The Mad Professor, Conclusion

Tracy Leroy Nute, alleged teenage victim of Professor Max Bernard Franc’s “homosexual rage”, was described by his mother, Judy Nute, as a “sentimental” and “naive” kid with problems. Interviewed in her Kansas home she said that her son had been in trouble with the law, “but nothing that any rowdy teenager wouldn’t have gotten into.”

Tracy’s scrapes with the law may have been minor, but at some point Judy found it impossible to handle him and he spent much of his time in juvenile homes. The homes in which he was placed didn’t work out and he decided, like many unhappy kids, to head for Southern California. His destination was Hollywood where he intended to become an actor. Runaways have been coming  to Hollywood in droves with the same dream since the first studios appeared in the 1910s. But big dreams die hard and fast when the reality of street life sets in–everything is a struggle–food, cigarettes, a place to crash. Tracy, like other teenage transplants before him, was most likely welcomed to town by drug dealers and pimps, not an agent with a movie contract. Tracy’s home state’s motto is Ad Astra per Aspera (To the Stars through Difficulties). He never reached a star, he never had the chance. By the spring of 1987 he was turning tricks, and by summer he was dead.

Max contended that he wasn’t Tracy’s killer and that the murder had been committed by a gay prostitute by the name of Terry Adams. According to Max, Terry had even lived with him for a while in Fresno. Did Terry exist? Sheriff’s investigators never found him; and Max was so terrified of being outed that he’d gone to great lengths to conduct a secret life in Hollywood. Would he have risked everything to bring a lover to Fresno? It is doubtful.

The trial was as interesting as had been anticipated. Rumors circulated that Tracy had attempted to extort money from Max. If true the kid had morphed quickly from a naive Kansas runaway to a street-wise Hollywood blackmailer.

Public Defender, Mark Kaiserman, admitted that Max was a voyeur who suffered from poor judgment. Explicit photos of the victim were found among the hundreds discovered in Max’s apartment. Interestingly, no photos of his alleged lover were found. The attorney unveiled a unique defense which was based primarily on Max’s ineptitude. Kaiserman argued that Max was too “nerdy” and too much of “a klutz” to wield handle a gun, let alone manage a chain saw. Kaiserman reminded jurors that Max had cemented over the entire yard at his Fresno home to avoid using a lawn mower.

nerd headline

Was it a creative defense? Without a doubt. Was it an effective defense? Unfortunately for Max, no. He was found guilty of Tracy’s murder. Fear of exposure, if that was the motive for the slaying, easily explained how Max was able to overcome his nerdiness and commit such an atrocious murder.

The jury accepted the prosecution’s case that characterized the defendant as a man overcome by homosexual rage and rejected the defense argument that Max was too wimpy to have committed the crime. max blows kiss

At his sentencing hearing Max’s sister, Carol Waiters, a psychiatric social worker from Philadelphia, made a plea for leniency on her brother’s behalf. She implored Judge John H. Reid to consider “the whole person” rather than the part of his personality that drove him to murder. On July 28, 1988, Judge Reid sentenced Max to from 25 years to life with the possibility of parole in 17 years.

Max didn’t live long enough to become eligible for parole. He died of a heart attack in Cochran State Prison on September 18, 1997.

The Mad Professor, Part 2

When LAPD received a call about a rented chain saw which had been returned with what appeared to be pieces of human flesh and flecks of blood in the teeth and motor, they turned the information over to the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department. The Sheriffs were investigating the murder of a John Doe whose body parts had been found off the interstate in Santa Clarita and as possibly as far north as Madera County. The victim had yet to be identified but he was thought to have been a young man, likely in his teens, sporting a punk rocker hair cut.

scholar murderOne of the first things that Sheriff’s detectives needed to do was to identify the person who had rented the chain saw. It turned out to be surprisingly easy. The saw had been rented by a Fresno State College professor, Max Bernard Franc, in his own name. Characterized by colleagues as gentle and non-confrontational, Max didn’t seem to be capable of a cross word let alone a grisly dismemberment killing. But the undeniable evidence of the chain saw was sufficient for detectives to book him on suspicion of murder. He was remanded into custody and held without bail.

