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.

Constance Renner Was A Bad Girl

Mrs. Constance Renner shared a cell with Louise Peete, and when she attempted suicide it was Peete who alerted a jail matron and saved her life.

I wonder if Louise cheered Constance on when, a few months later, the woman and a companion escaped from Tehachapi. Below is an article from the L.A. Times about the escape. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any further mention of Renner in the paper.

My last name is Renner, and Constance sounds like she could easily have been one of the wacko fruits on my family tree. I may have to search…

renner2

 

 

Dead Woman Walking: Louise Peete, Finale

louise_testifying

Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, UCLA.

Louise Peete’s trial began on April 23, 1945.

Louise had never denied burying Mrs. Margaret Logan’s body in a shallow grave at the deceased woman’s Pacific Palisades home, but she told several colorful stories about how Logan ended up dead in the first place.

As in her first murder trial for the slaying of Jacob Denton over twenty years earlier, Peete claimed to be broke and was assigned a public defender, Ellery Cuff. Cuff had an uphill battle, the evidence against Peete was compelling.admits burial

For the most part Louise sat quietly as the prosecution drew deadly parallels between the 1920 murder of Jacob Denton and the 1944 murder of Margaret Logan; however, she disrupted the trial during testimony by police chemist Ray Pinker. From the witness stand Pinker testified to a conversation between Louise and LAPD homicide captain Thad Brown. (In 1947 Thad Brown’s brother, Finis, would be one of the lead detectives in the Black Dahlia case.)

peete halts testimonyPinker said that prior to the discovery of Mrs. Logan’s body in a shallow grave in the backyard of her home, Brown had faced Peete and said: “Louise, have you blow your top again and done what you did before?” To which she replied: “Well, my friends told me that I would blow my top again. I want to talk to Gene Biscailuz (L.A. County Sheriff).” Louise spun around in her chair at the defense table and shouted “That is not all of the conversation.” Her attorney quieted her.

Pinker testified to how he had found the mound covering Mrs. Logan’s body. He said that he had observed a slight rise in the ground which was framed by flower pots. The cops didn’t have to dig very deep before uncovering Margaret Logan’s remains. When Louise was asked to face the grave she turned away and hid her face with her handbag.camera shy peete

All of Pinker’s testimony was extremely damaging to Peete’s case. In particular he said he tested a gun found Mrs. Peete’s berdroom, and when he tested the bullets they were consistent with the .32 caliber round found lodged beneath the plaster in the living room of the Logan home.

The prosecution’s case was going to be difficult to refute. It must have been a tough call for the defense when they decided to allow Louise to take the stand. Louise could be volatile and unpredictable.

Louise testified that Mrs. Logan had phoned her to ask if she’d keep house for her while she was working at Douglas Aircraft Company. Louise went on to say that when she arrived at the Logan home she found Margaret badly bruised, allegedly the result of Mr. Logan kicking her in the face.

pinker bulletMr. Logan would be unable to refute any of Louise’s allegations because he had died, just days before, in the psychiatric hospital where he was undergoing treatment. Logan had been committed to the hospital by Louise, masquerading as his sister!

Logan’s death was a boon for Louise and she took full advantage of it by blaming him for his wife’s death. Louise was asked to recreate her story which had Arthur Logan shooting and battering his wife, but she appeared to be squeamish. When she was shown the murder gun and asked by the judge to pick it up to demonstrate how Arthur Logan had used it to kill his wife, Louise said: “I will not take that gun up in my hand.”

Louise’s attorney tried valiantly to contradict the evidence against his client. Would the jury believe him and acquit her?

In his summation District Attorney Fred N. Howser addressed the jury:

“Mrs. Peete has violated the laws of man and the laws of God. She killed a woman because she coveted her property. Any verdict short of first degree murder would be an affront to the Legislature. If this crime doesn’t justify the death penalty, then acquit her.”

The jury of 11 women and 1 man found Louise Peete guilty of the first degree murder of Margaret Logan. With that verdict came a death sentence.peete guilty

Judge Harold B. Landreth pronounced the sentence:

“It is the judgement and sentence of this court for the crime of murder in the first degree of which you, the said Louise Peete, have been convicted by the verdict of the jury, carrying with it the extreme penalty of the law, that you, the said Louise Peete, be delivered by the Sheriff to the superintendent of the California Instution for Women at Tehachapi. There you will be held pending the decision of this case on appeal, whereupon said Louise Peete be delivered to the warden of the State Prison at San Quentin to be by him executed and put to death by the administration of lethal gas in the manner provided by the laws of the State of California.”

peete guilty picIt was reported that Louise took her sentence “like a trouper”.

On June 7, 1945, Louise Peete began her journey from the L.A. County Jail to the women’s prison at Tehachapi to wait out the appeals process.

