Sunday, May 20, 2018

Emma LeDoux - The Black Widow of Amador County (Part Three)

"At the morgue McVicar’s brother, J.E. McVicar, had arrived from Cripple Creek, Colorado, to identify the body. During an interview with the press he was quoted stating, “Yes, that is my brother Albert. This will almost kill our poor old mother. She is now nearly 70 years of age and I fear greatly the result of the shock upon her.” 

He also went on to say, “Somehow I thought something was the matter with Al.  Up to two years ago we kept up a fairly regular correspondence. Then he stopped writing. My mother and other members of the family had the same experience and for long periods at a time we did not know where he was located.

Albert was a first-rate man, unless he went downhill rapidly in the last few years. What kind of woman is this alleged wife? She must be a regular tigress. I could hardly believe my eyes when I read of the tragedy in a Cripple Creek paper. The name caught my eye and I feared the worst from the first. I telegraphed at once to your Chief of Police, but it was nearly a day and night before I received a reply. I have never seen the woman. We learned that he had married her in Arizona, but we never got much information about her further than once or twice he mentioned having married a ‘nice woman’. ”—-San Francisco Call, April 1, 1906

During the autopsy of McVicar's body, Dr. S.E. Latta and Dr. Hall claimed there was no signs of carbolic acid in his system at all, which contradicted what Emma had told the authorities.  It was also stated that it was unlikely that he had been poisoned to death, and that they believed the blows to his head which caused a "congestion of the inner lining of the skull"  brought on certain death. The doctor also went on to add that there was no sign of a struggle and that had he been poisoned with carbolic acid, that he would not have become completely incapacitated so quickly.

The doctors claimed that the body showed five contusions on his scalp and a blood clot fell from his nose as they were moving the deceased's body back on the slab in order to examine him further. Dr. Latta later testified that the clot from the nose and the five contusions  were caused prior to death.   You see, When McVicar’s nose was struck, during the course of being forced into the trunk, it caused a perimortem fracture. The newspapers even claimed that during the embalming process, the fluid “worked its way through the drained arteries and ebbed from the nostril.”   This meant that he was not dead when he was forced in the trunk.

The autopsy also showed that there was morphine in his system and trace amounts of choral hydrate.  But was it enough to kill him? One theory presented was that it was McVicar who was really addicted to the morphine acquired by Emma's doctor in San Francisco two weeks before. That McVicar took the morphine voluntarily and that while drunk, he overdosed on the morphine and died.

Testimony later given by Dr. Freiman of Sutter Creek stated that Emma was the one who had the morphine problems and that it all began in 1905. That was when she was first prescribed morphine for her ailment. Allegedly, during that time Emma had been suffering from problems with her uterus and ovaries which was the start of her need for morphine.

The trial of Emma LeDoux became one of the biggest news stories of the decade. Every paper in every town wanted day to day updates in the trial and gossip of key players in the story. The press had judged and convicted LeDoux in the court of public opinion long before the trial itself was even over. Over the course of several weeks the press continued to pump out more and more information, while the public ate it up.

During the trial, defense attorney Charles H. Fairall tried to convince the jury of Emma's innocence repeatedly. Fairall believed that the jury and Judge Nutter were biased.  In fact, it was remarked that the jury had been chosen from a specific area in Stockton, and were neighbors of Sheriff Sibley. This insinuation was used by the defense to claim that the jury was tainted all along, having made their own judgments against Emma before learning the facts of the case.

When it came to the forensics, the case became even more interesting. The prosecution's star witness, Professor Ray Ravonne Rodgers, a chemist from Cooper Medical School,  testified that McVicar had ten times the amount of morphine in his system to kill a normal man his size. He also stated that McVicar had not died prior to being placed in the trunk, but in fact that he died while in the trunk, but not by suffocation. 

