An American Tragedy in Pomona–Conclusion

Frank’s chances for an acquittal are dismal, but then his attorney mounts a defense, blaming Lois for the beating that nearly killed her.

Attorney H.A.J. Wolch drops a bombshell in court when he reads excerpts from a June 29, 1931 letter written by Lois and sent to Frank’s wife, Ione

“Dearest Ione:

“You are probably wondering why I should write to you, are you not? I don’t exactly know myself.”

“Honestly ‘Yonnie,’ I didn’t know you cared so much until I read a certain letter. No one could write a letter like that without plenty of reason.

“I’m sure Frank loves me. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t hesitate a moment to send him back to you, ‘Yonnie.’ You yourself know how it is to be uncertain, but I’m not anymore.”

“I’m afraid you’ll think that the real reason for my writing this letter is to gloat over him. No, I wouldn’t do that. I just couldn’t I just want you to know how I feel about this thing. I want to tell you how I love Frank.”

“I can’t hate you, not even if I try and I have tried…”

“I hope I have not said anything that can be taken any way but the right way. I don’t want to hurt you and I don’t want Frank to hurt you.”

Wolch questions Lois about her relationship with Frank during the six months prior to the attempt on her life. She professes her love for Frank and admits writing to Ione. She also admits to dating other boys. The subtext of the cross-examination is clear—Lois is easy.

In her testimony, Lois confirms her meeting with Frank on February 18, 1931. She says they discuss “getting a doctor,” but abortion is illegal in 1931 and the danger of permanent disability or death is a consequence the expectant mother faces alone.

Ten days later, Lois said, Frank tells her they have an appointment with a doctor. The doctor could be anyone from a licensed physician to a drunken quack working out of a dirty backroom office. 

On March 4, they meet for the last time. Frank attacks her.

Frank takes the stand in his own defense and relates a self-serving account of the crime.

“When she told me she was going to my wife, little baby and my parents, and tell them I was responsible for her condition, well, I just flew off the handle, picked up a stick, hit her three or four times over the head, struck her on the jaw with my fist and left her there.”

The railroad tie he used to batter Lois is hardly “a stick”, and when he says he “left her there” he neglects to say he threw her into an abandoned well and expected her to die.

Wolch kept the kid gloves on during his examination of his client. Frank said he met Lois and Ione at about the same time. Lois lived in Pomona, and Ione in Glendora. He saw each of them about twice a week.

“What was your feeling for both Ione and Lois?

“I cared for Ione very much. I liked Lois, too. In September I made up my mind. I loved Ione…, so we went to Las Vegas and got married. We came home that night to my folks and the next day I took her to Glendora.”

Wolch asks Frank when he next meets with Lois. Frank says, “The following night.”

He describes Lois’ reaction to his marriage.

“Lois was heartbroken and deeply moved over my marriage to Ione. She asked me to get a divorce.”

Frank chuckles, then continues.

“Already she wanted me to get a divorce and marry her. I told her I couldn’t even think of it.”

Frank refuses to consider divorcing Ione; however, he continues to see Lois. They meet frequently from the time of his marriage until December, when they get together only once.

When they resume their affair in January, Lois asks Frank to get her some quinine. Quinine in large doses may induce an abortion, but it is not a sure thing. A pregnant woman who takes quinine risks renal failure. Babies who survive quinine exposure in the womb can be born deaf or suffer other side-effects. Both mother and child can die because of taking quinine.

Frank blew off Lois’ request to get the abortifacient, claiming he does not know what she wants with the over-the-counter drug.

According to Frank, Lois asked for quinine again in early February. This time he asked her why.

“I asked her what she wanted it for and she said she was expecting a baby, ad something had to be done. I said I was sorry and asked her who was responsible, and she didn’t answer. Again, she asked me to divorce Ione and marry her, and again I told her I wouldn’t consider it.”

Frank describes his March 4th meeting with Lois.

