Baby Borgia

borgia1On February 3, 1925 a bizarre story broke in the local news — it was alleged that seven year old Alsa Thompson had attempted to murder a family of four with a mixture of sulphuric acid and ant paste she had added to the evening meal. The intended victims tasted the food, but it was so awful they pushed their plates away.

Could a seven year old actually conceive of such a fiendish plan? Evidently the Platts family, with whom Alsa had been living following her parents’ separation, thought so. It was  also revealed that Alsa had taken the blade from a safety razor and slashed the wrists of her 5-year old sister, Maxine, with with whom she’d been playing.

borgia3Alsa was taken by Policewoman Elizabeth Feeley to the Receiving Hospital where she was questioned by police and surgeons about the poisoning plot. The little girl cheerfully confessed that she had indeed attempted a quadruple homicide and that she’d done it because: “…I am so mean.”

Inez Platts told the police that Alsa had come to live with the family in their home at 1540 1/2 McCadden Place, Hollywood, only two months before the poisoning incident. Alsa’s mother, Claire, worked in a downtown department store and her father, Russell, worked in Santa Ana. Apparently neither could manage custody of Alsa at the time. Inez said that ever since Alsa had arrived family members had fallen seriously ill and were under the care of their family physician. Mr. Platts had lost his voice and a couple of the children had suffered from mysterious pains.

Investigators spoke with anyone who had come in contact with Alsa and discovered that she was extremely gifted — she was already in the eighth grade. Her teachers described her as one of the best students they’d ever had, and added that she had never caused them any trouble in the classroom.

Alienists were baffled by Alsa, the doctors said that they had never before encountered a case of homicidal mania in a person so young, particularly when there was no apparent grudge against the victims.borgia2

Russell Thompson was vocal in defense of his daughter: “Alsa never poisoned any one.” When Russell was informed that Alsa had further confessed that as a 4 year old she had put ground glass into the food of her twin sisters and killed them, he said that the statement was absurd.

“The twins died when they were 2 years and 2 months of age. That was in Canada. We had two doctors and a nurse in constant attendance on them when they were ill, and they said death was due to intestinal troubles. Alsa couldn’t possibly have had anything to do with that.” No one could fault Russell for believing in Alsa’s innocence, but had he been deceived?

In his 1954 novel THE BAD SEED, William March tells the deeply disturbing tale of 8-year-old  Rhoda Penmark whose mother, Christine, begins to suspect her daughter is behind a series of “accidental” deaths. When Christine’s worst fears are confirmed she has to make the difficult decision–what to do about Rhoda.  If you’ve never read the book or seen the 1956 film adaptation you should. Each has a different, but shocking, ending.

Was Russell wrong? Had his beautiful daughter committed murder?

NEXT TIME: Find out if Alsa’s father was right about her, or if she was actually a high functioning sociopath capable of multiple murder, in the the conclusion of Baby Borgia.

NOTE: Many thanks to Alex Cortes. It was a conversation with him about this twisted case that lead to this post.

Sole Survivor

survivor

The sole survivor of a natural disaster is considered fortunate, blessed by chance or by God. The sole survivor of a quadruple murder is considered a suspect, no matter how young she is.

bad seed

Patty McCormack as Rhoda Penmark in the 1956 film, The Bad Seed

For three weeks in April 1940, more than a decade before the fictional grammar school sociopath and budding serial killer, Rhoda Penmark, made her debut in William March’s novel THE BAD SEED, an eleven year old Los Angeles girl was held by cops and questioned by psychiatrists in the hammer murders of her mother and three siblings.

When blonde, bandaged and be-ribboned Chloe Davis failed to show any emotion in the wake of the violent deaths of her mother, Mrs. Lolita Davis, 36, and her siblings: Daphne Davis, 10; Deborah Ann Davis, 7; and 3 year old Mark Davis, the cops became suspicious and brought her in for questioning.officers hold chloe

Everyone who knew her said that Chloe was an unusual girl.

She was described by her school teachers as mature beyond her years, bright and studious and a natural leader. And according to her father Barton, not a child often moved to tears. But could she have been moved to commit violent, bloody murder? That’s what the law wanted to know.

