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Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

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Iron lung

 

1949_1015_murrill

Sept. 21, 1957
Los Angeles

1957_0921_murrill If the Murrill family's story were fiction, it would be comic, but alas, it is fairly tragic, quite absurd and entirely true.

In 1949, Jeffrey Lee Murrill  was born to Robert Murrill, a 27-year-old cabinetmaker, and his 19-year-old wife, Doris Elaine, who was paralyzed by polio and kept alive in an iron lung back in the dark ages of medical technology.

Unable to breathe on her own, Doris lived at Rancho Los Amigos while her husband took care of Jeffrey. Apparently this arrangement put a crimp in Robert's social life, because in January 1957, during a liquor-drenched trip to Las Vegas, he decided it would be a fine idea to get married.

Apparently no one in Las Vegas' thriving marriage industry (nor a woman identified as Mrs. Mattie Bingamin) asked Robert: "Excuse me, don't you already have a wife back in Los Angeles, parked in an iron lung?"

When Robert finally got around to seeking a divorce, he told the judge that it would be better if he had custody of their son. "She doesn't want a divorce," he complained to Judge Henry M. Willis, "because she's afraid her son will have a stepmother. The boy is all she has to live for."

However, Robert assured the court, "he wanted to hurt no one, his wife least of all," The Times said.

Did I mention that Doris is a little bitter about the whole situation?

Unfortunately, Oprah wasn't around to say: "Your wife is paralyzed, she's in an iron lung, her son is all she has to live for, you want to take him away and but don't want to hurt your wife? What planet are you from?" 

Willis granted a divorce in 1957, but for reasons that The Times never explained, granted a new trial before he retired.

During a final divorce hearing convened in 1958 at the home of Doris' parents, 901 N. Avenue 57 in Highland Park, Judge Burnett Wolfson refused to give Robert custody of Jeffrey, ruling that the boy was to stay with his father only until Doris was able to take care of herself.

 

1958_1120_murrill

"I'm doing this because I know you're going to get well. You'll be dancing again," the judge said.

"I sure wish I could," Doris replied.

With that, the Murrill family vanished from the pages of The Times. California death records show that Doris Elaine Murrill died Nov. 17, 1963, at the age of 33. The Social Security Death Index lists several Robert Murrills. The only one born in 1922, like the man in our story, was Robert J. Murrill, who died Dec. 11, 2005, in Riverside at the age of 83. Jeffrey Lee Murrill would be 57 today.

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