Author Steve Hodel called them The L.A. lone women murders. While I was researching the Black Dahlia murder, I came across Steve Hodel and his book The Black Dahlia Avenger III. I also discovered in that decade, the 1940’s, there was police and political corruption and many unsolved murders of women in Los Angeles. Newspapers in 1947 alone from the Montana Standard Register to the Valley Morning Star in Harlingen, Texas called them victims of the Los Angeles Killer, what the Los Angeles Times referred to as a sadistic, sexual killer.
Are the murders of these women connected? In 1947 according to the newspapers, they were. The LAPD tried to separate these victims, pin them on husbands, estranged husbands and dates, but to this present day they remain unsolved.
One paper referred to the period after the Black Dahlia as 29 months of sexual mutilation slayings of attractive women. The author of a site called Deranged L.A. Crimes revealed other reasons. There was a flood of military personnel, and war workers during the 1940’s, transients. I noticed reading all of those papers from the 1940’s that was true. Forensics were limited at the time, and other than fingerprints there was not a lot of technology in which to solve crime.
After the war there was a mass return of soldiers, many with horrific cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Not only was it not recognized at the time, but men were taught to literally ‘buck up’, be a man and expected to get on with it. So, these men were left roaming the streets with no support whatsoever. A beautiful woman, who told him no or used him to buy her dinner and drinks could be at real risk of violence, and ultimately murder.
The women and the year they died are:
- Ora Murray 1943
- Georgette Bauerdorf 1944
- Elizabeth Short 1947
- Jeanne French 1947
- Laura Trelstad 1947
- Dorothy Montgomery 1947
- Lillian Dominquez 1947
- Gladys Kern 1948
- Mimi Bloomhower 1948
- Jean Spangler 1948
- Louise Springer 1949
To This day all murders go unsolved. Over 7 decades ago multiple murders were not called serial killings, but chain murders.
Let’s start with Ora Murray (42), also known as the Gardenia murder. She and her sergeant husband were both in the military at Camp McCain in Mississippi. She came out west to visit her sister and her husband, Latona and Oswald Leinann. About 5 days after visit was under way the women decided to go dancing at a dance Hall.
Dance Halls were prevalent all over the world during WWII. They were a morale booster for both soldiers and the general population. The large dance halls had an orchestra and the smaller ones had a 3-piece band. Unlike the reputation of Dance clubs today, they were social parlors. Kids from their late teens and early twenties were participants. They were replaced in the 1960’s with adult nightclubs that took on a different tone. These early dance halls were a celebration and raised the spirits during the war.
So that night June 27, 1943, Letona, and Ora went dancing at the Zenda Ballroom. They met two men there, “Preston and Paul”. Paul later invited everyone to take a ride in his flashy blue convertible coupe (Hodel, 2018). Who wouldn’t want to see the lights of Hollywood, L.A.? Preston decided not to go. The trio stopped by Letona’s house so she could pick up Oswald. He begged off, so Letona stayed with him. It was the last time Letona would see her sister alive.
The next morning about dawn a 15-year-old kid whose father was the groundskeeper found Ora, seminude and mutilated on the grounds of Fox Hills Golf Course. She had been strangled, covered in bruises and abrasions. She had a previous injury of 3 broken ribs when she arrived 5 days earlier in Los Angeles. They found a white gardenia under body, which is why her murder is labeled the White Gardenia Murder. Paul was not located, and the murder is still unsolved.
A few days later a woman came forward to say Paul was her fiancé. She had loaned him $700 and another $200 to buy an engagement ring. She also loaned him her new blue convertible coupe. It turned out he was a swindler that pretended to be a Federal attorney. He made is way from military camp to military camp, taking advantage of the women and moving on. He was eventually convicted of swindling and sentenced to 3 years in prison, but never was charged with Ora’s murder.
Georgette Bauerdorf (20) was murdered in her own apartment October 12, 1944. She was the daughter of a rich oil tycoon out of NYC, that had moved into her own apartment only weeks before her death. The killer planned it out, he twisted the globe that lit her entry way, so it was dark in the hallway outside her apartment. The light was 8 feet high so it would have required some assistance. Police surmised it was a day worker that was around the neighborhood. They would have known she lived alone.
