Thursday, September 22, 2011

Mary Eleanor Smith & Son: Serial Killing Team - 1938


Mother: Mary Eleanor Smith alias “Shoebox Annie” French; Son: DeCastro Earl Mayer, alias C. D. Montaine, C. C. Skidmore.

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FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 4): Oakland, Sept. 14 – A poison Gas pistol, purchased in San Francisco and the newest weapon of the underworld, was believed by Oakland police today to offer the solution of the disappearance of James E. Bassett, member of a wealthy Maryland family, from Seattle.

The gas gun, with one shell of deadly shell of deadly gas discharged, was found in the possession of a man giving the name D. E. Mayer, and a companion, Marie Smith, 60, claiming to be his mother.

The two were arrested while driving Basset’s car through Oakland. Mayer asserted he bought the car from Basset’s disappearance.

He explained the empty shells in the gas gun by saying his woman companion fired a shell in the mountains on the way south from Seattle.

Both were held awaiting the filing of charges by Seattle authorities.

Basset’s watch and valuable papers were found in their possession. The suspects were unable to explain how they came to have these articles.

In addition, police found a scrapbook in which was kept an account of unusual murders throughout the United States and clippings from detective magazines.

~ Mannerstam Implicated ~

The gas gun, according to detectives, was made by the Pacific Arms Company, a San Francisco concern whose president, John Mannerstam of Albany was convicted of illegal possession of fire arms.

It was made of rubber composition with steel lined chambers and used shells similar to shotgun shells but considerably smaller.

With this weapon, detectives said, several persons could be killed at one shot without leaving the tell tale marks of murder.

Police said Mayer admitted he had several sentences in prisons of several Western States.

Bassett left his home in Bremerton on Labor Day to sell his auto in Seattle and was not seen again.



~ HUNT FOR BODY ~

Seattle, Sept. 14. – Police today continued a search on little frequented roads, paths and patches of underbrush north of the city for the body of James Eugene Basset, missing Baltimore man.

Whether their search is successful or not, D. E. Mayer, ex-convict, will be brought to Seattle to face trial for the first degree murder. Mayer was captured yesterday in Oakland with a woman who said she was his mother.

Charles Tennint, chief of detectives and John Dunn, deputy prosecutor, were to file the murder charge in justice today.

[“Gas Killer Suspect Caught In Oakland,” syndicated (UP), Berkeley Daily Gazette (Ca.), Sep. 14, 1928, p. 1]

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FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 4): Walla Walla, Wash, May 5 – A 73-year-old mother accused her son of four unsolved mystery murders, prison officials said today, as they arraigned to bring the pair together for the first time in ten years.

By a ruse, Deputy Prosecutor John Schermer of King county said, investigators extracted from Mrs. Mary Eleanor Smith a gruesome tale of hew her son, Earl Decastro Mayer, hammered to death James Eugene Bassett of Annapolis, in Seattle ten years ago, dismembered his body and hid it in scattered, secluded spots.

Unexpectedly, Schermer said, Mrs. Smith wrote State Patrolman Joe McCauley, who duped her by posing as a clergyman, that Mayer previously killed two other men and a woman in Montana and Idaho.

~ Names Victims ~

The letters named the victims as Mrs. Ernest La Casse of Butte, Mont., who vanished in l923. Ole Larson of Anaconda, Mont., who disappeared in 1921, and a man named Randall whose body was buried in a stone quarry in Idaho. Both Mrs. Smith and her son are in prison here, where they were sent for grand larceny after the state was unable to prosecute them for Bassett’s murder, one of the most baffling in Washington state’s criminal history because they could not find the body.

They were convicted of stealing Bassett’s automobile. The mother was sentenced to 5 to S years in prison and was to have been released Monday. The son was sentenced to life imprisonment as a habitual criminal.

Warden James McCauley said Mrs. Smith admitted writing the confessions because she “wanted to get right with her Maker.”


~ Lured To House ~

The letters said Bassett, a former naval officer, was lured to the “little brown house” where Mayer stayed with his mother on the pretense they were to buy his automobile.

