Friday, September 12, 2014

History Repeating Itself- The Death of Mabel Steele & Nadine Purdy


UPDATE: To read more about this story, please check out my book "Stories of the Forgotten: Infamous, Famous & Unremembered" now available on Amazon! 

There's an old abandoned home near Interstate 80 and Hwy 65 in Roseville, California that has a sad and very tragic past. The facade of the building, left in arrested decay, holds only fragments of what once was. The home once belonged to the Purdy family. Rancher, Chester Stanley Purdy lived there with his adopted daughter Nadine in the early 1950s. After his wife Edith "Ida" Purdy passed away in 1940, at some point they moved from Klamath Falls, Oregon down to Roseville, California.

According to newspaper accounts,  Nadine, who was 24 yrs. old, suffered from some sort of mental disability. I am uncertain whether she was completely "mentally retarded" as the article claims or whether she just suffered from schizophrenia or mental illness. Either case, in his old age Chester was told by family members that Nadine needed to be put into an institution for her condition. Chester didn't want that for Nadine. He and his wife had taken care of Nadine from the time she was born and she knew no other life. Perhaps Chester was aware that he was not going to be around much longer, and he knew that in the event of his death that the family would go against his wishes and commit her to an asylum.

Sadly, he must have convinced himself there was no other option for Nadine, as he wouldn't allow her to be institutionalized. So, on January 27, 1954,  when Nadine was out in their yard, he shot her in the back of the head with his 410 gauge shotgun.  Chester was arrested by Sheriff Charles Ward, and put in jail for the murder of his adopted daughter. If the story wasn't bad enough, it turned out that just after completing the first day of his testimony in the trial, Chester Purdy fell ill and died that following Thursday at Placer County Hospital. Cause of death, partial heart attack and pneumonia.

Long Beach Independent, 1954
The entire case was dropped since he could no longer be convicted for her death. The entire ordeal  was a shock to the whole community of Roseville at the time and the story lingered, while the home eventually sat abandoned.

In his own mind, I am sure Chester felt it was a mercy killing because he couldn't see her suffer in an asylum, even though he didn't have the right to take another persons life. Perhaps though, the idea wasn't a new one. It seems that it had all happened once before, only 24 years earlier.

The First Mercy Killing- September 14, 1930


When I was researching the story about Nadine Purdy's death at the end of Stonehouse Court in Roseville, I noticed that Nadine was not Chester's biological daughter.  The census records I found in 1940 stated that she was their daughter, but that two other children were living with both Chester and Edith as well. Their names were Fredrick and Maeotta Steele. As I kept looking for a birth record for Nadine, I decided to do some more genealogy research on Edith, since one of the articles in the newspaper claimed that Nadine was Edith's sister's child. After finding Edith's parents and siblings online through my genealogy websites, I found a sister who died in 1930. Her name was Mabel Steele.  On her family tree listed a husband and three children, Frederick, Maeotta and Glenna Nadine.

It appears that soon after Glenna Nadine's birth, Mabel and her husband Glenn separated. Glenn basically left her and took their two oldest children and disappeared. Because he literally kidnapped the children from Mabel, she went frantic and had some sort of emotional breakdown. Not being able to care for her newborn baby, her older sister Edith stepped in and took the baby, changed her name from Glenna Nadine Steele to Nadine Purdy, and brought her home to the Sparks, Nevada area to raise her with her husband Chester.

Mabel's other sister, Ruth Weimer then had Mabel committed to the Sanitarium in Glendale. She was later transferred to the State Hospital at Norwalk and remained there for about a year before being released to Ruth's care in August of 1930.

LA Times, 1930
On the afternoon of September 14, 1930, tragedy struck the home at 418 W. 37th Street, in Los Angeles, California.  After an extremely emotional outburst between the two sisters, Mabel lay dead on the couch in one of the rooms, while a smoking revolver lay in Ruth's hands. Mabel had been shot three times in the neck and two extra rounds had been fired that lodged in the ceiling. Everything happened so quickly and before long Ruth was arrested for the murder of her sister.

