Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Jeanne French & The Red Lipstick Murder- Los Angeles 1947

It was a cool, dewy morning that Monday out on “The Moors.” It was a lover's lane of sorts. A place where hills once stood overlooking Los Angeles, near Indianapolis Street and Grand View Avenue. Just as a young bulldozer operator was travelling near the site of a new housing project that morning, he stumbled upon the body of a woman.

The name of the victim was Mrs. Jeanne French. The details surrounding the events prior to her death remain a mystery to this day. Many claim to have tied her murder to the infamous Black Dahlia Murder of Elizabeth Short that took place just one month prior to Jeanne French’s death. As much as people like to speculate, there are NO TIES to Jeanne French’s murder and Elizabeth Short’s.


When Jeanne French’s body was found, the media had made it there probably just as soon as the police did. Being that the local papers and reporters listened in on the same radio frequency as the police dispatch, the crime scene was not kept a secret for long. It was well known that the reporters took photos of the body and quickly tied this murder to the Dahlia case based on one thing, initials.

The body of Jeanne French was literally stomped on to death. She had been stomped in such a vicious manner that her ribs fractured and her liver among other internal organs had hemorrhaged so badly that she internally bled to death. She had also been knocked in the head with an object but that did not kill her. It was the stomping of her upper body that ultimately did poor Jeanne in.

On her naked and exposed body was written, “F--- YOU P.D.” and then “TEX” just below it. What many people think based on misguided information is that the body said “B.D.” as in BLACK DAHLIA, however the Coroner’s report even explained that the lipstick spelled out P.D. not B.D.

Let’s stop here and imagine we could go back in time, to the moments before she died. Let’s really think about this for a second. Here is Jeanne French, lying there probably dying a slow painful death. She was naked and exposed to the elements. Her murderer had stomped on her with his shoes, the same shoes that walked through the dirt, rocks and grassy areas to get her body there. Imagine now it is around 2-3 am and the morning dew was setting in all around. Imagine all the dirty foot prints left all over her body and then he decides to write on her body with her red lipstick. 

It appears as if he wrote “P” (see mark 'A' on photo) and then attempted to write “D” (see mark 'B' on photo) but perhaps her skin was too slippery from the dirt, the morning dew and grass to accept the texture of the lipstick, so he moved over a space and now he finally completed the letter “D” (see mark 'C' on photo). That is why it looks like an extra loop in between the P and the D. If you look closely enough you will see that it really doesn’t look like a “B” at all, in fact the bottom part of the B would look significantly larger than the top. What do you think he is going to do, wipe it off and start writing all over? It’s not like he had a great margin for error…

Another conclusion is that the bottom part of the B is quite simply a muddy heel mark that curves perfectly and happened to have been on the right part of the skin that during the photograph taken appeared to show a B instead of a P. Nevertheless, the Coroner stated that the writing “in lipstick” was “F--- YOU P.D.” and “TEX.”

So who was this lady Jeanne French? She was a 45 year old woman who lived in Los Angeles. She had once been known as one of the first “flying nurses” during WWII, where she gained much recognition for her contributions to the country. She dabbled in acting, only nailing small roles in her younger years, using the stage name “Jeanne Axford Thomas.”

Jeanne had married young to a rich oil tycoon named David Yandell Wrather of Amarillo, Texas. In 1920, Jeanne gave birth to her first and only child, David Yandell Wrather Jr. By 1924, the marriage between French and Wrather had fell apart and records show that French gained full custody of the young boy who was only four years old at the time.

Between the years 1924-1938, while her son was a minor, it is unknown as to what she did for a living and how she supported her son. She was good friends with oil heiress Millicent Rogers, so it is logical to think she was in a socialite lifestyle during her young adult years. It is possible that she continued her small acting jobs or went to school to be a nurse, but I have not been able to locate any other information about this. I did find that by the time that WWII had broke out she was long gone serving her country all over the globe travelling with “The International Set.”

In 1945, French met serviceman Frank French, who was a veteran of two wars. They had only been married for two years before the marriage began to fall apart. French, probably being resentful for the fact her new husband couldn’t provide that lavish lifestyle she had been accustomed to, began drinking heavily to ease her pain. She became a mean drinker and would often take it out on her husband after she had a few drinks in her.

Frank French, on the other had was dealing with his own personal problems. Coming home from the war, the experiences he dealt with first hand at Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack obviously had taken its toll on him mentally. In fact, he had agreed to a six month marital separation and that he would admit himself to a psychiatric ward of the V.A. Hospital just days before his wife was killed.

Frank & Jeanne French

The day was February 9, 1947 and it was a Sunday evening. Just nine days prior French and her husband Frank had got into a bad argument where Frank ended up punching her in the face and giving her a black eye. French then had her husband arrested on domestic violence charges. Soon after that incident, Frank moved out to a small apartment in Santa Monica near his job while, French remained at their residence alone.

The night of Sunday, February 9th, Jeanne was seen visiting her estranged husband’s apartment at 1547 Stanford Avenue, Santa Monica around 11:45 pm. The couple argued outside the front porch for awhile before Jeanne was seen leaving without her husband. Her husband was questioned later where several articles in the paper say that he had been out drinking with her earlier in the evening, but then other statements say that he remained home for the evening and even had his landlady vouch for his alibi.
Jeanne then went out after visiting Frank and ended up at The Picadilly Drive-In at 3932 Sepulveda Avenue, in Los Angeles between 12:00 and 1:00 am. A carhop was stated later saying that he saw French eating with a mystery man, later leaving her car parked there. A janitor later claimed the car was still parked there well after 2 am. It is obvious to conclude that Jeanne then left in the car of her murderer, unknowingly of course. 


When you think of the classic whodunit tale you must first come up with a motive. In this instance, many would first think it had to be her husband, right? Wrong!!

Did he have a motive? Sure he did, but did he do it? I don’t think so.

From all the interviews it seems that Jeanne was more the violent type than Frank was. Yes, he “allegedly” beat her up nine days before she died, but do we know what Jeanne did leading up to it? Even Detective Gene Bechtel said after questioning Frank, that he could see Frank couldn’t have done it, “His story stands up.” There was no evidence pointing to him anyways. 

The footprint of the killer was significantly smaller than Frank’s shoe size and he wasn’t getting anything out of her dying anyways. Yes, Jeanne’s death cancelled their court appointment that morning for the domestic violence charges he was being charged with along with an impending divorce. But one thing many do not mention was that Frank had already applied for admission to the psycho-neurotic ward of the V.A. Hospital to help him cope with all the issues he had experienced during the war just to show Jeanne was trying to get better. You see, he wanted to get better and see if it helped matters.

From the articles and interviews, Jeanne was not exactly the perfect person either. She was a drinker, and mean one, too. Her own son David Yandell Wrather Jr. made remarks to that effect when his step father was quoted saying, “She was mean when she had been drinking.”


Well, to go further into the story we then have to dig a little deeper. Remember Jeanne’s body also had the name “TEX” written on the left side of her waist in red lipstick?

Why doesn’t anyone ever bring this up? Simple, no one has ever figured it out.

