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Karil Rogers Graham and 'The Badge'

October 17, 2007 |  9:57 am

Karil_rogers_graham_1955_0220_ray_g "She was such a grand, lovely person. She loved flowers, was crazy about them."

That's what the landlady, Eleanor Lipson, had to say about murder victim Karil Rogers Graham. Her sister, Mrs. H.L. Manley, called her "a well-settled girl."

According to police, others described her as "intelligent, sympathetic, capable and personable" and noted that she had many friends, The Times said.

Police also questioned her former fiance, Leon McFadden, in the killing. Although The Times failed to interview McFadden, it reported that he insisted on taking a polygraph test and was cleared.

The most that can be determined about her is that she had been treated by seven psychiatrists in the last years of her life, according to police. Her brother-in-law H.L. Manley, 9020 Balcom St., Northridge, said that Graham was a "woman who since early teens had been driven by a compulsion to paint--but she lacked the native talent to paint well," The Times said.

"Mrs. Graham had studied art for several years, he said, and apparently eventually became convinced that she lacked the necessary spark of talent. She became, instead, the registrar at Art Center School, where as counselor to the students she could be nearer the art objects and artists she so admired."

That, presumably, is as close to the facts as we can come for now. Let's see what Jack Webb does with her in the opening sentences of "The Badge."

Jack_webb_the_badge "The way it is with so many women who live alone, life had held back on Karil Graham. She was likable and attractive, still a year on the sunny side of 40, sandy-haired, blue-eyed, trim-figured. But there was no husband--a marriage hadn't worked out--no children, no other man in her lonely life.

"Karil bravely hid the hurt and filled the emptiness as best she could. Every day she went to work, on time, to her job as receptionist at a downtown Los Angeles art school. Nights, in her quiet apartment, she listened to music and dabbled in painting. She was just a dilettante, she know resignedly, but records and easel were gracious cover-ups for emptiness.

"Sometimes Karil counseled students who attended the art school. Often they were male students, and she took them to her heart in a mothering, protective way. She saw for them something more meaningful and zestful in life, the something that had somehow passed her by."

Is this powerful writing, heavy on the noir? You bet. Accurate? Not when she gets demoted from registrar to receptionist. And there's certainly nothing about her ex-fiance in Webb's portrait of Graham's empty life of heartache as a woman without a man.

Far more critical, for it colors all of "The Badge," is the world-weary, uncompassionate, superior tone Webb affects from the first sentence. Knowing what I do of Webb's life, I can't say the work-obsessed, alcoholic Jack Webb, who survived a nightmarish childhood, had any business acting superior to anyone. Why he did it is a question that only he could answer. But let this be a warning to readers who assume "The Badge" is an accurate account of historic crimes. The book is a shooting gallery for anyone intimately familiar with the facts.

ps: Among Graham's possessions retrieved from the crime scene was an original Raoul Dufy watercolor, The Times said. It would be interesting to know what became of it.

Graham's remains were claimed by her mother, Gladys Rogers, for a funeral that was held in San Diego.

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