Beaten and strangled to death in 1924 downtown Los Angeles, Vera Stone’s murder remains unsolved
Doomed from the Start
She wasn’t always known as Vera. She was born Carrie Elizabeth Dunbar, likely in San Francisco, California, in December of 1890. Carrie was the second child of George Dunbar and his wife, Gertrude.
George Dunbar spent most of Carrie’s younger years in an out of San Quentin, convicted of various burglaries in the area. Eventually, the Dunbars relocated to 3031 Eagle Street in the Boyle Heights area of Los Angeles.
When Carrie was only 15-years-old, her brother, George Jr, playfully aimed a gun at her face and demanded she hand over her ice cream. The gun accidentally discharged, and a bullet tore through Vera’s cheek, exiting near her eye. Doctor’s thought the girl would lose her sight. Miraculously, she recovered in a month without so much as a scar.
On July 11, 1914, one of the Dunbar girls found Mrs. Dunbar dead in her bedroom. George believed whole-heartedly that his wife committed suicide. He specifically stated that his wife swallowed carbolic acid. However, the coroner reviewed her medical history and determined Gertrude died of natural causes.
23-year-old Carrie and her little sister, Pearl, began short careers as cabaret dancers in Downtown Los Angeles. Vera amassed an impressive collection of male suiters and kept their names and phone numbers in her diary. These men came from all walks of life — from politicians to underworld mob types and lowly cabbies. None were suitable husbands, but all of them were worth a meal.
During a party, Vera was the victim of a robbery. The details of the crime are scant. It isn’t clear if she attended the party as a guest or a dancer, but Vera claimed the perpetrator was a police officer. Around this time, Vera met the man she would marry — a patrolman named Bill Stone.
Vera and Bill dated and enjoyed a long engagement before marrying on January 22, 1919. She was head over heels in love with Bill and gave up her dancing career to be his wife. As a policeman, his wages were meager but sufficient for a small apartment. They rented in a small converted complex at 1330 W 11th Street, in downtown Los Angeles. The Stones were comfortable and hopeful for the future. Then, Bill got sick.
What started as stomach ache grew to an unmanageable pain that rendered Bill bedridden. The doctor confirmed it was incurable stomach cancer.
After the grim diagnosis, the Stones depended on Bill’s fellow officers’ kindness, who took up regular collections to help with living expenses. Kindness only goes so far. Vera went to work as a hairdresser in a department store.
If life was a struggle, Vera didn’t show it. She happily worked all day and took care of Bill’s needs all night. She fixed his favorite meals every evening, even if he couldn’t eat them. Her so-called friends would tease her. It would be easy to dump Bill into a hospital and move on, but Vera loved her husband.
“Ain’t love grand?” teased a friend. Vera relied with a smile, “You bet it is!” Sadly, cancer took Bill’s life on Valentine’s day of 1921. He was just 29 years old. Vera buried him by her mother at Inglewood Park Cemetery.
After Bill’s death, Vera tried to carry on as if she were happy. She spent time with friends and in bars. She even dated around a bit. Folks who knew her heard her laugh but said her laughter was now hollow. She also spent a lot of time with her little sister, Pearl. For whatever reason, Vera started to use the name “Mae Lynn” socially. Her family continued to call her Vera.
On April 4, 1924, the sisters spent the day visiting in Vera’s apartment. When Pearl left at 8:30 in the evening, Vera didn’t indicate that anything was wrong. However, Vera had heart trouble recently, so Pearl decided to check in on her sister at 10:30 that evening.
Pearl entered the apartment building’s common hall, but the door to Vera’s home was locked. She knocked repeatedly and called out for Vera but received no answer. The stillness on the other side of the door gave Pearl a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. “My God,” she said, “Something happened to Vera!”
Pearl considered breaking the door down but thought she should close the exterior door first. When she reached for the knob, she noticed Vera’s keys were in it. Pearl snatched them quickly and opened Vera’s living room door. What she saw was more shocking than what she imagined.
There was Vera, sprawled out on the floor dead. Giant black and blue marks covered her swollen throat. Pearl saw a great gash on Vera’s blood-soaked head. Terrified, Pearl didn’t wait around. She immediately called her father and the police.
The police arrived in seconds and examined the crime scene. Aside from a string of pearls, broken in the struggle, Vera’s house was surprisingly tidy. The drawers and Jewelry boxes had not been disturbed. On the dresser next to Vera’s body was a silver-framed photo of some high-ranking, though unnamed city official. Not unusual since she was an officer’s widow.
Vera’s body produced some evidence. Her killer strangled Vera to death with her torn chemise and bludgeoned her with a blunt instrument. Maybe a hammer.