“I met her on March 4, about 6:30 p.m. We drove around a bit. I told her I couldn’t get a doctor. Finally, we parked the car on the outskirts of Pomona. She said she was going to blame me. Something had to be done or she would make trouble. I loved my wife very much, and the baby had just come. I had entirely overcome the conflict of the earlier months. I loved Ione, not Lois.”

When testimony concluded in early May, the jury faced conflicting versions of the March 4 attack.

Lois’ version, corroborated by her injuries, is gut-wrenching. The prosecution calls the attack “deliberate and brutal.”

Frank’s defense portrays Lois as a scheming home wrecker—no better than she ought to be.

In the last hours of the trial, Deputy District Attorney Cooper points out parallels between the case against Frank and the incidents in Theodore Dreiser’s novel, An American Tragedy. Cooper reads extracts from the book. 

The jury finds Frank guilty of attempted murder and statutory rape.

Before passing sentence, Judge Bowron has a few words for Frank:

“You are fortunate in that you are not here for the purpose of receiving the extreme penalty. The evidence and circumstances show that you planned to do away with Lois Wade because she was about to become a mother.”

Frank gets one to fourteen years in prison.

In a strange twist, probably orchestrated by a quick thinking reporter or a newspaper city editor, Frank, Ione, and Lois meet in jail a few hours before the prison train leaves for San Quentin. A photo shows the threesome holding hands and, supposedly, putting the past behind them.

Lois leaves without making a statement.

Ione tells reporters, “I intend to wait for him.”

She didn’t.

Marion Linden’s Life of Crime, Part 1

In March 1932 the Elyria, Ohio Chronicle Telegram sang the praises of an Avon High School sophomore for scoring ten field goals, bringing his team to its eleventh straight win for the season. The young man had his whole life ahead of him.

Fast forward to Omaha, Nebraska, April 1936. Marion James Linden, former high school grid iron star from Ohio, was living up to the speed he showed in scoring ten field goals. Unfortunately, the 23-year-old was speeding towards a life of crime. Marion was busted for stealing two automobiles, kidnapping three men and staging a holdup in only 45 minutes. Quite an accomplishment.

News-UT-OG_ST_EX.1936_04_03_LINDEN_headlineWhy was Marion on a crime spree? He told reporters: “I wanted to commit self-destruction in such a way my insurance policy would not be invalidated through the suicide clause.” Suicide by cop would have been his parents the princely sum of $1200 (equivalent to $20,814.77 in current USD). No doubt the cash would have helped his family weather the Depression. Marion entered a guilty plea, but a few days later he reappeared in court and changed his plea to innocent. He was placed on probation for 2 years.

By early February 1937, Marion was living in Denver, Colorado. By mid-February he was in jail on a murder charge. Marion shot Arlene, his 18-year-old bride of two months, in the heart.NEWS-NE-EV_ST_JO.1937_02_22_LINDEN_headline

Marion believed that while he was in Texas trying to find employment as an oil field worker, Arlene was in Denver having an affair. When Marion returned from Texas he immediately went to the home of his in-laws, the Cochrans, where Arlene was staying. He told Detective Captain James E. Childers that he pleaded with Arlene to give up her lover, and when she refused he shot her. But there may have been more to Marion’s motive than jealousy. Capt. Childers quoted Marion as saying that a divorce would have revealed a violation of his Nebraska probation agreement and he would have been compelled to return there to serve out the three year sentence for his mini-crime spree in April 1936.

News-CO-GR_DA_TR.1937_04_24_LINDEN_headlineMarion was convicted of voluntary manslaughter. Judge Henry A. Hicks pronounced sentence–from seven to eight years in the state penitentiary. Lewis D. Mowry, Marion’s attorney, said that the his client had no plans to appeal, nor would he seek a new trial.