Defense attorney Fairall, having the opportunity to cross examine the witness questioned how he knew that McVicar did not suffocate while in the trunk. Rodgers then explained to the jury that earlier that morning he had the District Attorney lock him in the very same trunk and laid in the very same position McVicar had been found in.  He lay in the trunk, locked inside for almost forty minutes without suffocating. 

He claimed that it was hot, but given McVicar's scenario, the blood from his nose that soaked the clothes would have made it even easier to breathe, rather than the dry clothes that were placed in the trunk during Rodger's experiment. 

In the question of the carbolic acid theory, Dr. E. Harbert claimed that alcohol had been discovered to be an antidote for carbolic acid. He stated that by diluting it with alcohol it would not cause the burns in the mouth or mucus membranes, throat or stomach as it normally would if ingested on its own, but it would most certainly cause death.  Dr. Harbert also went on to say in regards to whether or not McVicar's body was stuffed in the trunk before or after death, "sometimes very difficult to impossible to tell by a postmortem whether a contusion on a human body was made slightly before or shortly after death."

Dr. George S. Harkness even testified that it would be impossible to tell whether bruises could be caused shortly before or shortly after death and that bruises have been known to be made on a dead body even three hours after death. He also stated that the dark mucus matter that was found in McVicar's stomach had indicated that he had ingested some sort of irritant and that cyanide poisoning could have been a cause. He also pointed out that the odor of cyanide poisoning was not always present after a death of cyanide poisoning.

That statement must have struck a nerve in Emma's mother, because she dropped immediately, fainting in the courtroom and had to be carried out.  Emma began crying over her mother's collapse and smelling salts had to be administered to her in order to bring her to her senses so the trial could again proceed. The thought that Mary Ann Head grew faint and literally passed out after the mention of the cyanide got my attention.

Now remember, Emma's first husband died from suspicious circumstances but was later deemed natural causes. Poisoning was rumored though there was no way to prove later.  Then in 1904, this time Emma's step father James Head died from what they said was a cancer of the stomach, but it makes me wonder if it really was cancer at all?  Could Emma's mother have known something that everyone else didn't?

Emma was quite close with her mother and in her eyes she could do no wrong. It just seems odd to me that considering that time is history, Mary Ann just condoned or accepted her daughter’s lifestyle such as sleeping around, gallivanting between Amador County and San Francisco while being a bigamist.

Could she have also been aware of what happened to McVicar? Her mother must have had some knowledge of what was going on because Healy later admitted that he had been contracted to work on Mary Ann's  house in Jackson, performing plumbing work on more than one occasion. Healy also stated that he had been engaged to Emma at the time.

If this was true, Mary Ann was already well aware that her daughter was married to McVicar and LeDoux, yet Emma had time to promise to wed yet another man?  I am quite sure Mary Ann knew a lot more than she cared to admit.  Also, recall the reports that McVicar had been sick in San Francisco just two weeks prior to his death. This prior incident of possible poisoning had flagged my attention in the theory for him later being poisoned, again.

Remember, Emma had obtained a prescription for cyanide of potassium for her photography developing. It was quite possible that the mere mention of cyanide poisoning during the trial set the anxieties of Emma's mother in a whirlwind and thus she fainted out of sheer panic.  One note I would like to also make was that Mary Ann, Emma's mother, married quite as frequently as her daughter and in almost every case she outlived her husband, just as Emma did.  Even Emma's fifth husband died unexpectedly, but we will get into that further on in this chapter. Could this have been a family of black widows?

With all the witness testimony and various theories thrown every which way, the exact cause of death was never certain. Was he drugged, beaten over the head and then bled out unconscious until dead in the trunk? Or was he poisoned and dead long before he went into the trunk? Both sides disagreed at every turn. The prosecution wanted to prove that Emma poisoned McVicar and dumped him in the trunk to die slowly to cover up for her bigamous lifestyle. The defense wanted the jury to believe that McVicar was just a morphine addict who overdosed and that it really wasn't Emma's fault.  Eventually, the jury had to decide, not how McVicar died, but who caused his death.

