In 1941, Elizabeth “Betty” Laday was attending college in New Jersey when she stopped by her parents’ cafe in New Brunswick on her way home. One of their best customers, Jerry Ferreri, was chatting up the cashier, Betty’s younger sister: “Why don’t you go out with me?” he asked
Betty stepped in right away with a bit of sisterly advice, “Don’t go out with that man” she said. Her sister turned Ferreri down. Whether Betty’s admonition to her sibling was based on a gut feeling about Jerry’s character or on the desire to see the man herself, Betty would have been wise to have heeded her own advice.
She would later recall:
“I’d skip classes to meet him. I had a head for math and hoped to be a chemist. When summer came my folds packed me off to Asbury Park, hoping I’d be over it by fall. But Jerry followed me there and we eloped to New York and were married.”
“They had a three state search out for us, but in late fall we called and told my parents we’d be home for Christmas. All was forgiven.”
Jerry wasn’t exactly burning with ambition; in fact he was a lousy breadwinner and couldn’t hang on to a job. Betty thought she could change him.
“Jerry’s father was in politics and once I saw a ‘big man’ and got Jerry a civilian job with the Army. But Jerry pleaded heart trouble, got a desk job and started giving major orders. That ended that. And that’s what he wanted. He wanted me to keep him.”
In 1943, Jerry was arrested at his parents’ home on charges of assault and battery after he had attacked his wife; but Betty had him cleared. Her reason was simple; she didn’t want him to be able to use his record as an excuse for not working. Jerry was arrested seven times in New Jersey on charges ranging from grand larceny auto to assault with intent to kill, and once he was arrested in New York City for forgery. The forgery rap earned him probation.
It was about that time that Betty discovered she was pregnant, so the Ferreri’s decided to move to Los Angeles to get a fresh start. As they were about to head west they grabbed a bite to eat at the train station; the waitress who served them wrote her phone number on the back of the check she handed to Jerry. Betty wasn’t surprised: “Women just fell for him and even gave him money. He was what you would call a great lover.” A great lover, maybe; a faithless and abusive husband, definitely.
Their move to Los Angeles didn’t change anything in the Ferreri’s marriage. Jerry continued to be unemployed, all the while suggesting ways in which Betty might support him–most of them pretty disgusting. The least objectionable, and one of the only legal options that Jerry gave her, was to find work as a carhop.
Betty did very well as a carhop; she brought in $400 a month (equivalent to $3882 per month in 2014 U.S. dollars). But Jerry was still not satisfied and he told his wife he wanted a Cadillac. Betty bought one for him. During the first few years of their marriage she had learned an important lesson: “…when I gave him the things he wanted, everything went well”.
Betty’s tolerance of Jerry’s behavior could not last forever: “You can’t hate anyone unless you’ve loved them.” she said
On October 26, 1948 the Ferreri home erupted in violence and bloodshed.
NEXT TIME: A meat cleaver and three deuces.