As June draws to a close it is time once again for the latest “History’s Rich With Mysteries” column by Texas author Earl Staggs. This time he looks at the case of Alice Crimmons which happened long before the kind of coverage such a situation would bring about these days.
HISTORY’S RICH WITH MYSTERIES
When I look at the past, I find stories about people which fascinate me, particularly those in which there is a curious mixture of fact, legend, and mysterious uncertainty. In this series of articles, I want to explore some of those stories. I think of them as mysteries swaddled in legend. While truth is always desired in most things, truth easily becomes staid and boring. Legend, on the other hand, forever holds a hint of romanticism and an aura of excitement borne of adventure, imagination and, of course, mystery.
ALICE CRIMMONS – Before Susan Smith and Casey Anthony. . .
by Earl Staggs
Alice was born on March 9, 1939 in The Bronx, New York, and married Edmund Crimmins in 1958 when she was nineteen. Seven years later, they were estranged and locked in a bitter custody battle for their two children, five-year-old Eddie and four-year-old Alice Marie, known as “Missy.” Alice and the children lived in the Regal Gardens apartment complex in the New York City borough of Queens.
On the morning of July 14, 1965, Alice called Edmund and accused him of taking the children during the night. The apartment was on the first floor, and a window in the children's bedroom was partially open. Edmund denied taking them and rushed over to the apartment. They called the police and the search began.
Later that day, Missy's body was found in an open lot eight blocks from the apartment. An autopsy confirmed that she had been asphyxiated. No evidence of sexual assault was found. Five days later, little Eddie's body was discovered in a wooded area about a mile from the apartment, near the site of the New York World’s Fair which was then in progress. Decomposition ruled out determining his cause of death.
The police suspected Alice right away. The first detective on the scene felt the striking redhead with thick make-up, hip-hugging toreador slacks, flowered blouse and white high-heeled shoes did not come across as an anxious, grieving mother who had just lost her children. They found a dozen empty liquor bottles in her garbage can.
In his petition for custody of the children, Edmund charged that Alice indulged in sexual encounters with other men before their separation, and that after they separated, she entertained a number of men in her bedroom for overnight visits. He claimed it was not unusual for the children to awake to see a strange man in the house. He also told how he once caught her in bed with a waiter, about her afternoon tryst with another man at the World’s Fair, a 1964 cruise with Anthony “Tony” Grace, a wealthy and married contractor, to the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, and her nude swimming experience at the home of another lover, Joe Rorech.
Edmund submitted to a polygraph and persuaded Alice to do the same. She agreed, but after a few preliminary questions, changed her mind and refused to continue.
After two years of investigation, Alice Crimmins was arrested and charged with the murder of her daughter. The DA felt there was not enough evidence to charge her for the death of her son. Her trial began on May 9, 1968.
Most of the trial centered on Alice's titillating and extroverted sex life.
In addition to Edmund's recounting of Alice's exploits, a former maid testified that Alice abandoned the children one weekend and took a boat trip to the Bahamas with Tony Grace and his friends.
An Assistant DA questioned Alice about reports of her having sex with her children's barber in a car behind the barbershop.
A neighbor who lived on Alice's street, told of looking out her window shortly after two a.m. on the morning the children went missing and seeing a man and woman walking down the street. The woman carried what appeared to be a bundle of blankets and had a little boy walking at her side. The man shouted at her to hurry up, and she told him “to be quiet or someone will see us.” The man took the blanket-like bundle and heaved it onto the back seat of an automobile. The woman picked up the little boy and got in the car.
Joe Rorech added to his testimony that Alice told him she had killed Missy and “consented” to the murder of her son.
After those two testimonies, it was easy to form a possible scenario in which Alice strangled Missy in the apartment, wrapped her in a blanket, and the man who drove the car that night, possibly Tony Grace, murdered little Eddie for her.
Alice's defense attorney tried to counter those testimonies by presenting the witnesses as having reputations of not being truthful or reliable.
The trial ended on May 27, 1968. Early the next morning, the jury returned a verdict of guilty of manslaughter in the first degree for the death of her four-year-old daughter. The judge sentenced Alice to the New York State prison for women in Bedford Hills, New York, for not less than five nor more than twenty years.
That was not the end of it. In 1971, her conviction was set aside on a technicality and she was released. She was almost immediately recharged, retried, and again convicted of manslaughter for Missy's death. She was also convicted for the murder of her son. Those convictions were overturned on appeal in 1973, and Alice was set free until 1975 when she went on trial a third time. The murder conviction was thrown out, but she was once again found guilty of manslaughter and returned to prison.
In January 1976, she became eligible for a work release program and was permitted to leave prison on weekdays to work as a secretary. In July, 1977, while on work release, she married her previous boyfriend, Tony Grace. She was paroled in September 1977 after serving less than nine years and the two of them lived quietly and inconspicuously. It is believed Tony Grace died of natural causes in 1998. Alice would be 77 years old now, but her whereabouts are unknown.
Alice's story became the basis of a 1975 novel, “Where Are the Children,” which launched the career of mystery writer Mary Higgins Clark. Both Susan Smith who was convicted of drowning her two sons in 1995 and Casey Anthony, tried and acquitted in 2011 for the killing of her daughter, Kaylee, called up comparisons to Alice Crimmins.
In retrospect, there was not a thread of physical evidence linking Alice or anyone else to the two murders. The police and the prosecutor, however, were sure Alice was guilty. The media presented her as the “Sexpot on Trial,” and her sexual exploits were apparently considered evidence to support a murder conviction.
No one has been able to establish a credible motive for Alice to kill her children. There has not been any mention of insurance policies on them. If she wanted to shed the responsibility of raising them, she could simply have let their father, Edmund, take them. If she wanted to keep the children but wanted to get rid of the nasty custody battle, she could better accomplish that by killing Edmund.
Whether Alice Crimmins was guilty remains arguable to this day. A number of people who have studied and written about the case have concluded there was no evidence to tie her to the crimes and no other suspects were ever considered. She was never presumed innocent by the press, the public, or the police, and she may have been convicted more for her sexual appetite and activity than for the crime she was accused of.
Since we don't know for certain if she was guilty or not, we'll have to file her case under Unsolved Mysteries. I think for certain, however, she would not have been convicted in the legal system as we know it today. Juries now are reluctant to convict unless there is irrefutable evidence in the form of DNA or a true smoking gun and not a whiff of reasonable doubt.
We've gone from one extreme where an Alice Crimmins can be convicted because everyone is sure she was guilty to another extreme where an OJ Simpson or a Casey Anthony can be declared innocent even though everyone is sure they're not.
It's been called the “CSI Syndrome.” We've been spoiled by what we see on TV. I'm not sure that's a good thing.
What do you think?
Earl Staggs ©2016
Texas author Earl Staggs earned all Five Star reviews for his novels MEMORY OF A MURDER and JUSTIFIED ACTION and has twice received a Derringer Award for Best Short Story of the Year. He served as Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Magazine, as President of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and is a frequent speaker at conferences and seminars.
He invites any comments via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
He also invites you to visit his blog site at http://earlwstaggs.wordpress.com to learn more about his novels and stories.