Anyone who has watched a fair number of crime-solvers in movies or on television is familiar with a six-word declaration inevitably made by all lead investigators or the persons who trained them:
"I do not believe in coincidences!"
That line was much on my mind as I read about one of the most famous crimes from the 1930s — the murder of Rheta Gardner Wynekoop, the 23-year-old wife of ne'er-do-well mommy's boy Earle Wynekoop, whose only job in his first 27 years was at a world's fair — Chicago's 1933 Century of Progress — where, for a few months, he was a guide on one of the fair's top attractions, the Sky Ride. Wynekoop spent most of his time at the fair pretending he was a single guy named Michael so he could freely flirt with young women, whose names, addresses, phone numbers and a descriptive code were later found a notebook that provided police with interesting reading.
While newspapers at the time described the Wynekoop case as a confusing mystery, to the lead investigator it was clear from the get-go that only one person could have killed Rheta Wynekoop — her mother-in-law, Dr. Alice Lindsay Wynekoop. The confusing thing is why anyone still claims the woman was innocent. The only miscarriage of justice is that Dr. Wynekoop's son, Earle, whom she lovingly called "Precious," was not tried and convicted as an accessory before the fact.
CONSIDER these "coincidences":
√ A month before the murder, Dr. Wynekoop took out two insurance policies on the life of her daughter-in-law. The insurance wasn't much — tops, Dr. Wynekoop would have received $12,000 if she had gotten away with the murder — but every dollar would have been appreciated, because there was a financial crisis at the Wynekoop home, where Earle and his wife lived with his mother. That is, when Earle found the time to be there. His mother had wanted more insurance — she asked for a $10,000, double indemnity policy on Rheta's life, but she'd spent so much time spreading lies about her daughter-in-law's health, that no insurance company would provide anything more than a $5,000 policy.
√ On November 11, 1933, ten days before the murder, Earle had a gunsmith clean and oil a .32 caliber revolver he'd previously purchased for his mother. He also bought ammunition. When he went home with the gun, Earle gave Mommy a shooting lesson in the family's garage, apparently having her fire blanks so that no slugs would be found.
√ On November 12, Earle left the house, telling his wife that he and a friend, Stanley Young, were driving to the Grand Canyon where Earle would take color photographs for a railroad advertisement. (I believe this would have been on spec, as they say. There was no mention of Earle being assured of any payment for this venture.)
But, in fact, Earle didn't leave Chicago until the morning of November 21, the day of the murder. Secretly, he had remained in town and saw at least two of his girl friends. He and Young did attempt to leave town on Friday, November 17, but car trouble forced them back to Chicago.
√ Two days later, a disgruntled Earle called his mother and asked to meet somewhere away from the house and his wife. They had a long conversation in his automobile, seven miles from home. He told mommy he was miserable in his marriage, had fallen in love with someone else, and wanted to divorce Rheta. Mother didn't approve of divorce; she thought it would drag the Wynekoop name through the dirt. She was sensitive to what others thought, and the Wynekoops had been embarrassed for years by the antics of Dr. Wynekoop's brother-in-law, Gilbert, a once-respected doctor who had a messy divorce, and since then had been accused of sexual assault by several women.
√ Dr. Wynekoop arranged for the two non-family tenants of her 16-room house to be absent most of Tuesday, November 21, 1933. John Van Pelt, long past his prime, earned his keep by doing odd jobs around the house. Dr. Wynekoop sent Van Pelt to the suburb of Glencoe to stay with her older son, Walter, for as long as it took to paint Walter's house.
√ That left Enid Hennessey, a character straight out of a Hitchcock film. (I thought of Hitchcock's daughter, Patricia, perhaps best remembered as Ruth Roman's sister in "Strangers on a Train.") Ms. Hennessey was a single, fifty-ish teacher, and, on the day of the murder, did not return home from work until six o'clock, because Dr. Wynekoop had asked her to run an errand downtown.
√ Finally, Dr. Wynekoop asked her daughter-in-law, her target, to change her daily routine so she would be at the home in the middle of the afternoon instead going shopping or for a walk just before dinnertime.
