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Title
Leroy Drake trial
Alternative Title
Los Angeles Herald Examiner Photo Collection
Date Created and/or Issued
1935
Contributing Institution
Los Angeles Public Library
Collection
Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Rights Information
Images available for reproduction and use. Please see the Ordering & Use page at http://tessa.lapl.org/OrderingUse.html for additional information.
Description
In September 1935, the bodies of Henry and Nellie Steinheur were dragged out of the water at the end of Pier 146 in Wilmington. They had been reported missing by their nineteen-year-old nephew, Leroy Drake. He first told the police that he feared they had entered into a suicide pact. Under questioning he revised his story. He said that he had come home to find the pair dead, and it appeared to him that they had been poisoned. Because he had recently been busted on an auto theft charge he had hesitated to report the incident and instead he'd driven the bodies out to the pier and dumped them into the water. The police weren't buying Leroy's tale for a minute, but the kid didn't seem much like a killer. He was an honor student at Long Beach City College and planned to matriculate at California Institute of Technology. Why would someone with such a brilliant future commit a double murder? When he finally copped to the crime he said he'd only killed them to spare them the pain and humiliation of having to deal with his arrest for auto theft. Was he lying? To get to the truth detectives conducted a reenactment of the slayings. For some reason reliving the night of the murders loosened Leroy's tongue. Maybe it was the sight of the coffee percolator in which he had poured the lethal poison. As he walked around the home with the police he alternately sobbed and then laughed hysterically. In any case he finally felt compelled to reveal the actual motive. A few weeks before the murders Drake learned that Henry had made a will and made him its beneficiary. He would inherit one-third of the estate, unless Nellie predeceased him--in that case Drake would get everything. After being charged, Aggie Underwood and Herald photographer Perry Fowler visited Drake in his cell. Perry couldn't believe his ears when he heard Underwood say to Drake, "...you poor thing. Now suppose you tell me all about it." It was part of her technique to get the suspect talking, and it worked perfectly. Underwood got her story. On December 12, 1935, Drake pleaded guilty to two counts of murder in Superior Judge Vicker's court. It was the only way he could be sure he wouldn't die on the gallows. He expressed no regret for what he had done, in fact he said, "I believe I was right. I had to do it, I had to kill them. They were suffering horribly because I had stolen an automobile. I thought I was going to prison for stealing the car, and I knew if that happened they couldn't live." Drake insisted that feeding them poisoned coffee was the merciful thing to do. "I loved them too dearly to let them suffer. But other people don't look at this thing the way I do."
Photograph caption dated December 12, 1935 reads, "Calm and without blinking an eye, 19-year-old Leroy Drake is shown at right by the candid camera when he stood up in court here today and heard the court sentence him to spend his life behind gray prison walls for the rest of his life for the poison murders of his aunt and uncle at a 'dinner of death.' At left is Deputy Public Defender E. E. Cuff. The court said Drake's religious sincerity, while a bit mistaken, saved him from the gallows."
Type
image
Format
1 photographic print :b&w ;19 x 26 cm.
Photographic prints
Identifier
00128346
Herald Examiner Collection
HE box 5915
CARL0005451889
http://173.196.26.125/cdm/ref/collection/photos/id/34271
Subject
California.--District Attorney (Los Angeles County)--Officials and employees
Trials (Murder)--California--Los Angeles
Lawyers--United States
Murderers--California--Los Angeles
Criminals--California--Los Angeles
Poisoners--California--Los Angeles
Men--California--Los Angeles
Courtrooms--California--Los Angeles
Downtown Los Angeles (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Los Angeles Evening Herald and Express photographs
Herald-Examiner Collection photographs

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