Georgette Bauerdorf, an Unsolved Murder, Part 23

Georgette Bauerdorf

A photo (possibly hand-tinted)  of Georgette Bauerdorf, National Police Gazette, August 1946, courtesy of Steven Bibb. 


And now we enter the realm of speculation in the Georgette Bauerdorf case. We have looked at all the evidence as it was reported in the newspapers, but without access to the autopsy report or the Bauerdorf apartment, everything remains tentative at best.  We can only theorize as to what might have occurred.

Let’s examine several scenarios that were suggested by the original investigators.

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 21Part 22 | Part 23 | Part 24 | Part 25 | Part 26 | Part 27 | Part 28 | Part 29 | Part 30 | Part 31

Light Fixture

The light fixture in the entryway to the Bauerdorf apartment had been disabled by someone slightly unscrewing the bulb, photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library.

 


Light Bulb
Sheriff’s investigator John Schilling examines the bulb from the apartment light fixture for possible fingerprints, photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library.


 

One popular theory involved the light fixture in the entryway to the Bauerdorf apartment. The bulb had been unscrewed about two turns, so that it appeared unchanged but didn’t work. Some news reports referred to it as a night light that came on automatically, raising the question of whether it was on a timer, an electric eye or some other mechanism and not controlled by a switch in the Bauerdorf apartment.

News reports said that the fixture was about eight feet off the ground and could have been reached by a very tall man or by someone standing on one of the nearby chairs, as demonstrated in the above photo.

Investigators said that there was no sign of forced entry and according to this theory, the killer disabled the light so that Bauerdorf wouldn’t be able to see him when she opened the door. He presumably forced his way in, so the theory goes, and then raped and killed her.

The problem with this scenario (as was noted at the time) is that none of the other evidence supports this theory.  Bauerdorf had apparently retired to bed for the night – or at least was on the bed — and was only wearing the top of her pajamas. Investigators found a folded copy of the Daily News on the bed, so it seems likely that Bauerdorf was not dressed to answer the door.

Bauerdorf Apartment
Here’s a photo of the front door, courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library.

Bauerdorf Apartment

Notice that there is a switch by the door, one that presumably operates an exterior light.

As noted earlier, without access to the apartment, it’s impossible to be sure, but the presence of a switch in the apartment calls into question whether the light was truly “automatic.”

In any event, based on the late hour and the way Bauerdorf was dressed when she was killed, it seems most likely that the theory of the disabled light fixture is a red herring.

Notice anything else interesting about the front door?

To be continued.

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About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1944, Cold Cases, Crime and Courts, Hollywood and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Georgette Bauerdorf, an Unsolved Murder, Part 23

  1. Anthony says:

    THE DOOR HAD A PEEP HOLE IN IT. GEORGETTE WOULD HAVE BEEN ABLE TO SEE SOMEONE ON THE PORCH IF THE LIGHT HAD BEEN OPERABLE.

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  2. Earl Boebert says:

    But … the intruder couldn’t be sure she was upstairs. And a fully automatic light has other problems, because if it had (say) an electric eye sensor it would have turned on while the intruder was placing the chair under it and climbing up to unscrew it, making him pretty visible to anybody on the street.

    Another explanation for “automatic light,” and one that is more consistent with the technology of the day, is that it came on when you opened the door. I think it was plenty dark in that entryway and stayed dark while the intruder made sure the light would not come on. And then he entered unseen from the outside through an unlocked door. Which suggests he had been there before and knew how the system worked.

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    • lmharnisch says:

      And if the light had been on, it would have been hot and so whoever unscrewed it would need some sort of insulation to handle it to avoid getting burned.

      I suspect it’s more likely that this was a regular old light controlled with a switch. Or possibly on some sort of master timer. But again, without a visit to the crime scene it’s impossible to be certain.

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  3. Jason C. says:

    Its hard to tell from the photograph, but it appears that the front door actually had a steel security gate on it that we see (everywhere) in current day Los Angeles.

    Also, the description of the porch light being about 8 feet high which “could be reached by a tall man” appears inaccurate to me. I’m 6 foot and it doesn’t appear that light is reachable without a stool. Assume the woman is an average height of 5’5″ and extending her arm another 2 feet.. that would make her reach roughly 7’5″ and she still has to stand upon a stool granting her another 1.5 feet… making the fixture roughly 9 feet off the pavement. Even a tall man would need some stool to reach it.

