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Body of Girl, 16, Dumped at Burbank Hospital

March 22, 2009 |  6:00 am


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1959_0324_brenda_emerson_3 Half a century cannot dull the tragedy.

Her name was Brenda. When they found her lying in the grass outside St. Joseph Hospital in Burbank they guessed she was 21, but she was only 16. A man called to say she was there. He didn't give his name.

Brenda was still warm and fully dressed in a black coat, cream-colored blouse and red print pedal pushers. All the labels had been removed.  She was wearing a 14-karat gold wedding band and an engagement ring, a gold locket and a cheap wristwatch. Her pink shoes were nearby.

She was identified by her uncle, Sheldon Grossbart, as Brenda Blonder Emerson. She was a bride of nine months who eloped to Arizona with Stephen Emerson, 20, against the wishes of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. William Blonder, 9606 Cresta Drive, Fox Hills. She had a needle mark in her arm and another in her buttocks. 

The medical examiner found that she died from 3.4 grams of sodium pentothal, administered as an anesthetic before undergoing an abortion. A preliminary examination suggested a false pregnancy, but later tests determined that she was pregnant, The Times said.   

Brenda and Stephen had been living at 9645 1/2 Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills. He wasn't working and it's not clear what she did for a living, but Brenda managed to get $600 ($4,223.87USD 2007) for the operation, The Times said. 

1959_0324_haskins_2 And somehow she found Ruth Haskins, 42, a hard-boiled pro of the business who had worked with her brother, osteopath Philip Victor Ames, until he ran off to Mexico in 1957 to avoid being sentenced for nine counts of performing abortions. Haskins' career dated at least to 1936, when she was sentenced to a year in jail for illegal operations. With her brother in Mexico, Haskins had begun working with his former chauffeur, Edgar Schrater, alias Edgar Salgado.

On the day she died, Brenda apparently claimed she was going to a family reunion at her parents' home. Stephen told police the last time he saw her was in Hollywood at 4 p.m., three hours before her body was found. The Times said Brenda's mother took her to a rendezvous with Mrs. Michael Smythe for the trip to Burbank, where the abortion was to be performed.

Because it was unclear whether the LAPD or Burbank police had jurisdiction in Brenda's death, Los Angeles homicide detectives joined the investigation. 

1959_0323_bodyLAPD homicide Detectives Danny Galindo and Paul LePage, accompanied by Haskins' son-in-law, Bob Kane, went to Tijuana to find her. The detectives arrested her after Kane pointed her out at the Tijuana Airport, where she was en route to Mexico City to join her brother, the Mirror-News said. Haskins was carrying $945 in cash and an address book "containing numerous names," the Mirror-News said. 

When another woman was wrongly indicted, Smythe admitted her role in Brenda's death and received 75 days in jail. Haskins pleaded guilty and was sentenced to prison, although The Times didn't report the terms.

Schrater surrendered to LAPD homicide Detective Herman Zander in the Hollywood office of attorney Jules Covey and was booked on suspicion of murder. He served five years after pleading guilty to manslaughter and was arrested in 1968 on charges of running an abortion ring in the Chicago suburbs. 

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Brenda was given a pink casket and buried in a beige satin dress at Mt. Sinai Memorial Park.

At her funeral, Rabbi Jacob Pressman of Temple Beth Am said: "Oh God, we do not pretend to understand the reason of thy ways .... She was little more than a pretty child playing at the grownup game and now she suddenly lies in our midst in the stillness of death." Although the details of her death were known only to God, he said, "the vivid present must give way to the sweet memories of her happy past."

The Times said: "In the tearful graveside rites, the girl's father, near collapse, joined Rabbi Pressman in singing the Kaddish, the mourner's prayer. At the conclusion, Brenda's maternal grandmother, Mrs. Rose Beim, threw herself on the casket and kissed it.

"And then they left Brenda on the slope ..."

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