The Daily Mirror

Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

Category: August 19, 2007 - August 25, 2007

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Cold case



Aug. 25, 1957

1957_0825_andersen_portrait Chicago police recovered the torso from a battered, cut-down 55-gallon drum floating in Lake Michigan. A 5-gallon metal bucket containing the head, hands and one arm were found in the lake two days later. The victim had been shot in the head at least once, maybe four times. It's difficult to tell from news accounts.

Given the location--Chicago--and the advanced method of disposal--victim shot in the head (apparently with a .32-caliber pistol), dismembered, put into metal drums and dumped in Lake Michigan, you might assume that the subject was a low-level mobster. You would be wrong. She was 15-year-old Judith Mae Andersen, who disappeared late one Friday night, Aug. 16, 1957, while walking home from visiting a girlfriend.

This unsolved killing is what Sherlock Holmes would have called a three-pipe problem. Unfortunately, the news reports don't help and in fact hinder the dedicated and impartial inquirer. For at least the last 20 years, police and news reports have focused exclusively on an individual who has never been charged and may have no link to the killing.

The facts in the case are depressingly few and incredibly tragic.

1957_0825_map On the night of Aug. 16, 1957, Judith Mae Andersen, 15, was supposedly watching TV at the home of Elena Abbatacola, 1019 N. Central Avenue. Judith was the only daughter of Ralph W. and Ruth A. Andersen, who also had three sons, and lived at 1520 N. Lotus Ave. She was about to enter her junior year at Austin High School. Because she was identified through fingerprints recovered from a picture of Jesus in her room, we can infer that she had no police record and that she was at least somewhat religious.

About 11 p.m., Judith called her mother to say that she and her friend were watching a movie on TV and asked to stay until it was over.

Her mother said no, so Judith began walking home, a distance of 0.8 of a mile. She never arrived.


On Aug. 22, a cut-down 55-gallon drum containing a torso was found at Montrose Harbor. Two days later, the head, hands and an arm were found in a 5-gallon bucket recovered from the same area.

1957_0825_andersen_pix2 According to The Times, despite the fingerprint evidence, Judith's father, Ralph, refused to believe that the victim was his daughter because the body did not bear traces of a smallpox vaccination on her left arm.

The killing touched off a massive investigation involving large numbers of detectives. Many people called in tips (there were various reports of people hearing shots and screams) but nothing ever proved to be conclusive and the case went into hibernation for lack of leads. Attention eventually focused on a convicted sex criminal identified in 1987 and 1991 articles in the Chicago Tribune. However a recent story in the Tribune withholds the man's identity. He was never charged in the case.

In googling this killing, I discovered a website devoted to the case. It's prudent to be extremely skeptical of websites devoted to actual crimes, so I'm going to limit myself to what appear to be accounts from the original investigation.

According to a 1957 news account, on the night Judith disappeared, she visited the home of Nancy O'Brien, 222 N. Kenneth Ave. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Nancy and Judith had been dating a sailor named  Kenneth Blevins stationed at the Norman, Okla., Naval Air Station while he was on leave in Chicago. Nancy said she and Kenneth were going to get married and called Kenneth in Oklahoma to prove it. Kenneth told them that he loved Nancy but told the Sun-Times that he loved Judith.

In attempting to reconstruct her last day, newspapers also found that Judith was at the Dairy Bar, 5156 W. North Ave, but accounts of her visits are conflicting and problematic.

Judith's father supposedly called the Abbatacolas to check on Judith when she failed to come home. When no one answered, he went to the house, but no one came to the door--at least according to an unverified account on the Internet. He supposedly searched the neighborhood without success and finally roused someone at the Abbatacola household at 2:30 a.m. He was allegedly told that Judith planned to take the bus home.

According to testimony at the inquest, Elena Abbatacola contacted three boys after Judith's disappearance and told them not to reveal that they spent the evening together.

1957_0825_andersen_detective All right, armchair sleuths (especially those of you living in Chicago--you know who you are), I expect some help. Let me preface this by emphasizing that superficially, at least, this seems to be an extremely elaborate disposal.

(At right, Detective James Hennigan, who is assigned to the case, with some of the files on the investigation).

