By True Crime Historian Paul Drexler
I don’t care what Jiminy Cricket sings in “When You Want Upon a Star.” Destiny just isn’t sort. Simply ask David Lamson.
Lamson and his spouse Allene had been Stanford’s golden couple within the Twenties. David, who had been pupil physique president at Palo Alto Excessive College, was a number one author and editor on campus. After commencement, he grew to become the gross sales supervisor for Stanford College Press. Allene had been ladies’s editor of The Stanford Every day and had obtained a grasp’s diploma in journalism from Stanford.
That they had a home on the Stanford campus, an attractive 2-year-old woman and by all accounts a cheerful marriage.
On Memorial Day 1933, with their maid on trip and their daughter at her grandmother’s, the couple had the home to themselves. It was 9:00 a.m. on a sizzling morning and David was working in his yard backyard. He had taken off his shirt and was chatting casually with a neighbor whereas stoking a bonfire of leaves and yard waste.
At 10 a.m., Julia Place, an area realtor, got here by with a shopper to have a look at David’s home, which the Lamsons had been making ready to hire out for the summer season. David advised her that he wanted to verify together with his spouse first to ensure she was out of the tub. Place and her shopper waited outdoors the entrance door. A couple of minutes later they heard an odd cry from inside the home. David opened the entrance door sporting a shirt coated in blood. “My spouse has been murdered!” he cried.
What adopted was a criminologist’s worst nightmare. Mrs. Buford Brown, the primary neighbor to reach, discovered David “kneeling on the lavatory ground, his spouse’s head in his arms, sobbing hysterically. I induced him to go away to enter the opposite room. He staggered after which fell to the ground in a faint.” She began cleansing up the blood within the rest room.
By the point police arrived, a half dozen neighbors and associates had been out and in of the tiny 70-square-foot rest room, transferring proof and monitoring blood over the home. It was like a horrifying model of the stateroom scene from the Marx Brothers’ Night time on the Opera. Palo Alto law enforcement officials arrived to seek out Allene’s bare physique draped facedown over the sting of a tub stuffed with water. There was one giant and two small wounds on the again of her head. The sheriff arrived and shortly determined it was murder.
The sheriff interrogated David Lamson, whom he felt was the one individual with the means and alternative to commit the homicide. Lamson, who was nonetheless in a state of shock, was fuzzy on the small print of his day’s actions, which made the sheriff much more suspicious. Police discovered a foot-long steel pipe on the backside of the bonfire David had been stoking. Preliminary assessments stated there was blood on the pipe. Additionally they discovered what had been considered bloodstains on the again porch, however none on the entrance porch — by means of which any intruder would have needed to exit. Lamson, the one individual with the means and alternative, was clearly responsible. All they wanted was a motive.
The press was solely too completely satisfied to oblige. The Lamson case had all of the substances to make a metropolis editor drool like a Pavlovian canine: A younger lovely sufferer, a mysterious demise, an unlikely suspect, all within the pastoral setting of Stanford College. All it wanted was a bit of spice. “Cherchez la femme!” the newspapers declared.
It was rumored that David had impregnated Doris Roberts, the Lamsons’ lovely maid. This rumor dissolved when her child’s hair matched that of her red-headed fiancé.
“Discover one other girl!” stated the newspapers. And so they did. She was Sara Kelley, “the blonde divorcée from Sacramento.” David and Sara had recognized one another at Stanford 10 years earlier and he had run into her not too long ago on the “Sacramento Union,” the place she labored. The district legal professional discovered witnesses who noticed them having dinner collectively, however at all times as half of a bigger group. Police discovered love poems Kelley had written in Lamson’s workplace drawer, however they had been poems that had been written for publication.
Doris Roberts, their maid, described the Lamsons’ relationship as heat and loving, and an examination of Allene’s diary revealed no hint of battle. Clara Malwitz, the substitute maid, had a special story. “It’s time any individual advised the reality,” stated Clara. “It’s plain to be seen that somebody has Dora Roberts frightened.” Malwitz claimed that David had a nasty mood and that Allene was afraid of him. Clara additionally confirmed studies that Mrs. Lamson was ill.
The district legal professional and sheriff tried the case within the press, portray Lamson as a devious individual and stating medical testimony that an unintentional demise was bodily unattainable. To buttress their case the prosecution employed the foremost criminologist of the day, Dr. E.O. Heinrich.
The protection made a tactical error by sequestering Doris Roberts and Sara Kelley, who hated the cruel public highlight, however who may counteract the prosecution’s assaults on David’s character. This left the narrative with Clara, who liked being the focal point.
Nonetheless, there have been questions. If David Lamson had killed his spouse earlier than 9 a.m., how may he have been so relaxed speaking to his neighbors just some minutes later?
Because the case moved towards the trial, a startling improvement occurred. Dr. E.O. Heinrich, after inspecting the demise scene, concluded that Allene’s demise was an accident and joined the protection workforce.
