On January 6, 1950, California doubled its maximum penalty for sodomy from ten years imprisonment to twenty, all because heterosexual men kept abducting, raping and killing very young girls. Three heterosexual men in particular, two in California and one, believe it or not, in Idaho. Here’s how it happened.
The murder of Linda Joyce Glucoft
It all began on November 14, 1949, when the frantic parents of six-year-old Linda Joyce Glucoft called Los Angeles Police to report their daughter was missing. She was last seen at the home of a playmate, across the street and three doors down from her Crescent Heights Blvd. home. She had gone there to play with her friend, but her playmate had gone to a birthday party with her mother. Linda never made it back home. The next morning, police found her battered body, rapped in a blanket near the trash incinerator in her playmate’s back yard. Linda had been strangled and her head had been bashed in with an ax. Her panties were in the incinerator. The distinctive brightly-colored Indian blanket came from the playmate’s home, where the friend’s grandfather, Fred Stroble, had been staying.
Stroble, a 67-year-old retired baker and known sex offender, was missing. Police feared he had made a break for Tijuana where he was known to have friends. Stroble had already jumped bail for another sex offense the previous July when he was accused of molesting a ten-year-old girl. Prosecutors downgraded those felony charges to a misdemeanor because they didn’t think they could get a felony conviction on the testimony of a juvenile. When Stroble jumped bail, authorities thought that he had fled to Mexico City, but it turns out that he had been staying with his daughter for the past two weeks. Neighbors had no idea he was a wanted man. They said all of the children in the neighborhood liked him because he often gave them candy and ice cream.
With little Linda’s brutal muder, another international manhunt, this time far more intensive, was on all over southern California and northern Mexico. Tijuana police flooded the streets, checking every motel, auto court, ranch and bar. In Los Angeles and San Diego, roadblocks were everywere. Television screens flashed with his image. Radio broadcast his description every hour. Stroble’s photo was in the hands of every customs border agent, in front of every bus driver and behind every bar. It was in one of those bars in downtown Los Angeles that someone recognized Stroble, went out and got a traffic cop’s attention, who promptly arrested Stroble and took him to headquarters.
This murder came just two years after two other shocking murders in Los Angeles. In January of 1947, police found the body of twenty-two-year-old Elizabeth Short in a vacant lot in Leimert Park. Her naked body was cut in half at the waist and drained of blood. Newspapers quickly dubbed her the “Black Dahlia,” and the sensational case fed headlines for months to come. Police investigated over 150 suspects, but no arrests were ever made and the case went cold. And just a week before Linda Glucoft’s murder, Los Angeles police had arrested a suspect in the 1946 murder of six-year-old Rochelle Gluskoter. Her skeletal were found in an Orange County ravine in late 1947. That suspect was released due to a lack of evidence on the day Linda’s body was found.
Two more child rape/murders in the same week
Linda Glucroft’s case made the front pages of newspapers nationwide. The day after her body was found, newspapers found that they had to make room for another tragic story coming out of the small community of Burley, Idaho, where Neale Butterfield, 16, was arrested and confessed to kidnapping and murdering seven-year-old Glenda Joyce Brisbois. The autopsy showed that she was also raped, although Butterfield refused to confess to that.
And then not even a week later, seventeen-month-old Jospehine Yanez was kidnaped from her parents car near Huron, California, a small farming community near Fresno. Her parents, migrant farm workers from Mexico, had parked their car in front of a dance hall and were away for only a few minutes when their daughter was snatched. Her body was found later that night, her head jammed into a muddy field. She had been raped before she died. Police arrest Paul Guttierez, 25, a migrant farmworker who had been accused six years earlier of raping a fourteen-year-old girl under a grandstand in Fresno.
California, along with the rest of the nation, quickly found itself in the midst of a full-blown sex crime panic. The Sacramento Bee, one of many newspapers demanding that lawmakers to do something about it, found these murders “so unnecessary”:
It should be apparent by now that short term imprisonment does not rehabilitate a sex offender. The records of this state and of others are full of instances in which sex criminals have been released from jails and prisons only to repeat their crimes or commit worse ones. Until these persons can be made harmless to society, they should be kept in custody, even if that means for life. Certainly the freedom of a sex offender is no more precious than the life of an innocent 6 year old child or any other individual.