POLICE would believe — logically and correctly, I think — that between 4 and 6 p.m., Dr. Wynekoop led or followed her daughter-in-law to the doctor's basement office where the young woman often went to weigh herself. Dr. Wynekoop would tell several versions of what might have happened to Rheta, whose body wound up face down on an examining table, covered by a sheet and blanket, with a bullet hole in her back. The shot was fired from the .32 caliber revolver that Earle had repaired for the occasion.
Motives? The most obvious one was to free "Precious" to marry again. Divorce would be a matter of public record, and could prove costly. Murder, if done cleverly, could be blamed on someone else, especially since Dr Wynekoop, who had a spiritual advisor named John Hopkins, would claim she had become devoutly religious. If the woman wouldn't permit her son to divorce, surely she wouldn't allow herself to commit murder.
Her first scapegoat would be some unknown "moron" who broke into her basement office looking for money or drugs. She told police there had been two recent break-ins at her office, but hadn't reported them.
Another scapegoat wasn't mentioned until several years later, when Dr. Wynekoop attempted to win a parole, and one of her friends, Dr. Bertha Van Hoosen, lent her support by trying to convince authorities the real murderer was Gilbert Wynekoop, forgetting Gilbert was in police custody when the murder was committed. Thus he had an airtight alibi.
AFTER MURDERING Rheta, Dr. Wynekoop put on quite a show for Ms. Hennessey, who came home shortly after six to have dinner with her long-time landlady. Pork chops were the main course. Dr. Wynekoop even put food on a plate and covered it to keep it warm for Rheta.
Ms. Hennessey told police Dr. Wynekoop seemed annoyed because Rheta wasn't home. The young woman's absence puzzled the teacher for two reasons — first, Rheta usually cooked the meals; second, after arising from the supper table she'd noticed Rheta's purse and the hat and coat she ordinarily wore were lying on a table in the hallway. Dr. Wynekoop suggested Rheta must have left the house wearing a different coat. (Another lesson from detective movies and programs: Leaving her purse behind was very suspicious.)
At 7 p.m., Dr. Wynekoop phoned a neighbor, a young woman named Vera Duncan, one of Rheta's few friends, and expressed concern that her daughter-in-law wasn't home. Mrs. Duncan told her not to worry, not realizing Dr. Wynekoop's phone call was merely a ploy.
Dr. Wynekoop sent Ms. Hennessey on another errand, and when the teacher returned, she complained of a headache, and the doctor went to her basement office to get some medication while the teacher went upstairs to her bedroom.
IT WAS NOW about 8:30. That's when Dr. Wynekoop pretended to discover Rheta's body, about three hours after she'd put a bullet in her daughter-in-law's back at such an angle that it passed through the young woman's heart and came to rest behind her left breast.
The doctor summoned Enid Hennessey from her bed, then called her doctor-daughter, Dr. Catherine Wynekoop, on duty at Cook County Hospital. Several calls were made to relatives and a couple of doctors, before undertaker Thomas Ahern was contacted. He arrived between 9:30 and 10, and Dr. Wynekoop wanted him to take away the body.
Ahern said he couldn't, because Rheta Wynekoop had obviously been murdered. He reminded Dr. Wynekoop, who should have known better, that police had to be notified. Dr. Wynekoop did know better, but wanted to keep Rheta Wynekoop's death strictly a family matter, and not involve police. She may have thought she was prominent enough to warrant special treatment.
Miss Hennessey was a witness to everything, but said little. (Picture Sgt. Schultz in "Hogan's Heroes," claiming, "I know nothing!") Police soon suspected the teacher knew something, and were annoyed when they caught her using a phone extension to listen in on a call to headquarters to report what had been found at the Wynekoop home.
WHILE NEWSPAPERS would make it out to be Chicago's "greatest mystery," the murder was as good as solved soon after veteran city police detective John Stege arrived at the Wynekoop home. Stege saw through Dr. Wynekoop's theory her daughter-in-law had been murdered by "a moron" who broke into her office in search of money and/or drugs.
There was no evidence of a break-in. The murder scene was unusually neat. The murder weapon was found near the victim's head; the gun was neatly wrapped in a towel. And the only murderers who cover their victims are those who had some personal connection with them. Stege knew Dr. Wynekoop was lying about other things, but couldn't rule out another obvious suspect, Earle Wynekoop, until he learned of the young man's whereabouts when his wife was killed.