TEX is obviously standing for Texas. Jeanne was from Texas originally, and her first husband was from Texas as well. After her marriage to David Yandell Wrather was over, she ended up a single mother with custody of their son, David Y. Wrather Jr.

So what became of her ex-husband? He remarried a lady named Lucille and records indicate that in 1932 they had a son, who they also named DAVID YANDELL WRATHER

Back up a second, did you notice something?! Why on earth would a father name his second son, after the first son he had? That doesn’t make any sense to me. Does it make sense to you?

So he was married to Jeanne and had a son in 1920, who he named David Yandell Wrather. Then they divorce and Jeanne takes the boy. 1930, he remarries this time to a lady named Lucille and has a son in 1932 and names him David Yandell Wrather, too?! Too weird.

It almost seems as if this man was replacing the son that French took away. I did some records checking and I found the death information of David Wrather Sr. and his second wife. There are no records of their son on their graves or funeral notices, only the mention of a daughter they had, but no son. I find that quite strange, also. I am not saying this has anything to do with who killed Jeanne or that any of them did it, but I did have to state this because it just struck me as odd. Just an extra tidbit of trivia for you!


Could it have been possible that someone that Jeanne knew from Texas, even possibly a past relative or friend could have taken out revenge on her for something from the past? I think it is quite possible.
Her very own son David, when he was told the news that she had passed, was said to have collapsed from the emotional stress. He then told the police he wanted to speak to his step father alone without them listening, saying “He will tell me things that he won’t tell you.” Of course Captain Donahue declined his request.

As David Yandell Wrather Jr. came in to speak to his step-father he shouted, “Well, I have told them the truth.”

I don’t know about you but that sounds strange. Does that sound like something you are going to blurt out? Especially, the minute you walk into a room to speak to a person that is being held for questioning on the murder of your mom? 

When Frank French replied “I swear to GOD I didn’t kill her,” then Wrather replied back, “You know I loved Mom very much.”

Now I don’t want to start blaming people and accusing them of anything, but I still find Wrather’s comments to be strange and out of place. (Again, I am not accusing anyone!)

Later on David Y. Wrather Jr. was interviewed for various newspapers saying, “She made friends easy, awful easy. She went out alone sometimes. She's gone now, and I'm sure she would want me to say the right thing. She made a lot of her own trouble. Her husband tolerated a lot from her. He was a tolerant man, a very tolerant man."

Was her son insinuating that his step-father did it? But then why didn’t the evidence point to Frank? Remember this, her own son said “She made a lot of her own trouble.” Could this mean he was insinuating that she often pissed people off? How many enemies then do you think Jeanne may have made?
Who then could have had such a resentment to Jeanne that he could have just lost it and murdered her? It was said that the murder of Jeanne French was a murder of hate. Whoever did this to her was very mad at her, to the point of insanity. I believe that whoever killed Jeanne had some connection to Texas and was mocking the police, as if they had some deep pockets and weren’t going to get caught.

I also find it interesting that there was a mystery man questioned later but all records remained sealed, so no one knows who it is. It was as if the whole thing was covered up due to deep pockets and people in high places. Smells like rich people with lots of money to me. 


The murder of Jeanne French was an atrocity of mass proportions, there is no doubting that. The connection people claim it has to the Black Dahlia is a nonexistent one.

There have been people such as the likes of writer, Steve Hodel that claim his father Dr. Hodel was in fact the murderer of Jeanne French as well as all the other unsolved murders of women in Los Angeles during that time period. Despite the fact that the Modus Operandi in each murder is significantly different, except for the murder of Georgette Bauerdorf and Elizabeth Short, Steve Hodel still claims his father is the serial killer.
Jeanne French was not killed by the same person who killed the Black Dahlia. There is no way. The killer cut Elizabeth Short up and literally butchered her. Her body was not precisely dissected, but upon a closer examination you would see that a common butcher knife was used to cut her up like a piece of meat. There was no ingenious mad surgeon going around killing just a few women with knives and scalpels and then later choosing Jeanne just to stomp to death.  Dr. Hodel is not some omnipresent person who saw all and was everywhere at all times. It is ludicrous to even think that Dr. Hodel was the killer of the Black Dahlia let alone also the Torso Murders of Cleveland and the Lipstick Murders of Chicago as some claim.

With ending, I have to say that Jeanne French’s murder was just a murder by someone who apparently knew her and had a strong hatred for her. Could it have been her son? No, I don't think so. But even if I did think so, I won't stoop to such lows as to accuse him of it.
I just found out that Jeanne French's son passed away this year, according to my research. I also find it in poor taste to accuse someone of murder (a) without evidence and (b) who doesn’t have the capability to defend himself.   I do think that the killer of Jeanne French was someone who had been close to her at one point or another and more than likely had ties to Texas (given the TEX found on her body).

In the end, the answer to who killed Jeanne is inconsequential being that they are long dead by now and thus have to account for their sins with GOD on their own. 

What I bring to this story is the truth. Jeanne French was a woman who had a story. She was a wife and a mother. She lived a short while in the social limelight and had her dreams crushed later as age took its toll on her. She became bitter and sad and went to alcohol for relief. Perhaps too many drinks that night led her to poor judgment and poor reflexes, which didn’t help her fight off her attacker.

Her body was then left to be humiliated out in the open, exposing her to the elements. The killer wanted to make a statement, he wanted to show her for who he thought she was…..obviously he hated her if he chose to stomp her to death. All the while her poor cold body lay there on the dirt and rocks and grass, slowly dying. Each breath growing shorter and shorter until no breath at all. Somehow her story became entangled with another high profile story that had a life of its own, leaving Jeanne's story to fade to black and be forgotten.

This story is to remember Jeanne French as an individual with a story of her own. Not to be a stapled attachment to the Black Dahlia Case, but to show that her murder was as significant as Elizabeth Short’s, just different. A woman was killed, a murder was committed and a mystery left unsolved.

J'aime Rubio 2011 (copyright)
The Pittsburgh Press- 2/11/1947
Tonawanda New York Paper- 2/11/1947
The Gazette- 2/12/1947
The Evening News- 2/11/1947
Reading Eagle- 2/11/1947
Personal Research-Archives

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Was William Holden's Death an Accident or Murder?

What I am about to tell you is going to shock you. Many people have written articles about William Holden in the past and even to this day. What they fail to provide you is the facts of the story. Bottom line, they fail to provide the truth.

If you 'Google' "William Holden" or “William Holden’s Death” I am sure you will find pages upon pages of articles, blogs and stories pertaining to his untimely demise. However, no one wants to actually figure out the whole story. If you were around when William Holden died you probably read about it or heard about it on the news or radio.

Most stories include that he slipped or tripped on a throw rug and hit his head on a night stand, which in turn caused the injury that killed him. Another tidbit they never fail to mention is that he was allegedly “drunk” due to his blood alcohol level at the time (0.22) according to the Coroner. Of course that would never be left out, given Holden's reputation for alcoholism. This leads you to the conclusion that whole thing should be written off as a 'drunk slip and fall accident' and nothing more.

