Arthur Eggers: Obsession with Wife Drives Man to Murder

Last week, I covered the Amityville Horror murders committed by Ronald DeFeo, Jr. This week, we’re back in California for a film-noir style murder case, that of Arthur Eggers. In 1948, Eggers killed his wife Dorothy and dumped her body in a remote mountain area. But his ineptness led to his quick arrest and ultimate conviction.

Arthur Eggers, Frustrated Husband

Arthur and Dorothy Eggers couldn’t have had a happy marriage. He was a shy and submissive man while she was the dominant personality in the marriage. She insulted him frequently, calling him “a little insect” among other things. She also slept around and didn’t care if Arthur knew it.

Arthur and Dorothy Eggers with neice Marie in 1937
Arthur and Dorothy Eggers with neice Marie in 1937

When Arthur discovered Dorothy with one of her lovers, he flew into a rage and tried to attack the man. Dorothy tried to stop her husband and her paramour escaped. She, however, was not so lucky. The gun Arthur was waving at the retreating Lothario “accidentally” went off, killing Dorothy.

Dorothy Eggers
Dorothy Eggers

With a dead body on his hands, Eggers went to work. He used a hand saw to remove Dorothy’s head and hands to make identification difficult. He then wrapped the body in a blanket and dumped it in what he though was a remote area of the San Bernardino Mountains.

Motorists Find Dorothy Eggers’ Body

On the morning of January 2, 1946, two men drove up the steep grade of Waterman Canyon. Their car began to overheat pulling up the steep mountain grade. So, they pulled into a wide turnout to let it cool and refill the radiator with water. There is no record today of what car they drove. But so soon after the end of World War II, it was likely no newer than a 1930s model. Cooling problems were not uncommon in older cars.

Arthur Eggers in court
Arthur Eggers in court

While waiting for the engine to cool, the two men took in the breathtaking view of the San Bernardino Mountains. One of them looked down into the ravine below. He saw a woman’s body wrapped in a green and white blanket tied with rope.

Sheriff’s deputies and detectives retrieved the body and noted the missing head and hands.The woman had been of middle age, probably mid-forties. The only distinguishing features were severe bunions on the feet. Police deduced that the killer was not familiar with the area. The dump site was an area where people often stopped to view the scenery, after all.

Arthur Eggers Confesses–And Recants

Eggers reported his wife missing at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Temple City substation, where he was a clerk. He attempted to mislead authorities, though, by misstating Dorothy’s height as 5 feet, 2 inches. Her true height was 5 feet, 7 or 8 inches.

On January 4, Eggers sold his wife’s wedding rings to a jeweler for $10 ($140 in 2021). He used a fake name and address. Two weeks later, he sold Dorothy’s 1940 Plymouth sedan to a deputy in the Temple City substation. He forged her name to the ownership certificate. Although he had cleaned the trunk, small spots of human blood remained. The blood was Type A, Dorothy’s type (this was decades before DNA testing).

Eggers was arrested on suspicion of murder on January 22. He maintained his innocence until questioned by retired deputy Robert Jones. The two men had worked together a long time and Eggers respected the older man. Before long, Eggers admitted that he’d killed Dorothy “accidentally” as they fought after he caught her with the other man. The next morning, he led deputies to the site where he’d dumped the body.

Eggers demonstrates how he dumped Dorothy's body
Eggers (C) demonstrates how he dumped Dorothy’s body

However, it wasn’t long before Eggers started revising his confession, tweaking it to minimize his level of guilt. Then he recanted completely, saying he never killed his wife, and the Waterman Canyon body wasn’t even hers.

Arthur Eggers on Trial

Arthur Eggers went on trial for murder on May 6, 1947. His attorney, James Starritt filed a motion to block the indictment. The motion failed, but Starritt did get Eggers’ confession set aside. However, there was plenty of evidence against him. One of Eggers’ nieces, who lived with the couple, identified the blanket used to wrap the Dorothy’s body. A neighbor testified to seeing Eggers vigorously scrubbing the trunk of his wife’s car.

Arthur Eggers (R) with attorney James Starritt (L)
Arthur Eggers (R) with attorney James Starritt (L)

There was also forensic evidence. There was, of course, the Type A blood found in the trunk of Dorothy’s car. Investigators found the same blood type in the couple’s bathroom. They also found bits of bone and flesh imbedded in a handsaw belonging to Eggers. Equally damning, test-fired from Eggers’ .32 calibre handgun matched the slugs retrieved from Dorothy’s body.