The Morgue & Inquest

Shortly after the murder, the inquest was to be held at the morgue. Ruth was taken there and was allowed to see her sister's body one last time before the inquest started. Detective Lieutenants Condaffer and Ryan escorted Ruth to the morgue and held her by the arms as she "convulsed with sobs," when seeing her sister's corpse.

"No one can ever hurt her again, can they? She will never suffer anymore, will she?" Ruth asked the Detectives in a highly emotional state, almost as if she didn't realize the seriousness of what she had done. "I know I killed her. But I loved her just the same; I only did it to end her suffering because her husband took her children away."- (quoted from the LA Times, Sept. 17, 1930)

At the inquest a family friend and attorney, Benjamin Sheldon advised Ruth not to testify. Although off the record she did make several statements. When asked why she did what she did, her only reply was, "Did you ever see anyone you thought would be better off dead? I thought she would be better off dead, and that I would be better off dead, too. There are lots of things worse than death."

Ruth Weimer (LA Times)
Later when the case was on it's way to court, Ruth claimed she no longer had any recollection of the events that took place when she murdered her sister. That she remembered up to the time the death occurred but could not explain why or how she came to the decision to kill Mabel.  Attorney Benjamin Sheldon requested to reduce the charge of murder to manslaughter, given the strange circumstances of the case, however the Judge denied the request.  Somewhere down the line Benjamin Sheldon stopped acting as Ruth's attorney, and Nathan Freedman became her defense counsel.

The Trial

Judge Wood advised Ruth to plead "not guilty by reason of insanity", however she resisted. She was adamant that she wanted to plead "not guilty." It seems it went back and forth but she later did go with the insanity plea, but she claimed she suffered from "a temporary fit of emotional amnesia which inspired her to kill her sister out of sympathy to end her suffering."

Judge Fricke was assigned to oversee the trial and Deputy D.A., George Stahlman was acting prosecutor in the case. The D.A. wanted to prove that Ruth had planned to kill her sister, that she had animosity for her, for having to tend to her sister and put up with her mental illness. During the trial nothing but good character witnesses gave strength to the defense's case that Ruth was a good sister, who loved and cared for her sister selflessly.

Ruth and Mabel's niece, Evelyn Rains testified that she saw her aunt was not acting normally, and that she heard the gun shots go off and that Ruth attempted to shoot herself after shooting Mabel, but that the bullets just missed her head, lodging in the ceiling above. Rains claimed she called for Russell Smith, who had been outside at the time of the shooting. When he made it to the room where Ruth was, he discovered her searching for more bullets so she could reload the gun and commit suicide. It took Smith and another gentleman to detain Ruth until the authorities could arrive. She kept saying, "The worst part is I missed myself!"

When Ruth finally took the stand in her own defense, the courtroom was silent, waiting to hear Ruth's recollection of the events prior to the murder.  She stated that she was bombarded with constant prayers for death by Mabel, and that it had started even prior to her being released from the sanitarium. After her release to Ruth's care, Mabel continued with her cries of suffering and hallucinations. She mentioned Mabel's attempts to end her own life by poisoning herself and also trying to leap from an upstairs window just after her release from the sanitarium.

When it came down to the last events she remembered up to the moment she lost control, she asked the Judge to make her other sister Edith leave the courtroom. She didn't want her to hear what she was about to say to the court.

During her testimony, Ruth claimed that shortly after lunch, while she was ironing where she could keep an eye on Mabel, that her sister walked over to the piano for awhile and played some music and even asked her to join in. Ruth then accompanied her for awhile, playing a few duets together and had a good time, then Ruth continued with her ironing again. Then at one point, Mabel got up and walked right up to Ruth and stared at her and said, "I am dead already, can't you see the red blood streaming from my side? Don't you see the flesh falling from my bones?" Ruth claimed she tried to massage Mabel's feet and convince her that she wasn't really hurt, but it did no good. She was suffering from terrible hallucinations and they were getting worse.

