By Toni Momberger
It started as a nice day.
Fourteen hours before she would be killed, 17-year-old Marjorie (“Margie Lee”) Winn joined Jim Sloan Jr. in his new maroon convertible Mercury coupe and rode to the mountains three miles above Mill Creek Canyon.
It was Feb. 8, 1948, and the snow in the mountains was picturesque.
Jim shot pictures of Margie and University of Redlands student Joan Sudlow as part of a photography assignment for “Campus” magazine.
Jim, 21, was a photographer and a cinema major at USC. His family, living at 104 Prospect Drive and considered prominent, had been in Redlands 25 years. His father was reportedly one of the country’s wealthiest citrus growers.
Margie Lee was also from a prominent Redlands family. She was the daughter of Harold (“Dutch”) Winn, a druggist, who lived at 725 S. Buena Vista St. Her mother, Marguerite Langford at the time, lived at 806 Cajon Street, at Palm Avenue.
Jim had known Margie all her life.
After the photo shoot, Jim and Margie went to Palm Springs for dinner with friends and dancing at the Racquet Club (later reported as the Tennis Club). Jim was drinking.
Also drinking was Albert Strickland, but he was in a bar around 14th Street and Howard Avenue in Riverside. His 1937 Packard was parked outside -- a .410-gauge sawed off shotgun, loaded with a single shell, lying in the backseat.
Margie Lee is shot
Shortly after midnight Strickland left the bar to discover his car was missing.
At 12:51 a.m. he reported it as a theft to the Riverside Police Department. He said he had noticed a man with a narrow face loitering around.
Forty minutes later, in a small ranch home on the west side of Highway 99, 3.6 miles northwest of the Riverside-Redlands junction at Beaumont, (half a mile northwest of the Cherry Valley cutoff), Adolph Eilts and his wife woke up to notice a prowler was in their home, mumbling something and exploring by the beam of a flashlight.
Adolph called out that he was armed and the prowler left. Out front, Adolph noticed an abandoned Packard and called the Beaumont Police Department. The prowler tried Frank Stoddard's home across the highway and told housekeeper F.J. Jensen his car had broken down and he needed a ride to Beaumont. She told him the nearest garage was the Lighthouse Cafe. She later reported he had a distinct southern drawl.
Beaumont Police Officer David Courtney (initially identified as Arthur Courtney), who had heard the stolen-car announcement over his radio, arrived at the Eiltses’ to take a report.
Back in Palm Springs, Jim and Margie “suddenly realized it was late,” by Jim’s account, and got on what was then Highway 99 to head back to Redlands.
The couple had passed Beaumont by about four miles when, Jim says, he pulled over to synchronize their watches with the dashboard clock, which read 2:30 a.m.
At that time a man who Jim says seemed drunk yanked open the passenger door and thrust the muzzle of a shotgun into Margie’s side while saying, “Give me your money.”
Margie yelled something like “Go,” (every news service’s story has a different quote, though all attribute the account to Jim Sloan,) and Jim put the car in gear and hit the gas.
When the car lurched forward, the gun fired.
Margie cried something like, “I’m shot,” (again, no two news reports have the same quote) and died.
Jim drove .8 miles east to the Eiltses’ farmhouse, where the lights were on and Officer Courtney was taking Adolph’s description of a prowler with a thin face, about 30 years old.
Jim’s account does not mention closing the passenger door.
The investigation begins
The shotgun was not in the Packard, but half a bottle of wine was.
Police and sheriff’s deputies believed the car thief was the prowler and Margie’s killer -- because of the shotgun that Strickland reported had been in his car.
But the Redlands Daily Facts, in its second-day coverage, wrote, "Coroner White said this morning (Monday, Feb. 9) that perhaps the pretty Redlands girl was not shot with a .410 gauge as reported. All calibers of shotguns use the same size pellet."
Law enforcement agencies immediately blocked the highway in hopes of preventing his escape toward the desert or Redlands. Trains in San Timoteo Canyon and all the cars on the 99 were searched.
Officers made casts of footprints both at the farmhouse and the site of the shooting.
