May 16, 1955: The Lady Vanishes May 17, 2015 3:11:33 GMT -5
Post by Graveyardbride on May 17, 2015 3:11:33 GMT -5
May 16, 1955: The Lady Vanishes
On the afternoon of Monday, May 16, 1955, Ewing and Evelyn Scott (pictured above) test drove a car at a Los Angeles dealership. At one point, Scott told the salesman he and his wife were planning to live abroad, possibly in Spain or Portugal. Evelyn had celebrated her 63rd birthday five days earlier on May 11, but she had managed to keep both her face and figure. At 5'6" and 135 pounds, the white-haired, blue-eyed lady was still a comely woman and on that particular day, she was smartly dressed in a tan suit and small hat. According to Scott, after they returned to their home at 217 South Bentley Avenue, Evelyn sent him to the drugstore to purchase toothpaste and when he returned, she was gone.
In 1949, Evelyn Throsby Murper was a twice-divorced, twice-widowed woman on the wrong side of 50. Her first and second marriages ended in divorce and her third and fourth husbands died, but her two late spouses had left her a substantial amount of money and she was set for life. Her net worth was close to $1 million (almost $10 million in today’s currency). Among her assets was an apartment building in Milwaukee, from which she earned approximately $1,500 per month, and $220,000 in stocks that yielded annual dividends of around $8,000, which calculated to a monthly income of $2,166 (more than $20,000 in 2015). In addition to her income, she had $200,000 in the bank. Mrs. Murper was able to indulge her taste for stylish clothes, expensive jewelry and travel. She had traveled all over the world, but whenever she took a trip, Evelyn always provided her attorney an itinerary in case he needed her for anything.
Four years younger than Evelyn, silver-haired, dark-haired Leonard Ewing Scott was charming and ever ready to hand one of his business cards, identifying himself as an “investment broker,” to anyone who showed interest. A superb dancer and smooth talker, those who met Scott considered him a businessman of good breeding, thus, he had been able to weasel an invitation to the exclusive Jonathan Club. A distinguished, well-dressed gentleman was always welcome and before long, Scott was spending his nights playing the rôle of the debonaire man about town while searching for a woman who could keep him in the manner to which he hoped to become accustomed. If someone had told his society friends Scott spent his days working as a clerk in a paint store, they would have laughed at the “joke.” It seems Scott’s one accomplishment – if one can call it that – was writing a book called How to Fascinate Men, but he was unable to find a publisher and ran out of money while attempting to publish it himself. Apparently, the book was aimed at women who wished to “fascinate” a man.
Scott met Evelyn Murper in the early summer of 1949 and she was everything he had ever wanted in a wife – rich! He had wooed and married another woman of means in the 1930s, but she had divorced him. But now, he was older and wiser and did not intend to allow another meal ticket to slip his grasp. More than likely, Evelyn did not know the circumstances of Scott’s first marriage and it’s unlikely it would have mattered if she did, considering her own track record in the matrimony department. However, Raymond Throsby, her brother, and other family members had misgivings about Scott and advised her not to marry him. But the headstrong lady told them to mind their own business, she and Scott married in September and soon Evelyn was honeymooning with husband number 5.
Shortly after the newlyweds returned from their trip, Evelyn’s cook heard a crashing sound in the bedroom and the following morning, noticed her employer had a bruise on her cheek. Although Mrs. Scott claimed she had fallen, friends suspected Scott was physically abusing his wife in an attempt to force her to acquiesce to his demands where money was concerned. A short time later, Scott approached the cook, requesting that she spy on his wife and listen in on her telephone calls. When she refused, Scott fired the woman. He also convinced Evelyn to dismiss her longtime secretary, explaining that henceforth, he would handle her finances and correspondence. He also recommended she convert her stock to cash because in case of an atomic war, they would need cash to survive. He told several acquaintances he and his wife had money stashed in safe deposit boxes all over the country.
In 1951, following a disagreement with an E. F. Hutton broker, Scott insisted Evelyn close her account, telling the broker that as an investment broker, he knew how to handle his wife’s money. Raymond Throsby came to loathe Scott and most of Evelyn’s friends disliked him. Many, including Throsby, believed Scott was strong-arming his wife into liquidating assets and squandering her money.
