As hard as it is to believe in this era of concern about protecting children, until 1950 molesting a child was a misdemeanor in California. The molestation and murder of 6-year-old Linda Joyce Glucoft changed all that.
Nearly half a century before the abductions and murders of Polly Klaas and Megan Kanka launched such familiar statutes as the three-strikes law and Megan’s Law, Linda’s 1949 murder was the catalyst for new laws pioneering stricter punishment for crimes against children.
The grisly slaying was every parent’s horrific nightmare. Linda was molested, strangled, slashed and stabbed by a man who had been arrested before for allegedly molesting a child.
The outrage that her death engendered fueled the passage of tougher laws in California. As a result:
* Molesting a child became a felony.
* Premeditation no longer had to be proven for a first-degree murder conviction in the sex killing of a child under 14. And the punishment for such a crime was increased to death or life in prison without parole.
Linda and her parents lived on South Crescent Heights Boulevard, north of Culver City, in a quiet, respectable neighborhood. They didn’t realize that danger lurked right across the street, at the home of Linda’s best friend, Rochelle.
Fred Stroble, 67, an unemployed baker born in Vienna, lived there with his daughter Sylvia, her husband, Ruben Hausman, and their two young children, including Rochelle.
Stroble had been arrested six months earlier on a charge of exposing himself to a 10-year-old Highland Park girl, whom he also was accused of molesting. His son-in-law posted bail and Stroble moved in, living with the family off and on.
Stroble’s court hearing came and went; he failed to appear. No arrest warrant was issued. He simply slipped through the cracks of the justice system.
But his son-in-law knew; he ordered Stroble to turn himself in or “pack his bags and get out of this house.”
Stroble was still there around midafternoon the next day, Nov. 14, 1949, when Linda Joyce Glucoft told her mother, “I’m going to play with Rochelle.”
Linda couldn’t have known that Rochelle and her mother had just left for a birthday party in a taxi, and that Rochelle’s father and brother were away too. Linda walked across the street and knocked.
Stroble invited Linda in and offered her a candy bar. Later that evening, when the Hausman family returned, Stroble had vanished and so had Linda.
The Hausmans joined in the neighborhood search for the girl. But by 8 p.m., Hausman began to suspect his father-in-law and told police of Stroble’s record.
Linda’s body was found the next day, wrapped in an Indian blanket, covered with trash and wedged behind an incinerator in the Hausmans’ backyard. She was wearing only her yellow socks and red shoes.
A bloodstained ax, hammer, ice pick and butcher knife lay beside her body.
Newspapers, radio stations and television camera crews brought such wide attention to the tragedy that Stroble was captured within three days.
On a truck driver’s tip, Los Angeles police rookie Arnold W. Carlson walked into a downtown bar and quietly handcuffed Stroble as he was sipping a beer.
Stroble did not resist. Under questioning, he told Dist. Atty. William E. Simpson: “I had to kill her to stop her screaming.”
In his taped confession, Stroble said, “I wanted to play with her. She refused. This wasn’t the first time; I had played with her once before.”
Police learned that Stroble had been popular among the neighborhood children because he often gave them ice cream and candy.
He also admitted to police that he had molested several other children around Los Angeles over a number of years.
“Every home in this neighborhood has at least one child,” sobbed Linda’s mother, Lillian Glucoft. “We should have been warned, just like for a mad dog.”
She wasn’t the only one to feel that way. The public was incensed that Stroble’s prior arrest hadn’t stopped him before he killed Linda.
In a letter to The Times, J.W. Stone of Van Nuys demanded: “What is wrong with our laws when driving without a license [then a 180-day jail sentence] is considered a worse crime than the molesting of children by perverts?” which carried a maximum of 30 days.
Outraged citizens, church groups, women’s clubs, PTAs and city councils rallied for tougher laws.
Just three weeks after the murder, Gov. Earl Warren called a special conference with legislators and law enforcement officials and, within weeks, signed into law extra measures to protect children.
He also set aside more than $50,000 to study the idea that criminals could be rehabilitated, and opened a hospital -- the California Medical Facility for criminals, on Terminal Island -- that became a national model for medical penology: Convicted sex offenders would get harsher sentences, but for the first time they also would get group and individual therapy. (The pioneering program moved to Vacaville in 1955.)
Stopping the criminal was important to the public, but so was stopping the crime.
With the help of police, school and church leaders, Long Beach prosecutor Kenneth Sutherland published a 12-page color comic book that was distributed to Long Beach students before Christmas vacation.
It wove many “never do this” rules into the story of schoolchildren “Mary and Bob,” who knew not to get into cars with strangers and not to be lured by would-be molesters with candy and treats.
Later, stuntman-turned-filmmaker Sid Davis, with start-up financing from John Wayne, produced a film, “Dangerous Strangers,” that was shown for years in California schools, public and private.
In January 1950, Stroble pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity, laying any blame on his drinking.
In his confession, he had said, “I’ve been drinking steadily these last couple of months.... I can’t believe that I killed her.... My head is on fire.... A million bees are buzzing inside my head.... I must have been crazy.”
But during his trial, four psychiatrists and a psychologist -- three appointed by the court and two chosen by the defense -- all declared Stroble sane.
“Stroble’s admission that he previously molested this little girl is sufficient evidence of premeditation,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Adolph Alexander.
Vengeful spectators packed the courtroom on each of the 12 days of the trial. The evidence was gory. One of the 10 women on the jury fainted when she was shown the crime-scene photos.
Stroble did not testify. Jurors deliberated less than four hours before finding him guilty of first-degree murder. Stroble waived a jury trial on his insanity plea. Judge Charles W. Fricke immediately pronounced him sane and sentenced him to die in the gas chamber.
In his appeals, Stroble’s attorneys contended that his fourth-grade education kept him from understanding all the proceedings. The case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld Stroble’s conviction.
He was executed at San Quentin on July 25, 1952.
For decades afterward, whenever a child molester slipped through the cracks of the justice system, some attorney would refer to him as “a Stroble.”
And whenever another child was molested and murdered, the public would say, “Not another Stroble.”