Hollywoodland Mar 2 2017
MASTER OF HER FATE
Jealous murder strikes a John Wayne movie set.

This Master Detective published today in 1960 has a nice cover by Al Drule, and inside the issue are several interesting stories, but the one we're looking at today is “The Crime that Wasn't in the Script,” about a murder that took place during the filming of John Wayne's western The Alamo. The story is kind of forgotten, but basically, an actress named LaJean Etheridge was killed by her boyfriend Chester Harvey Smith, who was angry that Etheridge had decided to move closer to the movie set in Brackettville, Texas. Such a killing is impossible to understand under any circumstances, but putting on your jealous madman cap for a second you can picture a possessive man losing it over his girlfriend moving thousands of miles away. Like if someone told you the story you'd nod and go, “Umm hmm,” because you could see it.

But Etheridge wasn't moving thousands of miles. She and Smith had both scored work as extras on The Alamo, had traveled from Hollywood together, and were living in Spofford, Texas with three other extras in lodgings set up by Wayne's Batjac Productions. Etheridge had decided to move from Spofford to Fort Clark, ten miles north, a relocation precipitated by her landing a larger part in the film. Was she simply moving closer to the set to facilitate the changed demands of her role? Or was she leaving her boyfriend? Still wearing your jealous madman cap, you can picture Smith believing the latter. Etheridge would be out of sight, living with unknowns, possibly having fun with production staff and carousing with handsome actors. But she never got the chance—as she was packing Smith stabbed her in the chest with a Bowie knife, and she died on the scene. He was arrested when police arrived fifteen minutes later, pled guilty to murder, and was sentenced to thirty years in prison.

The final assessment by Smith's lawyer was that the murder was a crime of “passion and professional jealousy.” As details emerged a clearer picture of Smith formed. He had once struck his ex-wife's roommate in the head with a hatchet, and earlier had tried to run her, her roommate, and their dates down with his car. His rage wasn't reserved only for ex-lovers. He also once attacked a bus driver. So Smith needed no excuses to hurt people. It's just what he did. But maybe this particular episode really was a so-called crime of passion. Rumors circulated during the trial that Etheridge had been seeing John Wayne, but he never testified nor was officially involved with the case in any way. And under the circumstances, it was probably inevitable that such rumors would spring up. Yet Etheridge had completed her part, and Wayne, according to several accounts, had asked her to stay on at Fort Clark. So there's no telling.

Etheridge's part in The Alamo was left on the cutting room floor. No surprise. The murder caused enough bad publicity as it was, so naturally there was no way she could have remained in the film. It wasn't until an extended version was released in 1993 that her role as Mrs. Guy was seen by movie fans. Though the story of the murder hasfaded somewhat, author John Hegenberger used the events as the backdrop for a 2017 crime novel called Stormfall. Chester Harvey Smith, John Wayne, and others are characters, and the star is Hegenberger's detective creation Stan Wade. The book opens with the murder, and Etheridge uttering her final words to Smith before she dies. What were the words? According to the statement Smith gave police, Etheridge said, mortally wounded and bleeding to death, “I love you.” You can take off your jealous madman cap now. 

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
March 23
2011—Elizabeth Taylor Dies
American actress Elizabeth Taylor, whose career began at age 12 when she starred in National Velvet, and who would eventually be nominated for five Academy Awards as best actress and win for Butterfield 8 and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, dies of congestive heart failure in Los Angeles. During her life she had been hospitalized more than 70 times.
March 22
1963—Profumo Denies Affair
In England, the Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, denies any impropriety with showgirl Christine Keeler and threatens to sue anyone repeating the allegations. The accusations involve not just infidelity, but the possibility acquaintances of Keeler might be trying to ply Profumo for nuclear secrets. In June, Profumo finally resigns from the government after confessing his sexual involvement with Keeler and admitting he lied to parliament.
1978—Karl Wallenda Falls to His Death
World famous German daredevil and high-wire walker Karl Wallenda, founder of the acrobatic troupe The Flying Wallendas, falls to his death attempting to walk on a cable strung between the two towers of the Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Wallenda is seventy-three years old at the time, but it is a 30 mph wind, rather than age, that is generally blamed for sending him from the wire.
2006—Swedish Spy Stig Wennerstrom Dies
Swedish air force colonel Stig Wennerström, who had been convicted in the 1970s of passing Swedish, U.S. and NATO secrets to the Soviet Union over the course of fifteen years, dies in an old age home at the age of ninety-nine. The Wennerström affair, as some called it, was at the time one of the biggest scandals of the Cold War.
March 21
1963—Alcatraz Closes
The federal penitentiary located on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay closes. The island had been home to a lighthouse, a military fortification, and a military prison over the years. In 1972, it would become a national recreation area open to tourists, and it would receive national landmark designations in 1976 and 1986.
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