A New Mystery Begins: The Gardenia Murder Case, Part 1

ora_peteThere were several unsolved homicides of women in Los Angeles prior to the 1947 slaying of Elizabeth Short; one of the first was that of Ora Mae Murray.

Near dawn on the morning of July 27, 1943, the son of a caretaker at the Fox Hills Golf Course was startled by the loud barking of a dog, Pete, an Airedale belonging to one of the groundsmen. The boy went to investigate, thinking that Pete had cornered a gopher. When he found Pete, the dog was standing near the semi-nude  mutilated body of a woman. The boy called the Sheriff’s Department.

LASD Inspector Penprase arrived at the murder scene, which was about 100 yards from the clubhouse. Penprase told reporters that it was evident that the victim, soon identified as Mrs. Ora Murray, had been fierce in defense of her life despite the fact that she was recovering from three broken ribs.ora_oraportrait

Most of her undergarments had been ripped away, and her dress was in tatters. Under Murray’s body was a flattened gardenia corsage wrapped with tinsel. The press called the case The Gardenia Murder.

According to Inspector Penprase, it appeared that Murray had been strangled to death. Ora had last been seen alive at 11 pm. the night before her slaying with a man named Paul.  While the search for Paul continued, Ora’s sister, Mrs. Latona Leinnan (the woman wearing a gardenia in yesterday’s photo) was located. She told cops that she and Ora had gone to a public dance together. It was at the dance that Ora met a man who suggested the three of them go out for a drive. Leinnan asked the man if he’d stop by her house first so her husband could join them and make it a foursome.  When they reached Latona’s home her husband wasn’t in the mood to go out, so Ora left with the stranger.

The mystery man, Paul, was described by Latona as about 30, 135 pounds, and five feet eight inches tall. He had black hair and he was wearing a dark, double-breasted suit.  He was driving a 1942 Buick convertible coupe with a three inch silver stripe painted around the body.

About one week following the discovery of her body, LASD detectives received a phone call from a woman who said that she’d been jilted by a man named Grant Wyatt Terry — and he matched the description of the mystery man, Paul.

Terry’s spurned lover, Miss Jeannette J. Walser, told a tale of a whirlwind courtship by the possible slayer and his disappearance with a $300 diamond ring and $700 in cash. Jeanette had given Terry the cash and jewelry shortly before they were to be married.

Jeanette told Inspector Penprase that she had met Terry at a cocktail lounge on July 17, and he proposed marriage to her two days later! He told her he was an attorney for the Feds and was assigned to various Army camps, then he borrowed her car for “an important trip to San Diego”.  Walser’s car matched the description of the one driven by “Paul”.

Ora’s sister Latona was shown a photo of Terry, and she identified him as Paul.

Terry was clearly a con man, but was he a killer?

NEXT TIME: The hunt for a killer in the Gardenia Murder Case.

9 thoughts on “A New Mystery Begins: The Gardenia Murder Case, Part 1

    • Jerry,
      I’m not sure there’s much I can do, but I’m happy to help in any way that I can. Let me know.


      • I might know some facts. Ive been interested in this stuff since i was 12 and i want to pursue a career for csi or something.

        • Michelle, Do you mean you have some facts pertaining to the murder case? If so I’d love to know what you’ve got. I’ve been interested in crime since I was kid too. I was about 7 or 8 when I read a newspaper story about a boy my age who had gone missing. He was subsequently found murdered. For whatever reasons that sparked my interest in true crime. I don’t know where you are located, but here in Los Angeles you can apply for a Master’s degree from the School of Criminal Justice and Criminalistics at Cal State Los Angeles. They have an excellent program and both the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department have their crime labs at the Hertzberg-Davis Forensics Center on campus. Thank you for writing and thank you so much for your readership. I appreciate it. Best, Joan

          • Hey i would love to do this as job but i cant im a single mother and i do everything i can right now, but yeah i have some very interesting facts about the black dahlia and the zodiac and well george hodel

  1. Hey Joan! I’m trying to find the Part 2 blog to the Gardenia case but I’m not having any luck. What should I type in to find it?

    Your Fan from Georgia!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *