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Man Is Charged in 1972 Murder; He Is Suspected of More Killings

Police believe the former cabby strangled three harbor-area women and may have killed others in San Francisco in 1974 and 1975.

September 10, 2003|Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton | Times Staff Writers

A man who police allege killed three women in the harbor area more than 30 years ago is suspected in three San Francisco slayings, authorities said Tuesday.

Adolph Theodore Laudenberg, the so-called "Santa Claus strangler," appeared in a Long Beach courtroom, where he was charged in the Dec. 26, 1972, slaying of 43-year-old Lois Petrie.

Detectives arrested Laudenberg, 77, after they obtained a sample of his DNA off a coffee cup from which he drank at a San Pedro restaurant. The DNA sample from Laudenberg exactly matched fluid samples taken from Petrie's corpse, authorities said.

Laudenberg had been an early suspect in the murder after Petrie's partially nude body was found in her San Pedro home. An informant told police in 1975 that Laudenberg had admitted to four killings -- three in the San Pedro area and another in San Francisco. He denied that account when questioned by police.

But last year another witness came forward with similar allegations, leading investigators to reopen the cases.

Los Angeles Police Det. Vivian Flores said that Laudenberg was also responsible for the August 1974 murder of Catherine Medina, whose naked body was discovered behind bushes at Harbor Lake Recreational Park, and the killing of Anna Felch a month later. Each was sexually assaulted and strangled.

San Francisco Police Sgt. Thomas Martin said the department is examining three slayings in 1974 and 1975 that could have been the work of Laudenberg. Police are probing his role in the deaths of Irene Hind, 55, Leah Griffin, 60, and Maude Burgess, 83.

"There is no physical evidence, no DNA evidence they can find at this time to link [Laudenberg] to the homicides," Martin said.

Flores said witnesses have told investigators the ex-cabby did admit to a murder in San Francisco.

He was held on $1 million bail. His arraignment has been delayed until Sept. 22.

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