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A case of nerves

September 22, 2007 |  8:13 am




Sept. 22, 1957
Los Angeles

1957_0922_howerton_johnNeighbors knew that something was terribly wrong in the home at 3460 Ardilla Ave., Baldwin Hills. They never saw Cathy, the 4-year-old daughter of John B. and Patricia Ann Howerton. Their boys, Allan Wayne, 5, and baby Steven, were fine. But Cathy was a mysterious little girl who always seemed to be hidden.

Eventually detectives learned the answer. John had been beating Cathy constantly since the day she was born.

John, who worked as a milkman, blamed his nerves. It was his nerves that made him beat Cathy with a belt. It was nerves that made him burn her with cigarettes. It was nerves that made him jump on her hands and feet. And that's why she was starved.

"I never really believed that Cathy was my daughter and she got on my nerves," he told police.

Finally, using the pretext of John's application to the California Highway Patrol, detectives visited the house, where the walls were peppered with holes from John's fists. They insisted on seeing the children and after half an hour of preparation, John brought her out. Cathy was covered with makeup to hide her injuries.

When they asked what happened to her, John had a ready answer: She fell.

Cathy was rushed to General Hospital, where she clutched at a jail matron's skirt and pleaded: "Please be my friend. I have no friends."

A year earlier in Santa Ana, the Howertons had been arrested on child abuse, but Patricia had taken the blame and received psychiatric treatment. "I needed him to support me," Patricia sobbed. "He beat me continuously until she was born, then he started on Cathy."

After officers locked John in a cell, they asked if he wanted to know how Cathy was doing in the hospital. He said: "She's your problem now, not mine."

His only worry in the world: "I guess this spoils my chance of ever becoming a Highway Patrol officer."

After that, the Howertons vanished from the pages of The Times. If Cathy Howerton survived her childhood, she would have celebrated her 54th birthday on Thursday.

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