We don’t know much about the man who killed Georgette Bauerdorf, but let’s see what we can infer. The way he killed her was quite unusual (more about that later) and his behavior after the killing was also somewhat unusual. But rather than trying to take the phases of the crime in chronological order, let’s go from least speculative to most speculative.
Georgette Bauerdorf, an Unsolved Murder:
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We can be fairly certain that the killer was strong, perhaps remarkably strong: According to the coroner’s office, “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).
We have further evidence of his strength because once she was dead, he placed her body in the bathtub. We don’t know if he carried her from the bedroom to the adjoining bathroom or whether he dragged her, although no newspaper accounts describe drag marks in the rug. Either way, the killer — without assistance — lifted a dead victim and placed her into the bathtub, which took strength.
But he wasn’t done. After putting the body into the tub, he turned on the hot water and left it running.
To an outsider, all of this appears unnecessary and delayed the killer’s escape. Why did he do it?
It was much more common in the historic period for a female homicide victim to be left where she died, usually on the bed or possibly on the floor. In several murders, the killer covered the body in some way, possibly with a sheet or a coat. But putting a body in a bathtub and turning on the hot water was extremely unusual.
Here’s another peculiar element: Investigators found blood on the bedroom rug – and noticed that someone had tried to clean it up, presumably the killer. Again, the killer did something totally unnecessary and once again delayed his escape. Why?
For comparison, let’s look at the Aug. 18, 1940, strangulation of B-girl Clara Williams to see if there are any parallels with the Bauerdorf case.
Here’s the scenario: Clara Williams (alias Clara Reed, alias Dorothy Reed) met Henry Andrew Hardesty while working as a B-girl in a bar on East 5th Street. In a practice that was later outlawed, B-girls sat with customers and conned them into buying expensive drinks in an arrangement in which the bar and the B-girl split the money. Regardless of what the B-girls ordered, they were usually served cold tea. B-girls were often involved in prostitution. Notice that The Times reports Williams had been arrested many times on morals charges.
Hardesty, 50, a 220-pound hospital orderly, said that after a few drinks, Williams returned with him to his rooming house at 412 E. 5th St. According to subsequent testimony, they had more drinks and Hardesty gave her $10. At that point, she screamed for help and started to leave, Hardesty said. “She tried to chisel me out of $10 I had given her. I told her I would be the last man she would ever victimize, and grabbed her by the throat.” He later said: “I knew that I was being tricked and I went haywire. I had been tricked out of money too many times already so I reached out and grabbed her by the throat.”
Hardesty said he knew exactly where to press on her neck to strangle her.
“I don’t know how long it took — about five or six minutes, I think — before she died. She struggled for a brief time and then became passive.”
Pay close attention to what happened next:
“After she was dead I placed her body on a bed. I took off her shoes and covered her up to the head with a sheet. As a gentleman I thought I owed her at least that much respect. I thought it wasn’t the thing to do to kill a woman and then not treat her right. For a long time then — an hour or two, I believe — I sat and looked at her. Her face was discolored. It had a bluish cast from the strangulation.”
Afterward, Hardesty went on a binge. He was eventually picked up for being drunk and confessed the killing to police. He was convicted and sentenced to one to 10 years in San Quentin.
There are many obvious differences between these two cases, but also some intriguing similarities. Let’s examine the postmortem behavior of this killer, Henry Hardesty.
Hardesty considered himself a gentleman, but he saw that he was being tricked again by a B-girl and “went haywire.” Once his anger subsided, he realized what he had done and he engaged in what is sometimes called “undoing.” “As a gentleman,” he put her body in bed, took off her shoes and covered her with a sheet. And he sat and looked at her for what felt like several hours.
Perhaps Georgette’s killer behaved a similar way.
Let’s say our unidentified killer erupted in anger or that he panicked when she screamed. Georgette was by no means a B-girl, but she was a high-risk victim who had numerous brief encounters with men she didn’t know. It is entirely possible that she was operating out of genuine support for the war effort, but it’s equally possible that these servicemen might have gotten the wrong expectations about her overnight hospitality. The phrase “Spending the night on the couch” might have meant one thing to her and another to a man who was “nervous in the service.”
In this hypothetical scenario, the killer might have considered himself to be a gentleman, like Hardesty, but “went haywire” for some reason.
Once his anger or panic subsided, perhaps the killer put Georgette in the tub in some attempt to “undo” the crime. This might explain the effort to clean up the blood in the bedroom. And, like Hardesty, perhaps the killer spent some time with the body – just looking at her – before fleeing in the Bauerdorf car.
It’s worth noting that according to the coroner’s inquest (United Press, Oct. 20, 1944 via the Bakersfield Californian) two ashtrays were found on the bedroom floor. The Examiner reported (Oct. 14, 1944) “Numerous cigarette butts were found in an ashtray, but none bore evidence of lipstick. Bauerdorf was still wearing lipstick when her body was removed from the bathtub.”
This is rather speculative, but it’s possible that after strangling Georgette, the killer left her on the bedroom rug — long enough for rigor mortis to set in — and sat there smoking cigarettes and looking at her before he put her in the bathtub.
Notice that unlike Hardesty, who was a hospital orderly, Bauerdorf’s killer — despite his strength — had no idea how to strangle someone and killed her by ramming a piece of fabric down her throat, presumably during a struggle in which she fought back aggressively.
To be continued.