While efforts were being made to identify the victim, detectives in both Los Angeles and Madera counties searched both of Max’s residences–his house in Fresno and his apartment in West Hollywood. Sergeant Bryan Williams, an L.A. County Sheriff’s investigator, traveled to Fresno to take part in the search. Williams later told reporters that he had found “one of the largest collections of pornographic homosexual films ever seen.” The link between the quiet college professor and the young punk rocker was becoming a cut up doglittle easier to fathom. All indications were that Max had been leading a double life for years.

The Fresno Bee reported that Max had claimed that the chain saw was bloody because he had run over a dog and then used the saw to cut up the carcass. What? Who in the hell does that? According to Officer George Collier of the LAPD, when he first heard Max’s explanation he was skeptical; but when he was asked if he thought it was unusual for someone to report cutting up a dog with a chain saw he replied: “It’s not the normal type of thing a person would do, but Hollywood’s a bizarre place.” When the dead dog story failed to sway the police Max did what many people accused of murder do–he blamed someone else.

franc_photoMax told Sheriff’s investigator Steve Lee that the still unidentified victim had been killed by a male prostitute, Terry Adams, in self-defense. The cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head and allegedly Terry and the victim had argued over a debt. He described Terry as a white male in his 30s, about 5’10”, 160 pounds with shoulder length blond hair. Detectives were just as doubtful about Terry’s existence as they had been about the dead dog. L.A. County Deputy D.A. Sterling Norris said: “At this time we are still of the opinion that there was not a second man, but we’re still investigating.”

Max in high school.  Class of 1947

Max in high school. Class of 1947

While Max sat in jail and attempted to talk his way out of the murder charge, investigators  succeeded in identifying the victim as an 18-year-old wannabe actor from Kansas City, Tracy Leroy Nute. The D.A.’s office was going forward with the case against Max offering “homosexual rage” as the motive and, citing the “depraved nature of the killing” ,they were seeking the death penalty for Max.

Before you dismiss homosexual rage entirely, note that it is defined in the Urban Dictionary as: “A temper tantrum observed in homosexual men who exhibit behavior of a female coupled with the strength of a man. Such deadly pairing is particularly worrisome given that crimes, such as assault and/or murder committed in a gay rage usually reveal a gory and violent confrontation above normal levels (i.e. excessive bruising, multiple gunshot or stabbing wounds.)

It was a nifty prosecution theory that managed to stereotype both women and gay males.

The trial was going to be very interesting.

NEXT TIME: The conclusion of Max’s story.

The Mad Professor, Part 1

On Tuesday, August 25, 1987, the head and torso of a male, probably in his late teens with a punk-rock style haircut, were found by a Madera County rancher. The body parts were discovered off a rural highway about 20 miles north of Fresno. The young man had a gunshot wound to the head and had been dead about two days. From marks on the bones and the tearing of the flesh it it appeared that the killer may have used a chain saw to dismember the body.

On Thursday, August 27, body parts wrapped in a bed sheet were found near the Golden State Freeway at McBean Parkway in Valencia. The mutilations appeared to have been made with a chain saw. Sergeant John Andrews of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said: “The way the remains were hacked, it appears to be the work of the same person.” No driver’s license or any other means of identifying the young man were discovered with the remains. Investigators weren’t yet sure if the body parts belonged to one or more victims.

Sheriff’s investigators started working the case, but there wasn’t much to go on until the LAPD received a phone call regarding a bloody chain saw. Sheriff’s investigators confiscated the saw–and it would lead them to the most unlikely killer imaginable.

* * *

UntitledFifty-year-old Max Bernard Franc was a tenured professor of public administration at the California State University at Fresno. The unmarried Wisconsin native had earned his Ph.D. at New York University. He’d joined the Fresno faculty in 1969. His colleagues knew him as quiet and scholarly, so you can imagine their shock when he was arrested in Hollywood for the murder and dismemberment of the young man whose body parts had been found scattered along highways between Los Angeles and Fresno.

David Provost, professor and former chair of Max’s department described him this way: “He’s a very low-key kind of individual. When I was chairman of the department, he was one who was always seeking compromise when faculty disputes arose he was. . . a very gentle type of individual.”