She said she took no part in the actual slaying, but she boasted of the manner in which she cleaned up everything so thoroughly that, when officers searched the house soon after the crime, they could find no trace of the slaying.

“I was sitting on the couch, where I had a rod of iron hidden in a quilt, in case of a struggle,” she said.

Bassett was forced to write a telegram to his sister in Bremerton, Wash., and then was slugged on the head with the hammer after Mrs. Smith left the room. “I heard his body fall and went hack into the room. He was gurgling. I stepped out again and Earl gave him one more blow and it was all over . . . he never allowed his victims to suffer.”

Then, Mrs. Smith said, Bassett’s body was removed to the bathtub, where Mayer dismembered it with a meat saw and a butcher knife.


“The poor boy worked so hard,” she said. “To keep up his strength I made him an eggnog.”

The dismembered body was put into a galvanized iron tub and hidden for the night in Mayer’s bedroom. “That was one night,” Mrs. Smith joked in a letter, “if Dr. Clark (owner of the home) had called I would have had to admit there were indiscretions going on in the bedroom.”

She said all the body except the head and hands were put into four sacks and hidden separately under bushes in the woods north of Seattle.

The head and hands, she said, were thrown into a woodchuck hole in a different locality.

She displayed pride in outwitting law enforcement officers, whom she termed “smart alecs.”

“They made perfect fools of. themselves,” she wrote. “No wonder Earl and I get back in the old county jail in Seattle and laughed.”

Confronted in his cell yesterday with one of his mother’s letters, Mayer showed no emotion. He said coldly. “She’s goofy.”

In Seattle, Attorney Ewnig D. Colvin, who was prosecutor when Mayer won a retrial in 1929 in the Bassett case, said both Mayer and his mother made substantially the same confessions when (submitted to the “lie detector” and “truth serum” tests. He said the confession could not be used because the court, after hearing Mayer charged he was subject to “third degree” by the tests, banned use of the devices. Bassett was a World War aviator with rank of lieutenant.

After, the war he was business manager and tennis coach at the Tome Institute, a boys’ school at Port Deposit, Md. He took a civil service examination and was en route to Manila to take a secretarial job when he vanished.

Bassett’s disappearance was blamed for the death of his father, Frank, in 1932. Mrs. Elizabeth Tigner of Detroit, a cousin of young Bassett, said last night, “if ever a father died of a broken heart, James’ father did.”

~ Reward Offered ~

Annapolis, Md., May 4 – A $1,500 reward offered by Frank P. Bassett for news of, his son. James Eugene Bassett who disappeared on the west coast nearly ten years ago, failed to bring any news to the man’s waiting family.

The son, a business man, left here in 1928 to become secretary to the commandant of. the Cavite Navy Yard in Manila. En route, he stopped at Bremerton to visit his sister and brother-in-law. Commander and Mrs. Theodore H. Winters. He left their home to sell his expensive car and never returned.

Frank Bassett. secretary of the Chamber of: Commerce, went to the west coast with his wife to prosecute the search for his son.

It was fruitless in spite of the reward he offered from his frugal resources. Three times more he visited the coast to trace down recurring rumors that his son’s body had been found. Finally, broken-hearted and worn with waiting, he died in 1932.

The family were not natives of Indianapolis. Mrs. Bassett found nothing to hold her here and she left the city shortly afterward.

[“Mother Names Son In Four Murders – Shocking Tale of Slaying of Bassett Told -  Confesses Other To Officer Posing As A Clergyman - Both In Prison - Admits Writing Confession To ‘Get Right With Her Maker.’” Syndicated (AP), Daily Mail (Hagerstown, Md.), May 5, 1938, p. 1]

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FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 4): Before her dull, old eyes at least one man was done to a violent death. Almost at her bidding, her own son killed himself, choosing a means of death as grotesque as his old mother’s life of horror. He stuffed wads of paper down his throat and lashed his mouth shut with a belt strap.


This macabre crone is Mrs. Mary Eleanor Smith, as eerie and repulsive a figure as any that sprang from the fertile mind of Edgar Allen Poe. Not only her age, but her incredibly icy calm and her matter-of-fact description of a crime so perfect that it took ten years to solve it even partially stamp her as one of the most amazing personalities in the annals of American crime.

