Still a Cold Case, 20 Years Later


It’s hard to believe today is the twentieth anniversary of my cousin Grisha Steinman’s murder. August 9, 1991. It’s been five years since I last checked in with the Van Nuys homicide desk, back when I wrote an article about the murder for the Los Angeles Times Magazine. “No new developments,” Detective Bub (!) said on the phone last week. It’s still a cold case.

I’ll light a yarzheit candle for Grisha tonight at sundown. And, to mark that second decade of not knowing, here’s my article that I wrote to honor his memory and the place he’ll always have in my heart.

ROSES FOR GRISHA STEINMAN

A shooting in a Van Nuys parking lot took the life of a Russian immigrant 15 years ago. There were no suspects, no apparent motive. As the case has grown colder, the hurt of not knowing has never gone away.
August 06, 2006

On the 10th anniversary of Grisha’s murder, I drive across Hollywood–past Paramount Studios, west on Melrose, north on Gower, hard right onto the grounds of Beth Olam cemetery.
Yan and Rita, part of my family’s Russian contingent, are waiting for me inside the quiet vault. We stand facing a wall of crypts, peering up at where my cousin Grisha and his wife, Maya, are entombed.

The crime merited a brief note in the Metro section of the L.A. Times on Friday, Aug. 9, 1991: Los Angeles police detectives said they had no leads in the killing of an Encino man, Gregory “Grisha” Steinman, 57, who was shot in the head about 9:15 a.m. as he walked to his car in the parking lot of the Auto Club of Southern California on Kester Avenue in Van Nuys. He died five hours later.

Shot in the head. A phrase often coupled with “execution style.” It was easy to make that leap. Had there been an assassin stalking my cousin? Did he have some secret life none of us knew about? The Times piece quoted Det. Steve Hooks: “There was no one who would have benefited from his death or would have wanted him dead.” Then why?

The day of Grisha’s funeral was stifling hot. Smog obscured the Hollywood sign. Cemetery workers used a special crane to raise the coffin into place. It malfunctioned. Excruciating sounds: gears gnashing, wood scraping on marble, assembled family and friends sobbing.

Now, on the anniversary, Yan, Rita and I murmur the kaddish, the Jewish prayer of mourning that praises God, celebrates the gift of life and peace and never mentions the word “death.” We exchange no other words, just occasional, unavoidable sighs.

Russians like roses. Rita has brought a generous bouquet of robust yellow buds. We arrange half of them in the copper vases attached to the seventh-story crypt, proceed down the hallway to leave some at eye-level for my grandparents, Herschel (Harry) and Rebecca (Becky) Steinman. Next we climb stairs to the second floor where my parents–Anne and Norman Steinman–are immured. You have to kneel to read their plaque.

Rita feels faint, convinced that gasses are escaping the crypts. Outside, we gulp what passes for fresh air. Though none of us is an observant Jew, we wash our hands at a spigot before leaving the cemetery. It’s a vestigial gesture.

A lot of Steinmans are resting here. Age and illness took all of them except Grisha.

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