Killing in Alhambra


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



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.



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.

 Email me

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in Homicide and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Killing in Alhambra

  1. Matthew Correnti says:

    I grew up on Champion Place three houses to the north on the same side of the street during the 70’s & 80’s. I knew about the artists’ history but not this homicide history. I found this article / link just by doing a Google search for “champion place, alhambra” and this is one of the results. Crazy!! Thanks!!


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