Georgette Bauerdorf: Tragedy From Generosity and Compassion
We’ve all met the overly friendly girl before. She’s sweet as can be and you just can’t help but to like her. She’s a kind and generous soul willing to help anyone that needs it. Some of us may have even had to take one of these girls aside and warn them of the dangers of kindness. Don’t lend money to stangers, don’t pick up hitchhikers, don’t give your number out to anyone you don’t know no matter how nice they seem. Unfortunately some of these girls just don’t seem to see the danger in their actions. They’re just nice people trying to help their fellow man. This is the story of such a young woman.
Georgette Bauerdorf was a breathtakingly beautiful woman born on May 6, 1924. As her name would almost seem to suggest she was born into a life of luxery. Her father, George Bauerdorf was a Wall Street financier. He also had oil interests in Louisiana, Texas, and Nevada. He was a smart business man and his business thrived for it. Her mother was a well taken care of stay-at-home mother and socialite named Constance Bauerdorf. Constance would pass away in 1935 at the young age of forty leaving her children and husband behind. George would remarry to a woman named Thelma Wolf and remained with her until his death in 1961.
Georgette took advantage of the fine education her parent’s oil tycoon money could afford. She attended a convent school for girls in Long Island and the Westlake School for Girls in Los Angeles. She graduted from Westlake in 1941 among such names as Shirley Temple and Myrna Loy. Upon graduating she moved in with her older sister, Connie at the El Palacio Apartments in West Hollywood. This place was beyond nice. It was home to the rich and the famous. After moving in Georgette secured a job in the Women’s Service Bureau at the Los Angeles Times. It was after taking this job she would also take on some weekly volenteer work at the Hollywood Canteen as a junior hostess.
Many of the other junior hostesses at the Canteen also worked at the Los Angeles Times in one department or another. Georgette’s closest friend, June Zeigler also worked for the Times and volenteered on Wednseday nights at the Canteen with Georgette. The Hollywood Canteen was opened by Bette Davis, John Garfield, and other big names in Hollywood at the time on October 3, 1942. It was opened as a service to the soldiers serving in WWII. The old barn turned night club on Sunset and Cahuenga Boulevards featured an old western motif with wagon wheels hanging from the ceiling and lanterns as light fixtures. Artwork from studio cartoonists adorned the walls as soldiers twirled junior hostesses on the dance floor to two bands that played almost nightly. Soldiers could also enjoy a free snackbar with coffee, donuts, sandwiches, and milk. The Hollywood stars didn’t exempt themselves from volenteering at the Canteen, either.
Until Thanksgiving Day in 1945 the Hollywood Canteen served nearly three million men and women serving in WWII. Georgette Bauerdorf would spend some time volenteering there before taking a long trip back home to New York to see her father and sister. Her trip, starting in November of 1943, first took her to San Francisco for awhile. Then in February of 1944 she boarded a train from L.A. to New York with stops in between. On February 22 she arrived in El Paso and decided to cross the U.S.-Mexico border into Juarez for about an hour. When she got back on the train she was off to Shreveport, Louisiana where her father had some business interests. She stayed at the Washington-Youree Hotel from late February until early March before departing. After a day long layover in St. Louis she arrived in New York on March 7.
In true Bauerdorf fashion she checked into the Vanderbilt Hotel at 34th and Park Avenue. Her room overlooked the East River and the tug boats could be heard coming in every day. She welcomed her sister soon after her own arrival, the very next day their father would join them. During her travels and her stay with family she wrote her best friend, June and sent postcards all the while. Being a boy crazy young woman with an eye for a man in uniform she wrote of the handsome soldiers she encountered on her travels. She also told her friend all about everything she was doing, from her nice dinners out to the Broadway play she took in while in the city. The Canteen was never far from her mind as she admitted in one letter to June. She said every Wednseday night she thought of the club for soldiers on leave even though there seemed to be ”a majority of jerks there,” as she put it.
Nevertheless, she would return to Los Angeles that summer in 1944 not knowing it would be her last. She went back to her job at the Women’s Service Bureau at the Times and also went back to volenteering Wednseday nights at the Hollywood Canteen. June Zeigler was still working and volenteering with Georgette just like before. Georgette was still living at her family’s El Palacio apartment, but she’d been staying there alone for awhile before her trip and she was alone once again. That didn’t seem to bother her one bit. She filled her time with work, both paid and volenteer, and she had phone calls every night to look forward to from her boyfriend, Jerome Browne in El Paso. The couple had met at the Canteen just after her trip and hadn’t seen each other since he’d been transferred to Fort Bliss.
