Thursday, December 11, 2014

Donald Keith Bashor - Finding my Murderous Ancestor in the California State Archives (52 Ancestors #46)

This is another article for the series "52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks", a challenge by Amy Johnson Crow on No Story Too Small.

A few years ago my Uncle B asked if I knew about the family bad boy.  No, I said, tell me more!  He did – about 1950s Los Angeles, burglary, murder and prison.  I had to find out more. 

Photograph by Edward Gamer / Los Angeles Times. Senior Deputy George Coenen, left, and Sgt. Howard Earle, right, escort convicted killer Donald Keith Bashor
on his trip to San Quentin, Oct. 25, 1956

The Plan - Go to the California State Archives
I already knew that the California State Archives held state prison records so I went to their website to ask “Minerva”, the online catalog of the California State Archives. 

I found a lead and sent an email to the reference desk.
“Dear Minerva:  I would appreciate your help. Seeking San Quentin Prison prison record and related court records for Donald Keith BASHOR.... I only have his conviction appeal information: People v. Bashor (1957) 48 C2d 763 [Crim. 6004 Cal Sup Ct June, 21, 1957]. COUNSEL Edmund G. Brown, Attorney General, and Elizabeth Miller, Deputy Attorney General, for Respondent.  Terrence W. Cooney, under appointment by the Supreme Court for Appellant. My search of Minerva returned SQ information for dates other than 1957 or so.  Do you have any suggestions on where to search? Thank you.”
 A timely response from Archivist Linda J proved fruitful. 
 “We have a Supreme Court case file for Donald Keith Bashor, the Governor’s Execution Case file and the San Quentin Inmate Case file.  The files have been screened as some documents are exempt from disclosure (medical records, psychiatric evaluations, education records, and certain Department of Justice records).  But, there is still a lot of info in the folders.  There are a number of very graphic black and white photographs of the victims in the Governor’s file. I’ve placed the case files on the hold shelf with the Court case, so they are ready for your review.”
Off I went to the Archives to review the files.  How convenient that I lived in Sacramento at the time.

Prison, Court and Execution Records for Donald K. Bashor
(click images to enlarge)
The bad boy of my family was Donald Keith Bashor, my 3rd cousin once removed.[1]  He was born 15 Nov 1928 in Glendale, Los Angeles County, California to Hillard R. Bashor and Cecilia I. Barney Bashor.[2]  His parents divorced, his alcoholic mother committed suicide, and he was known to local law enforcement, ending up in juvenile detention on more than one occasion.  Things got worse

He aspired to be a psychologist, having enrolled at the University of Southern California.  Money stolen from his burglaries financed his drugs, alcohol and college.  He entered residences late at night through unlocked doors and windows while the resident slept.  Unfortunately, during two separate burglaries in 1955, the female residents awoke and started screaming.  He bludgeoned them to death to quiet the screams.  The cases went unsolved until he was caught with the goods after another burglary then the police tied him to the murders,

Newspaper editors and/or the police nicknamed him “Jekyll-Hyde”, the “Wilshire Prowler” and the “Barefoot Burglar”.  Hollywood glorified Donald’s crimes in a Playhouse 90 episode called “Portrait of a Murderer” with Tab Hunter in the title role.       

Donald originally pleaded not guilty then changed it to guilty asking his attorney not to use legal maneuvers to reduce the sentence.  He was sentenced to death at San Quentin State Prison.  He entered the prison on 25 Oct 1956 and was executed on 11 Oct 1957.

Newspaper headline about Donald K. Bashor confession

The archivists at the California State Archives were very helpful in obtaining files for my research. The files revealed enough information despite the removal of certain documents because of  disclosure rules,  Be sure to include the state archives in your research - your bad or good ancestor just may be found there.


[1] Steve Morse relationship calculator
[2] Bashor brothers married Sherfy sisters.  Hillard was the youngest son of Madison and Emma Bashor.  Madison was the son of John and Elizabeth Sherfy Bashor. John Bashor was Martin Bashor’s older brother. They married Sherfy sisters, Susannah and Elizabeth) in Tennessee, then traveled to Missouri, and on to California and Colorado.  Susannah Sherfy was my 3rd great-grandmother.

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