One of Max’s colleagues, who declined to be named, said: “I saw him about 10 days ago on campus. He had finished his summer school course and was upbeat, friendly, chatty. He looked as positive and as constructive as I had seen him in years. Nothing seemed amiss. None of this fits the psychology of the person I know. . . He’s not the kind to blow up.” Echoing David Provost’s comments he said: “He’s more the kind who tries to avoid a sticky situation.

Max had recently received a grant to study the budgets and staffing of various cities around the state, a study that had put him in touch with several public officials, including Los Angeles County sheriff’s administrators, and he was just about to begin a semester long sabbatical.

If he was the killer, what had made the mild-mannered professor snap? And what was a fairly conservative man doing in the company of a teenage punk-rocker?

NEXT TIME:  Max Franc’s secret life.

The Trash Bag Killer, Part 2

KEARNEY_HILL_PICSIn late June 1977, Sheriff’s officers announced that they were seeking Patrick W. Kearney, 38, and David D. Hill, 34, formerly of Redondo Beach, as suspects in the sex murders of 8 young men. Investigators said that they had found evidence near the body of John Otis LaMay that lead them to issue warrants for the two men–but they wouldn’t reveal what it was they had found.

EVIDENCE NEAR BODYThe victims tentatively linked to the wanted men ranged in age from 12 to 24–none were as young as 5-year-old Ronnie Dean Smith, who had been dead for nearly 3 years. Maybe the detectives were mistaken in their earlier hunch that the boy’s slaying was connected to the others.

Newspapers printed photos of the wanted men and, because it was a different time, frequently referred to them as “admitted homosexuals”. Along with photos and physical descriptions of the fugitives some details of the crimes were revealed. All eight victims had been nude when discovered, all had been shot and four of them were stuffed into heavy trash bags. As far as detectives could determine, the victims had been picked up in El Segundo or downtown Los Angeles and then dumped in several different counties.

Within a day or two of the warrants being issued for their arrest, Kearney and Hill walked into the Riverside County Sheriff’s headquarters, pointed to their pictures on a wanted poster, and surrendered. They were booked on suspicion of two murders; but Los Angeles County Sheriff’s investigators said that “there may be as many as 30 to 35 more bodies”, but they qualified the statement: “none of this has been confirmed.”KEARNEY_HILL_SURRENDER

Immediately following the July 4th holiday, Kearney and Hill were arraigned for the “trash bag” killings and bail was set at $500,000 each.

Detectives from five Southern California counties reviewed their John and Jane Doe cases to see if there were other possible victims that matched the “trash bag” M.O., and they found several that appeared similar.

HILL INNOCENT SAYS MOMDavid Hill’s mother, Edna, was interviewed in her hometown of Lubbock, Texas: “My David would do anything like that. I know the Lord’s going to help. He’ll take care of him.”

Hill had had a had a rough childhood. He was one of 9 kids and his father, J.W. Hill Sr., hanged himself in late 1948, leaving his family to struggle. Hill seemed always to be at loose ends. He never finished high school and was rarely employed. Finally, as many rootless young men do, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He completed his basic training at Ft. Ord, California and never went back to Lubbock to live. He occasionally visited his family and reconnected with his  high school sweetheart, whom he married. He met Kearney in 1962 and his wife divorced him in 1966.

Nobody was surprised that Hill’s mother defended her son, but what came as a complete surprise was that Kearney did the same. Soon after surrendering Kearney began to talk. He revealed the location of a victim he had buried between two garages at the rear of a triplex he and Hill had shared in 1968. Lt. Ed Douglas of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department said that Kearney knew the victim only as “George”. The skeleton was unearthed and there was a hole in the skull, likely caused by a gunshot.HILL RELEASED HEADLINE

On July 14, nine days after they had surrendered themselves to the Riverside Sheriff’s Department, charges against Hill were dropped. To spare him from having to gun a gauntlet of reporters and photographers Hill was secretly taken from the jail. He may have gotten a “get out of jail free” card, but his attorney wisely counseled him to keep mum because there was a chance he could be recharged.

