Larry Lord Motherwell, 42, former felon and construction worker went on a 10-day spending spree in Las Vegas. Perhaps a premonition tickled his spine that the proverbial ton of bricks was about to descend on him.
It started with an arrest by Las Vegas police for failure to register as a former felon and being a fugitive from Maryland in connection to a homicide investigation.
They wanted to question him about the death of an infant girl buried in a Frederick, Maryland pet cemetery. The warrant dated back to June, 1954.
When apprehended, Motherwell was driving a new station wagon, had $1800 cash in his pocket and used the name of Art Rivers. He told anyone that would listen that he just returned from Cuba where he had been on assignment as a foreign correspondent.
Once interrogated he admitted the child was his 14-month-old daughter Heather, but he had not killed her. She had a tongue abnormality, he placed her on her back after eating and she suffocated accidentally. Later it was determined she had some type of retardation or Down's syndrome. He interred her pretending it was a pet dog.
It wasn't only Maryland authorities who questioned him, but California and Nevada waited their turn to ask him about certain cases. One involved the disappearance of Pearl Lida Putney, 72, a wealthy widow who dropped from sight after she was last seen with Motherwell in Las Vegas the summer before. She drove out there with him from Washington D.C. on what she called a last fling.
He told police they parted ways in Las Vegas, and he left her there to marry another man. According to him, he acted only as her chauffeur. Police had no proof to dispute this claim.
In February, 1959 Motherwell was freed by the grand jury because there was insufficient evidence to indict him on the charge of murdering his daughter. The cause of her death could not be ascertained.
However the police bided their time and continued their investigation. In August of the same year, parched bones were found in Turner Canyon at the foothills of the Sierras. They were identified through dental work as belonging to Pearl Putney. Alma Freeman who was hunting pine cones with her granddaughter stumbled upon them.
Pearl didn't randomly pick a cross country trip as her last fling. She frequently crossed the country on extended trips for many years before.
Her husband Dr. Albert Putney, who died in 1929, was a member of the State Department. The couple were well known in Washington's diplomatic circles. She lived for many years at an apartment on Porter Street with her mother Ida Meek Dabrohua. Her only other relative was a half-brother Castro Meek Dabrohua who lived in Illinois.
Motherwell and Pearl met in 1949, when he moved into the same apartment building.
Mrs. Putney vanished on August 15, 1958 when she was staying at the Town House Motel in Marysville, California. This was 90 miles from where her skeletal remains were found. The widow was reported to be carrying $50,000 at that time, most of it came from the sale of several of her properties.
In mid-September the Washington Metropolitan Police opened a missing person's case on Mrs. Putney. It was almost a year later that the skeletal remains were found in the forest.
This was what police had been waiting for.
At that point the police didn't know where Motherwell was, and California issued a warrant for his arrest. Within a few days the FBI joined the search, and on August 25, 1959 they caught up to him. He was in Atlanta, and about to board a plane for Cleveland. He was using the name Craig DuBar.
He went to jail under a $50K bond. His wife engaged attorneys for him, however by mid-September he was extradited to California to face charges of murdering Pearl Putney. Once there he pled innocent to the charge.
A grand jury deliberated only 5 minutes and turned in a unanimous vote to prosecute him.
The trial was held in Downieville, California, a Sierra gold mining town. The jail stood in the shadow of the old gallows where vigilantes used to hang horse thieves. The jury consisted of nine women and three men.
One of those brought in to testify was Evelyn Dougherty. She met Motherwell on board a flight from Miami to Cleveland on October 9, 1958.
He told her his name was Arthur Rivers, and he was a correspondent for the United Press, enroute to cover a big news story. He told her he served in the military and had been a prisoner of war in Korea.
In November, he returned to Cleveland and proposed marriage. He told her he had no wife or children. As an engagement present he gave her a garnet necklace, saying it belonged to his deceased grandmother. He then took a cross country trip with his fiancee ending up Laguna Beach, California. He then gave her another gift of three cameos.
He told her he was leaving for the Orient on a mission and would marry her as soon as he returned. He borrowed $2000 from her supposedly to pay his income tax. He left her in Laguna Beach, and this was the last time she saw him.
All the pieces of jewelry were later found to belong to Mrs. Putney.
Marie Colley testified that in October, 1957, Motherwell told her he was divorcing his wife Josephine, and planned to marry her.
They went on a trip to Florida and rented an apartment there. He told her that because of his secret government work he needed bodyguards, one of who was named "The Dagger."
Shortly after arriving in Florida he disappeared, and then she received a telegram signed by "The Dagger", saying that Motherwell was killed and his cremated ashes were scattered in the Everglades.
