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CRIME AND THE ELDERLY OF L.A. : Violence in the Autumn of Life : ETHEL LEE MILLER : 'It's a Really Tragic Story. These Are Nice People . . . Good, Hard-Working People'

October 24, 1994|JOHN HURST | Times Staff Writer

When Ethel Lee Miller got home from visiting her hospitalized husband, George, in the summer of 1993, she was worried sick he might succumb to a serious heart problem.

But it was Ethel, 73, who did not survive the night: She was murdered in the South-Central Los Angeles bungalow she and her 83-year-old husband shared for four decades.

"It's a really tragic story," said Los Angeles Police Detective Mark Arneson. "These are nice people . . . good, hard-working people."

Before retirement, George worked in the Long Beach shipyards. Ethel worked as a nurse's aide and custodian, sometimes on night jobs that caused her husband to worry about her safety. The couple bought their house on West 50th Place, with its wide front porch and deep eaves, long before the surrounding area had gone violent and crazy with gangs and drugs. Back then, George recalls, the neighborhood was occupied by "settled" people, and there was little fear of crime.

The couple continued to work and save, finally able to build a small, two-story apartment building next to their home and to invest in other real estate.

As the Millers grew old, the surrounding neighborhood began to deteriorate, bringing crime to their small street. They gave in and installed a white security gate in front of their door. George bought himself a secondhand gun.

Ethel, who had a habit of carrying a lot of cash, was an otherwise cautious person. But she must have trusted someone enough to open her door on the night of her murder, police say, because there was no sign of forced entry.

She was found the next day, sitting in a living room chair, strangled with a phone cord. The house was ransacked. Police believe robbery was the motive.

Relatives and doctors were initially afraid to tell George about his wife's murder because of his bad heart. They told him only that she couldn't visit his sick bed because she too had been hospitalized.

"I was home two days before they told me what happened to her," he said.

These days, George keeps busy working around his property. He recently plowed some ground so his tenants could plant a garden. And he thinks about his wife's murder.

"I wouldn't be surprised if they tried to tackle me," he said. "But they'll meet my gun because I keep it right by me."

No arrests have been made.

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