The Death of Love, Conclusion

Helen -- out like a light. Photo courtesy of LAPL.

Helen — out like a light. Photo courtesy of LAPL.

Within hours of her conviction Helen had willed herself into a coma, just like she said she could do. Inmates in the jail who passed by Helen made cracks, to which she was oblivious, about the “sleeping beauty”. Maybe they were jealous, because if Helen regained consciousness she’d be svelte.  The first 5 days of her coma she lost 10 lbs! Nothing gets results like a diet of despair and guilt.

The jail physician, Dr. Benjamin Blank, examined Helen and declared that:

“She is suffering from a catatonic condition, a form of stupor brought on by extreme mental strain.”

Helen in a wheel chair. Photo courtesy LAPL.

Helen in a wheel chair. Photo courtesy LAPL.

He further stated:

“It is possible that the condition was brought on by fear during her trial that she might be hanged if convicted, or fear of serving the second-degree murder sentence fixed by the jury.”

A TIME Magazine article described Helen’s condition as:

“a fit of sulks so profound that half a dozen solemn psychiatrists could not even agree on a name for it, variously calling it ‘hysterical fugue,’ ‘split personality,’ ‘dementia praecox,’ ‘triumph of the subconscious,’ ‘self-imposed hypnosis,’ ‘voluntary stupor.'”

Legally, Helen could not be sentenced for her crime while in an insensible state. Her condition put justice for Harry on hold indefinitely.

Judge Smith was skeptical about Helen’s coma, and he wasn’t the only one.  Matron Vada Sullivan, who had seen many female prisoners during her tenure at the jail said:

“Mrs. Love is faking.  She has been causing us considerable trouble since the jury returned the verdict that found her guilty of second degree murder.  She has been stubborn and despondent.”

After several continuances of sentence, Judge Smith ordered court to be held in the hospital so that Helen’s reactions could be observed. There wasn’t much to see. Doctors stuck her with pins and otherwise abused the unconscious woman but she responded only when Dr. Samuel M. Marcus, the fifth psychiatrist to examine her, massaged her head and mentioned Harry’s name.  Helen muttered: “Please don’t go away, Harry!”

officials-study-helenHelen became known as “the husk woman”, and she remained unconscious for 158 hours.

After slapping and shaking her, which one can only hope weren’t the usual psychiatric treatments for a comatose patient, Dr. Marcus was finally successful in awakening Helen by whispering in her ear:

“Here I come—that Dr. Marcus again—I’m knocking, knocking at that door—let me in now, Helen! Let me in, I say! I am going to get through that door so open it! Wake up!”

Helen did awake, while film crews recorded everything and her attorney stood by. It took 58 seconds for her to rise, and when she did she was terrified and begged for water. When Dr. Marcus asked if she was happy to be back in the land of the living she sobbed, ‘No, Oh, I haven’t done anything wrong! Let me go back!”

Helen, passed out in her mother's arms.  Photo courtesy LAPL.

Helen, passed out in her mother’s arms. Photo courtesy LAPL.

She felt much better the next day. She said to the assembled newspapermen: “Don’t I look beautiful this morning?”

Helen was ravenously hungry. She’d been fed intravenously while she was out, but once she was upright she was treated to chicken broth with rice, buttered toast and two glasses of milk.

When asked about rumors that she was going to lapse into another neurotic coma, Helen smiled. She did her nails, wrote letters, read her fan mail, and expressed her disappointment at not being able to play golf with Jailer Clem Peoples.

She was sure she could beat him because she had once driven a golf ball 240 yards. She said, “Can you imagine that? And me a girl?”

When all was said and done, Helen was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to serve from seven years to life in prison. Helen left HOJJ (Hall of Justice Jail,) for Tehachapi dressed as though off to a fashionable tea. She was wearing a black crepe dress embroidered with silver flowers and a black cloth coat.  Around her shoulders was a silver fox fur. She wore a black straw hat which, she said, she had bought in Paris. Black shoes, gloves, and purse completed her off-to-prison ensemble. Women dressed up for everything in those days, and a trip to prison was no exception. It paid to look your best.

Helen heads off to Tehachapi.  Photo courtesy LAPL.

Helen heads off to Tehachapi. Photo courtesy LAPL.

Helen did well at Tehachapi, she even won first place in a baking contest for her coconut cake.

While Helen was baking awarding winning cakes in prison, her mother-in-law, Cora, was embarking on a scorched earth policy where her former daughter-in-law was concerned.

Tehachapi bake-off. And the winner is...  Photo courtesy LAPL.

Tehachapi bake-off. And the winner is… Photo courtesy LAPL.

Cora went to court to prove that there was no evidence of a marriage between Harry and Helen.  She got an injunction barring Helen from representing herself as Harry’s widow or using the name Love.

In an unrivaled act of optimism, Helen applied for parole in November 1938 under her maiden name, but was told she would have to wait two years before applying again. Not unreasonable given that she had shot a man to death a year earlier.

In 1940 the litigious Cora sued Rio Grande Oil Co., Richfield Oil Co., KNX and CBS for $1M in a libel suit.

Cora Love (right) and a friend in the courtroom during Helen's trial. Photo courtesy LAPL.

Cora Love (right) and a friend in the courtroom during Helen’s trial. Photo courtesy LAPL.

Cora claimed her character had been defamed in a broadcast of the radio program “Calling All Cars” (an episode entitled The Silver Cord which aired on January 13, 1939.) I haven’t found any record of her suit, so I don’t know if she won.  But I doubt it. Listen to the episode and decide for yourself if she had a legitimate complaint. Actually, everyone should have complained. The heavily hyperbolic episode didn’t flatter any of the characters.