It was too soon to make accusations, but Detective Stege told his associates, "Dr. Alice Lindsay Wynekoop murdered her daughter-in-law!"
WHAT TURNED this case into a media circus was the sad and unusual marriage of Rheta and Earle Wynekoop, and his affairs with other women, two in particular. Dr. Wynekoop's ever-changing story over the next few days added to confusion fanned by the state of 1930s journalism where money was dangled in front of anyone connected with the case if they would write what they knew or even thought they knew.
Thus Dr. Catherine Wynekoop was paid to write a six-part series about "the private life" of her family; her mother, an accused murderer, wrote articles presenting her side of the case; Dr. Harry Hoffman, a police psychiatrist — or "alienist," as they used to say — analyzed Dr. Wynekoop and her son, Earle, in print, and mentioned the unusual affection between mother and son.
But if there's one thing — one word — that sets the Wynekoop case apart from the rest, it's "chloroform." If Dr. Wynekoop hadn't used chloroform to anesthetize her daughter-in-law before shooting her, Detective Stege might not have been quite so certain he'd solved the case. Also, the killer's neatness and concern for the modesty of the victim made it difficult to believe her murder was the work of an intruder.
PRECIOUS EARLE turned out to be his mother's worst enemy. He and his friend, Stanley Young, had reached Kansas City before they found out about the murder. Earle had taken the time to send a telegram to his mother from Peoria during the afternoon. That would present a problem for her when a messenger attempted to deliver it at 4:45 p.m., and there was no answer at the door, though the messenger noticed lights on in the house and basement.
The telegram itself aroused suspicion: "Stanley having domestic trouble and leaving for home or somewhere. E."
Police learned Stanley Young had no domestic situation that could cause him trouble. And what did Earle mean by "leaving for home or somewhere?" "Somewhere" turned out to be Kansas City, where Wynekoop and Young arrived Tuesday about midnight.
They learned about Rheta Wynekoop's murder on Wednesday. Until then, Young said, he was unaware his traveling companion was married.
Earle contacted the Kansas City airport to book a flight to Chicago, but never showed up. Instead he returned home by train, and soon after Earle arrived at his mother's house on Thursday, he was picked up by police and taken to the Fillmore Street station where Earle did something that would force his mother to make the first big change in her version of events. Earle confessed to murdering his wife, though he knew police would have little trouble proving he couldn't possibly have committed the crime.
Earle also freely told police and press he and Rheta had not been living as man and wife, and that he had several girl friends, including one who was wearing the engagement ring he had purchased for his wife. "She thought she had misplaced it," he said.
He told police Rheta was mentally deficient and had tried to poison the family by putting iron filings and drugs in the food. Too late Earle issued denials, saying his statements had been twisted or fabricated by police.
But before that, when police told Dr. Wynekoop about Earle's confession, she folded, and changed her story.
Assistant State's Attorney John M. Long and Detective Stege were certain it was the gunshot that caused Rheta Wynekoop's death, but the assistant state's attorney had just planted the seed that would lead Dr. Wynekoop into one of the strangest admissions a murder suspect ever made, a far-fetched story that sealed her doom, though within days she would repudiate her statement, claiming she made her statement to save Earle, but police suspected she'd finally given them something that had gotten them close to the truth. For one thing, they were certain Earle was nowhere near Chicago when Rheta was murdered, and his mother's statement, though containing obvious lies, indicated she knew things that only her daughter-in-law's killer would know.
Dr. Wynekoop said the young woman complained of a pain in the pelvic region, so she suggested they go down to the office and the doctor would give her a treatment. This, said Dr. Wynekoop, occurred at 1 p.m. Rheta undressed, lay face down on the examining table, said the doctor, who began massaging her daughter-in-law, but when the young woman complained the massaging was painful, Dr. Wynekoop suggested a mild anesthetic.
"My mistake was to permit her to pour some of the chloroform over the anesthetizing mask. She may have dropped too much on at once and caused her death right there, for the took several deep inhalations."
