Film Noir Friday: Another Man’s Poison [1951]

 another-mans-poison-movie-poster-1952-1020684023

Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open! Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Tonight’s feature is ANOTHER MAN’S POISON starring Bette Davis and Gary Merrill.

IMDB says:

Mystery writer Janet Frobisher lives alone in a dark English country house, when she’s not philandering with her secretary’s fiancée. At an extremely awkward moment, she has an unwelcome visitor: George Bates, who claims to be the partner in crime of Janet’s estranged husband. George insinuates himself into Janet’s home and life despite her efforts to get rid of him; the tangled relationships develop into a macabre, murderous cat-and-mouse game.

 

http://youtu.be/KGDXMYq8pOg

Creepy Kristy, Conclusion

kristy_wifeOn 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.

kristy_dogs

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.

img765

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.

img769The 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.img776

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.

Creepy Kristy

Frank W. Kristy

Frank W. Kristy

When a man has his twenty year old stepdaughter’s name tattooed on his shoulder warning bells should go off, lights should flash and everyone should get as far away from him as possible because nothing good is going to happen. Unfortunately, Margaret Kristy didn’t heed the danger signs when her common-law husband Frank got a tattoo that read “Betty”, and as a result she lost her eldest daughter forever.

In 1937 Margaret Frances Thomas began living with Frank Walter Kristy (Krystopik) as husband and wife. Margaret had two young children, Betty and Raymond, who were living in foster care when, in December 1937, she gave birth to Frank’s child, a daughter they named Helen.

Sometime in 1940 or 1941, Betty and Raymond came to join the Kristy family in their small home in Downey. For the next several years the family continued to live together until April, 1950, when Frank told Margaret to get out. It isn’t clear why she complied with his demand, and it is especially troubling that she didn’t take her children with her — although her youngest, Helen, joined her a few months later.

During the year that she was away from the home Margaret didn’t see Betty or Raymond, although she occasionally spoke with Betty on the telephone.

In June, 1951, Frank and Betty asked Margaret to return to the family home, which she did on June 15, 1951. About one week prior to her return she spoke to Betty who said that Frank “had things to do” with her. The implication was that Frank had been having sexual intercourse with his twenty year old stepdaughter.

Betty Hansen

Betty Jean Hansen

Just having that information should have been enough for Margaret to take Betty, Helen and Raymond and flee from the house to safety, but inexplicably she did not. Instead she moved back in and fought with Frank over how to spend her paycheck. During the argument Frank told her:

“Well, …I’ll tell you now, … I have screwed her, … I intend to screw her as long as she is in this house.”

Still, Margaret and the kids stayed, even after Frank threatened:

“If Betty leaves this house I’ll kill her.”

It is a mystery to me why Margaret stayed with Frank after he’d admitted having sex with Betty; and it is utterly mind boggling that on June 23, 1951 Margaret invited Frank to accompany her and the kids to a square dance! She and the kids should have been in another city or state by then starting new lives — but there they were, with Frank in the little house on Cheyenne Avenue. Frank told Margaret he had to make a phone call before he could commit to going out to a dance. Margaret decided to listen in on his conversation and she heard him say:

“Well, my son likes to shoot too.”

It was obvious that Frank was shopping for a gun — and yet Margaret and the kids remained in the house.

For the next few nights Frank drank and then threatened Margaret and Betty with violence; one night he even told Betty that she did not have long to live.

On July 3rd Frank announced to the family that he was going to make it a “real Fourth of July”, but not with firecrackers. Margaret asked him what he meant by that, and he told her that he was going to kill Betty on that day.

The only one who seemed to have any kind of a grasp on the seriousness of the situation, or any notion about what to do, was the youngest daughter, Helen. After a night of watching her father drink and get increasingly sullen, Helen went into the kitchen and then returned to the back porch to face Frank. She was hiding something behind her. Frank asked her a few times what she had in her hands, the girl finally said:

“Well, Daddy, … I have got a butcher knife. If you dare lay your hands on Betty, … I’ll cut your throat from ear to ear.”

Frank’s reaction to Helen’s threat was to blame Margaret for turning the children against him. However, he had a solution for the alienation of affection problem. He told Margaret:

“Well, I guess I’ll just have to do away with the whole family.”

On the morning of July 4th, Margaret discovered that both telephone wires in the house had been cut. If, at that point, Margaret had grabbed the kids and the car keys and driven away things may have ended differently.

