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Robert S. James Murder Case
Alternative Title
Los Angeles Herald Examiner Photo Collection
Fowler, Perry
Date Created and/or Issued
Contributing Institution
Los Angeles Public Library
Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
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Title supplied by cataloger.
In 1935 Mary Busch, 27, answered an ad placed by beauty parlor/barber shop owner Robert James, who was looking for a manicurist for his shop. Soon after she was hired, she and James were married and she became pregnant three months later. On the evening of August 3, 1935, Busch became ill while working at the shop and was sent home. On Monday, August 5th, with Busch still "ill" and unable to work, James ran the shop on his own; after closing at 7:30 pm he invited two friends, Viola Lueck and her boyfriend Jim Pemberton, over for dinner. When they arrived at their home and didn't find Busch inside, they went out back and found her lying face down in the fishpond. Police and a physician arrived at the home, where they pronounced Busch dead at the scene, victim of an accidental drowning. It was surmised she had become dizzy due to her pregnancy, had fallen, and struck her head on one of the rocks used to rim the pool, though no evidence of a head injury was found. When Robert James filed a claim to collect on his wife's insurance policies totaling $21,400, he launched a chain of events that would lead to his downfall. After further investigation, it was determined that he and another man, Charles Hope, had concocted an elaborate scheme to murder Mary Busch. James convinced Busch to have an illegal abortion procedure, but instead, had her consume several glasses of whisky as "anesthesia", and strapped her down to a table with her eyes and mouth taped shut, he then stuck her foot into a box containing two Colorado diamond-back snakes who immediately sunk their fangs into her big toe. Hours passed and Busch still had not died, so James decided to drown her in the bathtub, and with Hope's help, arranged her body in the fishpond to make it appear as if she had tripped and fell in head-first. When confronted with evidence, Hope and James turned on each other. Hope agreed to turn states evidence and pled guilty to first-degree murder, receiving a life sentence. James went to trial for the murder of his wife, where the jury returned a guilty verdict and sentenced him to death by hanging. On May 9, 1942, Robert James became the last man to be hanged in California (capital punishment became more "humane" with the adoption of the gas chamber soon after).
Photograph article dated May 2, 1936 reads, "In a weird, almost incredible story, the veil of mystery around the fishpond death of the fifth wife of Robert James, above, marrying master barber, was torn away in charges made by his friend, C. H. Hope, Hermosa Beach cafe manager. Hope told district attorney's investigators that James bound and gagged his wife, held her foot in a box of deadly rattlesnakes and then, a few hours later, drowned her in a bath tub and carried her body out to the fishpond where it was found. Hope said he helped carry the body to the fishpond, but denied he had anything to do with the woman's death or that he had pushed the body in the pond."
1 photographic print :b&w ;21 x 26 cm.
Photographic prints
Herald Examiner Collection
HE box 5823
James, Robert S.--Trials, litigation, etc
Murder--Investigation--California--Los Angeles
Murderers--California--Los Angeles
Murder--California--La Can~ada Flintridge
Uxoricide--California--La Can~ada Flintridge
Los Angeles Evening Herald and Express photographs
Herald-Examiner Collection photographs

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