Dr. Wynekoop said she soon realized her daughter-in-law was dead.
"I was stunned. I realized my career was at stake. Suddenly I gave thought to the gun that was in my desk in the other room. I decided to make it appear as though the girl had been murdered in a robbery. Getting the gun from the drawer, I held the muzzle within five inches of her skin and pressed the trigger."
HOWEVER, Police knew a mask wasn't used. Rheta had been anesthetized by someone holding a towel over her mouth. They knew there had been too much bleeding for the woman to have been shot after she was dead. They also had interviewed neighbor Vera Duncan who said she talked to Rheta Wynekoop at 3 p.m. Conclusion: Dr. Wynekoop had killed her daughter-in-law, but later in the day, and used the chloroform to keep her victim still when she shot her at very close range. Rheta had powder burns on her back and chloroform burns on her cheeks, which wouldn't have come from a mask or from the sponge Dr. Wynekoop mentioned in a later story.
Meanwhile, the ever-helpful Earle told police, yes, his mother had a motive for murder. "She blamed Rheta for our unhappy marriage, as mothers will."
Dr. Wynekoop said it was Earle who put the blame on Rheta for the failure of a marriage, and his statements seemed to support this.
“Rheta had only a high school education. I am a college man," Earle told police. "That’s why we didn’t get on so well. She wasn’t up to my scholastic attainments. Gradually we drifted apart. Of course she could not understand me.”
Earle Wynekoop also told police his wife once tried to poison the family. "I was unhappy in my married life," he said. "Rheta and I had not lived together as man and wife for years. She was sickly, and I considered her my mental inferior."
Not only hadn't they lived together as man and wife, they no longer lived in the same house. Dr. Wynekoop told police that in mid-October, Earle had moved to Beverly Hills, a community on the south side of Chicago.
MEANWHILE, as her husband was insulting her memory at a Chicago police station, Rheta Gardner Wynekoop was buried in Indianapolis on November 25, laid to rest next to her mother, who died in 1927. Hundreds of people attended the funeral. The murdered woman's father had gotten into a dispute with the Wynekoops over the burial. Seems they wanted to do it in Chicago as they continued to proclaim their love for Rheta while denying what would be obvious to the jury that decided the fate of Dr. Alice Wynekoop.
According to Merlin Moore Taylor, who wrote an article about the Wynekoop case for True Detective magazine (May, 1934), Burdine Gardner, Rheta's father, had this to say to reporters soon after he arrived in Chicago to view his daughter's body:
|"The Wynekoops have been trying to prepare me for this for months. Dr. Wynekoop has repeatedly written and telephoned me that Rheta’s health was precarious and asked me to send money for her care, although the few letters I received from my daughter invariably were cheery until, after a silence of four months, she wrote a short letter that made me suspect she was not happy.
"Today, as soon as we were alone, she [Dr. Wynekoop] said to me, ‘Don’t talk too much to the police. When you do, be sure and tell them that your daughter had not been well, that she had been ill considerable of late and don’t forget to tell them that her mother died of tuberculosis’ — which is a lie, because her mother died in an asylum. I’m frank to say I don’t know why she gave me such strange advice, and I believe it is all a part of a plot to hide the truth. I think the Wynekoops know who killed Rheta, and why."
AFTER realizing her favorite child was off the hook for murder — though he was held briefly on a charge of being an accessory before the fact — Dr. Wynekoop repudiated her statement/confession, and tried to return to her "a moron did it" defense, but her lawyers would come to believe they had a stronger case by claiming Rheta had killed herself, either accidentally or perhaps on purpose, by inhaling too much chloroform. But that kind of defense kept alive the question — why would someone shoot a dead person? Obviously, Rheta didn't shoot herself in the back. The "someone" had to be Dr. Alice Lindsay Wynekoop.
Dr. Wynekoop's house of cards had collapsed, but many doubted the state could get a conviction. Statistics at the time showed few women, particularly if they were young and attractive or old and feeble, were found guilty of murder. Dr. Wynekoop was sixty-two and looked frighteningly frail.
