cops and dicks

In 1943, Wayne Lonergan, who had been a young cadet in the Royal Canadian Air Force, killed Patricia Burton Bernheimer, heiress to a brewery fortune, after she filed for separation and cut her husband out of her will. She was found in their lavish apartment nude, her skull crushed with a silver candelabra.

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After telling arresting officers that he had killed her, Lonergan then changed his story and said that he had spent the evening of the slaying with another woman. But witnesses gave a differing account. A male friend testified that Lonergan had come to his apartment immediately after the killing to change clothes. And the woman he supposedly had been with contradicted his alibi.

Lonergan then said that he had been with another man–that he had been the victim of an overbearing mother, which forced him into occasional homosexual periods. As the trial started  Time Magazine published this report

Against the windows of Manhattan’s Criminal Courts Building the bulletlike drops of the first spring rains beat and splashed with homicidal violence. The crowd of cops, dicks, court attendants, learned counsel, loafers and prurient goons who infest such scenes beat against the court’s doors. One of the most sensational murder trials in Manhattan’s legal history was just beginning.

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The trial was also a clinical study of unusual interest to doctors and psychiatrists. For it was obvious last week that Defense Attorney Edward Broderick would make some plea of insanity involving homosexuality

There was already talk about his perversion: Assistant District Attorney Jacob Grumet testified that Lonergan confessed (this unsigned confession is now repudiated by the defendant and his lawyers) to homosexual relations, both before and after his marriage. One of the men involved is said to have been William Burton, Lonergan’s wife’s father.

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To most people Lonergan does not look like a homosexual. Contrary to popular legend, homosexuals are not necessarily physically abnormal, though sometimes a glandular disturbance is involved. As a rule, homosexuals are made, not born. Psychologists W. Norwood East and W. H. Herbert list seduction in childhood as the commonest precipitating cause. Other causes: 1) a tendency to varied and primitive sexual outlets; 2) an inherited tendency. From Lonergan’s repudiated confession to the police he would seem to fall into the varied and primitive sexual outlet group.

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The defense may try to prove that Patricia Lonergan led a lively life herself, that since Lonergan is a psychopath, his impulse to kill her was irresistible.  Testimony so far has been dull, and the only humorous sally of the first few days was macabre:

Defense Attorney Broderick asked the medical examiner: “Did you remove the calvarium of Patricia Lonergan by sawing from the superior orbital regions to the inferior occipital regions?”

Dr. Halpern: “Did I take off the top of her head with a saw?”

Broderick: “Yes.”

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Not all the psychotics were in the courtroom. As the Lonergan trial got under way, novelist James Thomas Farrell (The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan) was having trouble with the Manhattan police. His publisher was visited by four different parties of cops who professed to see a connection between Wayne Lonergan and Studs Lonigan. Later a cop from a prowl car tried shyly to buy a copy of the novel from a First Avenue bookshop. It was out of stock.

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