|Kevin Lee Graff|
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Robert Lees -- Saying Sorry Isn't Enough
On June 13, 2004, Morley Hall Engelson, a 67-year-old retired physician, was on the phone with a Southwest Airlines booking agent when the conversation was abruptly ended by a commotion. The agent immediately notified the Los Angeles Police Department and after they arrived minutes later at Engelson's home on Stanley Avenue they spotted his body through a window. Forcing entry, officers verified that Engelson was dead from multiple stab wounds then made the grisly discovery of a severed head in another room of the house. While examining the scene, investigators received a call from the Los Angeles Fire Department reporting that they had responded to a call at a neighboring house in the 1600 block of North Courtney Avenue belonging to Robert Lees, 91. Lees, who had served in Frank Capra's Army film unit during World War II, was best known as the comedy film writer (often with partner Frederic I. Rinaldo) of scripts for Abbott and Costello (Hold That Ghost, 1941; Buck Privates Come Home, 1947; The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap, 1948; Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, 1948; Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man, 1951; Comin' Round the Mountain, 1951; and the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis vehicle Jumping Jacks, 1952). The laughter and the scriptwriter's film career, however, abruptly ended on April 10, 1951, when actor Sterling Hayden named him to the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC). Lees joined the Communist Party in 1939 and steadfastly refused to name names when called before the committee. Blacklisted by Hollywood, the studio attempted to removed his name from the credits of Jumping Jacks, but was prevented by the Screenwriters Guild. Lees was working as a maitre d' in the dining room of the Hotel Westerner in Tucson, Arizona, when the Martin and Lewis smash opened in a theatre up the street. Under the alias "J.E. Selby" Lees wrote episodes for the television programs Rawhide, Flipper, and ironically given future events, Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
Lee's longtime friend, Helen Colton, arrived to pick him up for a social function to discover the scriptwriter's bloody and headless corpse lying under a comforter with a big heavy drawer on top of him. Police theorized that the random killer decapitated Lees, hopped a backyard fence between the properties carrying the writer's head, and murdered Engelson. A massive manhunt in the surrounding Hollywood neighborhood culminated in a televised news conference on June 15 in which police showed a photograph of 27-year-old drifter, Kevin Lee Graff. Within minutes of the broadcast, a security guard at nearby Paramount notified police that a man answering to that description was currently outside the studio's front gate talking to himself and making obscene gestures at passing cars and pedestrians. Graff was quickly taken into custody by LAPD officers, but during subsequent questioning admitted that he was high on methamphetamines and Ecstasy and had no memory of the horrific murders. "If I did this man, I just want to say I'm sorry," he told detectives. "I'm so sorry. I know saying sorry isn't enough. It isn't going to do nothing. But I'm no criminal, dude. I'm a really good kid. I don't know how all this happened." Graff escaped a possible death penalty by pleading guilty on February 26, 2008, to two counts of first-degree murder along with eight other charges including torture, mayhem, and burglary. In April 2008, the killer was sentenced to two life terms without the possibility of parole and ordered to pay $9,000 in restitution and court fees. As of January 2014, Graff is incarcerated at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, California.