The Riverside County Grand Jury indicted Kearney for murder. He lead detectives to George’s grave in Culver City–would he lead them to other victims?  What about Ronnie Smith? His murder didn’t fit the M.O.–was he a victim of the Trash Bag Killer?  His family still needed answers.

NEXT TIME:  At last–more answers than questions.

The Trash Bag Killer, Part 1

On August 24, 1974 five-year-old Ronald Dean Smith failed to appear for dinner. Ronnie had been playing with a friend at a local park. The friend was accounted for, but nobody knew where Ronnie was. It wasn’t like him to miss dinner and it was odd that nobody knew where he was.  His grandmother, Mrs. Shirley O’Conner, was babysitting her grandson while his mother was out of town. When she couldn’t find him she called the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Lennox Substation.

Sheriff’s deputies talked to Ronnie’s friend. He told them that he and Ronnie had gotten into a “…sand fight” and he’d gone home to clean up leaving his friend, in tears, in the sandbox.

Teams of Sheriff’s detectives searched the eight-square-mile park and went door-to-door interviewing people but, according to Lt. Ray Gott, “No clues–nothing. The boy has just disappeared.”

joann_picSeven days after his disappearance his mother, 22-year-old Joann O’Connor (she and Ronnie’s father were divorced) talked to the press in the squad room of the Sheriff’s station.

She made a gut-wrenching plea to the unknown person(s) who had her son.

“The reason we wanted you all to come here is to tell whoever had Ronnie how much we want him back. We definitely do feel in our hearts that he’s alive and OK and that he’s safe. I just want to tell whoever he’s with now that he’s very important to me, that he’s…”

Joann stopped for a moment, took a breath and composed herself as best she could, then she continued:

“…he’s all I’ve got. And that I love him so very much. I know that whoever took Ronnie took him because they wanted a little boy to love, and I know you took him because he’s so beautiful and that you won’t hurt him…”

On Sunday, October 13, 1974 a group of kids were collecting old beer cans along Ortega Highway near El Cariso Village in Riverside County, when they discovered a body. The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department was notified.  They immediately checked the missing persons reports and found a description of Ronnie. The body they had was too badly decomposed to be identified by its features, but the clothing matched that of the missing boy. An autopsy confirmed everyone’s worst fears.

As hard as they tried, Sheriff’s investigators failed to turn up any suspects.

In late April, 1977, nearly three years following Ronnie’s death, the remains of 17-year-old El Segundo High School senior, John Otis LaMay, were discovered wrapped in plastic bags in an 80-gallon can in Temescal Canyon. He’d been missing for about a month.

El Segundo Police Detective Roger Kahl noted that there were similarities between LaMay’s death and the deaths of numerous other victims, all young men, whose nude bodies had been found near highways in four Southern California counties since April 1975. However, he said that LaMay was the only one who had been dismembered.

Despite the anomaly, Sheriff’s offices in Riverside, Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego Counties, along with the LAPD, were sharing information in the belief that the murders were connected.

NEXT TIME: The body count climbs. Two suspects are identified.

30 More Years of Crime in L.A.

When I  began this blog in December 2012, I arbitrarily chose to examine crime in Los Angeles during the years from 1900 to 1970.  Now, however, I think it is time to expand the purview to include the decades of 1970, 1980 and 1990 to encompass all of the last century. In terms of crime in the City of Angels, the last three decades of the 20th Century are enormously interesting.

The 1970s have been called one of the most violent decades in U.S. history. Homicide rates climbed at an alarming rate and people felt increasingly vulnerable.

dirtyharry

Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry

Hollywood contributed to popular culture, and helped fuel the debate on crime and punishment, with a slew of vigilante films like Dirty Harry and Death Wish. The films  showed bad guys being blown away by impressively large weapons.  It was cathartic, but not terribly realistic.

It was during the ’70s that the bogeyman got a new name when FBI Investigator Robert Ressler coined the term “serial killer”.

In 1978 convicted rapist and registered sex offender, Rodney Alcala, appeared on the Dating Game. Why wasn’t he more thoroughly vetted by the show’s producers? I have no idea. Even more astounding than his appearance was the fact that he won! The bachelorette who selected Rodney ultimately declined to go out with him–she found him “creepy”. He’s currently on California’s death row and is believed to have committed as many as 50 murders.

ramirez_108a

Richard Ramirez aka the Night Stalker, flashes a pentagram on his palm.

