Left and Center: Karen circa, 1961
Right: Age Progressed to age 63
Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance
Missing Since: August 18, 1961
Missing From: Torrance, Los Angeles County, California
Classification: Non-Family Abduction
Date Of Birth: July 25, 1950
Age: 11 years old
Height and Weight: 4’11” and 55 pounds
Distinguishing Characteristics: Caucasian Female, Blonde hair, Blue eyes, Karen is small bones, she has a brown colored birthmark in the middle of her forehead just a half an inch below her hairline, her teeth are uneven and her right eye tooth protrudes, she has freckles across the bridge of her nose, Karen’s hair was cut in short bangs at the time of her 1961 abduction
Clothing/Jewelry Description: A white knit cardigan sweater, a white sleeveless blouse, royal blue shorts with a white printed band on the bottom, a pair of blue/white socks, blue rubber sandals, Karen was last known to be wearing a pearl necklace with a clear plastic pendant containing a mustard seed and a new yellow Hanover watch at the time of her 1961 abduction
NCMEC Number: 952801
Details of Disappearance
Karen was last seen in Torrance, California on August 18th 1961. She and her younger 8 year old brother were attending a summer arts and crafts class at Halldale Avenue Elementary School at 215th Street and Halldale Avenue in Harbor Gateway. On this particular day, however, their pet dog followed them to the school. Karen’s brother took the dog back home before the class ended but Karen decided to stay behind.
According to the teachers and fellow students, Karen left the class when it ended at 5:30 pm during that day. She was carrying two toy covered wagons which were the crafts that she and her brother made in class that day. Karen rode with a friend on a bicycle for the first few minutes of the walk. The walk between the school and Karen’s home is only 4 blocks. She never arrived home and was never seen or heard from again.
Karen was reported missing at 6:00 pm when her parents noticed she never came back home. Authorities suspect she was abducted by a non family member as she walked home. Volunteers which included neighbors and relatives searched for her throughout the area. Police and patrol were on motor and in helicopters, despite various searches she was never found.
On August 23rd, a man was arrested in connection to her presumed abduction. The man was later identified as Lonnie Smith from Long Beach, California. He was 40 years old at the time of his arrest. He was initially arrested for intoxication but he apparently mumbled Karen’s name and was rebooked on suspicion of kidnapping her. Police also found bloodstains on his underclothes.
However, investigators had no clear evidence that Lonnie was involved in Karen’s abduction and he was eventually cleared because his alibi for that time was checked and confirmed. He was in Paramount purchasing an automobile at the exact time the child disappeared.
Police also arrested an ex-convict, Clarence E. McDonald, on suspicion of taking Karen after police found girls panties in his vehicle. He was initially arrested for robbery. He was eventually cleared in the investigation. Karen was the first Southern Californian girl to disappear within a two week period. On September 2nd 1961, Ramona Irene Price was abducted as she walked to her new house in Santa Barbara.
Investigators believe that both Karen’s and Ramona’s abductions are connected. Investigators also believe the 1962 abduction and murder of Dorothy Gale Brown is connected to the cases. Brown was kidnapped on July 2nd 1962 after she left her residence on her bike to go to a local car wash in Torrance, California to purchase sodas.
Dorothy’s bike was later found abandoned by her father at 8:30 pm. The next day, articles of Dorothy’s clothing were found in beer cans. At noon, two skin divers discovered Dorothy’s body floating in a kelp bed about 150 yards off shore. It was estimated that her body was in the water for 6-8 hours before she was found. Her murder remains unsolved.
Investigators have noted similarities in the Tompkins case and Brown case. Both girls were 11 years old and had blonde hair. They both disappeared at roughly the same time during the day and from only blocks apart. Investigators believe Karen is likely deceased due to passage of time and since the circumstances of her disappearance suggest she was kidnapped.
Investigators believe Karen was a victim of serial killer, Mack Ray Edwards. They also believe Ramona Price and Dorothy Brown were other victims of him. Edwards is believed to be responsible for up to 20 murders and disappearances of children throughout a 16 year time period. He was an active killer from 1953 up until 1969.
Edwards wasn’t arrested until 1970 when he and a teenaged accomplice kidnapped three girls from their home in Sylmar. The girls managed to escape and were rescued. Edwards was fearful that the girls would identify him as their kidnapper. Edwards surrendered to police in 1970 and confessed to the molestation and murder of six children. Edwards was charged with three of these killings.
Edwards confessed that he abducted, raped, and murdered 8 year old Stella Darlene Nolan on June 20th 1953 in Compton, California. She was missing for 17 years until he led authorities to her remains. A highway crew found her skeletal remains in March of 1970 after being led there by Edwards direction. She was his first victim.
Edwards also confessed to killing 16 year old Gary Rochet who was found shot to death on November 26th 1968 in Granada Hills, California. He also confessed to killing Donald Allen Todd who was 13 when he disappeared from Pacoima, California on May 16th 1969. He was later found shot to death after being sexually assaulted.
Edwards additionally confessed to the 1956 murders of Brenda Jo Howell and Donald Lee Baker. They both disappeared from Azusa, California on August 6th 1956 and were never found. Brenda was Edwards sister in law at the time. He also confessed to killing 15 year old Roger Dale Madison who disappeared on December 16th 1968. His body was never found.
Edwards was not charged with killing Howell, Baker, or Madison since their bodies remain missing but investigators are certain he was responsible for what happened to them. Investigators suspect due to the gap between his crimes, he likely had many more victims. Edwards victims usually ranged from seven to sixteen years of age.
Investigators believe Edwards was also responsible for the 1957 disappearance of Thomas Eldon Bowman and the 1960 disappearance of Bruce Howard Kremen. Neither boy has been found but Edwards once wrote a letter to his wife saying he left out his confession to Thomas Bowman’s murder to police.
Investigators have attempted to uncover the remains of Edwards other victims in recent years but nothing has ever been found. Edwards hung himself in prison on October 30th 1971. There’s no actual evidence to indicate that Edwards was involved in Karen’s abduction but investigators are certain he was involved in her disappearance and presumed death.
At the time of her disappearance, Karen lived with her younger brother and infant sister as well as her mother and grandmother. Karen’s father was stationed with the United States Navy at sea in 1961 but he came home after finding out his daughter was snatched. He never gave up searching for her. Karen’s father is deceased and her mother passed away in 2008. Her siblings now live in Florida. Karen was said to be a great student in 1961. Foul play is suspected in her disappearance which remains unsolved.
If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:
Los Angeles Police Department 213-485-5381
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
California Department of Justice