Here's what the killer has to do:

He (and I'm going to assume this was a man--maybe two) must get control of a 15-year-old girl, shoot her in the head several times, find a location where he can safely cut up the body, dispose of the blood, put the remains in two metal drums, seal or close the drums, load them into a vehicle, drive to Lake Michigan and dump them in Montrose Harbor. All without getting caught. And I would say that the killer must have had a good reason for going to all of that trouble instead of simply driving out to rural DuPage County and throwing the victim in a culvert.

Here's a few of the things we don't know. (Keep in mind that the remains had been in the water for about a week, so presumably some questions can't be answered, for example, whether she was sexually assaulted or had suffered any injuries other than being shot).

For starters:

  • What kind of firearm was used in the killing? Forensics should be able to tell us not only the caliber but identify the brand of handgun used in the slaying. One news account says the gun was a .32-caliber revolver.
  • Where was she shot? News accounts say she was hit one to four times in the head, once in the temple. Why shoot someone four times in the head when once should do the job?
  • What kind of implement was used to dismember her?
  • How skillfully was she dismembered? Was it amateurish and clumsy or well-executed?
  • We know the original investigators tried to determine the origin of the two metal drums. Where did they come from?  How was the 55-gallon drum cut down? With a welding torch? How were they sealed to keep the remains from escaping?

We may not know the killer's identity, but we can be certain he had a gun and a vehicle, and because of the elaborate disposal we can probably rule out somebody acting on the spur of the moment who suddenly finds himself with a dead teenager on his hands. It is also reasonable to assume that the killer was familiar with Montrose Harbor and knew he could dump two drums in the water without being caught. I would also imagine he's either fairly strong to be able to lift the drums in and out of a car with a big trunk (or maybe he had a truck)--or perhaps he had help.

Frankly, this killing seems quite professional and if the victim were a 30-year-old man instead of a 15-year-old girl, I would suspect an execution by someone in organized crime. The fact that nobody has ever come forward with information might again argue for a link to organized crime. But it's absurd and irresponsible to speculate with so little information.

The tragedy, of course, is that there is no resolution to what became of Judith Mae Andersen. Maybe at this late date, someone will come forward and provide some answers.

Photographs courtesy of the Chicago Tribune

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Paul V. Coates--Confidential File

Paul_coates Aug. 24, 1957

There are two basic rules for pretty girls who wish to set Hollywood on its pink, shell-like ear.

The first is to meet the right people.

This one has nothing to do with me, so I'll dismiss it.

The second is to get their names in the columns.

And here, I'm directly concerned. Because I -- like certain other people in town -- am a columnist. I, in a manner of speaking, write.

Adjectives, verbs, nouns --I've got a basket of 'em.

Struggling young starlets (or their struggling young press agents) begin lining the hallway in front of my office door every morning at dawn -- each with some fantastic personal experience which happened to them, personally, which is really true and which they made up on the way over from Schwab's.

They come in bath towels, bikinis, serapes and/or motorcycle boots. Anything to stand out from the mob.

As they're ushered in, one by one they tell me of their fights with octopi, their subjugation into white slavery, their secret uranium mines.

1960_0113_ghost I listen, intensity written all over my kindly face.

I agree 100% that theirs are stories that should be known.

"But," I add sorrowfully, "it's just not quite my type of story.

"Now the man who'd really appreciate a scoop like yours is Matt Weinstock."

Dutifully, they thank me.

And move along toward Weinstock's office.

With the exception, that is, of the 50% whom he referred to me.

They insert, I've been told, a Mexico angle and go see Pepe Arciga.

Except for the 50% whom HE referred to me.

It's a nice, time-devouring game.

But every now and then you run into an aspiring starlet who throws the whole operation out of kilter.

Like yesterday.

When Sanita Pelkey walked in.

She was a tall, healthy-looking girl -- dressed modestly in boxer's trunks and a sweatshirt labeled, if memory serves me, "Property of the Beverly-Wilshire Health Club."

She smiled, graciously, and I smiled. Graciously. "Your story?" I asked. "What happened to you?"

She looked at me blankly. "Me? Nothing. Yet."


