Nothing to Live For, Part 2

Alfred Wells shot Rose Destree once under her heart and a second time in the abdomen. As soon as she heard Alfred pull away in the car, Rose began a slow, painful crawl back toward the road. She tried to coax 13 month old Hester Violet away from her mother but the child refused to budge. Every few minutes Rose stopped crawling long enough to catch her breath so that she could scream for help.

It took four hours for anyone to come to Rose’s aid. Lester Bellah, B. Bjorkman and his son Lars, heard the screams and found Rose near death. They discovered Hester Violet in the arms of her deceased mother. Deputy Sheriff Bill Lungstrom was the one to reach down to pick up the baby, but she clung to her mother without making a sound. Lungstrom later said: “I’ll be a long time forgetting that.” Rose was transported to a hospital where she had surgery to remove one of the bullets. As soon as she awakened from anesthesia she told San Bernardino County Undersheriff James W. Stocker that she believed that the dead woman, Albert’s sister-in-law Jean Wells, had not only known Violet’s whereabouts but had actually driven her to Escondido to keep her from Albert.

rose destreeRose’s condition was critical but she continued to provide information to Undersheriff Stocker in the hopes that she could prevent Albert from killing anyone else. She also described her ordeal in excruciating detail to Stocker. She said that after being shot: “I fell to the ground and I lay perfectly still on my side, in spite of the terrible pain. I peeped past my arm and saw Al put the baby in Jean’s arms and start turning back toward me. I shut my eyes instantly and lay as still as I could. He looked us both over a few times, with the gun still in his hands, and then turn away. Then I heard him crashing his way through the brush toward the road.”

hester wellsStocker located Violet in Escondido where she was hiding out with her parents. He urged the family to go to the police station for protection. Other members of Albert’s family were assigned police guards around the clock until Albert was either captured or killed. Norman Wells, one of Albert’s brothers, was found at Sunny Slope Ranch in Rialto where he was an employee. He was holding a shotgun across his knees: “Al better not come around here,” he told the officers. Norman need not have worried, Albert was fixated on finding Violet and he thought his brother Ray, Jean’s husband, knew where she was hiding. Albert showed up at Ray’s house, showed him Jean’s note and, believing she was still alive, Ray left with Albert.

wells-abandon-autoOn the evening of May 9, Special Agents found the 1932 black Ford coupe in a garage in Las Vegas near the Union Pacific route between San Bernardino and Salt Lake City. The agents feared that Ray Wells had met the same fate as his wife.

Tragically, Rose succumbed to her wounds. San Bernardino Sheriff E.L. Shay asked the LAPD to send out a short-wave broadcast with a description of Alfred to all major U.S. cities. The broadcast gave a physical description of Alfred and included additional information: “Fingerprint classification one over one, T over R, six over eight. Has receding forehead, prominent ears. Suspect has .38-caliber Hopkins & Allen NP hammerless revolver, three-inch barrel, Serial R6334.”

The police desperately wanted to find Albert. It was likely that he was guilty of three murders–unless Ray was found alive.  If he had successfully hopped a freight train he could be anywhere.

NEXT TIME: Will Albert Wells be found?

Thank you, Deranged Readers!


Dear Deranged Readers:

When I began this blog in mid-December 2012 I had no expectations regarding how many people I might reach. Truthfully I was just compelled to do something I love, which to share twisted tales from L.A.’s deeply disturbed past.

The month of August was a personal best for the blog with over 26,000 visitors, most of whom had visited before! In the months since the blog began it has logged over 124,000 visitors — not just random hits. I know how busy everyone is, and I’m touched that so many of you find time for Deranged L.A. Crimes.

I take this endeavor seriously and I make every effort to keep the stories interesting and the facts straight.  I want you to know that I will always respond respectfully to your comments, even on those occasions when we may agree to disagree.

Again, my heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you for your support.

Now let the bad behavior continue.



The Butcher, Conclusion

lillian johnsonThe murdered and badly mutilated bodies of two women were found at separate downtown Los Angeles hotels on November 15, 1944.

The first victim to be found was twenty-five year old Mrs. Virgie Lee Griffin of 1934 W. 70th Street. Virgie’s body had been stuffed in a clothes closet in the Barclay Hotel at 103 W. Fourth Street. Near her remains lay a large butcher knife and a razor. A preliminary examination suggested that Mrs. Griffin had been murdered about 8 a.m. The detectives who caught the case were Det. Lts. Harry Hansen (in 1947 he would be one of the lead detectives on the Black Dahlia case), R.F. McGarry, and Stewart Jones. Some of the cops had to be re-deployed when another woman was found dead and mutilated at a hotel just blocks away.

The second victim, thirty-eight year old Mrs. Lillian Johnson of 114 W. 14th Place was discovered just after 3:30 p.m.

Even seasoned veterans of L.A.P.D’s homicide division were sickened by the condition of the bodies. Both women had been hacked to pieces — Lillian’s breasts and vagina had been dissected.

While detectives were reviewing evidence and interviewing hotel employees, an APB went out with a description of the suspect. Patrolman H.E. Donlan had been handed a police bulletin containing information about the wanted man and he recalled seeing a guy who fit the description while he was walking his beat at Third and Hill Streets. He decided to check out the bars.

Patrolman Donlan walked over to a bar at 326 S. Hill Street, just a few doors from where Lillian Johnson’s body lay. He noticed that one of the patrons, who fit the suspect’s description, was sitting with a glass of wine and he was chatting up a woman — maybe his next victim. In the man’s hand was a book of matches from the Barclay Hotel. That was enough for Donlan, he walked over to the man who looked up at him and said: “What do you want?” The patrolman replied: “This.” and snapped a pair of handcuffs on the man’s wrists. His name was Otto Stephen Wilson.


As a city employee Patrolman Harry Donlan wasn’t eligible for a reward for the capture of Otto Stephen Wilson, but Police Commissioner Al Cohn wrote him a check for a $100 War Savings Bond saying:

“I’ll give you another $100 bond if you repeat the job when the next murder comes along.”

