Dec. 16, 1947: Back Broken and Skull Fractured, Girl, 2 Dies of Abuse; Mother Gets 10 Years in Prison

L.A. Times, 1947


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

Somewhere, there’s 57-year-old man; maybe his name is Steven, or maybe his foster parents changed it. He doesn’t know much about himself except that his birthday is March 7, 1948. He doesn’t know that he was born in the jail ward of what’s now County-USC Medical Center. He doesn’t know that before his mother, Shirleen, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for killing his older sister, Denise, Juvenile Court Judge A.A. Scott told her, “You shall never see this baby again!”

Denise Kunin was nearly 2 years old when she died in 1947 of a broken back and fractured skull. During the trial, it took Dr. Frederick Newbarr, the autopsy surgeon, 15 minutes to describe her injuries. The testimony and color pictures left the jurors devastated.

One Beverly Hills neighbor described Shirleen in the yard of the home at 244 S. Wetherly Drive suspending Denise in the air by her hair and forcing water down her throat with a garden hose.

“The baby was screaming and gagging and I yelled to Shirleen to stop it,” the neighbor said. “Shirleen said the baby had made a mess and she was cleaning her off. She threw the baby onto the wet lawn, kicked her and said, ‘Go to sleep.’ The baby was lying face-down completely naked at that time.”

Shirleen’s husband, Lawrence, a wholesale grocery salesman, defended his wife’s actions even after she was convicted. He was later found guilty of abuse and sentenced to six months in jail.

Scott ordered that the Kunins never be told of their son’s whereabouts. “It is unusual,” he said, “but very much warranted by the facts.”

Shirleen Michael Kunin never again appeared in the pages of The Times. A salesman named Larry Kunin won a sales award in 1960, but it’s unclear if it’s the same man.

Bonus factoid: Arthur C. Clarke predicts that in 10 years, rockets will travel to the moon.

Quote of the day: “The whipping post would do a great deal more to curb sex offenses than the present policy of the Police Department. But I would go farther with the idea. Let the mothers of the molested children handle the whip, a stout rawhide horsewhip. There would not be enough left of the ‘molester’ to ever molest any child again.”

Mrs. Ella Ryan, letter to The Times


About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
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