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The Californian heiress was strangled. Who got away with a murder?




Lulu Atwood knew everyone at the El Palacio Apartments in West Hollywood. Every day she cleaned the luxury two-story rentals from top to bottom; the beautiful Spanish-style apartments were popular with celebrities and social elites, like Georgette Bauerdorf, a 20-year-old oil heiress.

On the morning of October 12, 1944, Lulu arrived, mop in tow, at the Georgettes’ apartment. The front door was open. She entered cautiously. Someone here ? she called. Lulu could hear water running in the bathroom on the second floor, but no one was moving anywhere in the unit. Seeing no one on the lower level, she walked up the stairs.

As she leaned into the bathroom, Lulu was greeted with a horrible sight. Half submerged in the bathtub was Georgette, the warm water pink with blood. Lulu screamed, bringing her husband, a gardener, running. One look and they both knew: Georgette was dead.

LAPD quickly crawled across the stage. Detectives thought it could be an accident. Perhaps the shelter slipped, hit its head against the tub, and drowned. But then an eagle-eyed officer spotted the automatic light outside the Georgettes unit. Although people kept passing, he didn’t click. He grabbed a chair and inspected the bulb. It had been carefully unscrewed two turns to the left, just loose enough not to activate automatically.

The night Georgette died in her bathroom, the apartment was dark. Someone had made sure.

Although once mentioned in the same breath as the Black Dahlia, history has largely forgotten the mysterious murder of Georgette Bauerdorf.

Georgette was born in 1924 to Wall Street financier and independent oilman George Frederick Bauerdorf and his wife Constance. Georgette was 11 when her mother passed away, prompting the family to move from New York to Los Angeles. There Georgette attended the exclusive Westlake School for Girls and graduated just as the United States entered World War II. Patriotic type, Georgette got a job as hostess at the famous Hollywood Canteen.

It was a great honor to be a Hollywood Canteen hostess and a great thrill. The nightclub was co-founded by Bette Davis as a location for troops about to deploy overseas. The military were celebrated with food, drink (of the healthy and non-alcoholic type) and entertainment, often other Hollywood stars like Rita Hayworth or Ginger Rogers. Hostesses like Georgette helped distribute food and drink and were always ready to dance with an enthusiastic soldier.

Actress Dale Evans asks for a volunteer to join her song at the Hollywood Canteen in Los Angeles in 1944.

Actress Dale Evans asks for a volunteer to join her song at the Hollywood Canteen in Los Angeles in 1944.

DeForrest and Huy / Pix / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

The job suited Georgette perfectly. She had a big smile and a welcoming charm. Hollywood hostesses Canteen were forbidden to leave the club in the company of a serviceman, but Georgette, like so many others, got around this by meeting men outside of work. She was known to give soldiers the keys to her apartment if they still wanted to crash onto the downstairs sofa while she slept upstairs, friends said and she loved dating. Her journal was filled with dinner plans. She always paid and she still drove in her sleek Oldsmobile Coupe. Friends sometimes warned her to be careful of his generosity, but she dismissed their concerns. “I think if these boys are ready to fight for us, we should do whatever we can for them,” she said.

On October 11, 1944, Georgette found her father’s secretary for lunch and to do some shopping. She was excited and a little nervous; hangar just bought a plane ticket to see her new soldier boyfriend in El Paso. After a trip home to dress for work, she headed to the Hollywood canteen. Her best friend and fellow hostess June Ziegler found Georgette in the parking lot, knitting in her car to kill time before her shift began. She seemed very happy, June will later recall to reporters.

The duo headed inside and had a fairly ordinary shift except for one pushy soldier who wanted to jitterbug with Georgette, a dance style she didn’t like. June saw Georgette try to gently refuse the man, but he kept pushing her onto the dance floor. Eventually, however, he moved on and Georgette finished her evening.

El Palacio Apartments on Fountain Avenue in West Hollywood.

El Palacio Apartments on Fountain Avenue in West Hollywood.

