Georgette Bauerdorf in an undated photo, courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library.
The life of a diligent researcher would be much easier if one of the Los Angeles newspapers had published details from the coroner’s inquest in the Georgette Bauerdorf case, particularly the transcript of the autopsy.
Georgette Bauerdorf, an Unsolved Murder:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | Part 17 | Part 18 | Part 19 | Part 20 | Part 21 | Part 22 | Part 23 | Part 24 | Part 25 | Part 26 | Part 27 | Part 28 | Part 29 | Part 30 | Part 31
The Los Angeles County coroner’s jury room, courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library.
The inquests of the 1940s were conducted as a trial and held in the coroner’s area of the Hall of Justice, with a small jury and deputy corner presiding instead of a judge.
A witness identified the victim, another witness might describe the victim’s death or finding the body, detectives described the crime scene and the medical examiner either read his report into the official record or in some instances it was introduced into the record in the medical examiner’s absence.
After hearing the testimony, the coroner’s jury returned with a finding of death at the hands of another, natural death, etc. In the Bauerdorf inquest, the witnesses were attorney Sam Wolf, who identified the victim; Fred/Charles Atwood, who found the body; and two investigators (Daily News, Oct. 20, 1944).
A typical inquest of the 1940s: Edward Merrifield testifies in a fatal 1947 traffic accident in which 7-year-old Patrick Burns was run down in a crosswalk, courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library. At right is the coroner’s jury and at left is the coroner’s official presiding over the inquest.
The Oct. 20, 1944, Bauerdorf inquest received sketchy coverage by the Los Angeles papers, so the diligent researcher must rely on what can be gleaned from news reports.
The body of Georgette Bauerdorf was found between 11 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 12, 1944, in the second-floor bathroom of her apartment at El Palacio, 8493 Fountain Ave. According to Fred Atwood, janitor at El Palacio, she was wearing the top half of a pair of pink rayon pajamas and floating face-down the bathtub, which was overflowing with bloody, hot water because the faucet was either running or dripping. Atwood said that the bathroom was stifling hot.
Fred Atwood, left, describes finding the body and Sam Wolf identifies the victim, Los Angeles Times, Oct. 21, 1944
Atwood said that rigor mortis had set in when he found her. Sheriff’s Inspector William Penprase said that rigor mortis usually sets in within three to four hours after death, but that it would have been delayed because the body was in a tub of hot water.
During the initial investigation, Georgette’s father, George Bauerdorf, said she might have died of natural causes. “We know that she suffered from cramps and heart pains and we think they might have caused death,” he said. (Los Angeles Herald-Express, Oct. 13, 1944).
Judging by news accounts, autopsy surgeon Frank R. Webb made an initial examination that determined a cause of death and a second, more thorough examination, which provided details on the injuries inflicted by the killer. Some tests were delayed because of the Columbus Day holiday, according to news stories.
The cause of death was established as strangulation with a piece of fabric (more about this later) that had been jammed about 4 inches down the victim’s throat. Apparently her jaws were clenched and her mouth was closed so that the fabric was not initially visible, leading to speculation that she had drowned in the tub, although only a few drops of water were found in her lungs.
There apparently had been a corner of the fabric protruding from her mouth. Someone (possibly the killer) apparently tried to remove the fabric but the corner ripped away because her jaws were clenched due to rigor mortis. This corner piece was never found, according to the original news accounts.
There was speculation in the original news accounts that the killer used this piece of fabric when attempting to clean up blood on the bedroom rug, but this was never confirmed.
News accounts indicate that Webb performed an initial examination on Georgette on Friday, Oct. 13, 1944. Dispelling the notion that Georgette might have drowned, Webb said “the girl had a forced sexual relation shortly before her death by strangulation.” (Daily News, Oct. 14, 1944).
The Times reported (Oct. 13, 1944) that she had a bloody nose. “There was a large contusion on the right side of her head, as could be caused by a fist blow, and another on her abdomen.” (The Times, Oct. 15, 1955)
Webb said “abrasions on the knuckles of the girl’s hands showed she had fought desperately against the attacker.” (Examiner, Oct. 15, 1944)
Webb also said: “Thumb and finger marks on her face, lips abdomen and thighs prove the attacker was powerful with almost ape-like hands.” (Examiner, Oct. 15, 1944).
The fabric recovered from Georgette Bauerdorf, courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library.
“On her right thigh, Dr. Webb said, was the bruised imprint of a hand even to the fingernail marks piercing the skin.” (The Times, Oct. 15, 1944).
As for the contents of her stomach, there are discrepancies in the news accounts between what was found in the autopsy and evidence recovered in her kitchen.
The Daily News (Oct. 14, 1944) said, based on preliminary results from the autopsy: “All that is known is that she stopped somewhere on the way home and ate a substantial dinner, including meat and string beans, about an hour and a half before she died.”
The Times said (Oct. 14, 1944): The autopsy showed that the girl had eaten a sizable dinner before going home (there was no evidence of food preparation at the apartment). “Her lips were bruised and her mouth torn from the size of the gag,” The Times said.
The Times (Oct. 21, 1944) reported: “[Sheriff’s Lt. Ray T.] Hopkinson said that in the kitchen he found a single knife and fork, along with evidence showing she had consumed a can of beans and a half of cantaloupe — alone — before she was slain.”
It’s fairly certain that string beans were found in her stomach and that an empty can that had contained string beans was found in the kitchen wastebasket. Melon rinds were found in the wastebasket, but no news account ever states whether melon was found in her stomach. The Daily News says meat was found in her stomach, but there is no indication that meat was prepared in the kitchen. But in any event, she had apparently eaten a substantial meal.
No news reports mention whether the autopsy detected alcohol.
To be continued.