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Beulah Louise OVERELL





Classification: Homicide?
Characteristics: Juvenile (17) - Covering up the crime by dynamiting the victims' yacht
Number of victims: 2 ?
Date of murders: March 15, 1947
Date of arrest: Next day
Date of birth: 1929
Victims profile: Walter E. Overell, 62, and his wife Beulah, 57 (her parents)
Method of murder: Beating with a ballpeen hammer - Bomb (dynamite)
Location: Newport Harbor, Orange County, California, USA
Status: After 19 weeks of trial, the jury announced a verdict of not–guilty on October 5, 1947
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The yacht owned by Walter and Beulah Overell of Los Angeles blows up in Newport Harbor, killing the couple. Their daughter Beulah Louise Overell and her boyfriend Bud Gollum are charged with homicide, but are acquitted after the five-month trial. The trial is the longest in OC history. As a result of the case, new regulations are enacted regarding the sale and purchase of explosives.

The Overell-Gollum Trial

On March 15, 1947, 17 year old Beulah Louise Overell and her fiancé, 21 year old George Gollum, stood on shore while the Mary E., a 47-foot yacht moored in Newport Harbor, exploded. Aboard were Beulah’s parents, wealthy financier Walter E. Overell and his wife. Named as defendants, were Beulah and George.

Beulah Louise, the heiress to her parents’ fortune and George, the “premed” student, were charged with murder and ordered to stand trial in front of Judge Kenneth Morrison. OCBA members Otto Jacobs and Z.B. West represented Overell, and S.B. Kaufman and W.B. Berne defended Gollum.

The cast of characters seems to be straight out of one of the many detective stories inspired by the sensational, 19-week murder trial (at the time, the longest criminal trial in United States’ history.) Jacobs was a veteran defense attorney, who had won 80 major criminal cases including eight murder cases. The prosecutor, Eugene Williams, was the Assistant U.S. Attorney General, who it was said held lofty political aspirations and welcomed the chance to be in the spotlight.

The trial had all the elements to command the rapt attention of Orange County and the entire nation. As Williams told the jury in opening statement: “We have lust, we have greed, we have frustration. Ladies and gentlemen, these are the raw materials out of which murders are made.”

The trial resulted in the adoption of legislation regulating the sale and purchase of dynamite, and glaringly illuminated the lack of any crime laboratory by local law enforcement. (Post-trial, Orange County soon received funding for its own crime lab.)

The Orange County Courthouse had never seen such crowds of spectators, both inside the courtroom and outside on the steps. Local newspapers immediately began reporting the events of the trial. The story made headlines almost everyday in Orange County and Los Angeles. Life and Time magazines, and even New York papers, covered the story. Parts of the trial were broadcast on the radio.

It was reported that the elder Overells were bitterly opposed to the marriage of their daughter to Gollum. The Los Angeles Examiner obtained private love letters written by the two in jail, including a plan for jailbreak complete with a map. The letters were printed in the papers. The readers loved it. The prosecution also used the letters in trial, in an attempt to prove that the two defendants’ motivation for murder was the threat of disinheritance faced by Beulah, if she married Gollum.

The prosecution attempted to prove its case by introducing into evidence two heavy posts used for support on a boat, called stanchions, which, according to the prosecution, were used to beat Walter Overell before his death. Investigators had found 32 sticks of dynamite on the yacht, with a clock attached to the boat’s battery. The prosecution said it had found the place in Chatsworth where the defendants bought the dynamite the day before the alleged murder. The defense attorneys argued that Walter Overell had either accidentally set off the explosion himself, or that the yacht had blown up due to gas fumes. They tried to show that if Overell and Gollum not had been away getting hamburgers, they too would have died in the explosion.

Defense attorney Jacobs focused his attention on refuting every piece of evidence and every expert witness brought in by the prosecution. Much of the prosecutor’s case was built on forensic evidence gathered by investigators — that was sent elsewhere for analysis. Because of the distance and delay, the prosecutor’s evidence regarding the post-mortem exams of the bodies became less reliable.

One especially memorable moment stands out. An expert witness for the prosecution testified that he found a very unique, hard to find screw in Gollum’s car, that could only have come from the clock used in the explosion. Jacobs then went to a local jewelry store and bought a barrel of the “hard to find” screws. While cross-examing the expert witness, he pulled out a handful of the screws, and tossed them all over the courtroom in a theatrical move to refute the testimony.

In his closing arguments, Jacobs told the jury that the prosecution’s case was built on “possibilities, probabilities, and a lot of myths.”

The day the jury returned its verdict, the courthouse was overflowing with spectators who spilled into the hallway and down to the courthouse lawn. Overell and Gollum had become very popular with the jury and the public. Those outside listened to the decision on the radio. When the first verdict was read, people cheered and yelled — despite Judge Morrison’s efforts to keep them quiet. The verdict… “not guilty.”


Murder on the Yacht

By Mara Bovsun -

September 26. 2009

Around 11 P.M. on March 15, 1947, Beulah Louise Overell, 17, and her sweetheart George (Bud) Gollum, 20, left her parents' yacht, the Mary E., which was moored in Newport Harbor, California.