Some people joined cults where they banded together with like-minded folks for spiritual comfort and to retreat from the scary world-at-large. But there is not always safety in numbers, and evil can assume many guises. In 1978, over 900 members of the People’s Temple died in a mass suicide commanded by their leader, Jim Jones. The group was living in Guyana when they drank cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. The People’s Temple may have been founded in Indiana, but like so many other cults before them they established a presence in L.A.

Jim Jones of the People's Temple

Jim Jones of the People’s Temple

A crack cocaine epidemic swept the country in the early 1980s.  It decimated communities and cost many people their lives. Crack  was inexpensive, easily accessible, and even more addictive than regular cocaine.

The 1980s gave rise to a “satanic panic” which resulted in some of most bizarre prosecutions we’ve seen in this country since the Salem Witch Trials in the 1690s. The McMartin Preschool abuse trial was the most costly ($15 million) ever in the U.S. and resulted, rightfully I believe, in no convictions.

Surprisingly, there was a decline in crime during the 1990s, and it has been attributed to a variety of factors including: increased incarceration; increased numbers of police, growth in income; decreased unemployment, decreased alcohol consumption, and even the unleading of gasoline (due to the Clean Air Act). Despite the decline, there was still enough murder and mayhem to make us uneasy.

oj-simpson-murdeHere in L.A. there was the murder trial of O.J. Simpson, the so-called Trial of the Century. If you remove fame, wealth, and race and reduce the crime to its basic elements you end up with nothing more than a tragic domestic homicide–the type of crime which is altogether too common everywhere–yet the case continues to fascinate.

Heidi Fleiss, the Hollywood Madam, made news in 1993. At her pandering trial actor Charlie Sheen divulged that he had spent in excess of $53,000 for services rendered by Heidi’s girls.

Please join me as I explore the entirety of 20th Century crime in Los Angeles.

Joan

 

 

 

A Thanksgiving Eve Date with the Gas Chamber, Conclusion

DITSON_WARDAfter shooting Bob Ward to death with a .38, Allen Ditson had to figure out what to do with the body. At least Carlos Cisneros was there to help him. Carlos began to dig a grave with his bare hands until Allen brought him a butcher knife from the car. Once the grave was ready Allen said that they would have to dismember Bob to prevent identification if someone should discover his remains. Using the butcher knife they removed Bob’s head and each arm at the elbow. They buried the remains and then tossed the head and arms into the truck of the car and drove back Allen’s store.

While Allen and Carlos were coping with the dead body, Keith Slaten turned up at the house of his friend Martha Hughes. He told her that he’d been in a fight and wanted to clean up his car. He was covered with blood and shaking like a leaf and Martha told him she didn’t believe he’d been in a fight.  He blurted out: “Well, God damn. All right, so we killed him.” Allen couldn’t keep his mouth shut either. The day after Bob’s murder he told Eugene Bridgeford everything that had happened after he pleaded illness and left.

What happened to Bob’s head and arms? Allen and Carlos took them to the home of Christine Longbrake a few days after the murder. Christine was an acquaintance of Allen’s and a couple of weeks before the crime she’d been in Allen’s shop and he’d told her that “there was someone they had to get rid of” because the man was trying to blackmail him.  Allen asked to use her garage as a place to get rid of the guy but she thought he was kidding. When Allen and Carlos turned up with two boxes Christine knew she couldn’t refuse any request they made. She stayed upstairs while the boxes were taken to the cellar. Allen knocked Bob’s teeth out with a hammer then placed what was left of him in the hole and then poured in a bottle of acid.  When the men came back upstairs Christine smiled nervously and said: “Is it somebody I know?” They smiled back and Allen said that she wouldn’t know him. Then he and Carlos drove out to Hansen Dam and tossed Bob’s teeth and dental plate into a gravel pit.DITSON_PIC

Christine hadn’t seen the last of Allen and Carlos. Not more than a few days after they’d buried the boxes in her cellar Carlos stopped by and told her everything. He even told her what was in the boxes underneath her house. Her nerves weren’t soothed when he told her that he could never kill a woman. In fact she was so unnerved that she told Allen she was going to move “…because I couldn’t stand living in this house …” Allen told her that if it bothered her so much he’d pay her rent if she’d just hang on a bit longer.

