July 26, 2021 | By Nicholas Lightner
This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class.
Every week, young Janelle Frese would get excited to visit her grandparents in Huntington Park, California. Her grandmother, Theone Davis, always made sure to have a little stepping stool for Janelle so that, when she arrived at their house, she could step up to the kitchen sink to wash whatever farm-fresh produce Grandpa brought home.
This became one of Janelle’s favorite memories of her grandmother.
After August 5, 1971, Janelle was no longer able to visit her grandmother in Huntington Park. That day, 63-year-old Theone Davis was found murdered in the bedroom of her own home.
This murder remains unsolved.
Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, Theone was the eldest of six children. She had olive-tinted skin and dark hair that seemed contrary to her Swedish roots. After her youngest sibling was born, Theone’s mother became very ill, leaving a lot of family responsibility to Theone. Janelle said her grandmother dutifully accepted these responsibilities from a very young age.
At 17, Theone got married and had a son. Six months later, however, the marriage was annulled, leaving Theone a single mother in the 1920s. That same year, Theone, her siblings, and her parents moved to Los Angeles. Her father started a dry-cleaning business where he had a lot of movie stars and celebrities coming in to have their clothes cleaned.
Theone had always enjoyed singing and became a popular radio singer. She sang on local Los Angeles radio broadcasts where she met Jimmy Durante, the famous comedian and radio host. He became quite smitten with Theone and invited her to sing with him on radio shows. He gave her one of his piano stools, which is now owned by Theone’s youngest granddaughter, Janelle.
“Rumor has it that she, Theone Lindgren at the time, was the infamous Mrs. Calabash that Jimmy Durante would always sing about in his shows,” Janelle said.
Theone was incredibly talented. She was a part of an all-girl band where she played the piano, viola, and sang. She also worked at a theater and, in 1927, was crowned the “queen of cinema” to open the latest season of movies in Los Angeles.
After courting for seven years, Theone and her new husband, Ted Davis, got married and started a family. He adopted Theone’s first son, and they had two daughters together. Theone and her husband were very hard workers, running a tobacco business in downtown Los Angeles on Pacific Avenue.
“Grandma had to go shopping for the tobacco leaves on Whittier Boulevard,” Janelle said. “I mean, it was a big business to go find the right stuff and make their own blend.”
They sold that business in 1960 before getting into the real estate business. Theone and Ted both worked side-by-side for their entire marriage, which lasted 40 years.
At the time of her death, Theone and the family were living in Huntington Park, California, which was closer to their business than their previous place in downtown Los Angeles. Janelle said that Huntington Park, at the time, was a very happy community with everybody knowing everybody. According to the website Neighborhood Scout, Huntington Park has a higher crime rate than 89 percent of California’s cities and towns of all sizes.
Both Theone and Ted were very involved in the city and its politics. They became leaders of a church in Huntington Park after helping to build it. Ted was a part of the Kiwanis Club and was president of the Chamber of Commerce. Janelle said everybody who knew them, loved them.
On August 5, 1971, Theone was at home cleaning the house in preparation for hosting a bridge party with neighbors. She went to the grocery store around 2 p.m. to buy items for her party later that night.
That was the last time anyone saw or spoke with Theone. Between the time she got home and the time that her husband came home from work, something happened.
Upon arriving home late from work, Ted found his wife’s lifeless body on their bedroom floor.
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.
Ted immediately called the police, guests for the party that evening, and family doctors. Before anyone knew it, bridge party guests were showing up to the scene as well as the local Huntington Park Police Department.
People were coming in and out of the house with guests wanting to help out by cleaning and washing dishes, putting the china away, and comforting Ted. With police offers at the home as well, the scene soon became a mess. While people were moving about the house and the Huntington Park police were waiting for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Office to take over, Theone’s body was left in her bedroom for hours.
The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Office reported to the scene to find a mess. They were at a loss on how to find fingerprints or even begin finding evidence of who might have committed this crime.
Due to a lack of evidence, the murder of Theone Davis quickly went cold.
“On the whole, it really tore people apart,” Janelle recalled. “So many people loved Theone and rue that day because they wish they’d done something different.”
Theone’s viewing was held in a church and her funeral service had over 300 people in attendance. She had created so much laughter and happiness in people’s lives.
Janelle said that after Theone’s passing, everyone and everything changed for the entire family. She said that when there is not an answer for why or who, speculations began.
“We can’t let this kill all of us,” Janelle’s grandfather told the family. “We have to find a way, somehow and someway, to see some light. Otherwise, we will die of broken hearts.”
Janelle and the family took that as a mission to find some good in the world again. They all agreed that Theone would want them to laugh, play music, and have fun instead of being miserable. Though Theone’s unsolved death continues to haunt them, they were still able to find joy and laughter in their lives.
“In the last couple of years, I keep hearing my grandmother saying, ‘don’t remember me for the way I died, remember me for how I lived,’” Janelle said.
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.
Please consider using the buttons below to share this case in hopes that someone, somewhere will come forward and give this victim and family the answers they need and the justice they deserve.
If you have a loved one that is the victim of an unsolved homicide, please submit their case here for consideration in a future Cold Case Spotlight post.