By Leonore Wilson
By the mid-1960s, Los Angeles glowed with strip joints, snazzy bars, music clubs as well as many young women wanting to be those tinsel-town shimmery starlets, those dreamy fantasy eye-candy females. And Lois Taylor was one of them.
Lois was twenty-one and a waitress at the Starlight, a coffee shop during the day, a jazz lounge at night where legends like Buddy Guy and Coltrane played. Movie stars often visited the joint too, those like Rock Hudson, Jeanne Moreau, Judy Garland and Jane Mansfield. Everyone knew women were the currency of Hollywood, glamorous babes with ermine furs and diamond necklaces, bright gold bangles hanging from soft white wrists.
Modeling scouts visited the Starlight in the evening hours. Rochas Femme was the “in perfume.” Femme advertised as “an ode to femininity and love; a fragrance of womanly seduction whose original spicy-fruity-chypre accord with velvety plum awakens an intense sensuality everytime.” Rochas Femme— an integral part of all potential starlets. Two quick dabs behind each ear.
Most of the modeling agencies, especially Tango models, wanted women to pose nude first, for often hours on end, but the chosen waitresses felt the promise of big time movies and didn’t really care. Rare was the photograph of the potential young thing that made it in print. Lois did one black and white advertisement for Budweiser in Playboy. She was not a centerfold, or any type of bunny, but that was OK with her. At least for now.
Lois had baby doll blue eyes and was blessed with an ample bosom and natural curves, as well as long auburn hair. The patrons at the Starlight said Lois resembled Rita Hayworth. This made her confident and flirty and proud. And how she liked to tease the men. Teases sometimes became insults, but that was hard-assed Lois. She waited and waited but never got that big break, not yet.
Lois lived in a small apartment in downtown Burbank. She shared the space with another waitress, eighteen-year old Carmen Diego. On the evening of July 25, 1965, Carmen was alone at home with a male friend, Sammy– a now and then jazz pianist at the Starlight. The couple was watching “Dragnet,” when there was a quick knock at the door. Outside on the lawn was a fellow around Mickey Rooney’s size. He was ferret-like in appearance and wore horned rimmed glasses. He was attired in a simple grey suit and a black bow tie. The fellow introduced himself as Johnny Singleton, an experienced photographer seeking Lois. Johnny said he was familiar with Lois. The couple trusted he had seen her at the Starlight.
“Lois is a keeper. Bound for Hollywood. I’ll bet $500 on it!”
Johnny asked if there were any photographs of Lois lying around. Then Johnny noticed nudes of Lois, framed photographs of her on the walls, on the TV stand, on the bookcase; photographs taped to the refrigerator, photographs almost everywhere.
“Lois was always proud to show her nudes, even to strangers,” Carmen said.
“She’s a real flirt. A tease. Don’t you think, Sammy?”
Sammy nodded in agreement, while Johnny smiled at the photos in approval.
Thursday was going to be long one for Lois. It was her day off. She was scheduled to have her hair curled and her nails painted for another possible shoot. She was looking forward to clothes shopping at Macy’s on Main. Summer dresses were half off. She had to buy groceries for the week ahead. Lois also wanted to run the five plus miles from pier to pier, from Venice to Santa Monica. But on this particular day, Johnny called.
“My name’s Johnny, Lois. I was at your place yesterday. Your roommate Carmen showed me around. Hey, I loved your nudes. Gorgeous, lady, gorgeous! Carmen said you wouldn’t mind if we met. We all know the business is a tough one. I am a pro at what I do. Photography is my game. Has been for years, baby, and I have the best of the best equipment, the most expensive Cannons on the market. Listen, my studio is being painted this week, so would you mind coming over to my house? My wife will be here, and my kids too. After school is always a big deal for everyone. Glad to pay you $200 cash for an hour.”
“Wow, sure, I’ll be there. Five o’clock, OK?”
“Yup. Perfect. It’s a deal then. 5544 Pacific Crest Lane. Studio City. You got it?
“Sure thing, Johnny, Sure thing!
And with that Lois dabbed Rochas de Femme twice behind each ear and drove the ten miles to Studio City. She sang to Diana Ross the whole way there. Diana was her favorite. She thanked her lucky stars that this might be the big break she was looking for.