Arthur Eggers San Quentin mugshot

It was no surprise, therefore, when the jury of ten women and two men returned with a guilty verdict on June 29. Eggers still maintained that the Waterman Canyon body wasn’t Dorothy. As if that would negate the physical evidence and counteract his admission on the stand that he shot her.

After sanity hearing in which a jury rejected the argument that Eggers was insane, Superior Court Judge Clement Nye sentenced him to death.

Epilogue

Arthur Eggers died in the San Quentin gas chamber on Friday, October 15, 1948.

The Eggers case is one of the cases covered in Jason Lucky Morrow’s book, Famous Crimes the World Forgot.

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Ronald DeFeo: Startling and Horrific Family Killer Gets Life

Last week’s case featured Harvey Glatman, the California serial killer stopped when one of his intended victims fought back. This week, we travel to the opposite coast and the case of Ronald DeFeo. In 1974, DeFeo killed all six members of his family while they slept. The family home later became infamous as the “Amityville Horror” house.

The DeFeo Family Murders

Ronald DeFeo, Jr., “Butch” to his family, was born September 26, 1951, in Brooklyn, New York. By 1974, the DeFeo family lived in the Long Island community of Amityville. They lived in the house they purchased in 1964 at 112 Ocean Avenue.

Suffolk County detectives excort Ronald DeFeo, Jr.
Suffolk County detectives excort Ronald DeFeo, Jr.

At about 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, November 13, 1974, “Butch” walked into Henry’s Bar. The bar, which no longer exists, was a short six-minute walk from the DeFeo home. “You got to help me!” he told the people present. “I think my mother and father are shot!” DeFeo then led a small group back to the home, where they found Ronald DeFeo Sr. and Louise DeFeo dead. One of the group, Joe Yeswit, called the Suffolk County Police. When police searched the house, they found the other four DeFeo children dead. The DeFeo siblings were Dawn (18), Allison (13), Marc (12), and John Matthew (9). Each of the victims were lying face down on their beds.

The DeFeo house at 112 Ocean Avenue (Associated Press)
The DeFeo house at 112 Ocean Avenue (Associated Press)

At the scene, DeFeo suggested that a mob hitman, Louis Falini, had committed the murders. Officers took him to a local police station for his own protection. However, they soon noticed glaring inconsistencies in his story, Furthermore, Falini, the alleged hitman, was out of the state when the killings occurred. DeFeo couldn’t keep up the charade and confessed to the killings the following day.

A newspaper announces Ronald DeFeo's arrest
A newspaper announces Ronald DeFeo’s arrest

Ronald DeFeo Convicted

Ronald DeFeo went on trial almost a year later, on October 14, 1975. His lawyer, William Weber, presented the affirmative defense of insanity. DeFeo claimed he killed his family because he heard their voices plotting against him. Psychiatrist Daniel Schwartz supported the insanity defense.

However, the prosecution countered with psychiatrist Dr. Harold Zolan. Zolan testified that although DeFeo used heroin and LSD and had antisocial personality disorder, he had been aware of his actions at the time of the crime.

Deputies lead Ronald DeFeo out of a Long Island courtroom after a hearing in 1974 (AP)
Deputies lead Ronald DeFeo out of a Long Island courtroom after a hearing in 1974 (AP)

With an affirmative defense, the burden of proof is on the defendant. In the DeFeo case, this meant that DeFeo’s lawyer had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that DeFeo was insane at the time of the murders. It’s a tough standard and most insanity pleas fail, as did DeFeo’s. He was convicted of six counts of second-degree murder on November 21, 1975. On December 4, Judge Thomas Stark handed down six sentences of 25 years to life.

Ronald DeFeo Changes His Story

Over the years, DeFeo changed his story many times. In one version, he claimed his sister Dawn killed his father and his distraught mother killed the other children. He claimed to have killed his mother in self-defense. He said he took the blame initially because he was afraid his uncle, Peter DeFeo would kill him. (Peter DeFeo was a capo in the Genevese crime family). In another version, DeFeo blamed all the killings on his sister Dawn, saying he had to kill her in self-defense. Later, he told still another version in which he and Dawn carried out the killings with two friends “out of desperation,” because his parents were plotting to kill him.

Ronald DeFeo during a 2014 interview
Ronald DeFeo during a 2014 interview

With DeFeo telling so many versions of the murders, it’s difficult to believe anything other than his original confession. In 1990, Judge Stark agreed. Ruling on a 440 motion to have the conviction vacated, Stark found DeFeo’s fungible stories “not worthy of belief.” DeFeo remained in prison.

