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The Lingering Terror of the Bouncing Ball Strangler

Updated on May 16, 2017
Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times | Source

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Defined

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a psychological reaction occurring after experiencing a highly stressing event that is usually characterized by depression, anxiety, flashbacks, recurrent nightmares, and avoidance of reminders of the event.

Surprisingly, the medical field acknowledged the symptoms of PTSD in war veterans as early as the U.S. Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War. And for many years veterans were the only ones diagnosed with this mental condition. That was generally thought short-term in nature. Nowadays victims of sexual abuse, rape, hurricanes, car crashes, and survivors of massacres, insurgencies, and terrorists attacks are also included within the PTSD diagnosis category.

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How Long Can PTSD Exist?

According to John H. Crystal, M.D., Chair, Department of Psychiatry, Yale University, in an online article entitled, How long does PTSD last? He says," …In some cases, particularly where it is not treated, PTSD can last a very long time, perhaps the remainder of one’s life..."

A case in point, when news about the arrest of Lonnie Franklin Davis, Jr., the Grim Sleeper, was released to the public. The briefing also unleashed the suppressed memories about another serial killer, the Bouncing Ball Strangler. That terrorized South Los Angeles from 1959 to the fall of 1960.

For more than 50 years his moniker lay dormant like a buried ancient relic. In the minds of those residing in the area. And the physical description relayed to the Los Angeles Police Department by an eyewitness as well: Negro, six feet, 18 - 35 years old, processed hair, possible broken nose, dressed in ivy league clothes.

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Recollections of the Bouncing Ball Strangler

The residents recollected people glimpsing from cracked Venetian blinds, drapes, sheer curtains, and window shades, watching the movement of unfamiliar males passing through neighborhoods on foot and especially bouncing a ball.

In conjunction with women boldly standing on their front porches with hands-on hips glaring at the interlopers. And the locking of formerly unlatched screen doors and unlocked front doors during the daytime. In addition to the shutting and locking of windows. Along with the initiation of a buddy system to check on elderly relatives and neighbors.

They also recalled how their blocks once filled with lively exchanges, laughter, and pedestrians were quieter and less traveled…And at night, women walking in pairs or in groups carrying baseball bats. The men and male teenagers waiting at the bus stops for female relatives to accompany them home. Plus adults conversing about the murders in hushed tones. Moreover, the individuals mulled over their many sleepless nights, anxiety, and overwhelming fear of being killed and the dread people related to them would be too.

In all likelihood the residents were still suffering from PTSD and reliving the emotional violence wrought by the strangler. And they probably never sought counseling for this issue. Because the cost for such treatment was beyond the means of working class people. Likewise anyone seeking mental health counseling in the 1960s was frowned upon.

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Why Do Bad Memories Linger?

Stacy Lu’s online article, ”Erasing Bad Memories,” addresses the issue why recollections of traumatic events linger in some individuals. Wherein Gregory J. Quirk, Ph.D. in Neuroscience, Department of Psychiatrics, University of Puerto Rico states, "We really don't know why people respond so differently to traumatic experiences. It may be that the prefrontal cortex is less connected to the amygdala, so it can't say, ‘No, you're not in danger right now."

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The Los Angeles Police Department Connect the Cases

The Los Angeles Police Department headed by Police Chief William H. Parker, III, at the time, had not connected the deaths of Amanda E. Rockefellow, 73, on January 29, 1959. And Mrs. Ruth Gwinn, 45, in the vicinity of South Grande Avenue on May 28, 1959, with the Bouncing Ball Strangler.

Until Mrs. Adela G. Williams, 62, on June 26th, 1960, reported encountering the strangler bouncing a ball outside the bedroom of Mrs. Mercedes Langeron, 72. When the suspect observed her, he placed the ball inside his pants pocket and sped out the house. Shortly thereafter, Mrs. Williams discovered her roommate’s body. Thus, the moniker Bouncing Ball Strangler was spawn by the press to describe the criminal.

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The Disappearance of the Bouncing Ball Strangler

In July of 1960, Raymond W. Clemmons was arrested for the murder of Nina T. Theorin. Also he was suspected of being the Bouncing Ball Strangler. Naturally, South Los Angeles heaved a sigh of relief and a sense of calm returned. It was short-lived. A lie detector test determined he was not the strangler. And panic settled over the community once again.

The Bouncing Ball Strangler disappeared from the scene in the fall of 1960 like a flash of lightning.

He probably left town, changed his name, shaved his head, grew a moustache, ditched his ivy league wardrobe, and donned a pair of eyeglasses.

Nonetheless, he remains at large. How ironic if he’s physically or mentally challenged now. Given he targeted mostly elderly widows and physically challenged middle-aged women. Maybe via his sales route and referrals, obituaries in newspapers, telephone directories, church rosters, specifically tailored consumer mailing lists, or through keen observation of the women's daily routines.

Or perhaps he’s dead. Whatever the case, the women he slayed cry out for justice and their families for closure. And the South Los Angeles residents still experiencing anxiety from his reign of terror should seek mental health counseling.

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Have You Experienced PTSD?

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1. Website: U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. Online article: History of PTSD in Veterans: Civil War to DSM-5. By Matthew J. Friedman, MD, PhD, Senior Advisor and former Executive Director, National Center for PTSD.

2. Website: Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. Online article: How long does PTSD last?. By John H. Krystal, M.D. Scientific Council Member, Chair, Department of Psychiatry, Yale University. 2017.

3. Website: American Psychological Association. Online article: Erasing bad memories. By Stacy Lu, Monitor Staff,February 2015, Vol 46, No. 2.

4. NAB STRANGLER KILLER: Confessed Slayer Gave Victim Ride, Los Angeles Sentinel (1934-2005); July 14, 1960: ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Sentinel.

5. ‘Pink Capris’ Slayer Draws Life Sentence, Los Angeles Sentinel (1934-2005); Nov 17, 1960; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Sentinel.

© 2017 Irma Cowthern


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    • profile image

      Not given 

      7 months ago

      Yes the victimized families of these traumatic events still suffer today from the effects of the bouncing ball man or a bouncing ball Strangler

    • profile image


      15 months ago

      I vaguely remember this time, being about 5 when this occurred, but I remember referring to him as "The Bouncing Ball Man." When I could only find "The Bouncing Ball Strangler," I was not sure if they were one in the same, but I do believe so.

    • ponder profile imageAUTHOR

      Irma Cowthern 

      21 months ago from Los Angeles,CA

      Hi Noni,

      I was scared too. I couldn't sleep. Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      Noni Olabisi 

      21 months ago

      I was a little girl at that time and frighten by the adults around me whispering about it to each other and telling us as children to stick together and watch out for each other.....The adults fear made me more afraid ............

    • ponder profile imageAUTHOR

      Irma Cowthern 

      21 months ago from Los Angeles,CA


      Thanks for checking it out.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      21 months ago from Oklahoma

      Interesting read.


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