Thursday, November 5, 2015

Alsa Thompson - The Los Angeles Times Coverage - 1925


Some of these Los Angeles Times articles give spelling variants ["Pratts," "Platt," "Platts"] and some offer contradictory versions of minor facts [Maxine's age, for example] as well as more important ones such as the radically different description of Alsa's intellectual ability and scholastic achievement and garage-level as expressed by a teacher and the school principal.

Another post that gives an overview of the case, patched together from sources other than the Los Angeles Times, "Alsa Thompson, the “Baby Borgia” – Los Angeles: 1925" is linked here.

At the end of the present post, following the final L.A. Times article is a collection of Study Notes.

Complete Los Angeles Times articles on Alsa Thompson: 

Feb. 3, 1925, part II, p. 1.
Feb. 4, 1925 (2 articles), part II, p. 1; p. 2.
Feb. 5, 1925 (2 articles), part II, p. 5; p. 6.
Feb. 6, 1925, part II, p. 1.
Feb. 7, 1925, part II, p. 16.
Feb. 10, 1925, part II, p. 22.
Feb. 17, 1925, part II, p. 12.
Mar. 16, 1925, part II, p. 9.
Mar. 17, 1925, part II, p. 8.

***

Feb. 3 – FULL TEXT: Tiny hands fluttering swiftly in the kitchen, a cunning childish mind planning and plotting, deadly sulphuric acid taken from a radio battery and a can of ant paste stolen from a kitchen shelf, all worked together yesterday when Alsa Thompson, 7 years of age, cooked a fiendish meal in the home of Mrs. Inez Platts at 1540 ½ McCadden Plece.

The meal was tasted but not eaten by Mrs. Thompson [sic; error, should be Platts], but her husband and their two children, and then in a fit of homicidal mania the brewer of the poisoned mess attacked Maxine Platts [sic], her 5-year-old [sic] playmate, and slashed her wrists with a safety-razor blade.

Yesterday afternoon in the Receiving Hospital, where she was taken by Policewoman Feeley, Alsa smiled when questioned by police surgeons and admitted that she had poisoned the food and that she had attacked little Maxine. First, she said she was jealous of Mrs. Platts’s children and then to further questioning, remarked: “Well, I guess I did it because I am so mean.”

~ SANITY TO BE STUDIED ~

So last night, Alsa was removed from the Receiving Hospital and placed in the psychopathic ward of the General Hospital for observation and a detaining order was signed by Juvenile Court Judge Archbald and today or tomorrow her case will be heard before the judge.

In her story to the police, Mrs. Pratts stated that little Alsa came to live with her about two months ago. She stated that during the past four weeks member of her family became seriously ill from time to time and were under the care of their family physician. Her husband lost his voice, she became weak and sick and some of the children seemed to suffer unexplainable pains. No cause could be found for any of the sickness.

Then several days ago, Mrs. Pratts told police officers, she first began to suspect little Alsa. She watched the girl and could find nothing out of the way about her actions. She continued to watch and yesterday discovered the poisoned food which was followed by the attack with the safety razor blade. Then the police were called and Alsa confessed.

While delving into the strange case Policewoman Feeley discovered that Alsa is a bright girl, Although only 7 years of age, the child is in the eighth grade in grammar school and at the head of the class. She has been noted in her school as one of the best girls and never caused her teachers any trouble.

~ FIRST CASE KNOWN ~

Mrs. Pratts told the investigating police that the little child was left in her home by her mother who works in a downtown store. The child’s father, according to the police information, is working in Santa Ana. Yesterday the authorities were unable to reach either of the parents, but today they will have to appear in court to attempt to explain the apparent homicidal mania which seems to possess their child.

Physicians in charge of the psychopathic ward of the General Hospital late yesterday evening stated they had not yet had enough time to make a study of the strange case. They declared that homicidal mania is common in grown persons, not declared that this case is the first time that a child of less than 10 years of age has been committed to the hospital for observation following the series of attempts to kill persons against whom no grudge was borne.

[“Tot Is Held As Maniac – Effort to Kill Family Of Four With Poisoned Meal Laid to 7-Year-Old Alsa Thompson,” Los Angeles Times (Ca.), Feb. 3, 1925, part II, p. 1]

***

***


 

Feb 4 (article 1) -- FULL TEXT: While police and mental scientists continue investigations to ascertain whether 7-year-old, Alsa Thompson perpetrated the astounding poisoning crimes she asserts she committed. Mr. and Mrs. Thompson will forget marital differences, which a year ago wrecked their home, causing the child to be boarded out, and will confer today to determine what they shall do for the child in view of the horror that has come into their broken lives.

The parents arranged yesterday to meet at the home of Mrs. Inez Platts at 9 o’clock this morning for a conference between themselves and with Mrs. Platts, whose discovery Sunday morning for a conference between themselves and with Mrs. Platts, whose discovery Sunday morning of poisoned food in the home causing illness of several persons; that she had through similar poisonings caused the death of two sisters and the woman with whom she last boarded out.

~ WOMAN COLLAPSES ~

Mrs. Platts collapsed last night, so wrought up had she become over the affair, and two other screaming women in the home set up such a disturbance that neighbors called Hollywood police. Sergt. Nelson and Detectives McGarry and McIntyre answered the call and were informed by Mr. Platts that his wife had broken completely down under the nervous strain of the past three days.

Thompson branded the child’s stories of having poisoned her sisters and another caretaker as childish fiction. He said the other children died of intestinal disorder, describing the symptoms. The symptoms were said by County Autopsy Surgeon Wagner to be similar to symptoms displayed by those [of] cut ground glass, which is what the child, in her confession, said she fed her sisters.

Nettie Steele, who formerly cared for the child and whom the child said she had killed with ground glass, was said by the child’s grandfather, P. David, to have been stricken with an ailment that was diagnosed as cancer of the stomach.

~ CREDENCE TO STORY ~

Mental scientists observing the child, who now is at the County Psychopathic Hospital, and the child’s teachers, while appalled by the situation, appeared last night to be inclined to give some credence to the child’s stories of crime, so straightforward has been her manner in telling them and so clear the details and tales she tells.

Out of the whole incredible situation has come the hope of friends of the child and Thompson’s that they today will be reunited and decide to go back to their Canadian home, which they left two years ago, once more to set up a family fireside, where the child can be cared for under the direction of a specialist.

