Young American socialite Georgette Bauerdorf seemingly had everything to live for. On 12 October 1944, someone brutally took that life away from her. Over seventy years on and the case remains unsolved. Here are the details of the tragic murder and the ensuing investigation.
The Discovery In The Bathtub
Shortly after 11 am on the 12th of October, 1944, married janitor and housekeeper couple Fred and Lulu Atwood were going about there duties in the El Palacio Apartments.
After finishing cleaning one apartment the pair crossed the corridor to clean the adjacent two storey apartment. Fred and Lulu went through the half-open door to carry on their duties. Upon doing so the pair heard dripping water coming from the upstairs.
Lulu went to investigate the bathroom upstairs. It was here, she discovered the half-naked body of
The Life of Georgette Bauerdorf
Georgette Bauerdorf was born on the 6th May of 1924, in New York and had a
Georgette was educated in a convent school for girls in Long Island until 1935. After the death of Georgette’s mother Constance in 1935 the family moved to Los Angeles. It was here where Georgette became a pupil at Westlake School for Girls.
After completing her education Georgette Bauerdorf went to live with her older sister Constance, or Connie as she was more often called. They lived at the El Pacio Apartments, West Hollywood.
Georgette worked briefly as a reporter for a local newspaper. This didn’t last long and soon after Bauerdorf became a volunteer, as a junior hostess, at the Hollywood Canteen. Georgette’s duties included entertaining and dancing with soldiers.
During Georgette’s time living with Connie, Connie would tragically become a young widow when her partner, John Francis Dillon Jr, was killed whilst in action overseas.
In August 1944, around the time of Connie’s first wedding anniversary, Connie decided to go live with her father and stepmother in Nevada. From this point until her death Georgette would now live alone in the El Pacio Apartment.
Georgette And Servicemen
During this time Georgette was exceptionally kind to servicemen. Bauerdorf would often take them for meals, drinks, nights out, give them money and even let them spend the night in her home.
Georgette was so kind and trusting towards the soldiers that she gave several of the servicemen keys to the apartment.
Although almost unthinkable in the current day there is nothing to suggest that this was anything but a totally innocent act of kindness from Georgette. The ’40s were a different time, with people far more trusting and less sexually promiscuous. Soldiers were also held in far higher regard and would’ve been trusted greatly.
Also with it being during the Second World War, there was a heightened sense of patriotism. With that said neighbours of Georgette had started to take note of the number of servicemen spending the night
The Day Before The Tragic Event
Planning A Trip
On October 11, 1944, Georgette spent most of the day with her father’s secretary Rose Gilbert. They spent there time shopping and had lunch before visiting a beauty parlour. During the pairs time together Georgette also cashed a check for the sum of $175. From the money obtained Georgette purchased a plane ticket to El Paso.
Georgette had arranged to meet a soldier in El Paso. She had previously met him in July during her time at the Hollywood Canteen. The couple had since exchanged phone calls and letters with one another.
Not Her Usual Self
Later that same evening Georgette attended the Hollywood Canteen to once again volunteer. Her friend June Ziegler said Georgette wasn’t herself when she arrived and seemed anxious and nervous.
Georgette asked June if she would spend the night with her at her apartment as she was nervous. June just assumed Georgette was talking about the flight to El Paso the next day and so made her excuses not to stay.
Georgette spent the next three or so hours completing her duties in the Canteen, chatting and dancing with soldiers. During the course of her night, one soldier was reported to have caused Georgette repeated problems.
The soldier in question was said to have spent the night forcefully cutting in on Georgette whilst she was dancing with other servicemen. The soldier kept insisting Georgette danced with him.
According to June, Georgette didn’t like the man or his attitude. However, Georgette danced with the soldier as to not cause any trouble.
Georgette left the Hollywood Canteen and drove home sometime between 10:30 pm and 11:30 pm. Along the way Georgette saw a hitchhiking soldier and decided to give him a ride.
The soldier, Sgt. Gordon Aadland, later said that Georgette had told him about her plans to visit her boyfriend in Texas the next day. Aadland said she seemed excited by the prospect and had to get home quickly as she was expecting a call from him.
Georgette dropped off Sgt. Aadland on Sunset Boulevard and drove away. Interestingly, Sgt. Aadland said Georgette headed towards the Hollywood Hills, the opposite direction to her apartment.
Georgette Bauerdorf was never again seen alive.