The Amityville Horror

George Lutz bought the house, moving in with his wife, Kathy and three children in December 1975. They moved out 28 days later, claiming it was haunted by the spirits of the murdered DeFeo family. Skeptics accuse Lutz of concocting the story to make money. And it’s worth noting that subsequent owners have not had any trouble with ghosts.

George and Kathy Lutz
George and Kathy Lutz

Epilogue

Ronald DeFeo remained in prison for the rest of his life; the parole board denied every request for parole. He died at the Albany Medical Center, aged 69, on March 12, 2021. Correctional department officials did not release a cause of death.

The murders and Lutz’s claims of haunting have generated scores of books and movies. One of the earliest and most famous is the Jay Anson’s 1977 novel, The Amityville Horror. This book was the basis for the movie of the same name starting Margot Kidder and James Brolin.

The house at 112 Ocean Avenue, built in 1924 still stands. Subsequent owners have modified it, adding a sunroom and filling in the swimming pool. Its address has changed to 108 Ocean Avenue, perhaps as a small gesture toward distancing it from its lurid past.

A recent photo of the "Amityville Horror" house, now 108 Ocean Avenue. Note the addition of the sunroom (foreground) and that the creepy "eye" winodws have been replaced with square ones (SyFy.com)
A recent photo of the “Amityville Horror” house, now 108 Ocean Avenue. Note the addition of the sunroom (foreground)/ The creepy “eye” winodws have been replaced with square ones (SyFy.com)

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Harvey Glatman: A Weird Boy Turns Ruthless Serial Killer

Last week we covered the bombing of the Los Angeles Times office building. This week, we stay in the City of Angels to meet serial killer Harvey Glatman.

Harvey Glatman

Harvey Glatman was a weird kid. Born in the Bronx in 1927, young Harvey showed an interest in deviant sexuality even as a child. When he was a teenager, he began breaking into women’s apartments and stealing small items, including lingerie. This escalated to assault as he grew older. Finally, in 1945, he was arrested and convicted of first-degree robbery but only served one month in jail.

Undated booking photograph of Harvey Murray Glatman (AP Photo/The Longmont Times-Call courtesy of the Boulder County, Colo.  Sheriffís Office)
Undated booking photograph of Harvey Murray Glatman (AP Photo/The Longmont Times-Call courtesy of the Boulder County, Colo. Sheriffís Office)

The following year, Glatman kidnapped and sexually assaulted a woman in New York. For this he received a sentence of 5-10 years. Initially incarcerated in the Elmira Reformatory, he was later sent to Sing Sing prison. He was paroled in 1948.

Harvey Glatman, Serial Killer

Harvey Glatman moved to Los Angeles in 1957. There he began trolling modeling agencies. He would contact potential victims and offer them work posing for illustrations for pulp fiction magazines. If an unfortunate girl agreed, he took her back to his apartment, tied her up, and sexually assaulted her before killing her. He took pictures of the women throughout their ordeal.

Judith "Judy" Dull, Glatman's first L.A. victim
Judith “Judy” Dull, Glatman’s first L.A. victim

The two women Glatman is known to have snared with the model scam were Judith Dull and Ruth Mercado. “Judy” Dull went with Glatman (who used the alias “Johnny Glenn”) to do a photo shoot on August 1, 1957. Her roommates at the El Mirador in Los Angeles never saw her again. A side note: actress Jean Harlow lived at El Mirador when she died in June 1937.

El Mirador, at the corner of North Sweetzer and Fountain Avenues in West Hollywood
El Mirador, at the corner of North Sweetzer and Fountain Avenues in West Hollywood

For his second know victim, Glatman changed is M.O. Instead of using a modeling agency, he contacted Shirley Ann Bridgeford through a lonely-hearts ad in a newspaper. He murdered her on March 9, 1958.

Shirly Ann Bridgeford. Glatman located her through a newspaper ad.
Shirly Ann Bridgeford. Glatman located her through a newspaper ad.

Ruth Mercado became Glatman’s third know victim on July 24, 1958. This time using the name Frank Johnson, he found her through a modeling agency just as he had Judy Dull.

Ruth Mercado also went by the name of Angela Rojas
Ruth Mercado also went by the name of Angela Rojas

Harvey Glatman Captured

In October 1958, Glatman hired twenty-eight-year-old Lorraine Vigil from a modeling agency. Supposedly traveling to his studio, Lorraine became alarmed when he hit the Santa Ana Freeway and started driving at high speed. Then, he stopped the car and pulled a gun. A terrified Lorraine grabbed it.