Immediately, police suspected the murder was the work of a man. However, scratches and teeth marks on her neck led them to believe a woman could have perpetrated the crime. It was not unprecedented in Los Angeles; Alberta Meadows beat her husband’s paramour to death with a hammer just two years before. But the bed and side table held other clues, and the officers would investigate them all.
Between Vera’s headboard and the wall, officers discovered the other half of Vera’s chemise — the murderer used it to wipe his hands. On her side table, investigators located Vera’s little black book. It contained the names of nearly 300 men. Also on the side table, one white lily in full bloom. Its stem was bent but not broken where someone ripped the notecard away.
Among Vera’s belongings, investigators also discovered a letter. It read:
“I’ll be back in a month. Be careful. — Bill Lester”
The letter was dated March 4, 1924. Exactly two weeks before Vera’s death.
A Phantom Named Bill Lester
Police asked Pearl if “Bill Lester” was a name she knew. It was. Vera talked about him often. According to Vera, he was crazy about her. They had dated a few times, and he proposed marriage. She declined, stating that all of her love died when her husband passed away. She’d never marry again. However, Pearl never actually met Bill Lester, and his name didn’t appear in her black book. After questioning Pearl, police interviewed other tenants of the building.
Mr. and Mrs. Milburn lived in the apartment next to Vera’s. They shared a common wall. Around 10 PM, the Milburns noticed a man loitering in the hall. He appeared around 40 years old. The man was stocky and well dressed.
Mrs. Griffith lived in the apartment below Vera’s heard a commotion at about 10:15 PM described as two people scuffling, followed by a woman’s voice crying, “Bill! Bill!” She reported this to the landlord, Mrs. Sloan, who went to check on Vera’s welfare.
The landlady heard a suspicious commotion as well. First, she heard a knock, followed by Vera asking who was there. Mrs. Sloan recalled a male voice that answered, “Bill Lester.” Vera responded, “Go downstairs! I will not open the door!” After several minutes, Mrs. Sloan thought she heard Vera shriek, “My God, Bill! You’re killing me!” Like Pearl, she knocked several times but received no answer.
Police interviewed each of the men in Vera’s book. Most of them only knew her as Mae Lynn, and all of them knew the name Bill Lester. Like None of these men met Bill or could account for his appearance, much less his address. With this realization, officers turned to a not so obvious clue: the white lily.
Officers scoured the neighborhood until they located the florist who sold the lily, hoping he could identify the sender. A man ordered the flower the day before. The customer was particular about the order; he wanted the largest white lily the florist had, and he wanted it in full bloom. After the florist produced the most expensive lily he had, the customer asked for a card. The salesman didn’t read the message, of course.
“Deliver this to a woman named Vera at 1330 W 11th Street.” The man instructed. He was unsure of the last name or the apartment number. “Tell her it’s from Bill Lester.” The florist described Bill Lester as a man of 40 years old, 5'10", and approximately 180lbs. Like the man in the hall, he was well dressed in a dark suit and cap. The florist hadn’t seen him before or since.
Police realized they needed to speak with this Mr. Lester; only he didn’t appear to exist. No one with that name matched the given description. Investigators searched every bar Vera visited, every dance hall she worked with her sister, and the man’s identity is still a mystery. The murder of Vera Stone remains unsolved.
Was the killer among the 300 interviewed men? Was Vera killed by a woman who clawed and bit her neck? Could there have been a serial killer at work in Los Angeles?
On March 27, 1920, a 37-year-old divorcee named Ruby Reed didn’t respond to the knocks of her worried friend. Her landlady opened Ruby’s apartment door at 681 South Bonnie Brae, precisely one mile from Vera’s apartment, to find her dead. Ruby’s killer strangled her with her own silk chemise, just like Vera. On the floor next to Ruby’s body was a note addressed to Bobby, from Ruby.
It isn’t too far-flung that two women murdered one mile and four years apart from one another in a nearly identical manner were killed by the same man. Perhaps Vera’s Bill and Ruby’s Bobby were different aliases for the same man.
Vera is buried next to her mother and husband at Inglewood Park Cemetery. Pearl died four years later as the result of a ruptured ectopic pregnancy.
Whoever killed Vera Stone and Ruby Reed is likely long dead and has escaped earthly justice. Perhaps, one day, the killer(s) will be identified through DNA, provided LAPD still has blood evidence. With the advent of genetic genealogy, no case is ever so cold that it can remain unsolved indefinitely. Even so, justice did not prevail, and Vera’s murderer experienced the one privilege he took from his victim — the right to a natural death.