Teen Convicted in Bloody Killing of Girl, 12

June 27, 1943, ad
June 27, 1943: The “Greatest Generation” isn’t getting enough “bulk.”

June 27, 1943, Bunker Hill
Let’s rename Bunker Hill as Angels’ Terrace. Or not.

The Courtemanche family lived in the old Sepulveda place at 751 N. Palos Verdes St., on a hill above the Wilmington-San Pedro Road, across from the Los Angeles Shipbuilding Corp.

The home was owned by the Courtemanches, who lived downstairs, and the Worden family, who had the upper floor.

The Courtemanche family consisted of the mother, Hazel; a son, Pete; and two daughters, Marilyn and Dorothy — known as Doris. Another son, Robert, was married with a wife and two children and lived in Wilmington.

Since the death of her husband, David, the previous November, Hazel had taken a job in Torrance and was usually gone most of the day. Marilyn was also employed and often worked from noon to 4:30 p.m. During spring break, Doris and Pete were home by themselves, with members of the Worden family upstairs.

On the afternoon of Wednesday, April 21, 1943, Robert Courtemanche, his wife and two children visited the home on North Palos Verdes. Robert looked through the front window and saw a body lying on the floor in front of the sofa. He entered the unlocked home and called for an ambulance and the police, and two uniformed LAPD officers arrived in about 10 minutes.

LAPD Detectives Gannon and Elliott of the San Pedro Division found the body under a blanket, with a wrench lying on the floor near the victim’s left heel. Blood was found on sofa cushions and the body.

The victim was identified as Robert Courtemanche’s sister Doris, 12. In addition to being beaten with the wrench, she was stabbed nine times in the back and six times in the chest.

Homicide Detective Ray Giese called it “the most vicious murder in my entire experience.”

The next day, Los Angeles firefighter John Planagan Sr., the captain of the LAFD’s Fire Boat No. 3, reported that his son had told him the following story:

His son, John Planagan Jr., 15, had planned to go swimming with two friends, Frankie Cordero and Pete Courtemanche.

He went to Frankie Cordero’s home, but found that his friend had already left. He next went to the Courtemanche home, looking for Pete.

After calling for Pete several times and not getting an answer, he looked in the front window and saw “an object on a divan which appeared to be covered; that protruding from it he saw a foot in an odd position.”

The youth said he went into the house, raised the blanket, which was bloody, and saw the victim’s body. He claimed he didn’t remember exactly what he did except that “I wanted to get away from there.”

In the ensuing trial, it was revealed that the Planagan youth had been friends for some time with Pete Courtemanche, but that Hazel Courtemanche had warned him to stay away.

He was convicted of killing Doris and at the age of 16 was sentenced to five years to life in San Quentin. An appeal by defense attorney Joe Scott was rejected.

According to the Social Security Death Index, a John M. Planagan, born July 6, 1927, died March 27, 2004, in Long Beach.

April 22, 1943, Courtemanche house
The Courtemanche home, 751 N. Palos Verdes St., San Pedro.

April 22, 1943, Courtemanche killing
April 29, 1943, Courtemanche killing

April 23, 1943, Courtemanche killing

June 27, 1943, Courtemanche

July 2, 1943, Courtemanche killing

July 17, 1943, Courtemanche killing

Sept. 22, 1944, Courtemanche killing

About lmharnisch

I work at the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1943, Homicide, LAPD and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Teen Convicted in Bloody Killing of Girl, 12

  1. I feel like there’s room for doubt in this conviction, maybe because the papers didn’t publish very many details of the trial (e.g., did they ever determine if it was really her blood on his clothes?)

  2. Sam says:

    How many years did he serve?

    • lmharnisch says:

      It would take quite a bit more digging to determine that….

    • Loisann Waggener says:

      I was a classmate of Doris Cortemarche. All the kids I ever knew about did not believe that Planagan was guilty. The neighborhood where Doris’ house was was on a bluff overlooking the shipyards and the train tracks and there were always some transients camping out there. Also, Doris was exceptionally pretty and creepos in cars were commonplace around Dana Jr. High. I always thought one of them might have been watching her and followed her home, or some bum from the tracks did it. I moved away from Pedro and never heard how much time Planagan did. I would like to know. LAC

  3. JAMES says:

    I am not covinced of his guilt either. There’s not much here to prove. There must be more to this story.

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