It had been a successful day for the cops. The first murder had been discovered at 2 p.m., the second at 3:30 pm. The suspect was in custody by 5:30 p.m., and by 7:30 p.m. he had confessed!


At homicide headquarters detectives said that when he was arrested Wilson’s hands were found to be stained with blood and he had a razor in his pocket.

Once they had him in custody detectives began to interview Wilson. He told them he had been born in Shelbyville, Indiana and graduated from high school in 1930. Immediately following high school Wilson had joined the Navy, serving until 1941 when he was given a medical discharge for sexual psychosis.

Otto Stephen Wilson

Otto Stephen Wilson

According to Wilson’s statement his wife had gone to naval authorities and told them about a few of the homosexual encounters she knew he’d had. She also told them how her husband had once waited for her to get out of the shower, sliced her buttocks with a razor and then began to lick at the drops of blood. These are the “unnatural impulses” to which I referred yesterday.

The U.S. Navy agreed with Mrs. Wilson, Otto’s impulses were definitely unnatural and they discharged him as quickly as they could.

Since his discharge Wilson had been working menial kitchen jobs in and around Los Angles all the while, according to him, trying to suppress his urge to kill or destroy women. Because he had syphilis the cops at first thought his urge to kill was revenge on all women for his having contracted VD, but he said that he knew that he’d caught the disease three years earlier, after his impulse to kill had started to invade his thoughts.

Finally Wilson began to tell cops the details about his day of slaughter.

He said that he met Mrs. Griffin in a Main Street bar and took her to the Barclay Hotel where they registered as Mr. and Mrs. O.S. Wilson — not a very clever alias. Once in their room the pair continued to drink. Later Wilson would claim that he became enraged when Virgie asked for $20, but the truth was that he’d brought the butcher knife and razor with him to the room, he had intended to commit murder.

He started by choking her, then he stabbed her several times. For over an hour he sat naked on the bed with Virgie’s body and attempted to remove her arms and legs with a razor. When he found it too difficult to carry out his planned dissections he left the room and went to a movie.

What film do you see after committing murder? Wilson walked over to the Million Dollar Theater at Broadway and Third where he saw The Walking Dead; also on the bill was Return of the Ape Man, but he couldn’t stay for a double feature, he had another urge to kill.

Poster - Walking Dead, The_04

Wilson’s second and final victim was Mrs. Lillian Johnson. Johnson was choked and stabbed just as Griffin had been, but this time Wilson bit off the dead woman’s nipple. He couldn’t recall if he swallowed it. Wilson’s reason for murdering Lillian was simple, he said he did it for “pure cussedness”.

Dr. J. Paul De River, Criminal Psychiatrist for L.A.P.D, interviewed Wilson right after the detectives had finished with him. In his book “The Sexual Criminal – A Psychoanalytical Study”, De River includes Wilson’s interview and a review of his case in the chapter on “Sadistic Homicide-Lust Murder” identifying Wilson as Case Study 116, K.

De River described Wilson in his report to the police:

“He was a necrophiliac and cannibalistic, all of which when summed up are the manifestations of the sado-masochistic complex.”

Before you rush out to buy a copy of of De River’s book be forewarned, the book was universally denounced, investigated by the Police Department, and I believe it was illegal to send it through the mail at one point.

Cops investigated Wilson for other unsolved homicides of women in L.A., one of which was the murder of Georgette Bauerdorf, and they would have loved to pin more killings on him but it wasn’t to be. He couldn’t be connected to any murders other than the two he committed on November 15, 1944.

Otto Stephen Wilson was found guilty of both slayings and sentenced to death. On September 20, 1946 he was executed in California’s gas chamber.


Harvey Glatman: The Glamour Girl Slayer, Part 4

Shirley, Ruth, Judy

Shirley, Ruth, Judy

Harvey Glatman was busted when the woman he intended to be his fourth victim, Lorraine Vigil, kicked, clawed and bit her way to freedom. Instead of being celebrated for her courage, Lorraine was dismissed from her job as a result of her notoriety. Adding insult to injury reports circulated that she’d known that Glatman was an ex-con when she accepted the modeling job:

“I didn’t know he was an ex-convict. If I had I certainly wouldn’t have agreed to pose for him.”

Cops hoped to clear up more unsolved homicides of women when they hooked Glatman up to a lie detector for hours of questioning; but they would be disappointed. Homicide Lt. Herman Zander said:

“There is nothing to indicate that Glatman is connected with any other crimes at this time.”

The psychology of a killer is not a certain thing, but I believe that if Glatman had committed any other murders he would have been delighted to have taken credit for them. He couldn’t keep his mouth shut, especially about his rope.

“It seems like I always had a piece of rope in my hands when I was a kid,” he told officers “…I guess I was just kind of fascinated by rope.”

confessedHarvey took cops on field trips to the body dump sites of his victims. He led them to a place within 25 feet of the spot where Judy Dull’s remains had been found in December 1957. He recounted his story of her murder dispassionately and without an ounce of remorse. He said that after he’d photographed and raped Judy in his Melrose Avenue apartment on the night of August 1, 1957, he had bound her hands and driven her into the desert to murder her. He never revealed his intentions to her — in fact he led Judy to believe he was going to release her in Blythe and put her on a bus.

Even when they stopped near Indio, Glatman told Judy that it was so that he could rape her again, which he did.  Then he tied her hands and feet, looped the rope around her neck and pulled it tight while pressing his knee in her back until she was dead. He left her body in a shallow grave in the sand.

Harvey confessed to officers that he’d followed virtually the same scenario in each of his subsequent killings.

Glatman’s crimes spanned miles and more than one county, but he was turned over to San Diego County for prosecution in the slayings of Shirley Bridgeford and Ruth Mercado. Against the advice of his mother and his attorney, who wanted him to plead insanity, Harvey entered a plea of guilty and eloquently argued for his own execution.