She returned to her home in Roanoke, Virginia, and two weeks later Motherwell paid her a visit, saying the telegram was a mistake. The person killed was his twin brother.
Now plans had changed and they had to go out West for the divorce since the laws in Florida could not accommodate his plans. Their ultimate destination was Reno so he could secure the divorce. They took Highway 40 to Donner Summit, but had to turn back because of snow. They tried another route through Marysville, California and took the Feather River Canyon route. They stopped the automobile near a large cliff so they could look over the side of the canyon. She didn't go near the edge, and noticed the ground was slippery and wet. Motherwell told her there was no danger but she refused.
The promised divorce from his wife or his marriage to Marie Colley never took place, and she never saw him again after they returned to Virginia.
During the hearing, his first wife Dorothy sobbed on the witness stand that he took her and their two children rowing on a lake. He hit her on the head with a pipe and tipped over the boat in an attempt to do away with them in 1945. It was shortly after this that they divorced.
The prosecuting attorney subpoenaed Janice Hampton, a clerk in the Western Union office in San Francisco. She testified that on August 16, 1958 she sent a telegram to Mrs. Putney's half-brother, C.astro Dabrohua at Winnetka, Illinois. The telegram said she was flying to Mexico to get married. The one placing the telegram was Motherwell. She asked him if he was the groom, and he said no, he was sending it on behalf of his aunt.
During the proceedings Motherwell said he knew Mrs. Putney for about 10 years, and that she became a "tippler" who got into auto accidents and used a great deal of medicine. He called her "a little old lady with sex on her mind."
After leaving Washington D.C. they went to Florida. In Saraosta she withdrew $13,000 cash from a bank account. From there they headed to Georgia and North Carolina before heading westward. They registered using different names including Dr. and Mrs. Putney or Dr. and Mrs. Motherwell.
Along the way, Pearl sent postcards out, however she failed to tell her network of friends that she traveled only with Motherwell. She referred to her journey as being with a group of friends.
They arrived in Las Vegas, Nevada on August 4, 1958.
During the trial authorities found a woman in Sarasota, Florida, who testified Pearl introduced Motherwell as her fiancee.
Motherwell told a story about what happened when they arrived in Marysville. He went to dinner alone, and when he returned to the room, he found she was tipsy. He stated, "She wanted me to kiss her... she disrobed (partially)... made a few vulgar statements... told me I was being paid enough to know she was a woman, a woman alive... that I wasn't such an angel that I didn't know she was a woman."
According to him, after this he drove her back to Las Vegas and they parted ways. She told him she was marrying a South American diplomat.
During cross-examination the prosecutor took pains to show how callous Motherwell truly was. He told the jury that less than 2 weeks after his wife Sarah had drowned he applied for a new apartment with his wife "Sally."
Motherwell denied this, and asked for proof. A lease was produced, filled out in his handwriting. Then the attorney asked him about an affidavit he signed stating that he changed his name because he was raised by an aunt. This contradicted testimony Motherwell had already given where he described growing up in Ohio with both of his parents.
The prosecutor told the jurists, that during those days when Motherwell reacquainted himself with Mrs. Putney, among her friends she introduced him as "Dr. Motherwell, a retired naval officer who was involved in some highly secret work for the Government." In early 1958, she was taking lessons at Arthur Murray Studio and told her instructor she was "contemplating marrying a man who was a doctor and a very brilliant man, but who was considerably younger than she."
He was married to his third wife Josephine then.
In June 1958, Mrs. Putney met her brother in New York. She told her sister-in-law that Josephine was being unfaithful and that Motherwell was divorcing her; "that the FBI was getting the information on the wife to assist in the divorce." Mrs. Dabrohua told her it was ridiculous to think the FBI would involve themselves in marital troubles. Mrs. Putney "clammed up", and she made no further mention of Motherwell.
Then the prosecutor introduced items found in Motherwell's possession. They were social security cards, drivers' licenses and other documents using the aliases of Allen Dunbar Foster or Allen Michel Dunbar. It was not only IDs but resumes that were part of the cache. Dunbar reflected as the owner of a large steel mill in Cuba that had been taken over by Fidel Castro.
Motherwell was the last to testify, and in his closing argument the prosecutor told the jury, “We know she believed he was going to divorce his wife, Josephine, and marry her. Mrs. Putney belonged to a large sorority of women who were taken in by this psychopath.”
On March 15, 1960 the jury convicted Motherwell of murder. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.
With the shadow of the gas chamber looming, prosecutors were now going to try to prove he murdered his second wife Sarah and their daughter Heather.
He was kept on suicide watch at the county jail, until being transferred to San Quentin.
His wife Josephine divorced him in 1962.
It seemed that psychopath was quite accurate in describing Larry Lord Motherwell. First of all his real name was Frank Eugene Caventer.