Miss Steele, who cared for the child until she became to ill to do so, died October 14, 1924, in the County Hospital and the body was cremated. She had lived at 5530 York Boulevard with her mother who now lives in the home of A. G. Steele, 276 East Avenue 55.

When Alsa could no longer be cared for by Miss Steele, the child was placed in the Platts home, the mother being obliged to have someone care for the two children, Alsa and Maxine, while she worked during the day. The father lived in Santa Ana.

A news dispatch from Dauphin, Manitoba, where the Thompsons lived at the time their twin daughters died, said the twin daughters died, said the twins died in September and October, 1922, of gastro-enteritis or of typhoid fever, according to diagnosis by Dr. E. Bottomley. The twins were about two years of age and Alsa was 5 at the time.

The Thompsons were said to have left Dauphin two years ago for Santa Ana, the home of Mr. Thompson’s parents.

~ TELLS OF DEATH ~

Mrs. Alice Steele said her daughter Nettie, who was 48 years of age, had been ill for more than five years, following an internal operation for a tumorous growth and was removed to the General Hospital, September 27, 1924, and death was caused by cancer of the stomach, Mrs. Steele said her physician informed her.

Alsa Thompson was placed under her care early in March, 1924, Mrs. Steele said, and, until her daughter became seriously ill remained, with three other children, Maxine, Alsa’s sister, and Betty and Billie Wood, twins, also about 3 years of age, at her home, then located at 5226 York Boulevard.

During this time, Mrs. Steele said, the Thompson girl appeared rational in every respect, but seemed considerably informed beyond her years in some subjects, while inexcusably ignorant in others. Through constant observation of her actions, and aside from an apparent overdeveloped of brain, in some respects. Mrs. Steele said Alsa Thompson had never done anything to rouse her suspicions and was certainly in no way responsible for the death of her daughter, which followed a lingering illness.

Mrs. Thompson had been working in a downtown confectionery store. Her parents, Mr. and Mrs. P. Davis, denied she lives with them, but said she lives in Hollywood. They declared the child had been with them during a short time between the times she was cared for at the Steele and Platts homes and are dumbfounded at the situation, declaring the child was never known to exhibit signs of normality in their presence. Some of the neighbors of the Steele family described the child as “strange-acting at times.”

~ COMMITMENT SIGNED ~

In the meantime, Alsa is being held at the Psychopathic Hospital as a morally deficient child. Commitment papers, designed to make Alsa a ward of the Juvenile Court, were issued by Superior Judge Archbald yesterday and the child’s hearing will be held next Monday.

At the Psychopathic Hospital, Alsa is held for observation. Within four or five days, when the observations are completed, the probation department will take charge of the child’s case, when Chief Deputy Probation Officer Prescott will endeavor to have Alsa confined to the Children’s Guidance Clinic, at 1401 South Grand avenue, for further observation by psychiatrists.

~ DECLARED NORMAL ~

Alsa’s mind is the mind of a normal 7-year-old girl, her mentors at the Selma-street school said yesterday. She is now a pupil in the A-2 grade, having graduated to that class last Monday.

"She is just one of  the average children of the class,” Miss Anna Henry, the child’s teacher, said. “She has never been conspicuous by her studies, and yet she is not one of the worst scholars. She’s just a normal child.”

Miss Henry also stated that Alsa had never done anything to arouse attention in her class. She has always been an obedient scholar – attending strictly to her studies during classes, and playing as vigorously as others of her age at recess times.

~ RIDDLE TO PRINCIPAL ~

“I cannot believe the terrible things that Alsa insists she she has done,” Miss May S. Floyd, principal of the Selma street school, said. “Yet, in my talks with Alsa she has told such straight-forward, convincing stories that she has left no room in them for contradictions. She has told me of her attempts to poison many people, and she tells of these pranks so frankly, I have tried and tried to catch her in contradictions, but always she rapidly repeats the same stories without the least contradiction.”

Miss Floyd was one of the persons who heard little Alsa’s confession.

“I like to see them die,” was Alsa’s reason for attempting to kill others with poison. “I just like to see them die, that’s all.”

Alsa has never complained to her teachers of mistreatment at the home of Mrs. Platts, but she had been brought to the attention of the school heads through less serious charges.

~ THEFTS REPORTED ~

“Mrs. Platts came to me and told me that Alsa had been stealing stockings at the Platts home and giving them to other girls in her class. Alsa had told Mrs. Platts she had done this. When I asked Alsa about this, she unhesitatingly admitted she had taken stockings from Lorraine Platts and had given them to other children, but she could not remember the names of the children she had given them to. She also boasted of giving $5 to a boy she likes in her class, the money having been stolen from Mrs. Platts. Again, she gave a gold knife, taken from the Platts home, to a boy in her class.”

Yet, though a normal child of 7 – pretty and playful and intelligent – certain things Alsa Thompson had done have caused consternation and amazement among grown-ups who know of her more intimate home life with the Platts. These grown-ups cannot understand her, and they have looked upon her as a diminutive human enigma. [garbled word order in the original paragraph has been corrected]

William Kearns, the fireman who brought her to the attention of the Hollywood police, told many strange things about Alsa yesterday. He was one of the several persons who narrowly escaped death at her childish hands, according to his statement yesterday.

“I have known Mr. and Mrs. Platts for a long time,” he said, “and shortly after Alsa was taken to the Platts home to live I began to install a radio set at the house. Alsa was intensely interested. Alsa wanted to know what the fluid was I had been put in the cell. I warned her, thinking it would throw a scare into her and keep her from meddling with the radio set, that it was sulfuric acid and so poisonous it would kill little girls. I warned her to stay away from it.”

Suphuric acid was the poison that Alsa had placed in the family’s food, according to her own story. Nor was this first time she had experimented with her poisons, according to Kearns.

“Two weeks ago, I was a dinner guest at the Platts home,” he related. “We had peaches for dessert and when I ate some of them I remarked to Mrs. Platts that they tasted terrible. I was taken sick shortly afterward, and had terrible pains in my stomach. Other members of the family also were stricken. We learned that Alsa had put sulphuric acid in the peaches.”

Alsa tried her deathly “spices” in other foods, also. Once, it was reported, the cold turkey at a Sunday dinner tasted terribly bitter. Investigation proved that Alsa had spread poisonous ant paste on the cold turkey.

