The Naked City Aug 18 2011
TANGLED WEBB
Was Madeline Webb a cold-blooded killer or just a woman blinded by love?

This Real Detective from August 1942 hit newsstands during the height of America’s conflict in the Pacific against the Japanese and it tells the story of Madeline Webb, who was the central figure in a murder case so sensational that it managed to distract the country, however briefly, from war. Webb had moved from Stillwater, Oklahoma to New York City with small town dreams of being a Broadway star. Instead she met a petty crook named Eli Shonbrun and fell in love. Webb was living on an allowance from home, but Shonbrun’s income was more sporadic—he survived by stealing women’s jewelry. Eventually he needed another score and, along with two accomplices named John Cullen and Murray Hirschl, he hatched a scheme to rob a wealthy acquaintance of Webb’s, a woman named Susan Flora Reich.

But when the robbery was over Reich was dead, suffocated by the adhesive tape that had been placed over her mouth. Eli Shonbrun and company went into hiding, but the police soon tracked them down, whereupon Hirschl immediately made a deal to testify against the others. He admitted helping to plan the crime, but swore he was not present in the hotel room where it occurred. Madeline Webb also denied being present, and Shonbrun backed up her claim, but Hirschl said she was lying and had actually lured Reich to the hotel. A jury of twelve men deliberated for five hours and returned a verdict of guilty for all three defendants. Shonbrun and Cullen were sentenced to death and Webb was given life in prison. When her punishment was announced in court she sobbed, “Please, please, I didn't!” Shonbrun cried, “You have crucifed her!”

What seemed to mesmerize the American public was the spectacle of Webb and Shonbrun clinging to their love in the face of adversity. They had frequently disrupted the trial with outbursts of support for each other. Whenever Webb seemed to wither Shonbrun managed to pass her notes of encouragement. On the few occasions they came into physical contact they kissed and exchanged “I love yous.” And when Shonbrun’s date with the executioner came in April 1943, he received a final love letter from Webb. He read it in the death chamber at Sing Sing Prison, then surrendered it to the warden to be destroyed. Five minutes after being strapped into the electric chair Eli Shonbrun was dead.

Madeline Webb served twenty-five years at Westfield State Farm in Bedford Hills, New York, and was by all accounts a model inmate. She promoted educational programs for imprisoned women, taught many illiterate inmates to read, and ran the prison library. Her life sentence carried no possibility of parole, but her sentence was commuted in 1967. After her release she returned to Stillwater where she worked with variouscommunity organizations and cared for her elderly mother, who had spent her life savings on her daughter’s legal fees. Webb died of cancer in 1980 at age sixty-seven, and she did so still protesting her innocence. She was indeed an unlikely murderer. Her family had money back in 1942, and if she had required any she need only have sent a telegram asking for it. But just as New York City proved too much for her show business ambitions, its men may have proved too much for her better judgment. It's entirely possible she was simply too lovestruck by the rough and tumble Eli Shonbrun to derail his scheme. Some light could possibly be shed on this question if the content of her last letter was known—but that went to grave with her. 

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
August 09
1945—Nagasaki Destroyed
The United States detonates a nuclear bomb codenamed Fat Man over the city of Nagasaki. It is the second atomic bomb dropped on Japan. 40,000 to 75,000 people are killed immediately, with tens of thousands more sickening and dying later due to radiation poisoning. The U.S. had plans to drop as many as seven more bombs on Japan, but the nation surrendered days later.
1969—Manson Followers Murder Five
Members of a cult led by Charles Manson murder pregnant actress Sharon Tate and coffee heiress Abigail Folger, along with Wojciech Frykowski, Jay Sebring, and Steven Parent. The crimes terrify the Los Angeles celebrity community, and even today continue to fascinate the worldwide public.
August 08
1963—Gang Pulls Off Great Train Robbery
A fifteen member gang robs a train of £2.6 million at Bridego Railway Bridge, Ledburn near Mentmore in Buckinghamshire, England. Thirteen of the fifteen are later caught, but some subsequently escape from prison, and one, Ronnie Biggs, is only recaptured in 2001 after voluntarily returning to England.
1974—Nixon Resigns
After two years of public outcry over the Watergate scandal, U.S. president Richard M. Nixon announces to a national television audience that he will resign, effective the next day. Vice President Gerald R. Ford completes the remainder of Nixon's term.
August 07
1947—Journey of the Kon-Tiki Ends
Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl's balsa wood raft the Kon-Tiki, smashes into a reef in the Tuamotu Islands after a 4300 mile (7000 kilomteter) journey from South America. Heyerdahl was attempting to prove—in rather circuitous fashion—that South American natives were descended from Pacific Islanders.
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