29. THE TRIAL
“I did the only thing I could, didn’t I?” Ben Worstell
The front page of the Monday evening, March 6, 1933, Bellingham Herald featured a photograph of Franklin Delano Roosevelt taking the oath of office on Saturday, and a story of the death early that morning of Chicago Mayor Cermak, who died of the wound caused by the bullet fired by Mr. Zangara on February 15 in his attempt to assassinate FDR. However, both subjects were overshadowed by the two-line headline which read, “MRS. ELSIE WORSTELL STRANGLED; SON ARRESTED AS KILLER SUSPECT. Body Found In Kitchen By Neighbors, Mrs. Elsie Worstell Strangled to Death and Badly Beaten in Forest Street Apartment, Officers Capture Son, Barber, Former Inmate of State Hospital, Accused,” were column 8 headlines, followed by the story:
A short time later police arrested on a downtown street her son, Ben Worstell, 27, a barber and former patient of the Northern State hospital at Sedro-Woolley, as the suspected slayer.
Police were notified at once by neighbors of the tragedy and all available officers were ordered into action and within a few minutes Worstell was stopped on Holly street near Cornwall avenue by Detective Elmer LaPlant....
The woman’s body was found by Charles McCauley, a neighbor, who was asked by H. S. Hansell, also a neighbor, to help investigate reported scuffling and loud screams.
McCauley knocked on the door several times and called to the woman, and after receiving no answer opened the door slightly. What greeted his eyes led him to run down the stairs and down the street about a block to telephone officers.
Seen at House
During the time officers were called and shortly after they arrived Worstell was known to have returned to the scene of the crime and taken his automobile in preparation for a get-away. He was driving the car when stopped by LaPlant.
County Coroner C.S. Hood pronounced death caused from a broken neck.
Neighbors told police Monday of weird happenings in the apartment occupied by Mrs. Worstell and her son. The son had frightened Mr. and Mrs. H. W. Hansell and her two daughters living in the apartment below on several occasions.
Last Saturday Mrs. Hansell notified police that the man would kill his mother if something was not done. She said that about twenty minutes before the arrival of police Monday she heard a thumping and scraping noise followed by screams and then more thumping as if an object fell on the floor.
After that all was quiet. Mr. Hansell was home at the time. After hearing the footsteps of the son descending the stairway from the apartment, Hansell hurried to McCauley, his neighbor.
He told McCauley about the screaming and both decided to make an investigation. Opening the door to the apartment only slightly, the body of Mrs. Worstell was seen lying in the kitchen.
Her neck and throat were badly bruised and blood had issued from her nose. Almost every appearance showed strangulation. Officers were called at once and suspected murder.
Mrs. Hansell told police she heard Worstell walking about the house Monday morning about 3 o’clock singing and shouting religious passages. She did not hear any other noises until several hours later when the mother screamed.
She said the son and mother moved to 1323 Forest street about three weeks ago. They had been living on High street.
Ines, age 20, and Alice, 22, daughters of Mrs. Hansell, also heard the commotion and screaming. Both girls were in bed at the time.
Mr. Hansell said he had dressed and prepared to go to work but because of rain his job was postponed. He was preparing some breakfast when he heard a commotion in the apartment upstairs and a few minutes later heard a woman scream.
When questioned by police, McCauley said that Sunday morning when he went to a nearby store to make a purchase he met Worstell. Worstell ran up and grabbed him by the coat and asked where he was going. He wanted to go with him. McCauley realized the man was not rational but allowed him to accompany him to the store and then return to have some coffee at his home. McCauley said that Worstell then left but did not go to his room.
Prosecuting Attorney Lawrence Keplinger visited the scene of the murder and stated Worstell would have to stand trial. He said the man would be charged with murder and may be sent to the hospital for the insane.
Worstell is well known in the city where he has practiced as a barber. The man was arrested a few months ago by Detective LaPlant. At the time Worstell struck the officer a severe blow in the face.
Worstell, when taken to the city jail, was irrational and officers could not question him.
The body was removed to the Bingham-Dahlquist mortuary.
At the city jail later Worstell had recovered from a deep slumber. He was being held in the padded cell. Police planned to question him later in the afternoon.
A post mortem was held by Dr. Hood and death was pronounced caused from a broken neck. Those assisting Dr. Hood were Dr. W. A. Hulbush and Dr. C.V. Farrell.
