Thursday, June 23, 2011

Velma West, the "Modern Murderess" - 1927

FULL TEXT: Perry, O., Dec. 16 – A fluffy blond-headed bride of 21, weighing less than 100 pounds:

Smashed her young husband's skull with a claw hammer and table leg in this little town the other night –

Bound his dead body with cords

Nonchalantly pulled her hat over her sleek bobbed head  

Drove 35 miles to a friend’s home and a bridge party, where she won all the prizes and sang jazz songs –

Slept all night like a child –

Ate a hearty breakfast

Spent a day Christmas shopping,. buying some gifts for the murdered husband in the love nest

And only asked for more cigarets which she calmly puffed when the sheriff came to get her.

~ "The Modern Murderess." ~

And there, in the person of Mrs. Velma Van Woert West, you have a perfect picture of what officials are calling “the modern woman murderess.” The poise and coolness of a modern woman have been much discussed of late. But Velma West, known as "A Night Club Girl in a Curfew Town," is the first woman known to execute a murder with something of the same attitude with which other modern young women handle home and job, or do other feats unknown to the more hysterical women of olden days.

The murder of young “Ed” West, 26, has startled the country.

The murdered man belonged to a nationally known family. His father, T. B. West, is a man whose nurseries are known the country over. West shrubs and trees and seeds grow in yards of “love nests” from Maine to California, “love nests” very much like the trim little bungalow to which Ed West took his bride less than two years ago.

Perry thrilled when it heard that popular Ed West had brought a city girl home for his bride. Perry wanted to meet the bride.

A reception was given by the young bridegroom's parents. All Perry was invited to the big West home. All Perry came. Just what happened is not clear. But the faintly of the murdered man admit that “Ed’s wife” was never “taken up" by Perry.” Velma West was “different.” She smoked cigarets, and plenty of them, in public. Maybe other Perry girls smoked, too, but behind locked doors with only bosom friends or so for beholder.

Velma West was indifferent to all the things that Perry held dear – old families, old books, old music, old friends.

Velma laughed at the old and talked much about the “kicks and thrills” of life.

She was invited out a little at first by “Ed’s friends.” But Velma was bored by the parties. Besides, the invitations seemed to die a natural death.

So the young Wests began finding their good times in Cleveland, about 25 miles away.

~ Couldn't Agree ~

Three or four times a week the shiny green roadster took the road to the big city. The dead man’s relatives say that Ed didn’t always want to go. He worked in his father’s nursery all day long, managing gardeners, transplanting, digging, working with the famous West shrubs. He was tired nights.

Let’s stay home tonight, Velma,” he is quoted as saying. “Let’s just stay here alone and you play and sing while I sit in the big chair with the paper. It’ll be cozy.”

But Velma wouldn't stay. The city was in her blood—part of her. Folks went to bed at 10 o'clock in Perry.

It was a party that made Ed West die. Velma told him they were going to a bridge party at a girl friend’s home on the farthermost part of Cleveland that night. They were driving home from another nearby city when she told him.

“But I'm tired,” West told her “Let’s stay home tonight.”

After supper, Velma began dressing for the party, urging Ed to hurry up.

“But I’m not coming,” he said and she knew that he meant it. They quarreled. Ed got mad. Said things about her friend. “You hardly know her—she’s not your kind—won’t have you running with that crowd—Why won’t you play bridge with some of the nice Perry girls? Might join the Young People's Set.” Etc., etc.

Almost 24 hours later Velma West told the sheriff and county prosecutor what happened. They had not even questioned or accused her. Hardly suspected.

"Why did you leave the back door open when you went away?” was the calm question that brought a complete written confession from the flapper bride.

“All right, I’ll tell you everything.”

She did.

Ed finally struck her as they quarreled, she said. She “saw red.” Went down to the cellar, got a hammer, came back, hit him over the head with the hammer, and when he went down finished the job with a library table leg which was “just lying around” until the table could be repaired.

~ After the Murder ~

She bound him, threw a blanket over him, left the lights burning, went to Cleveland, and was “the life of the party” all right, talked and giggled with her gin friend until late in the night, slept well, ate a good breakfast, then went Christmas shopping with her mother. She bought a nice box of handkerchiefs for Ed and almost bought a scarf she thought he would like.

Officials were waiting for her at her mother’s home and took her to Painesville, the county seat. There she calmly told her story.

A plea of insanity and perhaps self-defense will be her move in court when the first degree murder trial opens in January. Meanwhile, this “modern woman murderess” smokes pack after pack of cigarets in her cell. She has not wept yet. Nor laughed She has only asked for more fags, and sometimes hummed snatches of modern jazz songs.