There are some who say that the apartment Manager, Bill Martin became concerned and let himself into the apartment only to find Holden’s body. Many also claim that Stefanie Powers was the long time love of his life. Due to this theory, people assume that is why she inherited most of his fortune after he died.

What if I was to tell you that there was more to this story?

What if I was to tell you that William Holden was no longer with Stefanie Powers but was planning to marry someone else, someone he had a relationship long before Stefanie?

What if I was to tell you that the day he died was just one month short of a planned trip he had with his “secret love.” A lady that seems the media has chose to leave out of the story for the last 30 years?

Today, here and now you are going to hear the real facts of the story that have been long left out since November of 1981. You will also see the possible link to Natalie Wood’s death as well. Now I am not going to sit here and defame or accuse people downright, but I am going to lay out the facts and then you can be your own detective and draw your own conclusions from it.
Sounds good? Ok, here we go………….


William Holden’s body was found Monday, November 16th after the persistent calls from Brian and Elaine Keating, Holden’s live in staff at his Palm Springs home. But what many don’t know is that they weren’t the only ones who were calling the Manager there at Holden’s complex at 535 Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica.

In fact, Patricia Morgan Stauffer was the one who kept insisting that someone check on Holden after she hadn’t heard from him for several days. Contrary to many stories, the Manager Bill Martin did not seem to care at all about the welfare of Holden. In fact no one had seen or heard from Holden in days until Patricia Stauffer and The Keating’s got the police involved after being refused entry into the apartment by none other than the Manager, Bill Martin. Sargeant Dick Tapia was called to the residence and was the first person to discover the body after breaking down the door.

Most people do not know who Patricia Stauffer is in this whole story. She is usually just mentioned briefly in one or two sentences as a caring friend who was concerned about Holden after not hearing from him for several days. 

Holden and Stauffer had planned a trip to Africa on December 13th and were to be married at the Kenya Safari Club on New Years Eve just seven weeks from that date. Holden wasn’t answering his calls or calling her back for any sort of explanation. After speaking to the Keating’s they also grew worried about Holden and started making phone calls.

William Holden’s friends and employees, the Keating’s were aware that Patricia was his love, not Stefanie Powers as many believed. Even Holden’s friend and former publicist Jay Bernstein claimed that he believed that story of Holden and Stauffer planning to wed to be true because he claimed that Bill “had always been in love with her.”


Patricia Morgan Stauffer met William Holden on New Year’s Eve in 1964. Soon after, Patricia -who was married to Teddy Stauffer at the time, started an ongoing affair with Holden for nearly 10 years while he was going through ups and downs in his marriage to actress Brenda Marshall.

In 1966, Stauffer divorced from her husband while it took until 1971 for Holden and Marshall to be divorced. Patricia claimed that the first round of her relationship with Holden lasted until 1974, when he eventually he became linked to actress, Stefanie Powers. It was known in Holden’s family and through his close friends that during his relationship to Powers that he continued to remain very close with Stauffer. It was also not a secret that Holden preferred to keep his personal life quiet and that is why much about his relationship with Patricia before and after Powers,was unknown.

Holden had mentioned marriage to Patricia for years after the divorce of his first wife, but it wasn’t until he proposed officially to her over the Labor Day weekend September 1981, that she accepted in front of their friends in La Costa, Calif.

The mainstream media says that Holden was with Stefanie Powers at the time of his death, since she did inherit most of his fortune which he had bequeathed to her in his Will, while Stauffer only inherited a small amount of money (according to my research). 

According to Powers in her many interviews she acted as if they were still together at the time of Holden’s death despite the fact she no longer lived with him. When asked about their relationship in an interview for harttohartonline.com she says: “Bill and I were like soul mates. He came along at the lowest emotional point in my life. I was working- surviving, but at the end of a very unsuccessful marriage. He helped make me back into a human being....”

When asked about marriage Powers also stated: “We didn’t need to get married. We’d both done that before. There was no question of having children- Bill couldn’t have anymore. We simply didn’t feel the need to marry.”

“We didn’t need to get married”- may have really meant he didn’t want to marry her, not that he didn’t ever want to get remarried. Especially so since Patricia Stauffer- who knew Holden much longer than Powers, claims he had spoken of it often to her since the early 1970’s.

It is not a secret that Powers’ and Holden’s relationship was volatile. There are several stories about them having a very explosive relationship and sometimes even having physical fights with one another. Then there are the rumors of his drinking problem and that he was impotent due to extensive alcohol issues, which caused more problems in their relationship. It is true that Powers was no longer living with Holden at the time of his death, but it is very possible she still had a key to the apartment.

So here we are on the day of his death, which the Coroner claims was November 12th (which happened to be a Thursday) and his body was found on Monday the 16th.


Holden was found in his apartment on Monday, November 16th laying on the floor of his bedroom in his Santa Monica apartment. It appeared to Medical Examiner Thomas Noguchi his initial feeling was that Holden had been murdered. However, over the course of the investigation somehow Noguchi’s opinion changed.

Holden’s body was found in an advanced state of decomposition. He was dressed only in a white blood stained shirt and a robe. His head had a large laceration on the forehead and there were maggots present on his skin and wound due to many days of decomposing on his bedroom floor. The floor surrounding his body was full of blood and body fluids, as well as the sheets of his bed. There was blood spatter on the phone in the bedroom on the nightstand although no evidence that the phone had been used to call for help.

According to Noguchi’s notations: "On the basis of the autopsy findings and the at scene investigation, it became clear that the decedent accidentally fell due to tripping over the throw rug on the bedroom floor beside the bed, and fell into the sharp edge of the bedside table causing a deep cut on the right forehead followed by profuse hemorrhage. There is no evidence of vomiting blood as there is no evidence of hemorrhage in the Gastrointestinal Tract or gastric contents in the blood pool on the bed or on the floor. There is no evidence of foul play as the room is not disturbed and the room was well secured as well as presence of numerous blood soaked beside the bed."


So the report claimed that Holden’s blood alcohol level was 0.22. So what!
If you read my story about Natalie Wood you would know that I have clarified the fact that when a person dies their body starts to produce ethanol on its own, to start the decomposition process. So basically unless you check the vitreous humour (in the eye) to check for pre-mortem alcohol levels there is no way to differentiate the two types of ethanol in your system (pre or post mortem) from the blood or organs. 

Therefore, after four days of William Holden’s body laying there rotting away on the floor, the ethanol his body created to start decomposition is more than likely the cause for such a high blood alcohol level and not that he was drunk. I am so surprised that these doctors, being that they are licensed and supposed to be able to figure this stuff out just left all this out of both Natalie’s autopsy report and William Holden’s as well.


I find it quite interesting that Dr. Noguchi stated that at first glance he thought Holden had been murdered, but then he later recanted that statement. I also think it is quite interesting in how the Coroners claim he died. They think he slipped on a rug and hit the teak nightstand in his bedroom. The autopsy claims that his head hit with such a force that it caused a “blunt laceration of the scalp” which was 2 inches long and the nightstand was pushed so hard into the wall that it left an indention in the wall 3 inches deep.