“You know I’m so lonely. Come see about me. I love you only. Come see about me.”
Johnny’s house was middle-class, a ranch style two story, rather run down, but Lois didn’t mind at all. She grew up in a house similar to this one in Redondo Beach where she attended Torrance High. When Lois was a senior, she was voted Homecoming Queen by a landslide.
When at Johnny’s house, Lois noticed the dapper photographer with a black bow tie looked somewhat like her little brother Stevie, so she wasn’t worried about anything. Even though Johnny’s family wasn’t home, Lois smelled good cooking, She thought of rosemary chicken stuffed with a melody of diced onions and celery and cornbread croutons like her mother used to make.
Johnny was a professional. The shoot was fun and easy. Lois took off her yellow see through cover up without a blink. Underneath the cover up was her new black string bikini. She casually took that off as well. Lois was proud of her slender body, especially her friendly nipples and her taut athletic stomach. She posed both standing up and sitting down. She posed in her yellow off the shoulder taffeta mini-dress she had worn years ago when she had been homecoming queen. She thought her sparkly sling back red stilettos would be a hit. They matched her coral lipstick. Both items should make an impression on the photographer. And Johnny said they certainly did.
This was the last time Lois Taylor was found alive. She never made it home that night. Naturally Carmen and Sammy were worried and called the local police station, but the police told them that Lois had a long arrest record for prostitution. Everyone had to wait a week before an investigation would begin. True, Carmen had known about Lois’s past as a hooker, but the past was the past. Her handsome boyfriend had turned out to be a pimp, but Lois was madly in love with him. And she liked the cash besides. Finally Lois left the hooker life. She trusted soon she would have her name in lights. How many johns had told her she was bound to become the next Rita Hayworth. Colin, her pimp, knew Lois had run away before, but eventually he had found her. He was good at finding the rest of his stable too. They all wanted to hit the big time. Every last one of them.
Johnny Laskey was born December 2, 1932, in the outskirts of Los Angeles to John and Alice Laskey. Both husband and wife were in the shoe business and owned Laskey’s Foot Wear. Alice had Johnny when she was eighteen. It was a decent childhood for Johnny; however, he was often teased because he was short, short like his father.
John Sr. could be argumentative and downright mean at times, particularly when he came home after drinking with the guys. Johnny learned to hide in the hall closet or under the stairwell. John Sr called Johnny “a little shit mama’s boy”.
Alice walked around the house nude when her husband wasn’t home. Johnny wanted to tell her he felt icky when she did. His legs and stomach became a sea full of jelly. He would often get an erection. How he hoped his mother wouldn’t notice. Johnny could hear the nuns telling him to go to confession every day of his life if they had found out. St Catherine’s was a strict Catholic school and the Irish nuns would strike bad boys with yardsticks, or pull their ears so hard they turned bright pink, especially if God’s little men had talked to girls. The children had to play in separate schoolyards according to their sexes and never ever mingle. Sometimes Johnny would get an erection thinking of pubescent beauties naked under their uniform plaid skirts, and he would think of his mother’s old lady parts too and he felt ashamed. He hoped the nuns would never notice his erection or any of the diocesan priests for that matter.
Johnny was a shy boy because of his small stature. He was a shy boy because the other kids said he resembled a mole. A mole, a weasel, a skink. He was picked on at recess by mean boys who would steal his lunch money or throw his shoes up on the church roof. One boy threatened to put a broom handle up his bum. Another told Johnny to piss in the holy water font and he did. Johnny would never tell on any of the boys. He was afraid they would do something abhorrent to him, or tease him more, especially in front of the girls. Just the thought of a girl’s mockery made him blush and want to hide. He had seen another short boy knocked against the bathroom lockers. The boy’s nose bled and he fell on his knees and seized up. The others laughed hysterically. No one heard Johnny’s cry. No one heard the butterfly flapping in his throat.
