The bad dream
Edward Simon Wein, given five death sentences under California's "Little Lindbergh Law" for a series of kidnappings and rapes, said: "I was convicted before I ever came to trial. The papers said all kinds of bad things about me. They called me all kinds of bad names, including 'beast.' There was so much prejudice I was convicted."
The 32-year-old painting contractor was identified by seven women, but he said they were all wrong. "They were mistaken--honestly, the first time," he said. "But then they couldn't change their minds."
"A half-hour after I was arrested, a Hollywood detective said they were going to make a [Caryl] Chessman out of me. The prosecutor in my case is the one who prosecuted Chessman. I had the same charges pressed against me as Chessman and the verdict was the same."
Of California's death penalty, Wein said: "I don't think it's human. It's something more or less out of the Middle Ages."
According to police, Wein, who lived at 418 S. Hamel Road, answered classified ads placed by women. He told them he would have to check with his wife about whatever was being sold, then pretended to have lost the stem from his watch. He gained control over his victims when they stooped down to look for the missing watch stem and threatened to kill them if they made any noise.
The attacks occurred over 18 months in Alhambra, Hollywood, South-Central, Burbank and elsewhere in the San Fernando Valley. He was arrested by a private officer at a Long Beach cocktail party after one of the victims said she recognized Wein when he stepped on her foot. She said: "I'd never forget what he looked like."
Wein was prosecuted by Deputy Dist. Atty. J. Miller Leavy, a formidable lawyer who handled the Chessman, Barbara Graham and L. Ewing Scott cases. When Wein said he'd never in his life answered a classified ad, Leavy produced Shirley Tierstein, who identified a check Wein wrote to her for an electric stove. Tierstein said Wein came into her home at 753 S. Mariposa in Burbank, but fled when her son Kenneth, who was sick and home from school, called out to her.
The prosecution also introduced partial fingerprints matching Wein's taken from a glass that he allegedly used to drink water at one victim's home.
Wein was sentenced to death. His Dec. 5, 1958, execution was upheld by the state Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his appeal. However, the state high court granted a delay pending a second appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The mother of one of his victims, who was 14 at the time she was raped, wrote to The Times in 1959: "What is wrong with the course of justice? ... To think of the possibility of such a man getting back on the streets again, free to come into homes again to rape, rob or kill!!"
The U.S. Supreme Court denied his second appeal, which claimed inadequate counsel. But in June 1959, Gov. Pat Brown agreed to grant Wein a clemency hearing. Brown reduced Wein's sentence to life in prison "without the possibility of parole" because the kidnapping was technical--he only moved the victims within their homes.
"I feel that only where there is kidnapping in the true sense of the word, with bodily harm, should the death penalty be involved," Brown said.
In 1966, Brown further reduced Wein's sentence, making him eligible for parole and on Sept. 16, 1974, after 17 years on death row, Edward Simon Wein was a free man.
Then on Aug. 8, 1975, the strangled body of Dorothy George, 52, was found in the bathtub of her home at 5935 Abernathy Drive in Westchester after she placed an ad for a recliner on a supermarket bulletin board. On Sept. 5, a woman living in Palms who had posted items for sale on a supermarket bulletin board was raped by a man who claimed he had lost the stem of his watch. He began filling her bathtub with water but fled when a neighbor slammed a door.
Over lunch a few days later, Venice Division detectives were discussing the cases with retired investigator Robert S. Wright, who recalled the series of "watch stem" rapes from 1956. After learning that Wein had been paroled, they arrested him and charged him with murder.
Several of his earlier victims testified during his 1976 murder trial. A 63-year-old woman said that on Dec. 15, 1955, Wein came to her Crenshaw district home to look at a fur stole and dining room set that she was selling. He choked her "so long and so hard it ruptured the blood vessels in my eyes," she said.
A 54-year-old woman testified that on March 12, 1956, Wein locked her 5-year-old son in a closet at her Encino home before raping her after she advertised a mattress and box springs for sale.
The testimony of a woman who was a 19-year-old concert pianist when she was raped May 11, 1956, was read into the record because "her physical and mental condition is still so fragile that she cannot testify in person," The Times said.
In June 1976, Edward Simon Wein, the "watch stem rapist," was convicted of rape and murder and sentenced to prison.
As he said in 1957: "It's like a bad dream. You keep thinking you'll awaken and find it's a bad dream."