When one of the investigators at the scene tried to move the nightstand he had to ask for other men to help him move it. Doesn’t that tell you something? How did William Holden trip and hit his head so hard on the nightstand that it would leave such a deep impression into the wall, but yet it was so difficult for one man to move on his own? 

(Personal Opinion: I think that someone hit him over the head with an object, and staged the nightstand to look as if he hit it and caused the injury.)

If this was the case, it had to be more than one person to move that nightstand, too. It was also stated that the apartment was decorated to look like the stage of the movie "Love is a Many Splendoured Thing" and everything was neat and put in its place most of the time. But upon investigation the teak nightstand was sticking out like a sore thumb in the way it was placed in the room, it had been moved there by someone....it didn't appear that it was supposed to be there normally.

So here we are at the scene, can you imagine it now? 

There is William Holden, he has been hit by some object and is profusely bleeding. The reports say he may have been conscious for up to fifteen minutes before death. It was obvious that if he was murdered, he was awake in the room with his killer or killers. 

The injury didn’t crack his skull as many appear to think, because the death certificate says his cause of death was “exsanguination” meaning he bled out. The laceration on his forehead was also on the death certificate but there was no mention of skull fracture or brain injury from the blunt force to the head.


Many speculated that Holden was a depressed drunk and had committed suicide however his friends and family knew that was not the case. “That is not what Bill left us, the fact that he had a battle with alcohol is not the story of his life,” said friend and former publicist Jay Bernstein. “He was not looking to end his life. He had proposed marriage to someone he had known for seventeen years.”

In fact, as soon as Bill Holden had found out that work on an upcoming project, “The Championship Season” had been postponed until the Spring of '82, that is when he made plans to go on his Kenya Safari vacation with Stauffer to spend those weeks together, marrying on New Years Eve.


So how is all this connected to Natalie Wood? Well, I cannot give you a concrete affirmation that this is connected to her death. But I will state to you the scenario that is a possibility.

So here it is the early 80’s and the series “Hart to Hart” starring none other than Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers is in its prime. Powers’ and Holden’s relationship was not much of anything anymore and Powers’ was living in her own house as well. Remember, Stefanie Powers wasn’t all that famous before she got with William Holden. Their May-December romance was one many didn’t understand or cared to understand. Holden had nothing to gain out of his relationship, but Powers’ had everything to gain. When he died, she got a huge chunk of his estate, and the media craze from Holden’s mysterious death sky rocketed her into serious celebrity status.

FOR THE RECORD, I am not accusing or insinuating that Stephanie Powers had ANYTHING to do with William Holden's death, I am merely stating the information that is already out there in public domain that speaks about their past relationship. One thing though that I would like you to remember, Holden was planning to marry Patricia Stauffer and they were just about to leave on their trip and get married. He wasn't in a relationship with Stephanie Powers when he died.

I just find it very strange that both William Holden who was linked to Powers (Hart to Hart) and Natalie Wood who was married to Wagner (Hart to Hart) both died within two weeks of one another. Both people suffering from suspicious deaths, both examined by Dr. Noguchi and both ruled “Accidental” when the evidence says otherwise.

The evidence doesn’t lie. Go ahead and do your own investigation into William Holden’s death and I am sure you will find holes in it, just as you will find tons of holes in Natalie Wood’s death, too.

It hurts me to my very core wondering what truly happened to both Natalie Wood and William Holden, and how much I feel that the two deaths are somehow connected. Even if there isn't any way of proving it.

History is full of mysteries and unsolved or suspicious deaths that are ruled “accidental” but sometimes with the right information and the passion to uncover the truth you can see through the veil of lies and open your eyes to the truth, hidden in plain sight!

Bill Holden with Patricia Stauffer Labor Day Weekend 1981 (source: Associated Press Photo 1981)

J’aime Rubio (Copyright 12/15/2011)
some of my sources:
William Holden Death Certificate, Autopsy Report
Arguss Press (11/17/1981)
William Holden: A Biography- Michelangelo Capua
Daytona Beach Morning Journal (11/220/1981)
Ocala Star Banner- (11/19/1981)
Hart to Hart Online

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Beaten Before Death- Natalie Wood Investigation

One of Hollywood’s most eluding mysteries has resurfaced just a few days shy of the 30 year anniversary of actress Natalie Wood’s untimely death. Speculation has always surrounded her death from the very beginning. It is known now that the Sheriff’s re-opening of the investigation has sparked even more controversy.

I think I can speak for many out there that are happy that some new information has come “to light.” However, I cannot help but wonder why this is all coming out now? I am not saying that it’s not a good thing, because I agree that her death was not investigated thoroughly and perhaps even covered up. But even if the investigation is done for a second time, it doesn’t’ mean that people won’t get “paid off” again. After all isn’t that how Hollywood works?

I was speaking to one of my friends, who happens to be an actor, and we were just talking about this very subject awhile back. Since I love to look into mysteries and cover-ups he had encouraged me to look into the story and write about it on my blog. I put in on my list of many stories I had planned on doing over the course of the next month or two.

To my surprise, since there was a floodgate of information just spewing in front of me on the internet because of the police finally deciding to reopen the case, I suddenly felt the urge to stop working on my other stories and get to work on my story of this story. Earlier this week, I read about Dennis Davern, the Captain of Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood’s yacht “Splendour”. He recently came forward with information regarding that fateful night in 1981.

I have also read a few news articles that a woman by the name of Marilyn Wayne, (a verbal witness- you could say) claimed to hear Natalie’s cries for help on the terrible evening of her death. I have gone over the stories each person has stated and the stories that the Medical Examiner Thomas Noguchi stated for the news media in 1981, I have even pulled Natalie’s 34 page autopsy report and went over it.
I am going to go over each person’s statements and also the facts I have uncovered and let you decide for yourself. After is all said and done, you can make your own opinions of whether you think she just “slipped and fell” or if you think something more sinister took place.

Remember, as much as you want to believe something, the facts and stories can be two different things. Just because you want to believe or don’t want to believe something , it doesn’t mean it did or didn’t happen. The facts speak for themselves and one discrepancy or mistake is all one needs to find that can send an entire story unraveling before your very eyes.

Robert Wagner’s Story: 

According to Natalie’s husband, Robert Wagner, he said that fellow actor and friend Christopher Walken had joined them for the evening on their yacht, “Splendour”. They had enjoyed dinner and drinks on the island to the point that they were all “tipsy.” Later on in the evening a heated argument between the two men had taken place where Wagner claimed that Walken had been encouraging Wood to put her career first instead of devoting energy and time to her personal life. Wagner explained that this infuriated him and lead to their fight which led up to Wagner slamming a bottle of wine down and breaking it out of anger.

According to Wagner, his wife had retired to the Master Stateroom for the night. He claimed that when he came to their room he found that it was empty and assumed she had gone back up on deck, but then he noticed that the dinghy was gone. He said that he couldn’t imagine that she would have gone being that she was deathly afraid of the dark waters and could not swim.

He also claimed that the engine of the dinghy was very loud and that he didn’t hear it turn on, but goes on to admit that he thought she may have taken it anyways. It was reported that he admitted that the dinghy’s engine was so loud that they would often hear it through the soundproof walls of the yacht.
When asked why Wagner didn’t signal for help to the coast guard for several hours he claimed "We had just run out of options, but I didn't allow myself to actually contemplate what that meant – it was too unthinkable."

