La Cañada's Second Murder Case: Overell Murders

The large Mediterranean-style house still stands, high above Foothill Boulevard. The original owners were Walter and Beulah Overell.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Walter Overell was one of the wealthiest men in Flintridge. He made his first fortune in the furniture business. This was followed by other successful investments.

Walter doted on his wife, Beulah Jungquist Overell. Walter loved Beulah so much that liked to name things after her. Given the opportunity, he christened Beulah Drive. And when the Overells were finally blessed (or so they thought) with their only child, Walter named the baby girl Beulah Louise.

Whenever I write a column on local history, I get phone calls. People call to add new facts, to share their recollections and to correct my assumptions. After I first wrote about the Overells, in July 2000, a lot of people called to talk about the Overells. Many people knew the them, followed the murder trial and attended the estate sale after the trial.

They say that Beulah Louise was spoiled. That she was the only child of wealthy parents.That whatever Beulah Louise wanted, Beulah Louise got.

At the age of 17, Beulah Louise Overell wanted a boyfriend. What she got was a 21-year-old World War II veteran named George "Bud" Gollum.

In the context of the post-war years, Bud Gollum was primo, a good catch, at least in the eyes of Beulah Louise. After the war, young veterans flocked back to local colleges. It was tough potatoes for the younger males, those too young to have served in the War. There was no way they could compete -- the young ladies were attracted to those devil-may-care war veterans. Ergo: many happy marriages and the baby boom.

Mr. and Mrs. Overell, however, did not approve of the relationship between Bud and their Louise.

Many facts about the Overell case are in dispute, but this much is certain: On March 15, 1947, 17-year-old Beulah Louise Overell and 21-year-old Bud Gollum watched from the shore as the Overell family yacht, a 47-foot cruiser named the Mary E., exploded in Newport Harbor.

The bodies of Walter and Beulah Overell were found on the boat. Walter was 63 years old. Beulah was 57.

Remnants of a bomb were found in the ruins of the Mary E. More than 30 sticks of dynamite had been wired to a clock attached to the Mary E.'s battery. The police searched Bud Gollum's car. Machine screws were found in the car. The machine screws matched the screws on a clock used to set off the bomb.

And then, the police looked in the trunk of Bud's car -- there was more dynamite.

A witness was found. The witness said that he had sold dynamite to Bud Gollum on March 14, 1947, the day before the explosion.

The police theorized that Mr. and Mrs. Overell had been beaten to death, and that a bomb was detonated, blowing up the boat, to cover up the murder. The motive was twofold: Mr. and Mrs. Overell's dislike of Bud Gollum, and Beulah Louise Overell's expected substantial inheritance.

Beulah Louise Overell and Bud Gollum were arrested.

While they were in jail, Beulah Louise and Bud wrote "lurid" letters to one another. These letters were leaked to the press, most likely by the prosecution, and considered to be proof of the motive.

By the time Beulah Louise Overell and her boyfriend, Bud Gollum, went on trial for the murder of Walter and Beulah Overell, the case was a nation-wide sensation, equivalent to the cases of O.J. Simpson.

The trial began in 1948 before the Honorable Kenneth Morrison, judge of the Orange County Superior Court. It was an interesting cast of characters. The prosecutor, Eugene Williams, was a charismatic trial attorney with political aspirations. The lead defense attorney was Otto Jacobs; he had over 80 criminal trials under his belt and he was not camera-shy.

One of Judge Morrison's first acts was to issue an order allowing radio microphones in the courtroom, with one caveat. The order permitted only "hometown" radio stations to broadcast the trial. In 1948, there was only one hometown radio station, KVOE, based in Santa Ana. The station contracted with the Mutual Broadcasting System to re-broadcast the trial all over the United States.

Soon, everyone in the country was listening to the trial testimony. All four months of testimony.

There were other microphones as well. During the trial, the local police bugged the law offices of the defense attorneys. Years later, Jacobs' son, Robert Jacobs, explained, "One day during the trial, I noticed Dad's diploma wasn't straight. I saw a microphone inside. We went to Gollum's attorneys and found another. We traced the wires to a room around the corner. We found a man with earphones on and made a citizens' arrest. The police captain came out and said, 'You guys arrested one of my lieutenants!' The episode was quickly forgotten."

These shenanigans did not dissuade defense attorney Otto Jacobs. Step-by-step, Jacobs began to demolish the prosecution's case.

The prosecution argued that the machine screws found on the floor of Bud Gollum's car were unique and hard-to-find. These machine screws matched the clock used to set off the bomb. Defense attorney Jacobs went to a local hardware store and found identical screws. He brought a box of them to the trial.

The prosecution pointed to the leftover dynamite found in the trunk of Bud Gollum's car. Bud took the stand and testified that he bought the dynamite at Walter Overell's request, for the removal of tree stumps.

At the end, the jury found Bud Gollum and Beulah Louise Overell not guilty of all charges. They were released from jail, but they did not get married.

They say that there was little to inherit from the Overells' estate after all, that Beulah died of alcoholism and that George "Bud" Gollum is still alive, somewhere in Northern California.

Walter and Beulah are buried at Forest Lawn Glendale, on Sunrise Slope, beneath a white marble statue of a young man and woman -- they are dancing.

All's well that ends well.

(Anita Susan Brenner practices law in Pasadena with her husband, Len Torres. Anita's website is www.anitabrenner.com.)

Copyright © 2019, La Cañada Valley Sun
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
65°