[Allene Sumner, “A ‘Modern Woman’ Kills – Tears and Remorse? Ohio Hammer Slayer Gaily Goes To Bridge Party Instead – ‘The Night Club Girl’ in a Curfew Town,” syndicated (NEA), The Laredo Daily Times (Tx.), Dec. 16, 1927, p. 8; photo from Ellensburg Record (Wa.), Dec. 29, 1927, p. 3]


FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 5): Courthouse, Painesville, Ohio, Mar. 6 – Velma West today pleaded guilty to second degree murder.

Exactly three months from the day, Dec. 6, when she killed her husband, T. Edward West, the 21 year old Cleveland girl stood before the court said that one word “guilty.”

 In doing so, she automatically sentenced herself to life in the penitentiary.

Life is what the law provides, but in ten years she will be eligible for pardon.

Velma’s plea concluded many hours of conference between the attorneys, the prosecution and the trial Judge J. D. Barnes.

Judge J. B. Barnes immediately sentenced her to life in the Marysville Ohio state reformatory.

When court opened at 9:30 a. m. Attorney Francis Poulson, chief counsel for the blonde player, stepped forward.

“The defendant Velma West, at this time desiree to enter a plea of guilty,” Poulson said.

Trial Judge J. D. Barnes looked at Seth Paulin, Lake-co prosecutor. Paulin stood up and announced that the state would accept the plea, ending the trial of a day’s duration.

At the court’s request Velma West was brought to the bench, and was asked if she agreed to the plea of guilty.

“Yes sir.”

The voice was almost a whisper. The girl trembled as she spoke.

The crowded courtroom leaned forward to hear her.

Then Judge Barnes asked if she anything to say before sentence was imposed.

Velma gulped three times. Her voice had failed her. Finally she replied. “I have nothing to say.”

The plea and sentence brought to an end one of the most sensational murder cases In the history of Ohio. Edward West, scion of a prominent family of Perry, Ohio, nursery man, was found murdered In the west bungalow Dec. 6. His head had been
battered by a claw-hammer.

The following day Mrs. West was arrested at the home of her mother in East Cleveland and although she presented a perfect alibi, later confessed to Painesville authorities that she had committed the crime.

It was expected the Perry housewife would be taken to Marysville, Ohio, this afternoon to begin serving her sentence.

Judge Barnes then outlined the conferences that have been held between defense and the prosecution since yesterday morning. He said the attorneys had properly conferred with the trial Judge and Judge A. G. Reynolds who handled the case up to the present time.

“Judge Reynolds and myself,” he said, “accept full responsibility for the second-degree murder plea.

“We are convinced the defendant could not have been convicted of first degree murder.”

Then Judge Barnes sentenced Velma West to life in the Marysville reformatory. The Wests’ wedded life was not a happy one. Velma did not fit in with the small life of Perry, where West had built for her a bungalow. 

Her love for her husband, the prosecution had learned, was exceeded by her love for another—a woman.

The state’s lawyers were ready to go before a jury and picture Velma as one afflicted with a sex complex that made her put the love for one of her own sex above that of her husband, homo and happiness.

Attorneys for Velma did not think she would be convicted of more than second degree murder, but they did not want to put her on trial and place on record the story of alleged abnormal love gathered by Sheriff Ed Rasmussen.

That was one reason why a compromise was sought. The proceedings today took just eight minutes.

Again the courtroom was crowded. Still pale and extremely nervous, Velma sat behind the trio of attorneys. B. L. Van Woert, Cleveland salesman and father of the girl, was among the spectators. Her mother was not present. No member of the West family was in the courtroom but T. B. West, father of the slain man and James West, a brother who discovered the body, waited in the prosecutors office.

Velma found it hard to answer the judge. As she faced the court her formerly chalk-white neck showed marks of red. She had great difficulty in finding her voice. She half choked, like a person about to either cry or laugh.

Then the judge asked her if she had anything to say. She struggled for control for a moment and answered:

“I have nothing to say.”

Judge Barnes, without hesitation, pronounced sentence. He said; “This does not come to the court as a new proposition this morning.

This proposition was submitted to me before court opened yesterday morning. Counsel for the prosecution and defense spent the entire day going over the matter. They very properly took the matter up with this court for advice and sanction as to what was proper to do.

Not only with this court but with Judge Reynolds. After giving the fullest consideration to all of the evidence and circumstances of this case, both Judge Reynolds and I came to the full and complete agreement that a verdict of guilty of first degree murder was not Justified by this evidence. But that admittance of a plea of guilty of second degree murder was the proper thing to do.

This would save a great amount of money, the expenditure of a great deal of time and produce the only outcome which could be expected from a full jury trial.

