Murder in Montara (1946): Babes in the Woods Case: Part IV

Whether the San Mateo County District Attorney would press for the death penalty in the Vorhes Newton case was not yet known. Newton’s was a heinous crime, the killer of his two little children who were left to die on a lonely road in Montara—and the attempted murder of his young pregnant wife.

Luckily, 21-year-old=year Lorraine Newton had survied and was slowly recovering from severe head injuries in a Half Moon Bay hospital in the summer of 1946.

Lorraine hadn’t been told that the babies were dead, and although she hadn’t talked to her husband, the pair both agreed about one thing: neither remembered what happened at the end of that horrible day. They’d had an argument about abortion, they remembered that, but then both Lorraine and Vorhes maintained they blanked out and couldn’t recall anything else.

The prosecutors had no trouble mapping out what had happened. They had an open and shut case, with testimony, evidence and the murder weapon in their possession, enough to convict and ask for the death penalty. The prosecution was anxious to go to trial, which they predicted would be short and sweet.

The prosecution team also bragged that they had damning testimony even if Newton’s wife couldn’t testify—but they believed she would be well enough to do so. They had the murder weapons, a sharp-edged shovel and a baby’s milk bottle.

Vorhes Newton was not a loner, not without the love and support of his wealthy family, his father an affluent farmer from nearby Lodi, and one of his brothers a successful “coin phonographâ€? operator. His parents and siblings rushed to his side at the county jail, strategizing with Leo Friedman, the nationally known and colorful attorney who replaced former superior judge Alden Ames, said to have had second thoughts about representing the controversial defendant.

Fresh from winning several tough cases for his clients, Leo Friedman huddled with Vorhes Newton’s family, discussing strategy. He walked away forty five minutes later telling the press Vorhes impressed him “as a lovely boy with a good record. I don’t even know that he did it. If anybody did do anything like this—he must be crazy.â€?

After the legal conference with Friedman, Newton followed his new lawyer’s advice and refused to give up any information during future grilling by detectives—even though he had already allegedly confessed bludgeoning the babies to death.

Friedman wanted that confession repudiated because it had been elicited under the duress of grilling. He mentioned the possibility of a plea of “not guilty by reason of insanityâ€?.

County District Attorney Gilbert Ferrell said that Mrs. Newton was pregnant but, when asked if she would keep the baby, he said no one had that answer– but that the pregnancy was certainly the cause of the argument between the couple and the violent events that followed. Vorhes and Lorraine Newton, Ferrell said, were arguing about the abortion, an illegal medical procedure in 1946. Ferrell did not reveal whether husband or wife was for or against it.

Medical experts believed the beating Lorraine received could lead to a miscarriage.

Her parents, residents of southern California, came to their daughter’s bedside. Lorraine’s father, Frank Tuttle, was the port auditor at Los Angeles. She had still not been told of her children’s deaths but was conscious and conversing with nurses at the Coastside hospital.

But would she appear as a witness at her husband’s trial?

To be continued….