“I wanted to see them die,” was her only explanation for her act, and she told in detail of spreading the paste on the food!

“And then last Sunday,” Kearns continued, “Alsa’s baby sister, Maxine, was suddenly stricken with convulsions. She became terribly ill and for a while we thought she was going to die. Again, Alsa had meddled with the cooking, topping off the meal by putting sulphuric acid in the coffee.

“And she eagerly told how she had done it,” Kearns said.”She told of taking the acid out of the cell with a spoon.”

Nor [were] Alsa’s escapades confined to tampering with the Platt’s food supply, according to Mrs. Platt’s statements yesterday. When investigators revisited the house, Mrs. Platts told the following “pranks” of Alsa, said to have been committed within the last few weeks:

Cut up a rug with a safety-razor blade;
Chipped big chunks out of the fireplace with a hammer;
Marred the furniture;
Burned a hole in the table-cover;
Killed one canary and almost killed two others with poison.;
Cut a leather-hatbox into shreds;
Cut the intricate wiring of a valuable radio set;
Always carried a safety-razor blade, wrapped in paper, in her bloomers, to school.

[“Child-Poisoner Unites Parents – Father and mother to Confer Today on Tot’s Future – Mrs. Platts Collapses from Strain of Situation – Doctors Credit Girl’s Story Despite Denials,” The Los Angeles Times (Ca.), Feb. 4, 1925, Part II, p. 1]

***

Feb 4 (article 2) – FULL TEXT: “Alsa never poisoned any one.

“What does a 7-year-old girl know about poisons?

“She didn’t poison her twin sisters.

“There wasn’t any woman with whom she lived that she had a chance to poison.”

Thus prefacing his remarks, Russell Thompson, held in the psychopathic ward of the General Hospital, following her amazing confession to police that she had poisoned to death three persons and attempted to kill five others, reiterated throughout the course disbelief in the acts which his daughter attributed to herself.

“I do not question the fact that she said what she is quoted as saying,” declared Mr. Thompson at his home, 521 South Sycamore street, Santa Ana. “I just don’t believe that she ever did anything of the kind. Why, it’s impossible.”

~ SAYS STORY ABSURD ~

Told of his daughter’s statement that she had put ground glass into the food of her two twin sisters and killed them, Mr. Thompson said that the statement was absurd.

“The twins,” he said, “died when they were 2 years and 2 months of age. That was in Canada. We had two doctors and a nurse in constant attendance on them when they were ill, and they said death was due to intestinal troubles. Alsa couldn’t possibly have had anything to do with that.”

As for the statement attributed to Alsa by police that she had also killed by poison a woman with whom she formerly lived, the father declared that she had never lived with any other woman aside from Mrs. Platts. Mrs. Inez Platts of 1540 1/4 McCadden Place had cared for Alsa and her little sister, Maxine, for the last two months. It was through Mr. and Mrs. Platts that the child was questioned by police. Mrs. Platts declared that members of the family had been stricken with peculiar maladies since Alsa came to live with them, the climax coming Monday night at the dinner table when the food tasted so strangely members of the family would not eat.

The girl was questioned and, according to Mrs. Platts, calmly admitted attempting to poison them, and added that she had already poisoned three other persons.

Mr. and Mrs. Thompson, parents of Alsa, were separated more than a year ago, the husband and father said yesterday. He declared he has an interlocutory decree of divorce granted at Santa Ana almost a year ago.

The last he knew of Mrs. Thompson, the mother, he declared, was hearing that she was attempting to obtain motion-picture work in Hollywood. He heard later, he said, that she had been working in a downtown Los Angeles store.

Mr. Thompson will come to this city some time today, he said, to confer with authorities about his laughter.

[“Denies His Child Is Borgia – Father of 7-Year-Old Tot Declares Her Story of Poisoning Three is Absurd; Due in City Today,” The Los Angeles Times (Ca.), Part II, Feb. 4, 1925, p. 2]


***

***

Feb. 5 (Article 1) – FULL TEXT: A tale of death, monstrous and fiendish, yesterday tumbled from the lips of a little girl. The story was by Alsa Thompson, 7 years of age, in the office of the office of the psychopathic ward of the General Hospital to Superior Judge Gates and Drs. Martin G. Carter and Edson H. Steele.

Speaking almost in a whisper, but with no evidences of fear or remorse, Alsa told her story to the three men. She began her tale of death in far-away Dauphin, Can., and ended it here in Los Angeles with her arrest two days ago.

She showed no indication of pity for her victims and frankly told the questioning men that she might continue her actions if she was released from custody. She did not seem interested in the future, and asked no questions about her family or her friends. She didn’t seem to care.

“I poisoned my baby sisters by feeding them ground glass in some breakfast food. They died in a few days after I gave them in the glass. I put ant paste in food that was to be given Miss Nettie Steele of 276 South Avenue Fifty-two because I wanted to see her die. She lived about two weeks. I put acid in the food at the Platts home because I wanted to kill them. I don’t know I did it. I might do it again, some time.”

This is what the little child told the tree questioning men at the psychopathic ward and then she repeated her story later to Chief Dept. Dist.-Atty. Buron Fitts yesterday afternoon. She has told the same story since her arrest by Policewoman Feeley from the Hollywood Police Station two days ago.

Going to the details of the various poisonings which she declares she planned, Alsa told Judge Gates and the doctors that she was unable to state when she first thought of poisoning her little twin sisters, 2 years of age.

“I was while papa was living with mama and we were all in Canada,” Alsa said. “I had two sisters then and they were 2 years old. They were twins. One was named Mildred and the other Muriel. They were pretty little girls and I used to play with them.

~ GLASS IN MILK ~

“One morning before breakfast I took a little glass jar from the kitchen and smashed it upon the sidewalk in the front of the house. I picked up the little pieces and put them in some corn flakes and milk that mama had fixed for the twins. I watched them eat it and then went out to play.”

“Why didn’t you stay in the house,” asked Judge Gates.

“Well, you see I was afraid that mother find the glass and scold me about it.”

“My sisters died a few days after they were sick, but I could hear them crying. They had a lot of doctors around the house. When they died I cried, too, and everybody else cried. I felt sorry after they were dead.”

“If you felt sorry after your little sisters were dead why did you let them eat the glass?” This question was put by one of the doctors.

