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8 motherless children

December 20, 2007 |  7:50 am


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Dec. 20, 1957
Long Beach

Faustino Abella, 31, was hurrying back to his ship, the Navasota, a tanker at the Long Beach Navy base, when it happened in the morning darkness, about 5:30 a.m.

His wife, Jennie May, 30, was driving the car when it stalled on the approach to the Ocean Street Bridge over the Los Angeles River. A woman in another car offered to give them a push. But when the Abellas' car started, the gas pedal apparently jammed. The car roared up the bridge, jumped the curb, tore out 37 feet of railing, hit a concrete abutment and plunged 20 feet into the water, landing upside-down.

As Navy divers worked to recover the bodies from the overturned car at the bottom of the river, four children were waiting for their mother's return: Faustino Abella Jr., who was 18 months old, and three girls from her previous marriage, Gloria Jean, 12; Mary, 10; and Susan, 9. The home at 2100 W. Willard St., in Long Beach, was sparsely decorated for the holidays with a small Christmas tree in a corner and a single package.

Several hours later, Long Beach police officers told the children their parents were dead and took them to Juvenile Hall because there was no one to care for them. "With anguished tears, the girls gathered up a few belongings, their little brother clutched a toy truck in both arms and they went along," The Times said.

Mrs. Sam Novak, a great-aunt living in San Diego, took custody of four children, saying: "I'd have gone to them if I'd have had to crawl."

The next day, Jennie's parents, Samuel and Minnie Icke, arrived after an all-night drive from St. Louis, where they were raising four more of her children: Claude Capps, 15; Charles, 13; Susan's twin brother Bobby; and Sammy, 8.

Samuel began disposing of the few pieces of furniture in the home and settling Jennie's affairs before taking the children back to St. Louis. Faustino's funeral was held in the Philippines, where he was born, while Jennie's was held in St. Louis.

The Lafayette Hotel hosted the family for Christmas dinner and gave them a check, but beyond that, we don't know what became of the children. We can only hope for the best.

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