July 24, 1947: Honor Student Vesta Belle Sapenter, 17, Strangled


L.A. Times, 1947

Note: This is an encore post from 2005 and originally appeared on the 1947project.

Her name was Vesta Belle and she was 17, an honor student at Jefferson High, a mile and a half from her home at 5320 Holmes Ave. You might think she got her name in the paper for earning a scholarship or receiving an academic award.

Instead, her 14-year-old brother, Carlisle, came home from a playground and found Vesta Belle Sapenter’s body in her bedroom. She was partially undressed and had been strangled with a thin hemp cord. With so many murders of women in Los Angeles, you might expect The Times to give it decent play, but Vesta Belle got two paragraphs on Page 8. Just enough to give a few details and that fact that she was black.

Public records turn up a bit more: She was born in Texas and her mother’s maiden name was Lavollette. Her younger brother Carlisle got a Social Security card in California (556-40-2045 ) and died in Houston in 1983 at the age of 52. But in all, it was not a good day for newspapering in Los Angeles.

Here’s a link to some pictures from Jefferson High’s 1947 yearbook: http://4dw.net/socal/1947jeffwin.html

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1947, African Americans, Crime and Courts, Homicide, LAPD and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to July 24, 1947: Honor Student Vesta Belle Sapenter, 17, Strangled

  1. The brother died at a relatively young age. What a sad story. Made all the more melancholy by its brevity.

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  2. Pingback: Black L.A. 1947: Honor Student Vesta Belle Sapenter Strangled; Suspect Released |

  3. There was a murder of a young black woman in Oakland, CA recently, and the NYTimes put it on their front page when the killer was arrested. It’s bitter that in a way it seems like an improvement—“sure, young black women still get senselessly murdered, but at least we cover it in the white news now!”

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