For more cases of “Baby Farmers,” professional child care providers who murdered children see The Forgotten Serial Killers.
This is one of three post on the Pearl Choate case:
– A case overview
– Long-form article from 1966 (7,353 words)
– Collection of newspaper articles from 1931-1970
PEARL CHOATE’S SERIOUS CRIMES
1931 – Mrs. F. E. Simpson, kidnapping, robbery.
1938 – Clarence Foust, killed, ruled self-defense (rifle).
1945 – T. H. Bird, attempted murder (knife).
1949 – Alfred Monroe “Bud” Allison murdered (.38 automatic pistol).
1956 – Lula Lowery; kidnapping, extortion.
1966 – Estelle Birch; it is likely she was murdered by Pearl.
1967 – Rex Council, Rod Ferguson; assault with intent to murder (.22 caliber rifle).
Pearl Choate was a marginal career criminal who had honed her con-artist skills steadily over the decades, and cooked up a caper that earned her the label of a criminal genius – or so it seemed. Over a period of four decades she burned through nine marriages with about eight men, 1925 through 1966. Over the course of four decades she killed two men, stabbed another and tried to kill two others. She also kidnapped three women, two of them invalids, for financial gain, including extortion. Pearl’s less serious crimes included shoplifting, drunk driving and passing a bad check.
With her final matrimonial contract, she hit the jackpot: an inheritance reputed to be valued at $200,000,000 that she expected to collect within 4 1/2 months of wedding her 95-year old deaf, half-blind, wheelchair bound, spouse, A. Otis Birch. He passed away on March 15, 1967. Manipulative Pearl had outsmarted church lawyers, the California Attorney General, and relatives of the late Mrs. Birch, one of whom she threatened with a butcher knife, yelling “I’ll cut your heart out.”
There was suspicion Pearl had caused the death of the first Mrs. Birch, this was never proven. Becoming, as she imagined, one of the wealthiest women in the United State seemed not to have effect on Pearl’s psychopathic temper. Within a few months Pearl was back in prison. She had “quarreled with a tenant, alleging the rent was overdue. When a neighbor called the police, she fired a .22 caliber rifle, barely missing a policeman and a bystander.” She served 20 months. She lived another 13 years following release, dying in Caldwell, Texas in February 1983.
[Text by Robert St. Estephe, Aug. 23, 2020]
~ HIGHLIGHTS FROM PEARL CROWLEY’S CRIME CAREER PREDATING THE BIRCH CASE ~
~ 1930 – Swindling (Passing a Bad Check)
On Oct. 11, 1930, Pearl, known then as Mrs. Pearl Hornbeck gave a worthless check for $226.85 at a department store in Fort Worth, Texas for a quantity of fine clothing. Nearly two years later charges of swindling were filed against her and it was not until yesterday Feb. 1, 1934 that her case was called in Criminal District Court. She pleaded guilty to the charge and received a five-year suspended sentence.
~ 1931 – Kidnap, Robbery, Assault – Simpson
The following year, still in Fort Worth, Pearl lured a Mrs. F. E. Simpson, 35, into an ambush in the city’s Cobb Park. She had met Pearl at a party and invited Mrs. Simpson for a ride in her car in Cobb Park. The woman had put on her fine jewelry for the occasion. At a certain point, Pearl, stopped the car and two men stepped on the running board. They robbed Mrs. Simpson and when she attempted to jerk a mask from his face, she was stuck by one of the men so hard “she was almost blinded and deafened,” she later told police. Pearl was arrested on a kidnaping charge.
~ 1938 – Killing – Clarence Foust
On August 7, 1938, Pearl, who was working as a cook at the Frank King Ranch in California near the town of Weeks, got in dispute with a “Negro farmhand,” Clarence Faust, and shot him to death. Testimony at the trial asserted he had chased her with a gun and threatened to kill her and the jury acquitted Pearl on the ground of self-defense. Yet the shooting was in cold blood. Pearl said she fled from the man, but later obtained the rifle and walked to the Negro’s quarters, where she shot him while he slept, fearing Faust would kill her.
~ 1945 – Assault with intent to Kill – E. T. Bird
On April 23, 1945, 39-year-old Pearl then living at Odessa, Texas as Pearl Crowley. wanted to convert her apartments into a motel. Her Tenants, Mr. and Mrs. T. H. Bird, did not want to leave “until his time was up.” Pearl, hearing this responded by scratching Mr. Bird’s face, pulling the wife’s hair. Pearl left and returned wielding a knife. “She broke the latch on the kitchen door and attacked Bird in the living room, cutting him across the arm and stabbed him in the back, severing two ribs. He was 10 days in the hospital. Pearl was convicted of the charge “assault to murder.” She did not serve an\y time for the crime, however. (See “Predatory Pearl” articles for details on retrial technicalities).