By 1955, Scott was spreading unkind rumors about Evelyn, telling anyone who would listen that she was drinking too much and deteriorating both physically and mentally, suggesting to some that she was suffering from cancer. In fact, Evelyn had seen a psychiatrist for several months in the late 1940s, but psychiatrists were in vogue at the time and it wasn’t at all unusual for those who had extra money to seek psychiatric treatment whether they needed it or not. She also had some small growths – probably benign moles – removed from her face, but she did not have cancer. Evelyn Scott’s only health problem was diverticulitis (a common digestive condition) for which she took the drugs Aureomycin and Sulfadiazine. When her friends compared notes, several reported seeing bruises on Evelyn and later, a live-in maid claimed Scott admitted hitting his wife, said he did not love her and had married her only for her money.
When his wife disappeared, Scott did not report her missing, but had the presence of mind to call the beauty salon, where she had a standing weekly appointment, the following day and cancel Evelyn’s appointment as well as all future appointments. The following week, he canceled the insurance on her jewelry. Two days later, he forged his wife’s signature on a card allowing him access to her safe deposit boxes. Despite the card, the bank was still reluctant and Scott claimed his wife was too ill to appear at the bank and had signed the card instead. Apparently, he removed a great deal of cash from the boxes because the same day, he opened accounts at several other banks, making large cash deposits in each.
Evelyn’s friends and brother continued to question Scott and some demanded he provide an address where they could contact the missing woman. He became even more evasive and his claims more outlandish, going so far as to tell one friend his wife was a lesbian – presumably an intimation that she had run off with another woman. He told others that Mrs. Scott advised him she was going away to seek treatment for alcoholism and/or cancer and when he questioned her, she retorted: "Keep your nose out of my business!" But his most frequent explanation was that his wife was being treated at a sanatorium on the eastern coast, prompting one of her friends to check every sanatorium and mental hospital on the eastern seaboard. The same friend also placed newspaper ads offering a reward for information concerning the whereabouts of Evelyn Throsby Scott.
By late July 1955, Evelyn’s friends decided they were tired of Scott’s ridiculous explanations and preposterous claims and contacted the district attorney. Although she still wasn’t officially a missing person, the DA’s investigators discovered Scott had been spending his wife’s money by forging her name on checks and other financial documents. It also came to light that during the six-year marriage, Evelyn had cashed approximately $223,000 in securities and withdrawn $180,000 from her estate. Scott was also seeing other women and showering them with clothing and jewelry that had belonged to his wife. He had gone so far as to propose marriage to one of these women even though he was still married to Evelyn. According to subsequent testimony, Scott spent stacks of $100 bills traveling, gambling in Las Vegas and purchasing gifts for a shapely divorcée he was dating.
It would be almost a year before the public was made aware of Evelyn Scott’s disappearance. In March 1956, Raymond Throsby petitioned the court for guardianship of his sister’s estate. On March 10, when police finally got around to searching the property at 217 South Bentley Avenue (pictured above as it appears today), detectives used six-foot steel rods to probe the earth, but found nothing of interest. In the meantime, Captain Arthur G. Hertzel was searching an area on an adjoining lot behind the incinerator. "For a while I walked along the top of the wall," Hertzel said. "Then I got down on the ground and removed some leaves and scratched – with my hands." Under 4 or 5 inches of soil, he found a partial denture encrusted with dirt. He then found some white pills and partially-dissolved gelatin capsules, a hairbrush, Eff-Remin can (tooth powder), tube of oily material, short piece of chain, cigarette holder and filtered cigarettes, and what he described as “wampum jewelry.” Approximately 10 feet down the hill from the incinerator, he discovered a pair of ladies’ eyeglasses. "They were on the surface of a thin layer of leaves above the ground, exposed to view at a casual glance directly under a heavily leaved bush," he related. Ten feet away, he found a second pair of women’s eyeglasses. "They were partially embedded in a heap of ashes. The lower portion of the lens was covered by ashes but the bow was exposed," he explained. "They were encrusted with dirt, mud and ashes." It was Hertzel’s opinion that the items had been on the adjoining property for some time because the leaves on top were fairly fresh, while those underneath were matted and partially disintegrated. He believed the eyeglasses had been washed down the hill by the rain. Mrs. Scott’s dentist quickly identified the dentures as those of his patient, and the optometrist confirmed the eyeglasses were Evelyn’s. There was no indication of a body in the yard, but some remains of female undergarments were discovered in the incinerator. Scott claimed he had burned the underwear because they were soiled and had a foul odor.
