Found this in the March 18th, 1948 issue of the San Antonio Express. National news from Venice, California. Here’s the details of this disturbing case, from Westland.net:
Old Ladies Hold Orphan Children Captive in House of Horror – 1948
Eleven-year-old, John Joseph Wayne, dressed in girl’s clothing and looking like an eight-year-old from malnutrition, was found by police wandering along Windward Avenue on March 19, 1948. He had escaped from a dingy house at 7 Avenue 20 where he and Mary Reichel, a nine-year-old girl, along with a 26-year-old retarded woman were held captive by their “guardians”.
The boy, who was very bright mentally for a lad with no contact with the outside world, had been given to the two women by an unwed mother when he was two weeks old. He was fed mush, cornmeal, potato peelings, bread, and sometimes milk. He never went to school, nor played with other children, and had been tied to a chair before escaping.
The boy’s “guardians” Josephine Vella (58) and Mary Clavey (60) were arrested. The police found hypodermic kits for sedations. Since neighbors had reported that the women had been burning things in their incinerator for hours, the police sifted the ashes behind the women’s home for clues. Police also dug at a former home in Santa Monica at 1344 16th St. where the women had formerly operated a home for unwanted children. It was believed that 16-18 mysterious deaths occurred there over a 30 year period
The case was transferred to Santa Monica Superior Court where the two women were charged with five felony counts of inhuman treatment of juveniles and false imprisonment. However, Judge Thurlow T. Taft was lenient. The “Horror House” spinsters were convicted of two felony counts and one misdemeanor, placed on probation for 5 years, and were barred from caring for minors forever. The two younger children became wards of the Los Angeles Juvenile Court.
The 26 year old ‘retarded’ woman was found locked in a trunk.
Sixteen to eighteen mysterious child deaths. Emaciated children escaping to plead for their lives at the police station. Incinerator out behind the house. Hypodermics. Sedation.
Justice Thurlow T. Taft gives the two little old ladies probation and a stern warning.
Oh, yeah. After all, some people like trunks. And kids do diet, ya know.
I want to know what happened to the boy. No data so far. Man, this is a screenplay on its own.
PS: There’s also a little blurb about an ‘attractive young mother’ being acquitted of murdering an older man in her home. Of course she’s innocent — she’s attractive!