Their mission was a midnight snack. The elder Overells, Walter, 62, and Beulah, 57, stayed on the yacht, and the kids went off in a skiff to get hamburgers at a late-night burger joint.

When the young couple returned to the pier where they had left their skiff, they were greeted with a sight of pure horror. The Mary E. was smoldering and sinking.

Just about the time Beulah was putting in the order for hamburgers, the cabin cruiser had been rocked by an explosion so powerful it "just about blew me out of my bunk," said F.E. Moore, a retired Los Angeles firefighter.

His boat was moored 75 feet from the Overells', and he was first to reach the wreck and start to hunt for survivors. Moore was soon joined by other searchers, including Beulah and her boyfriend, frantically calling out for her parents as the ship filled with water. The bodies would not be found until later, when the Coast Guard towed the Mary E. to shallow water.

Initial reports called it an accident, the kind of tragedy that sometimes happens in boats with gas motors.

But a day later Beulah and George were in police custody, charged with the murder of her parents.

A quick examination of the Mary E. had revealed that the cause of the blast had not been gasoline. It was dynamite.

Had the bomb worked as intended, there would likely have been no evidence to raise suspicions. A few sticks of dynamite had been left in the engine room, wired to an alarm clock detonator. But the rest of the explosives were in another area; the first blast, investigators hypothesized, was supposed to trigger a second, larger one, reducing the yacht to splinters.

A heavy wooden bulkhead thwarted the plan, confining the blast to the engine room. It was still lethal, though. Walter Overell had been impaled on a plank, while his wife died of multiple skull fractures.

When the coroner looked closely he discovered it was possible the couple had died up to an hour earlier, from blows to the head dealt by a human hand. A ball-peen hammer fit neatly into a few of the wounds on Mrs. Overell's skull.

It was clearly murder, and since no one else had been on the Mary E. within the time that the bomb would have had to be built, Beulah Overell and George Gollum became the prime suspects.

On top of that, the chubby college girl had a motive - her family fortune, estimated at around $600,000, a respectable bundle for that era. Walter Overell had amassed this wealth through a lifetime of hard work, first in the family furniture business, and later as a real estate developer and financier. Beulah was the sole heir.

There was more. While Beulah was madly in love with George, her parents did not share her enthusiasm for her beau. Nevertheless, the wedding was planned for April 30 of that year, despite threats from the Overells that they'd disown their daughter if she went through with it.

In the days after the explosion, more bits of circumstance pointed to the young lovers. An investigation of Gollum's car, for example, turned up pieces of wire and pink adhesive tape. Similar wire and tape had been found on one of the unexploded sticks of dynamite from the Mary E. They also discovered bloody clothes in his car.

Also troubling was the record of a purchase at the Chatsworth office of the Trojan Powder company - 50 sticks of dynamite. A young couple made the purchase a day before the yacht explosion. Investigators had been led to the office by a receipt for the dynamite found tucked into Gollum's camera case, with a signature of a different name written in Gollum's hand.

Police spoke of Beulah's "noticeable lack of emotion" during questioning. Several reporters took note of the mink coat that she wore to jail, along with her plumpness, bushy brows, and inappropriate taste in clothes, considering her figure and her circumstances.

Love letters penned behind bars made both seem crazed by lust.

"I'll kidnap and carry you off somewhere so that no one will ever be able to find us and there I'll make passionate and violent love to you. If you ever marry another person, I will kill him," wrote George to Beulah.

And she to him: "O my darling, O my pops, popsie, darling, my beautiful, handsome, intelligent pops, I adore you always, eternally..."

'Sadistic sexual passion'

These missives, and a diary of sexual longing that Beulah penned in the months leading up to the deaths of her parents, were part of the evidence when the pair went on trial on May 26, 1947. The prosecution acknowledged that there were no witnesses, but insisted they could build a strong case that the young couple had conspired to do away with Beulah's parents.

"The defendants enjoyed an illicit, perverted, sadistic sexual passion amounting almost to frenzy," special prosecutor Eugene Williams told the court. "Lust, greed, frustration. Ladies and gentlemen, these are the raw materials of which murders are made."

The defense insisted that there was no direct proof, and advanced the theory that Walter Overell, despondent over financial worries, had committed a murder-suicide. Shoddy lab work further eroded the prosecution's credibility.

The trial took 133 days and jury deliberations, a series of heated arguments, dragged on for another two days. In the end, the jury was sure of only one thing - that Beulah and George were a couple of love-struck kids.

Cheers broke out in the packed, sweltering courtroom when the verdict was announced on Oct. 5: Not guilty.

The acquittal was not a pure victory for the couple. As Beulah left the courthouse, a reporter asked if she still planned to marry George. Her answer was a sharp no.

As for George, his response to the same question was, "We'll see."

And that was the end of that. More bad news came to Beulah a year later, when it was revealed that the great fortune was nowhere near the original estimates. "Flirting with insolvency," as one newspaper put it. She got some money from the estate, but not much. She would marry twice, move to Las Vegas, and drift into drink. In 1965, the one-time heiress was found dead in her bed, two empty quart bottles of vodka near her head, and a loaded, unfired rifle at her feet. Acute alcoholism was ruled the cause of death.