After the property was searched and Ewing Scott thoroughly investigated, police were convinced Evelyn Scott was dead, but they didn’t have a body, so in April 1956, Scott was charged with 13 counts of grand theft and forgery and released on $25,000 bond. Several days later, Scott was nowhere to be found; he had jumped bail and fled to Canada. The district attorney was reluctant to present the case to the grand jury when there was no corpus delicti, but in September 1956, Scott was indicted for Evelyn’s murder, despite the absence of a body. Seven months thereafter, in April 1957, Scott crossed the Canadian border to Detroit to purchase a new Ford automobile, was apprehended while attempting to reenter Canada and extradited to California to face charges.
People v. Leonard Ewing Scott was one of the first “bodyless” prosecutions in the United States. Scott maintained his innocence throughout the 11-week trial, still insisting Evelyn had left of her own accord and was likely living it up on foreign shores. In addition, the defense produced witnesses who claimed they had seen Evelyn Scott after the date she was said to have disappeared. Defense attorney P. Basil Lambros vehemently objected to the prosecution’s claim the objects found by Capt. Hertzel proved Evelyn was dead: "They have not been tied in any manner to the problem that faces us with corpus delicti, he argued. “They are immaterial, incompetent and irrelevant. There is no proof of how they got there, if they were there.... It would be just as easy to introduce Mrs. Scott's hat and say it was found in the yard." But those who knew Evelyn Scott said she would never go anywhere without the dentures that replaced five missing teeth and she was unable to see clearly without her glasses.
The prosecution surmised that Scott had murdered his wife to gain control of her estate. Prosecutor J. Miller Leavy also harangued Scott for his failure to testify in his defense, insisting repeatedly that the reason he refused to take the stand was because he was guilty. The jury agreed and he was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. In a 1965 ruling in another case, the U.S. Supreme Court found that such remarks by the prosecution were in violation of the Fifth Amendment, but unfortunately for Scott, the ruling was not retroactive. Nevertheless, Scott continued to appeal his conviction, insisting his wife was alive. "If there is anyone who has any idea where she is or knows anything about her," he told news reporters, "I would like them to communicate with my attorney." His appeals and entreaties were unsuccessful.
Initially, he refused parole because he would have had to admit he killed Evelyn Scott, but in 1978, he was unconditionally released and with the aid of a cane, the frail 81-year-old Ewing Scott walked out of San Quentin Prison March 17, 1978. He was wearing his prison denims and the only money he had was the $200 the state had given him upon release. He announced the first thing he was going to do as a free man was divorce Evelyn, whom he continued to claim was still alive and had been arrested twice for drunk driving in Mexico. He did not explain how he obtained this information. His first meal as a free man was a Big Mac.
Following Scott’s release, Diane Wagner wrote Corpus Delicti (published in 1986). While she was working on the book, she claimed that during their final interview on August 5, 1984, Scott admitted killing Evelyn by hitting her on the top of the head with a hard rubber mallet, then wrapping her body in a tarp and transporting it in the trunk of a 1940 Ford to the desert where he buried her six miles east of Las Vegas. According to Wagner, Scott said the confession would make a good prologue to her book. On August 15, 1987, Scott died at the age of 91. He left no survivors and his corpse lay unclaimed in the Los Angeles County morgue for more than a week. With the exception of his alleged confession to Diane Wagner, Scott consistently denied killing his wife.
The remains of Evelyn Scott have never been found.
Sources: Time Magazine; Marv Bovson, The New York Daily News; Mark Gribben, The Malefactor's Registry; The Daily Mirror, and Corpus Delicti by Diane Wagner.