Murder in Montara: Babes in the Woods Case 1946: Part VI

Photo, at right: The preliminary hearing for Vorhes Newton was held at the old Half Moon Bay High School.

There was so much interest in the 1946 “Babes in the Woodsâ€? case that the arraignment of the 24-year-old “confessedâ€? murderer Vorhes Newton had to be moved from Half Moon Bay Judge Bettencourt’s intimate courtroom to the much larger school gymnasium.

The school’s gym could accommodate the 65 officials, attorneys, family members, press and news photographers gathered for the brief proceedings. Children were kept out but you could see their curious little faces pressed against the windows of the building.

A dozen members of the defendant’s family sat behind Vorhes, whose hunched shoulders gave him a fragile bearing. The black eye he sustained in an accidental fall at Lake Tahoe, where he was apprehended, was now turning a sickly green and yellow.

When he turned to look at his mother, she pressed her son’s hand meaningfully, her eyes brimming with tears.

Vorhes Newton was accused of brutally murdering his two daughters, more babies, than children. He was also accused of attempting to murder his wife, and the mother of his children.

To record the seriousness of the moment, photographers, six of them, moved adroitly about the room, the searing white light from their flash bulbs creating a photographic memory in the newspapers.

Vorhes Newton’s brief appearance at the first legal proceeding consisted of a few questions and then it was over and sheriff’s deputies drove the defendant back to the county jail at Redwood City.

A few days later Newton attended a more significant legal event, the inquest into the death of his two small girls discovered in a remote part of Montara on the San Mateo County Coastside. Their traumatized mother, Lorraine, survived the vicious attack but was still recovering from serious injuries in a Half Moon Bay hospital.

Sheriff’s deputies escorted their prisoner, attired in tan slacks and a jacket, his black eye completely healed, from the jail to a nearby mortuary chapel where a jury convened to hear testimony—which turned out to be more grisly details of the killings.

Witness Jimmie Fideler, a Montara rancher, testified that he saw Vorhes’s wife. “She had a black eye and was staggering. She had blood over her blouse,â€? Fideler said, “and appeared to have been badly beaten. She told me she had been wandering all night on the road.â€?

Fideler said that well known Coastsider John Kyne was with him. Kyne told the jury, “All of us knew about the car going up the road the afternoon before, with a woman screaming, so we were on the alert that morning.â€?

Kyne was talking about the car driven by Vorhes Newton, with his wife and children as passengers.

Upon advice of counsel, Newton himself refused to testify. The support he had from his family was evident again: when he returned to the jail he was accompanied by his sister and her husband, the same sister he had borrowed the car from for the tragic ride from the East Bay to the Coastside.

Following the testimony, the coroner’s jury– three men and three women, described as housewives–found that Barbara Ann Newton, 23 months old and Caroline Lee Newton, seven months, “came to their death from skull fractures caused by blows with a blunt instrument wielded by person or persons unknown.â€? They recommended further investigation by the district attorney.

Lorraine Newton was recovering from a skull fracture at Community Hospital in Half Moon Bay and did not attend any of the early proceedings. It was said that she didn’t know what had happened to her children. Her parents, the Frank Tuttles of North Hollywood, wanted to be the ones to break the horrific news to their daughter.

But Dr. Raycroft, the head of the hospital, convinced them it was his role to his patient “at the proper timeâ€?. That meant without the authorities present—and he would not allow Lorraine to see her husband.

Two weeks after her children had been murdered, and during the preliminary hearing in Half Moon Bay, Lorraine Newton, still hospitalized, spoke publicly, “testifiyingâ€? for the first time. Besides her parents, County Investigator Frank Marlowe, Deputy Sheriff Jack O’Brien stood at her bedside as Stenographer Virginia Knight recorded the emotionally charged evidence.

It was almost unbearable to hear Lorraine speak, her voice breaking frequently, moving forward through heavy sobbing only haltingly.

She said she woke up battered and bleedingwith daughter Barbara dead in her arms. While stumbling she fell into a creek, and wet and shivering, she found an abandoned chicken shed before losing consciousness.

Then Lorraine Newton cried so hard that the testimony had to be stopped so she could regain her “composureâ€?..

