It was Saturday in suburban Inglewood, a few miles
from Los Angeles. Little Jeanette Stephens, 8, Melba Everett, 9, and
Madeline Everett, 7, started off with sandwiches for a picnic in the
park as countless children in countless cities have done on
countless Saturdays. As afternoon wore on and they did not return,
their mothers grew uneasy. When suppertime had come and gone, Mrs.
Stephens sent her little boy Garth, 7, to the park to look for them.
An hour later the parents called the police. Shortly after midnight
a community search was on and the disappearance of the three little
girls was broadcast on the Los Angeles police network. By Sunday
morning a State-wide alarm was out.
Early Monday afternoon four Boy Scouts, part of a
volunteer army which was scouring the countryside, stumbled into a deep
gully about two miles back from the road in the Baldwin Hills. There in
weeds as high as a man's head, her face pushed into the dirt, a
clothesline tight around her cold little neck was the lifeless body of
one of the girls, ravished and murdered. In the bushes a few yards away,
similiarly strangled and raped, were the bodies of the others. As the
horrible news of California's crime-of-the-year spread through the Los
Angeles area, police began a round-up of suspected sex criminals, pieced
together possible clues.
Wearing a WPA badge and serving as a volunteer
policeman at the scene of the discovery of the bodies was slim, 32-year-old
Albert Dyer who had known the three little girls from his year's work as
a traffic guard in front of the Centinela grammar school. At the
discovery of the bodies, he asked men in the crowd not to smoke "out of
respect to the dead." That night his 24-year-old wife Isabel helped him
add the day's newspaper clippings about the tragedy to a scrapbook he
had begun when the girls were first reported missing. By week's end,
with angry crowds surging before the Inglewood City Hall threatening
lynching to suspect after suspect, Mrs. Dyer wrote a summary of the
crime into the scrapbook, ended it, "The suspected murderer was . . . ."
This week from Los Angeles' skyscraper jail where
police had taken him to prevent a lynching attempt, came the name of the
murderer to Mrs. Dyer. It was her own husband.
Weeping, shuddering, fainting at one point in the
questioning. Murderer Dyer told how he had urged the girls to come with
him into the Baldwin Hills where they would catch rabbits. They met him
Saturday afternoon and walked back into the gullied wilderness where
they built a fire. To catch the rabbits the girls were to be placed
separately at different spots. "I left Jeanette and Melba sitting there,
I took Madeline up the canyon. . . . After I choked her there with my
hands ... I tied a piece of rope around her neck to make sure she was
dead." Then he returned and repeated the crime with the others. Then he
ravished the three bodies. Finally in a fit of remorse he took off the
girls' shoes, ranged them neatly side by side and prayed over them. "What
did you say?" asked the District Attorney. "I said 'Lord forgive what I
have done.' Then I went home to my wife." Sobbed Mrs. Dyer, "Albert
couldn't have done this terrible thing. . . . We both loved children. We
lost two babies of our own."
It was a blazing hot Saturday afternoon when three
girls went missing. Jeanette Stephens, 8, and her friends, Melba Everett,
9, and Madeline Everett, 7, up and vanished from Centinela Park in
Inglewood, California. In 1937, that just didn’t happen.
The girls had packed a picnic lunch and walked the
short distance from their homes to the park. When they didn’t arrive
home for dinner, their parents began searching for them. By nightfall,
police had been notified and hundreds of cops and volunteers were
scouring the countryside. At daylight, police enlisted the aid of 500
Investigators were already interviewing people who
had been known to frequent the park. Nell Cracroft, called the “matron
of the park swimming pool,” stated that the girls had told her they were
going off into the hills to hunt rabbits. Olive Everett, eleven-year-old
sister of two of the missing girls, was taken to the police station and
asked to look at police photos of “known sexual degenerates.” A man
known as “Eddie the Sailor” had shown children in the park how to tie
knots – he was interviewed and quickly eliminated as a suspect in the
Meanwhile, thirty-two-year-old Albert Dyer seemed
concerned about the girls. He’d known them, he told his wife Isabel,
because he worked as a traffic guard at Centinela Elementary School
where the children attended. It might be nice, Albert said, to start a
scrapbook of newspaper clippings dedicated to the girls.