Down Adela's Alley

Jun. 16, 1947

The facts of the matter were few, and sordid, and readily lent themselves to scareheads: somebody bludgeoned the Walter Overells aboard their cruiser in Newport bay, Calif, and blew up the boat, and the Overells with it, by a charge of dynamite rigged to an alarm clock. From the moment the cops picked up 18-year-old Daughter Beulah Louise Overell and her boy friend, Los Angeles newspapers had a field day.

In their jail cells, sullen, bushy-browed Beulah and George ("Bud") Gollum, 21, an ex-Navy radioman, peppered each other with love letters full of double and triple entendres. Hearst's Examiner got hold of them, ran off 200 copies of a dummy final edition without them to lull the rival Times, then spread the letters over two pages.

Neither the Republicans' labor bill nor the Communist coup in Hungary got such space in the Examiner as Beulah and Bud. The Los Angeles press invaded suburban Santa Ana in force, with 30-odd reporters, photographers and such trained seals as Mystery Writer Craig Rice (later fired), Screenwriter Niven (Duel in the Sun) Busch, and Adela Rogers St. Johns.

"Contact With Reality." The greatest of these, and the oldest (53) hand at the game was Adela. The Hearst people had drafted her to give the Overell story the cozy, corny touch she had applied to the Lindbergh and Weyerhaeuser kidnapings, the birth of the Dionne quintuplets, the death of Rudy Valentino. Hearst papers the U.S. over spread her words in big type. Excerpts:

"I came to see whether these two of our children could be guilty of such a crime and if so were we, as a civilization, guilty too. Or to see if some touchstone of truth guards and protects their very youth. . . . But the first thing that freezes you in your chair ... is that there is no youth in them. . . ."

What Beulah needed, Adela decided, was her mother: "Someone who could say to her, 'Louise . . . you ought not to sit there in a bright, striped blue-green dress with your arms bare to the shoulder . . . your arms aren't your best point . . . they look too strong.' "

Sweeping Thought. After eight days of thoughts like these, Adela pleaded with her readers to bear with her: "These are the doldrums of jury selection. . . . Through the jammed courtroom you can feel a thought sweeping. What are we doing here? What's the matter with our world . . .? What's the matter with everybody?" Whatever was the matter with the rest of the world, things would presumably look up for Adela, as soon as Beulah and Bud took the stand.


Overell and Gollum--The Most Famous Trial in the Old Courthouse

By Marcida Dodson - Los Angeles Times

July 23, 1988

The voice on the other end of the telephone is down-home, friendly and matter-of-fact as he answers questions about his sensational murder trial, now 41 years behind him.

No, his neighbors today probably do not know about his once all-too-public past. No, he does not still think about that fateful night when his fiancee's wealthy parents were blown apart on their yacht in Newport Harbor.

And no, George Rector Gollum said, he did not do it.

The year was 1947. Americans, rebounding from the war, were happily devoting themselves to their homes and families. It was a time of hope and promise.

And so it was with special horror that people across the nation latched onto news from sleepy Orange County, where Beulah Louise Overell and her fiance, George (Bud) Gollum, were accused of coldbloodedly bludgeoning her parents--who reportedly objected to their marriage plans--and then covering up the crime by dynamiting the victims' yacht.

"We had lust, we had greed, we had frustration. Ladies and gentlemen, these are the raw materials out of which murders are made," the prosecutor told the jury in his opening statement.

It was the most famous trial ever held in the Old County Courthouse in Santa Ana. Hollywood could not have staged a more gripping melodrama.

There were the frankly less-than-attractive 18-year-old heiress and her handsome fiance, a 21-year-old premed student. There were courtroom dramatics--at one point Overell's attorney pulled a handful of screws out of his pocket and showered them over the courtroom to refute the prosecutor's argument about the rarity of the clock parts used in the bomb. There were out-of-courtroom dramatics--searing love letters exchanged between the jail cells of Beulah and Bud and intercepted by authorities, then leaked for all to read in the newspapers.

And there was the verdict.

"The judge cautioned the audience to be quiet (before the verdict was read), but that didn't do much good," recalled Lecil Slaback, the court reporter for the trial. The courtroom was packed and hundreds spilled out into the hallway and down into the street, crowding onto the courthouse lawn.

As soon as the first of the two "not guilty" verdicts was read, "everyone clapped and hollered and carried on," Slaback said. Even outside the courtroom, where the crowd listened to the verdict over the radio, "a huge cheer went up," said attorney Robert Jacobs, whose father, Otto Jacobs, successfully defended Beulah Overell.

But seven months earlier, authorities investigating the fatal blast aboard the 47-foot cabin cruiser Mary E in Newport Beach were certain that all evidence pointed to the guilt of Overell and Gollum.

According to Overell's own statement to her attorney, the day before her parents died, she and Gollum drove to Chatsworth and bought some dynamite at the request of her father, Walter Overell, a Los Angeles businessman.

"I said what did (her father) want it for, and he (Gollum) replied that he didn't know, that (he) had just asked him to get some," Overell wrote in her statement, contained in attorney Otto Jacobs' files on the case--three overflowing boxes of papers, clippings and transcripts kept at the family's El Toro law firm.