"Yet! I'm here," she said, "to break into Hollywood."

I nodded. "Break, then."

She laughed, stiltedly, like she wished it had been a funny remark so she could have laughed naturally.

"I've been told," she said, "that it helps to get your name in the columns. That's why I'm here."

"The man you should see..."

"I was Miss New York in the Mrs.--excuse me--Miss Universe contest. Semifinalist. I went home afterward, but decided to come back and..."

"is a chap named..." I interrupted.

But she interrupted right back. "I like dancing, swimming, ice skating, acting. Maybe I should put acting first. More diplomatic."

"Weinstock," I said. "Matt Wein..."

"I've also worked the Town and Country -- that's the largest nightclub in Brooklyn -- the Ice Review, Guy Lombardo's Arabian Nights at Jones Beach..."

"Weinstock is a personal friend..."

"And I don't believe all those rumors about a career and marriage not working out. It depends on the individual. If I find the right man I wouldn't hesitate..."

"of mine," I continued doggedly.

"Besides which, I've won 13 other titles. Miss Potato Salad, Miss Jet Age, Miss Stetson Hat, Miss Smiles, Miss Fluidless Contact Lens..."

She took a deep breath and went on.

"I was once Miss Salami..."

"Were you the one?" I asked.

"Sanita nodded. "They gave me a Kosher salami as a prize. About three feet long.

"That," she added, "ought to make a good story for you. Write it up."

[Note: "Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow," one of Sanita Pelkey's few screen appearances.]

Kiss and Tell



Aug. 24, 1957
Los Angeles

And where does our favorite scandal magazine get such high-quality dirt?  (Oh, I know, people only read it at the beauty parlor and the barbershop). It turns out that in Hollywood, money will unseal lips that are locked tightly--at least when it comes to the printed word if nothing else.

The reasons: Payback (mostly) and publicity (occasionally). The canceled checks tell the tale.

Let's turn to one of my favorite issues, March 1957. That was the saucy little number with the story about Maureen O'Hara's tryst at Grauman's --except she was out of the country at the time.

Confidential_1957_03_turner01_2 The March 1957 issue also has the jaunty tale of the night a humble bartender pitched a double-header to Lana Turner and Ava Gardner. Turns out that the gals weren't keeping score as the game went into extra innings--but Donald L. Bledsoe certainly was.

Canceled checks written by Hollywood Research Inc. and introduced as evidence in the Confidential magazine trial showed that Bledsoe was paid $1,000 ($7,165.28 USD 2006) to report his earned run average from the encounter.

The checks also showed:

  • Robert Tuton, the maitre d' at a Hollywood cafe, received $750, plus a loan of $100, to confirm information "about his affair with Joan Crawford." Tuton also recruited Stella Shouel, an ex-prostitute who was a prolific source of information, including stories on Dan Dailey, Walter Pidgeon, Fredric March and Dane Clark, the Mirror said.
  • Jane Cameron was paid $500 for information she learned as a nanny at the home of Dean Martin's ex-wife.
  • 1950_shouel
  • Allan Nixon received $300 for material on ex-wife Marie Wilson and several other people.
  • Vera Frances was paid $250 for a story about her affair with John Jacob Astor and another $250 for an article about Edward G. Robinson.
  • In addition to being paid for information on Donald O'Connor and Mickey Rooney, former jockey William Chaney received a capper's fee for introducing two more informants, one of whom was Gloria Wellman. The estranged daughter of Hollywood director William Wellman was paid $300 for information on a nude pool party at the home of John Carroll.
  • Interior decorator Paul Corday received $300 for information on Denice Darcel, a  now forgotten actress who appeared in  "Dangerous When Wet" and  "Flame of Calcutta."
  • Press agent Bruce Jones got $500 for information on a story about Lex Barker. Jones said he represented a starlet who needed the publicity. Apparently this was Jeanne Carmen, who appeared with Barker in "War Drums"  and was featured in the July 1957 article: "The Gal Who Had Lex Barker Up a Tree."

