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California woman on a lifelong mission to solve cold case murder of beloved grandmother Theone Davis

Evidence collected from the Huntington Park home has been recently re-submitted for testing.
Theone Davis and her husband, Ted Davis.
Theone Davis and her husband, Ted Davis.Photo contributed by granddaughter, Janelle Frese

Sadie "Theone" Lindgren Davis was known as “The One and Only.” Not only because of the spelling of her name - but because there was no one else quite like her. Not according to her family, anyway, who remembers her as a talented singer whose spunky attitude, caring heart and dazzling smile were enough to win over anyone.

Janelle Frese was only four years old when her grandmother was brutally murdered at her home in Huntington Park, California.

But she still remembers the soothing sound of her voice, the feeling of her cheek against her own, the smile she beamed as she sat down to play the piano.

“She was the most incredible person I’ve ever known,” Janelle told Dateline.

Theone Davis

As a young girl, Janelle would visit her grandparents often. Her grandmother would always have a little stepping stool for Janelle so she could reach the kitchen sink to help wash the fresh produce her grandfather would bring home.

Her grandparents had been married 40 years and Janelle remembers seeing the love between them. Theone was the beautiful singer with olive-tinted skin and dark hair, who dazzled people with her smile. Janelle’s grandfather, Ted Davis, was a tall, dapper man, who had a big heart and was always a gentleman.

Ted was not Theone’s first husband. When she was 17, she got married and had a son. The marriage was annulled just six months later, and Theone was left a single mother in the 1920s. That same year, Theone and her family moved to Los Angeles where her father started a dry cleaning business.

Surrounded by celebrities and the hope of fame and fortune, Theone became enamoured with showbusiness. She was a talented singer and it wasn’t long before she began performing on local Los Angeles radio broadcasts where she met the legendary comedian and radio host, Jimmy Durante.

Janelle told Dateline that the radio host allegedly became smitten with Theone and invited her to sing on his radio shows. He even gave Theone one of his piano stools, which now belongs to Janelle.

“Rumor has it that Theone was the infamous Mrs. Calabash that Jimmy Durante would always refer to in his shows,” Janelle said, explaining that the radio host would always sign off with the line, “and good night, Mrs. Calabash – wherever you are.”

Theone continued to book gigs, including as a radio jingle singer, most notably for Bubble Up soda. She also worked at Los Angeles’ Criterion Theatre and was crowned the “queen of cinema” to open the latest season of movies.

It was at that theater where she met her future husband, Ted Davis.

Theone and Ted Davis.

“He loved her so much,” Janelle told Dateline. “He courted her for years before they even got married. And he cared, not only for her, but for her son.”

After courting for seven years, they got married and Ted adopted Theone’s son. They later had two daughters together, one of whom was Linda, Janelle’s mother.

While raising a family, the couple worked side-by-side for their entire marriage, first running a tobacco business and then a real estate business. They were living in Huntington Park, California, a happy community where everybody knew everybody.

Janelle told Dateline that her grandparents were very involved in the community, like church and Kiwanis, and often mingled with city leaders. She added that everybody who knew Theone and Ted, loved them.

“There was nothing to not love about them,” Janelle said. “They were this dashing movie-star couple who loved their family and their community.”

But on August 5, 1971, a tragedy struck the small community, shattering their perfect lives.

“It’s an ominous day this year because when this happened, 50 years ago, it was a Thursday,” Janelle said.

Janelle was only four years old when it happened, but through her family and her work alongside investigators, she has pieced together a timeline of that day.

Theone was at home in Huntington Park, preparing to host a bridge party with neighbors. Around 2 p.m., she went to the grocery store to buy supplies for the party. Her husband Ted arrived home from work around 5:45 p.m. Guests would be arriving any minute, so when he spotted his wife lying on her back on the floor of the bedroom, he was confused.

“He joked with her, asking what she was doing on the floor and told her to get up because they had guests arriving,” Janelle explained. “But she didn’t move. And he started to panic.”