The sensationalist Long Beach Independent offered its solution:
There should be no second chance given to a proven sex pervert who molests children. … The first time a person is proven to be a sex pervert who has molested a child, that person should have the choice of submitting to an operation to remove his or her sex organs, or refusing, he or she should be permanently confined to an institution for the insane. There would be some injustices committed by such a lway but not many. The principle that it is better to let ten guilty persons go free rather than punish one innocent person does not apply to child molesters.
And nationally, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover lent his voice to the rising chorus:
The depraved sex criminal has replaced the kidnaper as a threat to the peace of mind of the parents of America. The steady rise in vicious assaults on women and children cannot continue. The time has come to call a halt. Feindish sex criminals must be treated as such. It is better to prevent brutal assaults than to later launch widespread manhunts after a child has been murdered.
The women and children of this nation can never be secure until we face one fundamental fact. There are only two satisfactory courses of action once a sex offender is identified — cure through medical attention or the more drastic alternative — incarceration fo the offender.
“Sex degenerates” were too long defended by “sob sisters.”
Under pressure from the Independent and other Los Angeles-area newspapers, L.A. and Long Beach launched massive roundups of alleged child molesters and other “perverts”. According to the Independent, “tensions are such that a stranger does not pat a child on its head for fear of someone calling him a pervert.” But, it warned, “then the tension eases, and we wait for another Linda Glucoft case to again shock us.”
Dragnets went up everywhere. San Bernardino police went into action when someone reported that a man was trying to lure two small girls into his car. Police set up roadblocks throughout the city until that the “dangerous sex fiend” was just a family friend who had just stopped to chat with the youngsters for a few minutes.
California Gov. Earl Warren initially resisted calling a special session of the state Legislature to enact stronger sex crime laws. What was needed, he said, was a “down-the-line” co-operation between parents, teachers, police and parole boards to enforce the laws already on the books. He pointed to one law passed two and a half years ago requiring everyone convicted of a sex crime to register with local police. “I find now,” said Warren, “that in all that time, about only 719 persons have registered throughout the state.” This despite there being, every year, about 4,750 people who are convicted of sex crimes. “So far as we know,” said Warren, “there has never been a conviction” for anyone who failed to register.
But as pressure mounted across the state, Warren did an about face and called the Legislature back to Sacramento. Suggestions for new sex crime laws came from all directions. A conference of law enforcement officers called for the death penalty for sex crimes against children. Assemblyman James G. Chrichton (D-Fresno) proposed surgical emasculation for those convicted of sex crimes. On the first offense, the decision to castrate would be up to the judge. On the second offense, the operation would be mandatory.
A group of ten psychiatrists opposed that in a hearing before a special Assembly Committee to Investigate Sex Crimes. They urged that all sex criminals be tested “for correction and treatment” until they are rehabilitated, which many acknowledged meant they’d be locked up for life, regardless of the severity or nature of the particular crime. Consensual sodomy among adults, for instance, would be one such crime. Dr. Marcus Crahan, consulting psychiatrist for the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office and the most hardline member of the group, called for building “mental prisons,” and for naming them as such instead of as hospitals. He estimated that it would take four prisons with a capacity of 2,500 inmates to handle everyone.
Homosexuals become collateral damage
But what do homosexuals have to do with any of this? After all, the sex crime panic gripping the state was caused by three men raping and killing girls. Dr. Marcus Cragan, who had urged the construction of “mental prisons,” was just one of many psychiatrist who connected the dots. At one of Fred Stroble’s preliminary hearings, Cragan testified that he had examined Stroble and found:
This man, I believe, is an endocrine type of potential homosexual. By that I mean he, like many men, evidences homosexual tendencies, but don’t know they exist. … and while he says his married life was normal, I find evidence he may have been abnormal before that, a potential sex variant. Possibly he was homosexual and didn’t know it. … It is up to us — all of us — to see that such a deed is never repeated. We can only do this by understanding what manner of man commits such a crime.
Many leading psychiatrists seemed to apply a rather simple-minded transitive law that school kids learn in mathematics: If a=c and b=c, then a=b. If child molesters are perverts and homosexuals are perverts, then there is fundamentally no difference between child molesters and homosexuals. In this regard, psychiatrists were only slightly more sophisticated in understanding the nature of gay people than math students. They just had the benefit of university degrees and professional pedigrees, and the prestige and the jargon that came with them, to buttress their arguments.