“I was sorry after they were dead, but I wasn’t sorry while they were sick. I used to hear them crying and I wasn’t sorry then.

“After we came to Los Angeles I went to live with Mrs. Steele. I didn’t like her daughter because the little next door kept stealing my toys and then Mrs. Steele would scold me. I made up my mind to poison her and so put some ant paste in her food. She got pretty sick and after a while she died. It was after that that they moved me over to Mrs. Platt’s house on on McCadden Place.

“Mrs. Platt has a little girl, Lorraine, and my little Maxine went over there with me. A friend of Mrs. Platts put a radio in the house and he told me never to touch the battery because it was poison. My mother told me once never to play with glass and never to put it in my mouth because if I swallowed any of it I would die. Mrs. Steele told me not to play with the ant paste, because it was poison. That’s how I knew that if I made my sisters eat the glass they would die and that’s why, I put the ant paste in Mrs. Steele’s food.

~ POISONED COFFEE ~

“Well, I got up late one night and dipped some of the acid out of the battery with a little toy spoon. I put the poison in the can and the next day put some of it in their coffee. I didn’t drink any of the coffee, but everybody else did and they all got sick. I left some of it in the can and the next day put some of it in the coffee. I didn’t drink any of the coffee, but everybody else did and they all got sick. I left some of it in the can and hid it and after a while I fed some of it to Maxine with a spoon. She got pretty sick.

“A couple of nights after the first time I took the acid out of the battery, I got some more and put it on the lamb chops. Everybody got sick again but me, because I didn’t take any of the stuff. After a while I thought that I would cut my little sister’s wrists with a butcher-knife that Mrs. Platts had sharpened, but after I got Maxine into the bathroom and had taken the knife from the drawer, I heard Mrs. Platts coming, so I ran away.

~ REMEMBERED ANT PASTE ~

“After I had used the acid for a while I thought of the ant paste and took some of that form a kitchen shelf and spread it around on the food. Everybody got sick again and called a doctor. At last, Mrs. Platts asked me about it, and I told her and then they had me arrested.”

Alsa told her story without much prompting from the judge or the doctors. A few questions by Judge Gates regarding each attempt to poison some one was enough to start the child telling the details of her various plans. She seemed to be clear in all of her details of her various plans. She seemed to be clear in all of her details and even remembered how the victims acted.

“I guess I liked to see them suffer.”

This was about the only explanation for her actions yesterday.

The remarkable part of the child’s grewsome account was the care which she told of taking to hide her operations and then na├»ve statement that she told Mrs. Platts “because she asked me about it.

Pressed for a reason for her actions Alsa could give none for the poisoning of her twin sisters except that she “liked to see them suffer.” Miss Steele died, she stated, because she “was cross with me.” The attempted poisoning of the Platts family was not explained. “Mrs. Platts was always good to me,” the child said.

~ LOOKED AT TABLE ~

While telling her story yesterday Alsa never looked at Judge Gates, who was asking lots of the questions. She did not glance at anyone in the room. She fixed her eyes on a table in the room and did not smile during the interview.

Alsa was dressed in a short, blue shirt and a white waist. She wore a little blue knit cape trimmed in gray. She kept the cape clutched about her body and played with a tiny handkerchief during the while interview.

A small pair of red shoes worn by the child were the only thing about the girl, with the exception of her hands, that moved during the questioning. The child kept attempting to dig her toes into the floor and before the interview was over she had scuffed all the red off of the toes of her shoes.

[“Alsa Calm In Confession – Shoes No Fear or Remorse in Monstrous Tale of Death Plot Against Twin Sisters,” The Los Angeles Times (Ca.), Feb. 5, 1925, Part II, p. 5]


***

Feb. 5 (Article 2) – FULL TEXT: Declared by alienists to be sane, but lacking in judgement and emotion, Alsa Thompson, 7-year-old enigma, who calmly tells of having taken three human lives by poison and of efforts to take several others, will be put in charge Jeanne McCracken, parole officer of the Lunacy Commission.

This order was made yesterday by Superior Court Judge Walter S. Gates of the Lunacy Commission, after the self-confessed young poisoner had been examined for two hours by the official and doctors at the psychopathic ward of the General Hospital.

That the disposition of the girl’s fate will rest with Judge Gates alone was decided yesterday by Chief Deputy District Attorney Buron Fitts following the examination of numerous witnesses at the District Attorney’s office.

Alsa Thompson probably will remain a day or two yet at the General Hospital, where she has been under observation in the psychopathic ward since shortly after she told for the first time her amazing story of poisoning her twin-sisters and a woman with whom she stayed.

She will then be removed to an institution for further observation.

~ REPEATS STORY ~

Repeating in every detail her story of the poison doses she says she administered to her twin sisters, to Miss Nettie Steele, a woman who had cared for her, to her 2-year-old sister, Maxine, and to members of the family of Mrs. Inez Platts, a later caretaker, the child convinced Drs. Martin G. Carter, assistant superintendent and resident psychiatrist of the General Hospital, and his assistant, Dr. Edson H. Steele, that she was telling the truth in a number of her assertions.

That she is fabricating others was the belief of the doctors, but they were unwilling to state which ones pending a full check of the facts.

A witness to the examination of his 7-year-old daughter, Russell G. Thompson, father of the girl, who rushed to Los Angeles from Santa Ana, where has been living since he and his wife, Clair, were divorced, was questioned by doctors about the family history of the child. Mrs. Thompson did not appear.

~ LACKS JUDGMENT ~

Dr. Steele said after talking to the child: “In my opinion she is sane, but is lacking in judgment and emotion. She shows no remorse for her asserted crimes and is not worried or frightened now. She is as bright as the average child, if not a little in advance of the average. I think she is a menace to society.

“She probably is lying about some of the story, but from straightforward manner of her recitation and from the ingenious, but always practicable, methods of securing the poisons she told of, I am inclined to believe most of her story is true.”

The child was taken by Police-woman Feeley yesterday to the District Attorney’s office, where she was questioned at length by Chief Deputy District Attorney Buron Fitts. Following the examination Fitts declared the District Attorney Buron Fitts. Following the examination Fitts declared the District Attorney’s office has no jurisdiction. Fitts also questioned Russell Thompson, Mrs. Alice V. Steele, Miss Mariam Steele. A. G. Steele and P. M. Davis, the girl’s grandfather.

