the case was Karil’s former boyfriend, Leon McFadden. Leon was picked up by the LAPD for “routine questioning.” He told police that he hadn’t seen Karil in several months and that he had absolutely nothing to do with her murder. He was so adamant about his innocence that he demanded to be given a lie detector test “to clear me in this thing once and for all.” Police obliged.

Leon, who owned a greeting card shop at 166 1/2 N La Brea Avenue, was grilled for over three hours before detectives declared that his story was “straight” and released him.

If Leon hadn’t murdered the popular art school registrar, then who had?

NEXT TIME: Three suspects and a mystery witness surface in Karil Graham’s murder.