Paul Coates

Feb. 26, 1958

The ghouls never die. Not in L.A., they don’t.

They fade away, lay low, sometimes. But always they come back–with new schemes as fantastic as they are sadistic.

They dedicate their lives to devising profitable little plots to salt
the open wounds of individuals hit by gross tragedy. They specialize in
operations which permit them to turn a fast buck and get their
unnatural kicks at the same time.

In the past, I’ve mentioned a few of their abnormal games.

A couple of Christmases ago, there was the flourishing group which dealt in names taken from local obituary columns.

They visited the dead parties’ next of kin to "deliver" a Bible
which–they told the grieving relative–had been ordered by the

With solemn irreverence, they explained:

"He ordered it for you. He even asked that your name be engraved on it. In gold."

The ghoul would then open the book and show the victim his or her name. In gold.

"I’m sorry," he would continue, "but it hasn’t been paid for yet. Of
course, if you don’t want it, if you don’t want to abide by your loved
one’s final wish–"

It would almost be sacrilege to say no, even if the price was exorbitant. Which it usually was.

This pleasant little game is revived periodically.

And so are some others.

There’s the professional "blesser," who searches out homes where there
is serious illness. She blesses the clothing, the curtains, the bed,
the silverware–and, of course, the money.

And too frequently, after she’s left, the victims open the handkerchief
or holy cloth in which she blessed the money and valuables only to find
that some of them left with her.

There are the witchdoctors and the cancer quacks who accept your money
in exchange for voodoo and sugar pills. And watch you die slowly and

And then there are those who "contact" you after you’re dead, and pass
along spirit messages to your kin advising them to invest in phantom
gold mines.

These people are ghouls.

But yesterday a man in our town went all of them one better.

With no hope of profit, no plausible chance for personal gain, he
elected to telephone Mrs. Mary Bowman that he and his "partner" had
Tommy and that the boy was alive and well.

Since the boy’s disappearance in the foothills above Pasadena, the
Bowmans have never given up the hope that their son is living and will
someday be returned.

So naturally the child’s mother was willing to listen to anything, to anybody.

The caller instructed her to stand outside and wait.

She did. It was raining, but she stood there for quite a while.

"Maybe it wasn’t long," she told me afterward, "but just thinking that
maybe, possibly, Tommy would come back to us made it seem like hours."

Finally, she gave up the vigil, stepped back into the house and called the police.

Unwillingly, she admitted to herself that Tommy was no closer to home
this week than he was last week or the week before. She simply had been
the victim of an evil hoax.

It’s hard for me to believe that anyone could have a mind so
degenerated, so deranged that he could get his pleasures by heaping
additional torture into the already tortured life of Mrs. Bowman.

But there is somebody like that.

He’s sick, I suppose.

But that kind of sickness turns my stomach inside-out.


About lmharnisch

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

1 Response to Paul Coates

  1. Mike says:

    Decades after that child’s disappearance, it was finally solved. A local child killer had confessed to his wife in a letter from prison that he had forgotten to mention the Bowman child in confessions to the police; the letter turned up years later.
    The father was still alive as of a few years ago.


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