Archive for 1950s

If the Cat Could Talk, What a Tale He Would Tell

Tommy Patterson the Cat

In memory of Ringo. RIP, jerk.
The reappearance of Tommy, a 9-year-old orange tabby, on the front stoop of the home he shared with William and Margaret Patterson in El Paso, Texas, only exacerbated the mystery of what happened to his owners.
The couple had been absent (most people considered them missing under suspicious circumstances) for more than four months when an undernourished and bedraggled Tommy showed up at his house, strengthening the belief that something bad was going on.
William, 53, who went by the nickname “Pat,” and Margaret, 48, had owned the Patterson Photo Supply Company in El Paso for years and were established in the community. Because they had no children, friends said Margaret treated Tommy “like a mother loves a child.” When they saw that Tommy had not been boarded at the D.L. Cady Animal Hospital as was the Pattersons’ habit when they traveled, friends went to the sheriff’s office with their concerns.
Presented with the strange circumstances (there was much more than the return of a wandering cat), Sheriff Jimmie Hicks opened a missing persons file and assigned Deputy Sgt. John Frizzell to get to the bottom of the matter.
Unfortunately for Frizzell, the Pattersons did not leave one shred of evidence that they planned to leave town. In fact, the opposite was true. Almost everyone interviewed in the investigation said the Pattersons were clearly staying put for a while.
It is possible, even likely, that Tommy was present during the Pattersons’ final hours in their home before they vanished, seemingly into thin air. Unfortunately, whatever secrets Tommy knew he would not part with, so Frizzell was forced to deal only with the humans connected to the case.
“Every phase of the case discloses that they vanished by surprise,” Frizzell said later. “Surprise to themselves as well as to every person who knew them.”
That was in March 1957 and what happened to Pat and Margaret Patterson remains one of El Paso’s greatest mysteries.
An article in the November 12, 1957 home edition of the El Paso Herald-Post, by reporter Cliff Sherrill listed the questions that plagued authorities then and now:

Where are Mr. and Mrs. W. D. Patterson?
Why did they disappear like magic from their home at 3000 Piedmont Avenue the night of March 5?
Did they leave voluntarily? By ruse or trick? By compulsion, under threat of instant death if they didn’t go?
If they left voluntarily, what was the reason?
If they left by force or threat, who forced or threatened them?
And if they disappeared by force or threat, what was the motive of the person or persons guilty of the force or threat? Robbery? Extortion? A desire to keep the Pattersons from telling something they knew?

At first glance, the couple’s lifestyle gives no clue to the answers to those questions. But scratch a little deeper and the story gets odd.
The Pattersons spent a quiet night in their home with friends days before they disappeared. They invited Cecil Ward and his wife, who goes by the nickname “Mrs.,” over for dinner. Following the meal the men went out to the Patterson garage to apply a coat of acrylic to the wooden boat Patterson was building.
Questioned by police, Cecil Ward said Pat not only failed to mention a trip, they discussed plans for later in the week.
“He talked about what we would do on the boat the other nights during the week, and about plans for fishing and doing a lot of other things in the spring and summer,” the owner of the Ward Motor Clinic told investigators.
Mrs. Ward confirmed her husband’s account.
“Margaret never mentioned anything at all about plans for a trip,” she said.
The next day the couples saw each other in the afternoon.
“They drove by here (the Ward Motor Clinic) and talked to us,” Ward said. “They said nothing about plans to go away.”
When the Wards opened their place of business Wednesday, March 6, Patterson’s prized Cadillac was left parked in the driveway of the Ward garage. That day, Ward said, Doyle G. Kirkland, a manager of Duffy Photo Service in El Paso — a rival firm, but Patterson’s friend — came into the shop and directed Ward to service the Caddy and repair a broken horn ring on the steering wheel.
Then Kirkland said something that appeared on its face to be quite benign, but in light of what happened, is extremely suspicious. According to Ward, Kirkland said that he had helped Patterson work on the boat on the previous evening, adding that “the Pattersons were going on a little vacation.”
Kirkland was connected to another possibly innocuous act that later raised eyebrows.
Patterson had been using Ward’s electric sander and on Friday of the same week, the mechanic needed it back for a job. He called Patterson Photo Supply and asked that it be returned. He did not speak with Patterson. Later that day, Kirkland showed up with the sander. He had obviously been in the Patterson home some time earlier that week as Ward remembered leaving it in the Patterson garage. Ward did not say that he expected Patterson to deliver the sander, however, or that having Kirkland deliver it was unusual.
Comments made by Ward paint a picture of Patterson as a man who only liked the best in life — and when he got it was happy to let you know about it.
“If it wasn’t the best, he wouldn’t want it,” Ward said. “Sure, he was loud-mouthed and a braggart, but a pretty good guy. He lived it up, but I guess he was making up for all those years when he didn’t have anything.”
Patterson’s loud mouth got him into trouble on occasion. A month before he disappeared, Pat got drunk in a Juarez, Mexico “night club,” and when his waiter refused to serve the Mexican girl he was with because she worked at the “night club,” a fight started and Patterson found himself outmatched by the club’s bouncers. Fortunately, he was not badly hurt nor arrested. It turns out that the woman he was with, 20-year-old Estefana Arroyo Marfin, was his girlfriend.
Both Pat and Margaret were pretty much closed-mouth about their backgrounds, except to hint that each had a rough upbringing. Pat was a native of Chicago and worked as a carny, touring the country working the games and serving as a barker, jobs that easy to come by and hard to track. It is not surprising that with a pedigree like that, Pat would fall short of the expectations Margaret’s family had for a suitor.
Friends said Margaret never told them where she was born or even her birth date. They did not know how she and Pat met, or how long they had been married. They knew she had a brother somewhere, but that they were estranged.
“It seemed they told her she would have to choose between them and Pat,” said one friend. “She chose Pat.”
The couple moved to El Paso from Dallas around 1940, where they built up their business. During the war, Patterson sold nylon stockings smuggled from Mexico on the black market and made quite a nut for himself.
His father, Luther, testified in a court of inquiry and asserted that his son still had a little bit of carny in him:
“I always knew Pat and Margaret would take off like this some day, but I figured it to be four or five years away,” he testified. “They’re not dead; my boy has done things like this before. He made his living doing sleight-of-hand tricks.”
Although she later retracted the statement, Estefana Marfin told authorities that Patterson told her he may have to disappear soon and do it quickly.
The El Paso Herald reported that a few years later Luther Patterson said he suspected his son and daughter-in-law were dead.
Besides not boarding Tommy, other evidence was circumstantial proof that the Pattersons did not plan ahead to leave town:

  • Expensive clothes, including a fur coat, were left with cleaners and a furrier, without instructions to store them
  • Utilities including telephone, gas, and electricity were not disconnected
  • Mail was not stopped and no change of address was given to the post office until 21 days after the disappearance, when the post office was told to deliver all mail to the photo supply store. There is no evidence that either of the Pattersons issued the change request. Newspaper delivery was unaffected
  • Dishes from dinner the night before the vanishing were left unwashed in the kitchen sink
  • The Pattersons had been planning to attend the spring National Photographers Association convention in Washington, DC, but did not show up at their hotel or attend the conference. The hotel could not locate any record of a cancellation, but the Pattersons never registered at the conference.