In early September, the trial started.
In keeping with the prosecution, David’s motive for the homicide was intercourse. They claimed that he was having an affair with a blonde divorcee and that he was sexually pissed off inside his marriage.
Witnesses testified that Allene’s well being was delicate and that she was usually unwell. In keeping with David, Allene had a abdomen ache the evening earlier than she died, so he slept in one other room. The prosecution claimed that the Lamsons slept aside due to marital issues and that David was offended in regards to the state of affairs.
The prosecution’s concept was that David confronted Allene within the rest room the subsequent morning and attacked her with a nine-inch piece of steel pipe. After the homicide, the prosecution claimed, he went outdoors to the backyard, raked leaves, chatted with neighbors, and put the homicide weapon within the trash hearth.
The prosecution defined that David’s calmness earlier than and his grief after Allene’s physique was found could possibly be defined by the appearing coaching he had realized in his highschool and school reveals.
The important thing battle on the trial was fought between prosecution and protection specialists over whether or not the demise was homicide or an accident.
Dr. A.W. Meyer, head of Stanford Medical College’s anatomy division, testified for the prosecution that the injuries on the again of Allene’s head may have been made solely by 4 separate blows. Different prosecution witnesses testified that Allene’s demise may solely be homicide.
Dr E.O. Heinrich, a well-known criminologist, was the important thing protection professional. The prosecution initially employed Heinrich, however his analysis satisfied him that Lamson was harmless. Heinrich rebutted the prosecution’s claims of blood on the pipe however he was prevented from testifying that Allene’s demise was attributable to an unintentional fall within the bathtub.
The choose dominated this proof was primarily based on experiments that weren’t scientifically legitimate.
Prosecutor A.P. Lindsay ruthlessly appealed to the jury’s feelings. On the time, Santa Clara was an agricultural space — “the prune capital of the world.” Lindsay stirred up the category conflicts between the agricultural jury and the Stanford College educated defendant. He made positive that enormous photographs of Allene’s bloody physique had been prominently displayed. He pounded the steel pipe on the jury field throughout his summation and skim the scene from “Oliver Twist,” wherein the vicious Invoice Sykes beats his girlfriend to demise.
On the finish of the three-week trial and eight hours of deliberation, the jury discovered Lamson responsible of first-degree homicide and he was sentenced to demise. The decision shocked the educational and authorized communities.
August Vollmer, a former Berkeley police chief and College of California criminologist referred to as it, “essentially the most wonderful state of affairs that has ever arisen in American jurisprudence — a person condemned to die for one thing that has by no means occurred, and each little bit of circumstantial proof pointing to his innocence.”
Protection legal professional Edwin McKenzie wrote a professional bono, 622-page appellate temporary difficult each side of the prosecution’s case.
Lamson was despatched to San Quentin’s demise row and began writing about his experiences. His writing was serialized within the San Francisco Chronicle and later grew to become “We Who Are About to Die,” a unprecedented e book, written with out anger or self-pity, stuffed with compassion for each convicts and guards.
“My effort has been to look at and report — to inform you what San Quentin and demise row are like, fairly than to inform you what occurred to me,” Lamson wrote.
In November 1934, the California Supreme Court docket unanimously overturned the decision, dominated that the trial choose unfairly saved Dr. Heinrich from testifying, and stated the prosecution’s case was weak. On the similar time, the chief justice commented that Lamson was most likely responsible however that the prosecution had not proved it past an inexpensive doubt.
The second trial lasted three months, and the jury deliberated for 30 hours earlier than it introduced that they had been deadlocked: 9 for conviction and three for acquittal. The District Legal professional tried Lamson a 3rd time with similar outcomes.
By this time, Lamson’s e book had develop into a best-seller and public opinion had shifted in his favor. After the fourth trial led to a mistrial, the prosecutor gave up and dismissed the costs.
David Lamson was reunited together with his daughter Jenny, who he had not seen for 3 years. Inside just a few weeks, they moved to Hollywood, the place he labored on the screenplay for the movie version of “We Who Are About to Die.
In 1937, Lamson wrote “Whirlpool,” a novel primarily based on his case, which additionally grew to become a best-seller. He met and married movie and journal author Ruth Rankin, who grew to become Jenny’s stepmother. Over the subsequent 15 years, he wrote greater than 80 tales for the Saturday Night Put up and different widespread magazines.
He died in Los Altos in 1975 on the age of 72.
In regards to the Creator: Paul Drexler is a author and crime historian in San Francisco. He repeatedly writes for the San Francisco Examiner together with his column ‘Infamous Crooks’ and he’s the Director of Crooks Excursions of San Francisco providing strolling excursions of town and its legal historical past. Paul has appeared in various documentaries for the Discovery ID community and on Paramount TV the place he featured as an professional on the Zodiac Killer.