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Voices, Frank Heller

February 25, 2008 | 11:39 am

Photograph by the Los Angeles Times

Frank Heller and Linda Mintz in a photograph published Nov. 11, 1958, in The Times.

Linda_mintz_1958_0226_terry_winfrey Frank Heller was a defense attorney for
Linda Mintz, the housekeeper charged with beating her employer Thelma Macomber to death with a vacuum cleaner. A former Marine who served in the Pacific during World War II, Heller graduated from Southwestern School of Law, was admitted to the State Bar of California in 1954 and still practices law. He and his wife, Rosalie, have been married 62 years.

I was born and raised in Chicago and came out here to California. It's God's country... I came out here in 1948... I was in the service, stationed out here. I fell in love with California. I was stationed at Camp Pendleton.... 

Actually, I'm going back a little bit before the war. I guess I was in high school when I used to ride out here... on the rails... as a kid... In those days it was safe. The so-called hobos would take care of young kids. My mother never knew. I had an uncle and aunt who owned a deli in City Terrace so I came up and worked in the deli.... I fell in love with the place.

I got out in 1945 when World War II ended... WWIII started when I got married... [This is, of course, a joke--lrh] I spent time catching up on my education.... I was in the tavern business in Chicago....

I came out to California in 1948 or '49, one of the two, and what did I do?  I was continuing on my education and took the bar. I like to tell everybody I took the bar so long ago it was with Abraham Lincoln... I'm still practicing, by the way. I joined the bar in 1954. I enjoy living here.... I enjoyed going to school. I had a good time becoming a lawyer.

At that time, there were very, very few women passing the bar or taking the bar, very few female lawyers, judges. Then they invaded our field. But we had some good ones. Mildred Lillie, she was fantastic. In my class I think there was only two or three women who took the bar and they all passed the first time. And the women I graduated with all became fantastic lawyers, judges and I work with them every day of my life.

I hooked up with a couple of lawyers who were quite a bit older than me, Charles Taylor and Paul Sherman.... Two of the most fantastic guys you ever wanted to meet. Even in my first year of practice I ended up doing a lot of criminal work.

Charlie Taylor (above, with Officer Terry Winfrey in a Times photograph by  Bob Martin) was one of the best criminal lawyers in this area. A lot of times we were together because he wasn't well. I got a lot of experience.

The first year out of school I handled my first first-degree murder case. It came out OK, but I came out thinking how much I did not know.

Judge [Charles W.] Fricke was the dean of criminal law. He wrote a book [California Criminal Law--lrh], and we used to use it as a bible. I enjoyed working in his courtroom. I enjoyed Judge [Clement D.] Nye, Judge [Allen T.] Lynch, Edwin Jefferson, he was the one who presided in the Linda Mintz case, Judge [LeRoy] Dawson, Judge [Herbert V.] Walker....

And the D.A.'s office... There's a little twist to all of this: Despite the fact I did defense work, I was the civil attorney for the D.A's investigator association. Even though we fought like blazes in court, we were all friends outside.

Photograph by the Los Angeles Times

Police chemist Ray Pinker, left, discusses the vacuum cleaner used to kill Thelma Macomber as defense attorney Grant Cooper and defendant Linda Mintz listen.

As time went on, my two partners weren't feeling too well. They died at early age and I sort of took over. They let me try a lot of cases when I was young.

The Linda Mintz case started out to be Taylor's case. He was with me for a while but didn't feel too well, so I took it over.

If I recall there was a first trial... He was an exceptionally good lawyer. She had a good defense. It was a hung jury 7-5 for conviction and our case, if my memory serves, was 8-4 for acquittal.

She was very difficult to handle at times, the poor lady. Everybody felt sorry for her. She always felt she was being persecuted. Even here. I remember here one time there was a court reporter, a young guy, Nordic looking, she kept telling me she felt he was a Nazi agent following her.

You can imagine what she went through as a concentration camp victim.

Linda_mintz_1957_0601_frank_q_brownShe was a little bit of emotional times at times. She was cooperative with me... I understand a little bit of German, so I could communicate better. But she spoke English.

By the way the homicide detectives on that case were fantastic. A really fantastic police officer. He told exactly the way it happened. There was one investigator maybe with the Fire Department.... I think some of his testimony was contradicted, but they all did a pretty good job giving out the facts.

I do recall she once said there was a photographer who visited the house. And a young man who lived in house.....

I do recall somebody purportedly saw her trying to wipe blood off the walls.... It was a pretty ugly scene... It's so long ago....

Usually, lawyers talk to jurors. I talked to them... Completely diverse opinions of what took place.

[Joseph L.] Joe Carr, the D.A., I remember vividly. I was active in criminal law at that time. Mrs. Mintz (above right in a Times photograph by Frank Q. Brown) was Jewish, Joe Carr was Jewish, the judge was black. She couldn't say she was being persecuted but she did. I felt Joe Carr did an exceptionally good job... They reviewed the case and with two hung juries they figured they'd never get a conviction so they decided to dismiss the case and let her go. I remember walking out of courtroom with her. She had a son, I understand.

The following statement is strictly a joke. As soon as she was exonerated, I said I would bring her home as a housekeeper. Unfortunately, she was suspicious of everybody. I think there was a reporter, Paul Coates... He wrote some rather interesting articles about her. Very fair, not pro or con. She had a bit of a problem being incarcerated.... People go through that horrible experience. I felt she was normal. The D.A. felt she was insane at times. I didn't think so. I just felt sorry for her.

After the trial, I lost track of her, but then Joe Carr a year or two later said she was up north. That was the last we ever heard of her.... I often wonder what happened to her son... Her son was living in West L.A., in a home. He was 13.

I may be the only one still alive from that case.

[Note: Stay tuned for Part II of Frank Heller's recollections--lrh]

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