Thursday, January 16, 2014

Who Was Vesta Belle Sapenter?

Vesta Sapenter
Not too many people know the story of Vesta Sapenter, but sadly her story is not a good one. On July 18, 1947, her body was discovered in her bedroom. She had been strangled with a hemp cord and raped.  In my book, "Behind The Walls" I discuss the murder of Vesta Sapenter, along with two other murders of a similar nature allegedly committed by the same person of interest, Eugene Monroe.

To start off, Vesta was a 17 year-old, African-American honor student at Jefferson High School in South Central Los Angeles. On the afternoon of July 18, 1947, her 14 year-old brother Carlisle came home from playing with friends at the park only to find the body of his sister in her room upstairs. According to Carlisle, he had arrived home at 5320 Holmes Avenue, to find Eugene Monroe. At the time Monroe was was using his step-father's last name, Jefferson. Monroe seemed to be delivering furniture to the house, and asked Carlisle if he could use the restroom. Carlisle agreed, and Monroe headed upstairs.  When he came back he had asked if he knew where his sister was, and he replied, "she's upstairs."

After not seeing Vesta for awhile, Carlisle became suspicious and decided to go upstairs to check on her.  Monroe followed Carlisle upstairs to "check" on Vesta, when he realized the door to his sister's room was locked. Carlisle broke down the door, only to find the lifeless, half-dressed body of his sister. She had been hanging curtains in her room when the murderer came in and attacked her, more than likely from behind.

Immediately, Eugene was taken in for questioning but the police couldn't hold him.  One of Vesta's friends, 16 year-old Benjamin Allen was also questioned and released. He was the only other person to see Vesta on the day she died, when he walked her home.

The detective on the case, R.R. Coppage claimed that he was certain that Eugene (Jefferson) Monroe was their guy, but because of no witnesses and lack of evidence they had to release him.

"I am certain this boy did the job, but we were just never able to prove it. He was the only one in the house at the time and had ample time to commit the act."-- Detective R.R. Coppage's statement.

The Los Angeles newspaper headlines at the time barely even mentioned this heinous crime, giving Vesta's story only two paragraphs in the paper. During a time when many murders in Los Angeles to young women was rampant and making daily headlines, especially since the Black Dahlia case, which had only occurred six months prior to this. Sadly there was no more mention of it.  Vesta Belle Sapenter, died on July 18, 1947, and the main suspect of her murder got away with it. But this would not be the first nor the last time that Eugene Monroe would make headlines for being a suspect in a similar murder.

In fact, in 1950 he was arrested and tried three times for the murder of Anna Corbin, the head housekeeper at the Preston School of Industry, after being sent there on separate criminal convictions. After three trials, the first two ending in a hung jury and the last an acquittal, Monroe was again a free man. For someone to be a suspect in two very similar cases, it seemed that he was getting away with murder, but it wouldn't last for long though.


UPDATE:  On September 25, 2017,  I had the pleasure of speaking to the kindest, most gracious lady who happened to be Vesta Sapenter's sister.  Our conversation was very emotionally moving for me, hearing her recollection of the time period when her sister passed away, and what she remembered about Monroe. Although it was deeply saddening to hear first hand how devastating this loss was to her family, at the same time I feel maybe we both found some closure on the case in a way. I was able to tell her what happened to Monroe, and that he is passed on, and unable to hurt anyone else. While she confirmed all my suspicions about Monroe by elaborating to me that her own father sensed something was not right with Monroe, and for her brother to stay away from him. That is very telling. Parents sense things even when no one else does. I feel so very bad for her father as well, knowing he had a bad feeling about Monroe, and not being able to protect his family from his reach. Simply heartbreaking. Eugene Monroe not only took four lives (Vesta, Anna, Dorothy and her unborn child), but he devastated three families and countless friends. He took so much, and I often wonder, what else he may have gotten away with? ---

To Read More About Eugene Monroe: "Was Eugene Monroe a Serial Killer?"

For more details of this story and Anna Corbin's story please check out my book, "Behind The Walls" 

(Copyright, 2014- J'aime Rubio)

Archived Newspapers
Photo of Vesta from Pittsburgh Courier (8/2/1947)
"Behind The Walls"-by J'aime Rubio
And a big thank you to Larry Harnisch of the 1947project
for the additional information you provided me about Vesta!

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