On May 2, 1953, fragments of love letters written by Joyce Hayden to Richard LaForce, during the previous summer when Joyce and her husband Robert were in Alaska, were read aloud in court. Richard had been telling the truth about the existence of the letters.
Did Joyce’s husband Robert know anything about her affection for his friend? On the witness stand Robert admitted that he was aware that Joyce had developed deep feelings for Richard and that that he had “turned-the-other-cheek”. Although a more apt phrase in this case might be turn-a-blind-eye. Joyce said that she wrote the letters (26 in all–and most of them at least 20 pages long) in an effort to cheer Richard up and “to keep him from committing suicide.” Joyce vociferously denied Richard’s claim that there was an 80% chance that he was the father of her unborn child. When Richard’s statement to that effect was read in court Joyce responded, “Hearing that read in court from his confession didn’t surprise me–or Robert either. We’d read it before. Richard is like that, always imaging things. He’s making all that up.” But was he? He hadn’t lied about the letters.
Whether or not the jurors would hear the contents of the letters was up to Superior Judge Mildred L. Lillie. One important question that had to be answered about the letters was whether they were actually in Joyce’s handwriting. Had Richard forged or tampered with them? Joyce was sworn in and handed a bundle of letters. She gave them a cursory look and then said that she didn’t think all of them were in her own handwriting. “I’d have to read them all,” she said. “There’s been all kinds of stuff added,” although she finally conceded that “basically” she had authored them. Judge Lillie instructed Joyce to go through the letters and delete whatever was not in her handwriting. Then Judge Lillie allowed the letters to be entered into evidence. Maybe the letters would reveal the truth about Joyce and Richard’s relationship.
On June 3, 1952, Joyce wrote to Richard telling him that she had received two letters that had been delayed by a storm. She said the had gone off by herself to read them. “Anyway, I got to sit down–all by myself–in the “Garden” (we know nothing will grow before we leave) and read them–which made me very happy.” She continued: “The only time I can really be alone is when it’s nice so I can go outside and at nite after everyone leaves and Robert is asleep. And then I am not only alone but lonely. Richard, don’t worry about if I’ll be interested at least a little bit–I am interested very much in everything you write and do, so make it a problem to write me, just write exactly like you have been and tell me anything or everything you think, do or feel and I’ll be very happy. OK?”
Joyce asked Richard to take the time to sit down and write her a long letter. She wanted to know how he would have planned his life if he had been able to do anything he wanted from grammar school on.”
On June 6, Joyce wrote: “What I said about all the hours we spent–I didn’t mean wasted. I just was thinking how nice a few of those hours would seem now and it seems like there is so much to be said that could have but really I guess it’s like you say, there are better ways of saying things than words. That’s what is lacking because we can use all the ‘words’ we want now — and nothing else! But I do remember, too, surely you expected me to. And it makes me very happy, but I can’t keep from thinking–then what!”
In one of her letters Joyce talked about marriage: “You ask if I would have accepted to marry you–yes, I would and it seems, Richard, that our dreams are very similar.” Joyce signed most of her letters “All My Love.”
But was Joyce really in love with Richard? She described her loneliness to him in numerous letters. She may have been seeking the attention she felt her husband wasn’t giving her. No matter how sophisticated the situation may have seemed, it is important to remember that each of the principal players was only 19-years-old. The extreme emotional highs and lows of teenagers is well documented and there is no reason to believe Robert, Joyce or Richard was immune.
Joyce’s denial of ever loving Richard must have stung him. A Los Angeles Times reporter observed the defendant lower his head when he heard the love of his life testify that once she and Robert arrived home from Alaska her feelings for Richard changed: “He hung around too much and he was very moody. I was a little tired of him,” she said.
During the middle of the trial a note from Joyce to Richard written prior to the 1952 Alaska trip surfaced, and it shed some light on the relationship. Joyce and Robert had been married for only a year when Richard confessed his love for Joyce in a letter. Joyce confessed that she loved both Robert and Richard, but she felt that she was better suited to Robert. She said: “Richard, you and I–I feel are really genuine friends and I feel will always be, even now, but it it’s horrible to ruin a beautiful friendship.” She encouraged him to find someone who would make him happy.
What would the jury of eight women and four men make of the case? Was Richard’s testimony that he and Joyce had been intimate credible? And what about the inference that it was Joyce, and not Richard, who had tried to poison Robert?
The jury failed to reach a verdict after the first four hours of deliberation. They returned to the jury room where they finally decided Richard’s fate.
Richard LaForce was acquitted of attempted murder, but found guilty of mingling poison with beverages with intent to harm Robert Hayden.
When she heard the news, Joyce said: “We are going to try to forget we ever knew Richard.”
EPILOGUE: Whenever possible I try to find out what happened to the people involved in a criminal case–and this one is no exception. Joyce and Robert’s teenage marriage survived for nearly twenty years before they divorced in 1970. Joyce may have remarried, but I don’t know if Robert did. I’ve been unable to find evidence that Richard LaForce ever married. Interestingly, it appears that for years Richard lived less than 100 miles from his former love. Was that coincidence, or by design? Richard died in 1992 and, as you can see, his headstone offers no clues to his marital status or family life.