“I don’t think this is the time for talking. Your crime was a horrible and unthinkable thing. This staid community was stirred by It. It was terrible. The mandate of the law must be fulfilled. This is the first time I have ever had to sentence a woman on a like charge.” Velma walked back to her chair.

Her father came and bent low over her. She wept violently. Then as suddenly as they started the tears stopped. She dried her eyes and smiled.

“I am so happy,” she said. She had escaped the threatened story of the woman she is said to have loved more than her husband — Miss Mabel Young, Cleveland. Miss Young had hoped to cure Velma by having her associate with wholesome young women of her own age, she said.

But had the trial gone on, there was a possibility that Miss Young would not testify. She could not be found today. Velma West went back to her cell in Lake-co jail immediately. She expressed a wish to go to Marysville at once.

“I want to get out in the sunshine,” she said.

Her father hastened away to telephone to the mother the news of the sentence.

Sheriff Rasmussen went to work at once preparing the necessary papers for Velma’s commitment to Marysville.

The defense attorneys, however, made a request that the taking of the girl to the reformatory be delayed so that she may wind up some personal affairs.

They asked permission to take her to the bungalow at Perry to reclaim her personal effects. She has not been there since the night she fled to Cleveland after killing her husband. Rasmussen granted the request, and the girl will not be taken to Marysville until tomorrow.

The trial of the young woman, who had rebelled against the small town life of Perry, Ohio, after the active social life of a popular debutante in Cleveland, opened yesterday.

There were numerous conferences.

The state offered to accept a plea of guilty to a homicide charge. The defense offered to have the girl plead guilty to second degree murder.

Then a continuance was taken until today.

Attorneys for the state and the defense had a long conference last night after which it was understood that the girl would plead guilty to second degree murder.

The young woman was happy this morning at the prospects of escaping the tedious trial.

“I am glad the anxiety is over,” she said. “Imprisonment is not pleasant to contemplate, but I am willing to pay the penalty the law exacts. I am glad my friends and relatives will be spared the anguish of a long and bitter trial.”

The decision to end the trial abruptly through the second degree plea, it was understood, was to spare the family of the defendant and her slain husband from an unnecessary ordeal of sensationalism which the state had promised to bring forth.

“Our chief reason for wanting to enter the guilty plea is that it will terminate all court action, chargesand counter charges and all sensational and sordid revelations,”

Poulson said. “If this case had gone to a jury many relatively innocent people might have been involved.”

[Charles E. Ahrens, “Velma West Gets Life For Murder – ‘Guilty’ Is Plea After Conference – State Accepted Plea On Second Degree Charge and Perry, O., Woman Who Killed Husband With Hammer Is Eligible To Pardon in 10 Years,” The Star Journal (Sandusky, Oh.), Mar. 6, 1928, p. 1]



FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 4): Marysville, Ohio — Officials of Marysville women’s reformatory said today they had established that Velma West, 33, hammer slayer of her husband who escaped with three others, had the assistance of another other prisoner in unlocking her cell early Monday.

Prison officials reported to the state welfare department that Mrs. Lenora Leach, 26, who had been sent to the reformatory for smuggling, hacksaws to her former husband in the Gallipolis jail, had aided the escape of Mrs. West after the frail blonde had written that she wanted “one little adventure in this dull life of mine.”

Mrs. Leach had denied seeing Mrs. West escape even though she slept on a cot in the corridor just outside the latter’s cell. Her story was not believed and she was placed in solitary confinement.

Another prisoner was allowed to talk to Mrs. Leach in her solitary cell, and by listening to their conversation, officials learned that she had unlocked Mrs. West’s cell with a key which the hammer murderess had given her. The cell door could be unlocked only from the outside. Mrs. West, it was established, then unlocked the cell of a t least one other of the three who fled with her.

Ohio authorities ran down numerous tips today in their search for the fugitives.

Two girls who aroused suspicion were seen in Lorain at 3 a. m. A gasoline station attendant at Russell’s Point reported seeing a son of a Marysville prisoner with five women in his automobile, two of whom he thought might have been fugitives.

Mrs. Marguerite Reilley, reformatory superintendent, who had reformed Mrs. West from a troublemaker into a model prisoner in three years and had called her the girl who made good,” said that two other prisoners were under suspicion of aiding the escape.

Mrs. Reilley questioned Rachel Thomas, formerly of Mansfield, who is a good wood-carver and who made two keys from nail files about a year ago, and Lenora Leach, 26, formerly of Gallipolis, who slept in the corridor outside Mrs. West’s cell.

Mrs. Leach denied hearing anything early Monday when Mrs. West escaped.

“We think she is holding something back,” Mrs. Reilley said.

Mrs. Reilley revealed today that a Marysville man who had been a friend of Mary Ellen Richards, one of the fugitives was sought for questioning. The superintendent said the man had been missing for a week and his automobile, had been standing in the street. Miss Richards worked m Marysville before her conviction.