“I think,” he said, “the guilty please was proper. If I don’t think these people (his attorney and his mother) really believe I am or was inane. This is just a delaying maneuver. My actions justify my previous plea. I would reather be executed than spend the rest of my life behind bars.”

Judge John A. Hewicker wasn’t accustomed to defendants in a capital case pleading guilty, let alone demanding to be executed. He said:

“Do you realize that you are likely to be sentenced to death? You may think that’s what you want now, but as the time approaches, you may think differently.”

Glatman said he understood the likely outcome of his guilty plea and hoped it would speed the process. Judge Hewicker was taken by surprise and decided to continue the case while he tried to wrap his head around Glatman’s request.

On December 17, 1958, Judge John A. Hewicker found Harvey Glatman, 31 year old television repairman, guilty in the murders of Shirley Bridgeford and Ruth Mercado. The deceptively meek looking rapist and killer was sentenced, as he had demanded, to death in San Quentin’s gas chamber.

Glatman requested that his attorney not file an appeal on his behalf but such pleas are automatic in California for a death penalty case. The appeal didn’t make a significant  difference in the amount of time that Harvey had left on the planet — he was executed on September 18, 1959 in the gas chamber at San Quentin.

Jack_Webb_DragnetHarvey was cleverly mocked in the made-for-television DRAGNET 1966:

Negler: The reason I killed those girls is they asked me to. (pause) They did; all of ‘em.

Joe Friday: They asked you to.

Negler: Sure. They said they’d rather be dead than be with me.



Harvey Glatman: The Glamour Girl Slayer, Part 3

lorraine paper cropLorraine Vigil was a hero — she had disarmed Harvey Glatman and was responsible for his capture. I love that it was a woman who took him down.admits slaying_headline

Once in custody the jug-eared little freak (sometimes I can’t stay objective, sorry) was only too happy to take cops on a tour of the body dump sites for his three victims: Judy Dull, Shirley Bridgeford and Ruth Mercado.

Glatman boasted to the cops about how he carried out his attacks:

“With each one I did it the same way. After I attacked them I knew I had to kill them, for they could identify me and identify my car. So I would drive into the desert, sometimes on the pretense of taking more pictures, sometimes without any reason.”

“I would make them kneel down. With every one it was the same. With the gun on them I would tie this 5-foot piece of rope around their ankles. Then I would loop it up it up around their neck. Then I would stand there and keep pulling until they quit struggling.”

Harvey told investigators that he had buried Judy Dull in a shallow, sandy grave, but he didn’t bury Shirley Bridgeford, his lonely hearts club date, because he walked her “almost a mile into the desert and I didn’t think anyone would find her there.”glatman_suspect

For once in his pathetic life Harvey Glatman was the center of attention and he seemed to revel in it. He explained in gruesome detail how Ruth Mercado had become his final victim. He said that he had first called on her through a modeling advertisement. But when he went to pick her up she was too ill to go out. He left for a little while, but returned to find no light on in her apartment. He was at a crossroads — should he move ahead with his plan? He stopped in at a bar to contemplate his next move. He decided to drive by her place one final time and there was a light on so he knocked on her door.glatman_mercado

Harvey spent the night in Ruth’s apartment repeatedly raping her at gunpoint. The next morning he forced her to walk to his car which was parked a couple of blocks away.

Harvey told the cops that he didn’t want to kill Ruth:

“She was one I really liked. so I told her we were going out to a deserted spot where we wouldn’t be bothered while I took more pictures. We drove out to the Escondido district and spent most of the day out on the desert. I took a lot more pictures and tried and tried to figure out how to keep from killing her. But I couldn’t come up with any answer, so I got out the rope and did it the same way I did the others. I piled some brush and debris on her body and left her there.”

Harvey_GlatmanGlatman left Ruth’s naked corpse and took her clothing home with him, except for her underwear which he threw from his car on his way back to Los Angeles. The cops found Ruth’s slip, stockings and a photograph of her when they searched his apartment.

Each of the women Glatman had assaulted had suffered for hours before he killed them. They had to endure multiple rapes and the further humiliation of posing for photographs so that Harvey would have trophies. Robert D. Keppel (retired as chief criminal investigator for the Washington State Attorney General’s Office; author of Riverman) said this about Glatman’s photos, particularly the postmortem shots:

“They were even more horrifying to police (than the in-life ones) because they revealed Glatman’s true nature. They showed the ways the killer had positioned his victims, and the psychological depravity they evidenced was deeply revolting. That a human being could so reveal the depths of his own weakness and feelings of insignificance through photographs was something investigators had not seen before.”

The bondage photographs that Glatman took of his unwilling models followed a pattern that was truly horrifying. The following quote comes from Robert Keppel’s book, Signature Killers.

“They were images of Glatman’s detailed methodology of murder, which showed a sequence of terror by re-creating the entire psychological arc of the crime. He first photographed each victim with a look of innocence on her face as if she were truly enjoying a modeling session. The next series represented a sadist’s view of a sexually terrorized victim with the impending horror of a slow and painful death etched across her face. The final frame depicted the victim’s position that Glatman himself had arranged after he strangled her.”

NEXT TIME:  Justice for Judy, Shirley and Ruth.

Harvey Glatman: The Glamour Girl Slayer, Part 2

By August 1958, twenty-nine year old Harvey Glatman had found a beautiful young blonde to whom he would lose his virginity — she would also, very likely, be his first murder victim.


wirephoto_dull_cropNineteen year old Judy Ann Dull was just the sort of woman who wouldn’t have bothered with Harvey Glatman under any other circumstances except those in which she found herself on August 1, 1958. She was estranged from her husband and they had locked horns in a custody battle over their fourteen month old daughter. When Judy, a pin-up model, got a call from a guy named Johnny Glinn who was willing to pay her $50 to pose for him she took the gig.

