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MALIBU : Slain Woman May Have Interrupted Robbery, Police Say

March 26, 1995|KATHLEEN KELLEHER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In the last decade of her life, the rhythmic sounds of the surf and the spectacular expanse of the Pacific Ocean formed the backdrop to Donna Hudson's daily rituals.

The physical limitations and pain imposed by arthritis largely forced Hudson to enjoy the coast's sights and smells from within the secure confines of the seaside house her husband, Caswell, built in 1955.

But those protective surroundings proved inadequate to keep Hudson, 69, who weighed less than 90 pounds, out of harm's way.

On March 12, the mother of three and grandmother of five was stabbed to death inside her residence, in what sheriff's investigators said was an apparent robbery attempt.

"There are indications that . . . she interrupted it," said Los Angeles County Sheriff's Sgt. Doral Riggs. No suspects have been identified or arrested.

Hudson was last heard from on the morning of March 12, when a friend called to see if she wanted to go to a movie. But Hudson, who had invited a neighbor whose house was flooded to stay with her, declined the offer. Her body was discovered by Susan Jernigan, her 32-year-old daughter, about 10 p.m. that night.

The death has shocked Hudson's family and neighbors as well as surfers whom she befriended.

"She was like a little crippled sparrow with broken wings, but boy, did she fly with those wings anyway," said Robert Colbert, a neighbor. "I just adored her." He said the area had been relatively free of crime in recent years.

Hudson was active in civic affairs, attending meetings of her homeowners group, the state Coastal Commission and the Malibu City Council, and often speaking her piece, according to Geary Steffen, who lives nearby.

"It's a shame to lose her," he said.

Hudson worked for causes ranging from saving the sand groins on the beach near her house to instituting curfews at Topanga State Beach, where noisy late-night gatherings disrupted her quiet.

Born in Ohio in 1925, Hudson moved to California when she was about 18 and worked for movie industry agents, according to her elder son, Jeffrey R. Hudson, an attorney. It was while she was working in Hollywood that she met her husband, who owned the Savoy Hotel on the Santa Monica waterfront. The two were married in 1947.

The couple had three children: Susan, who works in marketing, and sons, Jeffrey and Bradley, a psychologist.

Donna Hudson eventually opened a dress shop in the San Fernando Valley, selling it 1980. Caswell Hudson, who died in 1990, built several houses and apartment complexes along Pacific Coast Highway, including the three-unit building on Topanga Beach Drive that the Hudsons made their family retreat and retirement home in the early 1980s.

"She was very attached to Malibu and to that house in particular because it had been a part of the family for so many years," said Jeffrey R. Hudson. "We feel very badly about it. We are all still getting over it."

Sheriff's deputies ask that anyone with information about suspicious behavior at Hudson's home--the easternmost house on Topanga Beach Drive--call the homicide department at (213) 890-5500.

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