Grave Spotlight

In a way, 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 life 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.

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The Rawlings family

Nov. 26, 1957

Sept. 4, 2011 -- About a year ago, we told the tragic story of the Oilar family. Less than a week before Christmas in 1954, Harold Oiler killed his wife and three young children at their home in Pasadena, Calif. After pleading guilty to four counts of murder, Harold Oilar was awaiting execution when he hanged himself in prison.

Three years later and less than a mile away, in a chilling replay of the Oilar family killings, another Pasadena family -- again described by their neighbors as a happy, normal and successful family -- was wiped out by their father, who then took his own life.

Harvey Francis Rawlings Jr., 43, was a prominent Pasadena tax and corporate attorney who lived with his wife, Marjorie Ruth Flynt Rawlings, and their two children, Robert Harvey, 16, and Raymond Richard, 12, at 307 Tamarac Drive in the upscale San Rafael Hills area of Pasadena.

Harvey Rawlings Jr. was born in Tennessee on Jan. 24, 1914, the only child of Harvey Sr., a physician, and his wife, Bee. By the time Harvey Jr. was 5, the family had moved to Champaign, Ill. After Harvey Sr. and Bee divorced in the 1920s, Harvey Jr. moved with his mother to Long Beach, Calif., where he attended Long Beach Polytechnic High School, graduating in 1932.

Marjorie Ruth Flynt was born May 20, 1914, in Texas, the youngest of two daughters of W.L. Flynt, a farmer, and his wife, Anna. After her husband's death, Anna Flynt moved to Long Beach, Calif., with her two daughters, Virginia and Marjorie. Marjorie also attended Long Beach Polytechnic High School, where she met Harvey Rawlings, and also graduated in 1932.

After Harvey and Marjorie -- who now went by her middle name, Ruth -- were married, they rented a house in Long Beach, where Harvey worked for an oil company. Eventually, Harvey received his law degree, and the couple moved to Pasadena, where Harvey opened a law office on Green Street, where he did tax incorporation work.

The Rawlings family had two boys -- Robert Harvey Rawlings, born Nov. 11, 1941, and Raymond Richard Rawlings, born Aug. 27, 1945.

According to neighbors, the Rawlings family appeared to be a typical successful, happy family. Harvey Rawlings spent most of his time at work, except for the occasional game of golf on the weekends. The family home was in a fashionable neighborhood, well kept and nicely decorated, and, as their neighbors later noted, every room was wired for high-fidelity sound -- a rare luxury in the 1950s.

The public image and appearance of the Rawlings family made the events of November 1957 all the more shocking.

On Tuesday, Nov. 26, 1957 -- two days before Thanksgiving -- at about 4:20 a.m., Harvey Rawlings bludgeoned his wife into unconsciousness with a brass ball-peen hammer. He then went down the hall and shot his son Raymond in his bed with a .38-caliber revolver. The shot apparently woke Robert and, as he was getting out of bed, his father came in to his bedroom and shot him in the head. Robert's body was found on the floor next to his bed.

Mrs. Rawlings apparently regained consciousness, heard the gun shots, and went down the hall to Raymond's bedroom. As she came out of the room after finding the bloody body of her youngest son, Rawlings shot her twice in the head. Rawlings then went into the bathroom, and shot himself between the eyes.

A neighbor, Wilbur Goss, of 317 Tamarac Drive, said he heard the shots and screams from the Rawlings home, but didn't do anything about it at the time. "I worried about it all day while at work," Goss said, "but I didn't want to interfere."

When he returned home from work that evening, Goss noticed that there had been no activity that day at the Rawlings home -- two cars were still in the driveway, and the porch light and floodlights were still on. Goss was finally prompted to investigate when he heard the hungry cries of the Rawlings' two black cats, Charcoal and Cinder.

"Rawlings always asked me to feed the cats when he was away," Goss said. "I was certain something was wrong when I saw them."

Goss climbed a stepladder and looked into a window of one of the upstairs bedrooms, where he saw the body of one of the boys. He then called police, who entered the home and discovered the four bodies.

Police said Rawlings left no note, but there was evidence at the house that he was having financial difficulties. Friends told police that Rawlings had been under tremendous pressure to pay off debts incurred through bad investments, and the family faced the prospects of a bleak Thanksgiving and Christmas. But the friends also told police that Rawlings' financial situation had been improving in recent months.

Another strain for the Rawlings family was they had originally thought that their youngest son, Raymond, might be mentally retarded. Recent medical tests, however, showed that he was not retarded, but was slightly deaf, and he was responding well to medical treatment.

Rawlings had called a physician friend on the evening before the shootings to discuss his deteriorating mental condition. The doctor urged Rawlings to come to his office immediately, but Rawlings declined. Instead, he agreed to visit a psychiatrist in Los Angeles the next day.

The four bodies were taken to the Wendell P. Cabot Mortuary in Pasadena, and they are interred together inside the Pasadena Mausoleum at Mountain View Cemetery in Altadena, Calif.

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