Mrs. Alice Steele is the mother of the late Nettie Steele, who took care of Alsa Thompson for a while last year and whose death, the little girl says, was due to poison doses she administered.

Mrs. Steele said yesterday she does not believe Alsa’s story; that her daughter died of cancer of the stomach last September and that physicians repeatedly diagnosed the case as this disease. “Alsa was a bad girl and told many lies,” Mrs. Steele declared.

None of the other witnesses believes the story of the poisonings, they told Fitts.

In reference to the death of Miss Nettie Steele, Dr. Charles Wesley Mattison, 5626 Pasadena avenue, the attending physician said yesterday: “I don’t there is any chance of Miss Steele’s having died of poison.”

“When I was called to attend her she told me she had been suffering from trouble for a long time. There was very plainly a mass of something in the pit of the stomach. I diagnosed the case of cancer of the stomach and suggested an operation. Later, when her stomach began to fill her to enter the General Hospital. The officials there apparently concurred in my diagnosis. She died there.”

Dr. Mattison said Miss Steele had been having stomach trouble long before she ever saw Alsa Thompson.

There is no movement to disinter the bodies of the twin sisters of the child, who are buried in Dauphin, Man., Can., according to Capt. McClary of the Hollywood police, Miss Steele’s body was cremated, thus eliminating the possibility of an examination of it.

Fitts has called for Mrs. Thompson, mother of the child, and Mrs. Jess Platts, at whose home the child was boarded until the climax came, to be in his office this forenoon at 9 o’clock to be questioned in a further effort to get at the facts in the case. Mrs. Platts’s home is at 1504 1-4 McCadden Place but Mrs. Thompson’s whereabouts were unknown at the District Attorney’s office, Ben J. Cohn, chief of the investigators for the office, assigned Investigator Ed Elliot to search the city last night for her.

Russell Thompson, father of the child, was in conference with Fitts for an hour or more late yesterday evening. He continued his argument that the child has been spinning tales of childish fiction. Referring to the death of his twin daughters in Canada, whom Alsa said she poisoned, he said Alsa did not even understand enough about death at the time to know where the children had gone.

“Why, where are they taking them?” she asked of her father when the bodies of the twins were taken away, Thompson told Fitts. At that Alsa was but 5 years of age.

After a day of inquiry concerning the child, Fitts leaned back against the wall of his offices and, half-exhausted, said:

“Frankly, I don’t know what to think. It’s the most extraordinary case I have ever heard of. I don’t know whether to believe the child or not. Her stories sound improbable, but then there is the way she tells them. I just don’t know what to think about it yet.

Thompson refused to say whether he had effected a reconciliation with his wife, from whom he was separated about a year ago, after they returned here from Canada. It was learned however, that he yesterday sought a reconciliation and wishes to undo the work of the divorce court, and again set up a home where their children can be cared for under parents’ instead of of hired caretaker’s supervision, such as they have been under since the separation. Thompson is in the battery business in Orange, he said.

Thompson maintained there was no in insanity in either of the families back of the child, and related nothing threw any light on hereditary traits that might be responsible for the little one’s condition.

[“Child Poisoner Declared Sane – Alienists Find Alsa Thompson Lacking in Emotions – Girl Will Be Placed in Charge of Parole Officer – Judge Gates Decided Fate of Child Enigma,” Los Angeles Times (Ca.), Feb. 5, 1925, part II, p. 6]

***

Feb. 6 – FULL TEXT: The troubled mind of Alsa Thompson, 7-year-old child, who has confessed to killing three by poison, will be allowed to right itself under sympathetic conditions, according to the ruling yesterday of the Lunacy Commission, which found the child mentally sick and bordering on insanity but not dangerously insane.

Mrs. Jeanne McCracken, parole officer of the commission, will soon place Alsa in a retreat, where she will be under the supervision of persons versed in the nursing of weakening minds back to health.

The order of the commission was issued yesterday by Judge Walter S. Gates after a hearing at the psychopathic ward of the General Hospital.

~ CONFER OVER BABY~

And shortly after the knock-about existence of Alsa Thompson had been guided into safe haven by the commission, Mr. and Mrs. Russell Thompson, her parents who have been separated, met at the District Attorney’s office for the custody of Maxine Thompson, 2-year-old sister of Alsa.

They decided that the little girl should be taken from the care of Mrs. Inez Platts, with whom she and Alsa have been living, and placed with her father’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Thompson of Santa Ana. The children’s father took the child yesterday afternoon said he would take her book to Santa Ana last night.

It was the story of Alsa’s attempts to poison her baby sisters that formed one of the most sensational angles in the investigation of the girl’s confessed activities in dispensing fatal doses because she “liked to see them die.”

~ MOTHER DOUBTFUL ~

“I do not believe Alsa’s story now,” her mother declared yesterday after the hearing. “I suppose I have been impressionable, but Mrs. Platts was telling me these things all along and I usually believe things people tell me.

“But when Alsa told this morning of breaking glass on the pavement and putting the pieces into the breakfast food of her twin sisters I was sure she was not telling the truth. I would have discovered some of the pieces if the glass was not pulverised. Alsa says it wasn’t.

The improbability that Alsa could have caused the death of her twin sisters two years ago, as she claims, by putting the pieces into their cornflakes, was pointed out by the Defense Attorney Stewart, who cross-examined the witnesses before the commission.

Dr. F. G. Cooper of the General Hospital also declared there was absolutely no trace of arsenic poisoning in the condition of Miss Nettie Steele, former caretaker of Alsa, stated she fed her caretaker arsenic.

During the examination of Mrs. Platts, who swore out the insanity complaint against Alsa, it was brought out that the little girl was bound with ropes around her hands and feet one night at the Platts home.

Mrs. Platts charged that Alsa had attempted to poison her entire family and to slashed the wrists of her baby sister, Maxine.

Following a conference yesterday afternoon between Mrs. Platts of Alsa’s parents at the District Attorney’s office, Chief Dep. Dist.-Atty. Fitts declared: “I gave the Thompsons instructions that they will be wise to take Maxine from Mrs. Platt’s custody and put her with some one else.”