In 1940, he married to his first wife, Dorothy, and they had a newborn daughter named Gail. They would go on to have another child.
In 1945, he was already using the alias of Motherwell. He was arraigned before the United States Commissioner in Minneapolis on a charge of illegally wearing a military discharge button. He posed as a navy commander and an industrial relations adviser to Chiang Kai-shek. He was arrested by the FBI after he offered a Minneapolis man a job in China as a public speaking instructor for the Chinese government in exchange for a $27 bill for fixing a typewriter.
It was during these years he made the acquaintance of his neighbor Pearl Putney.
By 1949, he divorced, remarried and moved away from Washington D.C. His new wife Sarah McClurkin was a librarian. In 1953, their daughter Heather was born and she had Down's Syndrome. The couple placed the child in a Maryland home for "retarded children."
Less than a year after Heather's birth Sarah was found floating face up in the bathtub of their Clydesdale Place apartment in Washington on November 8, 1953. Her death was ruled accidental.
By 1955, Motherwell added the title of captain to his alias. He was arrested and pled guilty to 12 counts of a 14 count indictment. His plea included: falsely assumed and pretended to be an officer, wearing the uniform of a captain in the United State Navy, wearing the Navy cross, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit award among other military medals.
For this he was placed on a two-year probation. Part of his sentence mandated he submit himself for psychiatric treatment.
In 1956 he married Josephine Smiroldo. He explained his long absences from home by saying he worked as a spy for the government on secret missions.
During this time that he renewed his friendship with Pearl Putney.
It was at this point that Motherwell's web of lies start to unravel, and the full depth of his crimes came to light, and it turned out he was much worse than a lying conman who impersonated military personnel.
Once the warrant was issued for Motherwell's arrest in January 1959, the police started to investigate what happened to Heather. They contacted Sarah's family in Alabama.
A. R. Taylor and his wife Hattie answered their inquiries. They were Sarah's aunt and uncle. They said Heather was placed in a home run by Ella Hinkson in Takoma Park, Maryland.
Detectives found Mrs. Hinkson and interviewed her. She said Mr. Motherwell came and picked up his daughter on June 19, 1954. He told her he was moving to Tallahassee where his parents lived, and would find a place for her there. Because of the secret missions he undertook for the government he traveled quite a bit. This of course was all lies.
Mrs. Hinkson gave him special instruction when feeding Heather and precautions to be taken so she would not choke on her food and strangle. She saw neither of them again.
The detectives then went to where Motherwell was living at the time.
A former tenant said that Motherwell talked about the combat dog which saved his life during the Korean War. Coworkers at a construction company recalled where he would bragged about knowing E. Dwight McCain a renown estate owner.
The next person interviewed was Mr. McCain, who told them they knew each other from church but actually met the first time when Motherwell came to his farm. McCain was a dog breeder and loved animals. Motherwell told him his beloved dog had died and that he wanted to bury it in the small cemetery he had on the grounds.
He granted Motherwell permission and watched when he carried a small wooden box which he buried in the cemetery. He stood there for a while, According to McCain he returned a number times, sometimes with a woman to visit the grave.
The day Motherwell buried the small coffin was June 20, 1954, the day after he took his daughter from the care of Mrs. Hinkson.
Those hunting him knew he had no military background. They obtained permission to dig up the grave and with deep regret but little surprise they found the badly decomposed remains of a baby girl inside. All the items Mrs. Hinkson had sent with the child were there as well.
The Taylors told detectives that shortly after taking Heather he told them he needed $300 to place her in an institution in Tallahassee. They gave him the money, but unbeknownst to them, Heather was dead and buried in a pet cemetery.
Eventually Motherwell's charge was changed from first degree murder to second degree murder, and in December 1961, he was re-sentenced to an indeterminate five-year term to life term.
In prison he became a cabinet maker and behaved well, however he was denied parole three times. For the last two years he worked in the prison carpenter shop, then on February 28, 1966 he dropped dead from a heart attack. He was 49 years old.
Neither his parents or any other relatives came to take custody of the body and he was cremated at Mt. Tamalpais Cemetery.
One has to wonder how many women Motherwell victimized beyond telling outlandish stories and promising them marriage.
In the book, Call of Duty: My Life Before, During and After the Band of Brothers, written by Lynn Compton who prosecuted Motherwell a passage reads, "Although the crimes could not be proved, Maryland police have stated that Motherwell confessed to them that he had killed seven women altogether, including his infant daughter, Heather. Motherwell was particularly remorseful about his daughter because he had buried her alive."
The police never recovered any of the cash or securities Motherwell stole from Mrs. Putney before and after her murder.
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer