Thursday, October 22, 2009

Who says our local history is boring?

July 22, 2000 -- Foothill Leader

The house was described as a Mediterranean-style Flintridge mansion. In fact, it was a large California-style house above Beulah Drive on Chevy Chase.

The house belonged to Walter and Beulah Overell. He was in the furniture business. She was the namesake for Beulah Drive. They had one child, a 17-year-old daughter, Beulah Louise.

On March 15, 1947, the Overell's yacht, the Mary E., blew up in Newport Harbor, killing Mr. and Mrs. Overell.

The headlines said it all -- "Two Killed in Cruiser Blast."

Young Beulah and her boyfriend, Bud Gollum, 21, were charged with murder. The police thought they had bludgeoned Mr. and Mrs. Overell and blew up the boat to hide their crime.

Everyone thought they would be convicted. But after a lengthy trial and lengthier press coverage, Bud and Beulah Louise were acquitted.

Stop me if you've already heard about this case.

* * *
Here's a test. If you know about the Overell case, you are (a) a 53-year La Canada resident, (b) a founding member of the Thursday Club or (c) a French citizen.
Why France? It has something to do with postmodernism.

I came across a a French synopsis of the trial in a two-volume photographic journal.

Love. Sex. Murder. And it all happened in La Canada. I mean Flintridge.

* * *
How did such a wonderful case sink into oblivion?
In Orange County, the Overell trial is still recognized as one of the longest-running and most significant cases of the 20th century. The Santa Ana courthouse where the trial took place, 211 W. Santa Ana Blvd., is on the National Register of Historic Places: "Built in 1900 of Arizona red sandstone, this is the oldest existing county courthouse in Southern California. Significant and far-reaching court decisions were handed down here, including the 'Whipstock' case dealing with slant oil drilling, interpretation of farm labor law, and the Overell trial which resulted in laws regulating explosives."

Retired attorney Robert Jacobs, the son of Beulah Overell's defense attorney, Otto Jacobs, recounted the trial in an Orange County newspaper interview: "One day during the trial, I noticed Dad's diploma wasn't straight. I saw a microphone inside. We went to Gollum's attorneys and found another. We traced the wires to a room around the corner. We found a man with earphones on and made a citizens' arrest. The police captain came out and said, 'You guys arrested one of my lieutenants!' The episode was quickly forgotten."

* * *
Orange County. Paris. Since when did outsiders become the custodians of La Canada history?
This is a job for the La Canada school board. Instead of fussing with spinmeisters and illegal election mailers, the board could revamp the ninth-grade curriculum to include preservation of local history.
Teenagers love this stuff.
No one would fall asleep during Local Lawbreakers 101.
And there'd be plenty of grant money. Young Beulah Louise was a USC coed. The class could qualify for a grant and a matching fund.
Besides, there's a lot to learn from the Overell case.
The evidence: supposedly unique and hard-to-find machine screws found on the floor of Bud Gollum's car, which matched the clock used to set off the bomb. Otto Jacobs found identical screws in a hardware store. He brought a box of them to the trial.

More evidence: the leftover dynamite found in Bud Gollum's car. Bud testified that he bought 170 sticks at Mr. Walter Overell's request. Something about tree stumps.

And the love letters! Bud wrote letters to Beulah. Beulah wrote to Bud. They were both in jail. The letters were ... lurid?

The poor judge ordered the letters burned, but not before they got leaked to the press. Years later, a journalist blamed a prosecutor.

Sex. Love. Anonymous sources.

It doesn't get much better than that.

And they lived right here. In La Canada. I mean Flintridge.

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