Her volenteer work didn’t stop at the Canteen, though. Georgette was a generous and genuinely kind person. She would give soldiers rides, let them sleep on her living room couch when they had nowhere else to go, and even go as far as to feed some of these men as well. She was the type of woman that had never smoked in her life, but kept ashtays around her apartment for others that might. It was this genuine kindness that would eventually, sadly, get her killed.
Wednseday, October 11, 1944 started as any other day for the young oil heiress and socialite. She was in high spirits as she was known for being when she went out for a shopping trip and some lunch with her friend, Rose Gilbert. Rose would later tell police that she had been with Georgette until two o’clock in the afternoon and that she seemed “perfectly happy.” She went out to have her hair done and cashed a check for $175 after leaving Rose. She then bought a plane ticket to El Paso to see Jerry. He was graduating from an Army training program and Georgette didn’t want to miss the ceremony. She went home and breifly spoke with one of the El Palacio’s janitors, Fred Atwood. She thanked him for moving some boxes to the basement for her as she had asked.
Later in the evening June found Georgette in her car knitting outside of the Canteen. She was biding her last thirty minutes before going into the club at 7pm. Georgette, noticably nervous, asked her friend if she would spend the night with her. She gave no explanation for this, just asked for June’s company for the evening after leaving the club. June thought that Georgette’s nervous behavior all night was attributed to nervousness over flying to El Paso to see Jerry. June made an excuse to not stay the night and that was that. The rest of the night the two young women volenteered their time dancing with soldiers and listening to their stories.
On that particular night there was one serviceman who was being more than a pain in Georgette’s side. As the young heiress danced and talked with other soldiers this man continuously cut into dances with other men and practically begged for Georgette’s attention throughtout the night. To make matters worse he wanted to dance with her and only her all night and he only wanted to do one dance, the jitterbug. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that this guy wasn’t the best dancer since he only seemed to be able to do one dance. Whatever the case may be the jitterbug was an exhausting dance to do. By the end of the night poor Georgette’s feet were killing her and all she wanted was to get away from this annoying jitterbugging soldier. She didn’t care for him or the jitterbug. Georgette liked the more conservative dances like the waltz.
Finally, 11:30 came around and not a moment too soon for Georgette I’m willing to bet. She checked out of the Hollywood Canteen and said good-bye to June outside the club before walking to her car by herself. She drove off into the night all alone and picked up a hitchhiker on her way home. Sergeant Gordon Aadland was on furlough from duty in the Aleutian Islands and was staying with his mother and his brother’s family in West Los Angeles. The young sergent was scheduled to return to the islands the following day so he had made a night of taking his sister dancing before his empending departure. He had taken his sister to the Hollywood Palladium and at the end of their night together he saw her off in a streetcar taking her home. From there he wandered onto Sunset Boulevard somewhere between the Hollywood Palladium and the Hollywood Canteen. He said as soon as he stuck his thumb out for a ride to the Clover Club to meet his brother getting off of work Georgette pulled over in her coupe.
The generous girl simply asked, ”Where to?” He told her he was heading to the Clover Club and she obliged. Sergeant Aadland estimated that he spent around ten to fifteen minutes in the car with her before she dropped him off. She drove him a few miles closer to his destination and he said that he was grateful for the ride. When he exited the car he thought of telling her that it was unwise to pick up hitchhikers, especially so late at night. He didn’t want to seem ungrateful for her help so he just thanked her for the ride and said nothing of her picking up soldiers.
It was around midnight that she arrived home after dropping off her hitchhiking soldier. She had a snack of cantalope and a can of string beans. After throwing out the remains of the cantalope she cleaned her dishes. Fred Atwood said that after midnight he could hear her high heels clicking across the kitchen floor. Not long after a tray could be heard crashing to the floor. Nothing more was heard from her apartment until 2:30am. It was at that point that a neighbor heard her screaming ”Stop, stop! You’re killing me!”
It’s unknown whether the killer broke into her apartment after she returned home or if he waited for her. What is known is that the killer untwisted the lightbulb at her front door a couple of turns so that it wouldn’t turn on. Georgette had time to change into her pajamas before the attack, but it appeared that she hadn’t gone to bed. The two sheets on her bed were undisturbed, but the blanket had been thrown back. There was also a folded newspaper sitting by her pillow which had a small indentation in it.
