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Happy Wanderings End : Ex-Police Chief of Tustin Found Dead in Van with 4 Guitars, 2 Violins

Times Staff Writer

A “transient” found dead in a van packed with four violins, two guitars and his other belongings was identified Tuesday by the Orange County coroner’s office as William B. Lentz, 67, who served as Tustin’s police chief from 1944 to 1946.

Santa Ana police discovered Lentz’s body Monday on the floorboard of his 1970 Ford van on North Sycamore Street and their report described the dead man as a “transient.”

Lentz, who had been dead for two days, died from acute bronchial pneumonia, complicated by heart disease, said Supervising Deputy Coroner Barbara Mitchell.

According to his daughter, Elizabeth Wurtz of San Dimas, Lentz was a “happy wanderer” who shunned a permanent life style. After divorcing his wife in 1949, Lentz preferred to travel and live in his van and play his guitars and violins, she said.

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“His main thing was to see the sights and play his fiddle,” Wurtz said. “He was kind of an extreme individual who did what he wanted.”

Lentz became Tustin’s police chief after serving in the Marine Corps during World War II.

He may have been the only officer on the Tustin police force.

“It pretty much looks like he was it,” Eva Nava, deputy city clerk, said Tuesday.

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Nava said the records indicate that Lentz also served as the city’s license and tax collector. For all his work, Lentz earned $150 a month, she said.

Tustin police said Tuesday that they know little about Lentz.

“Things are pretty sketchy,” said Capt. Fred Wakefield. “All we’ve got is a short resignation letter, dated July 1, 1946, and it doesn’t explain why he left the force. We’ve checked the archives, but there’s nothing else.” The captain said his department will not observe Lentz’s death.

Shortly after leaving the Tustin force, his daughter said, Lentz was an Orange County sheriff’s deputy for five years but quit after he was shot in the stomach during a roadblock.

“As I understand it, it was self-imposed retirement,” Wurtz said. “He was through with law enforcement. He told me, ‘You can’t believe the pain I’ve been through. I won’t do it again.’ ”

Wurtz said Lentz lived quietly and privately for the rest of his life. He sailed, worked on his father’s chicken ranch in Oregon and occasionally gave private violin lessons.

His name surfaced briefly in 1967 when a 40-foot ketch he had built sank off Aliso Beach. The Times reported then that Lentz abandoned the vessel and rowed for five hours in a dinghy before he was rescued.

“He never sailed again,” Wurtz said. “He said he didn’t have the physical strength to build another one.”

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Wurtz said her father would be cremated and buried at sea, as he had wished.


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