So if we are to believe his story, then we are to believe that he just couldn’t come to grips with the fact that she was gone so he didn’t do anything? That they were on a boat just off the coast of Catalina and his wife, the love of his life was no longer on it so he doesn’t bother to call for help or report her missing for three hours because he was wishing she would just magically appear or what?

“Nobody knows,” Robert Wagner wrote in his book “Pieces of My Heart.” Really Robert? Nobody?

The Captain’s Story:

Dennis Davern claims that Robert Wagner became enraged at Walken and even cursed at him during a heated argument saying “What do you want to do, f**k my wife? Is that what you want?”"
Walken then went to his room and Woods went to the Master Stateroom. About a minute later Wagner joined Woods in the room and there was loud yelling and the sounds of breaking glass and throwing of objects and then complete silence. 

According to Davern’s book “Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour” he goes on to say “We didn’t take any steps to see if we could locate her. It was a matter of don’t look too hard, don’t turn on search light, don’t call anyone.”

Why Davern decided to come forth now is still a mystery, as he claims it is his conscience. His book was published a few years ago so I am figuring that it has taken some time for the police to find any credible reason to re-open the case? I find the timing to be quite interesting since it is nearly the 30 year anniversary of Natalie Wood’s death. Nevertheless, the story is out now and the case has been re-opened.

According to the Co-Author of the book “Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour” Marti Rulli stated that she had been working on this book since 1983 when a “distraught Dennis” contacted her. In her own words she goes on to state that she believed that this book was Dennis’ way to tell his account of what really happened. That the book was his way to redeem his character for letting his friend Natalie down for not speaking up for her.

In an interview done in 2008, Marti Rulli goes on to state that Dennis Davern was threatened directly by Wagner’s publicist, George Kirvey. This happened when Dennis had considered giving an interview back in 1984. The threats started out as a career interference and ended up as an ultimatum that “other things could happen” if he talked about Natalie’s death.

When Rulli was asked if she thought a crime took place the night Natalie died, she stated “The police are well aware of the controversy surrounding Natalie’s death and are now privy to information that had been withheld. They continue to look the other way.”

According to her interview she goes on to state that Dennis obeyed his boss’ demands to let attorneys draw up the official statement that Dennis signed regarding the events that took place that evening. Dennis claimed that every attempt he made to look for Natalie was shot down by Robert Wagner. Dennis even claims that Wagner said “absolutely not” when requested by Dennis to turn the search light on to find her in the water. It was as if Robert Wagner didn’t want to find her. After all, he did take three hours to call the Harbor Master to get the Coast Guard to send a search for her.

The Witness’ Story: 

According to Marilyn Wayne, she and her boyfriend were approximately 40 yards away from the “Splendour” that evening and could hear a woman’s cries for help. Marilyn goes on to say that her boyfriend heard the crying first and woke Marilyn up. She immediately called out for her son and she looked at his new digital watch that showed it was a few minutes after 11:00 pm. They tried to shine their lights out on the water to see where the sound was coming from but they could not see the person in the water because it was too dark.

Her statement goes on to say “While listening to the cries, we called the Harbor Patrol but no one answered. Then we called the Sheriff’s office in Avalon, 12 miles away, and whoever answered told us a helicopter would be sent, but it did not come. We heard loud music coming from somewhere, so thought there was a party on a nearby boat,” the statement said. “Then I heard a man’s voice, slurred, and in aggravated tone, say something to the effect of, “Oh, hold on, we’re coming to get you,” and not long after, the cries for help subsided, but we heard the cries for up to 15 minutes. We returned to bed, terribly disturbed.”

She later learned of the death of Natalie Wood and put the pieces together. She volunteered her information to the Police, however no one contacted her to question her. Three days later Marilyn found a scribbled note in her inbox at work threatening her to keep quiet about what she knew. It literally read, ‘If you value your life, keep quiet about what you know.’

Lana Wood- 

Natalie’s sister Lana Wood has always thought that the death of her sister was questionable. However I believe that her fear of “powerful people” had always kept her from making too big of a scandal in regards to this case. Now that the story has broke and people have come forward in this case she has opened up some to interviewers, however I can still feel a sense of fear and hesitation in her comments.

In all the interviews before she never really directly pointed the finger at Robert Wagner, even when you get the sense that she wanted to. In other interviews she had complained that Robert Wagner kept Natalie’s daughters from her as they were growing up but it didn’t look like she fought him on that. It seems she was always afraid of the “long reach” Wagner may have.

In a new interview Lana opened up, claiming that Dennis Davern confessed to her that when Natalie ended up in the water that Wagner (RJ) had forbidden Davern from helping her out of the water and back onto the boat. He claimed that (RJ) said “Leave her there, teach her a lesson.”

It is clear to Lana now that she believes Robert Wagner played a key role in the death of her sister, and she doesn’t seem to be backing down from her claims now, fear or not.

There were also some rumors that Wagner mentioned that he thought Natalie had left to another person’s yacht to have casual sex, and that was why he took so long on contacting the Harbor Patrol. Lana Wood claims that Natalie was very traditional as a married woman and sometime even frigidly so. Lana seems unconvinced of the alleged rumor that Natalie was going off to sleep with an unidentified person that night.

Back to Natalie- 

According to the reports, Natalie enjoyed her dinner and drinks on Catalina Island with her husband Robert Wagner and fellow actor/friend Christopher Walken on the night of November 29, 1981. According to employees at the restaurant, the three of them left around 10:30 pm from the restaurant back to the yacht.
Now whether Wagner and Walken fought about sex or careers we will never truly know, but we will always know that Natalie was alive when she boarded the “Splendour” that night after dinner. Sometime later she died in those coastal waters that evening around 11 p.m., the same time that Marilyn Wayne claims to have heard cries for help in the dark.

Natalie did not like the water, in fact she was deathly afraid of it. She often told her sister Lana that she believed she would die from drowning. I am a great swimmer and I am not afraid of the water, yet I wouldn’t even attempt tie a loose dinghy to a boat in the dark after a couple drinks. Natalie was not a young teenager who did stupid things while drinking, in fact she was in her forties. Do you really think a woman in her forties, who is aware of how she feels when “tipsy”and who is afraid of the water would risk that? I don’t think so. I am pretty sure that Natalie, being as verbal as she was about her fear of the water, made it clearly known to those around her how afraid she was of drowning.

Doug Bombard is the person who found Natalie’s body, and happened to also be friends of Wagner and Woods, since he owned the restaurant that they ate the night of Natalie’s death. They also frequented the spot while boating in Catalina on other occasions. He claimed that he saw something red in the water and came up to it on his boat, realizing it was the red down jacket that she was wearing that kept her floating towards the surface of the water due to its buoyancy. She was wearing a nightgown, red down jacket and wool socks. When her body was removed from the water they removed the jacket.

What I find interesting is the fact that Doug Bombard has been interviewed and claims that he believes that Natalie died by accident, as he never saw Wagner and Wood ever fight or act anything but “in love.” Of course he is going to say that, Wagner was a paying customer of his.

