There’s nothing we love better than rich people getting in trouble. So in 1944, when a 37-year-old socialite was accused of shooting her 19-year-old “boy toy,” people in Carmel Valley were agog with excitement.
Located in Monterey County, Carmel Valley was a sleepy agricultural area, where dust bowl refugees lived next to the horse farms of the super rich. The Lovetts, a family of eight from Oklahoma, were tenant farmers raising 30 acres of beans. Jay Lovett was their son, a handsome, hard-working young man who often did chores for his wealthy neighbors. These neighbors included the great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt, oil magnate Sam C. Fertig, whose father drilled the first successful oil well in 1859, and Fertig’s married daughter, Frances Andrews.
Jay Lovett had an especially close relationship with Frances and her husband Frank, who had known him since he was 13. When Frank left for Army service, Jay was hired to milk the cows and, when needed, stay over at night.
In May 1944, Mrs. Nancy Linde, the wife of a prominent San Francisco doctor Frederick Linde, moved into the neighborhood. An attractive young woman with hair the newspapers described as “flaming red,” Nancy also hired Jay for work around her house.
At 7 p.m. on July 15, Jay was at Nancy’s home. She had invited him over for dinner and to fix some electrical wires. They had cocktails and were still at dinner at 9:15 p.m. when Jay received a phone call from Frances Andrews. His expression changed, and he became very quiet. A few minutes later, Frances’ car pulled up. Jay told Nancy, “I’ll see you tomorrow” and got into the car. It was the last time Nancy saw him alive.
Frances claimed that she asked Jay to come look at a sick calf. She admitted having words with Jay for lying to her about his plans that evening. Later, Frances offered to drive him home, but Jay said he’d rather walk.
A few minutes later, Frances heard two gunshots outside her house. She went outside and discovered Jay’s body on a nearby road. Frances notified her neighbors, who came to the scene. She then drove to the Lovett’s house, told his mother and sister of Jay’s death and brought them back to the body. By the time police arrived 20 minutes later, a number of people had touched Jay’s body and altered the crime scene.
At first, Jay’s death was considered a suicide, but after speaking to Jay’s mother, District Attorney Anthony Brazil investigated Frances for murder.
Circumstantial evidence pointed to Frances. She owned the gun that killed Jay Lovett. There were no powder burns on Jay’s head, which is unusual in suicide cases, and Jay’s fingerprints were not on the gun. The type of gun used ejected the shells only seven feet, yet the shells were found 15 feet away from his body.
The motive, Brazil said, was jealousy. Witnesses had previously seen Frances and Jay snuggling at the Del Rio Inn and heard Frances make slighting comments about Nancy Linde. Brazil claimed that Frances and Jay had a bitter argument about him breaking his date with her and seeing Nancy. During the fight, Frances allegedly became enraged, got her gun and fatally shot him. Frances was indicted for murder and sent to jail.
Frances hired Leo Friedman, a top defense lawyer who had defended Fatty Arbuckle and David Lamson in previous high-profile cases. Friedman pointed out that the crime scene had been contaminated before police arrived. In addition, the coroner’s assistant had washed the body before the autopsy, potentially destroying key evidence.
The trial began on Sept. 20, 1944. The key prosecution witness was Dr. Carr, the pathologist for San Francisco, who testified the gunshot was not fired from close range, making suicide highly unlikely. Jay’s mother testified that he was a cheerful and normal boy who was trying to end his relationship with Frances.
The defense presented a different picture of Jay and his family life. Leo Vasquez, a neighboring rancher, said that Jay was moody and that his family took all the money he earned. Vasquez also said that Jay’s mother had stopped his plan to join the Army by secretly getting him a draft board exemption. Frank Andrews testified that he talked to Jay a few days before his death and found him “mentally depressed, worried about his bean crop and very discouraged.”
But it was Friedman’s cross-examination of Carr that really sunk the prosecution’s case. Friedman asked Carr to compare the wound in Jay’s head with photos of wounds caused by bullets fired at specific distances. After examining the photographs, Carr agreed the wound in Jay’s head matched a gunshot wound fired at a distance of one inch. Carr’s statement completely reversed his previous testimony, making it not only possible but also likely that Jay committed suicide.
“Friedman looked as dazed as if he had been presented a certified check for ten million dollars,” reported the Oakland Tribune.
Friedman followed this up by showing that Jay knew where the gun in Frances’ house was and had fired it on numerous occasions, and pointing out inconsistencies in the testimony of members of the Lovett family.
The jury took only three hours to find Frances Andrews not guilty. She returned to the community and resumed her life. In 1964, at the age of 57, she married a man 12 years younger. She died in 1984 at the age of 77.
Paul Drexler is a crime historian and director of Crooks Tour of San Francisco. For more information, visit www.crookstour.com.