Google Street View

Around 11:30 p.m., she goes home, alone, in her car. The journey from Cahuenga Boulevard to Fountain Avenue took about 10 minutes. Once home, she made herself a snack of canned green beans and melon. A maintenance worker who lived in the basement apartment below her told police he heard the sound of high heels slamming on the kitchen floor around midnight, shortly followed after an accident like somebody dropped a tray or something. But then Bauerdorf’s apartment became quiet again.

Georgette is unlikely to knowingly have anyone in her apartment at this time, as it appears she was going through her usual bedtime routine. She went upstairs, put on pajamas, and appeared to settle in for the night, with her diary and journal found on her bed (friends also swore Georgette would never have entertained in her pajamas). At around 2:30 a.m., a neighbor heard a scream somewhere in the apartment complex.

I sat in my bed and listened, he said. It was a female voice crying: Stop, stop, you’re killing me. Then I didn’t hear any more and decided it was just a family argument.

In the morning, the maid found Georgette, naked from waist to feet, in the bathtub. Despite initial suspicions of an accident, the autopsy showed that Georgette was clearly the victim of a violent sexual assault. She had abrasions on her hands and face after fighting her attacker, and multiple bruises, corresponding to punches, on her head and abdomen. Bruises on her shoulder and face may come from her attacker who forced her to go down into the tub. The cause of death was asphyxiation from a rag stuck in his throat. There was no water in her lungs, suggesting that she was dead by the time the tub was filled with water to stage the scene as a slip-and-fall fatality.

The house was missing his car and $ 100 from his purse, although expensive jewelry and even more cash were left untouched. The car was soon found abandoned, out of gas, about 12 miles away on San Pedro and East 25th streets. In Georgettes’ apartment, there were crushed cigarettes on the living room floor (Georgette did not smoke) and blood on the bedroom floor, smeared as if someone was trying to clean it.

The case immediately caused a sensation in the media and there is no shortage of suspects. Any soldier who had ever been in contact with Georgette in the Hollywood canteen was to be excluded. Fortunately for the police, any soldier who missed the curfew would have been noted as AWOL, allowing them to exclude suspects en masse. Among those who were cleared was the arrogant soldier who liked to be agitated; he was back at the base when Georgette was murdered.

Georgette Bauerdorf, a popular hostess at the Hollywood Canteen, was murdered in her West Hollywood apartment in 1944.

Georgette Bauerdorf, a popular hostess at the Hollywood Canteen, was murdered in her West Hollywood apartment in 1944.

Public domain

The detectives encountered another problem: Georgette often lost the keys to her house. She had duplicates made several times, and the originals were long gone. The clues available to investigators were more mystifying than clarifying. The cloth used to strangle her was discovered to be an extremely unusual medical plaster of European origin. It hadn’t been seen in common use in the United States for decades, and it didn’t appear to be from the Georgettes medicine cabinet. But the rare item was a dead end, and police could only speculate that it may have come from a soldier on leave from a European tour.

Pretty much all of the detectives were sure to have fingerprints found smeared in the car and on the unscrewed light bulb. But they couldn’t match them with anyone, including the huge national database of enlisted men. The suspects ranged from the Black Dahlia killer to the former apartment complex janitors. Over the next decade, police dragged suspect after suspect for questioning. In December 1944, a San Francisco man was guilty of the murder, but the police soon found out that he was deliberately playing idiot or was mentally ill. among her belongings were numerous newspaper clippings about Georgette. The following year, police believed that a 29-year-old man suspected of murdering a patient at Glendale Sanatorium could have killed Georgette. But he too was exonerated.

The last suspect was questioned in 1950 in Sausalito. Cpl. Chester Vukas reportedly strangled an 18-year-old groom on a public trail, and Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputies rushed to Marin to see if the Army paratrooper was their man. At only 23, he would have been around 16 when Georgettes died. Ultimately, he was not charged with his murder and was acquitted of the murder of the 18-year-old the following year.

The tracks, unfortunately, have long since dried up. Georgette now rests in the Bauerdorf family mausoleum at Bronxs Woodlawn Cemetery, surrounded by her mother, father and sister Constance, who died in 2014.

Georgettes’ murder briefly made El Palacio Apartments Hollywood’s most notorious address, but even that notoriety quickly faded. Celebrities moved in and celebrities moved out, and life in Tony’s compound continued as before.




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