It was 11:10am that the janitor, Fred Atwood, his wife Lulu, and his daughter finished cleaning the neighboring tenant’s apartment. They moved on to clean Georgette’s and didn’t notice anything amiss in the downstairs. Fred’s wife did notice that she could hear water running in the bathroom upstairs. She went up as she would’ve anyway. Their customary routine was that Fred cleaned the downstairs of the apartments while his wife and daughter split the duties of the upstairs. Lulu called down to her husband that it appeared someone was in the bathroom. Fred came upstairs to check and found the body of Georgette Bauerdorf face down in her bathtub with the hot water running.
Initially Fred didn’t think that Georgette was dead. He thought that she’d simply fainted while preparing to take a bath. Hoping to bring her to he reached into the tub to drain the water. His arm brushed against her’s as he drained the water and he noted that her body “felt kind of warm.” It was upon noticing that the almost overflowing tub had bloody water in it that authorities were called in. By 12:10pm, just an hour after the Atwood’s had finished cleaning the previous apartment completely unaware of what they would find, the police arrived.
She was found half naked laying completely in the tub. Her pink pajama bottoms were found in her bedroom, just outside the bathroom. A couple of ashtrays were also found in the bedroom floor with cigarette butts in them. Police found a blood spot on the floor between the bed and bathroom door. Another thing police immediately noted was her purse laying on the floor between the bed and the bathroom door. They also noticed a lot of expensive jewelery and watches sitting on her dresser that were untouched. It was obvious to anyone examining the scene that robbery had most definately not been a motive here. It was made clear that the motive had been rape after examining the body.
Evidence of rape had been found during the exam along with many injuries to her body. Bruising on the right side of her face and abdomen looked to have come from blows from a fist. Grip marks made by very large hands were noted on her face, lips, thighs, and abdomen. The skin of her right thigh had been pierced by the attacker’s fingernails. She also had plenty of defensive wounds on her hands. She clearly didn’t go down without a fight. Too bad there was no DNA testing in 1944 because this guy would’ve probably been caught pretty quickly.
There had been no sign of a struggle occuring at all in the apartment. The only thing that seemed out of place was the purse. The ashtrays on the floor were undisturbed as well. The police wondered if Georgette had invited her killer into her home. She was a very nice and generous young woman known for letting soldiers spend the night on her couch.
It was determined that rigor mortis had already set in when she was discovered. The coroner stated that she had likely been dead for eight to ten hours at least during the inquest. The cause of death was determined to be strangulation. A nine by nine inch piece of cloth had been forced down her throat. An inch of this cloth with red border around it was protruding from her mouth. It was found to be a crepe tetra bandage for sprains that hadn’t been sold in the U.S. for twenty-two years. The bandage had come from a ten inch roll that had been imported from England or France. This seemingly promising lead would sadly take investigators nowhere.
It was soon discovered after arriving at El Palacio that her car was missing. The 1936 Oldsmoblie coupe was later found ten miles from her apartment complex with no gas left in the tank. The killer had stolen her car to flee the scene as far as he could get before running out of gas. It wasn’t very far. A scratch and a dent were found on the left side of the fender along with some damage to the grille. Investigators were unable to determine if the killer had damaged the car or if the car had already been damaged before. This was yet another lead that went cold fast.
This case became huge very quickly. Not just in the media, either. The casefile was ridiculous. In the course of the investigation over one hundred people were interviewed. Many of these people were soldiers since she volenteered at the Canteen and had a reputation for helping out the boys in uniform. It was impossible to track down every single soldier she’d interacted with at the club. They did, however, manage to track down one particular soldier of interest, though. The annoying jitterbug from the night of her death turned out to be a man named Cosmo Volpe. He did admit to dancing with her that night, but refuted claims that he was annoying and rudely cutting into all of her other dances.
To hear him spin his tale of grandeousity she was very happy around him all night. Other volenteers from the club had a different story to tell. They told the story of a man desperate for Georgette’s attention. So desperate, in fact, that he couldn’t even let her finish a dance with another man without cutting in and stealing her away. They also told of him wearing her out all night wanting to dance the jitterbug and nothing else.
Nevertheless, Cosmo said that he only danced with her a few times before leaving with another soldier. He said that he and Sergent James Driscoll left and returned to their barracks at around 11:30 that night. His alibi checked out to the satisfaction of police and he wasn’t questioned or looked at any further. Next they would look into Georgette’s new boyfriend, Private Jerome ”Jerry” Browne at Fort Bliss in El Paso. He wasn’t looked at for long, though. Not only could his correspondence with Georgette prove he was in Texas at the time of her murder, so could his superiors and his fellow soldiers.
