The Stories Behind the Stones

Cemeteries are like libraries. They contain the final resting places of thousands of people, each with their own separate and unique story. Some of these people are famous, and their stories are well known. Most are not, but that doesn't make their lives any less interesting or their stories any less worthy of being told and remembered.

Periodically, we'll spotlight a different Los Angeles-area grave. Every person has a story, and we will use this space to tell their story, through their final resting place.

Andrea Buchanan
(April 6, 1955 – Jan. 28, 1982)

Jan. 31, 2013 -- At the age of 15, Andrea Buchanan picked up a tennis racket for the first time. Less than a year later, she won the Los Angeles girls city tennis championship. A few years after that, she was competing at the highest level on the international stage, playing in the U.S. Open, the French Open, and twice at Wimbledon.

Buchanan was born in Los Angeles on April 6, 1955, to John and Chellious Buchanan. After she graduated from Dorsey High School, where she studied accounting and bookkeeping, she focused on her tennis career.

In 1973, Buchanan finished second in the L.A. Metro Championships, and won the city mixed doubles title. In 1975, she represented Los Angeles on a team that went to Minneapolis to play in the U.S. Public Parks tennis tournament. In 1976, Buchanan won the women's singles title at the Pacific Coast Championships, held in Los Angeles.

In 1978, Buchanan won the singles, doubles and mixed doubles championships at the U.S. Public Parks tournament in Los Angeles – the first black woman to win all three major titles in the history of the tournament. At the age of 22, Buchanan decided to give up her secretarial job and turn professional.

But first, Buchanan went to train at the Sportsmen's Tennis Club of Dorchester, in Massachusetts, the only African-American owned and operated, non-profit, indoor tennis club in the country. Founded in the early 1960s, the club annually serves more than 1,000 low-income, inner-city youth, teaching them the love of tennis, as well as the development of critical life skills, including discipline, perseverance, self-esteem, self-reliance, goal setting, a sense of healthy competition and good sportsmanship.

At the Sportsman's Tennis Club in 1979, Buchanan worked with tennis legend Althea Gibson, the first black woman to be on the world tennis tour, and the first to win a Grand Slam championship. Gibson had come to the Sportsman's Tennis Club specifically to spend a week training four top young black tennis players -- Buchanan, Zina Garrison of Houston, Leslie Allen of Cleveland, and Kim Sands of Miami.

Buchanan learned about tennis, but also learned the lessons Gibson taught about life skills, about succeeding as a minority in the overwhelmingly white culture of tennis, and about handling herself with the grace and dignity that made Gibson one of the most revered athletes, not just in tennis, but in the history of sports.

At the time, Buchanan's tennis game was based on guts, determination and drive as much as on technical skills, shot-making and strategy. "Andrea was aggressive, all over the net, in your face," said Allen. "She used to say to Zina and me, 'If I had your strokes, I'd win every match.'" Buchanan and Allen developed a strong friendship, often talked on the phone, and sought out each other at tournaments when they were both playing. Buchanan and Sands later became doubles partners on the professional circuit, playing together twice at Wimbledon.

Buchanan quickly became one of the hottest stars on the Avon Futures tennis circuit, which was part of the Women’s Tennis Association. (The circuit started in 1970, and was sponsored by Virginia Slims cigarettes as part of the Women's Tennis Association. Avon took over as the tour sponsor from 1979 to 1982. Virginia Slims returned in 1983, and remained until 1994. Since then, the tour has had several different sponsors.)

In addition to her appearances on the Avon circuit, Buchanan also competed in the French Open, the U.S. Open and twice at Wimbledon. She was one of only five black U.S. women on the professional tennis tour, was ranked among the top 100 tennis players in the world, and was a rising star on the tennis scene.

Buchanan, then 25, made her debut at a Grand Slam tennis event at Wimbledon in 1980, where she earned a spot as a second-round qualifier, but lost to Rosalyn Fairbank of South Africa, 6-1, 6-2.

Buchanan fared better in the women's doubles competition. Buchanan and Sands defeated Naoko Sato and Silvana Urroz in the first round, 6-0, 6-2, then defeated Heidi Eisterlehner and Sabina Simmonds in the second round, 6-3, 6-4, before losing in the third round to Candy Reynolds and Paula Smith, 6-3, 6-4.