    The problem with the theory of the light fixture tampering:
    1) The fixture wasn’t necessarily manipulated just prior to the killing and could have been done co-incidently by another person seeking to burglarize or even a neighbor who didn’t like the light casting a beam into their apt.
    2) It would appear, as I said, that even a tall man had to use a stool.
    3) It assumes the killer had to seek access w/o the victim seeing his face… yet no signs of forced entry tells me she likely knew him.

    From the photos, I can’t see a peep hole although my guess is that the victim never used it anyway even if there was one. After all, she was allowing total strangers to sleep inside her apartment routinely and that says she was severely careless, unaware of the risks involved, or simply having the malady “it won’t happen to me” syndrome.

    Finally, and I’ve been pondering this, I suspect that the killer didn’t use that gag down her throat to kill her in his first thought process. She was probably attempting to scream and that gag was merely to stop her during the rape. He then killed her by drowning her and in such haste to escape didn’t bother to turn off the tub faucet. In fact, that lack of screaming by her other than the “you’re killing me” heard by the neighbor… indicates that her killer was known to her and that they were together for some time before the attack began… or she would have been screaming and fighting with more than that one comment heard by a neighbor. That “you’re killing me” indicates to me that the attack was not overwhelming violence all at once but in a slower scenario where the killer was making his attack and hoping for some cooperation from the vicitm.

    All speculation on my part, though. I claim no expertise.

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    • lmharnisch says:

      Except she didn’t drown. She was dead before she was put in the bathtub. It’s most likely that the killer spent several hours in the apartment after the killing. Stay tuned for an upcoming post.

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    • Bob says:

      I agree with Jason C…the fact that she said “You’re killing me” indicates to me that she knew her killer, for at least some time. If her assailant were a total stranger, she would have said things like “how did you get in here”, “who are you”, “get out of here”, etc. She wouldn’t be stating the obvious to a stranger, “You’re killing me.” That line fits more in a scenario where she’s with her killer for some time, entertaining, having fun, until events get very ugly. It’s at that point she tries to indicate to her guest to stop…but at that point it was too late. Like other posts, this is only speculation.

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  4. Santos L Halper says:

    The switch inside by the door could just as easily be for an overhead light in the living room. I have trouble believing in an electric-eye setup for the outdoor light — this is still not commonplace for apartment buildings some 60+ years later.

    I have a general question about this case that I’d like to put delicately. As a person in his 30s, I haven’t got a very good idea of what life was really like back then — although I quite appreciate this blog’s tongue-in-cheek insight into what was hardly a “kindler, gentler time”.

    It’s reported that Ms. Bauerdorf gave a place to stay to many servicemen in the area. Are we to believe that this is as innocent as it sounds? Or even back then, was there an undercurrent of public opinion or a veiled assumption that this girl “got around” as they say more currently? To my 21st century sensibility, it just boggles my mind that even during 1940s war time someone would allow so many strangers such access to their home without other motives present.

    Certainly no excuse for her fate but would be helpful to understand the context of this case, its investigation and the perceptions surrounding it.

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    • lmharnisch says:

      Without a visit to the apartment it’s impossible to tell. There is also a light switch on the wall that apparently controlled lights for the upstairs or at least the stairway.

      We don’t know exactly how far Georgette Bauerdorf extended her overnight hospitality to servicemen, especially in the era before the introduction of the pill, when birth control was more problematic. As difficult as it is to imagine in this day and age, it was a time when at least some more socially conservative members of the “Greatest Generation” waited until marriage to have sex. (OK, my parents certainly didn’t wait, but remember I said “socially conservative”).

      I’m going to guess that Georgette did not extend her overnight hospitality as much as the servicemen would have liked, which ultimately resulted in the rape — at least on this particular night for very specific reasons. Stay tuned.

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    • CassellCan says:

      Folks, please … jumping to conclusions about Georgette Bauerdorf’s behavior, based on today’s behavior, is misguided. Many of these comments begin with, “I don’t know much about the 1940s” or conclude “I cannot imagine she wasn’t sleeping around” and so on. Please, please, do a little research about wartime America and the people who lived then. It was, in so many ways, totally opposite from today’s America.