By Monday, an army of searchers braved the scorching
heat to continue searching for the girls. Dyer hung around the cops,
offering theories about the case and ordering searchers about. That
afternoon, a Boy Scout was working deep in a ravine about two miles from
the park when he found the bodies. According to a local newspaper, “the
bodies were in a straight line on the sandy [soil] of the ravine about
25 yards from each other. They were barefoot. Their clothing was
disarranged, their tiny dresses pulled up above their heads. On the bank
of the ravine, searchers found three pairs of little shoes, all side by
As soon as Albert Dyer heard that the bodies had been
discovered, he raced to the scene. According to police, he was
hysterical. He came upon a throng of spectators and began screaming at
the men to put out their cigarettes out of “respect for the dead.” He
rushed down to where the girls were lying and insisted on helping to
The next day’s headlines read: “Missing Girls Found
Slain: Sexual Degenerate is Object of Police Hunt.” Californians were
outraged. Many in the area vowed to lynch the killer when he was caught.
Cops took the threat seriously. Just four years earlier, “vigilantes” in
San Jose had lynched Thomas Thurmond and John Holmes for the kidnap-murder
of Brooke Hart.
Cops had begun their investigation on the theory that
a stranger had abducted the girls. Now they began to focus on Albert
Dyer, an acquaintance. His bizarre behavior at the crime scene had
popped their antennae.
Meanwhile, local newspapers interviewed the father of
the Everett girls. “We came here three months ago from Boston,” Merle
Everett said. “We wanted to bring our children up in the open air and
sunshine of California. We moved near the park so they would have a
place to play. We never dreamed this would mean the deaths of our little
girls. I am not vindictive, though. At least, I’m glad their bodies were
found. I think the killer is insane. I want to see him captured so he
can’t perpetrate another crime such as this.” His wife was under
sedation, he said, as were both parents of Jeanette Stephens.
Dyer was taken to the Los Angeles jail to prevent him
from being lynched. During questioning, he denied that he had murdered
the girls. Detectives grilled him for hours, growing more suspicious all
the time. Finally, they played their trump card. If he didn’t tell them
the truth, they said, they would take him to Inglewood and let him
explain to the crowds outside the jail the discrepancies in his
Unorthodox maybe. Unconstitutional. But effective.
“Don’t let them take me back to Inglewood,” he
pleaded. “They’ll tear me to pieces.”
With that, Dyer confessed. “I had no other reason
than sex,” he reportedly said. He had “played” with the three friends
earlier at the park and asked them to meet him about noon so they could
go hunt rabbits. “They said their mothers didn’t want them to,” Dyer
said. “But I kept telling them how much fun it was and finally they
agreed to meet me.
“I watched the three girls coming down the road. They
were dressed in bright-colored clothes and looked fresh and nice. Their
route lay through a bean field and a steep-sided dry wash. We sat down
to rest and I asked Madeline - that was the youngest one - to come with
me up the draw a bit and see if we could scare up a bunny. She came
right along and the others agreed to stay behind. When out of sight of
the others, I reached out and grabbed Madeline by the neck and choked
her to death. When I thought she was dead, I knotted a rope around her
neck to make sure.
“Then I singled out Jeanette. I told her we’d trapped
a rabbit and we wanted her to help us catch another bunny for her. With
my hands I choked Jeanette to death and bound her neck with a rope. I
wanted to make sure she was dead.
“[Melba then] went with me without question. When I
began choking her, she tried to scream. She fought. She almost got away
from me but I choked her just like I did the others. She struggled on
the ground. She clawed at the dirt and kicked but pretty soon she grew
quiet. I knotted a rope around her, too.”
After murdering the youngsters, Dyer raped Madeline’s
corpse. (Some newspaper accounts claimed that he "ravished" all three
bodies.) Then he laid the shoes of each girl side by side and prayed to
God to forgive him.
Albert’s wife and two neighbors were placed into
protective custody to protect them from the surging crowds outside the
jail. His wife, Isabel, would not believe that her husband could commit
such crimes. “Albert couldn’t have done this thing,” she said. “We both
loved children. We lost two of our own.”
Investigators found clothesline in the Dyer home that
they said matched the rope around the girls’ necks. They also found a
paper bag beneath the body of Madeline that bore the name of a drugstore
where Albert had recently bought supplies.
He was quickly tried and convicted. Though Dyer later
repudiated his confession, he was hanged at San Quentin. By this time,
his wife no longer believed in his innocence. No one claimed his body.