And so when Dr. J. Paul DeRiver, Los Angeles police department psychiatrist, recommended brain surgery — in other words, lobotomy — and electroshock therapy for sex offenders, he added that among those being lobotomized and shocked should include “notably, homosexuals.” He claimed that most of other sex offenders could simply be “educated out of their condition” through talking and praying with them. But homosexuals defied easy treatment because most of them were “happy in their perversion.”
Relatively cooler heads prevailed and DeRiver’s suggestion went nowhere. But Dr. George Tarjan, superintendent of Pacific Colony State Hospital in Pomona, reminded the Assembly committee that the problem that remained was enormous. He estimated that for every twenty convictions for sodomy and other homosexual acts, there were six million more acts that go unpunished.
Something needed to be done, and Assemblyman H. Allen Smith (R-Los Angeles County), a former FBI agent and a particularly notable homophobe even for 1950, was just the man to do it. He introduced several bills into the California Assembly, including one which would raise the maximum penalty for sodomy. As it stood, California’s sodomy law bore a glaring inconsistency: the maximum penalty for attempted sodomy was twenty years’ imprisonment, but completing the crime brought a maxumum of ten.
Of course, one easy fix would have been to reduce the penalty for attempted sodomy. But under the sex crime panic then sweeping the state, such a suggestion would have been impossible to consider, even if Smith had been so inclined. But of course, he wasn’t. In fact, two years later, he pushed through another bill that eliminated the maximum punishment for sodomy altogether, making it possible for a California judge to send someone so convicted to prison for life.
Smith’s bill, along with a few others, raced to passage by the full house just one day after they were introduced. Assemblyman Thomas Doyle (R-Los Angeles County) congratulated his fellow legislators. “Sex degenerates,” he said, have been defended long enough by “sob sisters.” “The sooner we put into effect stricter laws, the better. If we had whipping posts for these people, by golly, I think we would have less of it.” The Senate acted with similar haste, and passed its version the very next day, apparently with little discussion.
On January 6, 1950, Gov. Warren signed five sex crime bills into law. All of the bills were deemed emergency measures, which meant that they took effect immediately upon the governor’s signature. The bills signed included:
- raising the maximum penalty for sodomy from ten years’ imprisonment to twenty;
- making the killing of a child during a sex attack a first degree offense, which is punishable by death or lifetime imprisonment without parole;
- making child molestation a felony if the sex offender had previously been convicted of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child;
- requiring anyone convicted of sex crimes after July 1, 1944 to register with the sheriff of the county of residence;
- requiring law enforcement agencies to forward fingerprints to the California Bureau of Criminal Identification for all persons arrested for sex offenses, whether they were convicted or not.
That last bill would also have profound consequences for thousands gay people. It had the effect of creating a statewide database of information about accused and convicted homosexuals, and that data was shared with the FBI, which was already assembling a national database of known sex offenders and homosexuals. That database would prove essential in the U.S. government’s drive to purge thousands of men and women accused of homosexuality from the government payroll.
On signing the five bills into law, Gov. Warren said he regretted the Legislature’s failure to pass any measure taking a psychiatric approach to sex crimes. “To my mind this is the most important field for legislation because up to the present time there has been very little done so far as the study of these warped minds and their treatment is concerned,” he said. “I believe if we are to make any real progress we should enact legislation in this field.” He Included this in a special call for a March session of the Legislature. The Legislature responded with a $100,000 (about $1.1 million today) sex crime study to be conducted by the state-run Langley Porter Clinic in San Francisco.
The Legislature, at the same time, also amended the state’s oral copulation law, which banned all acts of oral sex, including private consensual acts between adults, and also even including consensual acts between married couples. That law made it a felony with a maximum fifteen-year prison sentence. The amendment added an alternate misdemeanor, punishable with “up to one year in jail.” As Assemblyman Smith, the bill’s sponsor, explained, “If two men of lawful age are living together, … when (the authorities) attempt to prosecute them under (the oral copulation felony law) they find that juries in many instances are not interested in returning a guilty verdict. Further, that to sentence the subject and, in some instances, the victim, to the penitentiary only acts as a ‘quarantine’ of the individual for a period of time, and does not help in the over-all solution of the sex crime.”
In 1952, the California Legislature revisited the state’s sex crimes statutes. Assemblyman Smith sponsored another bill to eliminate the maximum penalties for rape and sodomy, allowing a lifetime sentence to be imposed for either crime. Gov. Warren signed it into law on April 17.