Judy shared a West Hollywood apartment with two other pin-up models, Betty Carver (18), and Lynn Lykles (22) and when the unremarkable looking bespectacled man arrived to pick-up Judy for the photo shoot none of the women felt threatened by him — he even left his telephone number with Betty. Although Johnny didn’t seem scary, he did seem peculiar. Betty said:

“I knew there was something odd about the man. He said he wanted to shoot pin-up pictures. Yet he told her (Judy) to bring a selection of street outfits, which she did.”

Judy Dull’s roommates never saw her again.

When Judy failed to return from the photo session, Betty called the phone number Johnny had left with her, but it wasn’t a photo studio as he’d said, it was a machine shop and nobody there had ever heard of a Johnny Glinn. Betty and Lynn called the cops.

The L.A. County Sheriff issued an all-points bulletin for Glinn, who was described as being about 29, 5 feet 9 inches, 150 pounds, brown hair, olive complexion, wearing horn-rimmed glasses.

Just days after Judy’s disappearance her estranged husband, twenty-four year old Robert L. Dull, was awarded custody of their daughter, Susan. Robert testified that before she had vanished Judy had kept the baby’s home and person “in a filthy state”. Nobody in the courtroom knew that it no longer mattered what kind of a mother Judy had been, or could have become, she would never hold her little girl again.

Judy Ann Dull’s dead body was about 160 feet off of a highway, four and one-half miles west of Indio. The rope that had been used to bind and kill her had been taken away by her slayer; he would use it again. The grave wasn’t deep enough to deter the desert animals from tearing off bits of Judy’s flesh. Her skeletal remains would be discovered in December, but she wouldn’t be identified until months later.


bridgefordA Sun Valley divorcee and mother of two, Shirley Ann Bridgeford (24), was reported missing in mid-March 1958. Shirley was trying to get back into dating and had joined a lonely hearts club. She had gone to a dance with a man who gave his name as George Willams. Police said that a man of that name registered with the club but had listed a nonexistent Pasadena address. Mysteriously, the description of Williams on record with the club didn’t tally with that of the man who picked Shirley up for a date.

Shirley’s friends and relatives combed through stacks of police photos in an effort to identify George Williams. Detectives admitted that they had little to go on in the case. Williams may have had a date with a Hollywood secretary two days before he registered with the lonely hearts agency, but the cops couldn’t say with certainty that the man even existed.

The man who had taken Shirley wasn’t going to be found in the mug books. While her loved ones held out hope, Shirley’s dead body, like that of Judy Dull, was being ravaged by the hot sun and desert creatures.


glatman_mercadoRuth Mercado was reported missing from her W. Pico Avenue rooming house on July 27, 1958 by her landlord, four days after she’d left for a photo shoot with an unknown man. Her landlord had opened the door to her room when he began to worry about her. He found a small dog and two parakeets near death from starvation and lack of water.

Ruth hadn’t been in Los Angeles very long. She’d moved west, as Glatman had, from New York. Since arriving on the west coast Ruth had worked as a pin-up model and she’d also worked as a stripper under the name of Angela Rojas. Any dreams she’d had were stillborn. Her body had been covered with brush and debris by her killer and had been left to decay in a remote spot on the way to Escondido.

Harvey Glatman had gotten away with the murders of three L.A. glamour girls, but in October 1958 he was going to tangle with the wrong woman.


lorraineTwenty-eight year old Lorraine Vigil had registered with a Hollywood modeling studio and was about to go out on her first job. The agency phoned to tell her that they had a client who would pick her up at her 6th Street home and take her to the studio for the shoot.

Lorraine would later say:

“I thought it odd when he came to the house that he did not come in, but I was not alarmed. He said his name was Frank Johnson. He was a thin man. When I drove off with him, I noticed that he did not turn toward Hollywood and asked him why. He said we were going to his studio.

She continued:

“I did not become alarmed, however, until we entered the Santa Ana Freeway and he began driving at a tremendous speed. He wouldn’t answer my questions or even look at me. We eventually reached a lonely section and he turned off into a little tiny side road and stopped just off the highway. He said he though he had a flat tire. Suddenly he pulled out a gun and point it at me.”

Driven by sheer ball-busting moxie, Lorraine grabbed the muzzle of the gun! Glatman was enraged, he said:

“I’m an ex-con and I’ll kill you. I don’t give a darn if I go to the gas chamber.”

Lorraine was still holding the gun and screaming as Glatman picked up a piece of rope from the seat and tried to force the hand that wasn’t holding the gun behind her back!

“Just do as I tell you and you won’t get hurt,” he said.

Luckily for Lorraine she knew bullshit when she heard it.

“I knew, however, that he would kill me and I wouldn’t let go of the gun. Somehow with the other hand, I opened the door on my side and we both fell out onto the street. We rolled over and over on the shoulder of the road. Cars, millions of cars, passed, but none would stop. Once the gun went off. The bullet went through my skirt and burned terribly on my thigh. I will never forget the hideous sound of the bullet as it whined off into the night.”

Harvey was just beginning to get a taste of what Lorraine was capable of:

“I bit his wrist and he cried out, then suddenly I found I had the gun in my hand. I turned it around and pointed it at him. If I had known how to fire it, I believe I could have killed him. But he just stood there and watched me and after a while the police came.”

In my book Lorraine should have been given a parade and a key to the city, any city, — not only did she save her own life but she cut short Glatman’s murderous career. Unfortunately for Lorraine her employers, Mr. & Mrs. Harry Ellis with whom she resided, didn’t appreciate her notoriety.

Mrs. Ellis told reporters that she was going to ask Lorraine to move!

“I don’t like this publicity.” Mrs. Ellis said. “I warned Lorraine about the hazards of being a model but she would not listen to me.”

Lorraine responded:

“It was my first and only job, ” Lorraine added. “I think I applied for it because I was lonely.”


NEXT TIME: Glatman testifies and the harrowing stories of his victims last moments are revealed.