Bonus facts:

In 1950-51, Shouel appeared in a series of stories about her legal fight to regain custody of a daughter, Nancy Ann, whom she put up for adoption. Identified as a TV singer and model, Shouel attempted suicide during the litigation against adoptive parents Harry and Beverly Jo Levy, who eventually conceded to return the girl. Shouel died Dec. 22, 1962. She was 33.

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The plight of the 'manless woman'


A light in the window


Aug. 23, 1957
Los Angeles

Sandra O'Hara, 11, was sent to live with her mother when her parents divorced and apparently preferred to live with her father, Martin.

So they devised a plan. The next time Sandra's mother, Veda, 30, had a male visitor, Sandra would put a light in the window so Martin would know to come barging in and prove that Veda was an unfit mother.

On a recent evening, Sandra put the light in the window and Martin discovered Veda entertaining William Griffith, 30. Inquiries revealed that Griffith was married and the father of four children, The Times said.

Martin accused his wife of being an alcoholic and punishing Sandra for no reason. Superior Court Commissioner C. Clinton Clad continued the case because Veda was too upset to testify, but The Times never followed up on the matter so we don't know how it was resolved.

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Grace Paley--review and interview

Here is an interview with the late Grace Paley by Elizabeth Mehren and Carolyn See's review of Paley's "Later the Same Day." Paley died Wednesday at the age of 84.

Interview, May 22, 1985, Part 1


Review, May 19, 1985, Part 1


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Fuzzy Pink Nightgown



Aug. 23, 1957
Los Angeles

Bad things happen when two men (Ralph Meeker and Keenan Wynn) abduct a movie star (Jane Russell). It turns out that her upcoming film is "The Kidnapped Bride" and everyone--including the studio and the alleged victim--assume that the kidnapping is a publicity stunt.

Well, it must have sounded great as a 30-second pitch. Although the film was released with high hopes and a publicity campaign that included a young woman roaming Los Angeles wearing nothing but a--you guessed it--"The Fuzzy Pink NIghtgown" languishes in obscurity today--in fact it was Russell's last movie appearance of the 1950s.

More to the point, however, is that a copy of Sylvia Tate's novel--on which the movie was based--was found in the Encino home of actress Marie "The Body" McDonald after she reported that she had been kidnapped by two men. Police Chief William H. Parker, in fact, was so intrigued by the similarities between the novel and McDonald's story that he read the entire book.



For example, the movie star in "The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown" is kidnapped when she is sent to a delicatessen to get some turkey sandwiches--the same story McDonald told police, The Times said.

Parked noted that the similarities "don't prove anything," but he wanted McDonald to explain the discrepancies between her various versions of the kidnapping. The LAPD even wanted to give her a polygraph test, but her attorney, Jerry Giesler, said the request was insulting and advised her not to take it.

On Jan. 4, 1957, McDonald was found in Indio wearing pajamas and a housecoat and claimed that she had been kidnapped by "two swarthy men" who broke into her home at 17031 Magnolia Blvd.*  Police were immediately suspicious of her story. In the first 15 hours that she was supposedly kidnapped, she placed three calls to friends and none to the police, The Times said. Some words of her alleged abduction note were clipped from newspapers found in her fireplace, the crime lab discovered.

Her ex-husband Harry Karl, better known as "Karl the Shoe Man," doubted the story and told The Times that McDonald "was not a well woman" and had behaved eccentrically. Karl also said McDonald was a "ready fighter" and insisted that anyone who tried to carry her off against her will would have "a lively struggle," The Times said. 

In fact, McDonald at one point accused Karl of arranging the abduction but later admitted she made up that part of the story. After an inconclusive grand jury investigation, the matter was dropped. She died of what was apparently an accidental drug overdose Oct. 21, 1965, at the age of 42.

Read my post on McDonald from the 1947project.

Perhaps the biggest mystery of all is what became of Sylvia Tate. Aside from writing the story for the 1950 film "Woman on the Run," she seems to have vanished without a trace.

*(You're wondering about her being sent out to get turkey sandwiches. So am I).

Bonus fact: According to The Times, shortly before she was kidnapped, McDonald was reading Meyer Levin's "Compulsion," a fictionalized account of the Loeb-Leopold case.

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Paul V. Coates--Confidential File

Paul_coates_2 Aug. 22, 1957

Desmond Slattery--actor, naturalist, man-about Googies--paid his annual visit to my plush offices yesterday.

And, of course, I'm glad he did. Because it means that he won't be around for another 11 months or so.

But don't get me wrong.

Personally, I have nothing against this fast-talking, nerve-racking gentleman. He's really quite charming.

It's just his weird involvement with animals that frightens me.

He first came to my attention by conning me into writing a story that he owned the only Irish wolfhound in Los Angeles.

The day the column appeared, dozens of irate Irish wolfhound owners phoned in their protests.

Another time he sold me on an utterly ridiculous story about his car being attacked by a Jersey cow.

And a year ago, Desmond came by to inform me that he had gone into the firefly business. He claimed to have 15,000 fireflies at Knott's Berry Farm, in crates.

That, of course, was just too much. I tossed him out of the office and dismissed him from my mind as a hopeless liar.

1956_0707 But curiosity gnawed at me. Finally, I couldn't resist calling Knott's Berry Farm.

"Did a man named Desmond Slattery leave 15,000 fireflies with you?" I asked, half-apologetically.

"Yes," an exasperated voice replied, "and we wish he'd come and get them. We don't know what to do with them."

So when he came in yesterday, I treated him with a new respect.

Immediately, without speaking, he plucked a black object from his necktie and placed it on my desk. He chuckled, hoarsely. "Looks like a tie-pin, doesn't it?"

I backed away in terror as the tie-pin began to walk toward me. "It's alive!" I cried.

"Certainly," he replied.

Then he added, "It's a cricket. One month old today. And in my bathroom are 2,000 more."

"Wonderful, Slattery. Hadn't you ought to get back..."

"My goal," he interrupted, "is to take the cricket off the street and put him in the home where he belongs."

I remained a safe distance from my desk. And picked up a bookend.

But Slattery only smiled. "Bad luck to kill them. For centuries they've been good-luck symbols. And I'm the only licensed cricket-raiser in the country."

His insect began a slow crawl toward tomorrow's Mash Notes [Coates' name for his columns of readers' letters].

Again, he smiled. "How about that? And only a month old. I think--before you become a skeptic--I should tell you that I've already sold 10,000 of them in California alone. Wonderful pets. Anyone who wants luck wants a cricket."

"People don't actually buy them" I challenged.

"Complete with imported cages--small, medium and large. In three weeks I'm leaving for the Orient to build up a pattern of production to supply a national market."'

He was grinning. "Already they're calling me 'Slattery, the Cricket King.'

"Anything a man can get a monopoly on, he can make a fortune on. I control the crickets and so far I control the cages. If somebody else tries to import cages, he'll need crickets. He'll have to come to me.

"And," he added on a note of triumph, "I won't sell them to him!"

The flaw was obvious. "And what," I asked, "if he goes off into the fields and collects his own crickets?"

"Wild ones? Sell wild crickets?"

He had me there.

"It's foolproof," he persisted. "I have taken--you should excuse me--the bugs out of it."

As the man stepped forward to recover his crawling pet, my mind was idly plotting devices by which I might drop "my old Cricket King friend Des Slattery" into future Hollywood party conversations.

But then it happened.

The insect leapt happily toward its master. It misjudged the distance.

And a pleasant crackle sounded from under Slattery's left shoe.

I smiled, sympathetically.

"Bad luck, eh Slattery?" I purred.

The Choirboys


Aug. 17-22, 1957
Los Angeles

Officers Robert J. Steele, 25, and James K. Sherratt, 28, were sitting in Steele's car at 4 a.m. after finishing their shifts at Newton Division when a gunman tried to rob them, The Times said.

Both officers, who were not in uniform, reached for Steele's revolver, which was on the seat between them, The Times said. But the gun went off, sending a bullet through Steele's right thumb and into Sherratt's groin. Sherratt underwent surgery at Central Receiving Hospital for removal of the bullet.

The gunman fled when the shot was fired, The Times said.



Except there was no attempted holdup and no gunman. Steele and Sherratt had been off duty for two hours and were drinking in Steele's car when the shooting occurred, the Mirror said.