Meanwhile, the nation continued to follow the trials of the three men accused in the rapes and murders of the three girls that started this panic. Fred Stroble was convicted of killing Linda Joyce Glucoft and sentenced to death. He was executed in the gas chamber on July 25, 1952.
Paul Gutierrez, the twenty-five-year-old migrant farmer, was found guilty of first degree murder of seventeen-month-old Josephine Yanez. He had blamed the murder on having “blacked out” after smoking a couple of marijuana joints. The judge didn’t buy it and sentenced him to death. He was executed on December 1, 1950.
Neale Butterfield, the sixteen-year-old high school football star who kidnapped, raped and killed seven-year-old Glenda Joyce Brisbois in Burly, Idaho, pleaded guilty of first degree murder. To the astonishment of everyone in the courtroom, Judge Hugh A. Baker rejected the prosecutor’s call for the death and gave Butterfield a sentence of life imprisonment. Judge Baker cited Butterfield’s age as a factor in his decision. “It may be a mistake has been made,” said Judge Baker. “It may be it should have been held that Neale Butterfield, although but sixteen years of age, has forfeited his right to live and that justice required that forfeiture. Only time will furnish the answer and perhaps that answer will not be clear or certain.”
Fortunately, Judge Baker’s judgment proved sound. Under Idaho law, Butterfield would have been eligible for parole in 1960. He was paroled in 1962, married two years later, and lived out the rest of his life with no further apparent conflict with the law. He died in 2000.
In 1975, Gov. Edmund D. Brown, Jr., (D) signed a bill that finally legalized all private sex acts between consenting adults. The bill was the culmination of a lengthy and heated three-year battle to get the sodomy statute off of the books.
On the Timeline:
For February 6, 1950:
|President:||Harry S Truman (D)|
|Vice-President:||Alben W. Barkley (D)|
|House:||264 (D)||156 (R)||2 (Other)||3 (Vacant)|
|Southern states:||103 (D)||2 (R)|
|Senate:||54 (D)||42 (R)|
|Southern states:||22 (D)|
|Fed discount rate:||1½ %|
Headlines: Several jurors in the Fred Stroble trial nearly faint when shown fifteen photos of Linda Joyce Glucoft’s body. Congressman from Kentucky proposes federalizing sex crime laws. Britain, Norway, Denmark, and Ceylon extend diplomatic recognition to Communist China. President Truman says the U.S. will not intervene to save Chinese Nationalists on Formosa (Taiwan). U.S government warns that the continuing coal strike may force further cutbacks in rail service by coal-burning trains. Sleet and freezing rain shuts down roadways from Central Texas to Eastern Ohio; Rising floodwaters break through levees in Indiana.
In the record stores: “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” by Gene Autry, “Mule Train” by Frankie Lane, “I Can Dream It, Can’t I?” by the Andrew Sisters, “Slipping Around” by Margaret Whiting and Jimmy Wakely, “I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas” by Yogi Yorgesson (Harry Stewart), “A Dreamer’s Holiday” by Perry Como, “White Christmas, ” Dear Hearts and Gentle People” and “Mule Train” by Bing Crosby, “Yingle Bells” by Yogi Yorgesson (Harry Stewart), “Blue Christmas” by Russ Morgan and his Orchestra.
On the radio: Lux Radio Theater (CBS), Jack Benny Program (CBS), Edgar Bergan & Charlie McCarthy (CBS), Amos & Andy (CBS), Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts (CBS), My Friend Irma (CBS), Walter Winchell’s Journal (ABC), Red Skelton Show (CBS), You Bet Your Life (NBC), Mr. Chameleon (CBS).
On television: The Lone Range (ABC), Toast of the Town/Ed Sullivan (CBS), Studio One (CBS), Captain Video and his Video Rangers (DuMont), Kraft Television Theater (NBC), The Goldbergs (CBS), Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts (CBS), Candid Camera (NBC), Texaco Star Theater/Milton Berle (NBC), Hopalong Cassidy (NBC), Cavalcade of Stars/Jackie Gleason (DuMont), Meet the Press (NBC), Roller Derby (ABC).
New York Times best sellers: Fiction: The Egyptian by Mika Waltari, Mary by Sholem Asch, A Rage to Live by John O’Hara. Non-fiction: White Collar Zoo by Clare Barnes, Jr., This I Remember by Eleanor Roosevelt, Home Sweet Zoo by Clare Barnes, Jr.