It took only six hours of deliberations before the jury convicted Mrs. LeDoux of the murder of McVicar in the first degree. She would be the first woman sent
enced in a court of law to be executed in the State of California. The Amador Ledger dated August 10, 1906, published that Emma was sentenced to be hanged at San Quentin Prison on October 19th; however, that sentence was never carried out. Instead, she remained in the Stockton jail until 1909, while her attorney received an stay of execution for Emma upon his appeal for a new trial.

The defense attorney for Emma had filed an appeal to the Supreme Court requesting they reverse the original judgment of the court to save her from execution. They wanted the court to allow for a new trial based on the fact that they felt the previous trial was not "fair" but biased from the beginning. During the trial, Judge Nutter had denied the request to submit evidence that would help the defense. After weighing it all out, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Emma LeDoux's request because of the technical errors made by the State during the trial.

During the years that Emma was jailed, from the time of the trial all the way to 1909, she had become very ill. It was even published in many papers that they believed she was dying from consumption. Believing that she was going to die and that she could not physically or mentally handle the stress of another trial, Emma wrote a letter to her attorney advising him to notify the courts that she wished to plead guilty. The Amador Dispatch dated January 28, 1910, stated "Mrs. Emma LeDoux pleaded guilty Wednesday morning to the murder of Albert McVicar and was sentenced to life imprisonment in San Quentin."   Emma was then sent up to San Quentin, where she served 10 years before paroling in 1920. According to the book "Emma LeDoux And The Trunk Murder" by Madeline Church, she states that Emma filed an application for executive clemency on October 22, 1914. In the section that asked if she had any children, Emma had answered "yes."

In fact, the document shows that Emma stated that she had
"twin sons, 11 years old, living in Oregon." As Church states in her book, the calculations of the boys' birth dates would have meant that the children could have been either William S. Williams' sons or even McVicar's.  Nowhere in any research I have done have I found any other mention of the two sons that Emma claimed to have had. Emma never stated who the father of the children was, nor did this information come up when she filed for clemency again in 1917, and later again in 1921. 

Finding out that Emma quite possibly hid that she had twin sons around 1903, and the fact she kept secrets about what she was up to while living in houses of ill repute prior to McVicar's death, leads me to wonder what other secrets Emma kept from the world? Did she get pregnant by accident while prostituting? Were these children offspring of her marriage to Williams or her union with McVicar? Did she feel these children were getting in the way of her plans?

If she did have these babies as the record claims, why did she send them away to Oregon? Perhaps she knew friends or family up there that covered for her and took the children in without a word uttered all these years. Remember, that she lived in Oregon for about 10 years as a child. She could have known people up there. It does make you wonder.

Emma paroled on July 20, 1920, but continued to live the institutionalized life by violating the terms of her parole on more than one occasion. The first time she had been staying with her sister in Los Angeles. It was reported that she had been contributing to the delinquency of minors by providing alcohol to under age young men and being drunk in public. Her parole was revoked and she went right back to prison.

About three years later she was paroled again in March of 1924. This was around the time that she met and married Fred Crackbon, who was said to be a wealthy businessman from Napa. Unfortunately for Emma, Crackbon died from a severe stroke in 1929, leaving Emma a widow once more. With all the deaths of husbands, I often wonder if the stroke he suffered was really from a natural cause? Even Emma's mother also seemed to be outliving her husbands, having married a grand total of four times, while Emma a total of five. Coincidence?

If Emma did have anything to do with Crackbon's death, it didn't seem to help her. In fact, it put her in a worse position financially since Crackbon's children from a previous marriage inherited most of his property. His last surviving brother, Al Crackbon, kept what was left of the family inheritance leaving Emma broke. It wasn't long before Emma resorted back to her usual schemes of living a less than respectable life. Emma even started a “lonely hearts” dating service catering to forlorn men. Emma pretended to connect these men with female pen pals, although she was the only one writing to all of them. She successfully swindled money out of lonesome, love starved men until her parole officer finally cracked down on her and put her back in prison again on April 21, 1931. It just seemed as if Emma had neither a conscience nor a desire to change her ways. Eventually the State moved her from San Quentin to the women's prison facility where she stayed for the remainder of her life in Tehachapi, California.