The 4th of July passed without further incident.

The next day Margaret was altering a bathing suit for Helen so that she and the kids could go to Long Beach for a swim. She heard Frank come into the room and saw him pull a gun out of his shirt. He said:

“You didn’t think I had a gun, did you?”

Margaret begged him not to do anything drastic. Drastic?? He’d repeatedly threatened her life, he’d admitted to sexually molesting Betty, and suddenly Margaret was advising him not to do anything drastic.

Frank leveled his weapon at Betty and, to her credit, Margaret jumped in front of her daughter to protect her — but her maternal instinct had kicked in far too late.

NEXT TIME: Frank Kristy’s one man crime wave continues.

The Coincidence Killer

thomason photo

It was about 4 a.m. on October 27, 1951 and Virginia Pauline Thomason, a pretty twenty-four year old defense plant worker, was driving home alone after attending a baby shower and visiting a bar with a girl friend. She was near Fairview and Vanowen streets in Burbank, headed for her Van Nuys home, when a shot from a rifle shattered her jaw. She slumped over, dead, as the driverless sedan rolled for two or three blocks before it came to rest against a railroad right-of-way embankment.

thomason_dead

Following Thomason’s shooting William Frank Cairns, an unemployed mechanic and WWII Navy vet, walked into the Van Nuys Police Station and told the cop at the desk that he had shot at a traffic violator who had tried to crowd him off the road. He was then told that the victim of his road rage was Virginia Thomason, his former sweetheart!

Cops had a hard time buying Cairns’ contention that he’d had no idea that the motorist he’d shot and killed was his ex-girlfriend. But he refused to budge from his story no matter how hard the police pressed him. He told officers that they only reason he had the rifle in his car was that he’d planned to go deer hunting in Idaho. Cairns was booked on the shooting and released on bail.

Cairns inappropriately mugging for the camera after being fingerprinted.[Photo courtesy of USC Digital Collection]

Cairns inappropriately mugs for the camera after being fingerprinted.
[Photo courtesy of USC Digital Collection]

Virginia was to have been a bridesmaid at her brother Ray’s wedding, scheduled for the day after she was killed. The ceremony was postponed when her family got word of her death. The Thomason family was in deep mourning but they assisted the detectives as best they could.

Virginia’s mother told the police that her daughter had known Cairns for a couple of years and she’d dated him, but she broke up with him several months before her death. Cairns didn’t cope well with rejection and continued to make himself a nuisance. Virginia had been compelled to sign a complaint against him in the Burbank City Attorney’s office in September. He was charged with carrying a concealed weapon after he threatened her life.

A more credible tale based on jealousy, not coincidence, began to emerge as Burbank detectives questioned Virginia’s friends and relatives.

Janet Avichouser [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

Janet Avichouser [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

Janet Avichouser told Burbank P.D. Det. H.D. McDonald that she and the dead girl had seen Cairns in a bar on Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood when they had gone out for drinks after the baby shower, but they didn’t speak to him. He bought drinks for the girls but they refused them. Janet told Det. McDonald that she thought that Cairns had “acted jealous” when Virginia danced a few times with other men in the bar.

The inquest proceedings were temporarily halted when Janet collapsed in the witness box. She had finished identifying herself when Dep. Coroner Ira Nance asked:

“Were you with Miss Tomason on the night she was killed?”

Janet answered softly, “Yes”, then put her hands to her face and fainted. Her friends ran to her, lifted her out of the witness box and took her into the hallway where she was revived with smelling salts. She was excused for the day.

Cairns at the scene of Virginia's shooting. [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

Cairns at the scene of Virginia’s shooting. [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

Cairns couldn’t attend the inquest, he was in General Hospital prison ward recovering from an appendectomy. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t at the hearing, he was held accountable for Virginia’s death.

At Cairn’s trial there were a few bits of evidence that were difficult to explain away as coincidence. In particular nobody believed that Cairns hadn’t recognized Virginia’s car — he had helped her paint it a very distinctive golden color.

Thomason's family photos. [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

Thomason’s family photos. [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

Sadly, because there were no witnesses to slaying, jurors were stuck with Cairns’ version of the shooting. He testified that he’d fired from his moving car into Virginia’s car, which he claimed was also moving. His explanation didn’t tally with the physical evidence. The autopsy revealed that Virginia was within four feet of the gun when it was fired because powder burns were found on her left shoulder, left hand and fingers.

