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Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

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Maid held in murder

1957_0528_hed_2

1957_0528_mintz_2May 28, 1957
Los Angeles

Former Nazi prisoner 33822 sat at the defense table, her hands clasped tightly.  Her light blue cotton dress was wilted from the heat and her dab of lipstick only accented her jail pallor. Police said Laja Minc, who lost a father, stepmother, two sisters and a brother at Auschwitz, was a thief. Police said Laja Minc, 36, who used the name Linda Mintz, she was a brutal killer.

She was liberated Feb. 13, 1946, and brought to the U.S. on May 2, 1952, The Times said. There was a brief postwar marriage that resulted in a son, Alex, who was now 11.

Mintz had worked as a maid in the homes of several Los Angeles families that felt sorry for her. But she always stole from them and was eventually fired.

Her latest employer was Thelma Macomber, 42, who lived with her husband, contractor Fred S. Macomber, at 11920 Laurel Hills Road in Studio City. Thelma's 65-year-old mother, Irene Sampson, also lived in the home with her new husband, Robert M. Sampson, 28.

It was Robert who found Thelma's body in the bedroom. Her skull was bashed in and the bed had been set on fire. He tried to revive her, but she died at North Hollywood Receiving Hospital.

During the investigation, Mintz said that a freelance photographer who visited the home a week before had gone into the bedroom and argued with the victim. Upon reading the account in the newspapers, Max Tatch, 53, contacted police and said he had been to the home the week before to photograph the exterior but denied any allegations that he had returned.

At the police station, Mintz positively identified Tatch as having been at the home and he was arrested. Investigators had trouble verifying Tatch's movements on the day of the killing. He had been at a camera shop earlier in the day but had spent most of the afternoon sorting negatives at his apartment and could not provide any witnesses. Polygraph tests were administered to Mintz and Tatch, but the results were inconclusive.

1957_0528_macomber Tatch was released and Mintz was charged with homicide after police chemist Ray Pinker performed a detailed analysis of the badly damaged push vacuum cleaner taken from the Macomber home. Analysis found fatty tissue and broken teeth in the appliance and its sharp edges matched wounds on the body.

A search of Mintz's room revealed a cache of items stolen from her employers: silver spoons, kitchenware, bedding, hand-embroidered doilies, cut-glass stemware, silver trays, jewelry, a fur, sheets, a Paris gown and spike-heeled shoes.

Mintz insisted that Tatch was the killer, even though Irene Sampson insisted that Mintz never saw Tatch when he visited the home and therefore had no idea what he looked like.

At her first trial, she was found not guilty by reason of insanity and sentenced to a mental hospital. Pronounced sane a few months later, she was retried, but the jury deadlocked. Rather than undertake a third trial, the district attorney's office dropped the homicide charges.

Courtroom spectators applauded as Mintz was released after 22 months in  jail.

In 1960, Laja Minc, a.k.a. Linda Mintz, was arrested for shoplifting from a grocery store at 1020 S. Crenshaw Blvd.

According to the Social Security Death Index, Laja Mintz died in August 1981 in Hennepin, Minn.  Social Security records say Laja Mintz was born in 1916, which would have made her 41 at the time of the killing rather than 36. 

Fred S. Macomber died Jan. 7, 2002, in Santa Monica, according to Social Security records. Thelma Macomber is buried at Pierce Brothers Valhalla Memorial Park.

In a letter to The Times, Tatch thanked his friends and clients for their support and newspapers for their fairness while he was  being investigated in the killing.

"I wish to pay tribute to the fine men of the Van Nuys detective department who worked so hard and left no clue unturned to prove conclusively that I was innocent," he wrote.

"Such men as Lt. Ernest Johnston and Detectives Stewart, Kealy, Hoakum and Nelson are a credit to the community and their profession. Any innocent person  who comes before these excellent officers  will receive a square deal  and courteous treatment, providing, of course, he or she is willing to be helpful and co-operative, as I tried my best to be."

 

Max_tatch_photo_2

Photograph by Max Tatch, Los Angeles Times, May 11, 1947 

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Comments (4)

Larry, what if any physical evidence linked Mintz to the vacuum cleaner? I note that anyone who might have known of Mintz's thievery would have been in a very good position to cast suspicion upon her. Also, you did not state whether Robert Sampson, the 28-year-old who had married the 65-year-old mother of the victim, and who discovered the body, is still alive, or whether he was investigated.

Love the blog, by the way.

--Good questions, Gabe. Detectives found the vacuum cleaner in the hallway. Mintz explained the presence of blood on the vacuum by saying that she had been trying to clean up the mess. While investigators were at the crime scene, she persisted in trying to clean up the blood, put items in the washing machine, etc., despite orders by police officers to halt. The vacuum was inoperable because of the damage from beating the victim to death.

I wasn't able to track down much on Sampson as he has a rather common name. California death records indicate a Robert Morton Sampson, about the right age, died in 1995. Sampson was fined on a morals charge in August 1957 while Mintz was awaiting trial, but The Times provided no details.

An interesting outfit.

The detectives of this era could be pretty darn good. One has to give some credit to the credibility judgments they made at the time. Certainly the maid's actions at the scene point in her direction. Apparently it wasn't enough for the jury.

--It's an extremely peculiar case. I assume the district attorney just didn't feel like going for a third trial.

Larry

Larry, I knew the victim Thelma Macomber somewhat. My grandmother had a baby and junior shop on Ventura Boulevard right next door to the flower shop where Thelma worked. I was 12 years old when she was murdered. It was a grisly and ghastly experience for everyone involved who knew Thelma. I remember her as being a very well coiffed woman who always dressed beautifully. To my memory, Thelma worked and lived with a man named Bob, who was gay. This might have been Robert Sampson and might explain the morals charge. I thought Thelma and Bob were married. I was surprised to see in your recap that her husband was a contractor named Fred. I don't think I ever met him.

I am taking a writing class here on Sanibel in about a week that will focus on "Writing Killer Thrillers." I immediately thought of the Macomber murder as the subject for this 4-week introductory endeavor. Can you tell me why the jury was so sympathetic to Mintz? I had forgotten, if I ever knew, that Mintz was released. The only thing I remember for sure was the vacuum cleaner being the weapon of choice.

Can you direct me to some other sites that would cover what went on in the courtroom? Sally

--How fascinating. I don't know much more than what is in the posts. I would imagine Mintz's status as a Holocaust survivor would come into play, but that is only a guess. You might try ProQuest, which is a terrific resource. If you visited in L.A., you could go to the microfilm room at the public library and read all the old newspapers.

--Thanks for reading!

--Larry

I live here now and this is freaking me out lol. Are you sure she did not die in the house? Also, why does the photo look so different?


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