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Sea bag murder

July 13, 2007 |  4:17 am



1957_0713_covel July 12-13, 1957
Los Angeles

Two men from the Harbor Department were picking trash out of the main channel at Terminal Island when they saw the big canvas bag--twice the size of a Navy sea bag--drifting against the pier of Berth 233, so heavy that they could barely pull it aboard.

The bag was slit and they could see a human head. Upon investigation, police found the nude body of woman who had been tied with cord and put in the bag, which was filled with rocks and the weights from a set of barbells.

She was 35 to 40 years old, 5-feet-5, 117 pounds, with brown eyes and dark hair streaked with gray, officials said. She had been in the water about three weeks, they said. "A half-inch cord looped around her neck and knees jackknifed the body almost double," The Times said. "A second cord was wound around the body."

There were no bullet wounds or cuts and nothing was found beneath her fingernails to indicate a struggle, authorities said.

In response to news reports, police were contacted by a harbor guard who told them about a woman who had been missing from her job at St. Mary's Hospital in Long Beach. She was Virginia Covel, 42, a nurse's aide who had previously worked at Harbor General Hospital in Torrance. The Torrance hospital provided Covel's last known address, 419 S. Walker St., San Pedro, and a set of fingerprints that matched the body.

Further investigation found that the house on Walker Street had been rented by Knute Berg, 43, a marine firefighter. Berg told police that Covel had been involved with a fisherman named Hilding Fridell, but left him because he went into jealous rages.

1957_0713_fridell When Fridell, 50, returned to his home at 2225 S. Gaffey St., San Pedro, and found Officers Hayward Johnson and Charles Burgin waiting, he broke into sobs.

"I loved her, but she was running around with another fellow," Fridell said.

Fridell said he beat Covel to death on the Fourth of July, took 60 sleeping pills in a suicide attempt, but woke up in the morning next to her body. He bought the canvas bag and weights at a San Pedro war surplus store and dumped the body off the end of Berth 233 on July 6. Pretending to be her landlord, Fridell called St. Mary's Hospital and said Covel had made an emergency trip to Logan, Utah, to see her mother, Vada Blair.

According to police, Covel was the daughter of an Army colonel and had worked at several Bay Area hospitals before coming to Southern California.

Fridell pleaded guilty to manslaughter, but The Times never reported his sentencing. No trace of him can be found in public records.

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