      First, it was a much much much more innocent time. Very hard to imagine in our cynical world. The bad guys were our foreign enemies. American soldiers and sailors were the good guys. They and their families were making incredible sacrifices, and almost every family (no exaggeration) had someone in the service. Doing something for a man or woman in uniform — including giving them a ride or a safe place to sleep — was a way to think that your brother, your son, your neighbor would find a helpful stranger when they were far from home. They weren’t vagrants or druggies … they were like family. (Opposite from today, when only 1% of the American populace serves in uniform, and most people don’t know anyone who serves.)

      Second, there was a very well known housing and hotel room shortage for most of World War II and for years thereafter in most U.S. cities, especially anywhere there were bases or servicemen in transit, like Los Angeles. A soldier or sailor on a weekend pass would commonly have no safe place to sleep or money for transportation. These movies aren’t on Netflix, but try to watch “The More the Merrier,” “I Was a Male War Bride,” “An Apartment for Peggy,” “Until They Sail,” and many more, to understand not only the housing shortage but also how Americans felt about our servicemen.

      Third, young women in those days were not as sexual active prior to reliable birth control as today’s women. Perhaps thought of as “frigid,” women most often held out for marriage, and even then, the stereotypes of women not liking or engaging in sex after marriage were true.

      What Georgette did was to extend common kindnesses in her very kind America. She would have been the norm. Her neighbors would not have shunned her as a promiscuous girl because they were, if they were able, extending the same kindnesses. Everyone did what they could for those who fought for our freedom.

      Hard to believe in our selfish cynical sex-sated world.

      How do I know all this? My dad was one of those GIs who came to Los Angeles during the war, and decided to stay. I grew up in postwar L.A. … and listened to the stories adults told when they didn’t always know I was listening!

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      • calandlulu says:

        As was there also, CassellCan I was there and I concur whole heartedly with CassellCan his/her? opinion. It was kindler gentler time. We never locked our front door and never expected anything bad too happen. And for the most part, it didn’t. Everyone in uniform was looked up to, and admired including the police. Most young biys aspired to be policemen, and many girls aspired to be teachers and nurses. It was okay to be a Boy Scout.

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  5. Eve says:

    I have a feeling this “Miss Bauerdorf innocently let servicemen sleep on the sofa and no one did anything more than play cribbage and read Jane Austen” story is a lot of banana oil. I think the girl was getting some, and I might add, good for her. But one night things turned ugly.

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  6. Sam Flowers says:

    Seeing only 1 switch on the wall by an entrance leads me to believe that the switch was for an interior light. The out side light may have been on a timer circuit with the other apartments. The light bulb being unscrewed could mean that she unscrewed it herself at sometime in the past so the neighbors would not see all the service men coming and going. You know how neighbors talk about other neighbors activities.

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    • Since people are still talking about it here, decades later, I think you make a very good point. She also might have wanted not to bother neighbors with her late hours coming home from the canteen. Also, was Fountain Ave too far east for blackout drills? I suppose the neighbors would have spoken up if everybody had unscrewed their front-porch bulbs for that, but maybe not everyone did it.

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  7. Anthony says:

    Wow! How quickly we are turning on poor Georgette! Were there any reports by neighbors that they thought that she was a promiscuous sort? Her photo in that bathing suit might indicate a tendency towards that. However, didn’t she want her woman friend to stay over at her place, because she was uncomfortable or fearful of being alone?

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    • lmharnisch says:

      Georgette’s habit of entertaining servicemen caused some talk among the neighbors. Enough that her family later insisted to reporters that she was not that sort of a girl and would never have let a man spend the night in the apartment.

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      • I can’t help but wonder if her reputation for being “careless with strangers” affected the investigation. After all, we don’t know that the killer was a wandering serviceman. It could have been someone her family had known for years.

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      • lmharnisch says:

        I can’t say whether it affected the investigation but her contacts with servicemen certainly left a larger pool of individuals to be interviewed, often by military security personnel because they were no longer in Los Angeles. In one instance, the individual’s location was a military secret so he couldn’t be interviewed any other way.

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  8. Earl Boebert says:

    There’s an alternative, benign explanation for the disabled light: as far as I have been able to tell, blackout regulations were still in effect in 1944. The apartment super may have unscrewed the bulb long ago to avoid it being inadvertently turned on, manually or otherwise.