Mrs. Worstell was at the office of Dr. S. R. Boynton at 9:30 o’clock Monday morning and reported that her son had gone violently insane. She asked what she could do. Dr. Boynton has been the family physician for many years and told her to call the prosecutor’s office at once.
According to Dr. Boynton and Prosecutor Kiplinger she made the call and Keplinger asked her to come at once to his office and file the necessary petition. Instead, it was learned, the woman went home.
Below the fold on this day’s edition was a story that the eye of a political devotee might catch, “Notables Attend Funeral Service For Walsh — Nation Honors Veteran Senator From Montana — President Roosevelt Grieves.” Democrat Thomas James Walsh served in the United States Senate from 1913 to 1933.
The Worstell story continued on the front page center the following day, March 7, but was superseded by a headline that read “DENVER KIDNAPPING SUSPECTS JAILED.” Worstell story headlines read: “Action Delayed In Worstell Case, Prosecutor Awaits Arrival of Father of Slayer Before Filing Murder Charge, Confession is Obtained, Matricide Held In Cell, Inquires About Weather.” The story follows:
Prosecutor Lawrence M. Keplinger said he would not file charges against Worstell until he has had an opportunity to talk with his father, who is expected here either late Tuesday night or Wednesday. Two daughters, residing in California, may join him on the way, it was said.
Meanwhile Worstell, held at the city jail since his arrest shortly after his mother’s body was found, was anxiously awaiting his father’s arrival. Confined in a padded cell, Worstell, police said, declared he was “feeling fine” and asked them about the weather. He added that his father had always been his pal.
Police turned the case over to Keplinger and were preparing a written confession for him.
If Worstell enters a plea of guilty to a charge of murder, a superior court jury must be impaneled to hear the evidence and determine the degree of murder of which he shall be found guilty, the prosecutor pointed out. Just what charge will be filed against him Keplinger said he had not decided….
Worstell was committed to the Northern State hospital at Sedro-Wooley from this county on June 6, 1929, according to Dr. Edward C. Ruge, the hospital superintendent. He was paroled on September 8, 1931.
Gunnar Apenese, hospital parole officer, visited Worstell on November 19, 1932, the records show, and found him at his barber shop. He was living with his mother and appeared, according to the officer’s report, to be normal.
On January 21, Apenese called again, this time at Worstell’s home, where he found him talking to his mother. Mrs. Worstell, the report adds, declared she was engaged in “getting seven devils out of her son.” She told the officer that she already had “cured Ben of the devil of drink, of the devil of reading newspapers, and the tobacco devil,” and that she was then striving to cure him of the “devil of desire.”
Worstell himself, however, was reported to be apparently in normal condition at that time.
“Worstell,” said Apense, “was suffering from what we term a manic depressive. Every hospital for the insane has many of these cases who have been discharged for years and who are now perfectly normal. Worstell was one of this type.”
Any plea of insanity under criminal procedure must be filed by the defense, if attorneys for Worstell decide to enter such a plea as an excuse for the slaying, Keplinger said. He declined to comment upon the statement to the press made by Apenese.
A continual nagging on the evils of late hours and a “good time” caused him to kill his mother, Worstell is said to have declared in his purported confession, made late Monday afternoon to the prosecutor.
Bursting into uncontrolled sobbing when the prosecutor asked him when he had last seen his mother, Worstell was said to have shouted: “She never liked me. She was a good mother, but did not understand me. I like to go out and have a good time and enjoy life.”
After his first fit of sobbing Worstell grew calm and with only a few irrational statements was alleged to have reconstructed the scene of the kitchen of his mother’s apartment.
He allegedly told the prosecutor he had been out late Sunday night and arose Monday morning to face bitter criticism from his mother, who argued with him and criticized his going out with girls rather than attending church.
Worstell’s statement that his mother left the house soon after the first argument was borne out by evidence already obtained by police.
Worstell, in his statement to Keplinger, said that his mother took up the argument immediately upon her return home from downtown, the prosecutor said.
He said that he suddenly lost his temper and struck her in the nose with his fist. He stated that he sat on his mother’s body when she fell to the floor from the effect of his blow and choked her with his hands, at the same time beating her head against the floor, Keplinger said.