A bit longer turned out to be several months. In June 1960 Allen asked George Longbrake, Christine’s brother-in-law, if he would dig up the two arms and head under the house. George agreed and Allen bought him some aluminum foil so he could wrap up the bits of Bob that remained. Then, since it seemed the entire Longbrake family was involved anyway, Allen asked Wynston Longbrake, Christine’s husband, if he’d “help bury something.” Allen, Carlos, and Wynston drove from L.A. on Highway 99 to a place about 14 miles from Castaic Junction. He turned off the highway for about 100 yards. Carlos waited in the car while the other two carried the macabre foil wrapped packages out of sight, then dug a post-hole and buried them.

DITSON_CARLOSBecause Allen and Carlos were incapable of keeping quiet about what they’d done it was only a matter of time before the law caught up with them. The remaining gang members began to fear Allen more than they did the cops. On June 17, 1960 Keith Slaten went to the police and a few days later Eugene Bridgeford did the same. The statements were enough for the police to get a warrant to examine Carlos’ Cadillac–they found traces of human blood in the trunk. One day later the police conducted a similar examination of Keith’s Ford and found human blood on the upholstery. On June 28, “sometime after 1:00 p.m.” Allen and Carlos were taken into custody.

Allen maintained his innocence, but Carlos appeared to be genuinely remorseful and he wanted to talk. In his 1959 book, The Compulsion to Confess, Theodore Reik said “There is … an impulse growing more and more intense suddenly to cry out his secret in the street before all people, or in milder cases, to confide it at least to one person, to free himself from the terrible burden. The work of confession is thus that emotional process in which the social and psychological significance of the crime becomes preconscious and in which all powers that resist the compulsion to confess are conquered.”DITSON_HEADLINE1

Allen’s protestations of innocence didn’t sway the jury of five men and seven women.  He was found guilty and sentenced to death. Carlos was also found guilty in Bob’s murder and sentenced to death. In early November 1962, with their executions imminent, Governor Brown presided over a clemency hearing. Carlos’ remorse saved him. His sentence was commuted to life.

Allen never admitted his guilt to the police, but he did confess to nearly everyone else he knew. On November 21, 1962, without requesting a special holiday meal, Allen kept his Thanksgiving Eve date with the gas chamber.

Happy Thanksgiving?

jail menu

Most people spend Thanksgiving week overeating turkey, stuffing and pie and overspending at the Black Friday sales. This week Deranged L.A. Crimes takes a look at the dark side of Thanksgiving. The robberies, burglaries, and occasional homicides. While they may not celebrate the holiday like the rest of us, the miscreants are only human and their bad behavior doesn’t mean that they don’t crave a sumptuous meal–even if it’s served to them in a jail cell.

***

If you’re curious, and you know that you are, here’s the Thanksgiving Day menu for Los Angeles County Jail in 1919 as prepared by Captain George Ganagner and the jail chef:

Soup — Cream of Tomato
Celery Hearts
Ripe Olives
Garden Radishes
Baked fresh ham
Cauliflower
Candied sweet potatoes
Combination salad — Thousand Island dressing
Spiced Plum Pudding
Fresh Apple Pie
Coffee
French rolls — bread and butter

Among the people to enjoy the feast were Lewis B. Harris. Harris, convicted of looting the First National Bank of Artesia.  Harris was sitting in the slammer awaiting an appeal. Joining Harris was M.P. McDonald, wife killer, who was waiting to find out if he’d go to prison for life or hang; James Cameron, convicted of second degree murder waiting on his appeal; Matthew Joseph who pleaded guilty to a charge of second degree murder, and Mrs. Ella R. Kehr who was accused of assisting in the murder of a woman friend in Hotchkiss, Colorado.

Other diners included several suspected killers, a con-artist, an extortionist, and a forger. Can you imagine the dinner conversation?