Buchanan returned to Wimbledon the following year, and faced fellow American Barbara Hallquist in the second round. After Hallquist won the first set 6-0, Buchanan came back and won the next two sets, 6-3, 6-3. Buchanan faced Hana Mandlikova of Czechoslovakia in the third round, and lost 6-3, 6-0. Mandlikova eventually reached the finals, where she was beaten by Chris Evert for the championship.

In the women's doubles at Wimbledon in 1981, Buchanan and Sands beat Lele Forood and Ann Henricksson in the first round, 6-4, 6-3, then beat Stacy Margolin and Anne White in the second round, 6-4, 6-3, before losing to Sherry Acker and Nina Bohm in the third round, 6-3, 6-1.

In the 1981 French Open, Buchanan lost in the first round to Mima Jausovec of Yugoslavia, 6-0, 6-2. In the 1981 U.S. Open, Buchanan beat Eva Pfaff of Germany in the first round, 6-3, 6-2, before losing in the second round to American Barbara Gerken, 6-4, 7-5. Buchanan also teamed with American Rene Blount in the women's doubles at the 1981 U.S. Open, winning in the first round against Molly Van Norstrand and Dianne Fromholtz, 6-1, 6-1, before losing in the second round to Chris Evert and Betty Stove, 7-5, 6-0.

In early 1982, Buchanan took some time off from the tennis tour, and went to work as a cashier at Nathaniel Brown’s seafood market and restaurant on Santa Rosalia Drive in south central Los Angeles, a few blocks from her apartment on Muirfield Road, to raise some money before the upcoming European tour.

"Andrea wanted to relax mentally before returning to the tennis circuit," said her father, John Buchanan.

On Jan. 28, 1982, the morning shift workers at the market and restaurant came to open the establishment shortly before 8:30 a.m., and discovered Buchanan and Brown inside. Both had been shot multiple times. Brown, 57, had been dead for several hours, but Buchanan was still alive.

Buchanan had been shot twice with a large-caliber gun -- once in the right forearm, which she had likely held up in front of her chest to protect herself, and once in the right side of her neck. She was taken by ambulance to Brotman Memorial Hospital in Culver City, where she was pronounced dead at 9:28 a.m. She was 26 years old.

"It does not appear to be a robbery or burglary," said LAPD homicide Det. John Bunch. "Everything appeared to be intact and there was no forced entry. We have no suspect, no motive and no murder weapon. We’re up against a stone wall. Right now we're trying to determine the last people here the night before the crime."

A few days after Buchanan's death, tennis legend Billie Jean King was playing in the first round of the Avon Championships in Detroit, against Ann Kiyomura. King and Buchanan had been close friends on the Avon circuit, and King, distraught over Buchanan's death, walked off the court in the third and final set, and forfeited the match.

"Emotionally, I was not up to my game and I could not concentrate on hitting the ball," said King after the 3-6, 6-3, 1-0, retire loss. "I apologize for my behavior. It was very unprofessional. But I couldn't stand out there and go through the motions. I couldn't stand the idea that I wasn't giving 100 percent."

"I was OK until last Tuesday when I found out Andrea had been killed," King said. "I haven't been the same since. My mind has been on everything but tennis."

Leslie Allen, who met Buchanan at the Sportsmen's Tennis Club in 1979, had just finished doing color commentary for a tennis event in Chicago when she found out about Buchanan's death from one of the tournament referees. "I was stunned," Allen said. "I had called Andrea the night it happened. I called kind of late, and I thought it was weird she wasn't there. I remember leaving her a message saying, 'Girl, where are you?'"

Buchanan was survived by her parents, John and Chellious; a sister, Antoinette (Toni); and two brothers, John III and Byron. At the time of her death, Buchanan was ranked No. 105 in the world by the Women's Tennis Association.

Buchanan's funeral service was held at Angelus Funeral Home in Los Angeles, and she was buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Los Angeles. (The year of her birth is incorrect on her grave marker.) In lieu of flowers, her family requested that donations be made to set up an Andrea Buchanan Tennis Fund for promising black female tennis players at Rancho Cienega Park, where Buchanan played.

And, more than 40 years after rising tennis star Andrea Buchanan was murdered, the crime remains unsolved.

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