The Deadly Usher, Conclusion

usher booked_img_0Only 17 days after theater usher Lorenzo Castro shot a movie patron for attempting to snatch a handbag belonging to his boss’s wife, the teenager was back in the news for kidnapping and murder.

How did Castro go from hero to villian in less than three weeks?

On February 23, 1958, at approximately 11:10 p.m. Loren Gross, manager of the Jewel Theater in East Los Angeles, placed a call to the Sheriff’s Department when Castro failed to return to work following his dinner break. Gross feared foul play because Castro had been hassled and threatened by members of the White Fence gang ever since a shooting incident at the theater earlier in the month. Castro had shot and wounded seventeen year old Elias Alvarado during an attempted purse snatching. Elias’ life had been saved by the .75 cent crucifix he wore around his neck. The shooting was ruled self-defense and no action was taken against Castro — but maybe some of Elias’ friends wanted payback.

Deputies G. Franzen and M. Buoniconte were dispatched to search for Lorenzo, whom they found at the home of his friend Ruben Ramos. Castro was brought back to the theater for questioning. During Castro’s interrogation, Deputies Franzen and Buoniconte were informed by Sgt. Vogan that the Newhall Station had called to report that a thirteen year old boy had been shot. The victim told officers that he and a friend had been kidnapped by the usher who worked at the Jewel theater. Castro and Ramos were arrested, transported to the East L.A. Sheriff’s station and interrogated.

Castro told Homicide Detective Sgts. Walsh and Waldrip that the shooting in which he’d been involved earlier in the month had resulted in his nearly constant harassment by members of the White Fence gang. Lorenzo stated:

“Ever since that other time, the White Fence gang has been giving me a bad time. They’ve been pushing me around at the theater. They were doing it again Sunday.”

I-Was-a-Teenage-FrankensteinThe young gang members had come to the Jewel Theater to catch a double feature: “I Was A Teenage Frankenstein” and “Blood of Dracula” — they’d also come to harass Lorenzo.

Lorenzo said that he was fed up and wanted to look for some of the guys who had been antagonizing him. Ramos offered to help — he had a car and a .32 caliber Harrington & Richardson chrome-plated six shot revolver. Castro and Ramos began to cruise the neighborhood around the theater. Lorenzo thought that some of the White Fence gang hung out at a hot dog stand at the corner of Indiana and Percy, so he and Ramos checked it out — nobody was there. They kept riding around until they spotted two guys that Lorenzo ID’d as part of the group that had tormented him. Lorenzo didn’t know the boys by name but they were fourteen year old Gerald Randolph Delao and thirteen year old George Rodriguez. Ramos eased his car to the curb and Castro, holding the pistol, got out and forced the two boys into the sedan. Along the way Castro took Rodriguez’ watch, set it ahead three hours, then broke it and forced the boy to put it back on his arm.52chevroletstylelinesedan

Then the four youths drove out to a spot along Soledad Canyon Road near the Tick Canyon Wash.

Ramos parked his 1952 Chevy Fleetline on a deserted section of road. Castro ordered the two younger boys from the car and told them to walk away. At about 15 feet from the road he barked: “Turn around”. Then he opened fire. Both the boys fell, then Lorenzo walked to them and fired at each of the boys lying on the ground. Satisfied that neither of the boys would harass him again, Castro went back to the car to rejoin Ramos and the pair sped back to Los Angeles. Castro phoned his boss  and reported that there had been gang members outside Ramos’ house, but they had finally left.

delao dead

Detectives Jim Wahlke and H.A. Waldrip examine the crime scene and look at the body of Gerald Delao. Photo courtesy of USC Digital Collection

George Rodriguez, bleeding from a gun shot wound to his arm, staggered to the road and flagged down a trucker, Olen Hoover. Hoover took the boy to a nearby house to call Sheriff’s deputies. Rodriguez was lucky to be alive, his friend Gerald had died at the scene.

id of killer

Detectives Walsh and Waldrip look on as George Rodriguez IDs his assailants. Photo courtesy of USC Digital Collection

Castro and Ramos were indicted for murder, assault with intent to commit murder, and kidnapping. Castro had a previous record for driving an automobile without the owner’s permission and for carrying a concealed weapon. He was paroled from a forestry camp in 1956.

rodriguez shell shocked

Detectives Wahlke and Waldrip with an obviously shell-shocked George Rodriguez. Photo courtesy of USC Digital Collection.