Theone’s lifeless body was on the floor, her arms crossed over her chest. There was a cloth draped over her face. He immediately called the Huntington Park Police, who responded to the house just as the party guests were also arriving.

After being alerted to the news, instead of leaving, many of the party guests insisted on staying to help, and did so by putting away dishes and comforting Ted.

When investigators from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department arrived, they described the scene as being a mess, referring to people going in and out of the house.

An investigation revealed that Theone had been strangled, bludgeoned, shot in the head, and sustained severe internal injuries that included broken ribs, a ruptured spleen, and a crushed larynx.

Lieutenant Charles Calderaro of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department told Dateline that everybody who was at the party was questioned, including Theone’s husband Ted.

But due to lack of evidence, no suspects were named and the case quickly went cold.

Throughout the years, Theone’s family has been on a mission to find out who killed her. Her husband Ted was one of them. Although there was speculation in the community that Ted might have been involved, he was never named a suspect. And until his death in 1999, he fought for answers about his wife’s murder.

“My grandfather was a good man and he loved my grandmother with all of his heart,” Janelle told Dateline. “To even speculate that he was in any way involved in absurd. He would have never hurt her.”

But Janelle did not let the speculation slow their mission for justice.

“He always told us, ‘We can’t let this kill all of us,’” she said “‘We have to find a way, somehow and some way, to see some light. Otherwise, we will die of broken hearts.’”

Janelle and her family took this to heart. For years, her mother Linda worked tirelessly for answers until her death in 2015. Her uncle also did everything he could until he died in 2012.

Now, the mission has been passed on to the next generation – specifically, Janelle.

“I grew up in the shadow of the mystery of her murder,” she said. “It has consumed my life – so, getting justice, and closure, is something I’ll never give up on.”

For years, she had been working with Sergeant Paul Mondry of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. They spoke every Thursday – the day of the week Theone was murdered.

This year, evidence from the scene was re-submitted for testing. In July, still awaiting the results, Janelle received the devastating news that Sgt. Mondry had died unexpectedly.

“I’m crushed,” Janelle said. “Not only is this good man, Marine and father gone, but he was so dedicated to Theone’s case. He wanted to solve it. And he didn’t get that chance.”

Lieutenant Calderaro told Dateline that Theone’s case is being reassigned to another detective and that they will do everything they can to solve it.

Janelle is hoping the results from the evidence submitted will lead to answers. She also hopes that by testing the DNA with modern technology, they will find a profile that might clear the suspicion around her grandfather once and for all.

Through Janelle’s investigation, she discovered similarities between her grandmother’s murder and the unsolved murders of at least four other woman around the same time in neighboring towns, including Downey, Bellflower and Long Beach.

According to an Orange County Register article published at the time, in each of the four shootings, women of approximately the same age were shot in the head with a 22-caliber handgun and at least two of the cases, were covered up with some sort of material by the assailant.

On August 14, a week after Theone’s murder, two sisters, Dorothy Truxa of Downey and Margaret Miller of Paramount, were gunned down at the Stonewood Shopping Center parking lot and then driven to where they were found on Lakewood Boulevard, according to the reports at the time. Dorothy’s body was covered with two sweaters and Margaret was covered with a blanket.

Janelle also pointed out that the shootings occurred following the sisters’ shopping trip – just as her grandmother’s murder happened after she returned home from the grocery store, and just as the victim in the Bellflower shooting was followed and gunned down after a trip to the store. Following the shootings, police reportedly were looking into whether or not the cases were related, but nothing came of it.

Janelle told Dateline that she believes the cases are related. She doesn’t know if that person is someone already in jail or if it’s someone still out on the streets, but she has vowed to never give up on her mission at hand.

Not only is the mission to find justice for her grandmother, but to find good in the world again.

“Our beloved Theone would want us to laugh, play music, and have fun instead of being miserable,” Janelle said. “I keep hearing my grandmother saying, ‘don’t remember me for the way I died, remember me for how I lived.’”

If you have any information on the unsolved murder of Theone Davis, please call the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office at 213-229-1700.