~ 1949 – Killing – Alfred Monroe “Bud” Allison
Pearl, as Elizabeth Pearl Choate Langston, was in the motel business in Amarillo, Texas. A carpenter, Alfred Monroe “Bud” Allison (43), did work on her motel and went unpaid, so he got a court judgement for $1500 against her. When he visited Pearl attempting to collect, she shot him for times with a .38 Colt automatic pistol. “One slug entered Allison’s body in the center of the back; another at the right shoulder blade, a third near the left kidney and the fourth struck the carpenter in the shoulder.” He was the father of seven children. He was seated in his truck when murdered. Pearl was convicted of murder and sentenced to the Goree unit of Huntsville Prison in Texas for 22 years.
~ 1956 – Extortion / Fake Nurse Racket – Lulu Lowry
Pearl was freed on parole in 1954. By 1956 she had taken up a new line of work, the one that would make her a household name in the mid-1960s: caretaker, calling herself a “nurse” despite having no training. “Elizabeth P. Langston” was hired by an invalid Pasadena woman. Pear tricked the woman into letter her haul her off to Texas where “the climate is better,” and prevented the woman from contact with her daughter. Then Pearl coerced the woman to take out a $5,000 bank loan which was used to purchase a trailer. The daughter finally tacked them down. The daughter, Mrs. Billingsley was disappointed that Odessa police told her they couldn’t file charges. She told them that “Mother told me she had been forced to write checks for Pearl for between $6,000 and $8,000 and had to hand over some insurance and coffee stocks she owned.”
~ 1966 – Estelle Birch
Pearl seems to be off the crime radar – at least as far as police records are concerned—for about a decade.
The story of Pearl Choate’s adventures with the Birches is a complicated one. Here’s the short version. Pearl, now in southern California signed up with a nurses’ agency, failing to admit she had no formal nurse training. She got herself hired, on July 26, 1965, by a deaf 95-year old millionaire philanthropist, A. Otis Birch, with a 93-year-old senile wife, Estelle. It was a made-to-order situation for Pearl ‘s scheming. She managed to fend off all enemies – church officials and relatives of the Birches – by running off with her elderly patients on an interstate hide-and-seek spree. The upshot was the Pearl hid Estelle away in a house she owned in Texas, where she promptly passed away, on October 7, 1966. She arranged that nobody knew about the entombment in the family crypt, though she was well-loved as a generous philanthropist in her own right. On October 26, Pearl secretly married the widower far off in Oklahoma and got him to sign over all his assets to his bride. An exhumation of Estelle’s corpse for autopsy was requested by law enforcement, but nothing came from the effort. It seemed Pearl was all set, with a $200 million estate in her sights.
Four and a half months into his second marriage, on March 16, 1967, Mr. Birch died. Pearl made sure to order an autopsy, which, showing a natural death this time, would speed up her probate process, which she knew would be complicated by multiple challenges to the handwritten Birch will that cut out all the charities and relatives included in the original, pre-Pearl, Birch will.
~ 1967 – Assault With Attempt To Murder – Rex Council and Rod Ferguson
But Pearl was not to have an easy time of it during the waiting time. She owned a duplex in Covina, and her tenant, who had been informed Pearl was no longer the legal owner, withheld his rent. Pearl, as we know, never took any gruff from disobedient tenants. So, on July xxx, 1967, Pearl shut off her tenant’s lights and water and removed the apartment’s doors. The tenant, a Miss Harris, called her brother-in-law, Rod Ferguson, for help with the situation. A quarrel ensued and Pearl called the police. “Ferguson told police he had been notified that Mrs. Birch no longer was the legal owner of the property and that he had been directed not to make any more payments to her.”
Police left the scene, only to come back shortly after. The second time, Pearl yelled “Get off my property,” grabbed a .22 caliber rifle, and shot at both Ferguson and Officer Rex Council, missing the policeman by inches. When she tried to fire a second shot, bolt jammed, allowing the cop to draw his revolver on Pearl. She was charged with two counts of assault with intent to kill.
The trial took place in January 1968. By then, Pearl had, in October, succeeded in a Dallas court in securing the Birch estate, cutting out all other claimants. The jury found there was no proof of homicidal intent and thus convicted her of two counts of assault with a deadly weapon. When asked for a response to the verdict, Pearl said she was surprised she had been convicted of anything. She was sentenced to two concurrent terms of 1-10 years.