She denied seeking an abortion but said she intended to visit a doctor in San Francisco. What the purpose of that medical visit was we don’t know. Again she recalled part of the fatal automobile ride, watching the waves at Rockaway Beach in Pacifica– and then remembering nothing until she woke up with her dead child in her arms.

Lorraine recalled that she and Vorhes didn’t argue but that he was moody at Rockaway Beach. “When I last saw him,â€? she said, “ he was sitting in the car. Then I remember nothing until I woke up lying over my baby’s body.â€?

Meanwhile, at the preliminary hearing held at Half Moon Bay High School, Assistant District Attorney Fred Wycoff questioned a dozen witnesses, establishing the facts of death, the murder ride, the discovery of Mrs. Newton and the children, the capture of Vorhes at Lake Tahoe and the finding of his wife’s rings in his pockets.

Wycoff produced a witness, a Mexican farm worker, who testified seeing the man who drive into the canyon at Montara with a woman, and later emerge without her.

“Insufficient evidence,â€? countered the famous defense attorney Leo Friedman, moving for dismissal.

There was the obligatory moment of silence– and then Judge Manuel Bettencourt ruled that Vorhes Newton be bound over for trial.

Outside the courtroom, Newton’s attorney Leo Friedman courted reporters, verifying that Newton’s neighbors said Lorraine was the quarrelsome half of the couple. He said that John Kyne discovered Lorraine’s rings were gone. When found, she was wearing a glove and Kyne helped her remove it to reveal the missing rings.

Could that mean Vorhes Newton ripped the glove off his wife’s hand and took the rings, “Did he put her gloves back on her?â€? Friedman asked reporters.

Six months passed before the trial would begin.

…To be continued…

Montara Murder: Babes in the Woods Case 1946: Part V

Murder in Montara: The Babes in the Woods Case 1946; Part V

There was a lot of back-and-forth over where Vorhes Newton’s arraignment would take place in the summer of 1946. Who knows how they finally worked it out but those officials who pushed the Redwood City County Courthouse venue, lost, and it was decided the 24-year-old Newton would be arraigned on the Coastside where his horrific crime had been committed.

Half Moon Bay was a rural country village, and Judge Manuel Bettencourt, who presided over the court there, was the kind of man you either liked or hated, He was called “The Judgeâ€? and depending on who was saying it, “The Judgeâ€? sounded warm and friendly or tainted with a smoldering ire.

One thing nobody could deny, “The Judgeâ€? had broken social barriers by marrying the pert, outgoing Irene Debenedetti, the daughter of one of the most prominent families in town. She was Italian; he was Portuguese; theirs may have been the first such important marital union in Spanishtown, as the “realâ€? locals called Half Moon Bay.

It was only an arraignment, a legal procedure measured in minutes, but no matter how small his role “the Judgeâ€? would be a presence.

Judge Bettencourt’s office/courtroom stood on Main Street, across the way from today’s “Original Johnny’sâ€? coffee shop. Bettencourt’s courtroom was a space big enough to hold a maximum of 25 spectators.

Dubbed the “Babes in the Woodsâ€? case by the press, Vorhes Newton had attracted national attention putting Redwood City, where the heavy legal business was conducted, on the map. This case could make reputations.

Due to all the attention, Judge Bettencourt’s Half Moon Bay courtroom couldn’t comfortably accommodate all the photographers, reporters, the curious, the locals and the participants. Sheriff’s deputies, with their prisoner, had to push through the crowd before a decision was made to move the whole show to the nearby high school’s gymnasium, accommodating 150 spectators. When the bleachers were full, chairs were quickly brought in and a courtroom improvised with tables from the classrooms.

Sheriff Walter Moore, member of a prominent Pescadero family, acted as bailiff. County District Attorney Gilbert Ferrell arrived with Fred Wyckoff, Ferrell’s second-in-command who had done most of the early case work.

The noise of onlookers didn’t drown out official voices in the makeshift courtroom in the school gym– rather there was a stunned quiet– and, besides the normal curiosity associated with people wanting to see the kind of man who would murder his own children–there was pity for young Vorhes Newton.

Wearing a checkered sports jacket and brown tie, Vorhes had a scrubby brown beard, his face was bruised, his black eye colored a purplish hue now. His own personal trial had caused his shoulders to droop. When his eyes searched the school gym, he recognized half a dozen members of his family but Vorhes didn’t smile or nod at them. He still couldn’t believe he committed the murders.