What I would like to know is why instead of calling the Harbor Master, Wagner called Bombard’s restaurant “Doug’s Harbor Reef” and allegedly requested that two employees start searching for Natalie? And isn’t it convenient that the restaurant owner just happened to be the one to find her body?
Another thing I would like to point out is the fact that the autopsy report from the medical examiner states that the body was spotted via helicopter but Bombard claimed that they all were searching different areas and that the red coloring of her down jacket was visible from the boat because of the sun shining on it while floating in the coastal waters. Bombard claims that is what drew him to her body, not the helicopter. So which story is right?

What about Natalie’s body?

It was obvious that she had suffered a terrible beating as she was covered in “numerous bruises” literally from head to toe. Also, Natalie had suffered from some sort of head injury as the autopsy report diagram shows from the markings. The doctor made notations that there was “Superficial Abrasions” above her left brow/forehead area and bruising on her left upper cheek bone area. The diagram goes on to state “probable upward direction”, meaning that the blow came from below and moved upwards inflicting injury. Why is this not noted in the actual written report? It seems like Medical Examiner Thomas Noguchi just chose to leave that one out.

He had no problem noting the rest of her body as being bruised on the written report, yet failed to mention it in his television statement on the news when he came forward initially to notify the press of Natalie’s cause of death. In fact, he didn’t mention one thing about the actual autopsy report, nor did he mention anything in medical terms. Instead he gave his “opinion” of how she died, which seemed more scripted than anything. Everyone seemed to have the same answer that Noguchi ended up stating practically verbatim, “She apparently attempted to get on to the dinghy, slipped and fell into the water, unable to return to the dinghy or the boat.” When asked whether alcohol had anything to do with her death he answered, “It was one of the contributing factors.”

Why didn’t Noguchi actually explain the injuries she sustained prior to her death?

Natalie’s right forearm had a “fresh” bruise that was approximately four inches by one inch in diameter on the very part of her arm that would have been bruised if you held your arm up to your face to block off an attack, it was a defensive bruise.

In fact the autopsy report reads:

“Right forearm shows a diffuse recent bruise over lateral aspect measuring approximately four inches by one inch above wrist. Left wrist slightly deformed on the lateral condyle of the ulna and it is very prominent, no fresh fracture. Bruise in this area is half inch in diameter.”

The report goes on to state that there were significant bruises on the front and back of both legs. Right and left lower legs had “numerous” bruises of half inch to one inch in diameter. Her right ankle had bruising that was two inches long. Page 27, Section 20A shows marked to her left cheekbone and the left forehead area above the brow, yet there are NO notations within the entire 34 page report explaining what it was from.
Medical Examiner Thomas Noguchi’s written opinion stated: 

“The autopsy findings are consistent with drowning in the ocean. The time of the death is difficult to pinpoint, but it appears to be at about midnight of November 28, 1981. Most of the bruises on the body are superficial and probably sustained at the time of drowning.”

Really Dr. Noguchi?

For one moment do you think I am going to believe that she sustained bruising that appears to have been from a beating but you expect the world to just accept it was from drowning in a large body of water? I don’t think so.

Also, the report mentions that she had two undigested pills in her lower intestine. In no way was it mentioned that these were drugs of any sort. In fact the report claims they appeared to be vitamins based on the look and the smell. In her blood tests the chemical Cyclizine was found in trace amounts, suggesting that she was suffering from motion sickness, as Cyclizine is treated for motion sickness such as various medications like Dramamine.

She also had a small amount of Propoxyphene (a pain killer) in her system, suggesting that she was suffering from mild to moderate pain. Is it possible that she took it after being beaten? I would say so.

Natalie was not on cocaine or any other illegal drugs as some sites like to throw out there. I have also read news articles suggesting that Natalie had taken a deadly cocktail of pills and alcohol and would have probably died whether she fell in the water or not. I beg to differ on that one.

However, it does show that her blood alcohol level was reportedly at 0.14 percent at the time of her autopsy. Think about this, when our bodies die they naturally start producing ethanol in order to start the process of decomposition. The production of ethanol within the body begins shortly after death. As the hours go by the bacteria begins to grow within the body and the bacteria itself produces the ethanol by converting it from sugars such a glucose. Natalie’s body was dead for about eight to nine hours before being recovered.
Another thing to consider is the fact that alcohol distributes itself unevenly through the body after death. Because of the fact that alcohol production in the body after death is the same as that from drinking, the blood-alcohol level alone cannot determine precisely whether or not the deceased was actually intoxicated at the time of death.

Blood plasma has a higher water content than whole blood, therefore it can show as 10 to 15 percent higher in an alcohol level test. The most accurate way to differentiate between levels of consumed alcohol in the system and the postmortem produced ethanol, would be by testing the vitreous humour (gel-like substance inside the eye). Testing that part of the body shows to be most accurate due to the fact that the vitreous humour collects little to no postmortem alcohol (the kind the body produces on its own).

According to Dr. Noguchi’s report, the samples taken from Natalie Wood’s body never reported having had tested the vitreous humour. In fact, it specifically states “The blood, urine, bile, stomach contents, liver tissue and kidney tissue are submitted for toxicologic investigation. The blood from the right and left chambers of the heart are separately submitted for the chemical tests.”

Yes it was reported that she had been drinking and was even “tipsy”, but was she really drunk? I have just proven to you that Wood’s alcohol content could have been caused by her own body’s production of ethanol after death.

Also, who is it that claimed she had been drinking? Think about it: Wagner, Davern and who else…the employees of the restaurant they ate at the night Wood died. The same restaurant whose owner pulled her body out of the water. The same owner who was “friends” of Wagner’s. Think about that.
So now that I have given you the facts of the story, what do you think? Is it possible that what the three men on the yacht originally said happened really was a lie? It is possible.

Personally I feel that Natalie was beaten before death. Perhaps she was thrown out in the water against her will, or perhaps she was so overcome by fear of what was going on in the yacht that she tried to swim to shore for help. Maybe the dinghy was untied on purpose and sent off to drift in the sea so that she couldn’t escape onto it. Has anyone ever thought of that? Maybe she ran out to get onto the dinghy, only to find that it wasn’t there.

Who really knows the truth? The men who were on the yacht that night know. I think it is great that the Captain of the yacht has come forward, but it seems that his interviews have been quite vague. There were at least two men on the deck when Natalie was drowning, obviously if Davern claims that Wagner wouldn’t let him save her.

Lana Wood claims that Davern confided that to her. What about Marilyn Wayne who heard the aggravated voice of a man saying “WE are coming to help you?”…..WE meaning more than just himself.

Where was Christopher Walken that whole time, passed out in his stateroom? Really? Why has he been so quiet all these years?

Whatever happened that night will probably be speculated forever unless the entire truth comes out. So it will go on and on, year after year while people murmur their opinions of whether she fell in and drowned by accident or was killed.

