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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Mary Winkler: Wrist Slap in an Amazing Murder Case

Last week’s case was the mysterious disappearance (and presumed murder) of candy heiress Helen Brach. This week’s case takes us to Tennessee where, in 2006, Mary Winkler killed her minister husband with a shotgun blast. The crime may have been straightforward, but the resulting court case was anything but.

Mary and Matthew Winkler

Mary Carol Freeman met Matthew Winkler in 1993 when both were students at Freed-Hardeman University. Freed-Hardeman, in Henderson, Tennessee is a school affiliated with the Church of Christ. Matthew was popular and had charisma; Mary was quiet but displayed a winning smile. The couple married in 1996.

The Winklers shortly before Matthew's murder (AP/Tennessee Bureau of Investigations)
The Winklers shortly before Matthew’s murder (AP/Tennessee Bureau of Investigations)

Ten years later, Matthew was the pulpit pastor of the Fourth Street Church of Christ in Selmer, Tennessee. Selmer is a small town in the southwestern corner of the state and close to the border with Mississippi. Even though small, Selmer is the seat of McNairy County.

Rev. Matthew Winkler
Rev. Matthew Winkler

Murder of Matthew Winkler

On March 22, 2006, Rev. Winkler failed to show up for a Wednesday evening church service. Church members who went to his home to investigate found him dead on the floor of his bedroom. He’d been killed by a shotgun blast to the back that lodged 77 pellets in his body.

The Winklers lived in this house when Matthew was killed (By DoxTxob at the English Wikipedia)
The Winklers lived in this house when Matthew was killed (By DoxTxob at the English Wikipedia)

Mary Winkler and the couple’s three daughters were missing, so authorities issued an Amber Alert. Two days later, police arrested Mary in the parking lot of a Winn-Dixie grocery store in Orange Beach, Alabama. The arresting officers described Mary as “stoic” and having a “blank look on her face.”

Questioned by investigators, Mary said she and her husband had been arguing over money. She claimed not to remember retrieving the shotgun she admitted knowing her husband kept in the house. The next thing she heard, she claimed, was a loud boom.

Mary Winkler on Trial

The State of Tennessee extradited Mary Winkler from Alabama and set her bond at $750,000. At least part of the reason the bond was so high was that she had shot Matthew in the back. Also, he was still alive when she left the house, plus she had disconnected the bedroom phone. With prompt medical attention, he may have survived his wounds.

At the bond hearing, the prosecution claimed that Mary had lost $17,000 in a so-called “Nigerian scam” swindle. During an argument with Matthew over the money, Mary got the shotgun and killed him. Mary contended that, although she wrote the checks and kept the records, she only did what her husband told her to do.

Mary Winkler goes to court flanked by attorney Leslie Ballin (L), investigator Terry Cox, and attorney Steve Farese (R)
Mary Winkler goes to court flanked by attorney Leslie Ballin (L), investigator Terry Cox, and attorney Steve Farese (R)

Mary claimed that she suffered physical, mental, and sexual abuse at Matthew’s hands for years. According to her testimony, Matthew had lately criticized her for the way she walked, ate, and “everything.” She said, “I guess I got to a point and snapped.”

Mary’s trial for first-degree murder began in April 2007. She claimed her husband forced her to wear “slutty” costumes for sex and produced a pair of platform heels and a wig as supposed proof. Apparently, the small-town jury put great stock by this so-called proof because there was an audible gasp in the courtroom. She additionally said she shot her husband accidentally and only retrieved the gun to force Matthew to discuss their problems. However, this was at variance from what she told police immediately after her arrest.

Mary Winkler on the witness stand with the wig and platform heel the jury considered so scandalous.
Mary Winkler on the witness stand with the wig and platform heel the jury considered so scandalous

Epilogue

Incredibly, after eight hours of deliberations, the jury convicted Mary Winkler of voluntary manslaughter instead of murder. On June 8, 2007, a judge sentenced her to a mere 210 days in prison, with credit for the five months she spent in jail before bonding out. The judge allowed her to spend up to 60 days in a mental health facility in Tennessee and was to be on probation for the remainder of the sentence.

Mary Winkler goes on Ophra in 2007 (oprah.com)
Mary Winkler goes on Ophra in 2007 (oprah.com)

This was an incredibly lenient sentence for an incredibly lenient verdict. Regardless of whether her testimony about abuse was true, she shot her husband in the back. Then she left him on the floor to bleed out.

Diane Fanning’s book, The Pastor’s Wife, covers the case (disclaimer: I have not read it).