Sherratt resigned from the department. Steele and Officer T.J. Brown, a witness, were suspended pending a board of rights inquiry on charges of filing a false report, misuse of firearms and failure to report a gunshot.

The next year, a man crossing the road at 7th Street and Central Avenue died after being hit by car driven by James K. Sherratt of West Covina, The Times said. Sherratt was not charged.

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Countdown to Watts

The California Eagle, Aug. 22, 1957. The Times never reported the NAACP's lawsuit against the Police Department. Apparently the Los Angeles police chief giving sworn testimony about the department wasn't considered news.


Countdown to Watts

Aug. 21-22, 1957
Los Angeles

Note the contrasting coverage as Kappa Alpha Psi, an African American fraternity, holds its national convention in Los Angeles.

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Paul V. Coates--Confidential File

The Mirror, June 13, 1956. Note: No 72-point headline on Jack O'Leary's hiccups.

Paul_coates Aug. 21, 1957

June 13, 1956, was a grim and heavy news day.

In New York, six children were killed in a cave-in. In San Diego, plans were revealed for production of a new "atom" plane. In Washington, D.C., the U.S. State Department crushed hopes of any meeting between John Foster Dulles and Chou En-Lai, premier and foreign minister of Communist China.

In Moab, Utah, a prospector -- found near death in the desert -- told of surviving his eight-day ordeal by eating raw lizards and cactus.

And again in the capital, the National Academy of Science gave first warning that waste from atomic industrial plants could contain more lethal matter than could be produced by an all-out atomic war.

But these weren't the headline stories in Los Angeles.

We had one of our own.

And it read, in bold and black 72-point type:


The date of June 13, 1956, was probably the only one in history when a case of hiccups was explosive enough to push politics and violent death and international tensions onto Page 2.

For the public, it was the end of a story that had held their interest for more than six years -- when Jack's hiccups gained their first inch of newspaper space.

For O'Leary, then 30, it ended an eight-year siege of a malady that had cut his weight from 138 to 72 pounds and shoved him face-to-face with death more times than he'd care to recall.

Jack's mother called it a miracle, accomplished by "prayer, only prayer, eight years of prayer."

Her comments were greedily absorbed into newsprint.

And every L.A. newspaper dug into its files to compile a history of O'Leary's fantastic illness.

They recounted that the young Irishman's hiccups started after an attack of appendicitis on June 15, 1948. They gave play-by-play accounts of:

  • His trips to specialists in Phoenix and the Northwest and the Midwest.
  • His diet, year by year (most of the time he subsisted on a small glass of apple juice a day).
  • The cures and prayers he received in more than 100,000 letters from nearly every country in the world. (One cure, suggested by some Boy Scouts, was that he shoot off his big toe.)

It was Jack O'Leary's day -- newswise and healthwise.

1957_0821_rambler But it didn't last.

Twenty-four hours later he was yesterday's news -- something you wrap garbage in.

He was forgotten by everyone but the bill collectors.

And that's his position today. I know because I talked to him.

He doesn't complain. He's still thankful to be alive. But he doesn't hold anything back, either.

He admits that his hiccups wiped out his mother's $10,000 bank account and put his family $5,000 in debt.

He's up to 82 pounds now, he says. He's strong enough to earn a living. He washes and polishes cars in the driveway behind his apartment at 4015 Edenhurst Ave. He makes about $35 a week.

The hiccups?

He says they're gone now. But in the last 14 months they began again twice. Once for three weeks. Once for six weeks.

He also contracted a skin disease that, he said, was 10 times worse than the hiccups.

Does he still get letters?

Occasionally, a stranger will write to find out how he's doing. This compares to the day when his hiccups were first publicized -- and as many as 7,000 letters poured in during a 24-hour period.

His diet? Toast and tea for breakfast. A vegetable and a little meat and tea for lunch. And the same for supper.

He's not putting on weight, and he still gets pains in his chest three or four times a day.

But he can still smile at the future.

"Someday, with luck, I'll have my own business."

He was a market manager when his hiccup siege started. But now he'd just as soon run a modest carwash establishment.

Jack O'Leary seems like a very nice individual. I'm glad I looked him up.


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