Louise the Lady Killer

Two stories appeared on the front page of hundreds of American newspapers on December 21, 1944, both of which have weathered the passage of time — albeit for different reasons. Countless documentaries and at least a couple of movies have been made about the really big story of death and mayhem, while the lesser of the two is known for the most part just by those of us who care about carnage on the small-scale.
 
The first story is, of course, the Battle of the Bulge; the second — of interest to The Malefactor’s Register — is the arrest of Louise Peete for the murder of Margaret Logan.
 
This was Peete’s second arrest for murder, although she probably got away with quite a few, and her tale has staying power because she is just one of four women to die in California’s gas chamber.
 
Peete was no stranger to death; in fact, dying and Louise Peete seemed to walk hand-in-hand. There were lots of deaths surrounding her throughout her life: natural, suicide and murder culminating in her execution by the state. It was almost like death oozed from her pores, attaching itself like some sort of vile miasma to those around her.
 
It was not always murder. Her first husband, Henry Bosley, killed himself in 1906, three years after he married Louise. The reason is unknown.
 
Although she spent 18 years in the joint for one murder and died in the gas chamber for another, Louise liked to think of herself as a lady, dignified and poised.
 
“I come from cultured educated people,” she told the reporters who accompanied her on the 350-mile drive from the California prison for women in Tehachapi to San Quentin and the gas chamber. “I have a cultured background. My parents were not delinquents and they did not rear delinquent children.”
 
Louise liked to dress well and apparently had an unusual fondness for hats. To maintain herself in the style to which she had become accustomed, Louise found it necessary to find wealthy men who were willing to support her. Fortunately, fate smiled on her and gave her beauty as well as brains, which she put to bad use.
 
The first murder that can be linked to Louise occurred in 1919 when shee answered an advertisement placed by an elderly, wealthy mineral tycoon. Jacob Denton was living alone in a large home and wanted company. She agreed to lease some rooms and serve as the man’s housekeeper. Shortly after Louise arrived, Denton vanished. For good reason Louise never reported the recluse’s disappearance. Three months after she moved in Louise opted to move out and sublet the Denton place. She headed east, stopping in Denver to marry Richard Peete.
 
Denton’s only known relative was a niece from Arizona with whom he had infrequent contact. When she could not connect with her uncle, the niece employed an attorney to check on his welfare. Along with a private detective the Los Angeles lawyer scoured the empty house, but found no clues to the missing man’s whereabouts.
 
The search was fruitless until they reached the cellar where a closet beneath the stairs caught their attention. The closet had been quickly and poorly sealed — a pair of boards across the door were haphazardly nailed, as if the person who did the job was either distracted or in a hurry. In front of the door was a collection of boxes and unused furniture. Someone did not want anyone to take the trouble to open the closet.
 
The men forced their way into the closet only to be stopped by a mound of dirt covered with more household waste. Their curiosity raised, the attorney and detective began to dig until they unearthed a human foot. Jacob Denton had been found — with a bullet in the back of his neck. It was September 23, 1920.
 
Louise was tracked down in Denver and maintained her innocence in the crime. She suggested another suspect: a “Spanish woman” who had been living with Denton. Police didn’t buy her story thanks to a few checks and other items that she had forged in Denton’s name, and she was charged with his murder.
 
In 1921 Louise Peete was found guilty of murder by an all-male jury which opted to spare the attractive woman from the gallows and sentenced her to life in prison. The man she married in Denver, Richard, despondent over his wife’s conviction, took his own life.
 
She would serve 18 years of her sentence as a model prisoner before being released.
 
In 1939, Louise Peete, no longer described in the press as “buxom” but instead called “matronly,” was paroled at the behest 60-year-old Jessie Marcy of Los Angeles, who agreed to take her on as housekeeper. Shortly after Louise’s release tragedy struck the Marcy home when Jessie died.
 
Fortunately for Louise, Emily Dwight Latham, another woman who had sponsored her for parole was in need of a housekeeper. Emily took Louise in until she died at the age of 70. Each time the police investigated the deaths and determined the cause to be natural.
 
In early 1944 Louise was taken on by Margaret Logan, 60, a Pacific Palisades real estate agent who needed help taking care of her mentally ill husband, Arthur. Louise proved to be an adequate servant and Margaret, well-aware of her employee’s past, was dutiful in filling out the requisite monthly parole reports. Those reports ultimately spelled doom for Louise Peete.
 
Louise, now 63, found love once again, and in May 1944 was married to 67-year-old Lee Judson, who was welcomed into the Logan household. Judson worked as a bank messenger and was unaware of his wife’s past. It wasn’t long after the wedding that Margaret Logan disappeared. Curious, Judson asked his wife where her employer had gone. Louise replied with a bizarre story.
 
“If you must know,” she said. “Mr. Logan bit Mrs. Logan’s nose. She’s at a hospital for plastic surgery.”
 
The answer apparently satisfied Judson, who never raised the issue again.
 
In Margaret Logan’s absence Louise continued to manage the household, signing Margaret’s name to checks and taking advantage of her access to the Logan bank accounts.
 
Eventually Arthur Logan became too much for her, and Louise, acting as Margaret, had him committed to an asylum. Soon after he was admitted, Arthur Logan died.
 
Time was running out for Louise, however. Probation officers were suspicious of the change in Margaret’s signature and arrived at the house intent on speaking with Louise’s sponsor. After several failed attempts and knowing Louise’s background, the officers began a formal investigation.
 
On December 21, 1944 authorities located Margaret’s body buried in a shallow grave on her property. At the home Louise was adamant in her refusal to view the burial site when prompted by detectives. As news photographers took pictures Louise broke down and refused to accompany detectives to view their gruesome discovery.
 
Louise and Judson were both taken into custody and interrogated. She admitted burying Margaret’s body but claimed that Arthur Logan — now conveniently dead — had killed her. Lee Judson was cleared of any wrongdoing and upon his release promptly launched himself over the railing of a nearby staircase and died on the marble floor 13 stories below.
 
“He could not face the disgrace I brought upon him,” Louise told reporters from her jail cell.
 
There would be no mercy for Louise Peete this time. She was tried on first degree murder charges and even her own testimony failed to sway jurors — this time it was a jury of 11 women and one man. They convicted her of murder and sentenced her to die in the gas chamber.
 
Louise Peete was taken to San Quentin on April 10, 1947, confident that California Gov. Earl Warren would spare her life.
 
“Governor Warren is a gentleman,” she told the press. “And no gentleman would send a lady to her death.”
 
The future Supreme Court Chief Justice might have been a gentleman, but Louise was wrong about what he would do, and the next day at 10 a.m. Louise, protesting her innocence to the end, was seated in the pale green chamber above a bucket of cyanide and acid. When the warden issued the signal, the potassium cyanide was dropped into the sulfuric acid, creating a lethal gas.
 
By 10:12 a.m. she was dead.