Photograph was edited for publication purposes. It was barely dawn on December 12, 1939 when Aggie Underwood and photographer Paul Pangburn rolled up to the scene of a tragic auto accident on the road from Mt. Wilson. Five people had perished when the light sedan in which they were riding careened down the mountainside. The dead were: Elva Ruth Crawford and her three children ranging in age from eight to fifteen, and a boarder in the Crawford home, Ralph Barnett. The only survivor was the driver of the car, Laurel Crawford. Laurel rested on a cot surrounded by Sheriff's deputies who refused to allow Underwood to interview him. Understandably, the deputies felt that the man had been through an ordeal which could only be exacerbated by questions from the press. Still, Underwood managed to make a deal with a deputy who talked with Laurel as Underwood listened in from an adjoining room. She had used this ploy before. There were a few things about Laurel and his story that felt wrong to Underwood. Laurel claimed that he had lost control of the car and even though he exhorted his passengers to jump he was the only one who had managed to escape. He said he had climbed down the 1000 foot embankment a couple of times. He held his daughter, Helen, in his arms as she died. But Underwood doubted his veracity. Helen's body had been crushed and bloody, yet Laurel's clothing was clean. When Lieutenants Garner Brown and Paul Mahoney of the Sheriff's Bureau of Investigation arrived, Brown asked Underwood for her take on the situation. She answered bluntly: "I think it smells. He's guilty as hell." A few of the deputies appeared shocked, but Brown listened to her reasoning. She told him that Laurel's leather jacket, khaki pants and shirt were far too clean if he had been up and down the mountain as he had said. His grief rang false to Underwood too. He made the tragedy revolve around him, repeating: "Why did this have to happen to me?" rather than questioning why it had happened to his family. Lieutenant Brown agreed with Underwood's assessment and pursued an investigation. It was discovered that Laurel had purchased insurance policies on his wife and children, a few with double indemnity clauses. He stood to receive a large pay out which he then intended to use to purchase a car dealership. Laurel Crawford was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences, but he wasn't indicted for Barnett's death. Thirty-one years later, in May 1971 at age 73, Laurel died of injuries he sustained during a beating meted out by other prisoners at Folsom. First photograph caption dated December 13, 1939 reads, "Victims of the tragedy are Mrs. Elva Ruth Crawford, wife of Crawford; Alice Betty (shown here), and Helen Jeanette, their daughters. The other victim was their 10-year-old son, Paul Harvey. Crawford said they were looking at the panorama of lights when the car slipped and crashed down the mountainside."; Second photograph caption dated March 4, 1940 reads, "These photos show Crawford's wife, Elva, and two of his children, Alice, 15, and Helen, 8, whom he is accused of slaying by auto. Also killed was Paul, 10. Crawford, who assertedly held $40,500 in insurance on the lives of his family, was found wandering dazedly after the crash. He said he jumped from the car as it plunged out of control off the road. The state claims the victims bore head injuries that might have been inflicted by a tire iron."; Third photograph caption dated June 4, 1940 reads, "Two of the Crawford children, Alice Betty, and Helen. If the policies are held valid no money could go to Crawford, who now is in San Quentin. Heirs are the mother of Mrs. Crawford and Mr. and Mrs. Harvey T. Crawford, paternal grandparents of the tots."
1 photographic print :b&w ;26 x 21 cm. Photographic prints