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  9. Bullet says:

    Doesn’t Georgette’s front door face her neighbor’s front door? The light, being between them? If her neighbor also had such a switch (i presume the neighbor’s apt. was a mirror image of Georgette’s) that switch would have had to control the same light. No, i think the switch was more likely for an interior light, to turn on when entering a dark apt.
    On another note, if it’s not known which apt. she lived in i think we can tell by comparing the black marks on the bricks. Although there’s at least three entrances that look just like that -i drive by the building frequently- those bricks can’t possibly match in all the entrances, they’re like fingerprints. Of course, i’m presuming they haven’t been stuccoed over since then.

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  10. Alice says:

    There was a rear door entry to the kitchen on the ground floor.

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  11. Jon Ponder says:

    With a friend who’s also a local-history researcher/writer, I visited El Palacio in November and was given a tour of the unit next to the one where Georgette was killed, which is laid out in mirror configuration of Georgette’s. To clarify, the Palacio has just two two-story units; they are side by side at the center of the building. Georgette was killed in the one on the right if you’re facing the building. (That unit was vacant at the time of our visit.) We toured the one on the left, which is the same size and set up identically but flipped. Downstairs, there is a living room in the front and dining room and kitchen in the back — and, yes, there is a back door off the kitchen. Upstairs, there’s a master bedroom in the front and a smaller bedroom in the back adjacent to the full bathroom. (We didn’t see the half bath but I believe it’s off the master bedroom in the front, directly above the front porch.) Georgette was killed in the back bedroom upstairs.

    One very striking thing: the apartment is not huge. It’s spacious enough for one person or a couple, but it’s hard to imagine the four Bauerdorfs — Georgette, her father, stepmother and sister — living there comfortably for an extended period. Georgette and her sister would have had to share the back bedroom. On his draft card in 1942, George Bauerdorf (age 57) listed his home address as an apartment in Manhattan and his business address as a four-bedroom home in Beverly Hills,which is still standing and appears to be quite spacious. At the time of the murder two years later, the papers gave his home address as Elko, Nev., and in steamship passenger manifests from the late 1940s, George and Thelma Bauerdorf listed their home address as Reno. Maybe they used the Palacio apartment as a pied-a-terre.

    We believe Stella Adler was living in the left-hand unit when Georgette died. Later, MGM casting exec Lucille Ryman and her husband, the actor John Carroll, lived in the left-hand unit for many years. Marilyn Monroe stayed in their back bedroom briefly in the late 1940s.

    The current resident of the left-hand unit said he had no knowledge of an automatic light at the front door. We looked closely at the light fixture, which is affixed to the ceiling above a small porch onto which the front doors of the two townhouse units open. The fixture itself has undoubtedly been replaced over time, but even so, the light is not as high up as it appears in the photo of the woman standing on the chair above. A tall person could easily unscrew the bulb, then and now. Here is a link to a photo contemporaneous to the murder of a reporter demonstrating that fact: http://www.georgettebauerdorf.com/wp-content/uploads/sidebar_pictures/palacio_light_2.jpg

    I imagine that the “automatic” function worked with a trip switch in the door sill that turned on the light when the door opened, but I agree that the disabled light bulb is probably a red herring — unless the killer unscrewed the bulb in a half-baked and quickly discarded plan to carry the body out of the building, drive away and dump it in a field somewhere.

    Btw, Georgette was wearing the pajama pants when she retired. The Times account on Oct. 14, 1944, said, “The trousers of the pajamas were tossed at the foot of the bed and were ripped almost the full length, as if violently torn from her.”

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    • lmharnisch says:

      Thanks for your research. It is most welcome!

      Let me clarify a bit on the matter of Georgette Bauerdorf’s pajamas. Yes, The Times did say that on that date, but always remember that The Times may not be the best source of information on vintage crimes. The other major Los Angeles papers — the Examiner, Herald-Express and especially the Daily News — pursued the story far more aggressively and their accounts provide more details. Further investigation, for example, revealed that the pajama bottoms were not ripped from her as reported in The Times, but apparently tore from wear or some other cause.

      Because it’s on ProQuest, The Times is the most readily available Los Angeles newspaper from the historic era, but it has many, many frustrating shortcomings. The Times was far more interested in politics and local government than in crime. One cannot adequately research vintage crimes in Los Angeles without delving into the Examiner, Herald-Express, Daily News and the Mirror, which remain, alas, only on microfilm.

      Again, thanks for your research!

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