Dr. C. S. Hood, county coroner, who, with the assistance of Drs. W. A. Hulbush and C. V. Farrell, performed a post mortem, stated that death was due to strangulation and a hemorrhage at the base of the brain. The physicians stated that Mrs. Worstell’s neck was not broken as was at first reported.
Dr. Hood, who was present when Worstell made his purported admission, said that he was convinced the man was not sound mentally.
A friend of Worstell’s chatted with him through the opening in the door of the padded cell at police headquarters where Worstell is confined, and stated that Worstell suddenly shouted, “Boy, I socked her.”
In her mind, Elsie may have thought she had won the battle against the evil of alcohol as it concerned Ben, but on the day of her death, the bigger, national battle had been lost, prohibition was repealed.
Wednesday the story shared the bottom of the front page with a story headlined, “Sailor, Suddenly Deciding He Wants To Be Hanged, Strangles 14-Year-Old Boy.” The Worstell story appears under the heading, “Father Of Accused Slayer Arrives In City,” followed by, “Dr. Gaylord Worstell Wants Son Put In Institution and ‘Kept There.’” The report read:
Both the father and brother declared they believed that Ben should be placed in an institution “and kept there.” They added that he had been a “problem” since boyhood but they had not believed him dangerous until the past few years.
Dr. Worstell said he had not seen his younger son or his wife for ten years although he had been aiding in their support. He has never resided in Bellingham. While here he added, he will occupy the apartment on Forest street.
Prosecutor Keplinger is withholding charges of homicide against young Worstell until he had talked at length with the father.
Although apparently nervous and anxious to talk with whomever would listen, Ben Worstell remained cheerful Wednesday. Declaring that “It’s great to have so many friends back of you,” he added.
“I did the only thing I could didn’t I? I had to do it, to save my own life. It was in self-defense. She was a wonderful mother, but I couldn’t do anything else.”
Superior court records of Worstell’s commitment to the Northern State hospital at Sedro-Woolley show that, according to examining physicians, Worstell at that time was suffering from religious mania and believed that “he has been chosen to deliver Satan from men” and that “he has left this world and is living in a spiritual world.”
He was first committed June 6, 1929, and was first paroled August 16 following. He was returned from parole March 3, 1931, and paroled again on September 8, 1931.
On January 29 this year he was discharged from parole as “recovered.”
A lengthy typewritten record of Worstell’s questioning and alleged confession to the murder of his mother was in the hands of the prosecutor Wednesday.
After the killing, it was learned Worstell drove downtown and entered one or two stores. In one store, it was said, he told a clerk that he had “just got a great load off my chest and I’m going out and get married.”
While confined at the Sedro-Woolley hospital in 1929, Worstell was found to be a victim of epilepsy, according to a letter from J. W. Doughty, then superintendent, to Mrs. Worstell. No mention of this malady was made either in the commitment or her letters, Dr. Doughty added. After these spells, he wrote, Worstell seemed “quite confused and talked in a rambling manner.”
In his statement to the prosecutor, Worstell described in detail how he killed his mother by strangulation after knocking her down with a blow in the face. The attack climaxed a bitter argument over “girls and dancing,” he declared.
Worstell’s two sisters, Mrs. Grace Mauerhan and Miss Fern Worstell of Berkeley, Cal., were expected in Bellingham Wednesday night to attend funeral services for their mother Friday afternoon at 2 o’clock at the Binghahm-Dahlquist mortuary.
The reader may be reminded of the correspondence Richard received from his father in 1930 during Ben’s parole. Dick’s comment was, “Seems Ben is quite a trial.”
Getting the banks open after the four day “holiday” across the nation was the major concern of government officials and the public since President Roosevelt declared their closure. The issuance of scrip was the national lead story on Tuesday. Scrip was paper certificates issued by a consortium of banks to meet the needs of business and citizens. “The Roosevelt emergency bank bill, after being rushed through the House with the record-breaking speed of thirty-eight minutes, ran into an unexpected obstruction in the Senate late today,” reported the Herald on Thursday. Sen. Huey Long of Louisiana was the holdout.
Coverage of the Worstell story continued under the headline, “Trial Of Accused Slayer Set For Tuesday, Ben Worstell Pleads Not Guilty To Charge Of First Degree, Counsel Named:”
First degree murder charges were filed in superior court by Prosecutor Lawrence M. Keplinger Wednesday morning and at 11:15 o’clock Worstell was arraigned before Judge Ed E. Hardin.
“I plead not guilty,” said the prisoner crisply.
