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Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

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Woman strangled


1957_0703_delao

1957_0703_delao_pix July 5, 1957
Los Angeles

What we have is a dead woman and a man who says he strangled her--except he doesn't remember it.  Or he did remember it and then he forgot.

No, it doesn't make any sense.

Her name was Ruth Lucero de la O. She was 35 and lived with her three children at 12812 Waltham Ave., Baldwin Park. The husband, Albert, 42, a foundry worker, moved out a year ago because "she had too many men friends." He lives at 1020 W. 91st St.

This is what supposedly happened early Wednesday, July 3, 1957.

Ruth is sitting in the living room reading a magazine. Her 15-year-old son Jerry comes home about 11 p.m., July 2, 1957, talks to his mother and goes to bed. His younger sister, Amelia, 13, is spending the night with a friend. The youngest girl, Marguerite, 5, is asleep in her bedroom.

Sometime after 2 a.m., the Sheriff's Department gets a call from Jerry, who is hysterical. "There's something wrong," he says. "It looks like Mom is all mangled." Later, Jerry says the sound of a door closing woke him up, and he thought his mother had gone out so he got up to turn off the radio. 

"I looked out the window and I saw a car. I think it was a 1950 Chevy. The lights were out and a few minutes later it drove away," he says.

1957_0703_delao_suspect Jerry goes into the living room and finds his mother strangled. The Times says she was on the floor near the kitchen and was wearing a light skirt, white blouse and moccasins. The Mirror says she was fully dressed, bent backward over an overstuffed chair. The volume on the radio was turned up high.

"Her hands were behind her and she was all bent over," Jerry says.

According to the medical examiner, Dr. Frederick Newbarr, she may have been struck on the head and then strangled by someone who approached her from behind.

"Marks on the woman's neck indicated that the assailant's thumbs had been placed on the back of her neck and the fingers at the front," the Mirror says. There are scratches on her neck and detectives speculate that the killer might have been a woman, The Times says.

On July 18, 1957, a mural painter named Wilber A. White, 12721 Salisbury St., Baldwin Park,  told investigators that he killed Ruth. White says he had been loaning Ruth money since she was separated from her husband and went to her home to discuss finances. White says she "infuriated him by talking about his wife," so he "grabbed her by the throat and then threw her aside," The Times says.

Of course, the medical examiner says she was attacked from behind and struck on the head before being strangled, so White's story doesn't make much sense.

The next day, sheriff's detectives took White and his wife, Allie, to the home. White says: "I can't believe it. I know I've done something terrible but I just can't believe it's possible." Then he told detectives he couldn't remember the killing. "I can't think," he said. "I just can't think."

After that, the entire case vanishes from the paper.

What else can we find out? Ruth was born June 15, 1922, in New Mexico. Her mother's maiden name was Enriquez and her maiden name was Lucero. No recorded Social Security number. [Update: The Albert de la O, born in 1910 is completely unrelated to this incident]. A man named Albert de la O, born Jan. 6, 1910, in Mexico, died in Los Angeles on Aug. 8, 1979, so I assume that's the husband.

A man named Wilbur A. White, born May 24, 1917, so he was the same age as the suspect, died in Monterey County in 1964.

Here's a map. Note that the crime scene is only a little more than three miles from where the body of Geneva Ellroy was found less than a year later. Probably a coincidence.

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Comments (2)

Can't you ask somebody at police HQ to give you more info on this case? Did it ever get solved? What about the kids Jerry , Amelia and Marguerite? Does anyone know what happened?

--Good questions. I couldn't find anything about them immediately. Let me see if I can turn up something.

--Larry

There are a few things we know the investigators probably did. The names of the husband and of White were probably run through R and I or George Brereton up at CII Sacramento. You might be able to access those records today if they picked up convictions. Let's assume that came up dry. They might have checked with the "stats office" to see if there were any similar offenses or patterns that might have helped them to identify possible suspects. Let's assume we got nothing there, including any reported burlgaries or hot prowls in the area at the time. (It was summertime; maybe she left the door or a window open. Perhaps Jerry would know if she commonly did that. Nothing was missing, I assume.) SID came out, and maybe it was Ray Pinker who worked up the crime scene, but we don't know what they found. If there was no forced entry, that supports a theory that it was White or the husband, or at least someone she knew and allowed in after 11 p.m. (What about those "men friends"?) Certainly the husband's whereabouts would have been checked, and thoroughly. White's confession would not have been enough for me to file on him because it's not adequately corroborated, from what you've reported. (I'm guessing that Pinker didn't find any of White's latents at the scene, and that he couldn't be proved to have driven a car that fit Jerry's description, or he likely would have been charged.) I would have checked all registered owners of 1950 Chevy sedans against my list of names of people she knew or spent time with. But I bet they did that too.

People make false confessions quite often for no rational reason. Still, White's confession makes him the best suspect we have, and one might presume that the persons close to him were questioned about what he said to them about that night. Now that he is dead, any surviving people close to him could be questioned again. Maybe someone has time or inclination in the cold case unit, but I doubt it. On the other hand, one wonders what ideas might occur to a detective taking a fresh walk through the murder book, if it still exists in records somewhere. I bet there's a good chance they've destroyed it.

--Good observations... Note that this was Baldwin Park and a sheriff's case, so Ray Pinker (with the LAPD) wasn't involved. Let me see if I can find out anything.... stay tuned.

--Larry


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