On July 6, 1941, Emma LeDoux finally died, at the age of 68, from uremia due to ovarian cancer. She was buried in an unmarked grave in the Union Cemetery in Bakersfield. Albert N. McVicar's body was buried at the Highland Cemetery in Wichita, Kansas. As for her other former husband Eugene LeDoux, he died in 1943, and is buried at St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery in Sacramento, California.

During my writing of this book, I was fortunate to come into contact with one of Emma’s distant cousins, related through Emma’s maternal grandfather, Eli Gardner.  Through Ruth Blankenbaker’s insight on her family genealogy, tied with my research on Emma’s life, we were able to paint a better picture of Emma’s back story. I am forever grateful to Ruth, who is not only a wonderful supporter of my work, but someone I am proud to call a friend.

After discussing Emma’s life with Ruth, and the somewhat sketchy involvements that Emma’s mother was aware of, I have my suspicions about some of the women in Emma’s immediate family. Mary Ann Gardner, Emma’s mother, was married several times after Emma’s father, Thomas Cole left her. Her second husband, James Head, died of what was said to be stomach cancer and she inherited a huge estate.  Even Mary Ann’s father, Eli, whose whereabouts had disappeared from records, it turns out he had been institutionalized  at the Nevada County Hospital. His wife, Ellen, Emma’s grandmother, spent his fortune, eventually squandering it on Emma’s defense at her trial. 

Learning this information made me feel terrible for Eli. He came west as a young man with a dream during the Gold Rush. During a time in history where many came but few actually succeeded, Eli Gardner did.  Over the years he came to own a great deal of land, including a mine. In the end he was forgotten in a hospital for the remainder of his life, and we have no way of knowing on what grounds he was sent there. 

Ruth Blakenbaker made the discovery while working on her family genealogy“What’s interesting is that her mother, Ellen, says she is a widow in 1910,” Ruth points out, “but at that time Eli is clearly alive, because he didn’t die until 1912.”  Eli’s wife, Ellen, appeared to have gone on with her life, and remained living with Mary Ann until her death.  And what about Emma’s paternal grandfather, Calvin Cole? Was his death just an innocent mistake or was it the result of too many doses taken by accident? Or was he poisoned, too? It appeared that the only men in the family who were safe were the ones who ran off and divorced them.

Looking back at this entire investigation, I always find myself asking the same question, “why?” Was Emma’s insatiable greed for the insurance money what led her to kill? Or did she actually enjoy taking the life, or possibly lives, of her husband(s)? What about the twins that she allegedly gave birth to and only revealed her secret in one clemency request? What other secrets did she keep from the world?  I always come back with the same conclusion: we can only speculate but we will never know for certain.

In ending, the secrets or reasoning behind Emma's actions will never truly be revealed. The enigma of Emma LeDoux will forever remain just that, an enigma. When she died, she took all her secrets to the grave with her, leaving us scrambling to put the bits and pieces of the puzzle back together."---

To see the infamous murder trunk (which you can still see the bloodstains inside it) you can visit it at the Haggin Museum in Stockton, California. 

--Copyright, 2016 - Chapter 18, from the book "Stories of the Forgotten: Infamous, Famous & Unremembered," by J'aime Rubio (ISBN 13: 978-15239881175, ISBN 10: 1523981172)  

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Emma LeDoux - The Black Widow of Amador County (Part Three)

" At the morgue McVicar’s brother, J.E. McVicar, had arrived from Cripple Creek, Colorado, to identify the body. During an interview wi...