It was not surprising that from her arrest until her conviction almost four months later, Dr. Wynekoop had one medical emergency after another. She was first reported ill at the Cook County jail on November 28. The Associated Press said: "Wracked by a severe bronchial cough and menaced by extremely high blood pressure, the elderly prisoner was described as in danger of pneumonia."
Two days later, AP reported Dr. Wynekoop had told her jailers she would not live to go on trial. She said she'd diagnosed her case. "All the medical men in the world can't help me." She was immediately put on suicide watch. Considering the woman lived 22 more years, one suspects she was never quite as ill as she seemed.
Her trial, scheduled to begin January 4, was postponed a week, and when it began, Dr. Wynekoop was in the courtroom, but while the danger of pneumonia had passed, her heart became a problem.
Dr. Francis McNamara, county jail physician, said Dr. Wynekoop was suffering from angina pectoris, pain in the chest and arm due to blockage of the coronary arteries. She was having angina attacks because of nervous strain.
On January 19, Judge Joseph B. David postponed the trial because Dr. McNamara warned him Dr. Wynekoop could suffer a stroke if it continued.
Dr. Wynekoop protested, saying she wanted to get the trial over with, so did the state, but the judge and her lawyers did not want to risk having a defendant die in court, so a second trial — with a new jury — was set for February 19, though her health hadn't noticeably improved.
According to Harry Read, a former city editor of The Chicago Herald, in "Who Killed Rheta Wynekoop?", a story he wrote for the April 1934 edition of Real Detective magazine, an informal poll of the first jury indicated a majority thought she was not guilty. In view of how the second jury ruled, one has to believe Read was fed the wrong information, or that the informal poll reflected wishful thinking on the part of Dr. Wynekoop's lawyers.
DURING the second trial, Dr. Wynekoop was wheeled into the courtroom, and when she testified, she was carried to the witness stand, but this was done without the jury being present to witness it. Still, jury members had to be aware of what was going on, and perhaps some suspected the doctor, who turned 63 on February 1, was faking it a bit. Clearly, this jury did not like Dr. Wynekoop.
Dr. Wynekoop told too many lies and changed her story too many times. The one in which she administered chloroform probably did the most damage. Who else would have administered it? And no one bought the idea Rheta Wynekoop would have committed suicide that way. I'm curious why Dr. Wynekoop's lawyers didn't opt for an insanity defense, considering the crazy stories she told. Police chalked up her behavior to her love for her son, Earle. Police psychiatrist Dr. Harry Hoffman said the love wasn't abnormal, but described it as "accentuated.
When the case was given to the jury to render their decision, the matter was decided in only 36 minutes and two votes. The first vote was eleven to one in favor of conviction, the second vote was unanimous. Both the prosecution and defense were stunned by such a speedy verdict, but, at least, the jury did not vote for the death penalty.
IN THE MATTER of Earle, Dr. Wynekoop and her defense team faced a no-win situation. They decided to put Earle into hiding for fear he might be called as a defense witness, so he remained out of town at an undisclosed location.
In any event, Earle would have been a distraction, and a reminder of a motive she had for killing her daughter. And perhaps jury members had seen — and recalled — three photos of Earle that had appeared in newspapers on November 28, 1933, six days after the murder. Photo one showed Earle with a silly grin as he supposedly read a newspaper story about being a murder suspect; photo two had him shaking hands and "making up" with Stanley Young, his traveling companion on the automobile trip that provided Earle with an alibi for the murder; photo three showed Earle gobbling down a meal, with the caption saying his troubles with the law didn't affect his appetite.
Or maybe jurors recalled this part of a story about the scene at the Fillmore Street police station after police finished questioning Dr. Wynekoop:
|Associated Press, November 25, 1933
Suddenly, the mother saw her daughter, Dr. Catherine, on the other side of a glass partition and expressed a desire to talk to her. But at the moment, the other turned and commenced a conversation with Earle, and the scene was shifted.
Earle was busy clipping newspaper accounts of the case. Occasionally he made comments on an article or a photograph.
“Ma looks like a hyena in this picture,” he said as he passed a photograph to his sister. “And isn’t this a lousy picture of me?”
WHILE EARLE may have been his mother's favorite, a reading of his behavior and his statements in the days after the murder can make you wonder whose side he was on.
