Inmate Who Bore Child of Overton Tells Her Story : Crime: Man accused of murdering wife, a Capistrano trustee, used another name years ago, an ex-wife says.
She knew him as Richard Halderman, a charming, if mysterious, man who held a government security clearance, often needed rides to the airport and fell out of sight for weeks at a time.
Caroline Draper said she met him at a lunch counter in 1966, married him and bore his child before discovering the truth: He was married to another woman, had four children, and his real name was Richard K. Overton.
Now, 24 years after their marriage was annulled, the lives of Overton and Draper appear to be taking on an eerie familiarity:
Richard Overton stands accused of murdering his third wife, Capistrano Unified School District Trustee Janet L. Overton, with cyanide in January, 1988. And Caroline Draper is serving an eight-year prison sentence for the attempted murder of her third husband.
“They’re a rather vicious circle of people,” said Kelly MacEachern, the Orange County deputy district attorney who prosecuted Draper. “They just don’t get divorced.”
During a 2 1/2-hour interview at the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco, Draper, 53, described for the first time since a grand jury indicted Overton earlier this month how she met him, their time together and her relationship over the intervening years with both him and Janet Overton.
And make no mistake: Draper has strong feelings about Richard Overton.
“He has always been a devious, manipulative person,” Draper said. “I have no doubts of what he has done.”
Neither Overton nor his defense attorney, Robert D. Chatterton, are granting interviews, and Chatterton declined Friday to comment. Chatterton, who has said that his client is innocent, is preparing for the trial, scheduled to begin Jan. 27 in Orange County Superior Court.
Draper, whose account of her relationship with Overton was largely verified through court records and interviews, acknowledges that she has had a lifetime of difficulties.
Only now, Draper said, does she feel that she has confronted years of low self-esteem. She attributes her poor self-image to an abnormality that caused her to be cross-eyed until corrective surgery 15 years ago. She has twice attempted suicide. And she agreed to have Overton and his third wife, Janet, raise the daughter she had by Overton.
Draper said she remembers clearly the first day she met Richard Overton. It was during the summer of 1966, and she was at the counter of a restaurant in Fullerton, sipping iced tea and eating a salad.
“And this man walked up, and he said, ‘Pardon me, don’t I know you . . . ?’ ” she said.
A brief conversation ensued, and Overton left, saying he had business to tend to in New York. Draper said she thought nothing of that meeting until about two weeks later, when she was again eating by herself, this time in Orange.
“I’m sitting there drinking this fountain Coke and this tall man walks up and says, ‘Hello, Caroline.’ . . . He asked me to sit down and have a bite to eat with him. . . . He seemed pleasant enough. He was well dressed. He looked very distinguished. . . . I was very impressed, I have to say that.
” . . . He asked me, ‘Are you married?’ And I said, ‘No, I’m divorced.’ . . . So I said, ‘Are you married?’ And he said, ‘No, I’m a bachelor,’ plain as day.”
Overton later called Draper (whose name at the time was Hutcheson) for a date. “We went to eat at some little cafe in Laguna Beach,” in Overton’s Studebaker, she said.
When they returned to her apartment in Orange, near the downtown traffic circle, “I knew that he would want sex.” They did have sex, Draper said, with results: “As soon as I missed my period, I knew I was pregnant.”
She told Overton, and they immediately decided to marry. They did so on Oct. 16, 1966, “at a picturesque cottage along Lake Tahoe,” she said.
She remembered that during a quick honeymoon, they drove west to Sacramento, where they watched “The Sound of Music.” From San Francisco, they caught a plane back to Los Angeles. Draper recalled that while waiting for their flight, Overton delighted in eavesdropping on and translating a Portuguese couple’s conversation.
“I have to tell you,” she said, “I probably only married Richard, not because I loved him deeply, but because here was a father for my (three other) children.”
But, she added, “I would not have married someone with a wife and four children. That was ridiculous. But he played this game. . . . He told me in one of his letters that he had been alone so long, that he had so much sperm, that was why I got pregnant. I mean, he’s a jerk.”
During their marriage, which lasted a little more than a year, Overton showed Draper the inner sanctum of Autonetics in Fullerton, where he worked with a national security clearance.
Draper said Overton, who speaks and reads Russian and Spanish fluently, appeared to specialize in gathering and inputting intelligence data, some of it regarding anti-U.S. elements in Central America. She said Overton had a typewriter with Russian characters, adding: “He did have some interesting paper that you could write on and you could eat it. . . . He was doing some kind of a really top-secret program.”
A spokesman for North American Rockwell, the company that acquired Autonetics, could not verify Overton’s employment.
While she was pregnant, Draper and Overton rented a house in Tustin. From the outset, she would take him frequently to airports and he would be gone for days, sometimes weeks, at a time. In May, 1967, their daughter was born. Draper said she tried unsuccessfully to reach Overton at Autonetics and at other phone numbers across the country. She attributes her lack of suspicion about his disappearances to her own naivete.
“I was a very naive, introverted person,” she said. “It still never dawned on me anything was wrong. Because all this work (he was doing) was kind of secretive, hush-hush work. . . . He was probably the most intelligent person I’ve ever known.”
However, Draper said she became worried in mid-1967 when, after dropping him off at the airport, Overton fell completely out of touch.
“All I wanted to know was, was he alive or dead? Was I married, or was I a widow?”
Finally, as a result of her inquiries, executives at Autonetics investigated and made a startling discovery: Overton had assumed a co-worker’s name. A company executive delivered the news to Draper.
Overton ultimately left the firm, Draper said.
In August, 1967, she filed to annul their marriage after learning that Overton had a family in Dana Point. Overton’s other wife, who also learned of his dual identity, filed for divorce in 1968.
Draper said that after the marriage dissolved, “I went on with my life.” But for several years she maintained a relationship with Overton. “He was involved with me sexually after he was married to Janet,” she said.
Draper said she finally stopped being intimate with Overton in 1971--about the time that his third wife, Janet Overton, gave birth to the couple’s first child, and around the same time that Draper met her soon-to-be third husband, Ed Draper.
Ed Draper, she said, was the source of more pain in her life. She said he made her relinquish custody of her daughter to Richard Overton. Although the daughter was, for the most part, raised in the Overton household, Draper said she frequently visited her.
Then, in 1986, after they divorced, Carolyn Draper shot Ed Draper three times in the groin with a small-caliber handgun after learning that he had married another woman, prosecutor MacEachern said.
Draper said she last saw Richard Overton in July, 1988, while she was preparing to serve the prison sentence for the attempted-murder conviction. It was at a coffee shop in El Toro--six months after Janet Overton’s death.
“We had a cup of coffee, and we sat and talked for a minute,” Draper said, referring to herself, Overton and their daughter, Melody. “And I remember thinking, you know, ‘He just acts like nothing has happened.’ ”
Draper said an Orange County sheriff’s investigator probing Janet Overton’s death questioned her at the prison in February, 1989. She said she was not surprised by Overton’s murder indictment.
“It would be his answer,” she said. “He didn’t care about her. All he cared about was himself. . . . He’s a very slick operator. What else can you say?”
The stories shaping California
Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.