The next day, March 15, Overell went with her parents from their La Crescenta home to their boat, which mechanics were working on, and met her boyfriend there. About 11 p.m., her father sent them to pick up some hamburgers, she told her attorney. When they returned, the Mary E had exploded.

Authorities later found 31 sticks of unexploded dynamite on the boat, according to a news account. The exploded dynamite had been set off by a clock attached to the boat's battery. According to newspaper reports, authorities also learned that Overell's parents were bitterly opposed to their daughter's marriage plans. And authorities believed that the parents had been beaten before the boat explosion.

A grand jury indicted the pair, and Overell's relatives hired Otto Jacobs, a veteran attorney who by that time had handled 80 major criminal cases, including eight murder cases, and had won them all. He was aided by Z.B. West. Gollum was represented by S.B. Kaufman.

Before the case was even heard by a jury, though, the public was titillated by reading the private love letters passed between the two defendants separated by bars. The missives--including pet names, an occasional suicide threat and one mention of a planned jailbreak, with map included--had been carried by a jail guard, intercepted by authorities and somehow obtained by the Los Angeles Examiner.

"Would you still marry me if I were broke? Oh Pops darling, please promise you will marry me," Overell wrote in one letter. In another, she told her fiance: "You're an uplifted human being. You're the most intelligent person I ever heard of. Einstein was a moron compared to you. . . . Yes, sir, you're the object of my adoration and the creature of my determination."

And from Gollum to Overell: " . . . If you ever leave me or are unfaithful to me or stop loving me, I will take that overdose of sleeping pills. After I have killed the man you turned to from me. That is a promise. . . ."

Jacobs later argued that the couple were entrapped into writing the letters so that they would fall into the hands of the prosecutors, who would use them against the lovers in the trial. Indeed, one of the prosecutors said in court of the letters:

"We find lust, lust and more lust . . . greed, greed and more greed . . . perversion and continuing perversion . . . money . . . jealousy . . . thoughts of suicide and jailbreak . . .

"We find a passion so strong that it transcends all morals. But do we find any expression whatever of innocence? Any expression whatever of horror? No!"

The sensational press coverage that included the love letters only intensified with the start of the trial. In addition to the Orange County and Los Angeles newspapers, Life and Time magazines, New York newspapers and wire services were there. Radio station KWIZ, then KVOE, broadcast the trial live. The Los Angeles Examiner sent in noted Hearst columnist Adela Rogers St. John to write her observations.

In one column, she pontificated about how the two lovers looked older than their years and how inappropriately Overell dressed during mourning.

"Whether Louise Overell is guilty as charged or whether she is only an orphan who lost both mother and father . . . , she wears in the courtroom clothes which show no acknowledgement of her loss," St. John wrote, criticizing Overell's bright clothes and "her heavy hair, dark brown and streaked with henna red . . . held back by a huge gold pin, suitable for dancing . . ."

Press accounts at the time of the trial said Otto Jacobs suggested that Walter Overell set off the dynamite himself, either accidentally or intentionally. But that was not the foundation of Beulah Louise Overell's defense.

Instead, Otto Jacobs methodically chipped away at the prosecutors' evidence, pouncing on their errors, suppositions and, at times, their lies, Robert Jacobs said.

One big moment came when one of the prosecution's expert witnesses testified that he had found in Gollum's car a screw from the clock used in the bomb. This was an unusual screw, the witness testified; linking it to Gollum's car was damning testimony.

But it turned out that the screw was not so rare, after all.

"So my dad went to a jewelry place and bought a barrel of them. It was quite an exciting event in court. He filled his coat pocket with these dinky screws, and in cross-examining the expert, he pulled a handful out. There were screws all over the courtroom."

The defense attorney also tore apart the shabby medical examinations that had been performed on the bodies, disputing that the couple had been beaten before the blast. He further argued that, contrary to the prosecutors' contentions, it could not be proved that Mrs. Overell had been attacked with a ball peen hammer, nor could it be proved that a stanchion from the boat--allegedly the murder weapon used on Walter Overell--had ever been removed from the vessel.

The prosecution's case, Otto Jacobs told the jury in his closing argument, was built on "possibilities, probabilities and a lot of myths."

After the acquittals, no one else was ever arrested, and Beulah Louise Overell went on to inherit her parents' estate, valued at between $200,000 and $500,000.

Beulah and Bud never married. By the end of the four-month-long trial, things had cooled between them.

"I saw her a couple times after the trial, but it didn't--you know. Things had just changed too much," Gollum said in a recent telephone interview. She went on to marry at least twice and died in 1965, at 36, of apparent acute alcoholism, according to a news story. Her nude, bruised body was found in bed in her Las Vegas home with two empty quart vodka bottles near her head and a loaded, cocked but unfired .22-caliber rifle at her feet.

Gollum never went on to medical school. "The trial effectively killed that," he said. Instead, he worked for a carnival for a while, did a little traveling and wound up serving time in prison, after all. He was caught while riding with another fellow "who was in a car that wasn't his," Gollum said wryly. He said he spent nine months in the federal penitentiary in Tallahassee. (Prison authorities in Florida were unable to locate Gollum's files for confirmation.)

Afterward, Gollum went back to school, eventually earning a Ph.D. in biophysics, he said. He declined to say where he earned his degree because he entered school under an assumed name. "I had trouble getting in," he said. Even though he was found not guilty, "that's not how people act," he added.

He worked several years for a company involved in the development of "over-the-shoulder toss weapons," an early nuclear device for the Navy, he said. But he got out of the field about 1970 for a variety of reasons, he said, including "the fact that I didn't like my involvement in nuclear weapons."

Today, Gollum is 62 and makes a living by buying up large chunks of real estate throughout the western United States, parceling the land up and re-selling it, he said. He lives on 640 acres in a small town in the Sierra Nevada, not far from Lake Tahoe, where he enjoys piloting small aircraft, fishing and photography. He married a carnival motordrome rider soon after the trial, but that marriage was annulled. The father of a daughter and son, he is now separated from his wife of more than 20 years, he said.

He no longer goes by "Bud," and while he does not encourage publicity about his past, he responds to questions with frank but understated answers. He has cooperated with a couple of authors working on books about his case and with the producers of a television movie that never made it to the screen, but no, he does not want his picture taken for this story. Asked if he ever thought about writing his own book, he responds: "No, I didn't think it was necessary."

Is he bothered that some people still suspect he is guilty? No, he said. He doesn't believe people think about it much anymore; most of the people in his area probably don't even know about it, and he doesn't ever bring it up.

"Other than that, one learns to live with it," he said. "People who know me, know better. And for the others, well, I can't control that."


The Deaths in Newport

Lewis Baltz

A few minutes before midnight on March 15th, 1947, the “Mary E”, a 47–foot motor cruiser, exploded at her moorings in Newport Harbor killing Mr. Walter E. Overell, a 62 year old Pasadena financeer, and his 57 year old wife, Beulah.

The explosion blew two holes in the hull of the boat, shattered decks and bulkheads, and was heard over a mile away. The force of the blast hads horn both of the victims’ bodies of clothing. Overell’s right leg had been shattered and a plank driven through his back; Beulah Overell’s head had been crushed.

The Overell’s daughter, Beulah Louise, 17, and her fiancee, George“Bud” Gollum, 21, had escaped the blast by going ashore half an hour earlier for a late–night snack. When the couple returned a few minutes after the blast, the Coast Guard, unable to guarantee the security of the Mary E, asked them to return ashore.

On the following Wednesday, March 19, Beulah Louise and Bud returned to Newport Beach to retrieve the family automobile from the police. “I’m glad you dropped in”, Newport Beach Police Chief H. R. Hodgkinson told them. “It saves me the trouble of going after you.” Hodgkinson placed the couple under arrest on suspicion of murder.

Earlier that day Orange County Sheriff James Musick had announced his evidence to the press: 31 unexploded sticks of Trojan Brand dynamite were found on board the Mary E, along with detonators, lengths of electrical wire and adhesive tape and an alarm clock rigged as a timing device, its hands stopped at 11:46 P.M., the moment of the explosion.

The sheriff speculated that the explosive had been rigged by an amateur who had no trealized that each dynamite stick required its own individual blasting cap to explode. Had all of the sticks of dynamite exploded the blast would have totally destroyed the vessel and any evidence.

The Overell trial was among the last spectacular murder trials of the age of print media, and the story was carried daily in the Los Angeles Times, while the more sensationalist

Hearst–owned Los Angeles Examiner devoted pages one and two, usually with a third page of photographs, and hired romance novelist Adela Rogers St. John to write the “personal” angle of the lovers’ story.

The story was carried in the New York Times, Life magazine, and scores of other general interest journals, and of course most of the sixty magazines of police and detective fact and fiction which were published each month. Three features of the story – the heinousness of the crime, the love story between Bud and Beulah, and the opportunity to give their readers a glimpse into the lives and scandals of the rich – made it a journalists’ dream.

The first point is evident – parricide is the ultimate violation of the social contract, within the family and without. It breaks the code and the silence of the family and is the domestic equivalent of regicide. Though uncommon, the crime of double parricide is not as rare as one might imagine: California has averaged three such cases each year for the past two decades. Parricides generally have common features which derive from the

Logic of the act: the parent, or parents, though reduced to victims, retain an enormous psychological power over their assailants. It is extremely uncommon for a child to confront a parent and dispatch them with a single fatal wound.

Usually the crime takes the form of an ambush, the assailant strikes unexpectedly from hiding. Parricides are usually committed by multiple wounds, far in excess of what would be merely fatal: the victims are shot, or stabbed, or bludgeoned again and again, suggesting either an uncontrollable rage on the assailant’s part, or a need to kill over and over to assure the victim’s death.

The Overells’ deaths had elements of this modus operandi, though these features of “the classic parricide” had not been identified at the time.

Beulah Louise Overell, a 17 year old, 5 feet 6 inches tall, 155 pound brown haired girl, was described in The Los Angeles Times as “the beautiful blonde heiress.” An only child, she lived with a relative near the University of Southern California campus where she majored in journalism. Classmates described her as stolid and undemonstrative.