After almost ten years of confinement in the Walla Walla penitentiary, during which the world forgot her existence, Mrs. Smith leaped strangely into the limelight a few months ago with a confession that she and her son, De Casto Earl Mayer, had bludgeoned to death James Eugene Bassett of Annapolis, Md., in 1928, dissected and buried his body and stole all his possessions.

Mayer rejected his mother’s demand that he corroborate the confession. Placed on trial with her for the decade-old murder, Mayer waited in his cell at Kings County jail until he was unobserved and then took his life in one of the strangest cases of self-strangulation yet recorded. As a defendant, he thus disposed of himself, but the trial proceeded and Mrs. Smith was convicted, sentenced to life imprisonment.

To unravel the tangled skein of crime in which this ill-assorted pair enmeshed itself, it is necessary to go back to a balmy day early in September of 1928.

On that day Bassett, member of a prominent Annapolis family, a civilian employee of the United States Navy, dropped from sight in Seattle. He had planned to sail four days later for the Philippine Islands, and told his intimates that he intended to sell his automobile. He had no further use for it.

Ten days later, a sharp-eyed patrolman in San Francisco spied an expensive automobile which appeared to correspond in every respect with Bassett’s. A look-out had been ordered all along the Pacific Coast for the car, as it appeared to be the best and only method of tracing the missing naval man, who had not been seen since he bade farewell to his Seattle host, Commander H. Winters of the Puget Sound Navy Yard. Driving the car was De Casto Earl Mayer. With him was Mary Eleanor Smith.

The pair was taken to Oakland police headquarters. Upon Mayer was found Bassett’s wrist watch, documents implicating him in the mysterious disappearance and, most surprising of all, a deadly gas pistol operated on principles similar to those of the gas guns used in the world war. It was the first time such a weapon had been found in the hands of a criminal.

At the outset, police found out that Mayer had a criminal record extending over fourteen years. Under examination, the prisoner said he had purchased the car from Bassett for $1,600, but refused to explain how he came by the missing man’s watch and papers. He denied all knowledge of Bassett’s fate.

Police of Seattle, taking over the case, were morally certain Mayer, if not Mrs. Smith also, knew all there was to know about Bassett’s disappearance. But all efforts to break down the couple’s wall of silence were unavailing. Convictions were obtained on robbery charges, Mayer was sent up for life as an habitual criminal, Mrs. Smith to an indeterminate sentence, and there, to all intents and purposes the story ended.

As the years passed, the time approached when Mrs. Smith was soon to be released from prison. Whether the thought of renewed contact with the outside world after ten years behind bars made her long for companionship or whether long confinement had unhinged her mind is not precisely known. But Mrs. Smith began to talk.


She chose as her confidante a beautiful, daring and fascinating criminal whose equally fantastic career crossed that of the aged woman in the State Prison. The latter was Mrs. Genevieve Paddleford, five times married and fifty times arrested. Skilled in the arts of bribery and blackmail, whose conscientious mockery of the statute books finally had landed her in jail. Genevieve Paddleford had the cell next to that of Mrs. Smith.

She encouraged the old woman to talk and finally the Bassett murder was admitted. At the same time, Mrs. Smith implicated her son in at least three other murders.

“Mr. Mayer had a hammer on the mantel,” Genevieve later quoted the old lady as saying. “He picked up the hammer and hit him on the back of the head. Mrs. Smith said she came into the room and said: ‘Earl, he’s not dead yet. You’d better give him another whack.’ So he gave him another whack—and he was dead.”

It was not long after the strange friendship sprang up between Genevieve Paddleford and Mrs. Smith that a state trooper in the guise of a priest came to the old woman’s cell and obtained a partial confession. Bassett was murdered for money alone, Mrs. Smith said, and it was her son who struck the fatal blows. Sketchfly and somewhat incoherently, flatly refusing the vital information of where the body was buried, Mrs. Smith told her fantastic tale. Bassett was brought to their house on the pretense Mayer wanted to buy his car, she said, and the unfortunate naval man was told to write a telegram to Commander Winters.

