Verdugo Views: The wild ride of Ruth Charles

Ruth Radwanski and her new husband, Richard, came here in 1947, driving from the Detroit area in a new Dodge convertible, a wedding gift from his parents. They bought a house on West Stocker Street. She got a job as an organist at a local church and life was good.

But, then, in a moment, everything changed.

Her mother-in-law had come out for a visit, she said in a recent interview in her Glendale home.

"I wanted my playing to be perfect that Sunday, so I went down to practice," she recalled.

Later, as she got into her car, a man with a gun forced his way in after her and hit her on the head, knocking her out.

When she regained consciousness, he was driving east. She tried to stay calm, but was very frightened.

"This was the time of the Black Dahlia murder and all of Los Angeles and surrounding areas was on high alert," she said. "I figured if I did anything, he would kill me."

As they headed out to Route 66, he told her to hand over her money.

"I pulled out two $10 bills I had in my pocket," she said.

The fuel tank was low and he stopped at a station in Baldwin Park, keeping the gun pointed at her as an attendant pumped the gas.

They drove further. By now, they were in the desert, an unfamiliar place for Radwanski, who was very afraid of snakes and other animals. When he turned off the main road and began driving slowly around in circles, she became even more terrified.

"He was contemplating leaving me there," she said.

But he didn't. Not that time. They got back on the highway and drove toward Cajon Junction. The gas tank was empty again, so he bought 10 more gallons.

"I could tell he was trying to figure out what to do with me," she said.

He pulled off on a side road. "He kept stopping and talking all the time. I was afraid because of the gun and the wilderness," she recalled.

Finally, he stopped the car, tied her hands with a cloth and told her to get out.

"Then he bound my ankles and gagged me with my own hankie. He didn't molest me in any way," she said.

She pleaded with him to leave her purse. "I was afraid I was going to die and I wanted people to know who I was," she said.

He got her purse and then covered her with his jacket, saying, "it's going to get cold at night." He handed her $3 of the $10 he'd taken from her earlier "for bus fare back to Glendale."

Then he drove away.

She quickly loosened her bindings and ran toward the highway.

"No one would pick me up. They were all going 60 mph," she recalled.

Finally, a driver on the side road stopped. He took her to the nearest service station, but sped off so quickly that she didn't even get her purse. Someone loaned her money to call the San Bernardino police and a neighbor brought her husband to meet her there.

By the next morning, she was back home. Her abductor was soon caught and huge headlines in local newspapers breathlessly recounted her ordeal. Then the Michigan papers picked up the story.

In the midst of the publicity, the Radwanskis went to court on a totally different matter. They had decided — before leaving Detroit — that they would change their last name, as they hoped to become professional musicians.

Several weeks later, the court approved the name change. From then on, they were Richard and Ruth Charles.

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