Child molested, killed


April 16, 1938-Sept. 16, 1939

1938_0416_jenny_2 How about that? The tracks are still here, a block south of Firestone on Myrtle. I think that’s where they found her body in the weeds.

Poor little kid. Her name was Jenny — Jenny Moreno. She was 7 when she was killed. One of the neighbors was molesting her and hit her in the head with a hammer to stop her screaming, then waited until dark and hid the body. Her relatives and the other folks who were looking for her saw him handcuffed to a deputy and nearly lynched him. The guards at San Quentin said he went to the gas chamber bellowing like a bull; it took him 7 1/2 minutes to die.

His name was Charles A. McLachlan, a "wrinkle-faced, 55-year-old, wine-soaked Irish-Mexican," The Times said. He and his wife had come to Downey from El Paso about 15 years earlier and bought five shacks at Firestone and Myrtle. He had lived alone since his wife died three years ago and made a little money renting out the other shacks. One was leased to his son Joe and daughter-in-law Carmen. Another was leased to the Morenos: John, his wife, and their six children.  A woman identified as Mrs. Perra, the children’s grandmother, also lived there.

On the day that Jenny disappeared, Mrs. Perra sent her on an errand to take a magazine to Carmen McLachlan. On her way back, Charles lured Jenny into his shack, The Times said.

He attacked her. "I hit her with a hammer to make her stop screaming," he said. "I reached over to the stove where the hammer was laying and got it — then I hit her. She screamed again when I hit her the first time — I hit her again and she quit."

Charles hid Jenny’s body on what passed for a bed, washed off the hammer and hid it under the blankets.

Then he and a neighbor who had been chopping wood across the street walked down the tracks to a store and bought half a gallon of wine. They drank the wine as they walked, then went to another store and bought another half-gallon of wine.

Charles wasn’t sure what time it was when he got back to his shack because he didn’t have a clock. He said he told time by the sun and figured it was 6:30 p.m. or 7 p.m. His son Joe told him to go to bed. But he didn’t.

"I was mighty drunk," he said, "but I went out and milked my goat. It was then that Jenny’s grandmother Mrs. Perra came over and asked me if I had seen Jenny or knew where she was. I told her I didn’t. She was in my house dead right then."

They were looking for her, so he went into his shack, sat down and had a smoke.

"I was getting desperate, so when all was still and dark I picked up the body and carried it out to the fence and threw it over to the other side. Then I walked down to a hole in the fence — about 50 feet — and went up the other side and picked it up again and carried it out among the weeds, about 75 feet, and dropped it," he said.

Back at his shack, he noticed that he had forgotten to get rid of her shoes, so he threw them into the outhouse. He cut the bloody fabric from the mattress with a knife, then took the pieces, along with her clothes and some of his own bloody clothing, and set them on fire in the backyard.


Back in the house, he found his overalls covered with her blood and set them on fire in his shack.

Mrs. Perra contacted the sheriff’s Norwalk substation to report the blazes, and deputies had just arrested Charles when Jenny’s father found her body. One of Jenny’s uncles struck Charles as he was handcuffed to Deputy White. Some people called out "lynch him!" but the deputies dispersed the crowd, The Times said.

During interrogation, Charles denied knowing anything about the killing, even after being confronted with a strand of the girl’s hair that was found on his bloody overalls, The Times said.

After 12 hours of questioning, he confessed to Sheriff Eugene Biscailuz, The Times said. He originally denied being able to speak English, so Biscailuz questioned him in Spanish. However, Charles eventually gave a 14-page confession in English, The Times said.

He was convicted in a non-jury trial, found sane and sentenced to die. A year later, he sought a pardon from the governor, who granted a brief stay of execution, although the grounds for the appeal aren’t clear. Judge Frank M. Smith, who sentenced Charles to die, said there were no mitigating circumstances to warrant a pardon. Jenny’s murder, he said, was "one of the most brutal and horrible ever perpetrated in Los Angeles County."

Charles A. McLachlan was taken into the gas chamber on the morning of Sept. 15, 1939, and pronounced dead about 10:10 a.m. "There were very few spectators at the execution," The Times said.

There’s nothing in The Times about services for Jenny or where she was buried. Apparently the lives of some folks named Moreno living near the tracks in Downey weren’t terribly important.

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About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
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