William Frank Cairns was far luckier than he deserved to be considering the enormity of his crime. He was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to from one to ten years in Chino State Prison.

The Corpse in the Canyon, Conclusion

Barney Mapes confesses.  [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

Barney Mapes confesses. [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

Less than two days after his interrogation began Barney Lee Mapes, 40 year old cement finisher, broke down and confessed to Sheriff’s and Valley police detectives that he’d bludgeoned his estranged wife Viola, 35, to death with a carpenter’s claw hammer.

mapes_hammerFollowing his statement, Barney took cops on a step by step tour of the route from the scene of the slaying on Sherman Way near Sepulveda Blvd., to the desolate spot where he had dumped Viola’s body, then finally to his home where he produced the murder weapon and other bloodstained evidence from where he’d hidden it in his garage.

According to Sgts. Al Ortiz and C.S. Stewart the confession they had wrung from Mapes over the hours of grilling went like this:

Barney and Viola drove to a market in Panorama City then parked at Van Nuys and Victory Blvds. He handed over $400 in cash for her interest in the car they had bought together, and then she borrowed the vehicle to obtain legal papers to seal the deal.

Barney's car. [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

Barney’s car. [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

When Viola returned about 20 minutes later, she told Barney that she didn’t have the papers and she did not intend to return the money. Then, according to Barney, she pulled a gun on him and said “This is it”.

Barney knocked the gun to the floor of the car and began beating his wife in the face with his fists. The car door on Viola’s side opened and she fell to the pavement. Barney said she was moaning. She said: “I hate you, I love my children, I want to take them with me and let you go your way.”

Maybe a switch flipped in Barney — he continued to beat his wife. When he realized Viola was badly hurt and he took a claw hammer from the back seat and bashed her over the head twice. He told the cops that after hitting her with the hammer he knew that she was dead.

Mapes put Viola’s body into the back of the car and drove aimlessly for a while, stopping a couple of times to phone his eleven year old daughter, Lilly.

When a truck-trailer pulled up next to him at a traffic light he dropped Viola’s gun into the trailer. He then drove west on Ventura Blvd. and turned south on Topanga Canyon Blvd. He drove past the summit, stopped the car, pulled his wife’s body to the edge of the road and “gave it a shove”.

Mapes demonstrated his actions at the body dump site to the cops, and when he showed them how he had rolled Viola’s body over the side he said: “Now, I guess you’re satisfied.”

The cops weren’t satisfied yet, they needed every detail of Barney’s movements on the night of the murder.

After he’d dumped Viola’s body, Mapes said he drove home and hid the hammer in the wall of his garage. He put coveralls over his bloodstained jeans and went into the house to talk to his daughter, Lilly, and make a cup of coffee.

He said that he finished his coffee and then went back out to the garage to clean up the car. He cut out a piece of the bloody floor mat and scraped the bare metal with a screwdriver. Just to be sure there wasn’t any blood remaining he poured paint thinner on the car floor and ignited it. He hid every piece of incriminating evidence he could find with the hammer in the wall of the garage.

The county grand jury indicted Barney Lee Mapes for the hammer murder of his estranged wife, Viola. At his arraignment, Barney pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity. Dep. Dist. Atty. Simon L. Rose indicated that the state would ask for the death penalty.

Viola Mapes

Viola Mapes [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

While Barney made his way through the criminal justice system, Viola’s battered body remained unclaimed. Her father, W.F. Magard of Ekley, Oklahoma, told the county authorities that he was unable to claim the body; and Barney refused to claim it.

As Barney had revealed the events of the murder night to investigators he had also started to relate some of the abuses he said he had suffered at the hands of his wife for the last five years of their marriage. He finished with: “she drove me to it.” How many guys have uttered those words before Barney?  But as it turned out, there may have been substance to Barney’s claim that Viola drove him to murder after all.

Lilly Mapes, 11, told an eyebrow raiser of a story that took place a few days before Viola disappeared. According to Lilly, her mother gave her a small revolver and told her to always keep it in her purse! Who gives an eleven year old a revolver? And what was Viola’s reason?  She supposedly told Lilly:

“If your Daddy tries to take you away (from the apartment Viola shared with her boyfriend, Charles French) you use the gun.”