Georgette was out at the Hollywood Canteen with her friend June Zeigler that night. Canteens were anything from restaurants to social clubs, often during the war they were on military bases for service men. According to her journal that was retrieved after she was killed, Georgette had an affinity for servicemen, like Elizabeth Short did. She was home by midnight.
The janitor heard a commotion in her apartment about 12:30 a.m. It stopped so he did nothing about it until the next day. At 2:30 a.m. a neighbor said he her a female cry, “Stop you’re killing me” (L.A. Times, 1944). The next morning the janitor took his wife and went up to Georgettes apartment and found her floating in the bathtub. At first officials thought she had fallen in her tub until someone requested a second look. Which I find interesting, as she was strangled, a part of a towel shoved down her throat. She was also raped and was covered in bruises; one large handprint was located on the inside of her right thigh.
The killer took $100 and stole her car. He drove it until it was out of gas and then abandoned it. The witnesses around her at the canteen stated there was a swarthy male with dark hair who kept cutting into her dances with other men, trying to monopolize her time that night. The janitor stated as did others, she had a strict upbringing, and did not entertain men in her apartment. There were fingerprints at the scene, but eventually the crime went cold.
Jeanne French (45) was discovered on a west L.A. Hilltop February 10, 1947. She had been strangled and trampled to death as if someone kicked her over and over, then stomped on her body. There was a message written across her stomach in her own red lipstick, which earned her the name of the Red Lipstick Murder. It stated F*** Y** PD. Also, her mouth was slashed at the sides giving her the same creepy look as the Black Dahlia.
Jeanne was a pilot (after passing her exams was part of the Women’s Air Reserve) she was stewardess for Pioneer, a bit player in the movies and a nurse. She had one son David Wrather named after his father (Jeanne’s first husband) a wealthy oilman in Texas. Upon hearing about her murder, her son collapsed.
Frank French was her 4th marriage, and at that time she began to drink, I could not find any reason necessarily, but their marriage was volatile on both sides. Frank was arrested for punching her in the face at one point. He was accused of her murder but denied it. She went to visit him hours before she was killed. Frank said his landlady could vouch for him, that he did not leave his apartment. He passed a lie detector test and the police moved on. The case eventually went cold and is now associated with the Black Dahlia murder.
Laura Eliza Trelstad was 37 and the mother of 3 young children when on May 12, 1947 she was brutally murdered. She was found on the side of the road, and it appeared her clothes had been hurled at her. There was no identification, but an I.D. was made from a mark on her coat from a laundry. She was hit on the head and strangled to death with a belt from men’s pajamas. She was warm to the touch when discovered, so it had been very recent.
She and her husband were with friends playing cards. Her husband wanted to continue; the women were bored. She stated, “If the boys can play poker, we girls can go dance” (Independent Press-Telegram, Long Beach, March 18, 1956). The other women did not go with her, but she headed out to the Crystal Ballroom. It was the last they saw of her.
Her husband identified her the next day at the morgue. He went home that night after poker and fed his three children. When the police asked why he did not go looking for her, he said he had no one to leave the children with. This murder was never solved. At this point papers from around the country were calling this the 3rd victim in the sadistic, sex slayings in Los Angeles. They were including the murder of one Evelyn Winters (43) alias Victoria Wyndham who was stabbed in the eye March 11, 1947. Ms. Winters was a former studio musician and studio copywriter. She was discovered by a young man who kissed her dead mouth but swore he did not kill her.
An interesting side note about the Trelstad murder is that I found a blog with comments about her murder, and her granddaughter was on the blog discussing it. I will include the link below called 1947 Project. Laura’s daughter Audrey who was 8 at the time of the murder, said that the next day the father asked the 5-year-old daughter Janet to bury this shoe in the back yard and never discuss it again. The children were sent to relatives after their mother died and stayed separated until 1986, when they made contact. The father really had no contact with them. When they were brought back together, it was then Janet revealed the shoe incident. They also connected to their father before he died. Today an apartment building sits on that site, but I suggest reading the article and then the comments, it is where, Jen Thornhill, Audrey’s daughter interacts with the commenters. Laura was part of what was called the ‘Mad Werewolf’ murders.
Dorothy Montgomery (36) was found in a vacant field May 4, 1947 under a Pepper tree. The mother of three had been missing since 9:30 p.m. the previous evening. She went to pick up her daughter Maycille(15) at a dance recital in the playground. She died of asphyxia due to strangulation. She was nude and beaten, the papers referring to her as another Southland mutilation murder victim (Los Angeles Times, 1947).
She was discovered about 10:30 a.m. Saturday May 3, 1947 by a man (G.W. Thomas) repairing his car across the street. He noticed the white under the pepper tree and went to investigate. Dorothy was not killed under the pepper tree but was transported there after her death. Her husband was eventually arrested and tried for the murder. The children were hers from another marriage, and they testified against him at trial. Even so he was acquitted. The crime remains unsolved to this day.
Lillian Dominguez (15) was walking with her sister Angie(17) and her friend Andrea Marquez(17) in Santa Monica, the trio was coming home from a dance. Lillian was slightly behind the other girls. A man approached them from the darkness and brushed against her and then moved on. Lillian shouted, “He touched me.” Seconds later she yelled, “I can’t see”, and then she fell to the ground dead. It seems that he stabbed her with a stiletto knife or an ice pick to the heart, between her second and third ribs.
One week later, October 9, 1947, a note on the back of a business card was left under the door of a L.A. Furniture store. The message was written in pencil. It read, “I killed the Santa Monica Girl, I will kill others.” Steve Hodel (The Black Dahlia III, 2016), includes her murder with the other L.A. Women, most authors do not. The Lillian Dominguez murder occurs 2 miles from Jeanne French (The Red Lipstick Murder). Six of the murders have notes left with significantly unusual signatures. Hodel has a theory that these murders may be related to the Zodiac Killer. A topic for another blog.
Gladys Kern (42) was a real estate broker who was stabbed in the back with a hunting knife while showing a house. As she left her office, a woman working in a small laboratory behind the real estate office saw her with a large man (6ft + and 200+lbs), with a full face. At some point that afternoon she was seen with a man at the counter of a drugstore, today we would call that a meeting. He was about 5’10” dark curly hair. Neither were identified. During the murder, the killer stole her little black book of appointments, which probably would have identified him. He rinsed the knife and wiped it with a handkerchief and left both behind.
Within hours there was an ‘alibi’ letter mailed to the police. Really it was dropped in a mailbox in a sealed envelope. On the back was written, “Hurry give this to the police.” It was the killer’s version of what happened to Gladys Kern. He said he met a prize fighter about 3 weeks ago. He was persuaded to front him a home in Los Feliz, a restricted area. An appointment was made with a real estate agent for Saturday. He drove the woman and the prize fighter to the house. After he waited for a time, he became suspicious and went inside the house. There he saw the prize fighter hunched over the woman. The man covered the prize fighter with a revolver, tied him to the sink with his belt and left. He said he needed to find that man as he was his alibi. The case went cold and again like the others is unsolved.
While waiting in a downtown lot, in her car, Jean Spangler(27) was abducted (along with the car), bludgeoned, strangled with a cloth strip and sodomized with a finger thick 14” tree branch. She was found in an entrance Griffith Park at 7 a.m. by groundskeeper Henry Anger, her white purse to the side with the straps torn. The Los Angeles times said that on October 7, 1949 the dark haired, blue eyed actress kissed her daughter Christine (5), winked at her sister in law and walked calmly out of her Hollywood home and into the night, never to be seen alive again.
She was not yet a star, but she was a show girl. She was also getting acting parts on television. She was well liked, had a good group of friends and was a devoted mother to Christine. She divorced Dexter Benner in 1946 and had sole custody of their daughter Christine. The two lived with her mother in Hollywood. Her mother had gone to visit a son in Kentucky, and had a premonition before she left, she felt something would happen and she shouldn’t go, but we all dismiss those still small voices at times. Her sister-in-law Jean was helping her with Christine, so all the bases were covered. She left the house stating she was going to meet her husband to discuss increasing her support.
Dexter denied he was to meet with Jean, and said he was at home all night with his present wife Lynn, who gave him an alibi. Jean was seen around a market between 5-6pm. Lillian Marks who worked at a stall in the market said she appeared to be walking around waiting for someone she never saw arrive. Two days later, October 9, 1949 she was found in Griffith Park. There was an exhaustive investigation, with no results. A cop’s quote made headlines when he said, “This girl really got around.”