Louise lost the appeals which may have commuted her death penalty sentence to life in prison. On April 9, 1947 an eleventh hour bid to save her life was made to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court denied the appeal.

Louise would die.

A crush of reporters spent time with Louise on her last night; among them was, of course, Aggie Underwood.

Aggie had interviewed Louise numerous times over the years, and she managed to get at least two exclusives. In her autobiography, NEWSPAPERWOMAN, Aggie devoted a few pages to her interactions with Louise, which I’ll share:

“With other L.A. reporters, I interviewed her there for the last time before she was taken to San Quentin to be executed April 11, 1947.”

“Like other reporters, I suppose I was striving for the one-in-a-million chance: that she would slip, or confess either or both murders, Denton’s in 1920 and Mrs. Logan’s on or about May 29, 1944.’

Louise would not slip; but Aggie gave it her best try. Interestingly,  Aggie said that she never addressed Louise as anything but Mrs. Peete.  Why? Here is her reasoning:

“I called her Mrs. Peete. A direct attack would not have worked with her; it would have been stupid to try it.  She knew the homicide mill and its cogs.  She had bucked the best reporters, detectives, and prosecutors as far back as 1920, when, as a comely matron believed to be in her thirties, she had been tagged the ‘enigma woman’ by the Herald.”

“So I observed what she regarded as her dignity. Though I was poised always for an opening, I didn’t swing the conversations to anything so nasty as homicide.”

And in a move that would have occurred only to a woman, Aggie spent one of her days off finding a special eyebrow pencil for Louise:

“…with which she browned her hair, strand by strand.  I didn’t go back to jail and hand it to her in person.  Discreetly I sent it by messenger, avoiding the inelegance of participating in a utilitarian device to thwart nature which had done her a dirty trick in graying her.  Royalty doesn’t carry money in its pockets.”

About Louise, Aggie said:  “She wasn’t an artless little gun moll.”  No, she wasn’t.

Lofie Louise Preslar Peete was executed in the gas chamber on April 11, 1947– it took about 10 minutes for her to die. She was the second woman to die in California’s gas chamber; two others would follow her.

she buried them all

Peete is interred in the Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles.

NOTE: On March 9, 1950 the DRAGNET radio program aired an episode called THE BIG THANK YOU which was based on Louise Peete’s cases. Enjoy!

http://youtu.be/5ddEOaa4w50

NEXT TIME: Dead Woman Walking continues with the story of the third woman to perish in California’s lethal gas chamber, Barbara Graham.

Dead Woman Walking: Louise Peete, Part 4

peete freedLouise Peete spent approximately 18 years in prison before her release in 1939. Did she kick up her heels in joy when walked out of Tehachapi? Not at all She was angry and bitter and let the world know it by handing out a written statement to the reporters who had come out to Tehachapi to cover her release. Her statement read:

“Twenty-one years ago I pleaded not guilty to murder. I still plead not guilty. After having served 18 1/2 years in bondage for a crime I did not commit, I would appreciate the opportunity to reestablish myself without further publicity. I appreciate the parole and shall not violate the faith placed in me.”

Among Louise’s boosters were Miss Monohan, superintendent of Tehachapi Women’s Prison, and Mrs. Emily Latham, Louise’s probation officer. Neither of them doubted Louise’s sincerity. As could have been expected, Louise had put on a very convincing act in a  performance that lasted for eighteen years!

Not everyone was a member of the Louise Peete cheering section. In fact the Los Angeles Times printed an opinion on the case:paroling peete

Louise left prison behind her and faded into obscurity; that is until December 1944 when she was once again in the headlines for another murder!

parole board shockedThe body of a woman, believed to be Mrs. Margaret Logan, 60, of 713 Hampden Place, Pacific Palisades, was found in a shallow backyard grave. Logan had employed Louise as a nurse/companion

It was “deja vu all over again”.

Louise assumed her familiar role as the outraged innocent, but there was a mountain of evidence against her. Ray Pinker, head of the police crime lab, examined the physical evidence. In this case the most damning piece of evidence was a nickel-plated .32 caliber revolver, rusty and covered with congealed blood. The weapon was found in a dresser drawer in the the dead woman’s home. The revolver was engraved with the initials E.B.L. and had once belonged to Emily B. Latham — Louise’s parole officer! Latham had employed Louise as a nurse and companion. Unfortunately, Latham wasn’t available to be questioned — she was dead. The cops were understandably concerned. Louise’s employers had a way of expiring under suspicious circumstances. However, it was later determined that Latham had died of natural causes.gun adds to mystery

Further examination and tests concluded that Margaret Logan’s death had been caused by a gunshot and a brutal beating. Evidently while she was incapacitated Margaret had been hammered to death with the butt of a gun.

ray pinkerCould 63 year old Louise have been capable of the crime and the cover-up on her own? She certainly could have shot and bludgeoned Logan by herself, but dragging the corpse out to the backyard and digging even a shallow grave may have been physically taxing. It’s possible that Louise may have had an assistant.

