Georgette Elise Bauerdorf (May 6, 1924 – October 12, 1944) was a twenty-year-old oil heiress who was strangled in her home at the El Palacio Apartments on 8493 Fountain Avenue, West Hollywood, California. She was educated in a convent on Long Island, New York.
Volunteered at Hollywood Canteen
Bauerdorf's father, George, was an oilman from Elko, Nevada. He was in New York City with her stepmother and married sister at the time of the murder. Bauerdorf worked as a junior hostess at the Hollywood Canteen, where she danced with enlisted men. She had been living alone in the apartment for several weeks before her death.
The day before her death she cashed a $175 check and purchased an airline ticket to El Paso, Texas for $90. She told friends that she was going there to rendezvous with her soldier boyfriend. On October 11 Pvt. Jerome M. Brown, an antiaircraft artillery trainee from Chicago, Illinois was identified by Fort Bliss authorities as the man Bauerdorf was going to visit before she was slain. Brown told Army officials he met Bauerdorf at the Hollywood Canteen on the night of June 13. He left California a few days afterward and arrived in El Paso some days after their meeting.
They corresponded and the trainee said he received six letters from the heiress. Brown was formerly stationed at Camp Callan, California.
Newspaper reports indicate Bauerdorf may have gone directly home from the Hollywood Canteen. The time she left was around 11:15 p.m., Wednesday, October 12, 1944. Earlier in the day she had lunch with Mrs. Rose L. Gilbert, a secretary to her father. The two women went shopping. Gilbert told deputies that Bauerdorf was in good spirits.
A maid found Bauerdorf's body, face-down in a bathtub. It is believed that she was attacked by a man who was lying in wait for her. Los Angeles County sheriff's Inspector William Penprase said that an automatic night light over the outside entrance of the apartment had been unscrewed two turns so it wouldn't go on. The murderer was thought to have stood on a chair to reach the light bulb nearly eight feet from the floor. Fingerprints were found on the bulb.
The theory of someone lying in wait was reinforced by an empty string-bean can and some melon rinds, found by officers in the kitchen waste basket. Investigators think Bauerdorf may have eaten a snack before retiring upstairs to her bedroom. Examination of her stomach revealed that she had eaten string beans about an hour before her death.
Bauerdorf's jewelry and other valuables were not stolen, although almost $100 was taken from her purse. There was a large roll of $2 bills and thousands of dollars worth of sterling silver lying in an open trunk.
A Pontiac 1936 coupe, registered in the name of her sister, Connie Bauerdorf, was missing. When the car was located, there was a dent in one of the fenders. Mechanics said the damage was recent and may have been the result of a collision with another car. The Pontiac was discovered abandoned on East 25th St., just off San Pedro Street, Los Angeles, California, where it apparently ran out of gas.
Bauerdorf put up a great struggle. An examination by Los Angeles County Autopsy Surgeon Frank R. Webb found abundant bruises and scrapes. The knuckles on Bauerdorf's s right hand were smashed and bruised. There was a large bruise on the right side of her head and another on her abdomen, perhaps the result of blows from fists. She had been strangled with a piece of towel stuffed down her throat. Webb said her right thigh showed the bruised imprint of a hand "even to the fingernail marks piercing the skin."
A reconstruction of the murder gave investigators the idea that the murderer perhaps entered Bauerdorf's apartment by passkey and lay in wait downstairs until she got ready for bed. Another possibility is he rang the doorbell after she retired. Penprase believed it unlikely that Bauerdorf was accompanied home by a serviceman. She might have met someone at the canteen who drove her home and left her at the door. Later he returned to kill her after she prepared for bed.
A neighbor, who requested anonymity, told sheriff's Capt. Gordon Bowers he was awakened by screams around 2:30 a.m. He first heard a scream which made him sit upright in bed. This was followed by a female voice yelling "Stop, stop, you're killing me!" He said the screaming soon subsided. Thinking it might be a family argument, and being sleepy, he went back to bed.
A date book diary was found in the bedroom containing the names of servicemen. Army authorities joined with the Sheriff's Department in a search for clues. A sailor was questioned in Long Beach, California, but was determined not to have been her attacker. Authorities hoped that someone who saw the young woman leaving the canteen, accompanied by an escort, would come forward. Numerous letters received by Bauerdorf were scrutinized by investigators.
A particular soldier was thought to have been infatuated with Bauerdorf. He was described as "swarthy". He had cut in on Bauerdorf during nearly every dance on the night of her death. Investigators checked U.S.O. centers and other canteens to try to find and question him. The soldier eventually contacted police and was completely exonerated, according to news accounts, although he was never identified.
Bauerdorf was with June Ziegler at the canteen on the night prior to the murder. She told the sheriff's office that Bauerdorf dated a serviceman who was 6'4" less than a month before her murder. He was a buddy of another serviceman whose name was frequently mentioned in the diary. According to Ziegler, Bauerdorf remarked that the tall soldier was very much taken with her. However she did not return his interest and quit going out with him. The soldier was sought for questioning by officers.
Rose Gilbert said Bauerdorf never entertained friends alone. The secretary revealed that Bauerdorf occasionally asked men to stop in briefly. However she never asked them to remain. Her education in a convent and a girl's school in California gave her very stringent ideas of propriety, according to her father's assistant.
At a coroner's inquest October 20, a jury of nine men found that Bauerdorf's death was a homicide and proposed a thorough investigation to apprehend her killer. During the hearing, Fred Atwood, janitor of the apartment building provided new evidence for deputies. He said he heard woman's heels clicking back and forth on the floor, followed by a loud crash, like a tray dropping on the floor. He was awakened by this noise around midnight on October 11. He recognized the sounds as coming from Bauerdorf's apartment. He said there was no one with her.
Atwood also said he entered the apartment the next morning about 11:10 a.m., accompanied by his wife. They found Bauerdorf's body lying semi-nude in her bathtub. Two of the deputies confirmed the janitor's testimony that Bauerdorf was alone before her slayer evidently lured her to her darkened door. Atwood said he discovered the night light bulb being screwed around a couple of turns. He responded that he had never seen this happen before. Officers testified that the apartment showed no indication of a struggle. Yet the autopsy proved that Bauerdorf had given a mighty struggle to live. Sam Wolf, brother of Bauerdorf's s stepmother, denied that the victim suffered fainting spells.
The sole clue was a bit of elastic bandage wedged down her throat as a gag. Officials hoped that by tracing it they might solve the murder.
Bauerdorf's funeral was held in New York City. Pierce Brothers Mortuary placed Bauerdorf's s body on a train to New York after it was released by the coroner's office on October 15. The train was met by her father and she was buried in a Long Island cemetery plot the Bauerdorf family had maintained for generations.
Los Angeles Times, Oil Executive's Daughter Found Dead In Bathtub, October 13, 1944, Page 5.
Los Angeles Times, People And Place In Strange Death Of Oil Heiress, October 14, 1944, Page 3.
Los Angeles Times, Evidence Shows Heiress Waged Terrific Fight, October 15, 1944, Page 3.
Los Angeles Times, Private Identified as Girl's Friend, October 15, 1944, Page 3.
Los Angeles Times, Neighbor Tells Heiress' Screams on Death Night, October 16, 1944, Page 2.
Los Angeles Times, Janitor Gives Evidence In Murder of Oil Heiress, October 21, 1944, Page A3.
Wolfe, Donald H., The Black Dahlia Files:The Mob, The Mogul, and The Murder That Transfixed Los Angeles, New York, Regan Books, 2005.