~ EXPERTS OPINION ~

Dr. Paul Powers, who is associated with Judge Gates and Dr. T. J. Orbison on the Lunacy Commission, said yesterday after the hearing: “I think that half what the girls says is true and half false, but that her environment surely has not been the best.”

A chop, which Mrs. Platts charges was sprinkled with sulphuric acid by Alsa in an attempt to poison the family, is now under examination by the County Chemist.

Hope was expressed yesterday by Mrs. McCracken, of the Parole Board, that Alsa Thompson’s mind may be rid of all its abnormalities under the proper care.

Russell Thompson, her father, reiterated his denial before departure that the things to which Alsa confesses could have been done by her.

“My child will now be allowed to get the proper case and I am sure it is the best thing in the world for her. I think she is better away from the influences to which she has been subject, including her mother. I have noting further to say. I will not capitalize in any way on my child.”

~ FATHER FILES PETITION ~

Thompson denied there is a change of reconciliation with his wife.

Russell Thompson yesterday filed a petition in Judge Archibald’s Juvenile Court asking that his daughter, Maxine, be declared a ward of the court, because, he declared, there was no proper parental control being exercised over her at present. He have Maxine’s age as 2 years.

A hearing of the petition will be conducted Monday.

Inasmuch as both parents are declared to have agreed that Maxine shall be given into the custody of her father, this step is taken as a formal means to this end.

[“Haven For Girl Poisoner – Seven-Year-Old Alsa Thompson Will Be Placed in Retreat Under Care of Sympathetic Experts,” Los Angeles Times (Ca.), Feb. 6, 1925, part II, p. 1]

***

Feb. 7 – FULL TEXT: Alsa Thompson stepped from the public stage as a Lucretia Borgia yesterday and became just an ordinary Pollyanna. Healthful recreation was the curtain of mercy drawn down on the old life of real or fancied evil by Mrs. Jeanne McCracken, parole officer of the Lunacy Commission.

In finding the 7-year-old enigma girl “mentally sick” the other day, the Lunacy Commission, presided over by Judge Commission, presided over by Judge Walter S. Gates, tacitly admitted what Dept. Dist. Atty. Buron sp? Fitts and Mrs. McCracken put into put into the two words: “False environment.”

The initial experiment in this process of resurrection showed this:

Alsa played gales with the same childish abandon that any normal girl of  7 years displays.

She skipped and romped exactly the same as any other child of her age.

She forgot her past and lived only in the present.

She played Pollyanna, literally.

In short, she was a normal, rational girl.

~ WATCH REACTION ~

“There is no doubt in my mind,” said Mrs. McCracken, “that Alsa has been the victim of a false environment: that she has been steeped in an atmosphere surcharged with false values. We are watching the reaction closely and I, for one, feel certain that she is going to grow into the physically and mentally healthy girl that she should be under proper circumstances.

“I am convinced that Alsa never killed anyone, except in her imagination. She is still at the psychopathic ward of the General Hospital but has been placed apart where she may have unrestricted recreation, with constructive care.

~ NORMAL ROUTINE ~

“Just how long she will remain there, I can’t say. She will be placed, in the near future, in surroundings where the sensational cannot reach her, where her entire life will be a round of childish work and play. I imagine it will be some place in the country. We don’t intend to announce where that retreat will be, because we want the past wiped completely from the slate and see that she is started out on the right track for the new life I am convinced is before her.

“Now let us hope that she can be removed from the public eye; dropped quietly from the picture, and the day will come when Alsa Thompson will be a credit to society and herself.”

[“New Role For Girl Poisoner – Alsa Thompson Just Plain Pollyanna Now – Curtain Drops on Scene as Lucretia Borgia – Normal Childish Routine at Haven Outlined, The Los Angeles Times (Ca.), Feb. 7, 1925, part II, p. 16]

***

Feb. 10 – FULL TEXT: Little Alsa Thompson, 7-year-old asserted poisoner of her two baby sisters and her former guardian, yesterday presented a new problem to alienists when she denied in full her former story. Her original story was believed by several of the investigators.

The little girls made the retraction, according to her attorney, Charles B. Stewart, Jr., to him, Richard S. Kaplan, legal alienist, and Dr. E. E. Lauer, interne of the psychopathic ward of General Hospital. She declared, Attorney Stewart said, that the “story had been put into her head” and that she “just told it.”

Questioning of the child followed a hearing before Judge Archbald in Juvenile Court at which Mrs. Claire Thompson, the mother, made formal application for the custody of both Alsa and her other child, Maxine, 5. Since the publication of the story of murder credited to Alsa, she has been in the custody of Mrs. Jean McCracken, probation officer, and Maxine has been in the care of the parents of her father, Russell Thompson of Santa Ana. Hearing on the custody of Maxine until May 11.

The change in the girl’s testimony came after physicians and alienists and questioned her about the details of the murders she claimed to have committed and had announced that her story appeared to be true. Through several questionings Alsa stuck with her first version – that she had killed her sisters two years before with ground glass and her former guardian, Miss Nettie Steele, with rat poison – but, according to her attorneys, her latest story denies her former weird tale and blames a woman for suggesting the things to her.

Attorneys Stewart and Kaplan both declared they believe the latest story and that the former stories undoubtedly were caused by fear and suggestion.

[“Alsa Thompson Retracts Tale – Says Poisoning Confession Was Fabrication – Story Put Into Her Head, She Asserts – Basis of Statement Laid to Suggestion,” Los Angeles Times (Ca.), Feb. 10, 1925, Part II, p. 22]

***


Feb. 17 – FULL TEXT: While efforts are being made to win Alsa Thompson, 7 years of age, back to the normal mentality of a child, it developed yesterday that her legal status is about as uncertain as her mental status appeared when her remarkable story of wholesale poisonings was told.

Her indefinite legal status results from conflicting orders issued by Judge Gates of the Lunacy Commission and Judge Archbald of Juvenile Court. Although her case was called yesterday before Dr. Miriam Van Waters, referee of the Juvenile Court, Alsa did not appear. Her case was continued to March 16, next.

The Juvenile Court’s interest in Alsa’s case is in connection with a petition asking that she could be declared a ward of the court. It was filed several weeks ago after the child of the court. It was filed several weeks ago after the child confessed attempting to poison the family, guests and pets of Mrs. Inez Platts, with whom the girl had been “boarded out.” As Juvenile Hall at that time was under quarantine. Judge Archbald issued an order detaining Alsa in the psychopathic ward of the General Hospital.