The best clue to the fate of the Pattersons came on March 15, when Herbert Roth, the Pattersons’ accountant, received a telegram with instructions on managing some of the couples assets and their business.
Roth was directed to act as business manager of the Patterson Photo Supply Company and directed to cancel the reservations for the Pattersons’ trip to D.C. He was told to hire a new manager for the store who would replace the missing owner, to sell a mobile home owned by the Pattersons and to use the proceeds to support the store.
The message also indicated that the Pattersons planned to be gone for some time: Roth was instructed to rent out the Patterson home for at least nine months.
The telegram came into the Western Union office in Dallas via pay phone in an area near Love Field, possibly indicating that the couple was flying out of the area. However, the sender of the telegram was listed as “W.H. Patterson.” His middle name was Durrell. The mistake might have been made by the Western Union agent, of course.
The manager Patterson wanted hired to oversee the operation in his absence was Doyle Kirkland, who was the self-admitted last person to see them alive. No evidence other than conspicuous behavior linked Kirkland or anyone else to the crime. He disappeared from the police radar after he moved from El Paso in the 1960s.
In 1960 Sheriff Bob Bailey went to a resort town outside Mexico City, tracking down a rumor that the couple was seen there. He found some hotel workers who identified photographs of the Pattersons as a couple who stayed at the hotel for several months in 1957. However, there was no record of the Pattersons registering at the hotel and from there the case, for the most part, went cold until the mid-1980s, according to the El Paso Times when a witness came forward claiming to have seen blood and other signs of violence in the Patterson garage.
Freddie Bonilla, former El Paso homicide dick who is now a private eye, said that an illegal immigrant named Reynaldo Nangaray, the caretaker of the Pattersons’ home, made an official statement that he not only saw blood, but that there was part of a person’s scalp on the propeller of Pat’s boat. Further, writes Sam Stall in Suburban Legends: True Tales of Murder, Mayhem and Minivans, Nangaray witnessed one of the Pattersons’ friends putting bloody sheets from the house into a car.
Bonilla said Nangaray was afraid to come forward because he was an illegal immigrant at that time. Unfortunately, Nangaray died in a car accident two years after speaking with the cops.
“Nangaray told us he found blood in the garage and a piece of human scalp on the propeller of Patterson’s boat,” Bonilla told the El Paso Times. “He found a pair of jeans with a Rolex watch that belonged to Patterson, and said he also saw one of Patterson’s (associates) remove bloody sheets from the home and put them inside the trunk of a car. He did not talk to police sooner because he was an illegal immigrant at the time, but when he came to see us, he was a U.S. citizen.”
As for theories of what happened, it’s a you-pick-’em:

  1. They were kidnapped and killed
  2. He killed her and fled
  3. She killed him and fled
  4. They were spies and returned home
  5. Alien Abduction
  6. Tommy killed them both

Item 4 might seem a bit far-fetched until one looks at Pat Patterson’s behavior. He got his start in El Paso as a “street photographer,” taking pictures of everyone and everything and was reportedly seen around nearby Fort Bliss with his camera on a regular basis.
In 2009, El Paso County Sheriff Leo Samaniego said the espionage theory was valid.
“I think they were spies,” he told the Times in a retrospective. “The way they got up and just walked away and left everything behind. The Russians, or whoever sent them, probably told them to drop everything and go back. Some people said they had seen Patterson take photographs of Fort Bliss and of military shipments on the trains that came here.”
The Times did not report if Samaniego was speaking tongue-in-cheek, but reporter Diana Washington Valdez did take the next step of checking with the FBI to see if the couple was ever under investigation for espionage. The SAC for El Paso at the time said the Pattersons were not in any records going back that far.
There are many people in El Paso who think that the Pattersons never left the home. At one time, Sheriff Bob Bailey said, it was believed that the couple was buried on the property somewhere, but nothing was ever uncovered.
That prompted people to believe the place was haunted by the spirits of Pat and Margaret Patterson, which only caused problems for the police.
“When I was a city patrolman, the house on Piedmont was in my district,” Samaniego told the Times. “I would get a hundred calls … all these kids would stop by the house because they thought the house was haunted, and they would scare this poor old lady who (once) lived there.”
On March 27, 1964, the Pattersons were officially declared dead. The Patterson mystery is regularly reviewed by the city and county cold case squads.
What happened to Tommy the cat is also a mystery. When he reappeared at his home, the persons renting the place took him to the Cady Animal Hospital where his trail goes cold. No one has reported seeing the ghostly apparition of a cat around the old Patterson house.

