Jan. 23, 1947: Four Held for Trial in ‘Red Hibiscus Murder’

Jan. 23, 1947, Comics

Note: This is a post I wrote in 2006 for the 1947project.


Four held for Trial in
‘Hibiscus’ Slaying

After a weeklong preliminary hearing, four of five youths arrested in the Lincoln Park “hibiscus” murder case were today held to answer to Superior Court by Municipal Judge Arthur Guerin.

Freed after the hearing was Ephrem “Baby Face” Olivas, 18, who was named by the four others as the slayer of Naomi Tullis Cook, 52, whose beaten body was found under a clump of hibiscus bushes in the park near the men’s restroom.

Held without bail were Gilbert “Maestro” Martinez, 17; Leandro “Wero” Lujan, 15; Benjamin “Jesse James” Valenzuela, 16; and Vincent “Bill” Arias, 18.
Defense attorneys charged that confessions were obtained through brutality, which was denied. Olivas was turned free when the court ruled that confessions by accomplices, not supported by corroborative evidence, could not be introduced. Mrs. Cook was killed by a heavy blow with a bolt.

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Here’s another of L.A.’s famous floral murders, apparently ignored by The Times and run as a sidebar to the Dahlia case in the Examiner. The nicknames add an interesting bit of color and the obvious implication that these teenagers are thugs. The Examiner had absolutely no qualms about reporting the names of juveniles accused of a crime. I imagine “Wero” is actually “Huero,” a slang term for a light-skinned individual. The Cook murder was never solved.

Bonus factoid: Otto Klemperer gets a rave review in The Times for conducting a Bach concert at Philharmonic Auditorium. Later in the year, Klemperer will go club crawling to hear jazz on Central Avenue and bad things will happen.

Quote of the day: “D.W. Griffith quietly celebrated his 72nd birthday at home with his wife.”
Hedda Hopper

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
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4 Responses to Jan. 23, 1947: Four Held for Trial in ‘Red Hibiscus Murder’

  1. Scott says:

    There is so little on this crime and many of the other sidebar crimes that parallel the black dahlia killings Race is part of it, i suppose. Nothing on Tate on google. I wonder if the Sentinal has more coverage of this and certainly should on Tate.


    • lmharnisch says:

      It is tempting but terribly misleading to assume that the highly publicized murders of women in 1947 are related. To paraphrase Michael Lewis in “The Undoing Project”: we are pattern-seeking creatures, but we often create patterns simply as a way of organizing random data. That’s how the human mind works. There is a bit about Tate in the Sentinel, but only a few paragraphs. I’ll get to it in February.


      • Scott says:

        Thanks Larry. I am following your advice and reading the papers to get the stories.
        I am creating a spreadsheet of relevant facts. I don’t think Tate is related to anything else, (killed in her room, a suspect Oscar Hallgren went to trial etc. But I do think I have lots of empty boxes in my spread sheet in the Tate row.
        It surprises me that folks seem to want to suggest connections that simplify but ignore basic facts. The Cleveland torso murders or Jeanne French or Georgette Bauerdorf are compelling but unrelated mysteries.


      • lmharnisch says:

        Exactly. It doesn’t help that “Severed” (25% mistakes and 50% fiction) takes a deep dive into trying to link all those cases.


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