Meanwhile a lunacy complaint was filed was filed and Judge Gates ruled Alsa to be bordering on mental sickness and ordered her released in the custody of Mrs. Jean McCracken, parole officer. Mrs. McCracken announced she will place Alsa in some safe retreat where her mind can be given a chance to return to the condition of a normal child.

Mrs. McCracken has not brought Alsa before Juvenile Court, it was stated, because she has not been summoned as Alsa’s guardian and custodian.

Another angle of the case is that Juvenile Court provides that court shall have jurisdiction over minors unless they are declared insane or ruled unfit, neither of which conditions apply to Alsa.

Until the mix-up is settled by an agreement between Judges Gates and Archbald, Mrs. McCracken will continue to act as Alsa’s custodian.

[“Mix-Up In Court Over Poison Tot – Alsa Thompson Stays in Custody of Parole Officer ‘Till Judges Decide Status,” Los Angeles Times (Ca.), Feb. 17, 1925, part II, p. 12]

***

Mar. 16 – FULL TEXT: For the third time since her arrest early last month, Alsa Thompson, 7 years of age, who is asserted to have confessed to poisoning three people and then later to have repudiated her confession as an idea planted in her mind by an adult, is scheduled to come before Referee D. Miriam Van Waters for hearing in juvenile court this morning.

This hearing, as listed on court records, is to be on a petition filed against the child by the juvenile authorities after Mrs. Inez Platt of Hollywood, her former guardian, complained that Alsa had sought to poison her, her daughter, guests at the house and Maxine Thompson, 3-year-old sister of Alsa.

After her arrest Alsa is said to have confessed to poisoning her twin sisters in Canada several years ago by giving them ground glass, and to have poisoned a Mrs. Steele, with whom she formerly lived. Later she is said to have repudiated this “confession.”

Shortly after the Juvenile Court petition was issued, a lunacy complaint was filed against the child and at a hearing before Judge Gates she was adjudged sane, but released in the custody of Mrs. Joanne McCracken, psychopathic parole officer, who was instructed to place her in an environment where she could regain the faculties of a normal child of her age.

When the juvenile petition was called for hearing on two subsequent occasions Alsa was not in court on account of the lunacy court’s order, and it was expected measures would be taken today to dispose of the juvenile petition. Alsa is a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Russell G. Thompson, who are said to have separated several years ago.

[“Girl Enigma Up Today In Poison Quiz – Alsa Thompson, Child Psychopathic Riddle, to be in Juvenile Court,” Los Angeles Times (Ca.), Mar. 16, 1925, part II, p. 9]

***

Mar. 17 – FULL TEXT: A new vista of life opened yesterday for Alsa Thompson, 7 years of age, who startled the nation a month ago by “confessing” she had poison three persons.

A Superior Court order releasing Alsa in the custody of Mrs. Jean McCracken, psychopathic parole officer, was dissolved by Judge Gates, and a petition asking that the child be declared a ward of the Juvenile court was dismissed with the result that Alsa was placed in the care of her father. Russell Thompson, with the opportunity of starting her young life all over again.

~ CONFESSED KILLINGS ~

Alsa was brought to the attention of the juvenile authorities early last month when Mrs. Inez Platt, with whom the girl had been “boarded out,” complained that Alsa had attempted to poison members of her family and her guests.

This action was followed by the “confession” on the part of Alsa that she had taken the lives of her twin sisters and a Mrs. Steele with whom she formerly lived by giving them ground glass and poison. A check by the authorities revealed that the sisters had died in Canada several years ago of stomach trouble and that Mrs. Steele passed away after a protracted illness.

~ FAVORABLE REPORTS ~

In the meantime, an insanity complaint was filed against the child and she was ordered released by Judge Gates to the custody of Mrs. McCracken. Yesterday, Judge Gates ordered the case dismissed on Mrs. McCracken’s report that there was nothing wrong with the child and that her mental and physical reactions were those of a normal child her age.

This action was followed with the dismissal of the juvenile petition of Referee Dr. Miriam Van Waters of Juvenile Court. The juvenile officials placed “little credit in Alsa’s “confession” and said yesterday the child had since repudiated it. They expressed the belief that the “confession” was either the product of the child’s imagination or adduced by suggestion of some adult.

[“New Chance Is Given Alsa – Child Who Confessed and Later Denied poisoning Three Is Release in Father’s Care,” Los Angeles Times (Ca.), Mar. 17, 1925, part II, p. 8]

***

***

***

***



***

***

Alsa Thompson case : Study Notes

THOMPSON FAMILY

Thompson, Alsa – 7, in 8th grade; in grade A-2 at Selma street school; newspaper monikers – “Baby Borgia” “Infant Borgia” “Baby Maniac.”
Thompson, Claire – mother, quoted as believing in Alsa’s guilt, works at large confectionary firm; resides in Culver City.
Thompson, Maxine – sister (2?); “I fed some of it [sulfuric acid] to Maxine with a spoon”; stricken with convulsions on Sunday (Feb. 1).
Thompson, Mildred & Muriel – twins, girls, 26-mo, died Sep. 1922; Oct. 1922; Dauphin, Manitoba, Canada.
Thompson, Russell G.– father, telephone company employee, quoted as not believing in Alsa’s guilt; his parents lived in Santa Ana; 521 South Sycamore street, Santa Ana.

***

IMPORTANT PERSONS

Kearns, William – a fireman, friend of the Platts family, told how while he was installing a radio set
P., David – Nettie Steele’s grandfather
Platt , Jesse & Inez (or, Platts) – foster parents, 1540 ½ McCadden street, Hollywood (“Price,” “Pratt,” erroneously in non-LAT sources)
Platt, Lorraine –  daughter (12)
Steele, Miss Nettie – 48; died October 14, 1924; body cremated; a woman with whom she had lived after the separation of her mother from her father, by putting (ant paste) (ground glass) into the grapenuts she was preparing to eat. They found on the records of Los Angeles General Hospital the name of Miss Steele dead from what was thought to be cancer of the stomach!; 5530 York Boulevard, resided with mother, Alice.
Steele, Alice – Nettie Steele’s mother; 5530 York Boulevard (with Nettie); A. G. Steele, 276 East Avenue 55 (at time of the Alsa controversy).
Wood, Betty & Billie – twins; about 3; residing with the Platt family.
“Hollywood woman” as source of “hoax” – (Rochester Journal, Feb. 10, 1925) This would be Inez Platt, who threatened legal action after Alsa recanted her confession and accused Mrs. Platt into coerceing her into the confession.