Another One Beats the Chair

Julia Maude Lowther

Continuing with our review of women who seemed to get special treatment by the courts simply because of their gender, let’s consider the case Julia Maude Lowther of Ashtabula, Ohio, a 23-year-old single mother who killed her lover’s wife in 1930. She was sentenced to die by electrocution, something Ohio had only done one time before.
Julia was luckier than her lover, 28-year-old Tilby Smith. Her “hot Indian blood” (she was one-quarter Native American) managed to save her from being Ohio’s first woman to die in the electric chair. Tilby ended up frying while Julia enjoyed a better fate.
There isn’t anything in the court records that indicate Clara Smith, mother of two, was anything other than a person for whom Tilby’s love had waned. She was a homemaker with no wealth that would make her better dead than alive. When all was said and done, it just appeared that Tilby liked or loved or was besotted with Julia more than he was with the mother of his children. Most likely he was swept up in the intensity of a new affair, because Tilby and Julia had known each other just 10 days when the murder occurred.
The night of May 29, 1930 was colder than normal thanks to a steady rain that was falling throughout Ashtabula County, Ohio. It was just about 9 p.m. when Tilby put the absolutely awful and too common “unknown gunmen killed my spouse but left me alive” plan into effect.
He told authorities that the couple had been driving along with their two young children when the truck was blocked by two men who stepped out into the rutted dirt road. The men demanded the Smiths turn over whatever money they were carrying. Tilby said Clara told the men that they had no money, so the gunman standing on the driver’s side of the truck told them to turn over any jewelry. Again, Clara said they had none.
As Tilby leaned down inside the cab looking for a weapon of any sort, the gunman on the driver’s side fired, striking Clara, he said. The robbers, panicked by the apparent murder, then fled. Tilby told Sheriff Frank Sheldon that he grabbed the two crying children, carried them about a quarter-mile back to his brother’s service station and reported the murder.
Tilby SmithSheldon took Tilby back to the scene where the odd-job hauler put on a solid performance as the husband of a murdered wife. Weeping, he tried to clear the clotted blood from her hair and kissed her lips several times.
There were few clues at the scene thanks to the rain which had been falling all day. Even so, the sheriff was sure there should have at least been wheel ruts from the car Tilby said the men had parked nearby. Instead there were none. Sheldon and his men began casing the area and soon located a set of women’s footprints near a culvert. A continued search turned up a pair of women’s rubbers, which Sheldon took back to the police station where Tilby was awaiting an interview.
For five hours Tilby stuck to the story about the two holdup men before Sheldon showed him the rubbers. Tilby quickly changed tack and for the first time mentioned that there was another woman in his life. He called her Marie and said that was all he knew about her — except that she was married as well.
Tilby kept his story simple, telling Sheldon and Prosecutor Howard Nazor he met Marie “a few weeks ago” and that they spent time together riding around in his truck. Then he blamed the entire thing on “Marie’s furious jealousy.”
During one of the rides “Marie” saw Tilby’s .32-caliber revolver and had stolen the gun, he claimed. Then earlier that night she confronted the Smiths during their drive and killed Clara.
The story seemed plausible, but one of the sheriff’s deputies recalled seeing Julia Maude Lowther earlier in the evening walking along a road near the murder scene.
Julia was a twice married mother of a 7-year-old son and stepmother to two more boys from her second marriage to a farmer who was 25 years her senior. At the time she met Tilby she was separated from her husband and working as a live-in domestic servant.
She was brought in for a third-degree and quickly folded once she was presented with the evidence and with Tilby’s story blaming her for everything. She met Tilby at a local movie theater during a day-time double-feature.
“He sat down next to me and we ‘visited,'” she said. “Later we met again.”
She then went into details about the killing.
Clara SmithJulia, sitting in a black raincoat beneath a large bush along Ohio Route 45, saw her paramour and his wife stop near the prearranged spot. Tilby told his 28-year-old wife that it appeared their truck was having engine problems.
“I jumped out of the bushes and pointed the gun right at them,” she said. “I stood on the side near Mrs. Smith. I did just what Smith told me to do: I asked them for money and when they replied they had none, I ordered Smith out of the car. When he walked out, I held the gun near Mrs. Smith’s head and pulled the trigger.”
The baby held on Clara’s lap and his older brother, asleep between his parents were unhurt, but Clara died instantly. The shot — fired from less than 3 inches away — passed through her hat and into her right temple. Once the deed was done, Julia said Tilby’s attitude changed.
“The love that flamed briefly burned out when the victim’s body tumbled to the roadway and Smith and Mrs. Lowther now hold nothing but bitterness for each other,” is how one reporter wrote it.
Arrests followed soon after and within days the grand jury returned two indictments for first-degree murder.
Tilby was tried first — six weeks after he killed Clara — and used the defense that he was an imbicile and incapable of planning a crime.
