One of the unsolved murder cases in the Philippines is 52 years old and will stay unsolved forever.
I wasn’t born yet when this crime happened. However, the elders who raised me have been telling this story as one of those unsolved crimes in the country.
The case has been sensational since it hit the front pages on May 30, 1967 for two reasons: (1) it was the first known case of a chopped body (murder and mutilation) and (2) the police had four suspects but couldn’t put any one of them in jail.
In 1961 (although another report say 1957), 28-year old Lucila Lalu left Candaba, Pampanga to seek fortune in Manila. She actually did find fortune. She had two flourishing businesses: the Pagoda Soda Fountain, a cocktail lounge along Rizal Avenue, and Lucy’s House of Beauty, a beauty salon along Mayhaligue Street, Sta. Cruz, Manila.
She became a common-law wife of a married policeman, Aniano Vera, whom she had a son as reported. However, she also had a lover, Florante Relos, a 19-year old waiter of the Pagoda Soda Fountain.
On 29 May 1967, chopped legs wrapped in newspaper were found inside a garbage can on Malabon Street, Sta. Cruz, a stone’s throw away from the Pagoda Soda Fountain. A day later, a headless and legless torso was found on a vacant lot along Epifanio De Los Santos Avenue (EDSA) near the Guadalupe Bridge.
It took time for the police to identify the body using the fingerprints of the dead hands which subsequently found to match on one person found in the police clearance files: Lucila Lalu y Tolentino. Until now, the head (or skull) is never found. But autopsy revealed that she was one-month pregnant at the time of her death.
In a desperate search for her head and for her murderer, the police had to dig in to her past. So it brought up the issues about her common-law husband, Patrolman Aniano Vera, and her lover, Florante Relos, 19, plus two other “lovers”.
The Investigation and Trial
Police immediately arrested Relos. But his alibi was airtight and which was corroborated by his two friends. He claimed that he was somewhere else at the time of the murder which was between late Sunday evening (28 May) and Monday noon (29 May), according to the autopsy. It appeared that Relos had the least of reasons for killing Lucila.
The police also couldn’t find enough evidence to pin the crime to Lucila’s partner, Aniano Vera, although he could be a possible suspect being a married policeman. It was raised during the investigation that Vera had mauled Relos one night in a fit of jealousy when Vera saw Lalu embracing Relos at the Pagoda Soda Fountain.
From what was left of Lucila, they surmised that the murder could only have been committed by someone familiar with the use of knives such as a butcher, or a surgeon, or at least a pre-med student.
The killer must have used a private vehicle to dispose of the torso and legs, and because these were very cold to the touch when found, the remains, the police said, must have been stored in a freezer. These led to speculation that a wealthy man may have been involved in the case, in addition to the earlier and credible theory that the killer must be intelligent, methodical and some sort of professional.
On 15 June 1967, Jose Luis Santiano, a 28-year old dental student who rented one of the rooms in the beauty parlor, surfaced and confessed to the crime to investigator Sgt. Ildefonso Labao. He alleged that on May 28, Lalu tried to seduce him. In rejecting her advances, Santiano claimed to have accidentally throttled her to death. Then, he chopped up her body and disposed the parts, including her still to be found head that he threw in a creek near Sct. Albano, Quezon City.
According to the reports, the police didn’t inspect Santiano’s room because they believed “it was not important” at that time. However, a few days later, Santiano retracted and repudiated his confession and insisted on his innocence.
The case was even more muddled when “mystery witness” Dr. Nora L. Ebio came forward to testify that Santiano was coerced by Labao into owning up to the crime. When Santiano’s room was finally checked, the door was found to have been forced open. Found inside were bloodstains on the floor, kitchen knife, razor blade and a woman’s stockings — supposed pieces of evidence that the fiscal found so unconvincing, he had the NBI take over. Later on, Santiano was found not guilty of the charges against him.
Another fourth suspect, an unidentified printing firm executive, was never pursued.
Being a controversial case, the film industry grabbed the chance to make this into a movie. In 1967, film director Artemio Marquez created “Lucila, Ako Laban sa Lipunan” starring Lucita Soriano and Rodolfo “Boy” Garcia.
An outrage sparked because the case was still unsolved, the film alluded the private life of a poor victim, others say the timing was not right, and worse, the move was done in bad taste. According to the reports I’ve read, Marquez took only four days to finish the whole film which he wrote and directed.
In another twist of events and many years after, an American investigator turned author theorized that his father might have murdered Lucila Lalu. Steve Hodel, a retired LAPD cop, claims in his book “Most Evil” that his father, Dr. George Hodel, killed Lucila Lalu.
Who is George Hodel?
George Hodel, the suspected murderer of Elizabeth Short (a.k.a. The Black Dahlia) in 1947, abandoned his family and moved to the Philippines where he resided for about 15 years or so.
A musical prodigy with an IQ of 186, George Hodel entered Cal Tech at age 15 and left shortly thereafter having impregnated the wife of a faculty member. He drove a cab and reported crime stories for the Los Angeles Record. He hung with an American film director, screenwriter, actor, and visual artist John Huston and started a literary magazine, Fantasia, dedicated to the “portrayal of bizarre beauty in the arts”.
With a girlfriend, Hodel opened a bookstore, then got a job as a radio host, then moved to the Bay Area, where he took a pre-med degree at Berkeley and enrolled in medical school at UCSF. He and the girlfriend, now parents of a young boy, wrote a travel-at-home column for the San Francisco Chronicle.
Somewhere in there, he and another woman produced his third child, a girl named Tamar. After graduating from med school, the doctor accepted a public health job that took him to Indian reservations in the southwest. Eventually he returned to Los Angeles, where he became the county’s chief VD control officer and ran a private VD clinic on the side — a specialty that gave him access to the secrets of Hollywood’s rich and naughty.
When Huston divorced his wife Dorothy, George took up with her. They wed and had four sons, including Steve, who remembers the mid-1940s as a glamorous time of Hollywood parties and famous people.
The fun ended abruptly in 1949, when Dorothy packed up her boys and fled. Steve later learned that his father had been accused of having sex with Tamar. Tamar became pregnant and had an abortion. She was 14.
Despite George’s “admission”, he was miraculously acquitted in a very public trial. A short time later, he moved to Hawaii (which was not yet a state), where he took a degree in psychiatry.
For the next 40 years he lived in Manila, where he married wife number three, had four more children, and embarked on a new career in international marketing. He returned to the San Francisco area with a fourth wife in 1990.
If Steve Hodel’s theory is true, the Lucila Lalu case should be considered closed and solved. However, no one would like to confirm or accept this theory. Is it because it was good to be true?
Also, who was the printing firm executive that was supposed to be the fourth suspect? Why has he remained unidentified? Was he Dr. George Hodel in disguise?
Another question, if Lucila Lalu was one month pregnant at the time of her death, who is the child’s father?
Why did Santiano admitted the crime only to retract his statement two days after?
What could be George Hodel’s motive to kill Lucila Lalu? Why was there no account of their meeting, either by chance or otherwise?
For a case 52 years old, it could be a tough nut to crack because the evidences presented in court may be too old to handle, the crime scenes are no longer there, and there’s no more trace of Lucila’s business establishments in Manila. This case will stay unsolved forever.