One day Johnny found a stack of Hustlers hidden in the piano bench under the sheets of Christmas music. Every Wednesday and Friday, when his father was out with his buddies drinking beer, and his mother was doing laundry in the basement, he took the porn magazines back to his bed and thought about his mother and the naked women with lollipop eyes and gooey smiles. He learned to jack off, but always in a Kleenex so as not to leave a stain on his big boy Dodger baseball sheets. He would throw the tissue in the toilet and flush. However guilt and shame and sin preyed on Johnny’s conscious. Always sin, mortal sin, and the very real possibility of ending up in hell, forever and forever.
Needless to say, Johnny never got one single date– as a teenager or as a young man. This wounded him deeply. He could not brag about his conquests at a bar or bowling alley or even a coffee shop. Eventually Johnny ended up working at his father’s shop. If any young lady came in to try on shoes, he would tell John Sr. he had to go take a pee. There he would hide in a stall until he thought the lady or ladies left. Johnny tried not to think of any female naked, but sometimes he did. It was then he told himself he mustn’t try to unzip his pants or grab his bulge. What if a wet spot on his crotch appeared? What if?
John Sr always had to make excuses for his son. Later he would embarrass Johnny in front of his mother. Alice would smile distantly, shake her head and say, “Well, that’s your son and maybe you should have a talk with him.” The talk never came and Johnny was glad for it.
Johnny had a penchant for hookers. A pimp named Clyde had told him about a gorgeous brunette named Lois. She was bound for real stardom. All he had to do was go on the street and ask around about her. Johnny did. And that is when he almost lost his virginity. Almost with Lois. She must have not remembered when he called her on the phone, when she showed up to his house for the modeling job. But then he had a mustache when he had first met her and a shaved head too. He didn’t want anyone to recognize him as he searched for an attractive streetwalker. Was he imagining it, or did Lois resemble his mother—her wistful mannerisms, her coy smile; and the way she tried to talk all so slowly, breathlessly, as if she were Marilyn Monroe herself. And when Johnny and Lois tried to have sex, Johnny couldn’t get the image of a naked Alice out of his mind. He tried several times to blink her out. But he just couldn’t. He tried to have an orgasm but failed and then Lois left saying, “Sure, yep, OK, it happens to a small per cent of men, but none ever on my watch.”
About two weeks after Lois Taylor had driven to Johnny’s house, her nude, bloodied bloated body was found in a dumpster in Studio City. A homeless couple that lived in the bushes by the dumpster had noticed the rank musty smell. They had told the manager of the local 7-11 about the awful odor, and then he was horrified when he pulled up the lid and stared inside. So horrified he couldn’t help but vomit.
Johnny was arrested for the crime. He had been the last person to see Lois alive, and when the detectives searched the house, they had found bloody fingerprints on a new Canon camera in the master bathroom. The couple that owned the house said they had gone out clubbing for the evening and returned home to see photo equipment strewn about, photo equipment that belonged to Frank Gilbert who worked for Tango models, Frank who was the owner of the house. Johnny had rented a room from the Gilberts, and he told them he would be making dinner for a girlfriend, but she had a fit and started breaking things. She said something about her roommate’s boyfriend putting the make on her and she didn’t like it, that he was a sleaze ball pianist at the Starlight where the Gilberts had gone the night of the murder.
When it was time for Johnny to fess up, he said that Lois had teased him. Teased him about what the cops didn’t know and Johnny said he wouldn’t tell. And that he thought of his mother, his father, the kids at school, the nuns, the priests, the whole damaged lot of them. And he killed Lois with a coffee cup yes, his big clay coffee cup that he had made in eighth grade for his mother. She never used it so he took that cup damn almost everywhere. After he smashed Lois’s head in with several blows, he folded and zipped her body in a protective clothing bag, but her body kept falling out, so he dragged her by her hair up and into his car trunk. Johnny threw Lois and the coffee cup in the dumpster late at night when he knew the 7-11 closed. Then suddenly he didn’t care if she was found or not. Or if he was found or not. Johnny didn’t care about shame or guilt or sin. He simply didn’t care anymore. His life had been a living hell.
(Bio: Leonore Wilson is a retired professor of English and creative writing from Northern California. Her work has been published in such magazines as Tough, Iowa Review, Quarterly West, Rattle, Third Coast, Madison Review, Terrain, Laurel Review, Prairie Schooner, TRIVIA: Voices of Feminism, etc.)