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An urge to kill

February 26, 2008 | 10:00 am


Feb. 26, 1958

1958_0226_deena_bonn_3 Thomas was handsome, clean-cut, 19-year-old sophomore on the tennis team at Stanford, where his father had gone to college and was a prominent alumnus.

He lived at 248 Edlee Ave., across the street from Mr. and Mrs. John E. Bonn and their only child, Deena, 17. She was an attractive young woman and the faculty at the Cubberly School in Palo Alto described her as "one of the finest young ladies we've had here."

But despite the wholesome face he presented to the world, Thomas was deeply troubled by the dark and unexplainable urge to kill, a desire that became stronger every day.

And so he planned the killing carefully: He would find a girl and lure her into his new 1957 convertible. Once in the car, he would kill her, take her into the Stanford foothills and rape her, then hide her body.

For a while, he thought he would use an icepick. Then he decided a gun would be better, so Thomas went to a Palo Alto sporting goods store and bought a .22 rifle. Finally, he packed a suitcase with items he would need while hiding in the Santa Cruz Mountains: heavy clothes, eating utensils and a Bible.

The good-looking, clean-cut tennis star cruised in his convertible, looking for a victim, but without success.

About 10 p.m., he called Deena, the attractive young woman across the street. She had a steady boyfriend, but she and Thomas had dated one time, relatives said. Thomas told Deena he was going out of town and wondered if she would drive him to the railroad station in his car and then bring it back home.

1958_0226_cordry Thomas had her drive and en route to the railroad station, he asked Deena to stop at the ROTC Armory, explaining that he needed to return a rifle. He took the .22 from the back seat and shot her in the head.

Getting behind the wheel, Thomas drove up into the foothills, but apparently changed his mind about rape and came back to Palo Alto. About midnight, Thomas Wallace Cordry III walked into the Palo Alto police station and as if he had been in a minor traffic accident, said: "I want to report a killing. I shot a girl and she's out in the car."

In interviews with detectives, he never offered a clear explanation. "I had an urge to do it," he said with icy calmness. "I've had the same urge before. I guess this is really a sex problem." He refused to see his parents or the attorney they hired, saying: "I have no explanation for them."

Deena's father said: "I do not want revenge." He hoped to visit Thomas to assure him that he "holds no bitterness," The Times said.

On Aug. 27, 1958, Thomas Wallace Cordry III pleaded guilty to first-degree murder with a mandatory life sentence. His name never again appeared in The Times.

In later years, the Cubberly School sponsored a Deena Bonn night, but by the 1960s, it had apparently fallen out of favor as time erased the memory of who she was.

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