Harvey Glatman: The Glamour Girl Slayer

Los Angeles Police Museum located at 6045 York Blvd, Highland Park, CA

Los Angeles Police Museum located at 6045 York Blvd, Highland Park, CA

I have been a volunteer archivist at the Los Angeles Police Museum for over three years and it is one of the most interesting and rewarding things I’ve ever done. My primary project has been the archiving of Los Angeles Police Daily Bulletins. The Bulletins began in March 1907 and the collection at the LAPM goes through 1958. The Bulletins are an extraordinary glimpse into the history of Los Angeles filtered through the lens of law enforcement.

In 1907 LAPD hunted for the occasional robber on the lam, missing or runaway children, stolen horses, bicycles (or “wheels” as they were called) and missing or stolen dogs. By 1957 the concerns reflected the era and LAPD had to cope with strong arm robberies, bad checks and juvenile delinquents sporting “rebel without a cause” wardrobes. Some of the juvies were hell-bent on crime, others were in the wrong place hanging with the wrong crowd and didn’t understand that rolled-cuff Levis and a duck tail hairdo don’t necessarily make you a bad-ass.Poster - Rebel Without a Cause_02

Last Friday while I was archiving Bulletins from 1958 I came across the photo of a missing woman. Her name, Ruth Mercado, seemed familiar. I read that she’d gone missing from her West Hollywood apartment on July 23,1958 and that she was a stripper and a pin-up model. I set the Bulletin aside and continued my work.

A bit later a friend of mine Mike Fratantoni, who is a fellow crime historian, stopped by. When he saw what I was doing he asked me if I’d run across any of Harvey Glatman’s victims among the missing women in the ’58 Bulletins. The light bulb finally switched on over my head — no wonder Ruth Mercado had seemed familiar to me — she was the last woman Harvey Glatman murdered.

Harvey Murray Glatman was born in the Bronx in New York on December 10,1927 and raised in Colorado. Harvey seems to have been hard-wired for deviance. His parents once found him with a string tied around his penis, the loose end of which he had shut in a drawer, he was leaning backwards so that the string pulled his member taught. He was four years old.

Harvey’s parents were alarmed by their son’s behavior, but his indulgent mother, Ophelia, believed he would grow out of his more peculiar habits, while his father Albert hoped that occasional discipline would straighten the boy out. His parents faced bitter disappointment. Nothing and no one would prevent Harvey from pursuing his pleasure.

Puberty is a confusing and difficult time, perhaps more so for a young man whose fantasies and desires didn’t include holding hands at the local malt shop, or fastening a corsage to a prom dress. Not that he could have done those things even if his day dreams had been more typical. Harvey was painfully shy around girls and he was further handicapped by looks that earned him the nicknames “Weasel” and “Chipmunk”. If Harvey was going to have a sex life he was going to have to build it on vivid fantasies, nocturnal home break-ins, stolen lingerie, a gun and a length of rope.glatman_teen

Glatman committed his first sex offenses while he was a teenager. He would break into women’s apartments, tie them up and fondle but not rape them. As a way to recall his conquests he would force his victims to pose for photographs. In 1945 he was arrested and charged with attempted burglary. He was impulsive offender, fueled by lust and a significant amount of rage for the women he victimized.  While he was still out on bail awaiting trial he kidnapped and molested another woman before releasing her — that uncontrollable urge cost him eight months in prison.

Harvey’s assaults on women grew bolder and more violent following his move to New York in 1947. He was eventually arrested for a series of muggings and sentenced to from five to ten years in Sing Sing. Prison psychiatrists diagnosed Glatman as a psychopath. His psychiatric problems didn’t keep him from being a model prison however, and he was released in 1956.

By 1957 Glatman had moved to Los Angeles and was working as a television repairman. The time had finally come when it wasn’t enough for him to choke himself into unconsciousness for sexual release. He was no longer satisfied merely fondling the women he bound and gagged or forcing them to cuddle with him while they watched TV sitcoms. Harvey was pushing thirty when he decided to lose his virginity, and he was eager to try out his favorite sex toy, a piece of rope, on someone other than himself.

One of the women Glatman ultimately terrorized and murdered in L.A. was Ruth Mercado, the woman whose photo I saw in a 1958 Los Angeles Police Daily Bulletin. But before Ruth there was Judy Dull and Shirley Bridgeford.

NEXT TIME: The deaths of three L.A. glamour girls.



Stella Darlene Nolan: Conclusion

new hunt

Ilene and Owen Nolan struggled to get on with their lives in the wake of Stella’s disappearance. They moved to the San Diego area, but I imagine that every time the story of a missing or abused child made the news their hearts broke a little more.

Sherriff’s deputies and LAPD investigators continued to pull in every deviant who even looked cross-eyed at a child. They busted other child molesters, but they couldn’t seem to get a break in Stella’s case which grew colder with every passing day.

In December 1955, Sheriff’s deputies interrogated Robert Louis Kracker, 20, on suspicion of kidnapping a 3-year-old Baldwin Park girl, Cynthia Hardacre. Kracker had been visiting a cousin in the Hardacre neighborhood when Cynthia, apparently mistaking Robert for her father, dashed toward his automobile calling, “Wait, Daddy.”  Kracker told the police
that: “When I saw her, something just came over me.”

Kracker was on parole and had a record, including sex offenses, going back to age 14!  In 1949 he spent three months in Juvie and was subsequently committed to the State Hospital at Camarillo.  In July of 1950, he was arrested in L.A. on suspicion of a sex offense, and in November, 1951 he was arrested on suspicion of burglary.

Robert was guilty of the attack on Cynthia, but he was not responsible for Stella’s abduction.

In August of 1961 the L.A. Times reported on five children who had mysteriously vanished in recent years; Stella’s name was among them.


On March 6, 1970 a 51-year-old Sylmar construction worker, Mack Ray Edwards, appeared at the LAPD’s Foothill Division station. He handed them a loaded handgun and then said the had kidnapped three Sylmar girls earlier that day.

quiet guyEdwards, a native of Arkansas, was booked on suspicion of murder in the 1969 death of a 13-year-old Pacoima boy — one of the six cases he voluntarily discussed with detectives.