Two known killers in the area were also looked at after the two soldiers. George Pollock White was only 20-years-old when he was locked up for the murder of a 65-year-old woman. Police thought it funny that he had shoved a towel down her throat to kill her. That was all the connection they needed to take off with this lead. George freely admitted to being in L.A. at the time of Georgette’s murder, but denied having anything to do with it. With no other links between him and this case, they had to look at other possible leads.
The next was a man named Otto Steven Wilson. He was questioned in connection with Georgette’s murder after he was caught for the murder of two different women in two different hotel rooms in downtown L.A. The only things linking this man was the fact that he was capable of murdering women and he was in the vicinity. Without any actual strong links, it was back to the drawing board for police.
It didn’t take long for papers to start printing the sensational story of Georgette’s murder. The day she was discovered papers were already rushing to get issues on the stands with her story as the headline. It was that day that Sergeant Aadland was dropped off at the train staion to begin his journey back to the Aleutian Islands to return to active duty. Aboard his train he found a discarded copy of the L.A. Times and a headline that caught his eye. He began reading the story of the poor murdered woman, then he saw the picture. It was the woman from the night before that had given him a ride closer to the Clover Club to meet his brother.
The sergeant was shocked to see that the story he had just read had been about her. He said that he recalled her being a very friendly girl. He also said that he wished she hadn’t been in the habit of picking up soldiers after midnight, though. He immediately started writing a letter to the police handling the investigation in Los Angeles. He told them everything about his car ride with her and was able to give an air tight alibi. He’d been with his family the whole night after hitching a ride with Georgette. He did mention in his letter that she seemed nervous while driving, always checking her rearview mirror. Later in life he would say that in retrospect she was probably just checking her mirror before switching lanes.
A strange thing to note here is that Sergeant Aadland’s fingerprints should’ve been in and on the car having taken a ride from her the night of her death. He said that he was never at any point contacted about this. This begs to question if the person that killed Georgette and stolen the car wiped it clean of all prints.
In December of 1944 a man wandered into the FBI offices in San Francisco. John Lehman Sumter made a full confession to the murder. He said that he’d run into Georgette in a streetcar and she’d asked him to come home with her. He said he obliged and soon after their arrival another man showed up. John claimed that after this man finally left he took his chance and killed her. Obviously, there are problems with this statement. John wouldn’t have met her in a streetcar as she had her own car. Next, no one had even seen the perpetrator let alone a second man enter or leave her apartment.
Eventually John came clean and admitted that he fabricated the whole confession. He was an extremely depressed and suicidal man that wished to be convicted of Georgette’s murder so he would recieve the death penalty. The police turned him loose and hopefully he got some help after that. A year would pass after he death with no further leads in the case. Then, around a year after her murder a letter was sent to the Los Angeles Examiner and printed. It reads as follows:
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 in Okinawa. The murder of Georgette Bauerdorf was devine retribution.
Let the Los Angeles Police arrest the murderer if they can.
This was the final lead that would ever come in Georgette’s case. Unfortunately, it appeared this was a hoax. That was what police believed to be the truth. After this the case went cold and no further suspects ever came to light. Even though more than one hundred people were interviewed, they were mainly friends, family, and soldiers that had met her at the Canteen.
There are plenty out there that actually believe that Georgette’s murder and others before and after the Black Dhalia are are related. Steve Hodel is one that believes this. He also believes that his father is responisble for all the killings. The main link he points to are the letters taunting authorites in both cases. There are similarities between the two like the killer in Georgette’s case referring to her murder as ”devine retribution.” The killer in the Black Dhalia case calls himself the “Black Dhalia Avenger” in his letter. “Arrest the murderer if you can” sounds very similar to the “catch us if you can” in the Black Dhalia Avenger’s letter.
Police never really considered the two connected, though. It was believed by the investigators on the case that a soldier with a key to the apartment let himself in and committed the crime. Georgette was taken home to New York laid to rest in her family’s plot at Woodlawn Cemetary in The Bronx. Her family was left to mourn her for many years before their own deaths. George Bauerdorf would live until 1961 while his wife, Thelma would live until 1997. Her sister, Connie lived until 2014 and had two children from her marriage to A. Carroll Cartwright, a 1940’s FBI agent. Her son’s name was Carroll, her daughter, Georgette.
Her family would never get justice for Georgette or closure for their wounds as survivors. The case is still unsolved and whoever committed it may very well have passed away without ever giving a death bed confession. Then again, maybe they are still alive, sitting in a nursing home, just waiting to confess their sins before they pass over to the other side.