Photograph was edited for publication purposes. Retired church organist Samuel Whittaker and his wife, Ethel, had gone out on the evening of March 16, 1936. Shortly after their arrival home early the next morning, neighbors heard several gun shots. One of the neighbors, Henry Failer, came out of his apartment and saw a man leaving the Whittaker place. The young man ran up the stairs to the roof of the building while Failer entered the Whittaker apartment to see what was going on. He found Samuel holding a revolver in his right hand. Ethel was dead on the floor. When the police arrived Whittaker told them that he and Ethel had been ambushed in their apartment that morning. A masked man stepped out of a closet and trained a gun on them. He demanded money, but then shot Ethel anyway. Whittaker produced his own weapon and fired five shots, wounding but not killing the intruder. The cops found James Fagan Culver the next door rooming house suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. They busted him for robbery and murder. For the first couple of days following the crime, Whittaker was hailed as a hero. But Culver told a far different story. He said that earlier that year he had hitchhiked from Kentucky; that he had met Whittaker in front of a cafe early one morning and asked him for money so he could eat. They struck up a conversation and then saw each other frequently. One day Whittaker told Culver that he wanted to "thrill a lady friend" and stage a fake hold-up. Whittaker gave Culver a gun and instructions to wait in a closet until he and his lady friend were in the room, fake the hold-up, and then flee. Whittaker had left out the salient features of his plan when he described it to Culver. What Whittaker actually intended to do was to murder his wife, kill Culver, collect on an insurance policy, and walk away a hero. If he'd been a better shot he may have gotten away with it. Unfortunately for Whittaker, Aggie Underwood was present at a photo shoot which had the two men facing each other. Underwood was stunned when she noticed Whittaker deliberately wink at Culver. She drew LAPD detective, Thad Brown, aside and told him what she had witnessed. The detective uncovered the murder-for-hire plot and Whittaker was convicted for killing his wife. Whittaker was quoted as saying that he hoped God would strike him dead if he was guilty of Ethel's slaying. As he was being booked into San Quentin, he dropped dead. First photograph caption dated May 20, 1936 reads, "Listening to prosecutors declare they will ask for the death penalty for him, Samuel L. Whittaker, elderly retired organist, is shown by the candid camera in court here today. He watched closely as jurors were selected to decide his fate on charges he killed his wife during a 'fake holdup' in their hotel room."; Second photograph caption dated June 15, 1936 reads, "Convicted of first degree murder in a weird hold-up plot that resulted in the death of his wife, Samuel T. [sic] Whittaker, retired organist, today was to be sentenced in court here to life imprisonment. James Culver, hillbilly, testified that Whittaker had hired him to stage the fake hold-up in which Mrs. Whittaker was killed."; Third photograph caption dated March 10, 1937 reads, "The wish for death of Samuel T. Whittaker, who hired a 'ragged stranger' to kill his wife in a fake holdup, today had been gratified. When he was sentenced in court here he said, 'I hope God may strike me dead before I get to my cell if I am guilty of this horrible crime.' Saturday he arrived at San Quentin to begin his life term. Last night he died of a heart attack in the prison hospital."
1 photographic print :b&w ;21 x 26 cm. Photographic prints
Trials (Murder)--California--Los Angeles Murderers--California--Los Angeles Criminals--California--Los Angeles Men--California--Los Angeles Uxoricide--California--Los Angeles Widowers--California--Los Angeles Courtrooms--California--Los Angeles Los Angeles Evening Herald and Express photographs Herald-Examiner Collection photographs