No doubt, Dr. Alice Lindsay Wynekoop was guilty as charged, but I can't help but think Rheta Wynekoop's murder was orchestrated by her husband. What clinched the guilty verdict was an eight-word answer Dr. Wynekoop gave after she signed the later-repudiated statement in November admitting she was responsible for her daughter-in-law's death. Police psychiatrist Dr. Harry Hoffman asked her, "Why did you do it?"
Her reply: "I did it to save the poor dear."
Dr. Hoffman repeated this during the trial, though the identity of "the poor dear" was open to interpretation. Did she mean her son, Earle? Or was she referring to Rheta? If so, how could killing her also save her?
IT'S UNFORTUNATE that Dr. Wynekoop's crime and punishment — a twenty-five-year prison sentence — erased the legacy of what, for her first sixty-two years, had been a remarkable life.
Alice Lois Lindsay was born February 1, 1871 near the Illinois village of Onarga, about 90 miles south of Chicago. She was a sickly child, unable to attend public school until she was nine years old. However, her parents, Frank and Frances Lindsay had prepared her well, and she did well in school. Her father was against her going to college, but she defied him and paid her own way through Northwestern University Women’s Medical School.
In her senior year, she met Frank Eldridge Wynekoop, who'd also worked his way through medical school after graduating from Wabash College. He was five years her senior. She was a very attractive young woman who reportedly had several boy friends over the years. She was in no hurry to get married, but after a long courtship, said yes to Wynekoop, and married him in Onarga in 1900. This was five years after they'd graduated from medical school.
They had their first child, Lindsay, in 1902, and Walker was born 20 months later, in December, 1903. James Earle Wynekoop followed in 1905. Tragically, Lindsay died in 1907, but the Wynekoops had another child the following year when Catherine was born. Wanting another daughter, the Wynekoops adopted Mary Louise in 1909.
For several years she had been a leader in feminist causes, but she withdrew from public life after an operation in 1918 for a malignant growth.
HOWEVER, after the murder, memories of Dr. Wynekoop, the crusader, would come back to haunt her. She was recalled for her outspoken support of eugenics, which put her in a group with Adolf Hitler and another despicable person, W. E. D. Stokes, the Donald Trump of his day. Some felt Dr. Wynekoop's feelings about people she considered inferior may have played at least a small part in the murder of her daughter-in-law.
When she was active on the lecture circuit, Dr. Wynekoop made disturbing remarks about "race suicide," which was how some described the action of women who chose not to have children. Addressing the National Congress of Mothers in St. Louis in 1912, Dr. Wynekoop said race suicide was a great blessing when practiced by certain persons.
"Don't imagine I am advocating race suicide for all," she said, "but it would be a great thing for the race, however, if neither the miserably poor nor the criminal ever reproduced their like. They are a burden on the rest of humanity. Race suicide is being widely practiced today by our women, especially the so-called better class of near-society women. This is not to be deplored in the least, because a reproduction of their like would in no way benefit the human race. There are too many of them already."
MANY LIKELY felt one Earle Wynekoop was one too many. At the time of his wife's death, the 27-year-old Earle was unemployed. As mentioned, his first and only job to date was working at the Sky Ride, one of the big attractions at Chicago's "Century of Progress" world's fair, which had closed for the winter.
While on the job at the world's fair, Earle met more than 50 women whose names he entered into his little black book. He told them his name was Michael, and apparently he was quite a character at the fair, and a few days after his wife was murdered, this photo surfaced and appeared in several newspapers.
The caption explained he was Earle Wynekoop, widower of Mrs. Rheta Gardner Wynekoop, victim in what was called "Chicago's operating room slaying." The photo was taken while he was working at the World's Fair and known as "Sky Ride Mike." He is wearing the uniform of a Sky Ride guide. With him in the photo is Mary Gerken, a cashier at the exposition. She was questioned by police and told them she had never been involved with Wynekoop. However, two other woman who were questioned admitted they were romantically involved with him, both claiming they didn't know he was married until they read of his wife's death. Later one of them, Margaret McHale, would admit she was well aware of Rheta's existence while she was alive.