George “Bud” Gollum was 21years old, 6 feet 2 inches tall, 220 pounds, and handsome in the style of the times. A returned Pacific War hero, Gollum had received the Bronze Star for bravery during the battle of the Leyte Gulf, and was pre–med student at Los Angeles City College. Gollum’s family had been acquainted with the Overell family for many years, and the relationship between Beulah and Bud had started with the Overells’ suggestion that Beulah write to Bud while he was overseas in the army.

The couple had announced their engagement, and their wedding date had been set for April 30. The Overells were said to have reservations about the marriage because of Beulah Louise’s youth, but claimed to like Gollum and had consented on the condition that both finish college. “We planned to get a house trailer and live in a central spot near the campuses”, Beulah told reporters. The value of the Overells’ estate was estimated to be over $ 400,000 – the equivalent of nearly fifteen million dollars today.

Coroner’s autopsies (there were two, the second made after the Overells’ burial; disinterment for a third autopsy was refused by the court) of the Overells revealed multiple skull fractures delivered by the same implement, but the coroner could not determine whether the fractures had been the cause of death, although they seemed to correspond with a ball–peen hammer found on board the Mary E. The autopsy report further stated that there was no water in the lungs of the victims, indicating that they may have died prior to the sinking of the vessel.

On March 26, the Grand Jury returned unanimous indictments of murder against the accused couple. Newport Beach Police Captain Harry Lace was the officer in charge of the investigation. I met him at his home in the summer of 1989; we spoke forover five hours about the trial, about my father, about the history and political economics of pre–war California. Driving back to Santa Monica I recalled the epigraph to Pinter’s “The Go–Between”: ”The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there....”

Lace was in many ways unlikeany cop I’d met before. Imperially thin, he had the quasi–military bearing assumed by American policemen, but his mentality revealed a more Jeffersonian idea of the relation of the state to its citizens. I asked if he believed that Beulah Louise and Gollum were guilty. He replied that of course he did; he had headed the investigation and believed that the evidence supported his claim. But, he added, it was right that they were not convicted because the prosecution had so mishandled the case, especially the physical evidence, that Beulah and Bud “deserved to go free.” I had never before heard a policeman take the position that the legal rights of the defendant took precedence over the issue of factual guilt or innocence; I doubt if I will again.

Lace was over 70 years old when I met him. He had left the Newport Beach Police in 1958, and was never implicated in the scandals of corruption, brutality and harassment that came to be their trademark after 1960.

On April 4th, California State Attorney General Fred Howser removed Orange County District Attorney Davis from the prosecution. Davis had been openly sceptical of the court’s case from the outset, and had acquired a reputation in the Orange County courts for his leniency toward minors and women, especially in capital cases.

Other members of the prosecution team, notably Police Chief Hodgkinson of Newport Beach, believed that Davis was fulfilling something less than his full duties in prosecuting this case, in which a female minor was charged with a capital crime. Hodgkinson made his objections known in a letter tonewly–elected California State Attorney General Fred Howser. Howser removed Davis and took over the prosecution himself, a prerogative of his office.

It was generally speculated that Howser, in office just a few months, welcomed the opportunity to be credited with the prosecution of what was generally believed tobe an open–and–shut, high-visibility case. It was further speculated that it was Howser who contacted Hodgkinson and sought his request for Davis’ removal. Howser named Eugene Williams as Special Prosecutor in the case. Williams had recently returned from the Tokyo War Crimes trials, where he had successfully prosecuted Premier Tojo and other leaders of the Japanese wartime government. Beulah and Bud chose a defense team led by Santa Ana Attorney Otto Jacobs, a former president of the California Bar Association, well–known and Highly respected in the local courts as an honest but ruthless and clever litigator.

During their pre–trial incarceration Beulah and Bud exchanged clandestine love letters, passed through a jailer who gave copies to the prosecution, which then passed the letters along to the Los Angeles Examiner, allegedly in repayment of apolitical debt owed by Howser to Hearst.

The letters were in part sexually explicit, in part ludicrous, in another measure a romantic fantasy of jail escape, suicide threats – Beulah wrote that she would kill herself if Bud ever loved another woman – a suicide pact, and idyllic dreams of their future life together in a trailer.

It was speculated that the prosecution was eager to embed in the public mind the licentious and erotic side of Bud and Beulah’s story to counteract the growing public sympathy for them as innocent star–crossed lovers. By the time the trial opened the reading public had an inside view of their romance.

On May 26th the trial commenced in the Santa Ana Superior Court, Judge Kenneth E. Morrison presiding. The jury selection took five weeks and 567 prospective jurors were interviewed before a jury of six men and six women acceptable to both the prosecution and the defense could be impanneled.

Having exhausted the voters’ rolls, Judge Morrison revived an old circuit–court law and sent bailiffs roaming the streets of Santa Ana rounding up random citizens to stand for jury selection. As though in complicity with the Hollywood version of such an event, the late Spring and early Summer had an unprecedented heat wave, with record temperatures reported on nearly every day of the trial in the crowded courthouse.

In his opening argument Prosecutor Eugene Williams graphically outlined the elements of the prosecution case, concluding that “...The defendants enjoyed an illicit, perverted, sadistic sexual passion amounting to...frenzy. Lust, greed, frustration, these are the raw materials of which murders are made.” The burden of the State’s case was that Beulah and Bud had beaten the Overells to death and then planted explosives on the Mary E to destroy the evidence of their crime.

