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Killing in Alhambra

May 30, 2007 |  6:04 am


Photographs by Larry Harnisch Los Angeles Times
22 Champion Place, Alhambra, Calif.


1957_0531_picture_3 May 30, 1957

Yeah, we're back in Alhambra, parked on the pinched, narrow street outside 22 Champion Place, a quirky, old two-story house built in 1910. It used to belong to a Western artist named Frank Tenney Johnson, who died in 1939.

His wife, Vinnie, died in  December 1956, and since they had no children, she left everything to her sister, Evalyn, and her son, James. Evalyn had been living by herself at the house since 1952, when she divorced her husband, Clarence, a janitor for the Monrovia school district, and her sister went into a sanitarium.

Let's go inside. Keep your hands in your pockets and don't move anything. Notice as we head toward the house that there's a little building to the side with a basement. I think that was Johnson's studio, but that's just a guess. It could be a garage.

How about that? The front door is unlocked. The house is loaded with Johnson's paintings--lots and lots of cowboys.

Notice the vacuum cleaner, and a couple of cushions that have been pulled off the sofa, as if someone was doing housework. There's a TV tray upset on a pile of newspapers.

Let's go upstairs and look in the bedroom.

That's Evalyn in the bed with the covers pulled up to her chin. Her son will tell the papers that her face is black. She was 67.

Police will find out that she's entirely dressed except for one shoe. Her hands are tied tightly behind her back with a piece of wire with brown plastic insulation.  She's been strangled with some pink cloth that was apparently torn from a woman's half-slip. The medical examiner, Dr. Frederick Newbarr, will find that she was knocked unconscious first.



1957_champion02 Let's go out into what I'll call the studio. Norman Rockwell spent a few weeks working here in 1945. Now it's full of old junk. The only thing new is down in the basement: another piece of wire, with yellow plastic insulation instead of brown, and connectors on either end.

That's about all we know. Evalyn's son, James Ash, and daughter-in-law, Lois, live across the street in a house set way back on the lot. Lois saw her mother-in-law this morning when Evalyn stepped out of the house to get the newspaper. This evening, they're supposed to go to San Gabriel Cemetery and put flowers on Vinnie's grave. Apparently they were going to go earlier in the day, but Evalyn decided to visit the cemetery at night so she could spend the day at Hollywood Park.

Van Wormer, her ex-husband, says he talked to her on the phone about once every six weeks. Otherwise he  hadn't had any contact with her. A high school kid takes care of the yard, but he was in school when she was killed.

Evalyn's slaying has never been solved. She is buried at San Gabriel Cemetery. Maybe we should stop there on the way out.

We better get going. The police will be here any minute.

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