Judge Bettencourt asked the defendant if Vorhes Newton was his name and he softly answered, “Yesâ€?.

Then followed a series of damning witnesses First was Fred Simmons, Half Moon Bay’s deputy sheriff. He spoke of bringing a bloodied Lorraine Newton to the Community Hospital. He told of finding the bodies of the two little ones.

John Kyne testified to finding the bodies of the two babies at the Montara flower ranch which was also confirmed by Kyne’s employees James Fiedler and Steve Torre,.

Mrs. Dodd, the Newton’s Alameda neighbor, told the court that she accompanied the Newton family on the first part of the murder ride. She was dropped off at the Alameda navy base. Later that day she saw Vorhes return home alone.

Of interest to defense attorney Leo Friedman was Mrs. Dodd’s statement that she often heard Vorhes call his wife, “Bossâ€?. In her opinion Lorraine Newton was the quarrelsome type, not her husband.

Witness Anthelmo Quaves said he saw an auto containing a man and woman drive slowly into the lonely canyon and heard yelling and the sounds of someone being beaten. He said he saw the auto come back speeding out of the canyon.

Lorraine’s mother, Mrs.Tuttle, said her daughter was improving and identified her engagement and wedding rings

Defense attorney Leo Friedman revealed that Mrs. Newton knew she was pregnant, wanted to confirm it with a doctor and left open an abortion.

Newton sat solemnly at a student’s desk in the makeshift courtroom, obviously relieved when Deputy Sheriff Jack O’Brien escorted from out of the courtroom and back to the car that would return him to the Redwood City County Jail.

Outside the courtroom in Half Moon Bay, defense attorney Leo Friedman joked with reporters and photographers. They knew him from for his role in two sensational trials, that of Mrs. Frances Andrews and David Lamson.

Lorraine Newton did not make an appearance. So far she had remained in the background.

To be continued….

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….

“Babes in the Woods Case” Murder in Montara: Part III

In the summer of 1946 the lifeless bodies of two little girls were found near a bed of wild lilies bordering the Havis Flower Nursery in Wagner Canyon in Montara.

Despite severe skull injuries, the children’s mother, 21-year-old Lorraine Newton, had survived the brutal attempt to murder her—and sought refuge overnight in an abandoned shack.

Next morning longtime Coastside resident John Kyne encountered the semi-conscious Lorraine, shoeless, wandering, and calling for Barbara Ann and Caroline Lee, the names of her children. It was Kyne who alerted authorities, and, Simmons, the constable from Half Moon Bay, arrived to take her to the nearby Community Hospital. (Community Hospital was run by Colonel Howard Roycroft, a military doctor, a reminder that the armed forces had had a presence on the Coastside during WWII.)

Constable Simmons noted that Lorraine was not wearing an engagement and wedding ring as most married women did in 1946. Had the murderer taken them?

At Community Hospital, Lorraine slipped in and out of consciousness, calling for her children and husband Vorhes. Colonel Roycroft wouldn’t let police question her. The head injury was severe and her survival was uncertain. More importantly after examining his patient, Dr. Roycroft had important information for police. Lorraine was pregnant. Lorraine Newton asked for her children and her husband Vorhes.

When she began to recover, police were permitted to ask a few questions. The only thing Lorraine recalled, she told them, was sitting in a car with her husband and daughters and watching the waves at Rockaway Beach in Pacifica. Everything else remained a blank.

Meanwhile a statewide search for Lorraine’s husband, Vorhes, was underway. The 24-year-old glazier had vanished and police were anxious to interrogate the man who had become a murder suspect in what the press dubbed “The Babes in the Woodsâ€? case.

Cops knew Vorhes had returned the car he borrowed from his sister, the car that he drove to the Coastside. A search of the vehicle produced a shovel, a possible murder weapon. They tracked Newton’s movements back to the couple’s apartment in Alameda. On the bed Newton had spread out one of his wife’s dresses and beside it, a baby bottle.

