On 15 November, 1944, in a seedy downtown
area, in a run-down hotel at the corner of Fourth and Main
streets, a maid discovered the mutilated body of a prostitute,
Virginia Lee Griffin, sprawled on a bed.
The street girl had been slashed open from
her throat to her vagina and her entrails pulled out of her body.
Her breasts had been cut off and an arm and a leg partly severed.
The murder weapon, a razor-sharp carving knife, lay near the
A second mutilation murder was reported in
another downtown hotel only three blocks away. The victim was
another prostitute, thrity-eight-year-old Lillian Johnson. Her
mutilations were less severe, but she was slashed from throat to
Witnesses from both hotels gave similer
descriptions to the police. They took the information, creating
a dragnet around a twenty-block area. One officer spotted a man
matching the description in a Fourth street bar. He was in a
booth in deep conversation with a brunette in a tight red dress.
He lit his cigarette with a matchbook from the hotel where
Griffin had been killed.
Police arrested the man, and found that his
fingerprints matched those found at both crime scenes. He easily
confessed to both killings, admitting his compulsion toward
He told police that his first wife had left
him because he would creep up on her when she was naked and
slash at her buttocks with a razor. His favorite pasttime was
kissing and licking the blood away while he appologised for his
odd behavior. He stated that the fantasies had gotten out of
control when he picked up the two prostitutes.
Steve Wilson was executed in the gas chamber
of San Quentin Prison in September of 1946.
The shipyard barracks were quiet— too quiet—and
on Sunday night rain drummed on the roof. Otto Stephen Wilson, 33, a
fry cook in the yard commissary, looked at his face in the mirror.
He could see why women smiled at him. With his black hair and neat
mustache he resembled Robert Taylor, the actor. And women had no way
of knowing what he was thinking, so secretly, when he smiled back at
Women had never given him comfort or peace. In the
orphanage, in the Navy, in these last months of drifting, they had
always subtly domineered over him. Before his wife left him, he had
cut her with a razor. He was restless tonight, and lonely. Suddenly he
made up his mind to get drunk and stay drunk. Before he went out he
put his safety razor in his pocket. Even on a binge, he liked to stay
In the cheap bars of Los Angeles' tenderloin he
gulped his whiskey neat. After two days his hand was unsteady. But
even after he bought the butcher knife, nobody could tell what he was
thinking. When a woman smiled at him over a drink, he smiled back. She
was a big, young woman, with lipstick smeared too heavily on her lips.
Her name was Virgie. She was married, but her husband was away, and
she liked a good time. He held her arm, gallantly, as they crossed the
street in the rain and dark to the old Barclay Hotel.
She looked up unsteadily as they went in. "I got my
horoscope told," she said. "Wednesday is my lucky day."
Otto Wilson watched the woman take off her
chartreuse suit and fold it neatly across a chair. When he hit her she
fell across the bed. He choked her until she stopped breathing; then
pulled her to the floor. After he took the butcher knife from his coat
pocket he lighted a cigaret and drank from a bottle of whiskey. Then
he knelt, knife in hand.
It was morning when he was through. On the floor
lay a body, slashed and dismembered beyond recognition. He bathed and
dressed and walked into the hall. A chambermaid smiled as he said,
politely, "Please don't disturb my wife." He walked into the street.
Otto Wilson bought a ticket at the Million Dollar
Theater, went in. As he watched The Walking Dead, a Boris Karloff
horror picture, the thought kept buzzing through his head: "I have
killed a woman, and no one here knows about it." When the picture was
over he walked into another bar and ordered wine. He watched a woman
at the bar. After a while she smiled. Her name was Lillian Johnson.
She could not tell what he was thinking. The woman
pressed against him as they walked toward the ancient Joyce Hotel.
Do Not Disturb.
Otto Wilson smashed his fist against her as soon as
she had taken off her clothes. Her neck was thin. After she had
stopped breathing he remembered his knife—left behind at the Barclay.
He walked to the washbowl, rubbed his face with soap & water, and
shaved. Then he lifted out the razor blade, knelt beside the body on
the floor, and pressed down with the thin bit of steel. He cut his
hand. But he lingered awhile. On the way out he stopped before the
desk clerk and said: "My wife is sleeping. Please don't disturb her."
Then he walked into the Red Front Bar, a few steps
up the street. Nobody paid any attention to him. Soon, at both hotels,
police were tramping the corridors, staring with disbelief at the
ghastly things Otto Wilson had done.
When a policeman came into the bar, Otto Wilson was
talking to another woman. The policeman came up behind him, looked at
his cut hand, clapped a handcuff on his wrist.
At police headquarters Otto Wilson first politely
denied, then politely confessed his crimes. In his cell, red-eyed,
unsteady, but calm, he kept his black hair neatly combed. It was
impossible to guess what he was thinking. Outside, his first victim's
husband cried to police: "Leave me alone with that guy for five
minutes and I'll save the state a lot of money!"
Otto Stephen Wilson (left) who, police
say, confessed to the double mutilation slayings of Mrs. Virginia
Griffin and Mrs. Lillian Johnson in Downtown hotels here, is
fingerprinted behind bars by police officer Charles Pasco.