The awful true story of Diana Jean Heaney, and the "hitchhike slaying"

Burbank librarian Sarah McKinley Oakes (proprietor of the excellent Remains of LA blog, which reviews all of LA's surviving grand old restaurants and dives) uses her excellent librarian skills to take a deep dive into the tragic tale of Diana Jean Heaney, whose first mention in print was in a 1947 article on the notorious "Black Dahlia" murder, but only to mention that Heaney was definitely not a victim of the same murderer.

From there, Oakes traces Heaney's -- frankly awful -- life story: seduced at 15 by a 26-year-old WWII Air Force veteran, eloped with him, pimped out, then witness to his murder of one of the men he trafficked her to, only to have her name smeared in the national press as a slut who cheated on her innocent husband, driving him into a killing rage.

It's a terrible story, but made all the more so by the way the press handled it at the time, focusing blame on a child bride who had been victimized by an adult who was exonerated by the media and treated as the wronged party. Oakes's writeup is part historical sleuthing, part media/gender studies investigation.

But the crux of his story was that Diana had cheated on him, so naturally he was compelled to kill the man.

The prosecution argued that the motive was theft; the couple took the car and a great deal of cash from Tex’s wallet. It’s hard to say whether they suggested that Tex had paid Evald in order to have sex with Diana. Diana’s mother did testify that Evald had talked openly about pimping Diana out, but the papers barely mention it, much less speculate on whether that was happening the night of the killing. Instead, they report on Evald’s 72 air missions over Africa and Europe; his war medals; his firm, clear voice and straight posture; and, most of all, how betrayed and sad he felt that his beloved wife cheated on him. They report in full on the life story he told in court, but mostly concentrate on his heroism during the war. The papers mention when they got married — but most leave out the fact that she was 15 and he was 27 at the time of the wedding.

Diana was not called to testify. She was still married to Evald, so the prosecution couldn’t make her testify against him, and the defense did not want her to testify, as her story was so different than his. (She claimed she hadn’t had sex with Thornton at all, which also seems unlikely to me, but it’s hard to imagine an 18-year-old girl admitting she’d had sex with a man for money at the suggestion of her husband, especially when she was never asked about it while under oath. Or maybe she didn’t sleep with him. I don’t know.) She never got to tell her side of the story in court, never got to defend herself.

Girl Held, Mate Hunted in Hitchhike Slaying [Sara McKinley Oakes/Hatpin Slayer]