Just a few months before Logan’s murder Louise had married again. She had been living and working under the name of Lou Anne Lee, and because her husband was from out of state he knew nothing of her notorious past.

Louise’s husband was Lee Borden Judson, and unfortunately for her he was a man with a conscience. Judson found himself charged with “possessing guilty knowledge as a principal” in Logan’s slaying and the Coroner’s Jury recommended that both he and Louise be held for trial. Louise took the 5th at the Coroner’s Inquest, and then desperately attempted to mitigate Judson’s statements which were incriminating to say the least.

Judson described how, on the day of the murder, Louise had left their Glendale home to visit the Logans. She told him that she might be late getting home. About 9:45 that night Louise phoned to say she was going to stay overnight with the Logans. Judson wasn’t happy about the arrangement because Louise had told him that Mr. Logan was mentally unbalanced and sometimes became violent.

According to Judson, the next day when he arrived at the Logan’s he was met outside by Louise. She was dressed in an old pair of slacks and appeared distraught, as if she’d been crying. When he asked her what was wrong Louise spun one of her more imaginative tales; and that’s saying something. Judson stated that Louise had told him that: “Mr. Logan had jumped on Mrs. Logan and had bit her on the neck and cheek…and that Mr. Logan had bitten off the end of Mrs. Logan’s nose.” Judson then asked Louise if she had saved the part of the nose that was bitten off, but she told him that she hadn’t.

Judson testified that he entered the Logan’s residence to find a very large spot of blood on the living room rug, and he found Mr. Logan pacing around the house like Lady MacBeth saying: “I’ve got some blood on my hands–where did I get it?”

Louise took charge of the situation and tried to calm Mr. Logan by telling him that his wife was fine, that she was “away on some real estate deal”.

On the day following the discovery of the blood on the carpet, Judson said that he and Louise took Logan to the psychopathic parole office of the County Lunacy Commission and had the man committed.

judson blood

What Judson didn’t know was that Louise had masqueraded as Logan’s sister in order to have him committed. Louise was undoubtedly relieved when, during her trial, Mr. Logan died in the psychiatric hospital.

Judson probably had no idea that the blood spot on the carpet had anything to do with a murder. Louise told him, and anyone else who asked, that Mrs. Logan was in a sanitarium undergoing plastic surgery to repair the facial injuries she’d suffered in the asserted insane attack by Mr. Logan!

The story was a variation of the the tale Louise had told about Jacob Denton two decades earlier. You’ll recall she told people that he was away being fitted for, and learning to use, prosthetic limbs as the result of an attack he’d suffered at the hands of a sword wielding Spanish speaking woman.judson sobs

Judson was becoming a major liability for Louise. He testified that he’d seen her sign a check for $2500 on Mrs. Logan’s behalf. The reason Louise gave Judson for signing the check was that Mrs. Logan’s right arm was paralyzed! Even though, as her husband, he wasn’t able to testify against her, everything he said in his own defense brought her closer to the gas chamber.

In a bizarre side note, while Louise was cooling her heels in the County Jail her cellmate Mrs. Constance Renner (no relation to me that I’m aware of) attempted suicide by taking an overdose of sedatives she’d been given to calm her nerves. Louise heard Renner’s labored breathing and struck a match to see what was going on. She saw foam on Renner’s lips and alerted the matron, thus saving the woman’s life. The cell was later searched because five of the sedative tablets were unaccounted for. You’ll never guess where they were found — Louise had stashed them in her hair! She said she hidden them so that she could give them to the jail chief later, but it’s obvious that she was keeping them just in case she needed an exit strategy.

renner suicide attemptThings were going from bad to worse for Louise. The State of California contended that her marriage to Judson wasn’t legal.; then they dropped the charges against him and cut him loose. Judson was greeted by his son and daughter following his release and he should have been on his way to happier times but instead, less than twenty-four hours after he was freed, Lee Judson went over to the Broadway-Spring Arcade Building and hurled himself down a stairwell to his death. Whether Judson’s guilty knowledge of Louise’s actions included him actually assisting her in the burial of Margaret Logan’s remains we’ll never know. He was a decent man and it likely that the shame of sharing a life, if only for a few months, with a killer was too much for him to bear.judson leaps

Louise took the news with a great deal of weeping and drama, but declined to attend Judson’s funeral saying “I prefer to remember him as he was”.

Louise was once again facing a murder charge on her own.

NEXT TIME: Louise meets her fate.