Next time: More Thanksgiving mayhem.

The Maladjusted Black Sheep, Conclusion

welch at crime2Gerald Welch confessed to killing Dolores Fewkes claiming that it was a suicide pact gone wrong. Sheriff’s investigators, Detective Sergeant Charles Gregory and his partner, L.E. Case, took him out to the lonely picnic ground where the crime had occurred for a reenactment. The place was peaceful, tucked away in a grove of tall pine treees. The picnic bench where Dolores had been shot was stained with her blood and so was the sandy soil beneath it.

Gerald told the detectives that he and Dolores had stayed in the car for most of the night because it was so cold. Too cold to commit suicide? Gerald said: “It got a little warmer about 5 a.m. so we got out of the car and walked through the pines. Then I told her to sit down at the picnic table and she did–just like she was going to eat a picnic lunch. I told her to close her eyes and she did. Then I started to pull the trigger… I guess i started 15 times, because that takes a lot of courage… you know it takes courage. The first shot made just a hole, like a branding iron, and she screamed so I shot the bullet I had saved for me. She fell onto the table, screaming hard. I just couldn’t stand it…” When she started screaming Gerald took the butt end of the rifle and beat her with it until the weapon shattered in his hands.dolores_dad_testify

Gerald told the cops over and over that Dolores had agreed to the suicide pact, that she wanted to die with him. But her father, 38-year-old Ivan Fewkes, disagreed.  He said that her last day had been a happy one and that she’d shown no signs depression or unhappiness. She knitted a “…little butterfly” for her dress and was anticipating a vacation to Idaho. She was going to spend the evening with one of her girl friends in Long Beach, but she cancelled when she got a call from Gerald. Ivan recalled that Gerald: “…telephoned her and said he had a surprise for her and that it was very important that he see her. What was so important? Ivan said that Dolores and Gerald had: “…been working radio jingles together and Dolores thought may they had won. When Welch came for her and she asked about the surprise though, he told her that he’d have to tell her later.” The prize for the radio jingle contest was a new car–no wonder Dolores broke the date with her friend and agreed to go with Gerald.

dolores_funeral3A few days following her death the 16-year-old was placed in an open casket surrounded by several large floral wreaths. Her funeral was held in North Long Beach and she was laid to rest in Rose Hills Memorial Park, Whittier. At least Gerald’s request to a judge to be allowed to attend her funeral had been denied. Her parents and surviving siblings were suffering enough without having to share one of the worst days of their lives with Dolores’ killer.

Despite his confession to Pasadena police, when it came time for Gerald  to enter a plea at his arraignment he plead not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity.  Superior Judge Thomas L. Ambrose then set the case for trail June 10 before Judge Charles W. Fricke.

On June 10 Gerald appeared in court in good spirits. He sat at the defense table and spoke to newsmen: “I guess I got all fouled up from reading too many books. I’m a victim of my own miscalculations. I really don’t need an attorney (Charles M. Astle), but my father hired him to see I get a square deal. The worst I can get–death–is just what I want.” Charles Astle told Gerald he would most likely get a life term and be free in 25 years. Gerald protested: “That isn’t what I want. Why don’t they give me a gun? then I could shoot myself and join Dolores in heaven.” Apparently no one told Gerald that he was a poor candidate for wings and a harp.

About 2 years prior to the murder Gerald had served three months in the Navy before being medically discharged. He volunteered an explanation to reporters: “It was a maladjustment or something like schizophrenia.” Describing himself he said: “I guess I was kind of a black sheep. I’d worked all my life and Dolores and I were going to get married. Then I got fed up with things and we decided that marriage wasn’t for us.”