If Helen was paroled in 1940 it didn’t make news; however, she was eventually released. It is difficult to trace women, especially in years past when they routinely took their husband’s surnames. That said, I think I’ve been able to ferret out a few bits of information on Helen.  As far as I can tell she was married a total of four times (three if you agree with Cora Love who adamantly denied Helen was ever legally married to Harry). As far as I know, Helen managed not to kill any of her other husbands or lapse into any more self-induced comas.

Helen Wills passed away in San Francisco, California on November 1, 2000 at the ripe old age of 95.

As for Cora Love, she passed away in Riverside, California on 17 Nov 1950 ten days following her 85th birthday.

The Human Fly

human fly comic

On April 2, 1943 Carl Hopper, a 22 year old bandit and kidnapping suspect, made a daring escape from HOJJ (Hall of Justice Jail), and from that day forward he would be known as the “human fly”.

Hall of Justice c. 1939 [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Hall of Justice c. 1939 [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Cops hunted the human fly for several days without success. He finally resurfaced in a shoe store at 4411 W. Slauson. He had entered the store and, simulating a gun, he held up the manager Hans A. Camnizter — getting away with $23.51. A private patrolman, Edward Scheld, heard the ruckus and saw Hopper fleeing the store. Scheld got off a couple of rounds but they went wild. Carl ran to the rear parking lot where he forced Sam Tenn and his wife out of their car and drove away. The Tenn’s car was later found abandoned in the 400 block on E. Fairview Avenue, Inglewood. The human fly had escaped AGAIN!

On April 18th cops answered a prowler call at the home of Mrs. James Lehy, 38 Marion Avenue, Pasadena. Patrolman Gerald Wilson noticed Hopper limping along Harkness Street, a block away. Patrolman Wilson thought the limping man was drunk, he smelled of booze, and approached him with caution. He got the man into his police car and was headed to the Pasadena Police Station when suddenly Hopper struck Wilson in the neck, ripped the broadcasting microphone from the car and leaped shows cast

Wilson recovered quickly and gave chase. He caught up with Hopper in front of 234 N. Molino Avenue. Hopper struggled, but Wilson was able to subdue him and get him to the station.

At first Hopper refused to reveal his identity, but when he was confronted with fingerprint records and his photo in a police bulletin he confessed to being the human fly. Then he wouldn’t shut up. He was boasting, telling any one within earshot how he had eluded police for over two weeks:

“I started for San Francisco, hitchhiking, but learned there was a police blockade on the highway so  headed back here. Things went all right until last Thursday, when some fellows were chasing me, and I broke my leg getting off a little roof.”

The human fly continued to brag that he was under the noses of police every day in Pasadena. He’d taken a room in a house across from Pasadena Junior College, bought some collegiate clothes, and hung around malt shops where he mingled with students, showing off his leg in a plaster case — he said the leg was his excuse for not being in the Army.

fly back picCops were curious about how the human fly had spent his time immediately following his flight from the Hall of Justice. He told them on the day that he’d escaped from HOJJ, he went to the beach, bought a pair of swimming trunks, and lay all day with his face in the sand to avoid recognition.

Carl was booked in Pasadena Jail for drunkenness, resisting arrest, vagrancy, suspicion of burglary and violating the Selective Service Act. He was later taken down to Central Jail where he was booked on suspicion of robbery.

Officers took Carl to his room at 73 N. Harkness Street in Pasadena, but they didn’t find anything of interest except a small bottle filled with water. Hopper said he carried the vial on hold-ups and pretended it was nitroglycerin! He also told cops that he used a cap pistol in his robberies.

Because Hopper was such a slippery character cops weren’t convinced that his leg cast wasn’t being used to store hacksaw blades, a gun or other possible jail breaking equipment. They planned to x-ray the cast to be sure. Just so you know, the only thing inside the cast was Carl’s leg.

Of course everyone wanted to hear the details of the fly’s original escape, and he was happy to give them chapter and verse. He said that he made his way to the 14th floor roof top and then worked his way down a ventilator to the eighth floor, through a window and down the stairs. He said:

“I was scared all the time. I’m darned lucky to be alive.”

He went on to say:

“The worst part was getting over the hump (the rounded top of the ventilator) and down the side of the fire wall. I put one foot inside the ventilator, next to the wall, and started sliding. Every four feet there was a two-inch reinforcing flange, and I grabbed that to slow up. I just about tore my fingers off.”

He told cops that at one time he wanted to go back, but he couldn’t work his way up. When he reached the eighth floor he leaped about six feet sideways into space and caught a narrow window ledge, still six floors above the concrete bottom of a light well!


The great Jesse Owens.

Hopper attempted to plead insanity, but that went nowhere. He ended up pleading guilty to two counts of armed robbery and one count of attempted robbery. Superior Judge Arthur Crum immediately sentenced the human fly to a term of from 15 years to life. He admitted to the judge that he was already on 50 year parole from San Quentin where he had served 26 months on a first-degree robbery charge. He was released in December 1942 and began his life of crime anew.

As the fly was being led away by Bailiffs H.H. Parker and N.C. LeFever he still limped from his leg injury. The injury didn’t stop him from boasting about being an escape artist; however, Judge Crum reminded him that others had escaped from the jail ahead of him but Hopper replied:

“Not in the daytime, Your Honor.”

He went on to say that he could outrun Jesse Owens, handicap or no handicap. He even offered to prove it if the deputies would turn their backs. They declined.

NEXT TIME: Whatever became of the human fly?