“B. refused,” the hand-written confession read, “but Earl said you write it or 111 kill you, so he wrote as follows: Mrs. Commodore Winters, Navy Yard, Bremerton, Wn. ‘I have sold my car, met a friend and going to Vancouver for 3 days. Signed. Gene.

“As Earl took the telegram he picked up a hammer and hit B on the bead. I heard his body fall and went in and he was gurgling. I stepped out and E—gave one more blow and it was all over at once. We dragged the body in the bathroom, undressed it and put body in bathtub where he dissected it at once. I cleaned the mess and burned the closed (clothes) and the scalp also was burned. E—— was so sick and weak I gave egg noggs to keep him up.”

The confession then went on to tell how Mayer and Mrs. Smith, presumably traveling in their victim’s car, travelled throughout the countryside near Seattle burying fragments of the body here and there. Some parts were buried “under brush dumps” and some in a “patch of woods.” But not a single fragment has ever been found.

The trial of Mrs. Smith .and Mayer which resulted from the confession was long delayed because of the state’s inability to produce the “corpus delicti.”

When Mrs. Smith had the confession off her chest, she was taken to her son and beseeched him to make a fall admission also, pointing out this was the only way he could atone for his crimes of murder and robbery.

“Never, never regret this step,” she wrote to him. “I fully believe you are not responsible, and I will take my stand with you. My heart bleeds for poor Mrs. Bassett.”

Confronted with this message, Mayer stormed and raged, then denied the story in its entirety. For months the authorities worked on him to break down the barrier of silence, but all their efforts were fruitless, and at length a murder indictment was obtained on the basis of the mother’s confession.

The trial had hardly started when Mayer’s icy stoicism broke. The confession that his aged mother wrote in her straggling hand was too much for him – almost a command from a warped criminal mind that he could obey only in one way – in suicide. In the loneliness of his cell, he stuffed his throat with paper, tied a belt under his chin and around the top of his head and even lashed his hands together in the apparent fear he would try to free himself.

Mrs. Marion Bassett, the victim’s mother, took the stand for a brief period, and pleaded for mercy for the aged murderess.’ The jury was impressed with her testimony.

Two days later, after Mrs. Smith had kneeled in tears by the body of the 44-year-old criminal who alone knew her secrets, the jury sentenced her to life imprisonment. Hers had been a guilty plea. The fight was gone from her but even as the great jail doors clanged shut upon her for the rest of life she persisted obstinately in her refusal to lead police to the spots where Bassett’s body was buried.

Nor would she tell the details of the three other slayings at which she had hinted.
That information she kept for herself and to herself, possibly to be mulled over in her twisted mind until her death.

[John Cahill, “The Old Hag’s ‘Perfect’ Crime that Took 10 Years to Solve,” Port Arthur News (Tx.), Jan. 22, 1939, p. 24]

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FULL TEXT (4 of 4): When skeletons are unidentifiable there’s apt to be differences of opinion.

That’s apparently the case in the matter of the skeleton of a female last Wednesday beneath the floor of the 42-year-old, downtown Seattle building.

A sketch of what the woman might have looked like was received in Butte Monday. It was drawn by a Seattle artist, Mike Falk, working from a photo of the skull and under direction of Dr. Gale Wilson, King County pathologist.

Coroner Leo M. Sowers of King County sent the sketch to Police Chief James A Clark and a copy was received by the Montana Standard in the hope that identification might be made.

The King County authorities feel that the skeleton might be the remains of Mrs. Ernest (Dorothy) LaCasse, Butte, who disappeared mysteriously in 1921.

However, another theory in Seattle, according to an authoritative source, is that it may belong to a Miss Judith Koljone of Minneapolis. She reportedly arrived in Seattle about the same lime (1921) to be married, but never met her fiance. Her suitcase later was found al a Seattle hotel, but at that time clerks said the suitcase had been left by another woman as security for a hotel bill.
A woman living in Seattle has said the sketch received here Monday “basically resembles” Dorothy LaCasse. The woman refused to let her name be released, but said she lived in Butte in 1917.

