The Lady in the Lake

headlineOn October 29, 1941, a story appeared in the L.A. Times about a man, Monty J. llingworth, who had been arrested for the 1937 murder of his wife, Hallie, in Clallam County, Washington.

Because Illingworth had committed the crime in Washington it wasn’t covered extensively here, but I have to wonder if Raymond Chandler saw the piece in the newspaper and was inspired to write THE LADY IN THE LAKE (published in 1943).chandler

The true story of the Lady began on July 6, 1940 when two fishermen found the well preserved body of a woman floating in the waters of Lake Crescent, near Port Angeles, Washington. The corpse had been wrapped in blankets and tied with heavy rope.

chandler1The body was not decomposed as one might have expected, nor was it bloated as “floaters” generally are. Dr. Kaveney, who examined the body, said:

“I never saw a corpse just like this one before. The flesh is hard, almost waxy. She must be nearly as large as when she went into the water. I’d say she is about 5 feet 6 inches in height and that she weighed about 140 pounds when alive.”

There was a chemical reason for the relatively good condition of the woman’s body, she had saponified, she had literally turned into soap! In fact, she had become very much like Ivory soap, the “soap that floats”.

Even though they were unable to I.D. the woman her cause of death was certain, she had been floats

The press dubbed the unknown woman The Lady of the Lake. She was buried as a Jane Doe in a pauper’s grave. She was exhumed a couple of times in an attempt to give her a name, but it wasn’t until criminologist Hollis B. Fultz began to look at missing persons reports from the area that the case came together.

Hollis focused his attention on a missing waitress, Hallie Illingworth. Hallie had been an attractive woman with auburn hair — the corpse also had auburn hair.

Hallie was married to a beer truck driver, Monty Illingworth, at the time of her disappearance. Monty told people that Hallie had run off with a Navy lieutenant commander.

Further investigation revealed that Hallie had never contacted any of her family, which the cops found suspicious. Also suspicious was the fact that Monty had filed for a divorce five months after she’d vanished on the grounds of incompatibility, not desertion.


Hallie Latham Illingworth

A chart was made of the dead woman’s unique upper dental plate and advertised in professional journals. Finally a dentist from South Dakota came forward to positively identify The Lady of the Lake as Hallie Illingworth.

Monty had moved to Long Beach, California shortly after Hallie allegedly ran off with a Navy man. Monty wasn’t alone, accompanying him was Elinore Pearson the daughter of a wealthy timber magnate.

Illingworth was arrested at 1351 St. Louis Street, Long Beach. His mother and Elinor Pearson visited him while he was waiting to find out if he’d be extradited to Washington. In his jail cell, Monty turned to face his mother and said: “Mother, you know I didn’t do it; I didn’t.” To which his mother replied: “Yes, I know you didn’t, son.”

The couple had been living as husband and wife yet Elinor was coy when asked if she was married to Monty, she would neither confirm nor deny it.


Monty Illingworth

The truck driver was extradited to Washington where he was tried for Hallie’s murder.

On March 5, 1942 a Washington jury found Monty Illingworth guilty of second degree murder. They’d agreed on the lesser charge because they felt the crime had been one of passion and not premeditation.

Monty was sentenced to life in Walla Walla Prison, but was paroled after only nine years. He returned to California where he lived until his death in the early 1960s.

A writer of Chandler’s caliber wouldn’t have needed anything more than a small newspaper piece to become inspired. Of course I don’t know if Raymond Chandler actually saw the story about the Lady of the Lake, but I like to think so. Ladyinthelake

10 thoughts on “The Lady in the Lake

  1. I agree. Wouldn’t take much for Chandler to up and run with a story like this. I love this movie because I’ve never seen one shot like this before. Audrey Totter’s facial expressions were marvelous!

  2. Soap generally does NOT float, hence the Ivory brand’s long standing gimmick. Ivory floats due to the pumping of air into the product, initially due to an inadvertent over-mixing, or so legend says.

    • Generally true; however I was lucky to be able to speak with my friend Clark Fogg (co-author of Beverly Hills Confidential and criminalist for
      Beverly Hills PD) today and he said there are variables, but in this case the soap (poor Hallie) could definitely have floated. I checked a little
      further, and here’s what I found:

      What had in fact happened to the body is a process known as saponification, the conversion of fatty acids into soap. When the body had been submerged in the deep waters of the lake, the cold prevented decomposition and the salts and calcium in the water slowly converted the tissue into a material like Ivory soap, called adipocere. Just like Ivory soap, a body converted in this manner floats. Though this one had been apparently weighted down, the ropes connecting to the weights eventually decayed, allowing the body to float to the surface.

      Thanks for the comment, I love to be kept on my toes! And thank your for your readership, I appreciate it. Best — Joan

  3. does anyone know if this has anything to do with the Maiden Of The Lake legend that happend in kitsap county washington state area.?

  4. HI

    With regards to the Lady in the Lake, you mentioned that Monty Illingsworth died in the early 60s, but according to the website (Find A Grave) covering the victim, he died on November 8, 1975.

    • I don’t recall where I got the initial info regarding Monty Illingsworth’s death, but I found him on Ancestry and it
      verifies what you discovered on Find A Grave. Thank you for pointing out the error. — Joan

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