220px-Mack_ray_edwardsEdwards and an unnamed 15-year-old companion told the police that they’d entered the home of Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Cohen at 5 a.m., after the couple had left for work.  The two stole a coin collection and other items from the house and then took the three Cohen children, Valerie (12); Cindy (13); and Jan (14) by car to Bouquet Canyon in Angeles National Forest north of Newhall.

Two of the girls escaped and the third was abandoned by Edwards and his accomplice — they told her they’d send a sheriff’s car to pick her up.

It was during his confession to police that he admitted to kidnapping, raping, and then murdering 8-year-old Stella Darlene Nolan in 1953.  The girl was allegedly his first murder victim.

In mid-March 1970, the skeletal remains of Stella Darlene Nolan were unearthed by a highway crew who worked from directions given to them by her killer.

In addition to the slaying of Stella, Edwards admitted to murdering Gary Rocha, 16, in 1968, and Donald Allen Todd, 13, in 1960. He also admitted to three other murders of children but he wasn’t charged with them because their bodies couldn’t be found. Edwards was a heavy machine operator and often worked freeway construction sites, it simply wasn’t possible for the law to go around digging up Southern California freeways in an effort to unearth the other remains.

In Van Nuys Superior Court, Edwards entered a plea of guilty in three of the six slayings to which he had confessed. Sgt. George H. Rock was called to testify about Edwards’ voluntary admission that he was a child killer. All of the murders were horrible, but Stella’s was the worst.  Edwards had taken her from Auction City in Norwalk to his Azusa home where he molested and then attempted to strangle her. After he thought Stella was dead, he threw her body over bridge.  The following day he returned to the scene to bury his victim and found the little girl still alive. She had managed to drag herself about 100 feet. She was sitting up, dazed, when Edwards took out his pocketknife and stabbed her to death.

Edwards attempted to sell his surrender and confession as a guilty conscience.  He said:

“I have a guilt complex. I couldn’t eat and I couldn’t sleep and it was beginning to affect my work.  You know I’m a heavy equipment operator. That long grader I’m using now costs a lot of money — $200,000.  I might wreck it.  Or turn it over and hurt someone.”

That doesn’t sound like a guilty conscience to me — it sounds exactly like the kind of profoundly stupid, self-serving statement a sociopath would make.  There was no expression of remorse for his victims, his primary concern appears to have been the deleterious affect the brutal child killings were having on his work.

deathEdwards claimed to want a death sentence. Maybe he did — he attempted suicide twice during his trial. On March 30, 1970 he slashed a 14-inch cut across his stomach with a razor blade and on May 7, 1970 he took an overdose of tranquilizers   The third time was the charm — he successfully hanged himself with a length of TV cord in his cell on California’s Death Row.

Edwards had always claimed six victims, never more; however, he is suspected in the murders of over 20 children between 1953 and 1970.

In 2006, a letter written by Edwards to his wife while he was on death row implicated him the 1957 disappearance of 8-year-old Tommy Bowman in the Arroyo Seco.

Ramona Price

Ramona Price

In 2011, the Santa Barbara Police Department took four teams of cadaver dogs to an area near a Goleta freeway overpass that was under renovation, looking for the remains of Ramona Price, a 7-year-old girl who disappeared in August 1961 — Mack Ray Edwards worked in the area during that time.  Ramona wasn’t found, but the search for other victims of Edwards continues.


A little over 40 years following Mack Ray Edwards’ suicide I stumbled across Stella Darlene Nolan’s photograph in a Los Angeles Police Daily Bulletin as I was archiving documents from 1953. Something about Stella pulled me in and when I couldn’t find a cancellation for her missing notice in a subsequent Bulletin I followed up, and that’s when I discovered her entire story.


I shared everything I’d uncovered with the L.A. Police Museum’s Executive Director and he telephoned a detective he knows at Foothill Division. She told him she couldn’t discuss details of the case with him because she was assigned to the cold case!  She’s seeking to solve many more murders and disappearances for which Edwards may have been responsible. The detective asked if we would send her a copy of the Daily Bulletin featuring Stella because she didn’t have one — it was an incredible feeling to be able to provide a small piece of information in an on-going investigation — my first cold case!

The Daily Bulletins aren’t merely artifacts to be cataloged and filed away; the impact of crime on victims and their families reaches across time. History lives.

Dead Woman Walking: Elizabeth Ann “Ma” Duncan, Part 4

ma rosary

sanity testElizabeth Duncan’s plea of not guilty by reason of insanity would ultimately fail. She was interviewed by shrinks and she even submitted to a brain wave test, but nothing about her tests indicated that she was insane.  Dr. Louis R. Nash, assistant director of Camarillo State Hopsital, described Elizabeth Duncan as a “psychopathic personality” and a “pathological liar”, but said that she sane.

On January 30, 1959, Luis Moya withdrew his not guilty plea and entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. Gus Baldonado would quickly do the same. And, just like Ma, they would be found sane.

One of the most difficult tasks was to find jurors who could be fair and impartial. During voir dire many of the prospective jurors revealed that they had already made up their minds and felt that the defendants were guilty. In fact, Ma and Frank received a lot of hate mail.  A news photo arrived for Ma with multiple epithets scrawled in red ink: “Hope you hang.” “You should have died before you were born.” “Cutthroat.” “I could kill you.” “Apron strings.” “Mamma’s boy.” An anonymous letter posted in San Francisco said:

“Your daughter-in-law was a fine, clean, decent person. She and her unborn child was murdered. I hope the state will execute those involved in that crime. It was a cruel, rotten deal.”

eight women four men pics

The jury of eight women and four men was finally seated. They must have felt their responsibility acutely, it was, after all, a death penalty case and they were charged with determining Ma’s guilt or innocence. There was bad news for Ma, three of them had admitted to believing her guilty before hearing a word of testimony! When Ma got the news that the jurors had been selected she was asked if she thought she could get a fair trial. She didn’t think so, she said that there were too many people against her.

luis moyaThe trial testimony was as gut wrenching as the grand jury testimony had been. In particular, Luis Moya seemed to want to talk.  Moya said that he and Baldonando had been introduced to Mrs. Duncan through Mrs. Esperanza Esquivel, the operator of the Tropical Cafe in Santa Barbara. Equivel would act as the go-between.