Thirteen year old George Rodriguez made a powerful witness against the defendants at trial. He told the jury of eight men and four women that he had been shot in the shoulder by Castro, and then turned over and shot again.  After pumping two rounds into Gerald, Ramos and Castro started to leave but they returned when they heard the boy moaning. George whispered to his friend to keep quiet, but Gerald was lying about three feet away and probably didn’t hear him. The kid died with three slugs in his chest.

usher vic deadFeigning death, George was turned on his back and one of the defendants (likely Castro) fired at him from point-blank range, then he was dragged under some bushes and left for dead.

On May 28, 1958, former movie theater hero, Lorenzo Castro, was found guilty of murder in the first degree in count one, and guilty of attempted murder in count two.  He was sentenced to life in prison. His co-defendant, Ruben Ramos, was found guilty of murder in the second degree in count one, and guilty of attempted murder in count two.  Ramos was sentenced to from five to life.

In July 1958 each of the defendants appeared before Judge Dawson for probation hearings — both were denied and remanded to State Prison to begin their terms.

Castro came up for parole in 1967 but Sheriff Peter J. Pitchess recommended against it. In May 1969 Castro was again eligible for parole — the Sheriff’s Department made
no recommendation. I don’t know when or if either Castro or Ramos were released.

The Deadly Usher, Part 1

broadway_theaterYears ago I worked at a movie theater, The Broadway, in Santa Ana. It was gorgeous, built in the 1920s when movie palaces were really fit for royalty. By the time I started at the concession stand the theater had gone to seed (it has since been demolished). It had great bones though, and if you looked at the place through rose-colored glasses you could imagine how it must have been when silent films were shown there.


I was part of a motley crew of workers; among the most memorable of them was a drunken, surly guard who used to sleep in the balcony and a leering manager, old enough to be my father, whom I never let get close enough to corner me.

On rainy weekends cars would drive up and decant scads of screaming children — we were the unofficial babysitters for the neighborhood parents who couldn’t take one more minute of being trapped at home with their kids. By and large the kids were fine, if not exactly well-behaved. The trouble-makers always found their way to the balcony where the guard, if he’d been awake, may have done something about them. As it was, whatever discipline was meted out was up to us. I never objected to the flurry of Jujubes that were routinely hurled at the screen no matter what was showing, but I took umbrage with the occasional flaming popcorn box. I once had to explain to a tiny terror why throwing an incendiary popcorn box below the place where you were standing was a dumb ass idea. The time or two he attempted to throw one of his improvised torches into the balcony from the floor didn’t go too well and he finally gave up.

At least, unlike movie theater usher Lorenzo Castro, I never had to contend with gang members who carried guns and knives into the theater.crucifix2

On February 7, 1958, eighteen year old Lorenzo Castro was working his shift as an usher at the Jewel Theater at 3817 Whittier Blvd in East L.A. when he saw four guys snatch Delia Gross’ handbag from a theater seat. Delia was the wife of the theater manager, so Lorenzo was probably motivated, to some extent, by wanting to make points with the boss. Nothing wrong with that. Delia, her husband Loren, and Lorenzo chased the would-be thieves. Delia tackled one of them and Lorenzo fired a shot at Elias Alvarado when he pulled a knife. Alvarado was able to flee. Two others, Gilbert Aguirre, seventeen, and Raymond Senteno, twenty, were held until the cops arrived.

According to Sgt. Anthony Bright of the Sheriff’s Department, Alvarado ran home following the shooting and his parents, who saw blood on his shirt, took him to Angelus Emergency Hospital. Sheriff’s deputies arrested him there. It was a “come to Jesus” moment for Alvarado — the .75 cent crucifix he’d been wearing had stopped the .32 caliber slug that could have ended his life. Alvarado swore that once his parole from the Fred C. Nelles School in Whittier was ended he would mend his criminal ways and seek the path to righteousness . My guess is that his pledge to lead a better life lasted a month at best, but then I have a tendency to be cynical.

elias alvarado

Life at the neighborhood theater quieted down, at least for a couple of weeks.

On February 25, 1958 theater usher Lorenzo Castro was once again the news, but this time it was for kidnapping and murder.

NEXT TIME: The Deadly Usher continues.