The Maladjusted Black Sheep, Conclusion

welch at crime2Gerald Welch confessed to killing Dolores Fewkes claiming that it was a suicide pact gone wrong. Sheriff’s investigators, Detective Sergeant Charles Gregory and his partner, L.E. Case, took him out to the lonely picnic ground where the crime had occurred for a reenactment. The place was peaceful, tucked away in a grove of tall pine treees. The picnic bench where Dolores had been shot was stained with her blood and so was the sandy soil beneath it.

Gerald told the detectives that he and Dolores had stayed in the car for most of the night because it was so cold. Too cold to commit suicide? Gerald said: “It got a little warmer about 5 a.m. so we got out of the car and walked through the pines. Then I told her to sit down at the picnic table and she did–just like she was going to eat a picnic lunch. I told her to close her eyes and she did. Then I started to pull the trigger… I guess i started 15 times, because that takes a lot of courage… you know it takes courage. The first shot made just a hole, like a branding iron, and she screamed so I shot the bullet I had saved for me. She fell onto the table, screaming hard. I just couldn’t stand it…” When she started screaming Gerald took the butt end of the rifle and beat her with it until the weapon shattered in his hands.dolores_dad_testify

Gerald told the cops over and over that Dolores had agreed to the suicide pact, that she wanted to die with him. But her father, 38-year-old Ivan Fewkes, disagreed.  He said that her last day had been a happy one and that she’d shown no signs depression or unhappiness. She knitted a “…little butterfly” for her dress and was anticipating a vacation to Idaho. She was going to spend the evening with one of her girl friends in Long Beach, but she cancelled when she got a call from Gerald. Ivan recalled that Gerald: “…telephoned her and said he had a surprise for her and that it was very important that he see her. What was so important? Ivan said that Dolores and Gerald had: “…been working radio jingles together and Dolores thought may they had won. When Welch came for her and she asked about the surprise though, he told her that he’d have to tell her later.” The prize for the radio jingle contest was a new car–no wonder Dolores broke the date with her friend and agreed to go with Gerald.

dolores_funeral3A few days following her death the 16-year-old was placed in an open casket surrounded by several large floral wreaths. Her funeral was held in North Long Beach and she was laid to rest in Rose Hills Memorial Park, Whittier. At least Gerald’s request to a judge to be allowed to attend her funeral had been denied. Her parents and surviving siblings were suffering enough without having to share one of the worst days of their lives with Dolores’ killer.

Despite his confession to Pasadena police, when it came time for Gerald  to enter a plea at his arraignment he plead not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity.  Superior Judge Thomas L. Ambrose then set the case for trail June 10 before Judge Charles W. Fricke.

On June 10 Gerald appeared in court in good spirits. He sat at the defense table and spoke to newsmen: “I guess I got all fouled up from reading too many books. I’m a victim of my own miscalculations. I really don’t need an attorney (Charles M. Astle), but my father hired him to see I get a square deal. The worst I can get–death–is just what I want.” Charles Astle told Gerald he would most likely get a life term and be free in 25 years. Gerald protested: “That isn’t what I want. Why don’t they give me a gun? then I could shoot myself and join Dolores in heaven.” Apparently no one told Gerald that he was a poor candidate for wings and a harp.

About 2 years prior to the murder Gerald had served three months in the Navy before being medically discharged. He volunteered an explanation to reporters: “It was a maladjustment or something like schizophrenia.” Describing himself he said: “I guess I was kind of a black sheep. I’d worked all my life and Dolores and I were going to get married. Then I got fed up with things and we decided that marriage wasn’t for us.”