The couple’s lawyer, Jacobs, entered two pleas: Not Guilty and Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity, an option in capital cases in California at that time, the second plea being a safeguard to be used in the punishment phase of the trial should the jury return a guilty verdict.

It is interesting to speculate upon what basis Jacobs would have established his insanity plea. In recent years it has become common practice in murder trials to portray the female defendant as an incest victim, driven to her crime by fear and rage. But, although Beulah Louise Overell had many similarities to the incest survivor profile, such charges were considered so scandalous in 1947 that it would have been counter–productive to pursue that strategy.

The omerta of the family took precedence over the rights of an abused child or spouse. A pivotal element in the prosecution case was to establish that the Overells had been

murdered hours before the explosion – beaten to death in cold blood by Gollum – and that the dynamite was planted to destroy the evidence of the murder and give the appearance of an accidental explosion. It was therefore imperative that the prosecution establish the time of death as prior to 11:45 P.M.

The prosecution opened its case with its forensic experts. My father was the first prosecution witness to testify; as the local mortician he received and embalmed the bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Overell immediately after their death. The newspapers described him as a “square–cut man with silvering hair.”

The “dapper mortician” testified that he had received the bodies at Baltz Mortuary at 2:45 AM, March 16th, and immediately embalmed the bodies. He testified that he

believed the bodies to have been dead for approximately six hours at the time he first saw them.

He added that Mr. Overell’s clothing “reeked of gasoline.” Under cross examination my father was asked what method he used to determine time of death. “Rigormortis,” he replied, a stiffening of the body tissues of the deceased, which starts between four and ten hours after death, and a commonly used method of determining the approximate time of death in those days.

Defense counsel– correctly – criticized his methodology as inaccurate, unscientific and subject to so many variables as to be hardly more than folk–medicine, and went on to point out – again correctly – that he was not a medical doctor and possessed none of the qualifications to make such an assertion.

Nonetheless the press reports that the defense lawyers failed to shake him from his testimony. In the newspaper photograph of him which appeared in the Los Angeles

Examiner there are a number of features that I find curiously anachronistic. The double–breasted pin–stripe suit and patterned necktie look oddly contemporary, which, due to the politics of fashion, they could easily be.

The microphone has another, more sinister association: a few years later hundreds of public officials and private citizens were to be paraded before similar microphones, admitting or denying their membership in the Communist Party, betraying, or refusing to betray their comrades. The man at the microphone would become the icon of the McCarthy Era, already starting. Only my father’s physiognomy places him in his period, as is true with most of the people in these photographs.

Somehow, people of this time – even stripped of identifying iconography – seem to look different than we do, their faces as alien to us as the portraits of Renaissance princelings and bandits that populate the museums of Europe. Few things seem as distant from us as the recent past. I am obsessed by one idea here. Both my father and my mother were the product of broken homes, one–parent families in an epoch where this was the exception rather than the rule. They swore to each other, and to me retrospectively, that their child would never spend a moment of his pre–school life away from one or the other parent.

So: if my father’s testimony was, a severy fact leads me to believe, in his eyes his finest moment, it seems inconceivable that he would not have had his much–loved wife present to witness and share his moment of glory. If that is true, and if the family legend passed on to me about my parents’ vow to never leave their child alone is also true, I can then believe that on June 21, 1947, I, 19 months old, was also present at the trial. Of course this precedes any memory of my own and I have no facts to confirm or deny this.

Far more damaging to the defense case was the testimony of Lawrence Mathes, chief resident surgeon of the Orange County Hospital and acting county coroner. He testified that the Overells’ death was the result of multiple skull fractures that occurred before the explosion and identified a metal rod, approximately 3 inches in diameter, as the probable murder weapon.

The prosecution continued to develop its forensic evidence by calling the legendary Ray Pinker, Los Angeles County Police Department forensic chemist. His testimony, though damaging, was not nearly so impervious to defense cross examination as was Mathes’. Following Mathes’ testimony the prosecution presented photographs of the deceased to the court. Newport Beach Police Captain Harry Lace remembers them as especially ghastly.

The mutilation of the bodies was extensive, especially to that of Mr. Walter Overell, whose back was completely torn away from his neck to the base of his spine. One juror was taken away to vomit. Bud Gollum glanced and looked away; Beulah stared at the photographs of her father for several minutes, expressionless, until they were finally removed by a bailiff.

Proceedings were enlivened on June 25th by a bizarre story of an assault told by one of the jurors, Mrs. Uvon Putnam.

On the previous evening an unidentified man with dark hair forced entry into her Balboa Island home, beat her, and threatened her that: “This isn’t all you’ll get if you find those kids guilty.” Mrs. Putnam could give no clues to the identity of the man and the Newport Beach Police placed the matter under investigation.

Defense counsel Issued a statement vigorously denying any implication in the assault, suggesting that the attack might have been an attempt by the prosecution to discredit the defense. Later, from a photograph, Putnam identified a known associate of Bud Gollum, Edward Louis Davis, as her assailant, but Davis was never located and there is no evidence that he was in California at the time of the assault.