PETS HARMED

Canaries (2) – ant powder; killed one canary, almost killed two others.
Cat – poisoned (Feb. 3, 1925) “two canaries and a cat”

MEDICAL & LEGAL PROFESSIONALS

Archbald, Superior Judge –
Carter, Dr. Morton G. – assistant general superintendent of the General Hospital at Los Angeles, member of board of 3 which tried the child (San Antonio, Mar. 1, 1925)
Duff, Dr. L. J.– treated Maxine (battery poison in cough medicine)
Gates, Superior Judge Walter S. – Los Angeles, lunacy trial
Fitts, Baron – assistant Los Angeles county DA
Kaplan, Dr. Richard S.– legal alienist
Lauer, Dr. E. E. – legal alienist.
McCracken, Mrs. Jeane – parole officer of the County Lunacy Commission, quoted as not believing in Alsa’s guilt, developed theory of conditioning by crime narratives (“false environment”)
Orbison, Dr. T.  J.– member of board of 3 which tried the child (San Antonio, Mar. 1, 1925)
Police matron – unnamed
Powers, Dr. Paul – member of board of 3 which tried the child (San Antonio, Mar. 1, 1925)
Bottomley, Dr. E. – doctor in Canada for the twins.
Prescot – Chief Deputy Probation Officer.
Wagner – County Autopsy Surgeon
Williams, Dr. Edwin Huntington – alienist and psychologist

OTHER NAMES

Feeley, Policewoman – Hollywood Police Station
Fitts, Buron – Chief Dept. Dist.-Atty.
Floyd, Miss May S. – principal of Selma street school
Henry, Miss Anna – Alsa’s teacher, Selma street school
McGarry – Police Detective
McIntyre – Police Detective
Nelson –  Police Sergt.

POISONS

Ground glass – twins, cornflakes, Mildred & Muriel Thompson, in 2 bowls; in Nette Steele’s food.
Ant paste – Miss Nettie Steele, ant paste into the grapenuts; Platts canary; on cold turkey at Platts home.
Sulphuric Acid – from radio battery (lead-acid “B battery”) in coffee at Platts home; in lamb chops; in Maxine’s cough medicine; in peaches.
Butcher-knife – Maxine, attempted to cut wrists.
Razor – safety razor blade, slashed wrist of Platts daughter, Lorraine (12), & sister Maxine Thompson (2); “Mama,” she sobbed, “Alsa’s got a razor. She tried to cut my wrists with it, and when I got away she tried to cut Maxine Thompson’s wrists too.”
Sulphuric acid (from battery)  – peaches.
Sulphuric acid (from battery)  – coffee.

PLACES

Dauphin, Manitoba, Canada – the bodies of Alsa’s twin sisters lie buried; typhoid fever, or maybe it was endrogastritis.
County Psychopathic Hospital
Children’s Guidance Clinic – 1401 South Grand Ave.

CHRONOLOGY

Sep. 1922 – Mildred Thompson, dies.
Oct. 1922 – Muriel Thompson, dies.
Sep. 7, 1924 – Nettie Steele, dies.
Feb. 3, 1925 – Investigation
Feb. 4, 1925 – Alsa’s confession.
Feb. 5, 1925 – Gates rules not insane, but to be kept under observation
Feb. 6, 1925 – DA drops charges; Gates: “not insane, but she is mentally ill”
Feb. 9, 1925 – retracts story; “intimidation” by Inez Platts story (referred to as “Hollywood woman,”reported Feb. 10)
Mar 16 , 1925 – father given custody

ACCUSATIONS / CONFESSIONS (NON-FATAL)

Attack Maxine with butcher knife (“razor blade” non-LAT source)

Theft of stockings – gave to schoolmates.
Theft of $5 – gave to boy at school.
Theft of gold knife – gave to a boy at school.
Razor blade carried to school wrapped in paper; kept in bloomers.
Cut up a rug with a safety-razor blade.
Chipped big chunks out of the fireplace with a hammer.
Marred the furniture.
Burned a hole in the table-cover.
Killed one canary and almost killed two others with poison.
Cut a leather-hatbox into shreds.
Cut the intricate wiring of a valuable radio set.
Always carried a safety-razor blade, wrapped in paper, in her bloomers, to school.

EARLIER ACTIONS CONFESSED

Murder of twins with broken glass in corn flakes (not plausible)
Murder of caretaker with ant paste in grape nuts

QUOTES

“Yes, I killed the twins. And I poisoned Miss Steele,” she said. “Cause I wanted to see ‘em suffer! See ‘em die!” [The American Weekly (Magazine section of San Antonio Light) (Tx.), Mar. 8, 1925]

A few days after being placed under observation in the County Lunacy Commission Alsa apparently repented her frankness and told Dr. E. E. Lauer and Richard S. Kaplan, legal alienists, that she did not poison her sisters and denied that she had poisoned Miss Steele.

“A woman in Hollywood kept telling me I did it,” she said. “She said it so often that, finally, to satisfy her, I said I did. I wanted her to quit bothering me.”

“I guess I was just mean and liked to see them suffer,” the girl is said to have declared in admitting the poisonings. In speaking of the deaths of one of her little sisters, Alsa showed only a slight trace of emotion, saying “she was so pretty – I was sorry I had given her anything.” [“Second Grade School Girl Poison Fiend – Alsa Thompson, 7, Confesses Causing deaths of Sisters and Woman,” Logansport Pharos-Tribune (In.), Feb. 3, 1925, p. 1]

In explaining her acts to the officers and her questioners, the girl showed no sign of emotion and she said she “guessed she was just bad.” [“Girl’s Ghastly Tale Reunites Parents – Claim 7-year-old Lass to Be Murderer of Three Reconciles Father and Mother. - Police Scoff At Story - Authorities Believe Self-styled Poison Fiend’s Story Is a Figment of Imagination.” Logansport Pharos-Tribune (In.), Feb. 4, 1925, p. 1; note: “scout her story” correct to “scoff at her story.”]

***

No comments:

Post a Comment