IN ANY EVENT, the press had a field day with Earle Wynekoop's little black book, and settled on 50 as the number of girl friends he may have had, though there were more than 50 names in his date book. Margaret McHale, for example, was listed as number 52. She was the one who was wearing the engagement ring Earle had purchased years before for Rheta. Miss McHale said he gave her the ring and asked her to keep it while he was on his Western trip.
Police already knew about Wynekoop's relationship with Miss Priscilla Wittl, who told two different stories about how long she had known him, and whether she knew he was married. She said she loved Earle and had expected to marry him on his return from his trip to the Grand Canyon. She had been with him the night before his wife was murdered until 1:30 a.m. the next morning.
“He was a nice fellow, but very unhappy," said Miss Wittl. "He seldom went home. Although it was never stated in so many words, I considered that we were engaged to be married.”
Police released information about the little black book which contained each woman's name, address and the numbers 2-4-9-10, Earle Wynekoop code for (2) blonde, (4) pretty, (9) exhibit and (10) sentimental. Just what Wynekoop meant by those last two, I have no idea.
ON DECEMBER 11, three weeks after the murder, Earle was released from jail when police dropped the accessory charge. Two days later, he made news again when he was driving an automobile that ran down a nine-year-old boy, Frank McGovern.
Luckily for Earle, his sister, Dr. Catherine Wynekoop, was with him, and administered first aid, determining the injuries were painful, but not serious. The boy's parents told police they didn't wish to prosecute.
Then Earle dropped out of sight until his mother was delivered to the Illinois women's reformatory in Dwight on March 30, 1934. Described by the Associated Press as "shabbily dressed, his hair disheveled and untrimmed," Earle Wynekoop was in the crowd that greeted his mother at the prison entrance.
DR. WYNEKOOP'S lawyers, gearing up for an appeal, said on May 18 that Dr. Wynekoop had lost seventeen pounds since her incarceration in the women's reformatory at Dwight, Illinois, and her daughter, Dr. Catherine Wynekoop, made a familiar pronouncement:
"If she stays in Dwight, she will never live until October. Mother has failed so rapidly that the most we are hoping for is that she may be allowed to die in peace. The prison environment has pulled her down mentally. She weighs only 105 pounds now." (Alice Lindsay Wynekoop was five-foot-eight.)
Through it all, the Wynekoops came across as a people who lived in their own wacky world. Translated, Dr. Catherine Wynekoop's statement was, "Let my mother out of prison because she doesn't like it there."
The state supreme court wasn't buying it, ruling Dr. Alice Wynekoop's appeal had no merit, and so she remained at Dwight, where she adjusted to prison life, though she was never considered a model inmate. She served 13 years and nine months of her prison sentence, then, in 1947, was released, not because of good behavior, but — you guessed it — her health. At 76, she entered a Chicago nursing home. She died in 1955.
Six months after his mother went to prison, Earle Wynekoop's car went off a cliff while he rounded a curve near Denver, Colorado. Chicago newspapers reported the accident on October 19; his sister told reporters it had happened three weeks before. He suffered a fractured skull and a triple fracture of his back. Doctors gave him little chance of recovery, but he defied the odds and survived.
Dr. Catherine Wynekoop and Earle came up with their own version of a witness protection program They both changed their last name to Lindsay, their mother's maiden name.
Earle wound up in California where he died in 2000, at the age of 94. According to his page on lindsaygenealogy.tripod.com, he served in the U. S. Army in Alaska in 1934, which seems doubtful, in view of his near-fatal automobile accident that fall, and he worked as an aerospace engineer, which also seems doubtful, but is possible, I suppose. (He did get a pilot's license in 1932, but put it to little use.)
Catherine also died in 2000, at the age of 91. She had a long and successful career in medicine, and somewhere along the line married Willard Dobson.
Older brother Walker Wynekoop did not change his name. Only 18 when he married Marcia Miller, herself just 19, he went on to own a label and seal manufacturing firm, but, tragically, died on October 24 1948 of lung cancer, at age 44. His widow remarried 11 years later, and lived to the incredible age of 107.
Adopted daughter Mary Louise died in 1933, eight months before Rheta was murdered. Mary Louise was 23, the same age as her sister-in-law.