Attired in a baggy gray suit and gray shirt, young Worstell appeared calm, though suppressed emotion was clearly evident in his eyes. He laughed loudly at one remark by the court, then turned to stare coldly at his father, Dr. Gaylord Worstell of Big Sandy Mont.
The court appointed Attorney E. D. Kenyon to defend the accused when Dr. Worstell informed the court he had no funds with which to hire counsel.
When asked by Judge Hardin if he had means to engage a lawyer the prisoner replied:
“I have friends who can help me out. I haven’t any funds myself, but my father will get one for me.”
As his father rose to explain that he could not afford counsel, Ben asked, “What’s the reason you won’t get an attorney for me?”
“I don’t care to hear any controversy,” declared the judge.
“All right,” said young Worstell, smiling again.
A defense of insanity probably will be entered for the trial, it was learned.
In County Jail
Worstell was remanded to the custody of the sheriff. He had been kept in the padded cell of the city jail since his arrest soon after his mother’s body was found in their little apartment on Forest street. The padded cell at the county jail was occupied, however, by Russ Brock, local boxer, who awaited a sanity hearing. So Worstell was locked into a steel cell at least for the afternoon.
The information filed against Worstell charging him with first degree murder accused him of killing his mother with premeditated design by striking her and strangling her.
During his arraignment Worstell attempted to explain to the court that “I did it in self-defense,” but was told that all evidence would be introduced at the trial.
Funeral services for Mrs. Worstell will be held at 2 p.m. Friday from the Bingham-Dahlquist mortuary 210 Prospect street, the Rev. John Robertson Macartney, pastor of the First Presbyterian church officiating. Interment will be made in Greenacres Memorial Park. Mrs. Worstell had been a resident of Bellingham for the past eight years... her passing leaves [family members] ... and one sister, Mrs. Florence Hale, of California. [Mrs. Worstell’s] two daughters, Mrs. Grace Mauerhan and Miss Fern Worstell, the latter a graduate of the Bellingham Normal school were expected here Thursday from California.
[The funeral services were postponed until Saturday, 2 p.m., due to the fact that Fern could not arrive before Friday night. Evidently Grace did not attend the funeral or the trial.]
March 10 — “New Plea Entered, Insanity Plea is Recorded For Ben Worstell:”
Drs. S. R. Boynton and Orville E. Beebe were appointed by the court to reexamine Worstell before the trial, which opens Tuesday morning at 9:30 o’clock. Their appointment was made at the request of Defense Attorney E. D. Kenyon.
Prosecutor Lawrence M. Keplinger amended his first degree murder information to read that Worstell struck and strangled his mother ‘with his hands,’ not using any weapon. The state probably will aid in a showing of insanity through the testimony of Dr. H. Fielding Wilkinson, psychiatrist who observed Worstell at the prosecutor’s request.
The names of twenty-four jurymen were drawn for the trial and the jurors must report at 9 o’clock Tuesday morning....
Tuesday, March 1 — “Worstell Goes On Trial For Death Of Mother, Jury of Nine Men and Three Women Quickly Chosen to Decide Slayer’s Fate:”
Prosecutor Lawrence M. Keplinger and Defense Attorney E. D. Kenyon had agreed on the jury in less than one hour after court convened at 9:30 o’clock, and Keplinger immediately made his opening statement, which was brief.
Events leading up to the death of Mrs. Worstell March 6 were outlined to the jury by the prosecutor. They included a row between mother and son in the early hours of the fatal morning, after Ben returned from a dance. His mother, the state added, berated him for drinking, dancing, smoking and for being out with a girl. After calling on Dr. S. R. Boynton that same morning, Mrs. Worstell, the prosecutor continued, returned to her home at 1323 Forest street and when Ben came in she started to reprimand him again and told him she planned to send him back to the Northern State hospital at Sedro-Woolley, from which he was discharged from parole January 29. This statement, the state contends, brought on the son’s fit of rage in which he knocked his mother down and strangled her.
Keplinger told the jury “there is little dispute as to the murder,” but that the jury must decide as to his guilt or innocence and whether first degree murder, or a different homicide charge is involved.
Kenyon also made a short statement in which he said the defense will show that Mrs. Worstell herself was a religious fanatic and that Ben “was about the only one that could live with her.” It also will be shown, he added, that Ben was mentally irresponsible at the time of the crime and has been so ever since, hence is not responsible for the act and should be found not guilty by reason of insanity in accordance with his written plea entered in court last week.