“These prints, they said today, do not compare well,” the Redlands Daily Facts reported in its second-day coverage. “However, there were various footprints in the mud of the Eilts yard Sunday and they may simply have selected ones that did not happen to belong to those of the prowler.”
A massive manhunt ensues
With assistance from other agencies the manhunt quickly grew to what the news called one of the largest in Riverside County’s history.
The search, which also included four airplanes, several mounted posses and more than 200 citizens on foot (or 100, according to the International News Service) covered more than 150 miles in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
Officers believed the killer was still in the rugged brush-covered San Jacinto hills and the Mount San Gorgonio “Badlands,” but the search expanded rapidly over the day, including Jack Rabbit Road and Lamb’s Canyon, where people matching the description were reported seen.
There was no trace of the weapon, although Los Angeles police questioned a “youth” they found with a .410 gauge shotgun in his car. He was released after denying knowledge of Margie’s shooting.
Officers were arresting people left and right, but suspects were released based on shoeprints’ not matching those the officers took. Everyone who was arrested or even questioned for anything was considered against the Winn shooting.
In no news report is Jim Sloan ever mentioned as a possible suspect.
The shooting is a national story
The day after Margie was shot, newspapers in almost every large city and hundreds of small towns had the killing on the front page, with Margie’s photo and a headline such as “Pretty 17-year-old slain by bandit.”
He gets away
Officials in charge of the search announced after three days of searching that the killer had likely escaped, but the search would continue for another few days.
Redlands police chief gets a letter:
Saturday, Feb. 7, 1948
Sunday, Feb. 8
Monday, Feb. 9
Tuesday, Feb. 10
Wednesday, Feb. 11
Thursday, Feb. 12
Saturday, Feb. 14
Thursday, Feb. 19
Friday, Feb. 20
Wednesday, Feb. 25
Thursday, Nov. 6, 1952
Monday, Nov. 10
Sunday, Jan. 10, 1988
The Zodiac theory
Some who are interested in the Zodiac Killer speculate that Margie Lee Winn was the serial killer's first victim.
Here are some of their points:
The News Coverage
Margie Lee Winn was among the top academics at Redlands High School, from which she would have graduated in four months, but the Associated Press referred to her as a homecoming queen candidate, “Redlands beauty” and “an attractive brunette.”
The San Bernardino Sun Telegram said, “Miss Winn was considered one of the most beautiful students at Redlands High School.”
The Daily Facts, which reported the shooting as a murder, led with “the shotgun killer of pretty Marjorie Winn...,” and had a sidebar headline, “Margie Winn was one of most popular RHS girls.”
None of the coverage referenced Jim’s looks.
Stories were generated locally by the Redlands Daily Facts and the Sun Telegram, and syndicated stories were produced by the Associated Press, United Press and International News Service.
None of the news articles about the shooting, search, investigation or follow-up had a reporter byline.
Newspapers all use Jim Sloan’s account, but the quotes differ.
Sun: “Get going, Jimmy!”
Daily Facts: “Go!”
Associated Press: “Let’s go.”
Sun: “I’m shot! Get me to the nearest place!”
Daily Facts: “I’ve been shot.”
United Press: “I’m shot -- take me to a hospital.”
Associated Press: “I’ve been shot, get me to the nearest house.”
There are no quotes from any police report.
The Associated Press says Sloan was 18, and United Press says he was 21.
He’s listed as a freshman at USC in most stories, although the Redlands Daily Facts has him as 21 and a sophomore, which is likely accurate.
He served in the Navy for two years after high school.
The following town's papers (at least) ran the story on the front page with a photo of Margie Lee Winn Feb. 9, the first day after the shooting:
West Palm Beach, Fla.
Salt Lake City
...And without a photo but on the front page:
Oil City, Penn. (just a brief)
Lubbock, Texas (This is the only paper to have no use of the words “pretty” and “beauty,” although they left in early mention of homecoming queen candidacy.)
We are waiting for Riverside County to send us the coroner's report and the police report.
The story will be updated soon.