Another story out of Seattle is to the effect that Hollis Fultz, Thurston County coroner in Olympis, says he has copies of letters that Mrs. Mary Eleanor Smith wrote to her son, DeCastro Mayer, while he was in the Washington State prison in Walla Walla. The letters were intercepted and used to build the James Eugene Bassett murder case against Mrs. Smith and Mayer.

In the letters, Mrs. Smith reportedly wrote about four murders including Bassett, Dorothy LaCasse, Ole Larson and an Idaho man.

Fultz quoted the woman as saying, “we threw away her pieces. They will never be found. It was the same with Larson and he was thrown in the same places.

That would bring the case of the missing woman and of Ole Larson back to Anaconda.

DeCastro Mayer, alias C. D. Montaine, alias C. C. Skidmore, was the son of Mrs. Smith, also known as “Shoebox Annie” French, who got her name in prohibition years through the fact that she carried her bootleg produce in that kind of a package.

Mayer went to the Whittier Reform School in California in 1912. He was convicted in 1917 of stealing an automobile in Bozeman and sentenced to from four and a halt to nine years in Montana State Prison. He was paroled in August, 1920.

Courtney Ryley Cooper in his book, “10,000 Public Enemies,” reviewed the Skidmore case and that of his mother. Hollis County Coroner Fultz helped Cooper on the Mayer portion of his book. Cooper wrote that Larson disappeared shortly after he and Mayer sold some oil stocks and Mayer invited Larson to his mother’s house on East Commercial St. in Anaconda for a home-cooked meal.

~ Not Seen Again ~

Larson was never seen again. There was no corpus delecti.

Cooper also wrote that Mayer induced a woman, (believed to be Mrs. LaCasse), to come to Anaconda and visit Shoebox Annie.

“Again,” Cooper wrote, “the door on East Commercial opened and closed. Again a human being disappeared.”

At the time Anaconda and Butte police worked on the theory that both Larson, and the woman, who had been living in Seattle, had been slain, their bodies chopped up and the flesh destroyed by acid, while the bones had been burned or buried. They could not prove it.

If Cooper’s theory, and theory of officers of the era were right, the LaCasse woman came from Seattle to Anaconda and was not seen again in Seattle or anywhere else.

It was in the fall of 1928 that James, Eugene Bassett, Maryland Naval officer, arrived in Seattle in a blue Chrysler roadster. He was en route to Manila and wished to sell his car. According to records of the time, Mayer, under the name of De Castro Earl Mayer, met Bassett and offered to buy the car if the officer would drive it to the home of Mayer’s “aunt” a short distance out of Seattle. That was the last seen of Bassett.

~ Both Arrested ~

A week later in Oakland, Mayer and his mother were arrested.

They had Bassett’s car, his wrist-watch, his cuff links and a pocket-book. Again, however, there was no corpus delecti. The mother and son were removed to Seattle, where they were tried for car theft. Skidmore, or Mayer, was sent to prison for life on a habitual criminal charge. His mother said in 1933 that Skidmore had killed Bassett. Skidmore strangled himself in his prison cell in December of that year.

At Pocatello in 1920, Skidmore and his mother were taken into custody for quizzing in Idaho and Utah car thefts. Skidmore bolted as four detectives were taking him in. He was shot down and captured.

In a Pocatello hospital he was told officers had found the bones of “that woman you murdered.”

According to Tom Roan of the Pocatello force, he reportedly said at that time, “Jerry, (Jerry Murphy. Butte police chief), “can’t get my neck. They can’t find the body – or all of it.”

So? Whose was the skeleton found in Seattle?

[Frank Quinn, “Sketch of Woman Arrives Here In Probe of Seattle Mystery,” The Montana Standard (Butte, Mt.), Dec. 13, 1960, p. 1]

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Two excellent, fully researched, articles on Mary Eleanor Smith & Son:

Daryl C. McClary, “James Eugene Bassett disappears while on a trip to Seattle on September 5, 1928.” HistoryLink.org, May 29, 2001.

Daryl C. McClary Decasto Eugene Mayer and Mary Eleanor Smith are charged with the 1928 murder of James Eugene Bassett on May 12, 1938,” HistoryLink.org, May 31, 2011.

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For similar cases, see: Female Serial Killer Bandits

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For similar cases, see Murder-Coaching Moms

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