The accused man, wearing a dark blue suit and gray shirt, sat inside the court railing beside his father, Dr. Gaylord Worstell, of Big Sandy, Mont. As Keplinger reconstructed the slaying of his mother, Ben lowered his head, his elbows on his knees, and remained motionless.
Mrs. Margaret Hansell, who occupies the lower apartment at 1323 Forest street, was the first state witness. She described the “thumping noises” and the stifled scream which she heard on the morning of Mrs. Worstell’s death. The mother, she added, had told her that she must never come upstairs or interfere in any way, no matter what she might hear. “She said that God would take care of her,” the witness stated. She added on cross-examination that she had never been present when Ben and his mother were in conversation on religion or other controversial topics.
Elsewhere, events of historical and pivotal significance were taking place in Washington D.C. A capsulated summary “Roosevelt’s Record for 10-Day Period Shows Swift Action” appeared in the March 15 issue of The Bellingham Herald on the same page as the trial. It is reprinted here:
March 5 — Proclaimed a national bank holiday, assuming war power, and called Congress into ses-sion on March 9.
March 9 — Asked Congress for emergency bank legislation. His message was read at noon, the bill was passed by both branches and signed into law ten hours later.
March 10 — Asked Congress for power to cut half a billion off federal expenditures.
March 11 — The House passed his economy bill unchanged.
March 13 — The Senate began to consider the measure. The President asked Congress for immediate legalization of beer.
March 14 — The House passed the requested beer bill. The Senate pushed the economy measure towards passage.
Looked for next is a farm relief proposal to get aid to the farmer in time for this year’s crops Held in abeyance also is his plan for a $500,000,000 bond issue for employment.
The trial continued on March 15:
Ben Worstell Is Found Not Guilty By Reason Of Insanity In Death Of Mother
Ben Worstell, 27-year-old barber, was found “not guilty by reason of insanity” by a jury of three
women and nine men in superior court at 3:10 p.m. The jurors held, however, that Worstell is still
insane and dangerous to be at large, which means for him commitment to the insane ward of the state
penitentiary at Walla Walla until pronounced cured.
Taking the witness stand in his own defense Wednesday morning during his trial on a charge of murdering his 60-year-old mother, Ben Worstell, 27, told the jury of nine men and three women that he did not kill his mother because he wanted to but because he could stand no more abuse from her.
“God knows I tried to help that woman as much as I could,” he exclaimed. “I was practically the only friend she had in this town. But after taking it and taking it, I finally could take no more. When it was all over, I realized I had done wrong.”
He added that he never intended to slay her and that such a thought never entered his mind.
Both sides rested shortly before noon and Judge Ed E. Hardin read instructions to the jury. The case was placed in the hands of the jury at 2:21 p.m.
Under questioning by Defense Attorney E. D. Kenyon, Worstell described how his mother, Mrs. Elsie Worstell, prayed for him continually, and “harped” on religious subjects. He corroborated his earlier statement to police, in which he told how he had beaten and strangled his mother to death when she told him that she had arranged to have him sent back to the Northern State hospital at Sedro-Woolley, from which he was discharged this year.
Prosecutor Lawrence M. Keplinger, on cross-examination, asked him repeatedly if he were not sorry he had slain his mother. It appeared for a moment that the accused would break down but he did not.
“When the prosecutor asked him if he were not sorry about it all or sorry that he could not attend his mother’s funeral, Worstell replied emphatically:
“You had a mother. I never had a real mother.”
“Why didn’t you leave her, then?” asked Keplinger.
“I asked dad (Dr. Gaylord Worstell of Montana) when he was here before,” Worstell replied. “But he said I should stay with her.”
As Keplinger drew out again in detail Worstell’s account of the slaying, Worstell’s attitude changed. And when the prosecutor showed him a police photograph of his mother’s body, lying on the floor of the kitchen of the apartment at 1323 Forest street, he declared; “All I remember now is striking her. I don’t remember hearing her scream.”
Worstell testified that he felt that he “had to do it” for his peace of mind. Nothing, he added worries him now that the “spell” has been broken.