gerald_guilty2The all-day hearing in Judge Fricke’s court began with Gerald pleading guilty to murdering Dolores. The judge read letters written by Dolores to Gerald. One of them was a poignant reminder of Dolores’ youth. Her declaration of love was surrounded by biology class doodles and it read: “I told you once that I could never love another guy and I still mean it. What good is loving a guy when he doesn’t love you enough to care whether he hurts you or not?” Like most high school girls in 1947 she dreamed of marriage. Among her notebook scribbles she had practiced signatures “Mrs. Jerry Welch,” Mrs. Dolores Welch” and “Mrs. G.S. Welch.” Fraught with the expected teenage angst, another of Dolores’ letters to Gerald read: “I’ll tell you what I expected of you. I wanted you to see me as much as possible, to think about me as much as I do you–to not want to go anywhere without you, but it was impossible. These few things would have kept me happy, happy just to know that you don’t enjoy doing things without me. I guess it didn’t work out. I don’t know what you are going to do, but as for me, I’ll probably go on living in a rut, going to school, then to college. I’ll never ever be seen with another one unless it is you. Unless you think you want me bad enough to make me happy, I’ll wait for you forever if I have to. Yours forever, Dolores”

Her letters to Gerald were exactly what you would expect from a 16-year-old girl, but in none of them did she say that she wanted to die with him. She saw herself going off to college, albeit in a state of misery due to a broken heart, but she was thinking of her future not picking out a dress in which to be buried.dolores

Judge Fricke ruled that the crime was murder in the first degree and sentenced Gerald to life in prison. Gerald responded to the verdict saying: “I’m terribly disappointed about the verdict but I expected it. I think it’s a dirty trick. No one can understand what happened. I just want to join Dolores so we can be happy together. At the first opportunity I am going to rectify the judges sentence.”

As far as I’ve been able to tell Gerald never made good on his threat to take his own life. Did anyone really believe that he would? I searched for him in prison records but have had no luck so far. It’s like he’s a ghost. My guess is he did 25 years, give or take, just as his attorney had predicted. Some time in the late 1960s or early 1970s he walked away from prison a free man.

The Maladjusted Black Sheep, Part 1

Pasadena police were stunned when, early on the morning of April 19, 1947, 18-year-old Gerald Snow Welch arrived with the dead body of a girl in his car. He coolly announced to officers his “purpose in life has been completed.” What in the hell was he talking about? Who was the girl and how had she died?

doloresGerald identified the girl as his 16-year-old sweetheart Dolores Fewkes. He claimed that he and Dolores had planned to die together but he survived due to a miscalculation on his part. He had brought only two bullets with him to the deserted picnic grounds in the San Gabriel Mountains where the couple planned to leave this world behind. He thought two rounds would be enough, but when Dolores failed to die immediately after the first bullet entered her head, he fired again. The second round entered her skull about a half an inch from the first, but it didn’t kill her either. She started to scream and wouldn’t stop. He told police that he “finished her off” by battering her to death with the stock and barrel of the .22. “If only I had taken more bullets…” he told police. Once Dolores was dead he put her bloody body into his car and drove her to the police station where he confessed.

He told investigators that he felt “no sorrow, no regrets” about the slaying and was convinced that Dolores was surely in heaven awaiting his arrival. “There won’t ever be any change in my feelings. I loved her and she wanted to go with me into the next world. It will be much happier and better there.” Then he explained that he’d rather let the State kill him but: “…I would kill myself if I got the chance.” Gerald appeared to be in no hurry to make good on his threat, he sat on the bunk in his jail cell and stared at the ceiling.

gerald jailHe admitted that when he originally contemplated suicide he had no intention of taking Dolores with him but: “She said she couldn’t stand to be left behind and we decided to go together.”

What had driven the teenagers to consider such drastic action? Were teenage angst or raging hormones to blame? Gerald explained that his suicidal thoughts were the result of a crisis of faith coinciding with his medical discharge from the Navy where he had served “three unhappy months.”

no regrets headline

“I began to doubt a lot of things which had been told me in Sunday School and church and I began to do some investigations. I went to the library and I read philosophers–lots of them–Plato, and Schopenhauer and Emerson. I found in Schopenhauer a positive justification for suicide.”

Strange as they were Gerald had given his reasons for wanting to die, but his contention that Dolores couldn’t bear to be left behind needed further examination. Everyone who knew the Montebello High School student said that she was a happy girl with a lot to live for. Did she have a secret dark side that she had revealed only to Gerald? Had she willingly entered into a suicide pact with him, or was he lying?

NEXT TIME: Dolores’ family disputes Gerald’s story that she wanted to die with him and accuses him of cold-blooded murder.