Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Three Little Girls Lost

Albert Dyer, convicted of strangling three young girls, poses for reporters

Murder in Inglewood
by Robert A. Waters

It was a blazing hot Saturday afternoon when three girls went missing. Jeanette Stephens, 8, and her friends, Melba Everett, 9, and Madeline Everett, 7, up and vanished from Centinela Park in Inglewood, California. In 1937, that just didn’t happen.

The girls had packed a picnic lunch and walked the short distance from their homes to the park. When they didn’t arrive home for dinner, their parents began searching for them. By nightfall, police had been notified and hundreds of cops and volunteers were scouring the countryside. At daylight, police enlisted the aid of 500 Boy Scouts.

Investigators were already interviewing people who had been known to frequent the park. Nell Cracroft, called the “matron of the park swimming pool,” stated that the girls had told her they were going off into the hills to hunt rabbits. Olive Everett, eleven-year-old sister of two of the missing girls, was taken to the police station and asked to look at police photos of “known sexual degenerates.” A man known as “Eddie the Sailor” had shown children in the park how to tie knots – he was interviewed and quickly eliminated as a suspect in the disappearances.

Meanwhile, thirty-two-year-old Albert Dyer seemed concerned about the girls. He’d known them, he told his wife Isabel, because he worked as a traffic guard at Centinela Elementary School where the children attended. It might be nice, Albert said, to start a scrapbook of newspaper clippings dedicated to the girls.

By Monday, an army of searchers braved the scorching heat to continue searching for the girls. Dyer hung around the cops, offering theories about the case and ordering searchers about. That afternoon, a Boy Scout was working deep in a ravine about two miles from the park when he found the bodies. According to a local newspaper, “the bodies were in a straight line on the sandy [soil] of the ravine about 25 yards from each other. They were barefoot. Their clothing was disarranged, their tiny dresses pulled up above their heads. On the bank of the ravine, searchers found three pairs of little shoes, all side by side...”

As soon as Albert Dyer heard that the bodies had been discovered, he raced to the scene. According to police, he was hysterical. He came upon a throng of spectators and began screaming at the men to put out their cigarettes out of “respect for the dead.” He rushed down to where the girls were lying and insisted on helping to remove them.

The next day’s headlines read: “Missing Girls Found Slain: Sexual Degenerate is Object of Police Hunt.” Californians were outraged. Many in the area vowed to lynch the killer when he was caught. Cops took the threat seriously. Just four years earlier, “vigilantes” in San Jose had lynched Thomas Thurmond and John Holmes for the kidnap-murder of Brooke Hart.

Investigators had begun their investigation on the theory that a stranger had abducted the girls. Now they began to focus on Albert Dyer, an acquaintance. His bizarre behavior at the crime scene had popped their antennae.

Meanwhile, local newspapers interviewed the father of the Everett girls. “We came here three months ago from Boston,” Merle Everett said. “We wanted to bring our children up in the open air and sunshine of California. We moved near the park so they would have a place to play. We never dreamed this would mean the deaths of our little girls. I am not vindictive, though. At least, I’m glad their bodies were found. I think the killer is insane. I want to see him captured so he can’t perpetrate another crime such as this.” His wife was under sedation, he said, as were the parents of Jeanette Stephens.

Dyer was taken to the Los Angeles jail to prevent him from being lynched. During questioning, he denied that he had murdered the girls. Detectives grilled him for hours, growing more suspicious all the time. Finally, they played their trump card. If he didn’t tell them the truth, they said, they would take him to Inglewood and let him explain to the crowds outside the jail the discrepancies in his statements.

Unorthodox maybe. Unconstitutional perhaps. But effective.

“Don’t let them take me back to Inglewood,” he pleaded. “They’ll tear me to pieces.”

With that, Dyer confessed. “I had no other reason than sex,” he reportedly said. He had “played” with the three friends earlier at the park and asked them to meet him about noon so they could go hunt rabbits. “They said their mothers didn’t want them to,” Dyer said. “But I kept telling them how much fun it was and finally they agreed to meet me.

“I watched the three girls coming down the road. They were dressed in bright-colored clothes and looked fresh and nice. Their route lay through a bean field and a steep-sided dry wash. We sat down to rest and I asked Madeline - that was the youngest one - to come with me up the draw a bit and see if we could scare up a bunny. She came right along and the others agreed to stay behind. When out of sight of the others, I reached out and grabbed Madeline by the neck and choked her to death. When I thought she was dead, I knotted a rope around her neck to make sure.

“Then I singled out Jeanette. I told her we’d trapped a rabbit and we wanted her to help us catch another bunny for her. With my hands I choked Jeanette to death and bound her neck with a rope. I wanted to make sure she was dead.

“[Melba then] went with me without question. When I began choking her, she tried to scream. She fought. She almost got away from me but I choked her just like I did the others. She struggled on the ground. She clawed at the dirt and kicked but pretty soon she grew quiet. I knotted a rope around her, too.”

After murdering the youngsters, Dyer raped Madeline’s corpse. (Some newspaper accounts claimed that he "ravished" all three bodies.) Then he laid the shoes of each girl side by side and prayed to God to forgive him.

Albert’s wife and two neighbors were placed into protective custody to protect them from the surging crowds outside the jail. His wife, Isabel, would not believe that her husband could commit such crimes. “Albert couldn’t have done this thing,” she said. “We both loved children. We lost two of our own.”

Investigators found clothesline in the Dyer home that they said matched the rope around the girls’ necks. They also found a paper bag beneath the body of Madeline that bore the name of a drugstore where Albert had recently bought supplies.

He was quickly tried and convicted. Though Dyer later repudiated his confession, he was hanged at San Quentin. By this time, his wife no longer believed in his innocence. No one claimed his body.

1 comment:

violentgurl said...

anyone who kills and rapes children doesnt deserve anything,ever.we are to weak on criminals like this one.a person that harms a child and an elderly person should have stronger and aggressive sentences.