Defense witnesses called during the morning session included Rev. John Robertson Macartney, pastor of the First Presbyterian church; H. B. Talbott, manager, and R. F. Baker, assistant manager of the J. C. Penney store, Dr. Orville E. Beebe and Mrs. Mildred Wimbush, a neighbor of Ben Worstell and his mother.
All testified they believed Ben to be abnormal, if not actually insane. Dr. Macartney testified that the mother appeared “very fervid and emotional” in her religious views. On the Sunday morning before the crime, Ben attended his Bible class and seemed unusually active in mind, the pastor added.
“His mind seemed to be like an electric light just before it burns out,” he said.
Talbott declared on cross-examination that he believed Worstell to be insane and not safe to be at large.
Mrs. Worstell, according to testimony by Mrs. Wimbush, asserted last month that “she felt she was going to be a martyr but was willing in order to save her son’s soul.”
Further evidence that Mrs. Worstell had an alleged premonition of tragedy was introduced by the defense Tuesday afternoon in a letter she wrote to her estranged husband four days before the fatal attack. In this letter she said that she “might go down a martyr” and that “this may be my last letter.”
She also said that “there is a terrible spiritual conflict in the spiritual world for Ben’s soul,” adding that “I am telling you this in case something should happen to me.”
Dr. Worstell took the stand to assert that his wife “was inclined to go to extremes in her religious devotions.”
Other witnesses were Fern and Richard Worstell, sister and brother of the accused slayer and Dr. S. R. Boynton.
March 16 — “Slayer Committed:”
Gone was the big crowd of curious spectators which attended the two-day trial, as Worstell appeared in the large courtroom to hear himself committed to the prison ward.
Worstell was found “not guilty by reason of insanity” of murdering his mother, Mrs. Elsie Worstell, on March 6, when the jury returned its special verdict Wednesday afternoon after deliberating less than forty-five minutes. The jury added, however, that he was still dangerous to be at large.
Worstell, who beat and strangled his mother to death as the climax to years of friction, must remain at Walla Walla until pronounced sane... [Remainder of story unavailable.]
Ben Worstell was later transferred to Eastern State Hospital, near Spokane, on August 15, 1937.
March 17, the saga ended under “Worstell Murder Trial One of Cheapest Ever Held in This County:”
Besides being one of the shortest murder trials ever heard in superior court here, the trial of Ben Worstell, 27-year-old barber, was one of the most inexpensive, according to the cost bill prepared by County Clerk Archie B. Stewart.
The trial, including the sentencing of Worstell Thursday morning to a criminal insane ward, lasted two and one-half days and cost the taxpayers of Whatcom county only $324.45.
The jury of nine men and three women were paid $183.60, which includes their pay for two days at the rate of $5 per day, and mileage. The four meals served the jury during the trial cost $26.45, while witnesses were paid $34.40. Medical examinations and expert testimony of physicians cost an additional $75.
The will was recorded on the 15th of March. A copy appears in the chapter addendum. The news article made a few mistakes in reading the will; the corrections appear in brackets:
Dr. Gaylord Worstell and Fern Worstell, the slain women’s husband and daughter, filed a joint petition asking that Fern be appointed administratrix of the estate with the will and its codicil annexed. A second daughter, Mrs. Grace Harnden Mauerhan, of Berkeley, Cal., was named executrix in the will.
The estate consists of property in Washington, Montana, and Idaho [Iowa]. Fern Worstell was bequeathed the apartment and furnishings at 1323 Forest street in which her mother met death, and a lot in Briar Cliff, Seattle. The other son, Richard, and his family are to receive the home in Big Sandy, Mont., [An unidentified house that Elsie called the Carmody house.] and a farm [The Oak Dale farm]. Another Montana farm [The Mary J. Dale farm] goes to Mrs. Mauerhan and a second house in Big Sandy to the granddaughter, Rachel Jane Harnden.
The letter that Gaylord wrote to the Rensselaer Republican, quoted in earlier chapers, draws to a close with the story of the birth of the twins, Fern and Ben. It is dated March 6, 1933. In another dozen sentences, he closes this chapter of his life with an update on his granddaughter, (Rachel) Jane Mauerhan:
She will be seventeen next month. She graduated from a Berkeley high school last December and is now attending the university. In her last year of high school she entered a nation wide contest with students of her own rank, and placed third in Play Writing and received honorable mention in short Story. If you can get a certain issue of the Scholastic Magazine you may see her picture therein.
