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"Mail Order Bride Murder"
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide - Poisoner
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: April 29, 1929
Date of arrest: 4 days after
Date of birth: 1897
Victim profile: Carroll Rablen (her deaf husband)
Method of murder: Poisoning (strychnine)
Location: Tuolumne County, California, USA
Status: Pleaded guilty. Sentenced to life in prison without parole on June 10, 1929

The Casebook of Forensic Detection


Eva Rablen 2,3 Mb


In one 1929 case in Northern California, a young woman named Eva Rablen, was accused of getting rid of her deaf husband, Carroll, by putting strychnine into his coffee during a dance. The coroner had found no trace of the poison in Carroll Rablen's body. So the sheriff's department called in one of the new forensic scientists, Edward Heinrich, who redid the autopsy, turned up strychnine in the body, and also found it in the coffee cup and even in some stains on her dress, after learning that she had stumbled while carrying the cup. Eva Rablen changed her plea to guilty and was sentenced to life in prison. Mr. Heinrich, who was based at the University of California, Berkeley, became popularly known as "The Wizard of Berkeley".

Poison and Progress - By Deborah Blum /


The Edison Of Crime Detection

Heinrich returned to chemical analysis to solve Carroll Rablen's mysterious death. Although deaf from a war wound, Rabin would drive his young wife Eva to local dances. On the night of 29 April 1929, he waited in his car while Eva danced in the town schoolhouse. Not long after Eva had brought her husband sandwiches and coffee, screams from outside cut the party short. They found Rablen writhing on the floor of his car. He soon died. The medical examiner concluded that the man had died from natural causes, but Rablen's father thought otherwise. To humor the grieving father, the sheriff searched Carroll and Eva's house. Behind a plank and underneath the stairs, he found a bottle of strychnine. A woman calling herself Mrs. Joe Williams had purchased the poison at a local drug store. Yet a clerk identified the woman as Eva. The police arrested the widow, who protested that her husband had been suicidal. The prosecution called upon the Wizard of Berkeley.

Heinrich re-examined the corpse and found traces of strychnine in the stomach. He also detected poison in the cup that Eva had brought him. Since Rablen could have poisoned his own coffee, Heinrich still needed to show that Eva had spiked the drink with strychnine. Reasoning that Eva might have had trouble navigating a crowded dance floor with a cup of coffee, he asked the sheriff to interview all those who had attended the dance. When questioned, Alice Shea remembered that Eva had bumped into her and spilled a few drops of coffee on her dress, a dress that she had fortuitously not yet washed. Heinrich examined the garment and found strychnine in the coffee stains. Upon learning about Heinrich's involvement in the case, Eva pled guilty to avoid the death penalty.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys alike sought out Heinrich to analyze evidence and present his findings in court. Unlike many science experts of the time, Heinrich neither patronized juries nor confused them with jargon. He explained his findings simply and directly,


Carroll Rablen

Late deafened by a German shell that exploded in his dugout while he was serving in France during World War I. Postwar, returned home to Standard, CA. Married, but it lasted less than a year in part because she could not stand his domineering father.

Lonely, he began writing to women whose names he bought from a marriage agency. After many nonresponses and other disappointments, he finally found one woman, Eva Young (hearing) who had also been married before and had an 11 year old son.

They met and married despite his father's and the community's intense disapproval and dislike. She very much enjoyed attending weekly dances in another town a few miles away, although Carroll Rablen did not participate due to his deafness. Instead, he would sit outside in the car, waiting for the dance to end to take her home. It is likely that he also didn't trust other men to take her home, since they had an eye for her and she for them too.

On one such night, Eva brought sandwiches and coffee out to Carroll in the car. Soon after, he was noticed writhing with agony in his car seat, and he died before anyone could help, but not before complaining of bitterness in the coffee.

Suspicion immediately fell on Eva for poisoning Carroll, but an autopsy showed no poison in Carroll's stomach and no other evidence strong enough to charge her with his death. Suicide could not be ruled out either, since Carroll had been in depression several times before and had talked about committing suicide.

A preliminary inquest into Carroll's death brought a huge crowd of spectators, forcing the judge to hold it outdoors since no available room was large enough. The local sheriff then secretly brought in an expert forensic investigator, and the two of them working together finally built an intricate chain of proof, establishing Eva's guilt in poisoning Carroll. Confronted with the evidence, Eva confessed, eliminating the need for a trial, and was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole or commutation.


Mail Order Bride Murder

Thought I’d share the following article I’ve been working on for the second edition of Hearts West: Mail Order Brides on the Frontier. Marrying the wrong person could mean death or at the very least 20 years in prison. Hearts West II will be released Christmas 2012. When Carroll B. Rablen, a thirty-four year old veteran of World War II from Tuttletown, California, advertised for a bride he imagined hearing from a woman who longed to spend their life with him hiking and enjoying the historic, scenic beauty of the Gold Country in Northern California. The ad he placed in a San Francisco matrimonial paper in June 1928 was answered by Eva Brandon. The thirty-three year-old Eva was living in Quanah, Texas when she received a copy of the matrimonial publication.