Although the prosecution was willing to exploit this story to strengthen their position before the other jurors, they privately speculated that Mrs. Putnam, who had acquired a reputation as a “fun–loving gal” with a jealous husband, had acquired her injuries in a domestic dispute. The weeks of sweltering summer temperatures did little to discourage the crowds who continued to mob the courtroom, stampeding for seats at the spectacle. Microphones concealed in the courtroom and in the judge’s chambers broadcast the trial – a first.

On August 12, Millicent Naylor, a New Jersey secretary vacationing in Southern California, visited the trial on her way to the beach, wearing a one–piece bathing suit. She told reporters that she had come to see the show; news photographers reversed the spectacle and shot cheesecake” photos of Ms. Naylor as she was denied entrance to the courtroom by a stern and patriarchal bailiff – an image both in composition and narrative oddly reminiscent of a generic “expulsion from the garden.”

If publicity was what Ms. Naylor was seeking, it worked. Two of the photographs were published in the September 1st issue of “Life” magazine. Relying on the strength of its chief forensic witness Dr. Mathes, a mountain of circumstantial evidence and the emotional appeal of the jailhouse love letters, the prosecution rested.

The defense opened its case August 25th. In a brief opening statement Defense Counsel Otto Jacobs asserted his version of the facts: Walter Overell, depressed by financial reverses, had asked Gollum to purchase the dynamite to use in a suicide attempt, the dynamite had exploded prematurely, and that the prosecution was motivated not by the desire to seek justice but by California State Attorney General Howser’s political ambition.

In a bold opening move the defense called Attorney General Howser to testify, asking him to disclose the political machinations involved in bringing the charges against the couple. Though he of course denied any such motives, Jacobs had succeeded in raising the question before the jury.

The defense’s next move was equally audacious: Jacobs accused the state’schief forensic witness, the reputable Dr. Mathes, of perjury, and brought in his own experts to testify that the injuries suffered by the Overells were the result of ricocheting sticks of unexploded dynamite that flew about the boat’s cabin at the time of the explosion.

On August 25th Beulah Louise Overell took the witness stand for over one hour. She denied any involvement in the deaths of her parents. Two days later Bud Gollum testified, also denying any part in the slaying of the Overells.

On October 5th, after 19 weeks of trial, 107 witnesses and over one million words of testimony filling nearly 6,000 pages, the jury announced a verdict of not–guilty to the packed courtroom and the 3,000 visitors waiting outside. The jury’s decision came as a shock both to the prosecution and the public, though perhaps it should not have been.

The prosecution had tried its case in the newspapers, and through a strategy of dramatic press disclosures and well–timed leaks had created an atmosphere of certain guilt around the accused couple; the only persons immune from the effects of this campaign were the jurors, by law sequestered, and whose knowledge of the case was circumscribed by legal rules of evidence. Persuasive as the prosecution case may have been, there was much that was based on inadmissible or circumstantial evidence.

Further, the jury was drawn from the Orange County working and middle classes, and the prosecution’s tone of outrage was blunted by the fact that to Orange Countians, the Overells, and the prosecution team brought to punish their alleged slayers, were outsiders. But no one, then or now, can really besure. Among the hundreds of conflicting stories, charges, allegations and lies generated during the trial, only this one fact is clearly knowable: the legal innocence of the accused.

Everything else remains a matter of speculation. By the end of the trial Bud and Beulah were no longer speaking to each other. “There will be no marriage,” Beulah told the press, refusing to pose with Bud for the news photographers. The story disappeared from the newspapers within two days.

As though a precursor to the Patty Hearst story, Beulah Louise, now rich, married a Los Angeles policeman – one of her jailers when she was transported outside of Orange County – and had a child. They divorced, and she remarried and moved to Las Vegas.

In August, 1965, Beulah Louise Overell was found dead on the floor of her Las Vegas home, with two empty vodka bottles and a loaded rifle at her side. Her autopsy revealed acute alcohol poisoning. The official death certificate read “death by mischance”.

Bud Gollum later married a woman who performed in a carnival, riding a motorcycle on a high wire. He had two other brushes with the law, the first for transporting a stolen car across a state line that earned him one year in a Georgia prison, and again, as a much

older man, for the cultivation of marijuana on his property in northern California, where he currently resides, raising horses and managing a boat rental in Lake County.

In telephone interviews with the press he maintains his innocence. If he is still alive he would now be 75 years old.

California State Attorney General Fred Howser had been in office for less than two months when he decided to prosecute Beulah Louise Overell and Bud Gollum. His spectacular and unexpected defeat in the case set an unfortunate tone for the remainder of his term in office. Publicly criticized by Governor Earl Warren for softness on racketeering and for corruption in the Attorney General’s office, and alleged to have connections with Los Angeles mob boss Mickey Cohen, Howser nevertheless ran for re–election in 1950.

In the greatest Republican political sweep in California’s history, the Republican party carried every office except that of Attorney General. Fred Howser had not even made it to the general election, but had been defeated in the Republican primary by his Democratic opponent, Edmund G. “Pat” Brown.

Lewis Baltz



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