Powerful gay men. Vulnerable teen-age boys. Murder.
For years, some prominent local men who led secret lives were
rumored to be protected. Whispers surrounding another
important man's death prompt the question: Is there really a
Keep it quiet
By ROBERT PRICE, Californian
staff writer e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday January 20, 2003, 03:40:00
Almost immediately, reporter Steve E. Swenson learned of Fritts'
ties to the case through police reports filed after the arrests.
He brought the information to Managing Editor Owen Kearns Jr.,
who, according to Swenson, told him not to use Fritts' name unless
it came up in the trial.
Though Fritts' name was kept out of the paper, The
Californian did mention Mistriel's relationships with gay men
and the fact that he drove their cars -- a Jaguar (owned by Fritts),
a Mercedes-Benz (owned by Hurbert "Eli" Elias, who was also named by
Mistriel as a sex partner) and a Chevrolet Monte Carlo (a 16th
birthday gift from Darrel Tavelli, a Simi Valley businessman who had
adopted Mistriel and was also named as a sex partner).
Then, during the 1983 trial, Mistriel took the stand and named
Fritts, Elias, Tavelli and political consultant Stan Harper as adult
men he'd had sex with while still a minor. None of the men ever
disputed those statements in Californian coverage.
Fritts' name finally made the paper three times in 1983: on Jan.
28, and on June 29-30, in articles covering consecutive days of the
trial. His name appeared two times on the "jump," or inside-page
continuation, and once in the last line of a small story on page
Might coverage of the Mistriel trial have been different
Mike Jenner, The Californian's executive editor, said,
"Burying news about a publisher or top editor's involvement in such
a story wouldn't happen today. And it shouldn't."
Observers at the time felt it was important that The
Californian named Fritts, but agreed his name was "buried."
"They put his name in there, didn't they? They kind of low-keyed
the whole thing ... but at least they put him in," said Tony Reed,
retired publisher of the defunct Rosedale Roadrunner
"Today, you'd rip him in two if it was somebody other than one of
your own. Look at (new Kern County Sheriff) Mack Wimbish and
(pre-election reports about) his illegitimate child. It was a
softball situation with Ted Fritts. Everyone else, it's
"Mean Justice" author Edward Humes characterized the newspaper's
coverage as "unrebutted testimony" that implicated Fritts and Harper
but amounted to just "two paragraphs near the bottom of two