It was August 18, 1949, Mimi Bloomhower’s husband had died years ago, and the 48-year-old widow lived alone in 1949. Her money dwindling, she pawned items to keep up the façade of her previous life with her husband. At her table sat an uneaten salad, her lights were left on and her front door open, but where was Mimi?
Novice E. Bloomhower was a big game hunter, wealthy and very social. He made sure when he was alive Mimi sported big diamonds on her fingers. She was wearing $25, 000 ($260,615.00 in 2019)worth of jewels that night as she was to meet a girlfriend, Stella Hunter. Stella had to cancel due to a business meeting. 5 Days after her disappearance, her white handbag was found in a telephone booth next to a supermarket in Los Angeles. On the side was scrawled, “We found at the beach Thursday night” (Tribune, 1959). The purse showed no evidence of saltwater or sand. She was never seen again, seven years later (1956) they declared her legally dead, and her estate was $619.46 in cash and $25, 920 in government bonds.
Louise Springer (28) had her own beauty shop in Los Angeles. She was found murdered June 13, 1949 in the back of her husband’s convertible sedan. She had been garroted with a length of clothesline that had been knotted. Her face was swollen and nearly black. Her skirt and clothes twisted around her body. A stick 14 inches long and ¼ inch thick was shoved up in her body.
Laurence said she closed up shop he went to pick her up from work. Her feet hurting her after standing on them all day, she changed into her slippers in the car and exclaimed “I forgot my glasses”. So, he volunteered to go get them for her. When he came back, she was gone. That is his story. When the police investigated the scene, they determined there was no dirt, or stains on her or her shoes, and that she never left the car. Her murder took place on 38th street 2 blocks from where the Black Dahlia was found.
Witnesses described a young man later identified as Ralph Kyle (23) getting out of the Springers car, then walking down the street. Kyle was former submarine electrician in the war, but at this point he was jobless and homeless, he slept in his car and still liked to wear his uniform. Turned out Ralph Kyle had an alibi and was released from custody. The cord in his car didn’t match the one Louise was strangled with.
Laurence Springer and his friend Benny Moritz went down to the coroner’s office to I.D. Louise. Springer could not do it, so he had Benny Moritz do it. Guilty conscious maybe? Louise closed up her shop in the evening and then waited for the bus at the same place each day. She told her husband Laurence, “I certainly get lots of offers for rides when I wait for the bus.” Perhaps Mr. Springer did not like that. The torture murder of Mrs. Springer left the police baffled. At this point nine attractive women beginning with the Black Dahlia had created years of terror in Los Angeles. This case also remains unsolved.
Many people believe these murders are related, by the same person. What do you think? A few husbands I wrote about fit the bill, I found it especially interesting the blog I went on That Jen Thornhill granddaughter of Laura Trelstad commented. As I stated before she told the story of how her father had her sister Janet (who was 5 at the time), bury a shoe in the back yard and never tell anyone. Until 1986 she kept the secret.
There were others, probably more than I discovered. I came across Viola Norton (36) was abducted by two men February 14, 1948 she was bludgeoned, slashed and dumped for dead; however, she survived the attack. Marion Newton(36) was not so lucky. She was a Canadian divorcee whose beaten body was dumped on Torrey Pines Mesa 12 hours after she was seen with a swarthy man wearing a sombrero that said, “Sugar Daddy.” I only discovered articles in the newspapers, because they were close to another victim I was researching. Who knows what I would have discovered if I were reading the papers consistently.
There are commonalities to the crimes, strangulation, beating, the assault with a stick, notes to the police on a few. Until I read the story of the Hillside strangler, I would not have believed these were related, now I am not so sure. In fact, I think there may have been more than one killer. I also believe a couple of men killed their wives. These were the parents of the baby boomers at a time in the United States of great economic growth and the fulfillment of the American Dream. With this backdrop in L.A. a thriving metropolis, these horrific crimes took place.
