Archive for September 16th, 2011

1938: Albert Dyer, sex killer (presumably)

4 comments September 16th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1938, Albert Dyer hanged at California’s San Quentin prison for a triple rape-murder.

Dyer is a very modern bugbear, a monster right out of cable news and amber alerts and stranger danger.

As often with those, his path to infamy began with disappeared white girls — Jeanette Stephens, Melba Everett, and Madeline Everett, all ages 7 to 9 — who went to picnic at an Inglewood park one summer afternoon and never came home.

The police set about hunting for any known sex offenders in the area, but the offense would ultimately be attributed to a neighbor who was active with the concerned search parties that scoured the area.

Induced by a police threat to deliver him into the hands of a lynch mob, Dyer admitted to having lured the girls off on the pretext of catching rabbits, then strangling them to death and raping their corpses.

(Here’s a disturbing set of photos of the girls’ bodies.)

Dyer attempted to repudiate these confessions, which you’d have to say were obtained under a bit of duress. The case against him apart from self-incrimination was a tissue of meager circumstantial evidence; Dyer’s persona smacks of mental deficiency that might have left him easy prey for manipulation by his captors.

Newspapers described Dyer as “dull” and “stupid”, and in fact the defense attempted to cast doubt on the prisoner’s mental competence and the reliability of his confessions. The jury took agonizing days to reach a consensus, and the last man holding out against conviction would later say that he finally gave in after being led to believe that the judge considered Dyer guilty. (This revelation was among the defense’s last arguments for executive clemency, at the end of the process.)

In short, for all the horror of the crime, the case was not cut and dried in 1938. The passage of time — with our latter-day awareness of false confessions and developmental disability — will hardly make it more so, unless some forgotten crime locker still preserves a testable genetic sample. But no surprise, the popular press had a different take. The Los Angeles Times editorialized (Aug. 27, 1937) anticipating that

[t]he verdict of a jury that Albert Dyer must die for the murder of three Inglewood children is a long step toward the eradication of sex crime in California. It is the only outcome of the case that public opinion could afford to sanction.

The evidence against Dyer was overwhelming; and there could be no mitigating circumstance which could justify this State in letting such a miscreant go on living.

Even if Dyer is mentally defective, there is no reason for his continued existence. He could never be safe to have at large. Legally, his condition is not insanity; he knew what he was doing and that it was wrong. Eradication of such types is necessary for public safety.

And the death penalty is the best deterrent. If others have this criminal tendency, his fate may cause them to repress it. Dyer, hanged, may save the lives of countless California innocents. In any scale, the safety of children must weigh more heavily than his forfeited right to live.

Dyer was the second-last person hanged by the Golden State before the gas chamber came online to replace the gallows. His legacy was California’s 1939 passage of a law governing (pdf) the handling of “Sexual Psychopaths”. (This site suggests he was also posthumously exploited for the cause of marijuana criminalization.)

Part of the Themed Set: Americana.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,California,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Rape,Sex,USA

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