After serving only three years of his sentence, Marion was released in 1940. At that point he falls off the radar. Did Marion go straight? As an ex-con he may have found it difficult to get a fresh start, but If he committed any further crimes they weren’t newsworthy.

Marion resurfaced in Los Angeles in 1957 where he would once again be the topic of news stories.

Next time:Marion’s story concludes.

Antone Christ’s First Venture in Crime

The Great Depression began with the stock market crash on “Black Tuesday”, October 29, 1929. The U.S. stock market collapsed with losses for the month totaling $16 billion–an astronomical sum in any age or by anyone’s measure.

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By 1932 the nation’s unemployment rate was 23.6% and nearly half of all the banks that had been in business in 1929 had closed their doors. Able-bodied young men and women were having a tough time finding employment, but getting a job was especially difficult for sixty-three year old Antone Christ. He was at a time in his life when he should have been retired, not pounding the pavement looking for work.

Christ, formerly of Miami, Florida, had once been a wealthy businessman but he had lost $100,000 [equivalent to $1.5 million in today’s currency] in a bank failure. To add to his stress, the rapid mathematical calculator (in book form) that he had been attempting to market was evidently a tough sell. I’m guessing that the calculator was a sort of speed math that, once learned, would enable a person to solve fairly difficult calculations mentally–no paper, pencil, or abacus needed.  Perhaps Christ’s calculator failed because the average Joe had nothing positive to enumerate.  No earnings, no savings–just money going out the door.

Antone and his wife had only been married for a couple of years, and had moved to Los Angeles in 1931, presumably, as had so many others, to get a fresh start. Christ’s inability to get a job, and his constant brooding over the fortune he had lost, had made him a desperate man.

A little after 10 a.m. on February 15, 1932, August J. Martz, was in his office on the second floor of the building at 758 West Seventh Street when the door opened suddenly and a man stepped in. The man was Antone Christ and he was holding a gun.

Martz said:

“I thought it was a joke.  He forced me to get up.  Then I had to take from his pocket what appeared to be a bomb.  He forced me to put it in my pocket, but wires extended from it and were attached to what appeared like a detonating contrivance he kept in his pocket.  He had a sling around his neck, through which he put his hand that held the gun he kept trained upon me.  In this fashion we descended the stairs and walked east on Seventh Street for nearly three blocks until we came to the Bank of America.  All the time we were walking he kept cautioning me not to try any funny business; not even so much as a glance sideways.  I don’t know how he knew I had an account at the Bank of America.  I had never seen the man before.  He told me to draw out every cent I had in the bank.”

Christ and Martz entered the bank and walked toward a teller’s window.  Two bank guards, G.J. Fitzpatrick and George Constantineu, watched the pair enter and wondered what the hell was going on. Christ may have been momentarily distracted by the activity in the bank– and Martz saw an opportunity for escape.  He said:

“I saw Fitzpatrick and I made up my mind to take a chance on the bomb and jump.”  

When Martz made his dash the wires that connected him to Christ pulled loose. One, two, three…no explosion. On the chance that the contraption might still detonate, Martz ran to divest himself of the black cylinder he had carried in his pocket. He was relieved to discovered the cylinder was stuffed nothing but paper wadding.

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Fitzpatrick and Constantineau cautiously approached Christ who had produced a nickel-plated .38 caliber pistol  from his pocket and began to wave it above his head.

“Stand back; don’t touch me.”

Fitzpatrick demanded that Atone give up his weapon, but instead Antone took a step backward. He continuing to slowly move back, still holding the gun. Finally he bumped up against a counter and was forced to stop. As dozens of bank employees watched, Antone lifted the gun up to his head and fired.

antone christ headlineStill breathing, Christ was rushed to the Georgia Street Receiving Hospital where he died on the operating table.

Detective Lieutenant Luke searched the dead man’s clothing and found 25 cents and an envelope. On the envelope was a single sentence written in pencil:

“My first venture in crime, or will I suicide?”

Christ’s brief criminal career was over.