This week (February 8-14) in crime history – Nevada carried out first execution by lethal gas (February 8, 1924); Adolph Coors, heir to the Coors Brewery fortune was kidnapped (February 9, 1960); Former Boxing champ Mike Tyson was convicted of rape )February 10, 1992); Former Yugoslavia President Slobodan Milosevic’s war crimes trial began (February 12, 2002); Actor Sal Mineo was murdered (February 12, 1976); Serial killer Tom Luther began raped and beat hi first victim (February 13, 1982); The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (February 14, 1929)
Highlighted Crime Story of the Week -
On February 12, 1976, actor Sal Mineo was stabbed to death in Hollywood, California. Mineo was walking behind his apartment when neighbors heard his screams for help. Some described a white man with brown hair fleeing the scene. Mineo was a famous teen actor in the 1950s. He co-starred with James Dean in both Rebel without a Cause and Giant. The transition to adult roles did not come easily for Mineo, but he later appeared in small roles in such films as The Longest Day and Escape from the Planet of the Apes, and consistently performed guest spots on television series. On the night he was killed, Mineo was returning from rehearsing for a play.
For two years, the police searched in vain for clues to the killer’s identity. At first, they suspected that Mineo’s work for prison reform had put him in contact with dangerous felons. Then their focus shifted to Mineo’s personal life. Investigators had discovered that his home was filled with pictures of nude men but the homosexual pornography also failed to turn up any leads.
Then, out of the blue, Michigan authorities reported that Lionel Williams, arrested on bad check charges, was bragging to cellmates that he had killed Mineo. Although he later retracted his stories, at about the same time, Williams’ wife in Los Angeles told police that he had come home the night of the murder drenched in blood. However, there was one major discrepancy, Williams was black with an Afro and all of the eyewitnesses had described the perpetrator as a white man with long brown hair.
Fortunately, the police were able to unearth an old photo of Williams in which his hair had been dyed brown and processed so that it was straight and long. In addition, the medical examiner had made a cast of Mineo’s knife wound and police were able to match it to the description of the knife provided by Williams’ wife. Lionel Williams was convicted of murdering Mineo and sentenced to life in prison.
Check back every Monday for a new installment of “This Week in Crime History.”
Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for www.crimemagazine.com and is the author of seven nonfiction books that includes the soon to be released In the Company of Evil Thirty Years of California Crime 1950-1980 and the award winning Murder and Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California 1849-1949.