tagReviews & EssaysAlice Crimmins Confusion

Alice Crimmins Confusion


The confusing case of Alice Crimmins: promiscuity and killed kids

By Denise Noe

The Alice Crimmins case broke in 1965 when the two young children of the attractive, red-haired woman, who was separated from her husband, were found dead in different vacant lots. My first encounter with the sensational case was through a lightly fictionalized 1978 made-for-TV movie starring Tuesday Weld as Crimmins stand-in Doris Winters.

After seeing this movie, I was puzzled by something. The bad-guy detective character roughly asks the Crimmins figure, "How come your men friends outnumber your girlfriends four to one?"

The reason this seemed strange is that I was well aware of the women's liberation movement whose members were frequently criticized as man-haters and lesbians. Wouldn't a woman with mostly male friends be the opposite and therefore someone admired by those with traditional values? I asked a high school friend of my own if it was in fact bizarre for a woman's male friends to outnumber her female friends four-to-one. He replied, "Oh, that would be very unusual." I said, "But I've always heard that women don't like or trust each other." He said, "They don't but they're usually kind of stuck with each other. About the only way it could happen that most of a woman's friends would be men would be if she worked in a field that was mostly male or if she was very promiscuous."

Alice Crimmins had attracted so many men friends because she had in fact been promiscuous.

My next encounter with the case was through a book called The Alice Crimmins Case by Ken Gross. The book is extremely readable and dramatic. It brings the reader close to Alice Crimmins and strongly suggests that her convictions -- she was tried twice and convicted both times -- were miscarriages of justice.

Unfortunately, Gross attempts to impose a feminist interpretation on her life. He writes, "The Alice Crimmins case, I came to believe, was perceived as frightening because the women's movement was just coming into existence when the case broke, and the implications -- a housewife grown rebellious and out of control -- terrified those who felt a stake in maintaining the status quo." He describes her as having "broken the social taboos of her class, of her religion, and of her sex." Gross also terms her (completely: she told a woman she could not handle a lesbian relationship) heterosexual promiscuity an example of "female emancipation."

A feminist interpretation of Alice Crimmins' life simply does not fit. In fact, Gross' own evidence shows her as a woman with profoundly traditional ideals about the relations between the sexes. Gross writes that one reason for her alienation from her husband was that "he tended to fall apart in a crisis. She wanted someone strong, someone she could lean on." At another point, Alice confided that she lost respect for him because "he was an airline mechanic but he couldn't even fix his own car!"

Crimmins was the polar opposite of the era's "women's libbers" in other respects. While they were known for rejecting the idea that women should be judged by their appearance, Crimmins put a premium on hers. Even when her daughter had been found dead and her son was still missing, she insisted on applying her make-up before being interviewed by police officers.

Asked what she thought of the feminist movement, she replied, "Oh, I'm for equal pay for equal work but not for all the far-out things. I don't hate men. I believe women are put on this earth to serve men. A man should be dominant. I believe in women's liberation, but not at the price of my femininity."

Many years after reading about the Crimmins case in Gross' book, I researched the case for an article that would eventually be published in Court TV's Crime Library. I got hold of another book about it, "Ordeal By Trial" by George Carpozi, Jr. Carpozi is not Crimmins' champion. His more objective reporting shows that the evidence against her was stronger than Gross indicated it was. However, he ends his book writing, "I'm not convinced that Alice Crimmins killed her children. Nor am I convinced that she didn't."

Like Carpozi, I ultimately found the heavily disputed evidence inadequate to sustain a finding of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. However, two juries convicted her.

Her promiscuity may have been a factor. At her first trial, one juror commented, "A tramp like that is capable of anything." A female spectator at one of her trials said she found it hard to believe any mother would kill her children "but a woman like that . . . it makes it easier to understand."

I believe that an element of prejudice did indeed tip the scales against Alice Crimmins. However, that prejudice was not because she in any way personified feminism. This promiscuous woman was quite happily dependent on men for both financial and emotional support as well as sexual gratification. Rather, with her thick make-up, seeming vanity, and packed social calendar, she represented the stereotype of an old-fashioned femme fatale.

At least, that is my take on the case. I would be most interested in learning what others think of it. My story on this most baffling murder case is featured in a Crime Library series called Unhappy Moments in American Justice. The Crimmins section is at http://www.crimelibrary.com/notorious_murders/family/crimmins/1.html


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