CORPUS DELICTI by Diane Wagner


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This true-life murder story could easily be mistaken for one of the seedier episodes of TV's Alfred Hitchcock series. Evelyn Throsby Mumper, a wealthy, four-times-married widow, was bored despite her privileged status as one of Southern California's well-heeled ladies-who-lunch. At 57, she met--and, after a whirlwind romance, married--her fifth husband and eventual murderer, an elegant but impecunious bachelor named L. Ewing Scott. Scott soon took over Evelyn's finances and alienated friends; he began to quarrel with her--violently. Then, on May 16, 1955, Evelyn disappeared. Her body was never found; and at Scott's subsequent murder trial, his lawyer contended his innocence was based on the issue of corpus delicti: since the prosecution could produce no body, it could not ""prove"" that a murder had been committed. Throughout, Scott maintained his innocence, protesting that Evelyn had simply gone out for a can of tooth powder and had never returned: he charged that she was a heavy drinker, a mental patient, a lesbian who has deserted him for another woman. Meanwhile, gruesome circumstantial evidence--including the discovery of Evelyn's dentures in a neighbor's yard--continued to accumulate. Finally given a life sentence (the prosecutor's request for the death penalty was rejected on the grounds that the absence of a body weakened his case), Scott stubbornly maintained that Evelyn was still alive: she was hospitalized in the Pacific northwest, or living with friends in Mexico. He hired teams of lawyers to ""find"" her. When he finally became eligible for parole, he refused to be considered, stating that this would be an admission of guilt. Then, during Wagner's interviews with Scott in 1984 (he is now over 90, and released from San Quentin on time served) for the first time in 30 years, he quite unexpectly confessed not only that he had killed his wife, but also How He Did It. This squalid, nicely-paced tidbit of 1950's raunch is as satisfyingly emblematic as a Perry Mason rerun: the unsavory cast includes the cruel lounge-lizard of a husband; the lonely, rather spoiled older woman; the crusading D.A.; and the liberal defender (Scott's attorney had also been Caryl Chessman's unsuccessful lawyer). The only drawback is the absence of illustrations.

Pub Date: Feb. 3rd, 1985
Publisher: St. Martin's