The Shuddering Bride, Conclusion

shuddering headlineBarbara Eras’ sleuthing had convinced her that her new husband, Robert Pennington, was a liar and possibly a murderer. He had told conflicting stories regarding the whereabouts of his wife, Helen Beitz. Barbara was convinced that something bad had happened to her predecessor, especially after Robert took her to the house he and Helen had shared. As she was giving her statement to the cops, Barbara put her hand to her throat and shuddered; she said:

“Bobby pins and cosmetics were strewn around. I didn’t think a woman would leave things like this if she was going on away on a visit. In the living room were pictures of her two babies and their little bronzed baby shoes. No mother would go away and leave things like that behind.”

The Sheriffs agreed with Barbara and brought Robert in for questioning. They hammered away at him for three days but he wouldn’t break his silence, so the cops had no choice but to cut him loose for lack of evidence. He may have been released but he wasn’t off the hook, the sheriffs kept him under surveillance.

pennington quizzedWhen Robert attempted to leave Los Angeles he was arrested again, and this time he broke down and confessed to the murder of Helen Beitz.

As it turned out he and Helen had never even been married, although they’d lived together for a year or so. He told cops that he’d killed her when he found her dressing for a date with another man. The way Robert told the story he’d acted in self-defense, resorting to violence only after Helen had lunged at him with a butcher knife. He said he had grabbed her by the throat to keep her from plunging the knife into him. He choked her until she slumped to the floor. Then he spent more than an hour administering artificial respiration and trying to revive her.body in swamp

When he realized that Helen was dead, Robert stripped off her clothes and wrapped her nude body in a blanket, placed it in his car and drove south toward Fallbrook. He turned up Mt. Palomar Road, leading to the observatory, then turned onto another road known as Live Oak Park Road. At the bend in the road, at the bottom of a gully, Robert dug a shallow grave and buried her.

Pennington at grave of Helen Beitz. [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Collection]

Pennington at grave of Helen Beitz. [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Collection]

Following his confession, he lead deputies to the scene and stood, manacled, between two deputy sheriffs and watched while a bulldozer uncovered Helen’s corpse which had been covered by mud from the January rains.

Barbara and Robert in court. [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Collection]

Barbara and Robert in court. [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Collection]

Barbara Pennington had done a remarkable job of revealing the murder of Helen Beitz, and most women would have been relieved to have emerged from a ten day marriage to a killer unscathed. Barbara was not most women.

She had been advised by an attorney to have her marriage to Robert annuled, but when reporters asked her about it she said:

“I’m not going to get an annulment. I’m going to stick by Bob because he was good to me. And because he was good to my children.”

She went on to say:

“I’ve check up on that women he killed — and she wasn’t much good. I’m sticking by Bob. I’m going to raise all the money I possibly can to defend him. As soon as we get out of this I’m going to remarry him — in the United States.”

Robert’s trial began with Barbara at his side. A couple of women who had met Pennington in a Lynwood bar two weeks before Christmas, and just days after Helen’s murder, testified that he had offered them his dead wife’s clothing. He said that his wife had died several months before from a cerebral hemorrhage.

Following Helen’s death Robert grieved in public, once he had a few drinks in him, but in private he was busy trying to convert Helen’s property into cash for his own use. He even collected one of her paychecks at the paper carton factory in South Gate where he and Helen had worked together.

On April 28, 1952, Robert Pennington was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to from five years to life in San Quentin.

Barbara said:

“I’d wait for him for two years, maybe five years. If he gets more than that, I’d be crazy to wait.”

Barbara may have been a lot of things, but she wasn’t crazy. Two months after Robert’s murder conviction the shuddering bride had her marriage annulled.

The Shuddering Bride


Barbara Eras Pennington

By January 1952, twenty-nine year old divorced mother of four, Barbara Eras, had been through one hell of a lot. She had married an American solider stationed in England and then had accompanied him to the U.S. The wartime marriage ended and Barbara supported herself and her kids: Sandra, 6; Sonia, 5; Dolores, 3; and Jerry, 2, by working as a cocktail waitress.

Barbara was working on Wednesday, January 16th, and she was in a melancholy mood. The juke box was playing some English tunes like “Tipperary” and she became homesick for England where she had served as a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF). She was lost in her reverie when she was approached by a tall, handsome man. He was thirty-one year old Robert Pennington, a machinist, and he said that he, too, was burdened by sorrow. He told Barbara that his wife had recently died of a stroke. He sobbed as he recounted how the resuscitator squad had worked on his wife’s body for over two hours, but had ultimately failed to revive her. Barbara and Robert cried together at the bar.

By the end of the week Pennington had proposed marriage to Barbara — he said that they had both been through so much that they might be good for each other. On January 21st the couple, along with a few of their friends, drove down to Tijuana where they were married.

Barbara immediately started to have second thoughts about her whirlwind courtship and hasty marriage. She had a strange feeling about her new husband. What did she really know about Robert? They hadn’t even known each other for a week before they eloped. Barbara saw to it that she and Robert were never alone together — a challenge considering they were supposed to be on their honeymoon.

The bride was concerned enough to engage in a bit of amateur detective work. She followed up on Robert’s story about the resuscitation squad taking two hours to try to revive his deceased wife, Helen Beitz. Barbara said:

“I telephoned the Fire Department to find out if, as Bob said, a resuscitator squad had worked over Mrs. Beitz’s body for two hours.”

There was no record of any such attempt. Definitely a black mark against Robert.

Barbara talked to neighbors who said they’d heard from Robert that Helen had gone to Oklahoma to visit relatives, but when she contacted the relatives they said that they hadn’t seen Helen.

Robert & Helen at a nightclub.

Robert & Helen at a nightclub.

The new bride was becoming frightened, but she was undeterred. Robert had given Barbara a beautiful ring when they were married. She was suspicious about its provenance so she got out the phone book and began calling every jeweler in town until she found the one who had made the ring for Helen Beitz. Things were looking worse by the minute.

So far everything Barbara had learned about Robert had done nothing to assuage her fears, in fact she she was becoming increasingly terrified. The final straw came when following an argument Robert said to her:

“You are monkeying with a dangerous guy.”

Barbara decided that it was time she phoned the cops.

NEXT TIME: A confession and a body, as The Shuddering Bride continues.