“Child murderer seen near border.” Daily News (Los Angeles, November 15, 1949): 1, 2.
“Find Stroble fugitive from sex warrant.” Daily News (Los Angeles, November 15, 1949): 2.
“Mexico-U.S. hunt on for girl’s slayer.” Los Angeles Times (November 16, 1949): 1, 2.
“Man held in Gluskoter murder freed due to lack of evidence.” Los Angeles Times (November 16, 1949): 2.
Jack Cook. “Body of slain girl found in irrigation ditch. Glenda Joyce Brisbois, 7, believed victim of sex killer; police spread net.” Burley (ID) Herald (November 17, 1949): 1, 2.
“17-year-old [sic] youth nabbed in Idaho girl’s kidnap-murder.” Deseret News (Salt Lake City, November 18, 1949): A-1, A-2.
Associated Press. “Longer jail terms in sex cases proposed by Gordon.” Oakland Tribune (November 17, 1949): 4.
Editorial: “Child Molesters.” Long Beach Independent (November 18, 1949): 1, 20.
“Psychiatrist says Stroble loved his child victim.” Daily News (Los Angeles, November 18, 1949): 3, 48.
Editorial: “Murder of Southland tot could have been prevented.” Sacramento Bee (November 18, 1949): 40.
J. Edgar Hoover. “Vicious assaults increasing!” Long Beach Independent (November 20, 1949): 35-A.
Associated Press. “Kidnaped baby, 17 months old, is raped and slain.” Sacramento Bee (November 21, 1949): 1.
International News Service. “Old charge studied in rape-slaying.” Bakersfield Californian (November 23, 1949): 4.
International News Service. “Sex crime drive in ‘full swing’.” Long Beach Independent (November 22, 1949): 1.
Editorial: “As tensions continues.” Long Beach Independent (November 22, 1949): 1, 10.
Associated Press. “Old sex crime laws sufficient, Warren says.” Bakersfield Californian (November 22, 1949): 2.
“‘Child molester’ proves to be old friend of family.” San Bernardino Daily Sun (November 25, 1949): 17.
United Press. “Solons would emasculate sex offenders.” Bakersfield Californian (November 28, 1949): 35.
Associated Press “Death penalty urged for child molesters.” Los Angeles Times (December 8, 1949): 1, 11.
“Howser urges amendment of sex laws.” Daily News (Los Angeles, December 8, 1949): 34.
“Psychiatrists’ view: tests proposed in all sex cases.” Los Angeles Times (December 8, 1949): 2, 11.
“Legislature gets 15 bills aimed at sex criminals.” Sacramento Bee (December 15, 1949): 4.
“Assembly okehs bills to control sex criminals.” Sacramento Bee (December 16, 1949): 1.
“Assembly gets bills on sex offenders.” Sacramento Bee (December 17, 1949): 31.
“Cotton picker guilty of slaying infant girl.” San Francisco Examiner (December 22, 1949): 5.
“Fresno baby killer rushed to San Quentin death cell.” San Francisco Examiner (December 28, 1949): 1.
“Five stiff sex crime laws signed by Governor Warren.” San Francisco Examiner (January 7, 1950): 3.
“Stroble sane; must die in gas chamber.” Los Angeles Times (January 21, 1950): 1, 9.
Jack Cook. “Butterfield draws life sentence.” Burley (ID) Bulletin (February 14, 1950): 1, 2.
“Full text given on Judge’s statement in sentencing youth to Idaho prison.” Times-News (Twin Falls, ID; February 15, 1950): 16.
“$100,000 for sex crime study is approved.” Sacramento Bee (April 26, 1950): 4.
Associated Press. “Gutierrez executed for murder of 17-month-old girl in Fresno. Pomona Progress Bulletin (December 1, 1950): 1.
“New Law provides life term for sex criminals.” Sacramento Bee (April 24, 1952): 4.
“Fred Stroble executed for child murder.” Los Angeles Times (July 26, 1952): 1, 8.
“Neale Butterfield receives parole.” Burley (ID) Herald-Bulletin (November 29, ,1962): 4.
“Brown signs controversial sexual consent measure.” Sacramento Bee (May 13, 1975): B1, B2.
William N. Eskridge, Jr. Dishonorable Passions: Sodomy Laws in American, 1861-2003. (New York: Viking, 2008): 88-94.