"She said she wished she was dead. I said, 'you do?' she said, 'yes.' I rather wished I was myself. I went upstairs, I put her on the couch and said 'stop this noise and stop crying.' She said she wished she was dead. I said, 'do you really wish it?' She said, 'yes.' Then I went upstairs and got the gun and brought it down. I said, 'you wish you were dead? Then you are going to be dead!' She threw up her hands and I shot her three times before she crumpled. I pointed straight at her and shot, then pointed it at myself, but neither of the bullets hit me. I aimed to kill her. I couldn't stand to see her suffer year in and year out. She is out of her misery anyway. I don't care. My life is not worth much without her. She was the dearest thing I ever had on earth. You wouldn't understand."

The first evening of deliberations, the jury could not come up with a unanimous decision so they were sequestered to a local hotel nearby for the night. The next day, they resumed deliberations, eventually acquitting Ruth of all charges. According to a jury member, the original ballot was, 8- Acquittal, 4- Manslaughter. She was never in danger of being charged with murder. At the end though, they all decided that because of Ruth's openness about the whole story, that they felt she was sincere about the mercy killing.

According to the Los Angeles Times, this case set precedent being the first ever case in California to successfully use the amnesia defense in a murder trial. In the end, Ruth Weimer showed no animosity to the prosecution or the judge at any point. In fact, she had nothing but respect for them for just doing their job. When asked  about the entire thing, Ruth stated that she was very grateful and thankful to the jury and that wherever her sister Mabel was, she knows she is happy now.

Conclusion

After learning of this heart wrenching story of a sister who knew of no other way to end her mentally ill sister's constant suffering but to take her life, it only leads me to believe that poor Chester Purdy may have come to the exact same conclusion himself.

Although neither Ruth nor Chester had a right to end a life, in their minds they felt that was the only way to end their loved ones suffering. Murder is wrong no matter how you slice it. Sadly though, many times when crimes such as these are committed, reasoning has been thrown out the window and logic has been tossed aside as well.

Did the Weimer's and the Purdy's later believe that Mabel became more ill after her stay at the mental institution? Did Chester Purdy worry that Nadine would suffer the same fate if she was committed? Who knows. Perhaps the very thought of that led him to stop it before it could start. We will  never truly know what went on in his mind that day when he shot and killed Nadine.

In my opinion, this entire story is tragic for all who were involved. Ruth Weimer had to live with herself the rest of her life knowing she killed her own sister. Chester Purdy didn't live long after Nadine's death, but I am sure it would have haunted him the rest of his had he lived. The rest of the family must have all suffered from both deaths, being so similar in nature. In the end, history sadly repeated itself and both daughter and mother died the same tragic way, at the hand of a family member who just wanted to end their suffering.


Rest in Peace, Mabel, Nadine, Chester, Edith and Ruth....

To read more about Mabel Steele as well as many other strange and mysterious accounts of the past, purchase your copy of:

 "Stories of the Forgotten: Infamous, Famous & Unremembered." 

(Copyright 2014- J'aime Rubio)

Thank you to my friend, Joan Renner -- the wonderfully talented archivist, historian and writer from the fabulous blog, Deranged L.A. Crimes. Thank you for your astounding help.

Also a big thank you to Ken Fisher from the Roseville Historical Society for giving me the lead to this story and pointing me in the right direction!

Sources:
Daily Independent Journal, 1/29/54
Roseville Press Tribune 1/27/1954
Albuquerque Journal 1/28/54
U.S. Census, Family Search, Ancestry.com
LA Times Articles: (1930)
9/15, 9/16, 9/17, 9/20
10/10, 10/14
11/20, 11/21, 11/24, 11/25, 11/26, 11/28, 11/29
12/1, 12/2, 12/3, 12/4, 12/5, 12/6, 12/7

Photos of Purdy House: Copyright of J'aime Rubio and R. Boulware (2014) All Rights Reserved.
Photos from various newspapers, sourced.



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