Moya testified:

“She (Elizabeth Duncan) told me she had acid, rope and sleeping pills if we decided we could use them. The pills were to be for an overdose, the rope to tie her and the acid to disfigure her (Olga Duncan) face and fingerprints”

The plan Moya and Baldonado came up with was to kidnap Olga and take some of her clothes to make it appear she’d gone on vacation. They were going to dispose of her near Tijuana.

Ma pawned a ring to give Moya $175 for expenses.

About the night of the murder, Moya said:

“I knocked on the door and asked if her husband was Frank Duncan. She said ‘Yes’. I said I had met him at a bar, and that he was pretty drunk and had a lot of money on him. I said I had him in the car and wondered if she would help be bring him up.”

She said ‘Sure, I’ll help you bring him up.’ When she opened the door of the car I hit her a blow over the head with the pistol to try to knock her out.

“It was a very hard blow, but I didn’t knock her out. Baldonado grabbed her and I shoved her into the car.”

Moya said he drove down to the Cabrillo Highway near the beach. Olga was still screaming and Baldonado was hitting her with the pistol.

“I stopped the car and told Baldonado to give me the pistol. I hit her a heavy blow on the head and she passed out. Baldonado taped her hands.

The car they’d rented from a friend for $25 wasn’t working well. They stopped twice before selecting Olga’s final resting place.

Moya said:

“It was a pretty good place to bury her. We didn’t think she would be found. We dragged her out of the car.”

When asked if Olga was still alive, Moya said that she was. Moya told the hushed courtroom that because he’d broken the gun over Olga’s head, they’d decided to strangle her. He said:

“We decided to strangle her until she was dead. We took turns strangling her and hit her with a rock.”

Baldanodo wasn’t nearly as loquacious as Moya — his testimony provided some corroboration  but primarily consisted of “I don’t recall” answers.gus baldonado

Ma’s friend, Emma Short, testified to overhearing threatening phone calls made by Ma to Olga. When she was asked about the relationship between Ma and Frank, Emma said that he often called his mother “doll” and she’d heard him promise many times “I’ll never leave you.”

While no one had mentioned incest directly, there were many oblique references to it in the questioning of witnesses about the relationship between mother and son. Short was asked about the sleeping arrangements in the two bedroom apartment shared by Frank and his mother before the marriage. She told the court:

“Mrs. Duncan’s bedroom could be seen from the living room. Frank was lying in her bed. She came out and said, ‘Isn’t he beautiful?'”

At last Ma took the stand. She testified that she had once plotted to tie up and kidnap Frank! She felt that if she got him away from Olga he’d snap to his senses; however, she continued to deny that she threatened Olga or ever intended to harm her.

The courtroom was thrown into an uproar when Ma’s past was exposed during cross-examination by the D.A.. She had been married about 16 times, and had failed to get an annulment or divorce for many of them. The D.A. also revealed that she had six children! Ma acknowledged 10 of the marriages, but she said she couldn’t recall any of the others.

When she was asked about her relationship with Frank, Ma said it was one of love and devotion. The D.A. asked if she loved Frank more that her other children, she replied: “Yes”.frank testifies

Next to take the stand was Frank Duncan. He testified that:

“I loved my mother and I love her still.”

He continued to support Elizabeth’s story throughout the trial.

One of the trial shockers came when Ma was asked by the D.A. if she had worked as a madam to put Frank through law school and she shouted “No!” The D.A. persisted in his questioning:

“Well, that was your occupation, wasn’t it?”

Ma responded:

“I didn’t consider it an occupation. It was a position.”

frank_in tears

While Ma’s personality was revealed during the trial, it was difficult to get a handle on Frank — what he knew, when he knew it, and exactly what kind of man he was. He was in law school when Ma was running a brothel and he must have known what was going on. How did he feel about that? He never said.frank_ma

There were, however, a few tantalizing glimpses into Frank’s personality.

He became angry and actually rose to object when the D.A. taunted him by calling him “Frankie”. He left the courtroom in tears during Luis Moya’s testimony in  which he  recounted the details of Olga’s monstrous death.

Frank admitted that he’d dated a woman in San Francisco during a business trip while he was married to Olga. He didn’t bother to tell his date that he was married. Apparently Frank couldn’t be faithful even for the six month duration of his marriage to Olga. What was even more surprising was that Frank married again, secretly, during Ma’s trial! If there was one person in the case that was a cipher, it was undoubtedly Frank.

On March 16, 1959, after 4 hours and 51 minutes of deliberation, Ma was found guilty.   Moya and Baldonado were found guilty at their trials as well. All three were given the death penalty.

Frank fought for his mother until the end. In fact he wasn’t at her August 8, 1962 execution because he was in San Francisco at the Federal Court arguing her case.

Ma Duncan’s last recorded words were said to have been: “Where’s Frank? I want to see my son.”






Dead Woman Walking: Elizabeth Ann “Ma” Duncan, Part 3

duncan_mugElizabeth Duncan, Luis Moya, and Gus Baldanado were busted on December 19, 1958 for conspiracy to murder Olga Duncan. Bail was set at $100,000 each (the amount is equivalent to over $7 million 2013 USD).

