Monday, September 9, 2013

Adele Ritchie -- Murder and Suicide in Laguna Beach

Once known as the “Dresden china doll of the musical comedy stage,” Ritchie was born in Philadelphia in 1877.  In 1893, she made her first public appearance in the light opera, The Algerian.  Leading roles in other operas ensued, followed by a stint in vaudeville.  On November 3, 1916, the recently divorced actress married stage actor Guy Bates Post in Toronto shortly before his matinee performance as the lead in Omar the Tentmaker.  After the marriage, Ritchie all but retired from the theatre although she did America’s World War I recruiting effort by singing patriotic songs in vaudeville in 1917.  The couple divorced in 1929 and the 52-year-old actress relocated to the exclusive artist colony of Laguna Beach, California where she directed plays for the Community Playhouse.  There, Ritchie became close friends with Doris Murray Palmer, dubbed the “most beautiful woman in Laguna Beach,” a wealthy divorcee some twenty years her junior.  The pair was inseparable companions until Palmer’s popularity in the community’s closely knit social circle began to eclipse that of Ritchie’s.  A past collaborator with Ritchie in the Community Playhouse, Palmer had designed all the stage settings and scenery for the theatre’s latest offering, The Lady from Memphis, and was set to direct alone.

The pair’s relationship reached a flashpoint on April 24, 1930, at Palmer’s hillside bungalow at 2337 Glenneyre Street in Laguna Beach.  Ritchie was visiting her friend when she learned that Palmer had been invited to a luncheon and she had not.  Ritchie insisted on attending, but Palmer was equally adamant that she was not invited, and angrily turning her back on the former actress, walked down a hallway leading to the garage.  Ritchie pulled a nickel plated, pearl-handled .32-caliber revolver from her purse and shot the 35-year-old woman once in the back (the bullet entering under the left shoulder blade, and piercing the heart) and once at close range in the back of the head.  According to the police reconstruction of the crime, Ritchie then spent the next two hours driving around the beach community trying to decide upon a course of action.  Finally, she returned to the crime scene and moved Palmer’s body to a room adjoining the living room.  Ritchie carefully arranged the murdered woman’s body:  folded her arms across her chest, straightened out her clothes, combed her hair, placed a pillow beneath the head, then applied rouge, lipstick, and powder to Palmer’s face.  She then retired to the adjoining living room and, after first firing a shot at her head that missed, reclined on the sofa, placed the gun to her right ear, and pulled the trigger.  In the throes of her death agony, the actress rolled to the floor.  Their bodies were later discovered by a mutual friend who stopped by the bungalow to return Palmer’s lost dog.  Guy Bates Post, informed of his former wife’s murder-suicide before a performance of The Play’s the Thing in Hawaii, said, “We lived together fourteen years, but frankly I never felt I knew her.  She was very proud.”

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