Family of strangled flight attendant reaches out | News
This week, the family of a murdered flight attendant contacted me. Two years ago, Bayou Justice recounted his murder. Next week, I will recount the bizarre events from his family’s perspective.
In 1962, Trans-Texas Airways flight attendant Donna Janell Kimmey worked from the Dallas airport hub, flying to Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. TTA advertisements that year portrayed their assistants as the most courteous and attractive “angels” in the air. Donna, a 22-year-old former beauty queen, proudly wore the wings of her cap.
Shortly before Christmas that year, someone strangled Donna at a fancy motel in Kenner. Today, more than half a century later, the police still do not know who killed her.
Donna Kimmey graduated from high school in Huntington, Texas in 1958. That year, she worked as the editor of the school newspaper and manager of the basketball team. Her classmates voted her “the prettiest girl in Angelina County”.
When Marilyn Monroe died in August 1962, Donna bleached her brown hair in tribute, never imagining that her own death would soon follow.
The 310-room Hilton Inn faced the Skyway, across from Moisant International Airport in New Orleans. At 10 a.m. on December 17, 1962, a bellhop at the posh motel unlocked the door to a room in a 12-person connecting suite rented by TTA for employees between flights.
Usually prompt, Donna Kimmey missed her morning flight to Little Rock, prompting airline officials to investigate. When no one answered the door, TTA District Manager Ralph Murphy contacted the motel manager to open his room for him.
Donna joined Trans-Texas Airways two years after graduating.
Jo-Ann Gentry – the Houston stewardess who replaced Donna on the Little Rock flight – said Donna loved her job and her life. Jo-Ann told police that she and Donna had planned a vacation in Europe for the fall of 1963. She dated whoever she wanted, Jo-Ann said, and had “friends everywhere”.
Inside the motel, TTA staff found Donna’s room a mess.
Police later said the disturbance did not appear to stem from a search for valuables. Investigators speculated that a fight had taken place in the room.
On the still-made bed, a letter was half-finished, with a ballpoint pen just below an unfinished sentence. Donna had written to a naval officer who had left San Diego for the Pacific a few days earlier.
In a small bathroom, researchers found Donna’s body partially submerged in a tub of water, the top half of a two-piece nightgown tucked under her shoulders. The crew exited the room and phoned the sheriff’s office, who contacted the Kenner Police Department and the parish coroner.
Capt. Richard Morris of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office told reporters that police could not locate the bottom half of Donna’s nightgown or any undergarments. They found her purse by the bed, but no wallet or luggage in the room.
Captain Morris said both of Donna’s wrists appeared to be broken. “There are bruises on her face and neck as if she had been suffocated,” he said. “At the moment we believe the theft was the motive, but the coroner is testing for rape.”
The following Wednesday, Jefferson Parish coroner Dr. Charles B. Odom said tests found no evidence of sexual assault. He said an autopsy indicated the cause of death was asphyxia due to strangulation.
Based on the autopsy results, Dr Odom reset the probable time of death to almost midnight on Sunday evening. Two days earlier he had told Captain Morris that his death could have occurred before 7 o’clock that evening.
Five motel employees who saw Donna that Sunday took polygraph tests, including a restaurant server who delivered a cold plate to her at 5:30 p.m. that evening. Police released four of the five, detaining the black waiter “because he was the last person to see the hostess alive”.
When Dr. Odom revised Donna’s time of death, the police released the waiter, who had spent three days in jail.
Dr. Odom found bruises on Donna’s throat. His left hyoid – a horseshoe-shaped bone in the neck between the chin and the thyroid cartilage – had been fractured. The autopsy also found blood in his trachea.
Dr Odom said Donna did not drown, although water filled both lungs.
“We believe the killer strangled her and then tried to cover himself. He scooped water from the tub and placed his body inside to give the appearance of drowning,” Odom said. .
“Judging by the tissue damage, her attacker must have been an extremely powerful man,” he added. “She had no chance of screaming. The killer apparently grabbed her by the throat the minute the door opened and didn’t let go until she was dead,” Odom said.
“There was no flesh or hair under her fingernails to indicate that she had scratched or clawed at her attacker. The attack was so quick and violent that she could not resist. It would take a strong person to achieve this.
“Death only occurs within minutes when something cuts air to a person’s lungs, and unconsciousness occurs even faster,” the doctor said. “She was probably unconscious within 60 to 80 seconds of when the attacker grabbed her by the throat.”
Police found no new clues in the case until Friday, January 11, 1963.
That evening, Kenner City Marshal Salvadore Lentini told a press conference that two young boys had discovered Donna Kimmey’s wallet. The wallet lay in a drainage ditch just off the Airline Highway in Kenner.
Inside, he said, police found Donna TTA’s employee ID card. However, someone had taken the $50 that Jo-Ann Gentry said Donna usually kept on her.
Captain Morris also joined the press conference, saying police believe Donna’s attacker threw the wallet from a passing automobile as he escaped. He also said the discovery of the wallet provided the first new evidence since the bellhop found Donna’s body. Sadly, the discovery of the wallet also marked the last time police made any progress on the case.
In May 1963, Jefferson Parish Deputy Criminal Chief George Gillespie told reporters, “We have nothing new, but the case is still very open.”
“We spent a fortune on the case, and we continue to spend,” he said. “Four men traveled to 10 states and we performed over 50 lie detector tests. Still nothing, but we don’t want to give up.
In May 1993, Tom Cavanaugh, a retired New York detective, wrote a book naming Charles E. Terry as one of two Boston Stranglers, confessed that serial killer Albert DeSalvo was the second.
When questioned in June 1963, Terry told Cavanaugh that he had been to New Orleans in December 1962. This information led Cavanaugh to believe that Terry had killed Donna Kimmey, but he never found evidence for support his theory.
I don’t believe Charles E. Terry strangled Donna Kimmey. Next week, the victim’s family speaks.
“Bayou Justice” is a weekly true-crime column featuring notable crime-related stories in South Louisiana, most of which are still unsolved. If you have information that can help solve the case, contact Crime Stoppers or your local police department. HL Arledge receives an email at [email protected]