Choke Out: A True Crime Tale

This isn’t a story about murder. No one dies, but a crime took place.

Classic Car Interior In the early 1960s, when my mom was around 19 or 20, she received a ride home from a regular at the bar her sister served at. The man, Cal Sterling, was a charmer, “a good-looking guy” my mother recounts, and he had a wife and a couple kids.

My aunt had to close the bar, meaning my mom, who was without a car and staying with my aunt, would need to wait several hours before she could leave. Cal offered to give my mom a lift.

Only he didn’t take her home.

Cal drove off with my mom, weaving his way through the San Fernando Valley. Right away, my mom knew something was wrong. She told him he’d taken a wrong turn, that my aunt’s house was in the other direction.

Cal ignored her and kept driving.

My mom grew more and more alarmed. Then Cal pulled over and choked her until she lost consciousness.

Dark StreetA few minutes later, she came to and found him driving again. Cruising the car down dark streets while everyone tucked into their homes slept.

He did this over and over again.

My mom’s terrified pleading and begging for him to take her home got through because Cal took her home.

Hours had passed. My aunt answered the door. She asked my mom where she’d been. My mom, panicked and in shock, lied and brushed away the questions.

Then there came a knock at the door.

It was Cal. He told my aunt his car had broken down and needed her to call AAA.

My aunt obliged and asked him if he wanted to wait inside. He said he’d stay with the car.

When AAA arrived, Cal was long gone.

Faceless Shadow Man (CC0)My uncle, a cop in Los Angeles suspected something was amiss. He questioned my mom, and then he saw her neck.

It turns out Cal was a fan of choking women and my mom wasn’t his first.

My mom won’t let herself think about what might have happened if the house had been empty when Cal dropped her off. Would he have tried to get inside? Would he have raped or worse?

We don’t know if Cal Sterling ever went too far and murdered someone, but with a sadist like that, it’s only a matter of time before they snap.

I’ve tried to look him up, to see if he’s made it onto the internet as some Southern California Strangler, but found nothing. There is a Calvin Sterling living in Riverside County, now in his nineties. Could be him.

Perhaps he never snapped.

Or maybe he never got caught.

Cynthia Varady

Cynthia Varady

Cynthia Varady is an award-winning freelance writer and co-owner of the book review website, She currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and son. Cynthia has her BA in English Literature from Sonoma State University, and her Masters in Library and Information Science from San Jose State University. Occasionally, Cynthia can be found voicing characters in casual video games, including Stella in the Aveyond series. She is presently working on a young adult fantasy novel.

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