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Former Mirror Writer Beaten to Death – Update

November 18, 2010 |  2:45 am

  Roby Heard  
  Roby Heard, 1921 - 1960  

This is something I wrote in 2002 at the request of Det. Rick Jackson of the LAPD’s cold case unit. Jackson said that the “murder book” for 1960 was missing and that the department had no information the case, so I pulled this together from news accounts.

There was some speculation at the time of the killing that Heard had been assaulted by a couple of young self-styled Nazis who were attacked while picketing a Sammy Davis Jr. performance, but that theory was eventually abandoned.  The case was eventually closed by the LAPD, and as I recall it was based on what was aired on an old TV program. One website attributes the killing to Clarence Best.

Roby H. Heard was a 39-year-old single white male apparently living alone in a third-floor apartment at 1805 N. Wilcox Ave. in Hollywood.

His body was found about 5:30 a.m. or 5:45 a.m. Nov. 12, 1960, a Saturday, by his landlady, Genevieve Butler, 50. Heard’s employer asked her to check on him when he failed to report for his midnight shift as night editor at City News Service, a wire service that provides local stories to Los Angeles newspapers.

Heard was found face-down in the living room next to an overturned chair, either lying on top of or next to a plate of bacon and eggs. He was covered with a blanket and sheet that had been ripped from his bed and neatly tucked around the body. He was fully clothed. His wallet was in one of his pants pockets, but it was empty, even though he had been paid the day before. 

  Roby Heard, Hammer  

The murder weapon was a claw hammer about 15 inches long with four deep roughly parallel grooves on the left side of the grip. Police theorized that they were made with an emery wheel and that the hammer belonged to the killer. Heard died after being beaten in the face and back of the head with the hammer. The killer used so much force that police at first thought he had been mutilated with a razor or knife. His face was apparently split open.

None of the neighbors reported hearing the murder.

Margaret Finnegan, 71, who lived next door, says that about 10 p.m. Friday she heard a woman knock at Heard’s door. There was silence and then another knock. The news accounts don’t explain how she knew it was a woman.

Sylvia West, no age given, who lived directly below Heard, says that a man whom she did not know “scurried from her apartment” when she returned home Friday night. She described him as being in his 30s, neatly dressed, of medium height and weight.

Joe Quinn, the owner of City News Service, said Heard had been getting calls from a man and a woman demanding money. Unidentified co-workers say a woman and a number of men had been hounding Heard for repayment of loans.

The investigating officers are Detective Lt. J.D. Gilmartin and Detective Sgts. Jerry Greeley and Reg Myers. Police interviewed 236 suspects. Four were booked but released for lack of evidence.

He was survived by his mother, Mrs. Jessie Heard of Shreveport, La., sisters Mrs. T.E. McIver and Mrs. Annie Embry; and brothers Sam, Hadley, Wilifred, Leo and Thomas. News accounts do not mention a wife or children. He is buried at Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills.

Heard was born in Shreveport, La., working for the Shreveport Times in 1937. News accounts make no mention of military service in World War II. He worked for the San Antonio Express and Houston Press before coming to California in 1944. He worked for the San Diego Journal in 1944 and for the Los Angeles Herald-Express from 1945 to 1950. After two years as a reporter for the Bakersfield Press, he was hired by the Mirror, an afternoon paper owned by the Los Angeles Times.  He left the Mirror in 1956 to work in public relations, and joined City News Service in 1959 after editing a weekly in Ontario, Calif.

He performed a variety of jobs while at the Mirror, including rewrite, which is why he’s wearing the telephone headset in the photograph. When he was killed he was working on a series of stories about a “subversive youth movement.”

May 17, 1954, Joan Crawford Arelo Sederberg, a former co-worker, says:

When I first stated in journalism, so many years ago, I was what they called a "copyboy." I was perhaps 17 or 18. This was the L.A. Mirror, where Roby Heard was a rewrite man. I was one of his admirers—me,  a kid from the sticks who aspired to become a reporter like in the movies, and him, a hard-drinking, quick-writing nice guy reporter-rewrite man.

After a while I started on the police beat at the old City Hall and filed some stories to him. He was always polite and generous. After the shift was over, at l p.m. (it was an afternoon paper and we started at 4:30 a.m.) Roby would always go the Redwood Room [a bar then located in the Los Angeles Times building. It’s now a block away on 2nd Street] for some "refreshments," and sometimes I tagged along with him, although I wasn't old enough to drink. A few times I drove him home when he was dead drunk and hardly could walk.

A lot of "series" stories were published then and he did a four- or five-parter on Liberace and when he came in one morning his desk was adorned with lighted candles, the performer’s trademark. He also did a series on Joan Crawford that considered mainly of quotations from Hollywood times who hated her (almost everybody, apparently).

Sometimes, after an all-nighter, Roby would come to work in a tux. Once he told me that he could not understand why they had hired a man who had such a drinking problem as he did. They hired him because he did come to work and was a good writer. I lost track of him when I was drafted into the Army in 1951. I remember him well today and I liked him and I am sorry to know that he was murdered.