Lorraine Vigil managed to escape from Harvey Glatman
Lorraine Vigil managed to escape from Harvey Glatman

As the pair struggled for the gun, they fell out of the car and the gun went off. Lorraine ended up with it. She later said if she’d known how to shoot it, she could have killed him. Instead, she held it on him until a patrolman who’d seen the struggle stopped and arrested Glatman.

Glatman quickly confessed to three murders. He later led police to a toolbox that contained photos he’d taken of his victims.

Epilogue

On December 17, 1958, Judge John A. Hewicker found Harvey Glatman guilty in the murders of Shirley Bridgeford and Ruth Mercado and sentenced him to death. Glatman died in California’s gas chamber at San Quentin Prison on September 18, 1959.

San Quentin's death row gas chamber before being dismantled on March 13, 2019 (Photo by California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation)
San Quentin’s death row gas chamber before being dismantled on March 13, 2019 (Photo by California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation)

Decades after Glatman’s execution, researchers identified a woman previously known as “Boulder Jane Doe” as an 18-year-old woman from Phoenix, Arizona named Dorothy Gay Howard. Hikers found her body in Boulder Canyon in the spring of 1954. Police had long suspected Glatman in the murder (he lived in Colorado as a youth), although he never confessed to that crime.

Dorothy Gay Howard and her soon-to-be-ex-husband David G. Powell. Police suspet Harvey Glatman killed Howard but he was not convicted of that crime.
Dorothy Gay Howard and her soon-to-be-ex-husband David G. Powell. Police suspect Harvey Glatman killed Howard but he was not convicted of that crime.

A book about Glatman and his murders, Rope: The Twisted Life and Crimes of Harvey Glatman by Michael Newton appeared in December 2014.

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Mountain Meadows: Pioneering Families See Terror and Murder

Last week, we saw how, in 1990, Danny Rolling inflicted terror on the college students in Gainesville, Florida. This week, we look back more than 160 years to an incident even more terrifying. In 1857 Utah, Mormon militia members massacred between 120 and 140 people travelling from Arkansas to California at Mountain Meadows.

The Mountain Meadows

An oasis of grass in mountainous southwestern Utah, the Mountain Meadows was a spot where travelers could graze their animals. It was, if you will, a nineteenth-century rest stop on the old Spanish Trail. Utah in 1857 was not yet a state but a territory. Its governor was Brigham Young, who was also president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. In effect, Utah then was a theocracy and Young was virtually its absolute monarch.

Panoramic view of the Mountain Meadows in 2009 (Phil Konstantin)
Panoramic view of the Mountain Meadows in 2009 (Phil Konstantin)

Joseph Smith founded the LDS church in western New York in 1830. The next year, Smith moved the church to Kirtland, Ohio. He also established an outpost in Jackson County, Missouri, where he planned to eventually move the church. But Missouri residents, perhaps jealous of Mormon success and definitely concerned about their growing political power, drove the Mormons out. Their next stop was Nauvoo, Illinois. Smith and his brother, Hyrum, were jailed in Carthage, Illinois in 1844, accused of treason. While in jail, a mob killed both men. Brigham Young then took over as leader of the LDS church and, in 1847, led his followers west to Utah.

Brigham Young. Historians continue to debate his role in the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
Brigham Young. Historians continue to debate his role in the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

A decade later, what Young envisioned as a pre-millennial “Kingdom of God” was mostly flourishing in the deserts and mountains of Utah. Although Utah was a territory of the United States, the LDS was notably reluctant to accept federal authority.

The Utah War

Soon after taking office in March 1857, President James Buchanan decided to replace Young as governor. Buchanan appointed Alfred Cumming and ordered about 2,000 U.S. troops under Colonel Edmund Alexander to the Salt Lake valley. They were to establish an outpost in the territory.

Utah Governor Alfred Cumming
Utah Governor Alfred Cumming

In Utah, officials and residents alike viewed the Federal troops as an invading army sent to annihilate them. They prepared for war. Both sides were, in fact, ready to fight. However, although the conflict lasted until 1858, the “Utah War” had a few skirmishes but no battles as such. In the end, both parties reached a compromise. President Buchanan offered a free pardon to all Mormons for acts incident to the conflict. In turn, the Mormons agreed to submit to government authority.

