John Lawrence Miller
A native of Los Angeles, born in 1942, Miller was convicted of auto theft and confined to a California reform school at age 15.
His parents paid a visit to the school on November 11, 1957, and were allowed to take John home for Sunday dinner, but he slipped away from them that night and disappeared.
Next morning, 22-month-old Laura Wetzel was found beaten to death in her crib, at the family home in Rolling Hills. Neighbors identified Miller as the boy who threatened them with a gun the previous night, and he was arrested in Reno on November 15, driving a car stolen from Redondo Beach.
Miller confessed to the crime, telling police, "I wanted to know how it would feel... but I'm sorry about it now, of course."
Convicted of murder, he spent 17 years in prison before his parole, in August 1975.
Two months later, on October 23, Miller shot both his parents at their home, in Long Beach. His father survived long enough to reach a neighbor's house, and Miller was soon arrested, convicted of double murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia
of Modern Serial Killers - Hunting Humans
Fiend murders baby girl in Rolling Hills
The Daily Mirror
November 12, 1957
What makes a killer? Do children arrive in the world
planning to take someone's life or is it whatever befalls them as they
Read about John Lawrence Miller and let me know what
A convicted killer at 15, John told reporters that he
had wanted to murder someone since he was 7 or 8 years old. "I always
wanted to kill somebody. I was always meeting somebody, some man I
didn't like and wanted to kill," he said. When he was quite young, he
got the notion of killing his father. "I didn't kill him, though,
because there'd be no money coming in," he said.
Eventually, John did kill his father--just as he'd
always wanted--and murdered his mother as well. But that was 18 years
after he smothered a little girl in Rolling Hills Estates.
John was born about 1942 to Harold A. and Lela Miller
of Long Beach. The Times wrote very little about the Millers except that
they had a daughter, and an extended family in the area. Long Beach
juvenile officers called John "a lone wolf," and news stories said his
first arrest was Feb. 18, 1955, for burglary. In April 1955, he was "picked
up for being improperly supervised at home," The Times said.
In 1957, he was sent to the Fred C. Nelles School for
Boys in Whittier for burglarizing a house and stealing a car in San
His rampage began after his parents picked him up on
on a 10-hour pass.
Harold and Lela stopped at a Whittier restaurant for
dinner before taking him back. John ran off and headed for the home of a
family friend, Stafford Thurmond, 26467 Dunwood Road. The link between
the Millers and the Thurmonds is unclear, but John said he had known
them all his life. His plan was to break in and steal money and a pistol
from the Thurmonds' gun collection.
When he got to the house the next day, he discovered
that the Thurmonds weren't home and found a neighbor's 22-month-old
daughter, Laura Joan Wetzel, playing in the frontyard. He lured Laura
into the house and killed her.
Her parents, Air Force Capt. Charles W. Wetzel and
his wife (recall that this is an era when married women had no first
names), 26501 Dunwood Road, began looking for Laura. Another neighbor
couple, Francis King and his wife, joined the search. Mrs. Wetzel went
into the Thurmonds' yard, but fled after confronting John, who was armed
with a knife and a gun.
"I went into the yard," King said. "There was a young
man standing in the doorway with a knife and a gun. It was a kitchen
knife and the gun looked like a .22-caliber target pistol. He was very
agitated and he waved the weapons and ordered me into the house. My wife
was right behind me and she yelled for me to get away.
"I told the kid to take it easy, that we were just
looking for a little girl who was lost. The kid slammed the door in my
face. I yelled to Mrs. Wetzel to call the police."
Sheriff's deputies searched the Thurmonds' house but
didn't find the body. It was only when another neighbor, Carolyn West,
looked in the children's bedroom that she discovered Laura under a pile
In the meantime, John escaped on a stolen bicycle and
rode to Redondo Beach, where he took a car and began driving north. A
service station attendant in Salinas, Calif., called police and gave
them the license number of the stolen car after John drove away without
paying for a tank of gas.
San Francisco police found the the abandoned car, out
of gas and dented from a crash. A map of California was spread out on
the front seat.
John stole another car, backtracked to San Mateo and
took $77 in the robbery of a market. He planned on taking the bus, but
saw a new Plymouth with the keys in the ignition. He hit road, going to
Eureka, Calif., Crater Lake and Klamath Falls, Ore.
In Klamath Falls, John picked up hitchhiker Lloyd
DeFani. John planned to go to Boise, Idaho, but the road was covered
with snow and John didn't have tire chains. Instead, they headed for
Reno, where DeFani left John and called police, having recognized him
from radio broadcasts.
At 2 a.m., a Reno taxi driver who had been listening
to the police radio saw John and reported him.
He was arrested and extradited to Los Angeles for the
murder. John showed absolutely no remorse, The Times said. He told
reporters he wasn't sorry. "Why should I be?" he asked.
"I don't care what happens to me," he said before his
trial. "I'm sick of this life anyway. I hate confinement and I'm not
happy anywhere. I don't want to see anybody I know. Not anybody."
The father of the murdered girl said: "We don't want
revenge. We just want to see him put behind bars for the rest of his
life. He's a sick soul."
John was tried as an adult and pleaded guilty to
first-degree murder. Deputy Dist. Atty. Ted Sten called him "vicious,
treacherous and coldblooded. Here is a person devoid of feeling, an ill-tempered
wild animal who wanted to kill someone to see how it felt."
Eighteen years later, after two months of freedom,
John committed the murder he'd dreamed about as a boy of 7. He killed
his father and mother who by then were living at 5460 Flagstone St. (This
looks like a mistake as it's in the middle of Bellflower Boulevard). He
stole a neighbor's car at gunpoint and abandoned it in a parking lot,
but was arrested after a bank robbery in Downey in which he held the
manager as a hostage.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Allen Field said John told his
probation officer that he couldn't cope with the outside world after
being released from prison. He said his parents had mistreated him and
blamed his father for being sent to prison in Laura's death.
Freed killer hunted in parent's slayings
On April 19, 1976, John told Judge Carroll M. Dunnum
that he didn't have the courage to kill himself and asked to be sent to
the gas chamber, which at that point hadn't been used since 1967.
I can find no further trace in The Times about John
Lawrence Miller. A man by that name, who was about the same age, died in
Alameda County on July 12, 1987, at the age of 45, according to
California death records.
Laura Joan Wetzel was cremated after services at
Palos Verdes Neighborhood Church.
"The tiny white-covered casket was not in the flower-banked
room but remained in an alcove," The Times said. "In it, little Laura
was dressed in a simple, light blue frock. Her hands clasped a nosegay
of Cecil Brunner roses and she appeared like all the sleeping little
children in the world."
Latimesblogs.latimes.com - Posted by Larry Harnisch
SEX: M RACE: W TYPE: T MOTIVE:
VENUE: Los Angeles County, Calif.
MO: Bludgeoned an infant, 1957;
shot his parents, 1975
DISPOSITION: Convicted of murder,
1958 (paroled 1975); life term, 1975.