A Look Back: 1933 - Dead body led to discovery of suicide pact

Police first suspected foul play when the body of a Glendale advertising salesman washed up at Newport Beach in 1933, but soon uncovered a bizarre suicide pact that led back to baby girl found abandoned in a Los Angeles movie theater months earlier.

The body of 41-year-old J.R. Bodin was found at Newport Beach in April 1933, after he went missing from the steamship Yale en route from San Diego to Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Times reported April 10, 1933. His female companion who boarded the ship with him, Barbara Muller, 22, of Hollywood, had also disappeared from the couple’s stateroom aboard the ship.

Investigators found a suicide note in the room indicating the couple had made a suicide pact and jumped into the ocean, but bruises were found on Bodin’s forehead. An autopsy conducted by Dr. Elizabeth Tock at a Costa Mesa mortuary indicated Bodin had died not from drowning, but from a blow to the head.

“Dr. Tock’s opinion was substantiated yesterday by an officer of the ship, who said it would have been impossible for Bodin to have been struck by the ship’s propeller after jumping into the ocean,” the Times reported. “The blow, in the opinion of the officer, was administered before Bodin’s body left the ship.”

Bodin and Muller had boarded the Yale in Los Angeles on March 31, headed for San Francisco and later reboarded the same ship bound for San Diego.

After talking to Muller and Bodin’s former neighbors, police discovered the couple had a child together, but drove away with the months-old girl one day and returned the next without the child.

Birth records indicated Bodin and Muller were the parents of Audrey Louise Bodin, born Aug. 1, 1932.

Neighbors said Muller and Bodin told them they had left the baby with cousins, but police were unable to find any relatives of the couple who even knew the child existed.

Bodin’s estranged wife, Norma Bodin, also said she had no idea the couple had a child together.

“I had been separated from Mr. Bodin for three years, but had seen him and Miss Muller at intervals many times since then,” Norma Bodin told the Los Angeles Times in an article dated April 11, 1933. “I do not believe there was a baby; Miss Muller merely worked for my husband.”

Police later discovered the baby had been placed in the care of a woman named Laura Porter in Los Angeles soon after birth. The woman cared for the infant until it was about six weeks old, at which time Muller returned for the child, the Times reported on April 12, 1933.

Attendants at a movie house at Fifth Street and Broadway Avenue in Los Angeles found a crying baby in the theater on Oct. 3, 1932 and turned the abandoned child over to police, the Times reported.

Porter identified the baby from a photograph and pieces of clothing it was wearing after the child was discovered at the movie theater. Police later ruled out the baby from the movie theater as the Bodin child, but vowed to continue their search for the missing infant, the Times reported.

“There is no question that Miss Muller was the mother of a child at the Bellevue Hospital, and the records show that Bodin was the father of the baby,” a police detective told the Times, in an article dated April 13, 1933.

Muller came from a wealthy family and the missing child stood to inherit a $50,000 estate, the Times reported. The woman’s late stepfather, Max Handshiegl, was the inventor of one of the first methods of motion picture colorization. Muller’s mother died in 1930, leaving her with the money.

A coroner’s jury in Costa Mesa later ruled Bodin’s death was a suicide.

No further records of Bodin, Muller or the missing infant could be found.

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