If Carroll had been less eager to marry he might have noticed the immature tone Eva’s letters possessed. If he’d taken the time to scrutinize her words he might have been able to recognize a flaw in her thinking. According to the July 14, 1929 edition of the Ogden, Utah newspaper the Ogden Standard-Examiner, one of Eva’s first correspondences demonstrated that not only did she seem much younger than thirty-three years old, but she also had a dark side. “Mr. Rablen, Dear Friend,” the letter began. “You wrote about a son I have. He has had no father since he was a month old. The father left me. I haven’t seen him. If a man leaves me I don’t want to see them. And I’ll make sure I can’t.”

Eva left Texas for California in late April 1929. She and Carroll were married the evening of April 29, 1929. The dance that followed the nuptials at the Tuttletown school house was well attended by Carroll’s friends and neighbors. They were happy he had found someone to share his life. Eva twirled around the room dancing with anyone who wanted to join her. She was elated with her situation. Carroll on the other hand chose to wait outside for his new bride in the car. According to the Ogden Standard Examiner, Carroll was slightly deaf and despondent over the other physical ailments that kept him from fully enjoying the festivities.

When Carroll’s father, Stephen Rablen began regaling guests with his rendition of the song “Turkey in the Straw” on his fiddle, Eva excused herself and went outside to visit with her husband. She took a tray of sandwiches and coffee to him. He smiled proudly at her and commented on how thoughtful it was for her to bring him some refreshments. Carroll helped himself to a cup of coffee, blew across the top of it to cool it down then took a sip. He made a bit of a face as if the coffee lacked something. He took another drink to determine what it needed.

Shortly after Carroll swallowed the brew a third time, he dropped the cup and began to scream. Eva watched him slump over in the front seat of the car. Carroll continued to scream. Wedding guests poured out of the building to see what was wrong. Carroll’s father pushed past the people to get to his son. “Papa. Papa,” Carroll repeated, reaching out for Stephen’s hand. “The coffee was bitter…so bitter.”

Emergency services were called to the scene but by the time they arrived Carroll had slipped into an unconscious state. Attendees at the reception told reporters for the local newspaper that Eva simply stood back and watched the action play out around her. She wore no expression at all; no worry, concern, anxiety, nothing. An ambulance transported Carroll to the hospital and Eva road along in the vehicle with her husband. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Doctors suspected foul-play because his illness came on so suddenly. An autopsy was performed and the contents in Carroll’s stomach revealed the presence of poison. The cup he drank coffee out of was also analyzed and traces of poison were found there as well.

On May 1, 1929, the day of Carroll’s funeral, the Sheriff of Tuolumne County returned to the spot where the groom died. In a patch of grass only a few spots where Rablen’s automobile was parked, a bottle of strychnine was found. The bottle was traced to a drugstore in near Tuttletown. The register showing the purchase of the item had been signed for by Mrs. Joe Williams. The description of Mrs. Williams given by the clerk at the drugstore suggested Eva Brandon Rablen bought the item.

The sheriff asked Carroll’s widow to accompany him to the drugstore where without hesitation the clerk identified her as the purchaser of the poison.

Authorities escorted Eva to the police station and she immediately claimed her husband had poisoned himself because he was brokenhearted over his health problems. Stephen arrived at the station soon afterwards and told police that he suspected his daughter-in-law killed his son over a $3,500 insurance police. He accused Eva of finding her victims through mail-order bride advertisements and suggested she killed her last husband, a mail-order groom named Hubert Brandon. Stephen demanded Eva be arrested for murder.

Eva was arrested for the crime, but not on her father-in-law’s orders. A handwriting expert had compared the signature on a drugstore’s registry with one Eva provided authorities with at the station. The two were a match. Eva was charged with premeditated murder.

Newspaper articles about the homicide referred to Eva as “Borgia of the Sierras.” The public was ravenous for specifics about the killing. “Quarrels, quarrels, I was sick of and tired of them,” Eva told a judge about her marriage. “We talked things over. It was decided we should both commit suicide. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Finally I decided to poison him. It was the best way out, I thought. Now they want to hang me? I could only put him out of the way because I felt it was the only way to get my freedom.”

Eva was sentenced to life in prison at San Quentin for murder. The day the authorities escorted her to the ferry that would take her to the penitentiary she was all smiles. Reporters and inquisitive spectators on hand at the dock asked Eva why she killed Carroll. She politely told them she couldn’t give them the information they wanted. “I can’t tell you why I confessed to putting strychnine in my husband’s coffee. I told the court all and I want to tell all.”

Eva was helped onto the ferry that would transport her to San Quentin. Sheriff Jack Dambacher of Sonora County and his wife decided to travel with Eva to prison. “I feel fine,” she told her traveling companions, “not a bit tired. I’m not at all downhearted or discouraged.” Eva’s eleven year-old son, Albert Lee waiting at the dock with his aunt and uncle to say goodbye to his mother. Eva showed little emotion as she held her child close to her. “I will be all right,” she told him. “I’m going to study Spanish. I’ve always been crazy to learn Spanish. Then if I get along well with that I can take on other subjects.” Eva’s sister assured her that she would take very good care of her boy and promised her that those who lived in the Sonora area would help with Albert as well. “He will not suffer for what wasn’t his fault. We will see he wants for nothing.”

According to the Examiner the 1929 murder of Carroll Rablen by his mail-order bride Eva Brandon is the most notorious case of its type.


Eva Rablen



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