Gordon Aadland: The Cold Case that stretches from Los Angeles to Centralia


Maybe I should give this one to John McCroskey, my former student and fellow Chronicle columnist, to handle.

It is, after all, his field, as a former Lewis County sheriff.

But I won’t.

Cold cases are a hot thing on television nowadays, and I was a participant in this, something unlikely to happen to me again. So, John, go get your own cold case.

If it were to show today, if would probably be titled something like “The Case of the Dancing Heiress and the Hitchhiking Sergeant.” It happened 60 years ago, during World War II, on the fabled streets of Hollywood, Calif.

It is highly possible that I am the only living participant. I was the hitchhiking sergeant.

I was home for my first furlough after 2 1/2 years overseas, staying with my brother’s family and my mother in West Los Angeles.

For my last evening at home, I decided to go to Hollywood to take my sister dancing. She was one of the best dancers at the Spring Grove Nite Club in Sisseton, S.D., but she hadn’t had a chance to practice her art there in Hollywood, for her husband too, as were three of my brothers, was overseas in the army.

We went to the Palladium to dance.

I didn’t realize, of course, that nearby, Georgette Bauerdorf, an oil heiress, was dancing in the Hollywood Canteen during the last hours of her life.

I ended my time with my sister by seeing her on a streetcar to her apartment in Hollywood, and headed to Sunset Boulevard to catch a ride to the Clover Club, where my brother would be getting off work as bartender at 2 a.m. I would then ride home with him.

About that time Georgette Bauerdorf must have been leaving the Hollywood Canteen, for no sooner did I get on Sunset and motioned with my thumb, than she pulled up in a coupe. She asked, “Where to?” I told her.

She said she was going almost all that way, and I got in. My conversation with the girl who probably had only a few hours to live came mostly from her on our short trip together. She was hurrying home because she was expecting a call from her soldier boyfriend in Texas, and if it came, she would probably fly to be with him.

She seemed excited about the prospect.

For a moment, as I listened, I thought about telling her that it wasn’t a good idea for a solitary girl to pick up anybody, especially at night. But it seemed like the wrong way to thank her for the ride; besides, I didn’t want to sound like a doting parent so I didn’t insert that conversation killer.

After a few miles she let me out, because she was about to turn off Sunset, presumably to turn off to take another street to get to her home. I caught another ride almost immediately to within a few blocks of the Clover Club, in plenty of time to ride home with my brother.

The next day my brother gave me a ride to Union Station, to start my return to overseas. After finding my seat on the train, I picked up a copy of The Los Angeles Times someone had left. Staring at me on page one under the headline “Oil heiress killed” was a picture of the girl who had given me the ride.

The accompanying story convinced me. The place she picked me up was very close to the Hollywood Canteen. Where she dropped me off was the street she would have turned on to go to her apartment. The timing was right. The clincher was that police found an airline ticket to Texas in her apartment.

A cleaning woman had found her body in the bathtub in her apartment; she had been suffocated. A bandage associated with the military had been used to tie her. Her car was missing, and was later found in downtown Los Angeles.

I wrote a hasty letter to the chief of police in Los Angeles, and when the train stopped in Sacramento, I posted it.

It was the right thing to do (it was back in the time that I always tried to do the right thing) but I was also secretly hoping that I might get my furlough extended as a material witness. No luck.

About a week after I returned to my overseas base, I was summoned to headquarters, where an officer from the provost martial’s office asked me questions and wrote down my answers. That was the last I heard about the incident officially.

In the over half-century since then, the case has been relegated to the cold case files. Not only is the pretty oil heiress dead but so probably are almost all the people involved. For many years it would come alive again in the Los Angeles newspapers, especially when the police thought they had found the culprit, a GI in a distant state. False alarm.

It was also featured in the detective magazines for many years. One of them fell into the hands of my father, an avid reader of such. My father, as some of you remember, deserted our family when I was a child, and had lost track of the four of his boys who were in the service.

Imagine his shock when he flipped a page and saw a picture of his son, with the identification tag, reading “Sgt. Gordon Aadland, who hitchhiked a ride with the victim on the night she was killed.”


Gordon Aadland, Centralia, was a longtime Centralia College faculty member and publicist.