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The Bizarre Lesbian Murder Scandal That Rocked 1950s LA

Nov 9 2015 11:10 PM
The Bizarre Lesbian Murder Scandal That Rocked 1950s LA

Photo by Preappy via Stocksy

On October 31, 1957, Goldyne Pizer rang Peter Fabiano's doorbell and shot him in the chest.

Goldyne Pizer sat in a parked car in Sun Valley, the sort of copycat California suburb Malvina Reynolds sang about in "Little Boxes." It was Halloween, 1957. Next to Pizer was Joan Rabel, a photographer, ex–hair salon employee, and lesbian from Philadelphia, or at least that's the birthplace she listed on a 1948 passenger manifest for a ship traveling from Honolulu to Los Angeles. Like Pizer, Rabel had concealed her lesbianism in a failed marriage. Untethered, the women formed a powerful bond.

As described in a post from 2007 on the Los Angeles Times blog the Daily Mirror, Rabel had dressed Pizer in blue jeans, a khaki jacket, red gloves, and heavy makeup. She donned a domino mask, the kind Robin wears to fight crime alongside Batman. But Pizer had no intension of saving anyone that night.

A 2008 article in the NY Daily News details what happened next: The lights went out in the bedroom Pizer and Rabel were watching. "All right, go do it," Rabel said. Pizer got out, approached the home, and rang the doorbell, waking Peter Fabiano and his wife Betty. According to an article in the Valley News paper published three days after the murder, it was a little after 11:00 PM.

Read More: When Women Help Their Husbands Rape and Murder

Peter went downstairs, imagining a tardy trick-or-treater. "It's a little late for this isn't it?" he said opening the door.

"No," Pizer replied, shaking as she raised the brown paper bag she was holding and braced something inside with both hands. A shot rang out. The bag ruptured, Peter fell. Pizer ran back to the car; Rabel kissed her and whispered, "Thank you" before speeding off. In later testimony described by the Kingsport Times-News, the women revealed that they then burned their clothes and returned the car to the friend they'd borrowed it from. "Forget you ever knew me," Rabel said to Pizer before parting ways. The next day, realizing she still had the .38 Smith & Wesson revolver from the night before, Pizer rented a locker at a department store in Downtown LA. She left the gun there.

The Valley News reported that Betty Fabiano found her husband with a bullet lodged just below his heart. Judy Solomon, Betty's 15-year-old daughter from a previous marriage, called the police. Peter was rushed to a nearby hospital, but he never woke up. Betty remained sedated for a few days before making herself available for questioning.

Betty told police she'd heard two voices that night, one masculine and one like a man impersonating a woman. The police dug into Peter's background. When the Independent out of Long Beach pointed out that the shooting was reminiscent of a gang assassination, police wanted to know why Peter had been a target; aside from a misdemeanor charge of bookmaking (working as a bookie) in 1948, Peter was clean.

There was only one person Betty could think of that might want to harm Peter: Joan Rabel, a friend of the family. Police picked Rabel up but soon released her due to lack of evidence. According to the Valley News, the murder weapon was found in a department store locker two weeks later. It was registered to a lab assistant at the Children's Hospital Los Angeles: 42 year-old Goldyne Pizer.

The only thought she had was that she had saved her friend from an evil person.

Police arrested Pizer on November 12. According to the Kingsport Times-News, she confessed, claiming that Rabel had coerced her into shooting Peter. Rabel was arrested soon after. Both women hired lawyers. In early December, police arranged a face-to-face meeting between Rabel and Pizer and their lawyers.

"She told me that Mr. Fabiano was a vile, evil man—a man who destroyed everything around him," said Pizer. "She told me that he mistreated his wife and that he was dealing narcotics."

She then told police she'd bought a gun using money Rabel had given her, and explained how they'd driven by the Fabianos' home weeks before the murder so she'd recognize him. Rabel remained silent.

Peter and Betty met in the late 1940s. According to multiple articles in the Valley News Sun Peter was an ex-Marine, and Betty was a beautiful divorcee with two children. Based on federal census data from 1950, we know they married and lived in Kingston, New York, where Peter worked as a truck driver. In 1956 they moved to Los Angeles and opened two beauty shops.

Peter hired Joan Rabel to work in one of his salons. Rabel was a 40-year-old freelance photographer who'd spent time taking writing classes at the University of Honolulu in the late 40s (numerous passenger manifests document her frequent trips to the Aloha State). Rabel soon became close to the couple—so close that when Peter and Betty's marriage started having problems, Betty moved in with Rabel.

There is little detail of what transpired between the two women. The Los Angeles Times described the women's relationship as "abnormal." (That was about as close to printing the word homosexual as a major newspaper would come in 1957.) Suffice to say Peter was threatened. When Betty and Peter reconciled, it was on the condition that she cut off all contact with Rabel.

After Betty, Rabel seduced Pizer. According to federal census data Pizer was born in Rockford, Illinois, the daughter of German immigrants. By 1940 she'd moved to Los Angeles and taken up work as a secretary. On October 29, 1944 (almost exactly 13 years before killing Peter) she had married Herbert Krome, a pharmacist at the Naval hospital. They soon got divorced, leaving room for her to indulge her then-taboo proclivities with women.

Pizer and Rabel's trial was scheduled for late December. The Valley News reported a judge ordered three psychiatrists to examine the women. Pizer told one of them, "I had no motive, personally. Whatever motive I had was to please Joan. I was always easily influenced. I have been impressionable and always trusting."

After hearing Pizer's account of the murder, the psychiatrist wrote, "The only thought she had was that she had saved her friend, Joan Rabel, from an evil person."

At the trial, both women pleaded innocent, Pizer by reason of insanity. Pizer wept as she recounted the night of the shooting in front of a jury. Reports say Rabel smiled as she was lead out of court that day.

The women were charged with first degree murder, which was eventually reduced to second degree murder after they made a plea deal. The judge sentenced them five years to life in prison.

I had no motive, personally. Whatever motive I had was to please Joan.

According to the LA Times, Pizer was eventually released and remained in the Los Angeles area. In 1971, she was made an officer of the Miracle Mile chapter of the Professional Women's Club. Pizer died at the age of 83 in 1998. Rabel was presumably released at some point, though there is little trace of her after 1957. Betty went on to live a full life, as far as we know, passing away at the age of 81 in 1999.

In April 1958, the Valley News Sun published an article criticizing the recent leniency of local judges and prosecutors on criminals. What was referred to as the "trick-or-treat murder" was cited as an example of women being treated softly in the courtroom.

Most of us know what it is to love strongly, to go through infatuation, obsession, and surrender. Sometimes that sort of love twists itself up. Did Betty love Rabel? Did the women ever reconnect? Did Betty play a role in her husband's murder? Sometimes the line between your thoughts and theirs fades away. When that happens there is only one way to explain ourselves: "I did it for her."

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