- a., Mother of Three Choked to Death, Body Flung in Signal Hill Oil Field, Los Angeles Times, (May 13, 1947), The Los Angeles Times, https://www.newspapers.com/image/381107144/?terms=laura%2Btrelstad%2Bmurder%2Bin%2Blos%2Bangeles
- a., Neighbor Tells Heiress’ Screams on Death Night, (October 16, 1944), Los Angeles Times, https://www.newspapers.com/image/380785821/?terms=Georgette%2BBauerdorf%2C%2BLos%2BAngeles
- a., Los Angeles Killer Claims New Victim, (May 13, 1947), Valley Morning Star, https://www.newspapers.com/image/43065727/?terms=laura%2Btrelstad%2Bmurder%2Bin%2Blos%2Bangeles
- Kahn, Alexander, Mother of 3 Children Latest Los Angeles Victim of Murder, (May 13, 1947), The Tribune (Scranton, PA), https://www.newspapers.com/image/529077236/?terms=laura%2Btrelstad%2Bmurder%2Bin%2Blos%2Bangeles
- a. Slain Woman’s Husband Freed (August 2, 1947), The San Bernardino County Sun, https://www.newspapers.com/image/49374098/?terms=Thomas%2BMontgomery
- Hodel, Steve, New Found 1947 “Avenger Note” Believed to be a Signature Link to Other A.A. Lone Woman Murders-Provides Additional Linkage to Red Lipstick, Avenger, Zodiac Crimes, (2018), https://stevehodel.com/2010/05/09/discovery_of_1947_avenger_note/
- a. Woman Slain in Hollywood Mystery; Police Seek Anonymous Note Writer, Pt. I, (February 17, 1948), Los Angeles Times, https://www.newspapers.com/image/381261451/?terms=Gladys%2BKern%2Bmurder%2C%2B%2C%2BCalifornia%2C
- a. , Fear Felt for Missing Widow, (August 25, 1949), The Arizona Daily Star, https://www.newspapers.com/image/162795542/?terms=Mimi%2BBloomhower%2C%2B%2BCalifornia
- a., The Mystery of Mimi Puzzle Friends, (August 16, 1959), Terre Haute Tribune, https://www.newspapers.com/image/83031937/?terms=Mimi%2BBloomhower%2C%2B%2BCalifornia
- a., Daughter to Note 3rd Year of Actress Disappearance, (October 5, 1952), Los Angeles Times, https://www.newspapers.com/image/385702560/?terms=Jean%2BSpangler
- a., TV Actress Feared Victim of Sex Fiend, (October 12, 1949), Long Beach Independent, https://www.newspapers.com/image/74102462/?terms=Jean%2BSpangler
- Associated Press, Jean Spangler Believed Victim in ‘Dahlia’ Series, (October 12, 1949), St. Louis Star and Times, https://www.newspapers.com/image/205340320/?terms=Jean%2BSpangler
- a., Springer Murder Tips Flood Police, (June 18, 1949), Los Angeles Times, https://www.newspapers.com/image/380784372/
- a., L.A. Police Quiz Sailor in Brutal Rape, Murder (June 17, 1949), The San Mateo Times, https://www.newspapers.com/image/38907610/?terms=Louise%2BSpringer%2C%2B%2C%2BCalifornia
- a., The Butcher, (2013), Deranged L.A. Crimes, https://derangedlacrimes.com/?p=3891
- a., Jilted Gal Rings Guy in Gardenia Murder, (August 6, 1943), Daily News New York, New York, https://www.newspapers.com/image/434921040/?terms=Ora%2BMurray%2C%2BLos%2BAngeles%2C%2BWhite%2BGardenia%2BMurder%2C
- Williams, Vera, Shades of the Black Dahlia; Long Beach’s Pajama String, (March 18, 1956), Independent Press Telegram, https://www.newspapers.com/image/17527935/?terms=Laura%2BTrelstad
- a., Another Nude Murder in L.A., March 10, 1947), Santa Cruz Sentinel, https://www.newspapers.com/image/?clipping_id=9519358&fcfToken=eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJmcmVlLXZpZXctaWQiOjU3NjcwMTAwLCJpYXQiOjE1NjE2MTM4MDksImV4cCI6MTU2MTcwMDIwOX0.UvoUxiRHqos-uWOILfXHyj4JZmsKuYJOFCiqHJuLo9o
- a., Mother of Three Choked to Death; Body Flung on Signal Hill Oil Field, (May 2005), 1947Project, http://1947project.blogspot.com/2005/05/mother-of-three-choked-to-death-body.html
- a., Letter Tells Details of L.A. Killing, (February 17, 1948), The Bakersfield Californian, https://www.newspapers.com/image/3314001/?terms=Gladys%2BKern