Pearl served 20 months and was released from prison in March 1970. She still had not received any cash from her inheritance from the Dallas executors of her late husband’s estate. On October 4, 1970, the Mercantile National Bank, Dallas, administrator of Birch estate, filed papers in probate court. The true value of the estate was determined to have a value of only $2,699.66.
[Robert St. Estephe, Pearl Choate case overview, Sep. 6, 2020]
8 Husbands: C. L. Emerson, Harry M. Hornbeck. Calvin Langston (twice), C. W. Crowsley, William Carr, Asa Spears, Houston Perry (invalidated), A. Otis Birch.
May 31, 1907 – Pearl born, Texas. [source: enyclopedia.com; no source given]; Phelan: “from Veil County, Ark.”
1925 – Pearl (18) marries C. L. Emerson.
1926 – record going back to 1926 on charges ranging from vagrancy through murder. She had been convicted of drunk driving, shop-lifting, malicious mischief, felony theft, and had a Hock of arrests on which the disposition was unknown.
1927 – Pearl marries Harry M. Hornbeck, oil driller, Odessa. They build 19th Street Laundry, Y Motel.
Apr. 26, 1928 – Divorce filed; Pearl Hornbeck vs. Harry Hornbeck (Ft. Worth Record-Telegram, Tx., Apr. 26, 1928, p. 9
1930 – Pearl marries Calvin Langston in 1930.
Oct. 11, 1930 – “Pearl Hornbeck” passes bad check for $226.85 at store; never settles the debt.
Mar. 25 (ca.), 1931 – “Pearl Hornbeck (sic), alias Pearl Choate” kidnaps and robs (with 2 male accomplices) Mrs. F. E. Simpson, Fort Worth, Tx.
Feb. 1, 1934 – “Pearl Hornbeck” pleads guilty on 1930 bad check charge; 5-year susp. sent. Fort Worth, Criminal District Court.
Aug. 7, 1938 – Pearl kills Clarence Foust, negro ranch hand while he was in bed; acquitted on “self-defense” claim. Frank King Ranch, near Weeks, Ca.
Nov. 18, 1938 – Pearl acquitted of charges in killing of Clarence Foust. [“Fouts”]; trial at Yreka, Siskiyou Cty., Ca.
1939 – Pearl marries C. W. Crowsley.
1939 – Pearl divorces C. W. Crowsley.
1942 – Pearl marries Calvin Langston again.
Apr. 23, 1945 – “Pearl Crowley” attacks T. H. Bird, stabbed, 2 ribs severed; assault with intent to murder.
Oct. 10, 1945 – “Pearl Crowley” found guilty; Ector district; sentenced 2 years.
Oct. 31, 1945 – Mistrial ruled. New trial ordered; reason: victim was absent (ill).
Mar. 31, 1946 – Calvin L. Langston of Odessa, Tx., dies at Amarillo hospital; Elizabeth Pearl Langston, widow; had been ill for 2 years.
19946 – Pearl sells businesses and leaves Odessa (according to P in 1970)
Apr. 10, 1946 – “Pearl Crowley” retrial, found guilty; sentenced 3 years.
Dec. 11, 1946 – “Pearl Crowley,” 77 the district court affirms Apr. 10 ruling; retrial, found guilty; 3 years upheld.
Feb. 12, 1947 – Conviction overturned again; Pearl convicted of assault with intent to murder, Odessa, Tx.; rehearing granted. [source: Odessa American, Apr. 22, 1949, p. 1] No news report of retrial found after this point.
Apr. 16, 1949 – 5pm; Pearl (Elizabeth Pearl Choate Langston) murders Alfred Monroe “Bud” Allison (43), father of 7, carpenter who had gotten a civil judgement against her; 4 shots with Colt “Super .38” automatic pistol; Amarillo, Tx.
Dec. 5, 1949 – Pearl indicted by Harris county grand jury.
Dec. 11, 1949 – Pearl Langston sentenced to the Goree unit of Huntsville Prison in Texas for 22 years.
1954 – Pearl Langston paroled.
Sep. 1, 1956 – Pearl (“Elizabeth P. Langston”) hired by Lula Lowery (57) as nurse.
Oct. 1956 – Pearl takes Lula Lowery to Kermit; hires her in Odessa.
Dec. 5, 1956 – Pearl indicted in Houston for extortion; Lula Lowery (57), invalid, Pasadena, Tx.
Dec. 7, 1956 – Gov. Allan Shivers revokes parole; Pearl sent back to Huntsville prison for parole violation.
1963 – Released from Huntsville prison, Texas.
Sep. 1964 – Pearl in Los Angeles " nursing" elderly people again. suspended 90-day sentence for "malicious mischief to vehicle."