A Scream In The Night
During the early hours of Oct 12, the janitor Fred Atwood was awoken. Atwood heard a woman’s heels walking on the kitchen floor above his own apartment and then a loud crashing sound. Atwood assumed it was something like a tray been dropped and so returned to his slumber.
Another neighbour gave an account of an incident he had heard during the night, but this one was much more sinister. The neighbour heard a scream and then the following cry:
“STOP, STOP, YOU’RE KILLING ME!”
Suddenly the cries stopped. Amazingly, and perhaps a sign of how the times were different to nowadays, the man put it down to an argument between a couple and went back to sleep without any further investigation.
The Cause Of Death
When Fred and Lulu discovered the body of Georgette Bauerdorf on October 12, the victim was floating face down in the bathtub. Georgette still had on her pink pyjama top but her bottom half was naked. The bath was overflowing with hot, bloody water as the tap was still running.
Pathologist Frank Webb determined the cause of death as strangulation. This was caused by a piece of fabric been jammed down Georgette’s throat. Webb also stated that Bauerdorf had been raped before she was killed.
There was bruising on the right side of her abdomen and face likely caused by strong blows from a fist. Grip marks were also present on Georgette’s lips, face, thighs and abdomen. Webb noted that the grip marks left by the hands were almost ape-like.
On Bauerdorf’s right thigh a hand had left a bruised imprint, from which the killer’s fingernails had pierced the skin. Georgette also had bruises and abrasions on her hands, most likely from her attempts to fight off her vile attacker.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department began there investigation and quickly noticed an automatic night light outside Georgette Bauerdorf’s door wasn’t working. Upon further investigation it was discovered the light had been tampered with.
Someone had loosened the bulb, enough to stop it working but that it would also look fine unless inspected closely. Police believed there was a chance this was done to stop Georgette seeing, or at least identifying them. Officers managed to lift a fingerprint from the bulb however no suspect was ever linked to it.
Investigators also found that the vehicle Georgette Bauerdorf had been driving had been taken. The 1936 Oldsmobile coupe, registered to sister Connie, was found abandoned around 10 miles away on East 25th St. It is believed this was due to the car running out of petrol rather than being a specific location of interest to the individual who
When the car was located it was noted that damage had been caused to the 1936 Oldsmobile. There was a scrape and dent on the front left fender and damage to the grille on the front of the vehicle. Unfortunately, police were unable to determine whether the damage was recent and caused by the killer or if it was already there. Much like the fingerprint found on the lightbulb, the car also failed to lead the police to a suspect.
The Murder Weapon
Detectives looked at whether the murder weapon could give them a lead. They discovered the fabric was a type of bandage called crepe tetra, used for injuries such as sprains and strains. Further investigation found that the bandage came from a 10-inch roll.
Police discovered that rolls of this size had not been sold in the US for the last 22 years and had to be imported from England or France. Yet again, as was the case with the light bulb and the car, the bandage didn’t lead to any suspects.
Detectives quickly ruled out a robbery gone wrong. Georgette’s money from her purse had been taken, yet, despite been in plain sight other money and expensive items
Police instead worked on the theory that someone had entered the apartment using a key and killed Georgette Bauerdorf whilst she was getting ready for bed.
Investigators interviewed over a 100 individuals about the murder of Georgette Bauerdorf, many were visitors of the Hollywood Canteen. Unfortunately for the
The Dancing Soldier
Detectives discovered the name of the soldier who, on the night of Georgette’s murder, had continuously
Volpe admitted to officers that he had danced with Georgette Bauerdorf that night. He refuted any claims that he had annoyed or upset Georgette and in fact said Bauerdorf was vivacious and happy.
Cosmo Volpe stated they danced three or four times throughout the evening before he left with Sgt. James Driscoll to return to his barracks. Volpe stated they hitchhiked back and arrived no later than 11:30 pm. After checks were made by the police it appears they were satisfied with his alibi and that he wasn’t involved in the murder of Georgette Bauerdorf.
The El Paso Soldier
Detectives also investigated the soldier who Bauerdorf had arranged to meet in El Paso. They learned the soldier was Private Jerome Brown, who was stationed at Fort Bliss near El Paso.
Brown told the investigators that he had met Bauerdorf in the June of that year at the Hollywood Canteen. Since then he admitted to having exchanged letters and phone calls with the sadly deceased. Brown handed officers half a dozen letters which he had been sent by Bauerdorf .
