On July 5, 1951, Frank Kristy, a house painter in his late 40s, held his family at gun point in their Downey home. He had made clear his intention to kidnap his twenty year old stepdaughter Betty and force her to watch him commit suicide. He had been molesting the girl, likely for years, but she was slipping out from under his control. She had recently started to work as a secretary and she had even bought a car. It was becoming increasingly difficult for Frank to dominate her and it was making him terrifyingly unstable. He had blurted out a confession to Margaret, his wife, and told her that he’d been “screwing Betty” and planned to continue.
It is difficult to understand why Margaret didn’t take the kids and leave Frank, particularly after his disgusting admission. The situation finally culminated with Frank pulling a gun and threatening to kill everyone in the house if they didn’t comply with his demands. The gutsiest person in the room seems to have been the Kristy’s youngest daughter, Helen. She had been the one to hold a butcher knife on her dad when he had previously threatened her older half-sister’s life. This time as Frank held a weapon on his family, Helen made a move toward the obviously crazed man but he waved her back telling her that he’d just as soon kill her as anyone else.
Kristy kept his gun pointed at his wife and kids while he grabbed his stepdaughter’s handbag and car keys. He marched his family into the living room, then he pushed Betty, through the front door. Frank shoved the gun back into his shirt and warned Margaret not to call the police because if he saw any cops he would shoot Betty on the spot.
Margaret begged Frank not to take Betty, but he wouldn’t listen. He told her:
“I’m going to make her drive me out here ten miles … I will kill myself so she can see it … then I will let her come back.”
With a final glance back at Margaret, Frank said:
“If you come through that gate … I’ll shoot you right here.”
She asked Frank to let her kiss Betty goodbye, but once again he told her not to come through the gate or he would shoot her. Margaret watched helplessly as Betty got into the car on the driver’s side and, with Frank in the passenger seat, drove away.
Margaret waited two hours before phoning the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department to report the kidnapping. She’d been afraid to call sooner, worried that if she did it would mean certain death for Betty. An APB went out on the car, a 1942 coupe, owned by Betty. Buying the car had been her first major declaration of independence from her controlling stepfather.
Sheriffs caught a break on July 8th when the car was discovered abandoned near a gravel pit outside of Las Vegas. A man answering Kristy’s description had been seen hitchhiking at Hoover Dam a couple of days earlier at about 8:30 in the morning.
As the search for Betty and Frank continued further details of Creepy Kristy’s obsession with his stepdaughter became fodder for the daily newspapers. According to Margaret, Frank was insanely jealous of Betty and would never allow her to have boyfriends. To make his point that Betty was off limits, Frank kept two vicious dogs and let them roam freely in the fenced yard of the cottage. On the rare occasions when someone visited they could gain admittance by ringing the doorbell that Frank had installed on the gate.
On July 14th the R.L. Hill family of Bellflower had stopped off of Highway 6 near Newhall for a picnic. The Hill children were exploring a gorge when they made a grisly discovery and called their parents.
Betty Hansen had been found.
At the top of the embankment above the spot where Betty’s body was discovered were a pair of blue slippers and a pearl necklace. Near the body officers found a silver cigarette lighter bearing Kristy’s initials, F.W.K.
The FBI joined the manhunt charging Kristy with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. The fugitive was reportedly seen in Salt Lake City, Utah — but the lead didn’t pan out.
As the search for Frank continued, twenty year old Betty Jean Hansen was laid to rest under the shade of an elm tree in Downey Cemetery. Her mother, sister, brother and about fifteen friends were in attendance — so were two deputy sheriffs. The sheriffs hoped that Frank would appear at the services, but he was a no-show.
On July 25, 1951 Frank Kristy was arrested in Sterling, Colorado. He had been turned in by a local man, Bob Hammond, who recognized the fugitive after seeing his likeness on wanted posters in town.
Once he was in custody, Kristy began to make self-serving statements that were meant to shift the blame for his actions onto everyone else. In particular the most offensive statements made by sexual abusers are when they claim that the sexual relations they had with a victim were consensual. Frank attempted to spin his abuse of Betty into a love affair in which the girl was complicit.
“I’ve raised Betty from the time I took her from my wife’s sister. My wife objected to the attention I paid Betty through the years.”
Obviously he was so caught up in his own lies that he had no idea how truly vile he remarks were. He continued:
“Betty devoted all her time to me and didn’t go around with boys. She wanted to leave, but in such a manner that her mother wouldn’t object.”
The depth of Frank Kristy’s self-delusion and depravity defy comprehension. Local newspaper coverage seemed to buy into Frank’s story to some extent. I was appalled to read the L.A. Times describe the years of sexual abuse suffered by Betty Jean Hansen as a “love affair”.
“…officials here (Los Angeles) learned that 20-year-old Betty Jean Hansen’s death was the climax of a love affair with her stepfather.”
Frank was extradited from Colorado to stand trial in Los Angeles for Betty’s murder, and of course he continued to try to mitigate his guilt with statements that characterized Betty’s death as a tragic accident rather than a cold-blooded killing.
He stated that he and Betty had been outside of her car when the gun fired, but the physical evidence pointed to a very different scenario. Betty’s blood was found inside her car and she was shot in the left temple — I don’t think it takes a sophisticated reconstruction of the crime to imagine how Betty actually met her death.
Frank Kristy was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
NOTE: Many thanks to Mike Fratantoni for his assistance with this deranged tale.