LA Forensics: Mysterious Confession
On August 18, 1974, nearly two years after Lois Petrie's murder, 50-year-old Cathy Masters was drinking in a San Pedro bar. Her husband walked in and demanded she leave. She refused. They got into a fight and Cathy's husband eventually dragged her away from the bar. Later, as the couple was walking home, Cathy broke away and ran off. She was last seen climbing into a van driven by an unidentified male.
The next day, the police found Cathy's nude body in San Pedro's Harbor Lake Park.
"Indications at the crime scene showed that she was dragged about 200 feet into the park and then thrown into the bushes," Bengtson says.
The cause of Cathy Masters' death could not be determined.
Two weeks later, on Sept. 4, 1974, Ann Fellows left a local bar about 1:30 in the morning. Witnesses later said she left alone.
At 7:30 that morning, a construction worker found the nude body of the 54-year-old hotdog vendor dumped along the roadside in the 1200 block of Westmont Drive in San Pedro.
"Ann Fellows' cause of death was manual strangulation," Bengtson says, "And she also had indications of ligature marks on her wrists where she might have been tied at one point."
She had also been raped.
Two murders in two weeks. Both victims found nude. One definitely raped and strangled, the other probably the same. Both last seen near where Lois Petrie had been murdered. Lois had also been found nude, definitely strangled, likely also raped.
Three murdered middle-aged women. All down on their luck. All late-night bar patrons. All three found within a few miles of each other.
Was it the work of a serial killer?
Detectives didn't think so. In the mid-1970s, serial killings — with several notable exceptions — were still relatively rare.
"Nobody at that time was thinking there was a serial killer running around the Harbor area," Bengtson says.
Unfortunately, that was exactly what had happened.