Chole was questioned by a cadre of cops and examined by a couple of psychiatrists; one of whom was the in-house LAPD shrink, Dr. Paul de River; but her story remained the same no matter who was asking the questions.

lolita_chloeOn the morning of April 4, 1940, Chloe said that she had been awakened by the terrified screams of her younger siblings. She started out into the hallway to see what was the matter, and there she met her mother; and she had a hammer in her hand.

Chloe continued:

“She hit me on the head, but it didn’t hurt much. I finally took the hammer away from her. Then mama tried to set fire to my hair, but it wouldn’t burn. So she lit her own hair. That did burn and her nightgown burned off. Then she ordered me to help her drag a mattress from the day bed in her bedroom into the hallway near the bathroom.”

Chloe did as she was told, then her mother said:

“I’ve killed them, now you kill me.”

Lolita told Chloe that she was being pursued by demons and the relatives of Pattie Thompson [a relative of the Davis’] because she had killed Pattie with her strange power.

Chloe said that her mother had told her that she had killed her brother and sisters to “save them from demons”.  She then told her daughter to hit her “until she stopped talking”.

Wielding the hammer Chloe hit her mother on the chest but apparently the blow wasn’t hard enough. Lolita said:

“Hit me some more, stop this pain.”

As Chloe was raining blows down on her mother’s supine form, three year old Mark was on the floor in the kitchen moaning in pain. Lolita gave her daughter permission to go and “put him out of his misery” — which she did by hitting him on the head three times with the hammer.kids

Finally, Lolita persuaded Chloe to bring her a razor blade from a hall closet. Chloe returned with the blade, and then turned her head so she wouldn’t have to witness her mother slit her own wrists.

Chloe’s icy calm continued to unnerve the adults who peppered her with questions about the murders. She went on to describe the aftermath of the slayings.barton

Following the slaughter, Chloe said that she had washed up, changed into some clean clothes and gone out to phone her father. She said that she’d originally intended to go to a phone booth at the nearest drugstore but realized that she didn’t have a nickel, so she went to a neighbor’s house instead. She telephoned her dad and told him: “You’d better come home right away”.

Mrs. Randolph, the neighbor, was alarmed by Chloe’s call, but the girl told her:

“I won’t say anything ’til daddy gets here.”

However she changed her mind and told Randolph:

“It’s something so terrible you’ll probably read all about it in the newspapers.”

When Barton arrived home Chloe told him he’d better go into the house. He did, and his world collapsed. Chloe said she could hear him crying “Oh, God” over and over. She told him to control himself and calm down.

While Chloe was in custody downtown, curious crowds congregated in front of her home at 1211 W. 58th Place. Kids on their way home from school stood in front of the scene of the tragedy and gawked. Attracted by the clusters of school children, ice cream vendors peddled their treats as newsboys ran up and down the street selling papers. The scene became a grotesque parody of suburban life.

It wasn’t until the autopsies were concluded that police authorities and psychiatrists stated: “We are being forced to the conclusion that she is telling the truth!”

Forced? Really? Glad to see they were keeping open minds.

crime sceneOnce the evidence at the crime scene had been processed, it revealed that the story Chloe had been telling for days was incredible but true. News coverage reflected the shift in the official thinking, and instead of columns of sly innuendo implying the girl’s guilt her dead mother was vilified as demented and crazed.

The key that opened the lock on Chloe’s cell door was the confirmation that Lolita had not died of a skull fracture but had bled to death from the self-inflicted slashes on her wrists. Chloe was exonerated.

funeralThe girl was whisked away to a secret location by relatives, and thus spared the ordeal of attending the funeral services for her mother and siblings.

At Chloe’s Juvenile Court hearing, Superior Court Judge W. T. Fox said that because of the “emotional and mental shock from which she has not yet recovered”, she should be made a ward of the court — but at least she was released into her father’s care.

Rather than a cunning prepubescent sociopath, Chloe had been revealed to be the resilient survivor of a domestic holocaust.

Late last year I was contacted by one of Chloe’s distant relations who asked me to help her locate information on the case, which I was pleased to be able to do. She told me that Chloe and Barton eventually relocated to the Midwest  but that was all she knew about what had become of them.

NOTE: Thanks to Bill for suggesting that I cover Chloe’s tragic story.