Natalie didn’t get those bruises by floating in the water, that is for sure. I find it quite interesting that no one ever seems to want to mention how badly beaten up she was. Celebrity "Cover Ups" have been going on forever…look at Paul Bern’s death, George Reeves and even Bob Crane for goodness sake. It doesn’t seem like they are going to stop either, and thus true justice still hasn’t been found, yet.

After all the research I did on this story and after all of the endless articles and videos I watched, I had to take a step back. 

I had to reflect on the meaning of this story to me, as a writer.  This story isn’t to defame anyone or to slander anyone, this story is to speak TRUTH and let the truth be known. Nothing I am writing on here hasn’t been said or documented already, as far as opinions of guilt or innocence is concerned. I am not the only person on earth that is convinced that Natalie Wood’s death could have been prevented.

Whether she was a battered wife who was victim to a jealous rage, a victim of some sort of sinister secret society plot, or murdered for knowing too much about William Holden’s real cause of death (another article I am working on)- we may never truly know. We can assume to know, we can come up with our own opinions and theories but we were not there. We did not see with our own eyes what did or didn’t happen.
The facts outweigh the stories that have been told throughout the years. Natalie was beaten before death, her bruises show this. She drowned in the ocean, the foaming of her mouth and nose as reported on the autopsy report shows this.

The witness Marilyn Wayne heard her cries for help and the time of death coincide to the time Marilyn heard the cries. Marilyn heard a man, an angry man, saying he was going to help her- but didn’t. Marilyn’s life was threatened to keep quiet. How do you think the person who threatened Marilyn, got her work information?
She did contact the Police and told them she was a witness. She obviously gave them her contact information. Seems a little sketchy if you ask me, since they had her info and then three days later she gets a note in her inbox at work threatening her? It is obvious that people in high places had a long reach in their methods of shutting people up.

Facts About Thomas Noguchi, Medical Examiner.

Have you ever wondered why Thomas Noguchi handled all of the “high profile” deaths of celebrities? He did Natalie’s autopsy and just two weeks before he did William Holden’s too. What about Robert F. Kennedy, Sharon Tate and of course the most notable, Marilyn Monroe. Are you aware that upon the autopsy of Marilyn Monroe, that Dr. Noguchi basically became famous overnight? Fame and fortune “followed” him after his autopsy on Monroe. Don’t you find that a bit interesting as well? Think about that.


Poor Natalie, she just wanted to juggle her schedule to be a good mom, wife and actress. She was full of life and love for those she opened her heart to. It is such a shame that her memory has been overshadowed by her untimely death. Whatever truly happened to Natalie is still a mystery of sorts for now. Possibly in the near future more information will come out in the wash, and I truly hope that is the case.

No matter what though, I have full confidence that Natalie’s memory will live on through her countless fans and her beloved family. Justice may not always come as soon as we hope, but eventually the truth does come out…it always does.

J'aime Rubio (Copyright 2011)
"Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour" by Marti Rulli & Dennis Davern
"Pieces of My Heart" Robert Wagner
Alcohol Metabolism After Death
Forensic Science: Fundamentals and Investigations 2010 Update
CBS News, Examiner.com

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Sleepy Lagoon, A Precursor To The Zoot Suit Riots

photo: PBS

Murder Mystery of Sleepy Lagoon

Imagine you were kicking back at a local swimming hole with your significant other. Perhaps you were enjoying the view of the moonlight as it cast over the lagoon. Maybe you are casually strolling along one of the trails hand in hand or even maybe you were cuddled next to your lover in the back seat of your car.

Now, what if suddenly you were caught off guard and surrounded? Literally outnumbered by eight to ten rowdy men who proceeded to beat you and your companion until you were left there bloody and bruised.What would you do? How would you feel?
This happened on a hot August night in 1942 to a man named Henry “Hank” Leyvas, his girlfriend Dora Barrios, his friend Robert Telles and Manuel Delgado, along with their female companions. But this wasn’t the climax of the story my friends. This was just the tip of the iceberg. The events that followed this surprise, brutal attack went down in Los Angeles infamy and literally sparked a flame that ignited the Zoot Suit Riots.

Any Mexican-American from Los Angeles has heard of the story of the Zoot Suit Riots that took place. What a lot of people do not know is what started it. In actuality the beating that left Hank Leyvas and his friends battered and ego’s bruised set off a chain of events that put them in the spotlight for something else that happened on that very property later on that same evening. The precursor you could say was in actuality the Murder of Jose Diaz at the Sleepy Lagoon Reservoir just off of the Williams Ranch, a small ranch just east of Los Angeles in the vicinity of Slauson and Atlantic Boulevards. The Sleepy Lagoon was a local hangout and swimming hole for many Mexican-Americans during that time period.

The victim, his death and the truth became so convoluted over the course of history, therefore leaving many to point the finger at a number of young Mexican-American men who in fact were innocent of the crime of murder. 

The Beginning-

On the evening of Saturday, August 1, 1942 around 11:00 pm a young man by the name of Hank Leyvas and his girlfriend Dora Barrios were enjoying a night of romance parked at a secluded spot along the side of the lagoon. Hank was known well around his neighborhood of “38th St” and respected but also feared by many. As they relaxed in the comfort of their own vehicle enjoying the night sky they were viciously attacked by some guys from a rival neighborhood known as the “Downey Boys.”

After Hank Leyvas and his girlfriend were left beaten and bruised by a unfair fight between the Downey Boys they tried to compose themselves and drove back to their neighborhood of Vernon and Long Beach Boulevard to enlist in the aid of their friends.

After locating several friends to accompany them back to Sleepy Lagoon to teach the “Downey Boys” a lesson they quickly made their trip back to the spot where the fight had started. Now, if you were to stop for just a moment and pause time. Lets go back to the scene of the fight, right back to where the “Downey Boys” left them. Where did the Downey Boys go?

After leaving Hank Leyvas and Dora Barrios the Downey Boys retreated up the hill after hearing the sound of music in a home not too far from where they were. Upon approaching this home, they could see that there was a party taking place at the home of the Delgadillo Family. They were having a birthday party and the sounds of the distant mariachis played peeking their interest.

A witness in the Trial (THE PEOPLE vs Zamora) Eleanor Delgadillo Coronado had testified that eight to ten of the “Downey Boys” crashed their party and even became involved in a fight with the host and his son-in-law because of the fact there was no more beer. The Downey boys then retreated back into the night, after causing a ruckus at the Delgadillo home.

Lorena Encinas a resident of the 38th Street neighborhood and a friend of one of the Delgadillo’s had been invited that night to the birthday party of her friends mother, Amelia Delgadillo and had mentioned it to her brother earlier in the day. Lorena’s younger brother, Louie Encinas along with a few of his friends crashed the party but were kicked out around the same time the Downey Boys left due to causing a fight within the Delgadillo home among other invited guests, including Jose Diaz.

The Downey boys had retreated back into the night around 11pm after being kicked out of the Delagadillo's party.  Hank Leyvas and his friends, Angel Padillo,Ysmael Parra, Joe Ruiz, Robert Telles, Manuel Delgado, John Matuz, Jack Melendez, Delia Parra, Benny Alvarez, Manuel Reyes, Victor Thompson, Henry Ynostroza and Guz Zamora had arrived sometime closer to 1 am, at Sleepy Lagoon to take on the Downey Boys in a fair fight.

