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Paul V. Coates – Confidential File, Nov. 12, 1959

November 12, 2009 |  2:00 pm


Nov. 12, 1959, Mirror Cover

The Mirror follows the Lillian Lenorak story. Below, Paul Weeks profiles suspect Tord Ove Zeppen-Field.

Nov. 12, 1959, Lillian Lenorak

This Mother Wonders Why Her Son Died

Paul Coates    Many eyes -- including those of some U.S. senators in town for public hearings this week -- see the juvenile delinquent.

    But somehow, the focus, the image, is never the same.

    To the policeman, the juvenile delinquent isn't just a bad boy, or a bad girl.  They are potentially dangerous criminals.  A boy's age -- the fact that he's not yet 18 -- doesn't make him any less dangerous.  Experience has taught the policeman that an immature punk, paired with a loaded gun, is as deadly an enemy as he can face.

    Through the eyes of a probation officer, a juvenile delinquent is a kid who's made a mistake, or two, or more.  He's an anti-social, but not beyond redemption.  The probation officer's job is to straighten the kid out and keep him straight.  He's got to see him in a kindly light. 

    Other people see the juvenile delinquent in other shades of vision.

imageThe judge, the neighbors, the "nice" kid who has to take the long way home from school to avoid being beaten up by a gang, the j.d.'s parents ("He's really a good boy."), the preacher, the rabbi, the father -- each has his own definition. 

    Today, I'm going to give you another definition -- as applied by a housewife whose concern is a tragic one.

    Her name is Mrs. Lembersky.  She live son L.A.'s east side.

    On Oct. 17 of this year, her 15-year-old son, Larry, left the house at 6 p.m. to attend a church bazaar seven blocks away.

    Mrs. Lembersky, and some other people I've talked with since that day, described Larry as a very popular, real fine kid.

     He'd been a Cub Scout, Boy Scout, an honor student at Hollenbeck Junior High, and was, at the same time he walked out the front door that evening, a member of the "B" football squad at Roosevelt High School.

    At the bazaar, when he and a friend were playing a dart game, a 14-year-old kid approached them and said that somebody wanted to see them outside.

    The "somebody" turned out to be nearly a dozen members of the Little Eastside gang.  One of the gang's members, it turned out, had taken Larry's joking comment about a "squeaky bicycle" (made more than a month before) as a personal insult.

    Larry and his friend walked innocently outside.  They were encircled, jumped, slugged, kicked.  As they fought their way through the circle and started to run, Gilbert Roque, 17, plunged a 7-inch knife into Larry's heart and killed him.

    "Gilbert Roque killed my son," Mrs. Lembersky told me yesterday.  "He's a murderer.  A cold-blooded murderer."

    "But you watch," she said, "He'll be treated like just another juvenile delinquent.  He'll be back on the streets in a year or two."

     Gilbert Roque's story reportedly is that he'd been threatened with a shotgun in the face the week before by a rival gang.  He was just a bystander the night he killed Larry Lembersky .  He carried the knife for "self-defense," and when he saw Larry and his friend running toward him, he thought they were after him and he used the knife for "protection."

    The dead boy's mother told me: "After my son fell down, his friend rushed back and bent over him.  Then the same boy knifed him in the back."

    "Is that self-defense?" she asked.

    In panic and pain, Mrs. Lembersky called Gilbert Roque's mother after the killing.

Why, Why, Why?

    "Why," she demanded, "did your son kill my son?"

    Mrs. Lembersky told me: "The boys mother said she didn't know why.  She said that her son was  a good boy."

    "He's not a good boy, Mr. Coates," Mrs. Lembersky cried.  "Good boys don't murder people."

    Juvenile delinquents.  Juvenile killers.  I hope the senators come up with some answers, but optimistic I'm not.