As Lorraine Newton recovered, police were permitted to ask her questions—but Dr. Roycroft wouldn’t let them tell her about the death of her daughters. Asked about her husband’s character, she said he was the most lovable man on earth. About the events which lead up to her injuries, she recalled little. All she could remember was sitting in a car with her husband and daughters, watching the waves at Rockaway Beach in Pacifica. Nothing else.

And that was what the newspapers reported.

Police fanned out to question Lorraine and Vorhes’ neighbors and friends in Alameda where the couple lived. The first reports offered nothing out of the ordinary, a picture of a happily married couple—but cracks in this picture emerged as a close friend said Lorraine hated her husband, adding that she wouldn’t be with him if it weren’t for the children.

The murder story was headlined in so many papers that San Mateo County police figured it wouldn’t be long before Vorhes Newton would be caught. His picture was posted everywhee. Cops were playing the waiting game.

And it was a short wait– a couple of days after the horrific crime, Auburn officials notified San Mateo County Deputy Sheriff Walter Moore that they had his man in custody.

How did they catch him?

Part of the answer came from Vorhes, part of it from several other witnesses.

A motorist offered Vorhes Newton a ride when he saw him, soaked and disheveled, wandering along the highway near Emerald Bay at Lake Tahoe. Vorhes told the driver his clothes were soaking wet because he had slipped and fallen into the cold lake water. He had a black eye and visible abrasions so the driver took him to a tavern where a doctor gave Newton first aid. The doctor recognized Vorhes from the newspapers and alerted the Tahoe constable who took him into custody, driving him to the bigger jail at Auburn.

Elated with the news, Deputy Sheriff Walter Moore raced to Auburn to pick up His prisoner. Under questioning, Vorhes Newton repeated the same thing as his wife. He recalled watching the surf at Rockaway Beach, then, he said “everything went blank.â€? Afterwards he remembered waking up on a park bench in Reno [he had taken the bus or train there] and it was there that he read about the murders in a newspaper.

“I woke up in Reno, with a paper lying over my face,â€? Newton told Sheriff Moore. “I decided that I had better go back. I took a bus and hitch-hiked as far as a resort on the California side of Lake Tahoe, Eagle Falls, by Emerald Bay. I clambered up the rocks and fell into the lake, then climbed back to the road.â€? He complained of severe back pain, had one black eye and abrasions all over his body.

Sheriff Moore branded Newton’s story a fake. “He’s covering up and telling a lie,â€? Moore said. He told reporters Vorhes read his wife’s account in the newspapers. He’s just repeating her story. What he didn’t’ tell reporters was that he found Lorraine’s engagement and wedding ring in Vorhes’ possession.

Newton was driven back to the county jail in Redwood City. The sky was carbon black as three hours of heavy grilling began– but failed to break his story. When confronted repeatedly with the facts, Vorhes, by now weary and haggard, insisted “he blanked outâ€?. “I’m not a brute,â€? he swore, “I couldn’t have done it. I couldn’t have done it.â€? The same thing, over and over.

Making little headway, Sheriff Moore quit for the night. “What do I charge him with, “ Night Jailor Paul Jenson asked Sheriff Moore. “Oh, hell, charge him with murder,â€? Moore snapped.

The “Babes in the Woodsâ€? case was attracting national attention, becoming a big case. It was time for Walter Moore’s boss, Sheriff James McGrath to step into the picture and McGrath announced he was now taking the lead in the investigation.

“I think he [Newton] should be made to see his daughtersâ€?, Sheriff McGrath told a clutch of reporters. The little girls were lying in the William Crosby Mortuary in Burlingame.

Newton hadn’t hired a lawyer yet but money wasn’t a restriction as his father, Benjamin, was a prominent rancher near Lodi. At first the family hired Alden Ames, a former superior judge. Ames said his client was being put through the third degree and anything he said would be questioned in court as having been obtained under duress.

Alden Ames soon retired from the case and was replaced by the aggressive defense attorney Leo Friedman known for winning some tough cases.

Up to this point Deputy D.A. Fred Wycoff was handling the prosecution’s case. He told reporters he had enough evidence to convict and that it would be a quick trial.

Where Newton would be arraigned on two counts of murder was still up in the air. The plan was to take him to the court of Manuel J. Bettencourt in Half Moon Bay. But Vorhes complained of injuries sustained in the fall at Lake Tahoe and the doctor who examined him said he didn’t know if the prisoner “could standâ€? the physical pain of the ride from Redwood City to the Coastside.