Two days later, on December 21st, the cops went public with an appeal to help them find Olga Duncan’s body. The public didn’t have to do a thing because Gus Baldanado confessed that same day and implicated Luis Moya and Elizabeth Duncan. He also led them to Olga’s body in Casitas Pass. Luis Moya would also confess to his part in the slaying. Ma, however, was adamant that she was not moya baldanado

If Santa Claus had any presents for Frank Duncan he was going to have a tough time finding him because the attorney mysteriously vanished on Christmas Eve. District Attorney Roy Gustafson would have better luck with a subpoena requiring Frank to testify before the grand jury — Ma’s son was located in a Hollywood apartment. frank sought

According to testimony during the grand jury hearing, Ma had approached at least four people with various plans to kill Olga.

Mrs. Barbara Reed, a carhop at the Blue Onion Restauant in Santa Barbara, said she had been acquainted with Ma for at least ten years. She testified that in August 1958 Ma had asked her if she would “…put her (Olga) out of the way becasue she was interferring with Frank’s future”. Ma told Reed that she had plenty of acid and anything else that might be needed to deal with Olga. Ma wanted Reed to go to Olga’s apartment and throw acid in her face! Ma said that she’d hide behind Reed and as soon as Olga had a face full of acid she’d throw a blanket over the injured woman, drag her out to the car, drive her up to the mountains and push her over a cliff! Reed was offered $1500 for her trouble.barbara reed2

Barbara Reed said she realized that Ma had gone crazy and rather than cross her she told the older woman she’d think about the offer. Instead Reed phoned Frank the following day and asked him to meet her at the Blue Onion.

Reed testified:

“The very next day I asked him to come out tot he Blue Onion. He came out and I said, ‘This is very important. It is sort of a real dangerous matter here.’ He said ‘Are you in trouble?’, and I told him what his mother had come up with and I said ‘You have got to do something about her, Frankie. This girl is in danger and I think your mother had gone crazy.’ He said, ‘You know it, too.’ I told him to do something with Olga, either get her out of town or take her some place where she would be safe. He said ‘I will do what I can.’ That is all he said.”

emma short picMa had also discussed Olga with her close friend, eighty-four year old Emma Short. Short said that she had first heard of Olga Duncan after Elizabeth had taken an overdose of sleeping pills and was confined to Cottage Hospital. Short said that Elizabeth told her that after she’d recovered from the overdose Frank had promised he wouldn’t marry Olga.

But of course Frank married Olga in spite of his promise to his mother. Emma Short said that Elizabeth told her, “My son will never live with Olga. I will kill her first, destroy her.”

Emma’s testimony was riveting:

“…she (Elizabeth) asked me to go over to Olga’s apartment and try to get her to come to my apartment. When she got to my apartment, she would have her sit in a chair that goes against the closet. She (Elizabeth) would be in there. Then she would take a rope and put it around her neck and choke her and throw poison in her eyes.”

When asked if she had ever mentioned any of her conversations with Ma to Frank, Emma said:

“No, I never did. Mr. Duncan is a man that is very hard to approach and I had very little to say to him at any time.”

A woman named Diane Romero also came forward to testify to the grand jury about her conversations with Elizabeth Duncan regarding Olga. Romero had first met Elizabeth while Frank was defending her husband, Rudolph Romero, on a narcotics possession charge.

diane romero

Diane said that Elizabeth Duncan had mentioned her hatred for Olga and how much she wanted to get rid of her. Diane’s testimony was a chilling account of the depth of Ma’s hatred for her daughter-in-law.

“…she (Elizabeth) gave me $5 one time to go buy some lye for her bathroom. I didn’t pay too much attention. After, when se did start talking about getting rid of Olga, she told me that she wanted the lye so that she could put Olga in the bathtub, put some water in the tub and pour lye over her so that you couldn’t recognize her, make her dissolve or something.”

Mrs. Romero and her husband, Rudolph, met with Elizabeth to discuss another of Ma’s plans for Olga. According to Diane, Elizabeth offered her husband money to get rid of Olga.

“…it was either $1000 or $1500, something like that. He said no, that he didn’t want anything to do with it and then we left. Later she came to the hotel with me and she kept raising the price. She said $1000 at first, then it was $1500 and she raised it to $2500.”

Rudolph Romero corroborated his wife’s testimony.

Just in case hiring an assassin didn’t pan out, Ma had a back-up plan. She made an appointment with a local doctor and tried to get the physician’s office manger, Mary Ann Dowhower, to go out with Frank.

Mary Ann testified that:

“She (Elizabeth) would flash pictures of Frank and she wanted me to go out with him, to come home for dinner. She wanted me to become his girl friend and possibly his wife, since he was interested in someone and she didn’t know who and she didn’t want it to go any further than it had gone. I didn’t keep the appointment. She pushed me too much.”

Finally, Frank Duncan took the stand and his testimony was an uncomfortable peek into the dynamic between mother and son. He revealed that his mother didn’t want him to marry at all, ever. And while Frank’s memory seemed to be very good, it failed him at some crucial moments. When he was asked if his mother had raised any objections when he began dating Olga, he stated that he didn’t recall.

frank shifty picFrank went on to describe his living arrangement following his marriage to Olga. He said that he lived part of the time with his mother, and part of the time with Olga. After the newlyweds moved to the Garden Street apartments he said he went home to Elizabeth Duncan each night with few exceptions. When he was asked why he didn’t stay with Olga continuously, he said:

“Well, sir, my mother, when we first got married, used to call me a lot at the office and I understand she called my wife sometimes, and my wife and myself, we just had an understanding that I was to stay home until shortly before the baby arrived.”

Frank further testified that after he married Olga, Elizabeth purchased a gun and threatened to take her own life. He took the gun from her and she promised him she would return it to the pawn shop where she had bought it. As far as Frank knew, Ma had returned the little pearl-handled .22.

The horrific testimony given during the grand jury hearing resulted in the indictment of Elizabeth Duncan and her co-conspirators, Luis Moya and Gus Baldanado for the slaying of Ma’s pregnant daughter-in-law, Olga.

Ma did one of the only things she could do under the circumstances — she decided to enter a plea of insanity.

NEXT TIME: The trial and its aftermath.