Mrs. Reilley said, however, there was no indication that the man had contacted Miss Richards recently.

All prisoners were ordered today to wear uniforms. Prior to the escape, those considered more trustworthy wore thin print ‘honor” dresses. Mrs. West escaped in an “honor” dress.

“Maybe I have been mistaken,” Mrs. Reilley said. “Maybe this place should be run like any jail after all. It was a real joy to see Velma develop from the kind of a creature she was when I came here three and a half years ago. Her failing me tears down the thing I have tried to build up ever since I have been here.”

She said there was a possibility that a master key which disappeared shortly before she became superintendent was used in the escape.

Mrs. West pleaded guilty to a second degree murder charge after she had beaten her husband, T. Edward West, to death with a hammer and table leg at their home near Painesville on Dec. 7, 1927. She went to a bridge party in Cleveland afterwards and was “the life of the party.”

The letter which Mrs. West wrote to Mrs. Reilley in ink on yellow note paper follows:

“Mrs. Reilley .Dear:—

“I wonder if you can ever forgive me for this — I am doing it for several reasons. Because I must have, one little adventure in this dull life of mine — because I am so tortured with pain in this body of mine that it drives me almost crazy—because I have lost, hope of getting out as I would like to get out—it’s fear of these things that have finally made, me do the thing that I have been fighting against, for years. — You’ve been so wonderful to me, so understanding, so patient. — This thing isn’t easy for me to do because I have a conscience and a tender heart. — I shall probably always despise myself for it. — Do not blame the other girls. — I found out by accident that they were going, and I asked them to take me. They didn’t want to because of my health—but finally decided to, and promised to take care of me, and .not subject me to anything immoral. That may be for them—but never for cue, dear.

“If this should in any way cause you trouble I shall come back Immediately, for I love you, as I love my own mother. I only hope you can understand — oh, please do.

“I would be happy if you would let my mother and dad read this, and try in some way to comfort them. I don’t know how to tell you just how I feel — I’m being torn between two different ways — my desire not to hurt you, and my folks who I love — and my desire to have just one little adventure before I get too old and too dulled by pain ever to enjoy life — to tell you the honest truth I hope someone catches us before we get out.

“This is terrible — to be so utterly silly, but I cannot help it — darling, you have been wonderful to me — and I realize that the others have done as much as they could in here for my health. But I have not been without pain for so long now that I’m at the breaking point — I’ve hid it as much as I could, after I realized that nothing could be done for me.

“Please don’t let them talk too awfully about me after this — I’m not bad — just frightfully unlucky — in life.”

The other fugitives are Virginia Brawdy, 19, Akron; Mary Ellen Richards, 23, Cincinnati, and Florence Sheliner, 23, Gallipolis. Miss Helen Rahmel, night matron in the building from which the four escaped, said she had tested the doors of all cells Sunday night and had found them locked.

Mrs. West might have had a chance for parole had she not escaped, Mrs. Reilley said. In 1934, the parole board continued her case “until expiration of sentence,” which meant life imprisonment. Last October, however, Mrs. Reilley asked the board to reconsider her case and it had been taken under advisement.

[“Learn Aide In Flight of Velma West - Find Other Inmate Helped Blonde Murderess in Unlocking Cell to Flee Marysville.” Syndicated (UP), The Star Journal (Sandusky, Oh.), Jun. 30, 1939, p. 1]


FULL TEXT (Article 4 of 5): Columbus, Ohio – Velma West, 53, who has been in the Marysville Reformatory for women since she was 21, was denied freedom Thursday by the, Ohio Pardon and Parole Commission. The board said It would review her case again in 1964.

Mrs. West was convicted of the second-degree murder of her husband, Thomas, 26, of Perry, Lakeco. She beat her husband to death with a claw hammer after the two argued over going to a party

[“Velma West, 53, Is Denied Parole,” syndicated (UPI), Sandusky Register May 29, 1959, p. 3]


FULL TEXT (Article 5 of 5): Marysville, Ohio – Velma West, 52, famed flapper era husband killer, died today at the Marysville Women's Reformatory where she had been since she was 21.

Death was attributed to natural causes. Mrs. West had suffered from a severe heart condition for many years and over the past year was practically a full-time hospital patient.

Mrs. West gained nationwide attention during the roaring 20s when she killed her husband because he objected to her going to a party.

She had been in Marysville since March 7, 1928.
[“Velma West Dead At 52,” syndicated (UPI), Mansfield Daily News (Oh.), Oct. 24, 1959, p. 5]




  1. On Murderpedia, it says she murdered her father, not her husband. Is this wrong?s

  2. Husband. You will see many sources on google.