gerald_guilty2The all-day hearing in Judge Fricke’s court began with Gerald pleading guilty to murdering Dolores. The judge read letters written by Dolores to Gerald. One of them was a poignant reminder of Dolores’ youth. Her declaration of love was surrounded by biology class doodles and it read: “I told you once that I could never love another guy and I still mean it. What good is loving a guy when he doesn’t love you enough to care whether he hurts you or not?” Like most high school girls in 1947 she dreamed of marriage. Among her notebook scribbles she had practiced signatures “Mrs. Jerry Welch,” Mrs. Dolores Welch” and “Mrs. G.S. Welch.” Fraught with the expected teenage angst, another of Dolores’ letters to Gerald read: “I’ll tell you what I expected of you. I wanted you to see me as much as possible, to think about me as much as I do you–to not want to go anywhere without you, but it was impossible. These few things would have kept me happy, happy just to know that you don’t enjoy doing things without me. I guess it didn’t work out. I don’t know what you are going to do, but as for me, I’ll probably go on living in a rut, going to school, then to college. I’ll never ever be seen with another one unless it is you. Unless you think you want me bad enough to make me happy, I’ll wait for you forever if I have to. Yours forever, Dolores”

Her letters to Gerald were exactly what you would expect from a 16-year-old girl, but in none of them did she say that she wanted to die with him. She saw herself going off to college, albeit in a state of misery due to a broken heart, but she was thinking of her future not picking out a dress in which to be buried.dolores

Judge Fricke ruled that the crime was murder in the first degree and sentenced Gerald to life in prison. Gerald responded to the verdict saying: “I’m terribly disappointed about the verdict but I expected it. I think it’s a dirty trick. No one can understand what happened. I just want to join Dolores so we can be happy together. At the first opportunity I am going to rectify the judges sentence.”

As far as I’ve been able to tell Gerald never made good on his threat to take his own life. Did anyone really believe that he would? I searched for him in prison records but have had no luck so far. It’s like he’s a ghost. My guess is he did 25 years, give or take, just as his attorney had predicted. Some time in the late 1960s or early 1970s he walked away from prison a free man.

The Maladjusted Black Sheep, Part 1

Pasadena police were stunned when, early on the morning of April 19, 1947, 18-year-old Gerald Snow Welch arrived with the dead body of a girl in his car. He coolly announced to officers his “purpose in life has been completed.” What in the hell was he talking about? Who was the girl and how had she died?

doloresGerald identified the girl as his 16-year-old sweetheart Dolores Fewkes. He claimed that he and Dolores had planned to die together but he survived due to a miscalculation on his part. He had brought only two bullets with him to the deserted picnic grounds in the San Gabriel Mountains where the couple planned to leave this world behind. He thought two rounds would be enough, but when Dolores failed to die immediately after the first bullet entered her head, he fired again. The second round entered her skull about a half an inch from the first, but it didn’t kill her either. She started to scream and wouldn’t stop. He told police that he “finished her off” by battering her to death with the stock and barrel of the .22. “If only I had taken more bullets…” he told police. Once Dolores was dead he put her bloody body into his car and drove her to the police station where he confessed.

He told investigators that he felt “no sorrow, no regrets” about the slaying and was convinced that Dolores was surely in heaven awaiting his arrival. “There won’t ever be any change in my feelings. I loved her and she wanted to go with me into the next world. It will be much happier and better there.” Then he explained that he’d rather let the State kill him but: “…I would kill myself if I got the chance.” Gerald appeared to be in no hurry to make good on his threat, he sat on the bunk in his jail cell and stared at the ceiling.

gerald jailHe admitted that when he originally contemplated suicide he had no intention of taking Dolores with him but: “She said she couldn’t stand to be left behind and we decided to go together.”

What had driven the teenagers to consider such drastic action? Were teenage angst or raging hormones to blame? Gerald explained that his suicidal thoughts were the result of a crisis of faith coinciding with his medical discharge from the Navy where he had served “three unhappy months.”

no regrets headline

“I began to doubt a lot of things which had been told me in Sunday School and church and I began to do some investigations. I went to the library and I read philosophers–lots of them–Plato, and Schopenhauer and Emerson. I found in Schopenhauer a positive justification for suicide.”

Strange as they were Gerald had given his reasons for wanting to die, but his contention that Dolores couldn’t bear to be left behind needed further examination. Everyone who knew the Montebello High School student said that she was a happy girl with a lot to live for. Did she have a secret dark side that she had revealed only to Gerald? Had she willingly entered into a suicide pact with him, or was he lying?

NEXT TIME: Dolores’ family disputes Gerald’s story that she wanted to die with him and accuses him of cold-blooded murder.