The Fire Bug

Lucille Miller

Lucille Miller wanted to marry Arthwell Hayton in the worst way and used probably the worst way to win his hand.
The problem was that both Lucille and Hayton were married to other people, which in and of itself is not that much of a dilemma. It was a bit more problematic for Lucille that while for a time Hayton enjoyed her charms as a mistress, he wasn’t the least bit interested in leaving his wife to marry her.
Under “normal” circumstances one could expect Lucille, 34, to take steps to get Elaine Hayton out of the way (which she may have done) or, as a woman scorned, to vent her rage at Arthwell Hayton. Instead, Lucille plotted and carried out the murder of her husband, Gordon E. Miller — the criminal equivalent of cutting off her nose to spite her face.
By the latter half of 1964, Lucille’s marriage to the 39-year-old dentist was in its final stages. She had filed for divorce in San Bernadino in July, but told her attorney shortly after that she and her husband had reconciled. She didn’t explain to her counsel why or how they had managed to put their differences aside, but it soon became evident that they had reconciled for at least one night…
Lucille and Hayton began their affair in November 1963, after Lucille “showed her desire,” Hayton said.
“She showed signs she liked to be around me,” Hayton testified in Lucille’s murder trial. “I showed no signs it was unpleasant to me.”
Over the next six months the pair enjoyed clandestine rendezvous around Southern California until Lucille began pressuring the socially prominent attorney to leave his wife, who was apparently in chronic ill health. Hayton not only told Lucille he had no intention of leaving Elaine, he stopped seeing Lucille.
On April 24, 1964, Hayton was sailing on his boat near Catalina Island when his wife was discovered dead in their home. According to investigators, Lucille Miller was the last person to see her alive. Elaine was found face down in her bed, her face deep in a pillow. At the time her death was determined to be of natural causes due to her sickly condition. After Gordon Miller was slain, Redlands police reopened their investigation into Elaine’s death. An autopsy showed a “near-lethal” concentration of barbiturates in her system.
Arthwell Hayton was never suspected of any wrongdoing in his wife’s death — or in the death of Gordon Miller, for that matter, and no one was ever charged with a crime in connection with Elaine’s death.
With Elaine removed from the picture, Lucille assumed that Hayton would be more amenable to marriage. He still rebuffed her advances, and she began to harass her former lover.
In the summer of 1964 she began calling Hayton so frequently that he changed his telephone number. The calls continued. One night she called him two times in quick succession, and Hayton hung up without speaking both times.
She called a third time.
“Arthwell, you better not hang up this phone if you what is good for you,” the attorney told the court Lucille said. “I’ve tried to be nice. If you don’t see me tonight, I am going to see you. I will go to the San Bernadino courthouse and if you ever thought you were a lawyer before, your reputation will be ruined.”
Hayton responded that he would report her to the police if she continued to harass him.
“Look, Sonny Boy, if you think your reputation will be ruined, your life won’t be worth two cents,” she shot back.
It was around that time that Lucille told her attorney to drop the divorce suit against Gordon. The couple consulted a marriage counselor and the Millers agreed to have a fourth child.
In September 1964, Gordon told his mother that they had been successful in conceiving a child.
“We’re going to have another baby — Lucille wants one because she feels that it will do much to weld our home again and make it a happier one,” his mother recalls Gordon as saying.
Less than a month later, Gordon Miller was dead.
It happened on October 8, 1964 on a dark road near Montclair, California. Lucille’s story was not only full of holes, it was implausible and not supported by the facts.
According to her, Gordon — whom she claimed was addicted to barbiturates — was feeling ill so at around 1 a.m. they drove to an all-night supermarket to buy some milk.
Earlier in the evening their 1963 Volkswagen Beetle had struck a dog, and unbeknownst to the Millers, that accident had damaged the steering linkage.
As Lucille drove, Gordon dozed in the right front street. As she turned the car, something went wrong with the steering mechanism. She managed to control the car for about a quarter-mile before noticing that there were flames coming from the back of the car (recall that in those days the Volkswagen engine was in the rear). The car lurched and hit an embankment.
Lucille told police that she bailed out of the car and ran around to help Gordon, who apparently was knocked unconscious by the crash. The passenger door was locked, however. She threw a rock through the rear window, but the car was engulfed in flames and she could not help her husband.
Running to a house about a half-mile away, she made two phone calls. The first was a vague report to the Alta Loma fire department about a car fire on Banyan Street (no address provided). The second call was to her lawyer, Harold Lance.
By the time the fire department reached the car, the interior was completely gutted. Just the engine and tires were still burning. Gordon’s body was lying across the front seat.
When police located the residence from whence Lucille called in the fire report, they were greeted by her and her attorney.
“The coroner reports no injuries were apparently suffered by Dr. Miller before the fire, and that he was alive when the fire started,” San Bernadino County Sheriff’s Detective Floyd Jones told the press. “There was no evidence of any kind of collision or accident.”
The investigation found that the car’s gas tank was not ruptured, but there was a gas can in the back seat of the Bug missing its cap.
Within days Lucille was behind bars. Police had dual motives: the affair with Hayton and the $140,000 double indemnity insurance policy on Gordon’s life.
The rest was a fairly open-and-shut case — except for the fact that by the time Lucille went to trial in December 1964, she was visibly pregnant.
Although that might have helped spare her from the death penalty in the jury’s eyes, they didn’t have much trouble convicting her of first degree murder. She was subsequently sentenced to life in prison.
She was granted the privilege of delivering her baby in a hospital outside prison walls.
The 1960s were apparently a time when life in prison didn’t mean life, and in 1971, Lucille Miller was released from the California Institute for Women in Frontera. She moved to the Los Angeles area with her children.
In 1973, Lucille was arrested for stealing a $7 blouse. She was ordered to seek psychiatric help while her parole was continued.