Siege at Mountain Meadows

If you were paying attention to the dates, you noticed that the Mountain Meadows Massacre occurred during the Utah War. The chain of events leading to the tragedy in Utah began on May Day 1857. It was then that a wagon train led by Capt. John Baker and Alexander Fancher left Arkansas for California. The Arkansas emigrants followed the California Trail through present-day Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, and Wyoming before ending up in Salt Lake City.

Refused supplies in Salt Lake, the wagons turned southwest following the old Spanish Trail. They reached the Mountain Meadows on September 5 or 6. There was plenty of grass for their animals and a freshwater spring.

The Baker-Fancher pary's campsite at the Mountain Meadows in 2005 (author's photo)
The Baker-Fancher pary’s campsite at the Mountain Meadows in 2005 (author’s photo)

On Monday, September 7, a party of Mormon militia disguised as Paiute Indians attacked the emigrants in their camp. Despite the surprise attack, the Baker-Fancher party quickly regrouped, chained their wagon wheels together, and returned fire.

However, the Arkansans couldn’t withstand a protracted siege. Their ammunition and food quickly dwindled, and they were unable to reach the spring for fresh water. Although a few actual Paiutes participated, it was clear to the besieged emigrants that white men were among the attackers.

The Mountain Meadows Massacre

After five days under attack, Mormon militia leader John D. Lee approached the campsite under a white flag. He offered to conduct the travelers safely to Cedar City, about 35 miles away. But the emigrants would have to surrender their wagons and their weapons. As outlandish as that sounds, the Baker-Fancher party probably had little choice by then but to accept those terms.

John D. Lee, the only person convicted of the Mountain Meadows Massacre
John D. Lee, the only person convicted of the Mountain Meadows Massacre

The Mormon militia divided the emigrants into three groups: the men, the women and children, and the wounded. A militia escort accompanied each male member of the Baker-Fancher party. Then, according to a pre-arranged, plan, a signal was given. The militiamen then turned and shot the man they were escorting. More militia hiding in nearby bushes ambushed and killed the women and children. Seventeen children, thought to be too young to tell the story, survived.

Christopher "Kit" Carson Fancher was 6 at the time and survived the massacre
Christopher “Kit” Carson Fancher was 6 at the time and survived the massacre

Every militiaman was sworn to secrecy. The plan was to blame Native Americans for the murders. There was considerable effort to cover up the massacre as well. Although the Los Angeles Star printed a report in 1857, the killings didn’t become general knowledge until two years later. In that year, Brevet Major James H. Carleton, who led the first federal investigation, published his findings.

James Henry Carleton conducted the first federal investigation of the Mountain Meadows Massacre
James Henry Carleton conducted the first federal investigation of the Mountain Meadows Massacre

Epilogue

LDS leaders blamed the Baker-Fancher party themselves for the massacre, citing their allegedly disorderly and violent behavior. Most historians reject claims that the emigrants were overly unruly. It’s likely a combination of war hysteria, violent Mormon sermons, and jealousy of the emigrants’ obvious wealth were all factors.

Sarah Frances Baker Mitchell  (L) , then 3, and Nancy Sophrina Huff Cates (R), then 4, both survived the massacre
Sarah Frances Baker Mitchell (L) , then 3, and Nancy Sophrina Huff Cates (R), then 4, both survived the massacre

Seventeen years after the massacre, LDS leader (and Brigham Young’s adopted son) John D. Lee stood trial for the massacre. His first trial ended in a hung jury. A second trial in 1876 resulted in a conviction. Lee was executed by firing squad at the Mountain Meadows in 1877, twenty years after the original tragedy. Lee never denied his complicity but claimed he had not personally killed anyone and was nothing but a scapegoat. However, in his Life and Confessions of John D. Lee maintained that Brigham Young himself instigated the massacre. Historians have debated Young’s involvement ever since. Given the immense power he wielded in Utah, it’s difficult to believe that the massacre could have happened without at least Young’s knowledge.

Memorial at the Mountain Meadows campiste of the Baker-Fancer party in 2005 (author's photo)
Memorial at the Mountain Meadows campiste of the Baker-Fancer party in 2005 (author’s photo)

The Mountain Meadows Massacre remained largely unknown, hidden by LDS obfuscation for almost a century. Then Juanita Brooks, herself an active member of the LDS Church, published The Mountain Meadows Massacre in 1950. This was the first book to shine a critical light on the incident. Although the Church didn’t take any official action, unofficially Brooks faced ostracism for criticizing the LDS. In 2002, Will Bagley built on Brooks’ initial work in his book, Blood of the Prophets.

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