April 4-June 12, 1958
"I think I just killed a girl."
had killed her, all right. Strangled her with her sweater. Afterward,
he drove around the Valley with her slumped under the dash until the
left front wheel on his borrowed hotrod collapsed. He abandoned the car
somewhere off the Hollywood Freeway and hitched a ride. At 2:05 a.m.,
he called police from a pay phone at Vermont and Clinton.
"I think I just killed a girl," he said.
was waiting at the pay phone when Detectives H.A. Essex and Mario Pozzo
arrived: a slight, curly haired 18-year-old drama student who barely
weighed 100 pounds. He was wearing a striped purple shirt, tight jeans
and high-topped suede shoes, and his face, arms and hands were covered
with scratches. Where was the car? He wasn't sure. Maybe he left it
somewhere on Oxnard Street, which crosses most of the Valley.
detectives questioned Cary, 11 police cars searched Oxnard Street for
the car but the officers didn't find anything. Maybe he was making it
all up. Under further interrogation, Cary remembered that he left the
car on a street that paralleled Ventura Boulevard near the end of the
Hollywood Freeway, and at 3:30 a.m. Officers Del Cunningham and John
Evans discovered it at 11430 Moorpark St.
in North Hollywood.
found her in the car. Her name was Phyllis, a 15-year-old sophomore at
Reseda High School. A good girl, her parents said. There were bruises
on her throat, thighs, right elbow and across her scalp. The coroner
said she'd been raped.
Cary told police
and reporters that his father had died three years ago and he lived
with his mother, a bookkeeper for the Encino Chamber of Commerce, at 7650 Yarmouth.
He had been in the Army for a few months, but was given a
medical discharge for nerves. His mother said he would go into
blackouts when he could hear but couldn't see or speak. Now he was a
student at Valley Junior College and had been in several Valley Theater
productions, taking the lead in a
Shakespearean play and the role of Apples, a drug dealer, in "Hatful of
Last August, he had been parked with a 15-year-old named Cathy up on Mulholland west of Beverly Glen and tried to choke her, but she fought him off. He was found not guilty of battery.
Cary said that on the night of the killing, a Thursday, he picked up Phyllis about 7.
They went to see "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" at the Sepulveda Drive-In in Van Nuys.
Cary said he brought a case of beer and after the movie, he drove up to
Muholland near Beverly Glen and each of them drank several beers.
started necking," he said. Phyllis became angry with him because he
didn't ask her out more often, Cary said. According to The Times, "she
then told him she thought she might be pregnant 'by some other guy.' "
"She got mad at me and I got mad at her," he said. "And then all I know is that everything went black."
According to one account, he said: "Once I started
choking Phyllis I thought I'd better go through with it because I
didn't want to go to jail again. I guess I kind of get a thrill out of
choking a girl. I've read many of these crime magazines about fellows
choking girls and got a kind of thrill out of it."
the recording of his interrogation, which was played for jurors, Cary
said: "Things started going through my mind--I started getting mixed
up--I just grabbed hold of her."
detectives asked if he realized he was killing Phyllis, he said: "No
... I had a choice of two evils. If I let go I knew I would go to jail
and I figured if I finished it I'd go to jail anyway." He said he
"thought about trying to revive her but I didn't want to touch her
again... I don't trust myself alone with a girl."
Mirror columnist Paul Coates drove out to Phyllis' home, 7749 Yarmouth Ave.,
Reseda, and talked to her parents, Art and Rose Meltzer, in Phyllis'
bedroom. It was plain and rather small, Coates said, just a bed for
Phyllis and one for her younger sister, and the decorations were spare:
Some dolls, two paintings of ballerinas on the wall, a book of Bible
stories, textbooks and some crossword puzzles.
Phyllis' parents said none of Cary's stories--that Phyllis thought she
was pregnant, that she wanted to go out with him more often--was true.
"What're people thinking about her?" Art shouted. "The way it's been written up, my kid was a tramp."
was a 15-year-old girl," Rose said. "She didn't drink. She couldn't
stand the smell of beer. She didn't smoke. I knew everything that girl
Cary was just a neighborhood boy,
they said. That's why they let Phyllis go out with him. "There was
nothing between them, like he tried to make out. He told lies. That's
all he told the police was lies," Rose said.
Coates walked to his car after the interview, one of the Meltzers' neighbors told him:
"It's a shame what they're letting that boy say. I knew the girl. My
own kid was her best friend. That was a good girl, a very good girl."
June 10, 1958, Cary John Johannesson was found guilty of first-degree
murder. The jury deliberated seven minutes before returning with a
sentence of life in prison. He died Aug. 28, 1966, in Marin County,
according to California death records. He was 27.