Private Jerome Brown was able to prove fairly quickly that he had been in Texas at the time of the murder. With an ironclad alibi, police ruled out Brown as a suspect.
A short time after the murder of Georgette Bauerdorf, police in San Diego jailed a man when he murdered a 65-year-old woman by forcing a towel down her throat. 20-year-old Robert George Pollock White, the man responsible, admitted to been in LA at the time of Georgette’s murder but denied he was the killer. Police could find nothing to link White with Bauerdorf.
Another known killer was also briefly questioned about the murder of Georgette Bauerdorf. Otto Steven Wilson admitted to hacking to death two women just hours apart at two separate hotels in downtown LA. As with White, police found nothing to link Wilson with the murder.
A Confession Made And A Letter From The Killer?
A couple of month after the murder, in the December of 1944, John Lehman Sumter walked into the FBI offices in San Francisco and confessed to the murder of Georgette Bauerdorf.
Sumter told detectives he had met Bauerdorf on a street car and she had asked him if he would like to spend the night at her home. The potential killer told police another soldier had visited whilst he was there but once the soldier left he killed Bauerdorf.
Police where doubtful that Sumter was their man.
Several parts of his story made little sense to police and didn’t match things they knew. Eventually, Sumter came clean and admitted he had fabricated his story.
Sumter told police he lied because he couldn’t bring himself to commit suicide and so thought the electric chair would be the answer.
Almost a year after the murder, in September 1945, a letter was printed in the Los Angeles Examiner supposedly written by Georgette’s killer and threatening to repeat his previous atrocity. The letter read:
To the Los Angeles Police
Almost a year ago Georgette Bauerdorf, age 20, Hollywood Canteen hostess was murdered in her apartment in West Hollywood
Between now and Oct. 11–a year after her death–the one who murdered her will appear at the Hollywood Canteen. The murderer will be in uniform. He has since he committed the murder been in action at Okinawa. The murder of Georgette Bauerdorf was divine retribution-
Let the Los Angeles police arrest the murderer if they can-
Plenty of true crime authors since have protested that the letter was genuinely from the killer. However,
Georgette Bauerdorf and the Black Dahlia
Disproving A Myth
Over the next couple of years, police got nowhere in there hunt for Georgette Bauerdorf’s killer and the crime was slowly forgotten about. That was until 1947 when the press looked to find links to another murder victim – Elizabeth Short a.k.a hThe Black Dahlia.
Police, however, found nothing to link the murders, the link was merely the work of the sensationalist press of the time. Unfortunately, many authors writing about the Black Dahlia case since have taken these tales and added their own twist,
Many write that Georgette and Elizabeth knew one another. This despite the
A little research shows plenty of evidence that prior to 1946 Short spent her time in Florida and Massachusetts. She only moved to LA after the death of her fiance, who was killed in the last week of World War 2.
That isn’t to rule out completely that the two were killed by the same person, it just proves it nigh on impossible they knew each other. However other than there ages, there is very little similarity between the murders.
The two lived very different lives, Georgette was of a higher social class, an heiress and socialite. Elizabeth Short, on the other hand, was from a lower class and had found herself on hard times, even spending nights in the
Georgette Bauerdorf was raped, Elizabeth Short wasn’t. Elizabeth was bludgeoned and died of blood loss and shock, Georgette was suffocated by having a bandage rammed down her throat. Bauerdorf was placed in a bathtub and her killer absconded, Short was mutilated, cut in half and dumped elsewhere.
Possible? Yes. Probable? No.
If I had to suggest a theory the most likely answer to me is that Georgette was unfortunately killed due to her own trusting nature, patriotism and, some would say, naivety.
It’s well known Georgette allowed young servicemen that she didn’t really know too well to stay in her home. So it is not beyond the realms of possibility that she picked up another hitchhiker that night and took him home with her in an act of kindness and compassion.
I then think what may have happened is after Georgette went to bed the serviceman decided he wanted to take things further than sleeping downstairs. When Georgette refused the mans advances he then proceeded to rape Georgette, during which the perpetrator rammed the cloth down her throat to stop her screams thus killing Georgette.
Of course, this is just a theory, the one I find most likely. It doesn’t answer where the cloth came from or explain the light bulb outside her door. There are also a dozen other theories that are just as plausible.
As unfortunate as it is, the sad truth is that we will likely never know who killed Georgette Bauerdorf on that tragic night in October 1944.