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Susan Polk: Colorful Trial of a Killer Soccer Mom

Leaving the Old West and last week’s case behind, this week we travel to modern-day California, where we meet Susan Polk. This California soccer mom killed her much older husband in a case the newspapers called the “May-December Murder.”

Susan Polk

Susan Mae Bolling met her future husband, Frank Felix Polk in 1972. She was a high school student in the suburbs of Oakland. Her school recommended therapy to help Susan deal with her panic attacks and she ended up seeing Dr. Felix Polk. She was 15, he was 40. According to her later testimony, Dr. Polk first hypnotized her then lured her into a sexual relationship. At the time, Dr. Polk had a wife and two children, and Susan was underage.

Dr. Felix and Susan Polk in happier times
Dr. Felix and Susan Polk in happier times

Despite that dicey beginning, Polk divorced his wife and married Susan in 1982. Over they years, they had three sons. From the outside, the Polks seemed to be a happy family. Felix’s career flourished and they moved into a large house in Orinda, an exclusive neighborhood in the Oakland hills.

Trouble in Paradise

Appearances aside, all was not well with the Polk marriage. Over the years, Dr. Polk characterized Susan as unhinged while she accused him of controlling behavior and domestic violence. After an unsuccessful suicide attempt in January 2001, Susan filed for divorce.

Felix Polk as a young man
Felix Polk as a young man

The impending divorce made a bad situation worse. In 2002, while Susan was in Montana, Dr. Polk managed to get a court hearing without notifying Susan. The court granted him full custody of their youngest son, Gabriel, who was 14 at the time. It also drastically reduced Susan’s alimony.

By October 2002, Susan was back in Orinda to have some dental work done and retrieve some of her belongings. On Monday, October 14, Gabriel found his father, 70, dead in the pool house.

Susan Polk on Trial

If the crime was sensational (and when isn’t murder among the well-to-do sensational?), the trial was off the charts. The state charged Susan Polk with first-degree murder, claiming she killed her husband for money. Susan rejected her attorneys’ advice to plead not guilty by reason of insanity and fired them.

Susan Polk at her murder trial
Susan Polk at her murder trial

Her first trial began in 2004. Attorney Daniel Horowitz took her case. But Horowitz’s wife was murdered in an unrelated incident, forcing the judge to declare a mistrial in Susan’s case. Susan then fired Horowitz, accusing him of involvement in his wife’s death (he wasn’t), and decided to represent herself.

As her own attorney, Susan Polk had moments of brilliance woven with the truly bizarre. She claimed Polk died of a heart attack instead of the stab wounds the state said caused his death. She accused her husband of drugging and raping her when she was a teenager. For good measure, she also accused him of Satanism and of brainwashed the couple’s children. And if that weren’t enough, she often clashed with Judge Laurel Brady. (Life tip: if you’re on trial for murder, don’t antagonize the judge!) And she also accused Polk, a Holocaust survivor, of being an Israeli spy who knew about the September 11, 2001 attacks in advance.

Two of the Polks' sons, Adam (C) and Gabriel (R)  at a press conference held after the jury announced its verdict
Two of the Polks’ sons, Adam (C) and Gabriel (R) at a press conference held after the jury announced its verdict

More drama occurred when Susan’s oldest and youngest sons, Adam and Gabriel testified for the prosecution. Adam called her “cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs” on the witness stand. Middle son Eli testified on his mother’s behalf.

The jury found Susan Polk guilty of second degree (non-premeditated) murder. Judge Brady sentenced her to prison for 16 years to life.

Epilogue

Susan Polk appealed her conviction, but the court denied her appeal. She had her first parole hearing in May 2019 where she again represented herself. As she had with Judge Brady, she repeatedly ran afoul of the Parole Board. The Board ultimately ejected her from the hearing and denied her parole. She won’t have another shot at parole until May 2029.

Susan Polk in the prisoner holding area in the courtroom of Judge David Flinn speaking
to Contra Costa Sheriff Deputy Mike Dowdle (Chronicle / Eric Luse)
Susan Polk in the prisoner holding area in the courtroom of Judge David Flinn speaking
to Contra Costa Sheriff Deputy Mike Dowdle (Chronicle / Eric Luse)

Three books probe the “May-December Murder” in depth. In Final Analysis: The Untold Story of the Susan Polk Murder Case, Catherine Crier looks at background and motivations of the Polks. she also digs deep into the police investigation. Journalist Carol Pogash also tells the Polks’ story in Seduced by Madness: The True Story of the Susan Polk Murder Case. This book includes a firsthand account of the circus-like trial. Rounding out the list is Carlton Smith’s Mind Games: The True Story of a Psychologist, His Wife, and a Brutal Murder.

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