Odd this day

19 May 1977

5 min readMay 19, 2024

The day Sandra Ilene West was buried in her Ferrari.

She had died at the age of 38 on 10 March after an overdose of barbiturates and codeine (ruled accidental at a later inquest), and was buried according to the wishes set out in a will she’d written five years earlier.

Although young, she had been a widow for nine years — and not because she’d married a rich old guy, as you might already be suspecting (I know I did). Her husband, Ike, had been just 33 when he

died under mysterious circumstances at the Las Vegas Flamingo Hotel in 1968

…although that’s according to the Find a Grave website, rather than a primary source such as a coroner’s report. (I looked, but...) The site adds that he’d been born into an oil family, but that he and Sandra had moved to Southern California in 1963.

Ike began a securities trading syndicate and Sandra (by this time a mother of two) entered the Beverly Hills social scene. With the new life came the trappings of 1960s excess, a Beverly Hills Mansion, flashy clothes and fast cars. Shortly after her arrival, Sandra came to own the car that would make her famous, a 1964 Ferrari 330 America s/n 5055. Her blue America was imported by Chinetti Motors and appears to have been with the Wests throughout their stay in California.

The Wests lived the 60s fast life but it didn’t last for Ike Jr. He had a history of drug use and health problems caused by rapid weight fluctuation. He died under mysterious circumstances at the Las Vegas Flamingo Hotel in 1968. With his demise, his widow now became known to the press as “Sandra West, Beverly Hills Socialite and Heiress”.

Who knows how much of this is true? Not me, and I tried. I found that someone of the same name and age was hospitalised in 1965 after an overdose of sleeping pills following a divorce.

So, if Sandra was a mother of two, perhaps she’d been married before, too, or perhaps she had those babies quickly. Or perhaps that detail (maybe all of it) is balls. And maybe I’m spending too much time wondering about this particular detail.

Anyway, Sandra inherited $3m or $5m from Ike and wrote a will in 1972 leaving most of it to her brother-in-law, Sol — but with a catch. If he didn’t bury her in her car, he’d only get $10,000. There were, inevitably, legal shenanigans to establish whether the terms of the will were binding — not least because there was more than one will.

Some sources say the 1972 will was handwritten, and — whether that’s true or not — a 1976 will, according to the San Antonio Express-News

would have left millions to San Antonio lawyer and longtime family friend Fred Semaan, though in a “fit of temper,” he marked the pages with “void” after West “routed him out of bed six times one night ‘to talk about pure and absolute nothing”...

With a history of prescription drug abuse, West’s erratic behavior rang throughout court rooms as a Los Angeles judge ordered an inquest.

That summer, her physician, Dr. Raymond Weston, testified that she acted “bizarre” and would describe her as “a psychotic with a tendency toward paranoia and hallucination”.

A later San Antonio News report says people couldn’t agree whether she’d died of an overdose or from injuries sustained in a car crash. Some sources conflate the two and suggest the pills were a result of the car crash. Whatever the truth, it doesn’t sound a settled, contented life, and the troubles continued after her death. Sandra was placed in a mausoleum temporarily, until, on 4 May, a judge ruled that she could, indeed, be buried next to her husband’s grave in the Alamo Masonic Cemetery

in my lace nightgown … and in my Ferrari with the seat slanted comfortably.

The Ferrari apparently travelled to Texas by train, and was placed under armed guard

at a private location while workers positioned West’s corpse.

Then it went into a sturdy wooden crate

was hauled to the grave site at the Alamo Masonic Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas on a flatbed truck

and — with the help of a carefully manoeuvred crane, what with all the existing graves to contend with — into

a grave measuring 19 feet long, 10 feet wide and 9 feet deep.

b/w photo from 1977 shows a large wooden crate being lifted by a crane from a flatbed truck in a graveyard, with a huge open hole in the foreground, and a crowd in the background

Then, to prevent anyone who might want to carry out an impromptu exhumation in order to make off with a very expensive car

a redi-mix truck encased the box in concrete.

Three hundred people came to watch, but none were friends or family. It was just people who wanted to see this odd spectacle — and reporters. The San Antonio Express-News was there, for example, and says it wasn’t her only Ferrari. There were two more, and a Stutz Blackhawk, plus:

a $500,000 stamp collection, $500,000 worth of jewellery, [and] a solid-gold fishing reel … The Ferraris were sold to auction that summer, as well as a 4.97-carat and a 6.98-carat ring, which sold for $305,000 and $110,000, respectively.

Perhaps the most intriguing detail comes almost as an afterthought in one of those local news reports. Although the San Antonio News in 2017 confidently opens with the ‘fact’ that

the Texas socialite’s lingerie-clad corpse was laid to rest in her favorite, powder blue 1964 Ferrari 330 America

…a few paragraphs later, they drop this:

It is unclear which Ferrari model West was buried in.

Still, at least we can all agree with funeral director Porter Loring, who said (somewhat reasonably)

Of course, this is the most unusual funeral I’ve ever handled. It’s been a tough battle trying to keep this as unsensational as possible.

That last clause is not something which concerned the crowds or the reporters much. Or me, let’s be honest. There is now no sign of what’s underneath — just two gravestones, and some grass. Not that that has stopped the place becoming a tourist attraction, with at least three companies running regular tours.




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