Friday, April 25, 2014

Murder LA 000047

Looking for a good time?*

This weekend fototeka will display and sell prints of old crime scene photos from the LAPD archive at Paris Photo Los Angeles. That's today through Sunday, April 27th, at Paramount Studios.

*Admission ticket required. Good time encouraged but not guaranteed.

Anyway, on with our tale of the fortnight...


July 12th, 1922

Clara Phillips and Peggy Caffee wait at the downtown Los Angeles intersection of 9th and Main for an acquaintance to get off work. The former chorus girls have spent the day in Long Beach, violating prohibition with the help of a speakeasy. Clara, 23, would have turned 21 right when liquor was illegalized, so what’s a showgirl to do?[1] 

They catch Alberta Meadows exiting her workplace and ask for a ride to Montecito Heights. They are not friends but Alberta obliges, perhaps out of guilt. Montecito Heights is fairly new and developing at this time; Montecito Drive is just a dirt road.

The car ride ends with Clara accusing Alberta of an affair with Clara’s husband, Armour. This quickly escalates into a physical altercation outside of the vehicle. Luckily, Clara just recently purchased a hammer and had it with her.

Peggy watches from the car as her friend chases the other woman down and then beats her to death with the tool.

Clara employs the claw side of the hammer, resulting in a later comparison to a tiger mauling. This is how Clara Phillips becomes the Tiger Woman. She commandeers her romantic rival’s car and instructs Peggy to keep quiet about what happened. After dropping her pal off the tigress returns home to her husband.

Accounts differ as to what exactly she says, but they agree that she nonchalantly informs Armour straightaway. He takes the matter more seriously and puts her on an eastbound train.

via The Evening News


On July 14th Armour told the sheriff’s department what had happened and Clara was arrested in Tucson the next day. Peggy confessed and became the star witness at trial later that year.

Clara was sentenced at the end of November  to 10 years to life but a mere week later news broke that she had escaped her cell by sawing through the window bars. It was noted at the time that there was no trace of the debris normally left behind after sawing through metal, so it was suggested that they had been dismantled days prior. Later it was said that the bars were just for show and she had actually walked out, with inside help.

via The Evening Independent
She traveled through Central America with her sister and a man named Jesse Carson. They were all detained by Honduran authorities in April. Jesse Carson then claimed to be the son-in-law of a deceased Mexican general. It’s unclear what became of him.

Before the United States expedition party arrived in May, Clara had somehow got a bunch of Honduran teenagers to break her and her sister out of custody. The plot was unraveled by authorities, however. 15 boys were arrested and Clara was soon sent to San Quentin.

In 1925 an interview revealed that the prison supplied the women with tobacco to smoke, a practice which she commented was “growing quite fashionable out there.” She was said to be waiting patiently for parole--not that she had a choice.

Her parole hearing was pushed back several months when she was found to be sending love letters to a male inmate but the famous Hammer Slayer was eventually released in 1935.


  1. The minimum drinking age prior to prohibition is unclear but California apparently did not cotton to 18-year-olds drinking.

via The Tuscaloosa News