Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Long Beach Honeymoon Killer- 1926

Leo Dwight Murphy

 The Crime

On November 30, 1926, a very heinous crime took place in a small “Honeymoon Cottage” in Long Beach, California.  Leo Dwight Murphy (also referred to as Lee Daniel Murphy) aka Robert Jim Callahan or James Callahan, salesman and  former University of Wisconsin student (also claimed to be member of the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity), brutally murdered his wife Cornelia Buttles Murphy in their "cottage" only 13 days after their wedding.

The truth was uncovered when Cornelia was found badly beaten and made a statement to authorities only to die a few days later from her injuries. Miss Cornelia Buttles, an accomplished musician and former accompanist for the Riverside High School Orchestra, met Murphy in Fresno, when they began their short courtship. Murphy convinced Cornelia to marry him and the two wed November 17, 1926.  Miss Buttles was the daughter of Augustus Buttles, secretary treasurer of the Luedke Shaefer Buttles Shoe Company of Milwaukee. In 1918, the Buttles family moved to Fresno, California.

Cornelia Buttles Murphy with Leo Murphy

 The Motive

According to reports, what could have actually led to the altercation that caused Cornelia’s untimely death, may have been the fact that Cornelia had learned her husband (Murphy) was already married to another woman named Mildred Merrill Murphy of Fairfield, Ca. When she confronted her husband about the bigamous act he was committing, he went into a rage and began attacking her. 

The 225 lb. man beat his petite framed wife to a pulp, breaking her jaw in two places, fracturing her knee and using a bottle to bludgeon her causing abdominal hemorrhages.  Murphy then fled the scene of the beating, and eventually went back to his first wife Mildred, where they then fled to San Francisco, San Diego and later Mexico to evade police.

Before dying, Cornelia first tried to shield her husband of the blame by claiming it must have been trauma he suffered from the horrors of the World War that caused him to beat her so severely. She eventually confessed that he told her, “I killed a girl like you in Fresno,” and went on to say to Cornelia,  “I don’t know whether I am going to kill you or not, but I think I will.”- 

The brutal beating that Cornelia suffered was said to have lasted nearly two hours. After her death, the police initiated a nationwide man hunt that went on for nearly 7 years. Murphy apparently returned to his first wife Mildred, only to abandon her a short time later. It seemed that divorces were something Murphy wasn’t interested in pursuing, so he would just leave and marry another unsuspecting girl down the line. It was even speculated that he had a wife and child in Peoria, Illinois and another wife in Wisconsin ever before having married Mildred or Cornelia. During his time on the lam, Murphy managed to evade the police going from state to state and even marrying two more times until he got to his next wife, Bertha Hindman-Murphy before the detectives apprehended him.

The Excuse

By 1932, Murphy was now going by the name Callahan when he met, courted and married Bertha Hindman in Maryland. Within a year they had a infant son and moved to Pittsburgh where police recognized him and moved in on apprehending him. During the entire ordeal of being questioned,his excuse of why he fled the scene was almost humorous in the sense that Murphy actually believed the detectives were dumb enough believe his fabricated stories.

First off, Murphy practically played the whole “temporary insanity” excuse, not in those words, but basically by saying: 

"It was about 8 o’clock that evening, and Cornelia was getting dinner. I recall asking her to come to me. The next thing I remembered I was on the beach, mumbling over some sentence I had learned as a child. I asked myself what had happened, and the answer came: ‘I must have hurt Cornelia.’ When I got back to the apartment I apologized, and she forgave me. The next morning I noticed that her face was swollen and I suggested she call a doctor, but she refused. That same day the landlady told me to leave the house, and I went to Los Angeles and then to San Diego, where, several days later, I read a newspaper notice that an inquest was to be held in connection with my wife’s death.”

If that wasn’t bad enough, he had an excuse as to why he didn’t turn himself in, too.

"I left San Diego because I was afraid, and did not want to stand trial because of my mother. Mother died later, and if I’d known it I would have returned to stand trial.”

Yeah, sure Murphy, Callahan…whatever your name is!!! 

I am sorry, but given his reputation for two-timing his many wives and the brutal beating that Cornelia was given that ultimately led to her death, there isn’t anything this guy could have said that I would have believed. He was obviously a habitual liar and a sociopath to be able to do all those heinous things such as murder his own wife, lie to all those women he married, and to live so many double lives without a single ounce of remorse. Unfortunately, his last and final wife Bertha continued to believe in his innocence and stood by his side throughout the trial and even when he was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of his previous bride.

Cornelia was laid to rest on December 15, 1926, in Fresno, California. 

The Execution

Leo Murphy was hanged on December 7, 1934, after having been able to postpone this death sentence nearly a year from the date of his conviction in September of 1933. Eventually, time had run out for Mr. Murphy and the gallows awaited him. The night before his execution he requested a steak dinner and claimed that would be the last meal he’d ever eat on earth. But, by the morning he asked the guards to bring him breakfast as well. After he was hanged, it took nearly 10 minutes for Murphy to die, according to reports. In the end, Murphy was held accountable for all the wrongs he had done to all his wives, including Cornelia, his newlywed bride whom he brutally murdered.

R.I.P. Cornelia Buttles Murphy

(Copyright 2013- J’aime Rubio)

Milwaukee Journal- 7/11/1933
Portsmouth Times- 11/11/1933
Pittsburgh Press- 6/22/1934
California Death Penalty Index

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