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Crime News Real Murders of Los Angeles

Former Teacher’s Pen Pal Letters with Inmates Leads to Him Being Bashed in Head and Fatally Strangled

“The victim was lying with half his upper body inside the bathtub,” an LAPD detective told The Real Murders of Los Angeles. "There was a pool of blood by his head."

By Joe Dziemianowicz

On February 12, 2014, police officers rushed to a multi-unit condominium complex in Hollywood, California. The landlord there reported finding his tenant, 82-year-old Harry Major, dead.

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Inside Major’s apartment, Fernando Rivas, a homicide detective for the Los Angeles Police Department, observed blood spatter. It was on the downstairs carpet and the wall leading to the upstairs bathroom.

“The victim was lying with half his upper body inside the bathtub,” Rivas told The Real Murders of Los Angeles, airing Fridays at 9/8c on Oxygen. “He had nothing on but white underwear. There was a pool of blood by his head due to some blunt force trauma.”

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Rivas also saw ligature marks on Major’s arms and neck. “There was definitely a struggle and some foul play,” said Rivas.

Had Major been tortured? Did he know his killer? Signs indicated that both scenarios were possible. The victim’s wallet, found at the scene, had been emptied of cash and credit cards.

A CSI unit combed through the condo, collecting evidence that included blood swabs, clothing, and a shoe print, according to Supria Rosner, an assistant forensics lab director for the LAPD.

Police questioned Dale Allen-Rowse, the 911 caller who found Major’s body. In addition to being the victim’s landlord, he was also a friend. When Major missed a weekly lunch date, he used his key to enter his tenant’s home.

“He seemed very credible ... but at that time, we definitely did not eliminate him as a suspect,” said Rivas.

Harry Major featured on Real Murders of LA Episode 110

Who was Harry Major, the retired teacher found murdered in his Hollywood condo?

Detectives dug into Major’s background. They learned he grew up on a family farm in Chatsworth, a Los Angeles suburb, in the 1940s.

“Harry was born with a disability,” said his friend Susan Emmanule. “He had a shortened arm and his fingers were not quite right.”

In Los Angeles, where beauty looms extra-large, Major managed to forge his own path. “He was just a wonderful guy,” added Emmanule.  

For 28 years, he taught English at Hollywood High School. He was known for button-down shirts, bow ties and bestowing “the joy of the English language,” said former student Scott Faver. Major had retired before his murder.

“Harry was estranged from his family so he created his own family,” said investigative reporter Michael Fleeman. “He was openly gay.”

Police interview Harry Major's friends and neighbors

Investigators canvassed Major’s friends and fellow tenants in his building. His next-door neighbor told police that at 10 a.m. on February 10, she heard a “loud thud” come from his apartment. She knocked and asked if he was okay and heard a woman respond yes, according to Fleeman.

Who was she? Detectives focused on finding out. At the same time, they got a warrant for Major’s cell phone history and put a trace on his credit cards.

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As police worked the case, the executor of Major’s estate dropped a bombshell. “Harry was rich,” said Fleeman, adding that he’d amassed wealth by investing in real estate properties.

Detectives also learned that Allen-Rowse had a complicated financial arrangement with Major. Police were compelled to learn if the landlord stood to gain monetarily from his tenant’s death.

After a thorough dive into this lead that showed otherwise and confirming the landlord’s alibi, investigators cleared Allen-Rowse as a possible suspect, according to The Real Murders of Los Angeles.

How was Harry Major killed?

An autopsy revealed that the cause of Major’s death was strangulation. Blunt force trauma to his head was a contributing factor. The medical examiner set the time of death as 48 hours before he was found on February 12.

Detectives returned to Major’s condo complex to re-interview neighbors. A witness recalled seeing two unknown men outside of Major’s door arguing on February 5, according to Fleeman.

Now police had a three-piece puzzle: Who was the woman whose voice was heard coming from Major’s apartment on February 10 and who were the two men observed arguing?

Harry Major's dangerous pen pal relationships with prison inmates

Investigators went through Major’s personal possessions and correspondence in his apartment in search of answers. Detectives discovered that Major was corresponding with inmates in prison systems across the country, LA Weekly reported.

“He was having these pen pal relationships with men in prison,” said Allen-Rowse. “He wanted to give these guys a place to live to transition back into real life.”

Major was also chasing something else. “According to the letters, he was offering them friendship but there was also an expectation of sex,” said Allen-Rowse. “I had no idea that he was leading this second life.”

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Major’s secret side had come to light. “Some of these letters were pretty graphic,” said Rivas. “Harry was actually talking to some very serious offenders, which could have been rapists, murderers, robbery suspects.”

The letters led detectives to Major’s longtime pen pal James DiRocco, who'd done 17 years in a Nevada prison for robbery. Major gave him a place to crash. DiRocco gave him friendship — and sex, said Fleeman.

DiRocco denied killing Major, but admitted that he visited him shortly before the crime. He said that on February 1, Scott Porter, another inmate, showed up at Major’s place.

He said that he and Porter argued at the condo complex when he learned that Porter planned to rob Major. They were the two men seen fighting on February 5.

DiRocco left town, but warned Major about Porter before leaving, according to The Real Murders of Los Angeles. DiRocco’s parole agent confirmed that his client was in Las Vegas on February 10. DiRocco was cleared as a suspect.

Scott Kratlian featured on Real Murders of LA Episode 110

Scott Kratlian becomes prime suspect in Harry Major's murder

Detectives tracked down Porter, whose real name was Scott Kratlian. He was 46 and had just been released after serving 25 years for murder, said Rivas.

Kratlian’s murder victim was a gay man 40 years older than him. He’d been strangled “and found dead in his bathtub,” said former LA Weekly reporter Hillel Aron.

The parallels in that case to Major's killing were chilling. Kratlian became the prime suspect in Major's murder. His parole officer in New York told police that Kratlian was in the wind.  

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Security camera footage reviewed on February 18 from the garage of Major’s condo complex showed him with Kratlian between February 5 through 9, which corroborated DiRocco’s account.

Major never appeared after February 9. Kratlian was seen on tape on February 10. But where was the suspect now? The trace on Major’s credit cards led detectives to a nearby convenience store where Kratlian was caught on tape.

When he spoke, detectives realized that his high-pitched voice was the one the witness had heard inside Major’s apartment on February 10.

On February 18, police tracked down and arrested Kratlian, the Los Angeles Times reported. At the time of the bust, he was at a mental health facility in Pasadena. His shoes, which appeared to be blood-stained, were collected and tested for DNA.

Kratlian admitted he was at Major’s home and said he went there to borrow money. When Major refused him, the men got into “a physical altercation, which he described as a girl fight,” said Rivas. Kratlian claimed that he couldn’t recall using Major’s credit cards.

Who killed Harry Major?

The blood on Kratlian’s shoes was found to be Major’s. At Kratlian’s trial for murder, prosecutors laid out the case. Kratlian was enraged when Major refused to give him money, so he bashed him in the head, strangled him, and dragged him to the upstairs bathroom.

In October of 2015, Kratlian was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced a month later to 56 years to life in prison, NBC Los Angeles reported.

To learn more about the case, watch The Real Murders of Los Angeles, airing Fridays at 9/8c on Oxygen.

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