Friday, December 21, 2012

Murder LA 000014

by James Cohen

Friday, January 17th, 1997:

Beverly Hills Ninja will be number one at the national box office this MLK holiday weekend but the Silent Movie Theatre on Fairfax, just south of Melrose, isn't showing that on its single screen. No, tonight's main attraction is Murnau's Sunrise (1927), preceded by some short films.

Laurence Austin, 74, the theater's current owner, lives in an apartment above the projection room. He's been in a rocky relationship for several years with 34 year old James Van Sickle, who is the projectionist this evening.

19 year old Christian Rodriguez slips out of the auditorium into the lobby shortly before Sunrise starts, and asks the employee he finds there, Mary Giles, to speak to the manager. Upon meeting Austin, Rodriguez pulls a gun and demands money. Although cooperative, Austin is shot several times and does not survive. Ms. Giles does survive being shot once. Rodriguez flees in the ensuing chaos as the crowd evacuates.

Image of Austin, from

Saturday, March 1st:

Largo on Fairfax, which has since moved, hosts a benefit memorial for Austin. Two of them, technically, at 8 and 10:15pm. Austin is tearfully eulogized (twice?) by Van Sickle.

Tuesday, March 11th:

Van Sickle is arrested for hiring Rodriguez to kill both Austin and Ms. Giles under the guise of a robbery, in order to inherit Austin's million dollar estate.

April and May 1999:

Van Sickle and Rodriguez are sentenced to life without the possibility of parole in separate trials, both avoiding the death penalty.

  • Yes, Austin and Van Sickle were in a relationship involving a 40 year age difference. Stop thinking about it.
  • Rodriguez was not paid the $30,000 he was promised for two murders.
  • Van Sickle quickly claimed he found a handwritten will leaving everything to him. Scooby Doo villains come up with better plans.
  • Austin filed assault and robbery charges against Van Sickle in 1996 but didn't pursue them.
  • The theater was built by John and Dorothy Hampton. After John's death Austin might have taken financial advantage of Dorothy to gain control of the property. However, it's worth noting that Dorothy kept working there afterwards in apparent approval.
  • The Cinefamily now operates the theater, which still shows silent films about once a month and interesting programming the rest of the time. If you appreciate film it's definitely worth a visit and you might consider contributing to their current fundraiser -- which ends January 2nd, 2013.