The Confrontation

When they arrived, they saw that no one was there. But they did hear music coming from the hill just beyond the lagoon. The very same place the Downey Boys had retreated to earlier in the evening. Remembering that the Downey boys had headed in that direction, Hank Leyvas led the way up to the Delgadillo home to confront the assailants from their vicious attack. Once they arrived Hank confronted the men in the household demanding to know where the Downey Boys went. The Delgadillo family along with several invited guests attempted to ward off Hank Leyvas and his group by trying to force them off the property.
Somewhere along the line heated words were exchanged and a “free for all” fight ensued. Everyone became involved. People from both sides started fighting, including females in the household. There were two people who were stabbed, Jose Manfredi and Cruz Reyes who were among the invited guests at the Delgadillo home.

The testimony of Robert Telles showed that as soon as they had approached the Delgadillo home there was already screaming and shouting and the next thing he knew he was engaged in a fight with another man. According to Eleanor Delgadillo Coronado’s testimony, the boys came around 1:45 am Sunday morning, August 2, 1942 and that the fight ensued. She also said that during the fight Hank Leyvas went after Jose Manfredi. Eleanor claimed she grabbed a bottle and was going to hit him over the head but then a girl came up from behind and grabbed her yelling “ You cannot hit my old man!”

When questioned by the Grand Jury who the woman was that grabbed her. Eleanor admitted it was “ The Encinas girl, I think, Lorena Encinas”. Then later during trial Eleanor changed her story stating that Ysmael Parra and his wife were the ones attacking her and Jose Manfredi.

**Now remember, Lorena Encinas had been an invited guest to that party. Keep this information in mind as you continue this story.**

Eventually after the fight was over, later that Sunday morning someone had discovered the Jose Diaz off the side of the property, down the road by the power poles badly hurt. Soon after being found Jose Diaz died. Witnesses had stated that Jose Diaz left the party Saturday night accompanied by two other guests who were not produced as witnesses, several minutes before the Hank Leyvas and his friends “ the defendants” arrived.

The Autopsy surgeon testified that the “The brain was found to be contuse and there was a profuse subdural hemorrhage. The base of the skull was fractured, the fracture line running along the lesser wing of the sphenoid bone on the left side.”
The surgeon also testified that the blood alcohol level of the deceased showed to be 0.12 per cent, and testified that although the margin of intoxication was generally accepted as 0.15 per cent that the alcohol content recedes after one stops drinking. And there was no way for him to say whether or not Jose Diaz was intoxicated a few hours before his death.

Although the Autopsy Surgeon testified the cause of death he also mentioned that it was possible that the decedent could have fallen and hit a protruding rock, possibly been hit by a car or some sort of instrument other than a fist could have been used to cause this type of fatal injury.  Despite the lack of evidence the Sheriff Department had or witnesses that could not place Henry Leyvas or his friends as being the ones who attacked Mr. Diaz, Henry along with 24 other Mexican American men were arrested and charged for the murder of Jose Diaz.

Round Up

Local newspaper tabloids made by the Los Angeles Times and the Herald-Express spawned a public outcry for justice to be served against the Zoot Suiters for being the same type of people who were involved in the incident at Sleepy Lagoon. Within a few days the Los Angeles Police Department rounded up over 600 people and arrested them, labeling it as “preventative action.” The newspapers also show that it was not only Mexican-Americans being detained, but even Russian young men who were standing outside of their front yard were being targeted by the police as well. 

While 600 or more were being held, Hank Leyvas along with 24 other people were in jail facing murder charges.The boys were railroaded throughout their trial. Daily being demeaned and treated like animals. They were not allowed to change their clothes for several weeks, as well as being prevented from speaking to their own counsel.  Judge Charles Frickes himself continuously discriminated against the men in the case as well. There were so many incidences where the Court allowed their basic civil rights to be ignored.

Sadly, at the end of the trial in January 1943, three of the men including Henry Leyvas were found guilty of first-degree murder (sentenced to life in prison), nine men found guilty of second-degree murder (sentenced to “five-to-life”, and five were found guilty of assault (released for time served while the other men were acquitted.  For the ones who were found guilty, then became a time of despair for these young men. But in a time of great tragedy the community of East Los Angeles came together and rallied against the unfair decision of the court. Soon they created the Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee.

Hollywood Gets Involved

During that time many celebrities such as Orson Welles, Anthony Quin and Rita Hayworth all pitched in on the effort to free the innocent men convicted of this crime. Alice McGrath, a volunteer and civil activist played a key role in the reversal of the boys conviction in the Appeals verdict of 1944.

Eventually, the boys would be freed but their names were never cleared of the terrible charges, nor was there ever an arrest for the real murderer of the crime. It wasn’t until 1991 that the real story of what went on that night at the Williams Ranch had come to light. I guess after all the years of concealing the truth, in a last attempt to redeem herself before dying, Lorena Encinas confessed that she did in fact know what really happened.

Remember that she and another friend were invited to the party at the Delgadillo home that night. But her brother Louie Encina’s also crashed the party with his buddies. They were thrown out around the same time that the Downey boys had got thrown out due to starting a fight with none other than the victim, Jose Diaz.

Louie admitted to Lorena that he did fight with Jose and he was the one who killed him. He was her baby brother, and she wasn’t going to allow him to go to prison, so she lied. She even went to prison for a year, leaving her young baby to be cared for by relatives while she did her time for just being “affiliated” with the convicted boys from 38th St. She could have all along told the truth and been home with her daughter, but as they say “blood is thicker than water.”

You see after Lorena and Louie's father had died, Lorena saw the effect it had on her brother. He went in and out of reform school growing up and Lorena knew this last secret had to be kept to keep him from going into prison for life. She always looked after her little brother throughout his whole life, even when other family members had already given up on him.

After her release, Lorena went on to take care of her family by becoming a riveter during WWII, which by coincidence she worked the very same type of job as my grandmother. I wonder to this day if they may have passed each other at work, or if by chance my grandmother could have even known her. Talk about 6 degrees of separation.

So, whatever happened to Louie?  Louis Jesus Encinas lived a life of crime, constantly in and out of prison. In 1958 he was sentenced to 20 years in prison, and in 1960 his wife Josephine filed for divorce from him.  He met a tragic ending at the age of 46, when he botched a robbery of a Bank in Los Angeles in May of 1972. Knowing he was surrounded and was going to end up getting caught he put a pistol to his head and took his own life. At first the police assumed he had been shot by one of the officers, however the coroner determined that he had suffered from a self inflicted gunshot wound.

The sad part of this story is the real victims, Hank Leyvas and his friends, and Jose Diaz the murder victim. No one wants to remember them, and that they all were unjustly swept under the rug as trash. No one wants to apologize for the wrongful convictions and life altering repercussions they placed on these people. I for one still think an apology is necessary, to make a point.

(Copyright) 2011/2009 J'aime Rubio
All Copyright Rights Reserved.
Some sources include: The court of appeals case, PEOPLE v. ZAMORA (1944), is excerpted. [*680], PBS, various.