Sunday, February 23, 2020

Who Murdered the Miami Playgirl?

Unsolved for 70 years
by Robert A. Waters

The search began about eight o’clock on the hot, clammy morning of August 22, 1951.  That was when Joe Gould, owner and manager of Gould Hotel, discovered his night-clerk had vanished.  The hotel sat in an isolated section of North Miami, Florida called Golden Shores.  In addition to twenty-three-year-old Lewana Newman, $925 in cash was missing.

The Miami News reported that “there were signs that Mrs. Newman had put up a strong fight against the early morning robber and kidnaper.  Investigators found a shoe, a belt buckle, an earring and a blood stain [in the parking lot] outside the hotel.”  Inside the hotel safe, Gould recovered $7,000 in cash and expensive jewelry that the robber missed.

Investigators from the Miami-Dade Sheriff’s department moved quickly.  Dozens of deputies searched the surrounding area as detectives began gathering information about the victim.  Lewana, they learned, had been estranged from her husband, John H. Newman.  The clerk, described as a beautiful brunette, had a six-year-old son who lived with his father and whom she visited on weekends.  Lewana worked alone at the hotel six nights a week.

Investigators slimed the victim in public, reporting that she’d had affairs with many men.  Detectives said she used a back-room office at the hotel for trysts.

Five days later, the News reported “that [Lewana’s decomposed body] was discovered today beside a lonely North Dade County farm road less than four miles from where she lived. Chief Criminal Deputy O. D. Henderson said she had been murdered by a single gunshot through the temple with a .38-caliber gun…Henderson said her kidnapers killed her on the spot.  The .38-caliber slug was recovered from the coral roadbed.”  The autopsy revealed a second bullet embedded in Lewana’s jaw.

After shooting Lewana, the killer dragged her corpse into a patch of thick woods and covered it with leaves and tree branches.  Investigators located the round that killed her after they sifted the dirt where a splotch of blood was found.  They hoped to be able to match the bullet to the murder weapon, if it was ever found.  

Detectives immediately attempted to “pin the murder” on her husband, as reported by the News.  But there was a problem.  John H. Newman had advanced stages of heart disease and severe diabetes.  His doctor informed detectives that he was physically incapable of committing the murder, but detectives pressed on.  They took a blood sample from Newman “and warned him they planned to arrest him for the murder of his wife if the blood tests bore out their suspicions.”  The next day Newman, grieving for his wife and terrified of being arrested, keeled over and died.  While detectives stated publicly that Newman committed suicide, his doctor told reporters that the “cause of death…was serious heart ailment and diabetes.”  In death, cops continued to disparage Newman, claiming he was abusive to Lewana and likely murdered her.

Eventually, detectives dropped their husband-kills-wife fantasy and turned their attentions to Lewana’s numerous lovers.  Within days, Miami-Dade deputies and FBI agents had hauled in more than 30 men, each of whom was subjected to a “lie detector” test.  All the suspects were quickly released.

Henderson informed reporters he was certain the killer was a local man who knew the area well, contending that a stranger would have trouble locating the site where Lewana’s body was found.  Investigators later told reporters that the murderer was likely looking for a nearby pig pen where he could dispose of the remains.  That way, cops reasoned, passersby wouldn’t be attracted by the odor of death, thinking it emanated from the pig sty.

Henderson continued to round up acquaintances of Lewana.  Each was given the “third degree” before being dismissed as suspects.

Months later, a “strongarm team” was arrested after kidnapping a random stranger and robbing him of $42.  Henderson told reporters that Mary L. Coleman and Warren D. Williams were “cold thugs” who had attempted to kill another man the previous day.  Coleman lived near Lewana, leading lawmen to suspect the duo may have abducted and murdered her.  However, no evidence was ever found to support that conclusion.

The case eventually stagnated.  Six years later, the Miami Herald offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the killer.  The newspaper emphasized that the informant could remain anonymous and still collect the reward.  Unfortunately, no one came forward and the case was never solved.

Who murdered the sexy night-clerk?  Was it a lover, an acquaintance, or some random stranger?  We’ll likely never know.

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