Star-crossed from conception, the climax of the lives of a mother and son was played out against the back drop of a world flung into the conflagration of World War II.
A front page item on March 6 was headed “Decisive Victory Scored By Hitler.” Declared a National Socialist landslide in the Reichstag and Prussian Diet with 53 percent of the seats in the German parliament, elections of March 5th gave Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party domination of the government with the largest single political group ever sent to the German parliament. It was expected that after a brief session, the Reichstag would adjourn for two years. With Hitler’s policy of political suppression, there was no doubt that democracy would be wiped out.
Japan, who had annexed Korea in 1910, invaded Manchuria to the north of Korea in 1931. The report from Tokyo on March 6, 1933, recounted the Japanese campaign to seize the whole eastern section of the great wall of China to be turned into fortifications for the Japanese state of Manchukuo.
The front page on March 7 carried two stories, “Union Of Teutonic Nations Revived By Hitler — Germany and Austria May Unite — Neighboring Countries Are Alarmed,” and “American Navy To Be Built To Full Strength — Swanson, New Secretary, Favors Fleet Up To Limits of Treaty — Watches Far East.”
In the midst of the trial and world events of near epic proportions was a story closer to home. The headlines of The Bellingham Herald on Saturday, March 11, read “140 DEAD 2000 INJURED WITH QUAKE DAMAGE OF $35,000,000 — LONG BEACH.” The Los Angeles Times headline read, “Scores Perish In Southland Quake,” and the lead column, “More Than Thousand Injured; Fire Sweeps Near-By Towns.” The opening lines read:
Death and destruction rode into Southern California at 5:54 p.m. yesterday when an earthquake twisted and tore at practically every city and hamlet south of the Tehachapi Mountains.
Long Beach, Compton, Watts, Huntington Park, Huntington Beach and Santa Ana according to midnight reports, bore the brunt of the shake.
But Los Angeles got its full share as buildings shook and twisted, roofs collapsed, walls crashed into the streets, and injured persons began to cry for medical assistance.
An inside page of The Bellingham Herald carried an advertisement for the First Presbyterian Church. The title of the morning sermon was, “The Prophetical Significance of the Great Earthquake.”
Years later, people in Big Sandy would remember that “Ben killed his mother with a hatchet,” or “Ben shot his mother. He wanted some money to get married.” Paul Sonksen, who did not believe Ben was retarded, said, “Gaylord just testified to his mental incapacity to save him from the electric chair.” Fern said later that when Ben told Elsie he wanted to get married, Elsie told him he shouldn’t get married. Fern said Elsie asked Ben if the girl was someone like him, and told Ben she didn’t want “to be the grandmother of more dummies.” The family story retold in later years says that is when, “Ben pushed her and she lost her balance, fell against the stove and hit her head, and then fell to the floor dead.” The Big Sandy Mountaineer kept its story short, concise and correct, in the two-inch item of the murder on March 16.
Thus ended two weeks in March, 1933.
The Cloonan family visited Bellingham in 1988. They drove to the location of 1323 Forest and parked. The area is close to downtown in a transitional neighborhood. The large house on the corner was posted as unfit for habitation. Across the street was a large old restored Victorian next to a vacant lot. The property at 1323 was essentially a vacant lot with only the concrete footings of a former building remaining. Next door was a house nearly identical to the one picture in the Herald. The lots were small, about 25 feet wide. Two men were visiting by a car parked at the rear of the empty lot. Ann Jean approached the men and inquired about the property. One of the men named Cliff said he owned it, and lived in the house next door. His grandmother had owned the property in the thirties or forties. The parcel included the house formerly owned by Elsie, plus a small unit in the rear, now also gone, and the house next door, where Cliff lived. At that time Indians rented most of the units at 1323 and his grandmother, wanting them out, moved into 1323 and tore down the house in back. She continued to rent out the property next door. Cliff’s mother died and he inherited the property and lived in one of the houses while attending college. At some time, 1323 caught on fire. The fire department responded in time to save the house. Later, friends of his also had a fire and he let them store their personal property in the house. Cliff moved to Hawaii. While he was gone, the house caught on fire a second time. It was determined both fires were caused by itinerant Indians secretly living in the house. Again the fire department responded in time to save much of the structure. However, the city determined it unfit for habitation, condemned it, and had it torn down. Cliff was not notified and was sorry he had not had the opportunity to salvage some of the property, such as the stained glass windows.