Lilly was an obedient kid, she said she carried the gun to school in her purse for two days before she returned it to her mother. She gave the gun back to Viola and said:

“I can’t shoot Daddy — I love him too much.”

Lilly also testified that Viola had stated that she intended to kill Barney; and once told the little girl that:

“if she got rid of my father she would have us kids and the house, too.”

Viola seemed to have made regular threats against Barney’s life in front of all of their children, not just Lilly, because Barney Jr., 14, testified that when his mother moved out of the family home (at Barney’s insistence) she said to her husband:

“Some day I’ll get even with you and kill you.”

Barney was beginning to seem less like a cold-blooded killer and more like an abused spouse. And it wasn’t only his kids who were coming to his defense — friends and neighbors testified that Barney was an even tempered guy who was only interested in taking care of his family. Viola, on the other hand, was characterized as a woman with a violent temper who had many times expressed a wish to kill Barney.

Viola's remains. [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

Viola’s remains. [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

Even a local waitress, Mary Grechowsky, had nothing but nice things to say about Barney. She told of serving Viola and Barney a few months prior to the murder and recalled that Mapes had two soft drinks while Viola drank two highballs. Barney wanted Viola to leave with him and go home to the kids, but she wouldn’t budge. After Barney left the cafe, Mary asked why the couple had argued. Viola told her:

“Barney just went and bought a Chevy but Frenchie (Charles French, Viola’s boyfriend) wanted him to buy a Ford.”

Huh? What’s it to the boyfriend what kind of a car the soon-to-be-ex buys?

Viola continued:

“If Barney follows us this time, it will be his last time.” And

she opened her purse and showed the waitress a revolver.

The waitress thought Viola was kidding.

When it was Barney’s turn to take the stand he spoke about his hardscrabble childhood in Oklahoma — he’d had to leave school in the third grade to help support 12 brothers and sisters.

When his attorney asked Barney if his marriage to Viola had been a happy one all he could say was:

“Well, I was happy.”

From Barney’s testimony it appeared that his wife wasn’t happy at all. In fact it sounded like she was restless and unfaithful. Barney said that Viola got a war plant job during the conflict and many times she wasn’t working when she was supposed to be on the job.

When she was at home she would sometimes be violent and abusive. Barney testified that:

“One time she told me, ‘I’ll get you out of the way if I have to cut your heart out.”

“She got a long-bladed butcher knife and came after me. I have some scars on my right hand where I took the knife away from her.”

Mapes told of another incident when Viola pulled a knife on him:

“…I was standing on a ladder painting the ceiling, she threw a butcher knife and stuck me in the right leg.”

Barney pulled up his trouser leg and showed the courtroom the scar.

Mapes’ testimony about Viola’s abuse must have been difficult for the jurors to process — in 1951 they would not have been prepared for battered husband syndrome. In fact even in the 21st century the syndrome is controversial, some people consider it to be a myth. It’s impossible for me to believe that only men are capable of physical or mental cruelty.

Ultimately the jury believed Barney had acted in self-defense when he killed his estranged wife, Viola, on the night of June 4, 1951.

Barney acquitted. [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

Barney acquitted. [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

Upon hearing the verdict, Barney collapsed sobbing, body shaking, into the arms of his attorney, Robert Ford.

When they heard their father acquitted, the three Mapes’ children hugged each other and rose from their seats crying out in relief. A newspaper photo shows Barney, Barney Jr., Lilly, and Willie reunited.

I hope that they went on to be happy.

The Corpse in the Canyon

Topanga Canyon [Photo courtesy USC Digital Archive]

Topanga Canyon [Photo courtesy USC Digital Archive]

On a beautiful mid-June day in 1951, Mr. and Mrs. Ray Goozey of Northridge were out for a drive in Topanga Canyon when they decided to pull over about half a mile west of the summit to enjoy the spectacular view.

Mr. & Mrs. Goozey [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

Mr. & Mrs. Goozey [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

The couple was taking in the scenery when they spotted something in the heavy underbrush about a dozen feet from the roadway. Upon investigation, the Goozeys realized that they had discovered a badly decomposed human body. The body was doubled over, as if it had been thrown down the embankment. The shaken couple rushed back down the canyon and phoned police.

Deputy Coroner Logan Lawson and his assistant, Lee Malins, used ropes to retrieve the body from the hillside. They assumed the corpse was that of a woman because it was dressed in a bolero skirt and blouse. The remains were conveyed to the morgue for examination and identification.

