Unsolved Homicides of Women in Los Angeles During the 1940s Webinar Tickets on sale now

On January 15, 1947, Betty Bersinger, a Leimert Park housewife, found the body of a young woman in the weeds of a vacant lot on S. Norton Avenue.

The woman was nude, bisected and obscenely posed. Within a few days the victim was identified as twenty-two-year-old Elizabeth Short. We know her now as the Black Dahlia. Hers is the most notorious unsolved homicide in the city’s history.

The case has garnered so much attention over the decades that other female victims of the era have been overlooked. Women who, like Short, never got the justice they deserved.

What was going on in Los Angeles in the 1940s? Who was here–and why was it such a dangerous place for women?

Join me for an in-depth examination of seven other victims whose cases remain unsolved. They have been forgotten for too long.

Don’t worry, if you can’t make it for the live presentation the webinar will be available for one week afterwards.

UNSOLVED HOMICIDES OF WOMEN IN LOS ANGELES DURING THE 1940s: A DERANGED L.A. CRIMES WEBINAR

The first Deranged L.A. Crimes webinar will debut on Tuesday, November 10, 2020 at 7 pm Pacific Time — the topic: UNSOLVED HOMICIDES OF WOMEN IN LOS ANGELES DURING THE 1940s.

Here is the (tentative) webinar schedule for the remainder of 2020:

November 10, 2020 / UNSOLVED HOMICIDES OF WOMEN IN LOS ANGELES DURING THE 1940s

November 17, 2020 / THE FIRST WITH THE LATEST: AGGIE UNDERWOOD, CRIME REPORTER  

November 24, 2020 / THE MURDER OF MARION PARKER

December 1, 2020 / NORRIS STENSLAND: THE HUMAN BLOODHOUND

December 8, 2020 / FROM THE FILES OF ‘CALLING ALL CARS’: THE WILLIAM GETTLE KIDNAPPING

December 15, 2020 / HOLLYWOOD SCANDAL: CLARA BOW & THE SECRETARY

December 22, 2020  / THE WHITE FLAME MURDER

December 29, 2020 / DEATH ROW DAMES: BARBARA GRAHAM–I WANT TO LIVE!

Webinar tickets will be $10 (and there will be a replay option for those who can’t make it for the live presentation).

Details coming soon.

The Butcher

 

Georgette Bauerdorf

Georgette Bauerdorf

There were numerous unsolved slayings of women in 1940s Los Angeles, and among the dead were: Ora Murray, Laura Trelstad, Jeanne French, Georgette Bauerdorf, and of course Elizabeth Short. The murders were enough to frighten and enrage the public, who then demanded that local politicians address their concerns. The 1949 L.A. County Grand Jury was tasked with investigating what many perceived to have been a failure on the part of law enforcement to crack the cases. The Grand Jury dropped the ball on investigating the cops handling of the murders to focus instead on corruption in police vice units, but I’m not sure that it matters.

I don’t believe the murder cases went unsolved due to sloppy police work. What I think is that with the flood of transients (i.e. military personnel, war workers, etc.) into the city after the U.S. entered WWII in December 1941, it became increasingly hard for detectives to solve a homicide case.  If the victim and killer were strangers to one another, which in the war and post-war environment was likely, it would add another layer of difficulty to solving a murder with few, if any, clues.dahlia_herald_3_the black dahlia

By poking around in old newspapers I’ve discovered that there was a large number of dishonorably or medically discharged veterans wandering the streets of L.A. during the 1940s. Some of them had suffered profound trauma during their service, what we’ve come to know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. Others of them, like Otto Stephen Wilson, were screwed up for reasons that had nothing to do with a battlefield.  Wilson had served in the Navy for eleven years before being discharged in November 1941, one month before the U.S. went to war.

The reason for Wilson’s discharge from the Navy was the he suffered from sexual psychosis. If you’re wondering why it took them over a decade to diagnose him, it wasn’t until his wife complained to San Diego naval authorities about his “unnatural impulses” that the he came to the attention of his superiors and they gave him the boot. We’ll get to his impulses later.

Otto Stephen Wilson

Otto Stephen Wilson

Following his discharge from the Navy, Wilson had been living in and around L.A. working menial jobs as kitchen help in various cafes. He had a police record in the city beginning with his arrest on March 25, 1943 on suspicion of criminal attack when a young woman, Celeste Trueger, told cops he had grabbed her by the throat on a hotel stairway. His guilty plea on a battery charge earned him 90 days in jail, 30 of which were suspended.

On March 14, 1944, he was arrested on suspicion of burglary and handed over to county authorities to begin a nine month sentence. Wilson was released on good behavior about a month before he slaughtered two women in downtown hotels.

NEXT TIME: The story of Otto Stephen Wilson’s murder spree continues.

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.