He might not be able to make the bumpy ride to Half Moon Bay but there was no excuse why Vorhes Newton could not be taken to the Crosby Mortuary in Burlingame to see the bodies of his baby daughters. Face up to what he had down—and once there, he almost immediately cracked and confessed that he had beaten them to death after first attempting to kill his wife.

In the presence of six officials, with reporters banned, Newton confessed that he struck his wife and babies first with a baby bottle, then a shovel at the spot where they were found, a lonely ranch road in Wagner Canyon near Montara.

And the reason for the brutal crime was finally was revealed: The couple had quarreled over an abortion.

Sobbing, Vorhes said he struck his wife first but didn’t know why he took it out on the kids.

After the confession a decision was made: The arraignment on a double murder charge would take place in Half Moon Bay at the Court of Justice Manuel J. Bettencourt.

….To be continued

1946: Murder in Montara: Part I

Warning: If you don’t like gruesome murders, please don’t read this true story.

WW II was over, and it was the early summer of 1946, a time to feel happy to be alive.

John Kyne, well known oldtimer in Moss Beach and Montara, was walking in Wagner Canyon–named after the publisher who “founded Montara”– near the Coastside Nursery when he had one of those horrific life-changing encounters–the kind you wish you never had. He ran into a pretty young woman stumbling about in a daze. She was barefoot and could barely stand; she kept falling to her knees. It looked like she was wounded. Kyne heard her mumbling, calling out unfamiliar names, calling for Vorhas, Caroline and Barbara–but she was calling into the wind because there was nobody else there. At least no one else who was alive.

John Kyne walked in the direction the woman had come from and discovered the horror: two tiny children, two little girls, dead. Their fully clothed bodies lay nine feet apart with a layer of leaves covering them. Kyne shielded the injured woman from seeing them.

Apparently the dead girls’ mother, the woman had a deep skull fracture and it didn’t take much for Kyne to realize a terrible crime had been committed in his neighborhood, and he tried to make the woman comfortable while calling the local authorities. Meanwhile the pretty young lady, no more than 25 -years- old, fell into and out of conciousness. Kyne hoped medical help would arrive quickly.

Kyne’s son, Peter, was a famous novelist, whose subjects were lighthearted, and John couldn’t help but wonder what Peter would think of this real-life drama his father had been thrust into the middle of.

Half Moon Bay Constable Fred Simmons was one of the first to arrive and took the woman to the nearby Community Hospital. She had a deep five-inch gash in her skull, the weapon, some kind of blunt instrument.

Her condition was extremely serious, said Colonel Harold Roycroft, the medical superintendent at Community Hospital, giving her a 50-50 chance of survival. Interrogating her was discouraged but Chief Deputy Sheriff Walter H. Moore did get a few questions in before she lapsed into semi-consiciousness. Within hours he learned that her name was Lorraine Newton, that she was from Alameda, that she had been crawling around all night and that she remembered little other than driving to Rockaway Beach in Pacifica with her husband and two daughters.

Lorraine Newton had also mumbled about looking at the waves in the afternoon or was it in the evening. She was confused; she couldn’t remember. She didn’t know her little girls were dead and that horrible reality was going to be kept from her until she fully recovered.

Sheriff Moore wanted to know where the husband, Vorhas Newton, was, and detectives fanned out to find him. Was the husband the perpetrator of this vicious, senseless crime?

Despite the horrific circumstances, there was a light moment when Constable Simmons asked Sheriff Moore how his son, Gordon, was doing. Moore loved this question; he couldn’t believe his son, Gordon, born in Pescadero, (and the future founder of the high tech blockbuster Intel) was a genius, and he told everyone so, this time being no exception.

Meanwhile the two little dead girls were taken to the A.P. Dutra Chapel in Half Moon Bay. The autopsy performed there revealed that both children, seven- month- old Caroline and the almost two- year- old Barbara had died of skull fractures.

John Kyne may have had the missing link: He saw a car drive up the trail into Wagner canyon the day before and saw the same car speed down the road later. A man was driving and surely Kyne was able to describe the man as well as the make and model of the car, just what the police needed to track down the possible killer. And they were bearing down fast.

….to be continued