Apr. 7, 1965 – Pearl signs on with Altadena Nurses Registry; lies about qualifications.
Jul. 21, 1965 – Marie Richman hired as night shift nurse for Birches.
Jul 26, 1965 – Pearl hired as day shift nurse for Birches. Estelle (93) senile; Otis (95) deaf and half blind. Otis net worth $200 million.
Sep. 2, 1965 – Pearl marries Houston Perry, in Tijuana, according to witness.
April 1966 – Pearl moved the Birches from their 32-room South Pasadena mansion to her small home in Compton so she could better attend them. Two months later the Birches and Pearl disappeared.
May 14, 1966 – Birch handwritten will; Pearl boasts Utah mill in her name and has combination to the safe. A prior will of Sep. 7, 1965, had left his estate to sixteen charitable organizations, mainly Baptist institutions.
Jun. 7, 1966 – Pastor Paul Kopp pays pastoral call and is refused information.
Jun. 8, 1966 – Pearl takes the Otis’s away in Cadillac.
July 9, 1966 – “two investigators from the D.A.'s office, accompanied by an FBI agent as an observer, went down to Ensenada.”
Jul. 19?, 1966 – Kidnap warrant issued when discovered that Pearl and the Birches were not in the house.
Jul. 29-Aug. 9, 1966 – Otis Birch in Valley Baptist Hospital, Harlingen, Tx.
Sep. 1, 1966 – Pearl signs petition for guardianship of Otis.
Sep. 21, 1966 – Pearl files petition to be made guardian of Otis’s.
Oct. 7, 1966 – Hearing on guardianship; denied.
Oct. 12, 1966 – Pearl’s attorney files petition for Pearl to be adopted.
Oct. 7, 1966 – Marguerite Estelle Conoway Birch dies, Breckenridge, Tx., at Pearl’s home.
Oct. 13, 1966 – Estelle’s Interment, Inglewood mausoleum; Estelle’s corpse secretly flown in, given a secret burial with no notice of death – ordered by a Dr. Pearson.
Oct. 25, 1966 – Pearl attacks Harlan Moehn, distant cousins of Mrs. Estelle Birch, with a butcher knife; “I’ll cut your heart out.”
Oct. 1966 – Pearl arrested for Oct. 25 butcher knife attack.
Oct. 25, 1966 – Pearl, she claims on the 29th in court, tells Otis she served time for murder.
Oct. 26, 1966 – Pear marries A. Otis Birch, Alts, Oklahoma, [Ensenada, Mexico; NY Post, 1971]
Oct. 27, 1966 – South Pasadena Police Chief announces he will ask for an exhumation and autopsy on Estelle Birch.
Oct. 29, 1966 – Judge E. H. Griffin rules Otis not held against his will.
Nov. 7, 1966 – AG Thomas Lynch announced investigation into another marriage (Perry); the license was never filed with Mexican govt.
Nov. 1966 – Birch and his bride disappear from Breckenridge.
Dec. 17, 1966 – Saturday Evening Post article by Phelan published.
Dec. 19, 1966 – Atty. Gen reverses opinion on Pearl’s Tijuana bigamy.
Mar. 16, 1967 – A. Otis Birch dies, Dallas, Texas. Autopsy performed at Pearl’s request. 18 possible beneficiaries to estate.
Mar. 17, 1967 – Otis Birch entombed; Laurel Land Mausoleum in Dallas. Only 8 persons present.
Jul. 13, 1967 – Pearl quarrels with duplex tenant over rent, Mary Harris; on second call, she
shot at neighbor and police, .22 caliber rifle, barely missing a policeman, Rex Council, and bystander, Rod Ferguson (35). Pearl booked on 2 counts of “assault with a deadly weapon with intent to commit murder.”
Oct. 19, 1967 – Pearl wins Birch estate, Dallas, Texas.
Jan. 23, 1968 – Jury finds Pearl Choate guilty of lower charge, assault with a deadly weapon.
Jun. 21, 1968 – Pearl sentenced to two 1-10-year prison terms for Compton shooting. Lower charge of assault; Superior Court, Los Angeles. She served 20 months in prison.
Mar. 1970 – Pearl released.
Oct. 4, 1970 – Mercantile National Bank, Dallas, administrator of Birch estate, determines value at only $2,699.66; filed in probate court.
Feb. 1983 – Pearl dies in Caldwell, Texas. [source: encyclopedia.com; no source given]
Date unknown – Pearl marries William Carr.
Date unknown – Pearl marries Asa Spears, Texan.
[Sources; see post: "Pearl Choate: “How To Mary A Millionaire” – California, 1966"]