Friday, June 28, 2024


In late June of 1946, media hype over the first post-World War II test of an atomic weapon was hitting a fever pitch. News of the imminent Operation Crossroads detonation of the “Gilda” bomb at Bikini Atoll on June 30, 1946 (U.S. time zone) screamed from headlines and blared from radio broadcasts. There was even a (true) story about atomic scientists pasting a pinup photo of screen star Rita Hayworth on the weapon they had named after her hit film.

One of the people reportedly listening to the radio coverage on A-Day was a young nurse named Susannah Gregory. The story goes that she became so despondent about the Bomb, that approximately an hour after its explosion, she hurled herself off a Los Angeles rooftop to her death. Accounts of her suicide ran the following day – amid all the other articles about the Able, aka “Gilda,” test. The sad story of Nurse Gregory – captured below in headlines – was in stark contrast to the otherwise celebratory coverage of America’s atomic arms monopoly in action. 







The Los Angeles County Coroner’s section of Susannah Gregory’s death certificate states that an “investigation” was held regarding the circumstances of her demise. A more comprehensive “inquest” was not conducted. I spoke with a clerk at the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner’s office who told me that they still retained a copy of the two-page coroner report. The document was described to me as being very limited: Names; addresses; cause of death; date of death and little more. There is no mention whatsoever of the atomic bomb.

The Los Angeles Times account was far more colorful:

“A 23-year-old (sic) registered nurse, depressed by radio accounts of the atomic bomb test at Bikini, yesterday leaped to her death from the top of the 13-story apartment building at 626 S. Rampart Blvd., police reported.

The woman, Susanah (sic) Gregory of 3755 W. 59th St., broke from the arms of her sister Jane, who had sensed Susanah’s (sic) intentions, and dashed across the roof. Several members of the cast of the musical show, OKLAHOMA! were sunbathing on the roof and saw her jump.

Mrs. R.L. Garlish (sic), an aunt with whom the nurse was visiting, told Police Dets. W.A. Cummings and E.W. Jokisch that Miss Gregory had been visibly depressed by the Bikini broadcast and feared for the future of the world.

The aunt, sister and victim had gone to the roof for a view of the surroundings when the tragedy occurred.”

The “aunt” (who was not related to Ms. Gregory, but who may have been a friend of the family from Illinois) is not quoted or even mentioned in the coroner investigation. She is likely Juanita Garlich [1913-1970] who was married to a Roy Louis Garlich [1910 - ?].

Did the Los Angeles press and the wire services run with the most sensational aspect of Ms. Gregory’s suicide – regardless of the facts – as a tie-in to their Bomb test coverage? Maybe. But it is difficult to confirm the reason or reasons behind her fateful decision because everyone associated with the event is deceased. The police report that might have contained quotations from Mrs. Garlich or Jane Gregory no longer exists. And, as mentioned, the coroner’s “investigation” hardly lived up to its title.

Susannah Gregory’s hometown newspaper in Illinois, the Aurora Daily Beacon, did not reference the Bomb in their front page story on her death. The writer did, however, report that she had been in “ill health since moving to Los Angeles.” Was this a delicate reference to clinical depression? 

The piece headlined “FORMER AURORA GIRL KILLED IN 12 STORY FALL” ran in the Beacon alongside an Associated Press story on the previous day’s events at Bikini:

"Aurora and Batavia friends were shocked today to learn of the death in California yesterday of Miss Susannah Gregory, 22, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. James H. Gregory, former residents of this community, in a fall from a twelfth story window (sic) of the Arcady Building, Los Angeles, Calif.

According to friends here, Miss Gregory had been in ill health since moving to Los Angeles with her family last fall. Details of her fatal plunge have not yet been learned.

Born in Aurora, in December, 1923, ‘Sue,’ as she was known here, resided with her parents on Grand Avenue, and attended the Nancy L. Hill School. Even as a child, she established a reputation for possessing a brilliant mind, and she was regarded as one of the most popular little girls on the west side. She had many friends here, whom she frequently visited after the family moved when she was about 12 years old to Milwaukee, Wis., and then to Evanston.

Susannah was graduated from Evanston High School, and in June 1945, from the Presbyterian School of Nursing, in Chicago. She went to Los Angeles following her graduation, and had been working in recent months with her father, who has established a mimeographing business of his own in connection with an advertising agency in the California city.

Susannah was baptized in the Calvary Episcopal Church in Batavia, the hometown of her mother, the former Elinor Burke. Her father is a former West High and University of Illinois athlete, and served as an ensign in the first world war, and with the Merchant Marine in the last war.

Funeral services will be held Wednesday in Los Angeles, and the body will be cremated. Friends have been asked to omit flowers.

Besides her parents, Miss Gregory is survived by an older sister, Jane, and several relatives in Batavia, Chicago and Springfield, Ohio."

Susannah Gregory’s cremains were buried at Forest Lawn in Glendale, California on July 3, 1946. There is no grave marker there today because at some point – Forest Lawn isn’t sure – the cremains were disinterred. It is not clear what became of them.*

Jane Mallory Gregory, Susannah’s older sister, died in 1997 leaving no survivors.

Their father, James Henry, died in 1970 and their mother, Elinor, died in 1983.

Rightly or wrongly Susannah Gregory [1923-1946] will forever remain a footnote to the Operation Crossroads “Gilda” atomic test. Rest in peace. 


*I called the cemetery where Susannah Gregory’s mother is buried. There is no record of Susannah Gregory's cremains having been interred with her mother at the time of burial in 1983. I was unable to determine the final disposition of the remains of Susannah’s father and sister.

Nurse, Gloomy Over A-Bomb, Leaps to Death, Los Angeles Times, p 2, July 1, 1946.
Note: The detail in the cited article about cast members from a production of OKLAHOMA! sunbathing on the roof of the Arcady Hotel is plausible because a production of the show opened at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles on May 5, 1946. Source: Los Angeles Citizen News, May 6, 1946.

Former Aurora Girl Killed In 12 Story Fall, Aurora Daily Beacon, p 1, July 1, 1946.
Note that the article gets one significant detail about Susannah Gregory’s suicide wrong. She jumped from the roof of the building, not from a window. This fact is confirmed in the death certificate.

Death Certificate, Susannah Gregory, County of Los Angeles, Registrar-Recorder, County Clerk.

Coroner Report, Susannah Gregory, Los Angeles Medical Examiner, via telephone call with clerk, June 7, 2024.

The Arcady, built in 1927, is now known as the Wilshire Royale.

Investigating Los Angeles Police Detectives:

Edwin W. Jokisch [1914-2011] 

William A. Cummings [1906-1975]

No comments: