|Frank Struthers Jr. and father cielodrive.com|
Recently the blog was able to confirm that Frank Struthers, son of Rosemary LaBianca, has died. Frank along with his half-sister Suzan and her boyfriend Joe Dorgan found his mother and step-father dead, victims of a brutal murder. Frank was 16 years-old at the time.
Mary Neiswender reporting for the Long Beach Independent August 27, 1970 on Frank’s testimony at the trial.
Wednesday, Mrs. LaBianca’s 16-year-old son, Frank Lynn Struthers, a 10th grader at Marshall High School in Los Angeles, took the witness stand to describe how he discovered the body of his stepfather.
“I went to Lake Isabella with some friends of the family, and my mother and stepfather came up to drop off our ski boat,” the youth related calmly.
“They came back to pick up the boat and take it back Saturday, Aug. 9, 1969, and I intended to return with them, but the family I was staying with wanted me to stay with them an extra day.”
The last time he saw his parents alive, he said, was when they left the recreation area with his sister, Susan, about 9 p.m. the night of the murders.
“I left for home the next day…They (the family friends) dropped me off about 8 p.m. I noticed that the boat was still hitched to the car, but I opened the garage and put some of my gear away.
“I went to the back door — we never used the front door — and I knocked, but nobody answered. I noticed the lights were off and the shades drawn, so I knocked on the den window and called but nobody answered.”
The boy said he went to a nearby hamburger stand and telephoned the house, but received no answer. He then got in touch with his sister, who was living in an apartment. She arrived about 20 minutes later with a friend, Joe Dorgan, and the three went back to the house.
“We got the keys out out of mom’s Thunderbird and opened the back door. We walked into the kitchen and turned on the lights. My sister stayed in the kitchen, and Joe and I walked through the dining room. When we got to the living room we saw Leno — my stepfather.
“He was in a crouched position. We could tell right away…” the boy didn’t finish the sentence.
“We turned around right away and headed out. Joe picked up the phone, but dropped it. We got in the car and went to a neighbor’s house to call police.”
The youth, fought for composure as he identified his mother’s wallet, which police say they found in a service station rest room. Star prosecution witness Linda Kasabian testified she had placed the wallet there on instructions from Manson, who had taken it from the La Bianca home.
Young Struthers also identified his mother’s watch and a “graduation picture of me” found in his mother’s wallet.
What a heavy load for a young boy to carry.
Back in 1969 there were no such things as grief counselors or support groups to help someone navigate through the loss of a loved one. There was certainly no one to speak to about losing a loved one to a brutal murder and having had discovered that murder. A person was expected to suck it up, bury the emotion and get on with life. It was doubly so for males. Females were given some leeway to at least cry about their loss but boys were taught not to cry back in those days, it was a sign of weakness. There really was little in the way of an emotional outlet for grieving.
Not much is known about Frank’s life after his mother was murdered but considering his cause of death and the few things I was able to find about the last years of his life, Frank never recovered from his mother’s death and its aftermath.
Murders never consider the effect their act will have on their victim’s survivors. They ruin more lives than the one they took. Survivors are haunted by the images of the death, they have nightmares, they feel they should have been able to protect the victim, they feel helpless and powerless over their surroundings, they become preoccupied about their own safety and distrustful of strangers. But perhaps the biggest emotion that they have to deal with is guilt.
I imagine Frank played over in his mind thousands of times a scenario where he came home with his mother and Leno instead of staying at the lake for another day of water skiing and hanging out with his friends. Maybe he could have prevented the murders or at least gotten help right away. Maybe they wouldn’t have died if he had been there. Or conversely, maybe he would have been killed, too, and he wouldn’t have had to deal with the emotions he was feeling.
For Frank, his mother’s murder was never ending. He was reminded of it over and over again. Not a year has gone by since the murders that there hasn’t been a movie or a book or a television program or a news report or a new website about it.
Frank’s death certificate, which I’m not going to post, states that he died at 63 years of age on June 16 2017. He was never married and he had worked in the restaurant business for 20 years. He lived in Placentia CA for the last 10 years.
Frank died at Placentia Linda Hospital. The cause of death was 1. Acute respiratory failure (days) 2. Sepsis (days) 3. Alcohol related liver cirrhosis (years)
He was cremated and his ashes were scattered off the coast of Orange County.
The informant for personal information on the death certificate was given by a cousin who lives back east. A family tree at Ancestry gave his date of death but it got the year wrong. It also shows that Frank had another half-sister besides Suzan. The other, much older, half-sister had the same father as Frank. She passed in 2013.
Rest in peace, Frank.