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CURBSIDE L.A.

Scenes of the Crimes

August 17, 1992|CECILIA RASMUSSEN

The city is sprinkled with sites of the untimely deaths of the famous and the fated. From John Belushi to the Black Dahlia, Los Angeles has been the backdrop for many a notorious demise. Solved or unsolved, some murders and suicides become part of the cultural fabric, spawning books, movies and even sightseeing tours. Here is a look at episodes from the city's homicidal history.

1. Otto Sanhuber and Walburga Oesterreich

800 block, Lafayette Park Place, Los Angeles

One of the city's most bizarre love affairs was between Oesterreich, the wife of an apron manufacturer, and Sanhuber, a tiny, quiet man who, unbeknown to Oesterreich's husband, lived for years in the attic over the couple's bed. But on Aug. 22, 1922, Sanhuber came out of his hideaway when he heard Oesterreich and her husband quarrel. Sanhuber shot Fred Oesterreich to death. Walburga Oesterreich was acquitted in 1930. Sanhuber was convicted of manslaughter but was released because of a three-year statute of limitations. The frame house on a hill overlooks Sunset Boulevard.

2. Sal Mineo

8569 Holloway Drive, West Hollywood

After a play rehearsal on the night of Feb. 12, 1976, 37-year-old actor Sal Mineo was stabbed to death after parking his Chevette in the carport of the two-story apartment building. He appeared in the 1955 film "Rebel Without a Cause" with James Dean, Natalie Wood and Nick Adams. All died unusual or violent deaths. Mineo's killer, 19-year-old pizza deliveryman Lionel Ray Williams, was convicted of second-degree murder, as well as 10 robberies in the neighborhood, and sentenced to 51 years in prison.

3. 'Vamping Venus'

17575 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu

Actress and comedian Thelma Todd, known as the "Vamping Venus," was found dead Dec. 15, 1935, slumped over the steering wheel of her convertible in a garage above her restaurant. Her death was ruled a suicide, but some believe it was murder. Toddy's Cafe is now a publishing company.

4. Andrey Kuznetsov and Vladimir Litvinenko

8546 W. Knoll Drive, West Hollywood

On the night of Jan. 26, 1992, Russian nationals Andrey Kuznetsov and Vladimir Litvinenko, both 28, were found shot execution-style with their fingertips cut off. Police arrived and found two Russian immigrants ripping the bullets from the bodies, presumably trying to erase any ballistics trail. Serguei Ivanov and Alexander Nikolaev, former members of the Soviet military, were charged in the case. The motive is still unclear.

5. Black Dahlia

Once-vacant lot on Norton Avenue south of Coliseum Street in the Crenshaw district.

An aspiring 22-year-old actress named Elizabeth Ann Short was tortured and strangled; her body, severed at the waist, was found on Jan. 15, 1947, in a vacant lot. Her organs had been removed, her body drained of blood and an ear-to-ear grin carved on her face. She was nicknamed the Black Dahlia because of her tight-fitting black dresses and her bouffant black hair. The case was never solved.

6. Johnny Stompanato

730 N. Bedford Drive, Beverly Hills

On Good Friday in 1958, actress Lana Turner's abusive boyfriend, organized crime figure Johnny Stompanato, was stabbed to death in Turners's pink bedroom by her 14-year-old daughter, Cheryl Crane. The killing was ruled justifiable homicide and no charges were brought.

7. Dorothy Stratten

10881 Clarkson Road, West Los Angeles

Playboy magazine's 1980 "Playmate of the Year," 20-year-old Dorothy Stratten, was raped and murdered by her estranged husband Paul Snider in his rented two-story stucco house in the shadow of the Santa Monica freeway. The killing, on Aug. 14, 1980, reportedly occurred after Snider had learned that his wife was having an affair with director Peter Bogdanovich. Snider then turned the 12-gage shotgun on himself.

8. Shorty Shea

Spahn Movie Ranch

12000 Santa Susana Pass Road, Chatsworth

Donald (Shorty) Shea disappeared one day in 1969 from this rugged acreage where Charles Manson and his homicidal bank lived fro a time amid broken-down sets once used in Western movies. Police believe that Shea, who worked on the ranch as a wrangler, was decapitated and buried somewhere on the property. His remains have never been found. The ranch has since been subdivided into several parcels.

9. Hillside Strangler

703 E. Colorado St., Glendale

Angelo Buono, a Glendale auto upholsterer, was convicted of sexually torturing and murdering nine women whose bodies were dumped on Los Angeles-area hillsides in 1977 and 1978. Buono's accomplice and cousin, Kenneth Bianchi, admitted to five killings in a plea bargain. Buono was sentenced to life in prison and Bianchi will be eligible for parole in 2005. Bianchi claimed that most of the murders were committed at this address, Buono's upholstery shop. It is now a used-car dealership.

10. Vicki Morgan

4171 D Colfax Ave., Studio City

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