December 3, 1947
Toluca Lake/ Hermosa Beach
It took police some time to piece it all together, but when they did, they found that familiar tragedy of a man of mature years, the young, troubled model he married, a love that burned but briefly, the child caught between them, and money. Always money.
The tale unraveled when Sam Wartnik, 45, sportswear manufacturer with offices at 1020 Wall Street, had his attorney ask Wartnik's partner Al Hirschfeld and employee Clifford Jones to drop by the house where his wife and son had been living solo since the he filed for divorce last week. Wartnik, in San Francisco on business, had been unable to get Lena Mae, 30, on the phone, and was concerned she might have done something rash.
This was the gal, after all, who he painted in his divorce suit as a drunk and drug abuser, a person who had once tried and several times threatened to kill him. All the same, he'd left baby Neil Ellis in Lena Mae's care.
On the door of the little Cape Cod-style house at 4545 Clybourn Avenue they found a note: "Have gone to spend week-end with friends." They broke in.
Lena Mae was big on notes. Along with the blood splattered in every room they found the one that said "Sam, here are the keys. Now you can sell the home and gloat over your MONEY."
And the one on the back of Lena Mae's summons to a custody suit that was to be held this morning. It said "Sam, this summons is my reward for standing by you through thick and thin. Well, this is what you've often begged me to do so I'm doing it--and taking my sweet, precious Neil with me. Too bad, cause we both did love life since you left us broke but happy together. We got well together with your beat-up presence away. Good bye..."
And they found Neil, dressed only in a diaper and his own congealed blood, strangled on a bed. He'd been that way for a couple of days. Propped on another bed, a whimsical book for expectant fathers.
The hotel manager found Lena Mae in the Hermosa Biltmore, covered in hesitation cuts, ultimately dead perhaps of poison. And more notes. "Bleeding to death is so slow but I do want my baby buried in my arms." And in her wallet, beside the season pass to Santa Anita, on the back of a mailing receipt for something sent to her husband at his office on November 10, a day after they separated, "I am Mrs. Sam Wartnik. Notify Los Angeles Police."
Sam and Lena Mae were married in Las Vegas on May 19, 1946. Baby Neil was born on January 24, and died around December 1.