Viola's remains. [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archives]

Viola’s remains. [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archives]

The corpse was so badly decomposed that it had to be “especially treated with chemicals” before it could be thoroughly examined. Within a matter of hours the woman was identified as Viola Vivon Mapes. The thirty-five year old woman had been reported missing a couple of weeks earlier by her live-in boyfriend, Charles French.

Barney Mapes with Det. Ortiz and D.A. Roll [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

Barney Mapes with Det. Ortiz and D.A. Roll [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

Viola’s estranged husband, Barney Lee Mapes, a 40-year old carpetner and cement finisher, was taken to the Valley police station for questioning immediately following the ID of the Topanga Canyon corpse as that of his wife.

viola identAs the chief autopsy surgeon, Dr. Frederick D. Newbarr, was attempting to determine Viola’s cause of death — Barney was being interrogated by the cops.

Barney’s story was that he’d last seen Viola on the evening of June 4th when she came to the house he shared with their two sons (their daughter lived with Viola and her boyfriend). Viola had turned up to collect $400 that she felt was her interest in an automobile she and Barney had purchased together. 

According to Barney, at 9 p.m. he and Viola left his place to go to a market. While they were alone in the car he said he gave her the money she’d requested.  Then, he said, she asked to borrow the car for a few minutes to see someone named Jim to get a notarized receipt for the money, and to have her share of the family home deeded to the children.

Barney said he waited around for about 20 minutes before deciding that Viola wasn’t going to return — he then started to walk home. En route he said he found the car parked at a curb with the keys in the ignition. He didn’t see Viola, so he drove the car home and arrived shortly before midnight. 

Mapes' car. [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

Mapes’ car. [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

The cops weren’t entirely satisfied with Barney’s explanation, which seemed to have more than a few inconsistencies and unlikely occurences.  They asked him about a missing portion of the floor mat between the front and back seats of the car.  Barney had an answer; it just wasn’t very good.  He said that he’d noticed smoke in the car and found the floor mat smoldering.  He said it had caught fire as the result of a short in a heater located under the front seat.  The cops seized remnants of the burned floor mat and they also took a wire brush that had been used to scrape the floor beneath the mat. The mat and the brush bore evidence of blood.

Barney explained the blood by saying that he’d been out hunting a year earlier and had brought home a deer; however, his older son said that as far as he knew his dad had never bagged a deer.

Viola was a drill press operator, and one of her co-workers, Amy Goss, told Det. Sgts. Al Ortiz and C.J. Stewart of the Valley Division that Viola had been spitting blood at work on the day before she vanished and said that Barney had beaten her.  She told Amy that she was afraid of Barney.  Viola also shared her plans for the $400 she was going to collect from Barney: new furniture for the place she shared with French, and tonsillectomoies for herself and her daughter, Lilly.

When questioned the Mapes’ kids said they hadn’t been worried about the sudden disappearance of their mother, delcaring she frequently “went away for a few days, sometimes a week.”

Barney Jr., William, Lilly and Trigger.  [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

Barney Jr., William, Lilly and Trigger. [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

So far the cops had only established that Barney’s whereabouts on the night of his wife’s disappearance were suspect, and that Viola hadn’t exactly been mother of the year.

Things changed as soon as Barney failed a lie detector test — he was booked on suspicion of murder. He was steadfast in his denial:  “I didn’t do it”, he asserted. But circumstantial evidence against Barney was beginning to pile up and detectives found a pair of blood stained white carpenter’s overalls hanging in Mapes’ garage, and a cloth glove saturated with blood was in a pocket of the overalls.

When asked if he’d murdered Viola, Barney said that he’d leave it up to the courts to decide. He did have a few things to say about Viola.

“She hadn’t been a devoted wife.” he said, and “She neglected the kids.  I hadn’t gotten along with her and I think she was playing around.”

Playing around?  Barney must have known that Viola and their young daughter were living with Charles French.  I’d say that cohabitating with another man would be blatant evidence of playing around, wouldn’t you?

mapes confesses

On the day after what would have been the couple’s 17th wedding anniversay, and only 39 hours after the murder investigation had begun, Barney Lee Mapes confessed to Viola’s murder.

 NEXT TIME: Barney’s trial and some surprising revelations.