The prosecution presented a straight forward case, while witness after witness for the defense testified how Tilby had failed in school and as a business man, until he was left demolishing old homes and hauling away the refuse to make a living.
Of course there was the duel of the alienists.
“Tilby Smith is feeble-minded, has the mental age of an 81/2-year-old child and cannot distinguish the difference between right and wrong,” the five defense psychiatrists reported. The state alienists disagreed.
“Smith is normal, not feeble-minded,” the prosecution’s psychiatrists wrote in their opinion. “The murder plot was intelligently conceived, intelligently carried out, and was the act of an intelligent man.”
The jury agreed with the state and returned a verdict of guilty without recommendation of mercy. Judge Charles R. Sargent handed down the first death sentence since he took the bench.
Julia went on trial in June 1931. Unlike Tilby, she took the stand in her own defense. Julia did not try to blame Tilby for the crime, but tried to convince the jury that she was not guilty of first-degree murder. She admitted that she shot Clara Smith out of her love for Tilby, but that it was love based on the lies he fed her.
“I killed Clara because I loved Tilby, she told the 12 men on her jury. “He told me that I would not have to work again, and that he would take care of me and my boy and that we would go to Florida after this thing blew over.”
Once again a jury sided with the prosecution and returned a verdict of guilty without a recommendation of mercy. Julia Maude Lowther made the front pages across the country as the first woman in Ohio sentenced to die in the chair. The state had only executed one woman before: Lifer Esther Foster who was hanged in 1844 for killing another prison inmate.
The death sentence was problematic for the State of Ohio for it had no death row for women.
“We have four possibilities,” said Ohio Penitentiary warden P.F. Thomas. “We may block off a cell somewhere inside the wall of the prison, send her to Marysville Reformatory, place her in the county jail or the city prison.”
The sentence did not phase the West Virginia native — in fact, Julia welcomed it.
“I’d rather go to the chair than spend the rest of my life in prison,” she told reporters after the sentencing. “My life has been a failure but I’m not afraid to die.”
According to the press, 10 minutes after the sentence was handed down, Julia was laughing and joking with jail staff. A few hours later the sheriff agreed to allow photographers to visit Julia in her cell.
“Hello, boys,” she said when photographers and reporters were admitted to the jail. The photographers busied themselves arranging various poses, but Julia was doubtful about how she would appear.
“I have posed for enough pictures to paper this room with,” she said. “The pictures never look good anyway. No, I won’t smile for you.”
Then she asked her attorney Frank L. Marvin and Sheriff C. H. Blanche to pose with her.
“Get right up close to me, I won’t mind,” she told Blanche.
Marvin was confused by his client’s attitude. “I can’t understand her, she’s certainly a puzzle,” Marvin said.
While Tilby was preparing for his execution after his appeals failed, attorney Marvin was busy trying to save the life of his client. He filed an appeal that argued there was fatal error during jury selection. When it was revealed that five jurors said they had already formed opinions about her guilt, and admitted so during voir dire, the appeals court ordered a new trial.
The ruling came about a month before Tilby was to be executed, but the trial was not scheduled to take place before he faced the chair.
On Friday, Nov. 21, 1931, a weeping Tilby Smith was led into the death chamber at the Ohio State Penitentiary in Columbus, still claiming complete innocence for Clara’s murder. He was penitent, but for his wasted life, not the killing. He also refused to exonerate Julia.
“I will not die with a lie on my lips,” he told the warden’s wife. She also presented a written statement to the reporters present.
“I Tilby Smith, truthfully say that I had nothing whatever to do with he plotting or slaying of my beloved wife, Clara. I wish everyone to know am innocent of this crime and before my God I will be honestly judged and my innocence will be proven.”
His strength appeared to fade once inside the death chamber, but knowing there was little to be done to save himself, he spoke out to witnesses.
“May God bless every man in this room,” he said as he was led to the chair. “I hope none of you will ever have to face what I am facing today.”
As guards fastened the straps across his chest and affixed the cap atop his head and the electrode to his ankle that would complete the circuit, Tilby began to pray.
“God forgive me for my sins,” Smith sobbed, “And take me to heaven to be with my grandfather, my sister, and my dear wife whom I…”
His final words were drowned out by the loud buzzing as the current flowed.
Tilby never knew that in her second trial — this time before a judge, not a jury — Julia was once again convicted of premeditated murder, but with a recommendation of mercy. She was sentenced to life in prison and disappeared into the Women’s Reformatory in Marysville.
In 1954, Ohio Gov. Frank Lausche gave Julia an “Easter commutation,” reducing her crime from 1st degree murder to 2nd degree, which made her immediately eligible for parole. She moved to an eastern Ohio city to live with a sister and told reporters upon her release that she hoped to get a job in a hospital. She had plenty of experience: for the last 17 years of her incarceration, Julia worked in the prison maternity ward.
Whether she got her wish is a fact lost in history.