Life Abbreviated: Earl C. Carpenter & Wife—Part 2 of 2

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In 2018, this building stood were the Carpenter’s once lived at 346 S. Washington Street.

After the death of E. C. in 1923, there wasn’t much to keep 45-year-old Alice at her home on S. Washington Street in Bloomington.  Her mother, Sarah (McCollough) Worley had died in 1888 and her father, James, in 1917.  She had no siblings, no children and few strong attachments in Bloomington.  So when Alice’s brother-in-law, George Carpenter, with his wife, Flora, decided to move to Florida about 1926 or 1927, Alice decided to tag along.

A few years later, in 1930, George with his wife, two children and widowed father, 79-year-old Guy Carpenter, were living in Orange County, Florida.  Alice, who had completed two years of college, lived alone in Tampa and was not employed.  She wasn’t wealthy, but she had enough money to live comfortably.  A decade later, age 62, she lived in St. Petersburg.

It was while living there that she met Alfred Leonard Cline in early 1944.  He was a decade younger than her, silver-haired, rather shy and portly, seemingly quite religious and had a good deal of money.  He liked to quote the gospel and told Alice he used to sing in a Denver choir.  What he did not tell Alice is that he had spent time in a Denver prison on fraud charges in connection with the attempted murder of 75-year-old Mrs. Laura Cummings.

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Alfred Leonard Cline c. 1945.

Alfred had taken a trip with Laura in 1930.  For reasons not known but easily imagined, Laura made out her will leaving Alfred $60,000 (nearly $857,000 in today’s currency).    Laura survived Alfred’s attempt to poison her and eventually was persuaded by her family to return to Massachusetts and change her will.

Alice was undoubtedly flattered by Alfred’s attention.  And his lucrative job offer.  In February, he offered her a position paying $250 monthly (about $3,500 in today’s currency).  It didn’t take long for her to accept.  Soon afterward she passed along the information to George and Flora.  Then she was gone.

George and Flora never heard from Alice again.  However, on October 21, they received a call from Alfred.  He said Alice had become sick several days earlier at the hotel where she had staying in Dallas.

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Mrs. Alice Carpenter is believed to have died in a Macon, Georgia, hotel as “Alma Carter.”  See Des Moines (IA) Register, June 30, 1946, p. 10.

A doctor was brought in to see her on three different occasions.   The first time, according to the doctor, she reportedly was rather dismissive and spoke about the Christian Science faith.  The second time, when he asked her if she was in pain, she only grunted.  Lastly the doctor called on Alice a third time only to discover that she had passed away either late on October 17 or early on the 18th, 1944.

Alfred had had the body cremated and was making arrangements to have the remains buried in Texas.  When George and Flora learned of the death, they insisted it was only fitting and proper that Alice’s ashes be returned to Bloomington for burial at the Rose Hill Cemetery by the side her husband.  Alfred acquiesced with some reluctance.

During the next few months, George and Flora were dismayed to learn that Alice’s personal property in stocks and money had disappeared.  Moreover, Albert had had himself made the administrator of her estate in the absence of a will.  This was brought to the attention of the police who began to investigate.  What they found suggested something much more sinister than fraud.  They suspected Albert was guilty of murder.

Because he was not new to crime or the penal system, the police looked at him quite closely.  Their investigation uncovered a number of marriages, nearly all of which had ended with the sudden death of his wife and an increase to his personal wealth.

Alfred’s last wife, Delora Krebs Cline, who he married in May 1944, was formerly married to a Chicago manufacturer who died leaving her a very wealthy widow.  She was missing when the investigation was begun, but Alfred had been cashing her annuity checks for some time without fail.  On a hunch the police showed Delora’s picture to the doctor in Texas who had supposedly cared for Alice in October 1944 just days before her death.  Surprisingly, the doctor recognized the woman in the photo as Delora, not Alice.

The next step of the investigation was rather surprising given that forensic science in 1944 was different and much more limited then than it is today.   Police requested that Alice’s remains be exhumed and examined.  They were sent to the IU Med School where technicians discovered eighteen “artificial” teeth among the remains. George Carpenter reported that Alice had only two “artificial” teeth which excluded her as the person whose remains were buried in Rose Hill under Alice’s name.  Investigators soon came to believe the remains in Bloomington were those of Delora Krebs Cline who wore both upper and lower dentures.  The district attorney noted that it was his belief that Alice died in 1944 in Macon, Georgia, and was cremated under the name of Alma Carter (sic).

Although the police had many reasons to believe that Alfred was guilty of serial murder, they didn’t have enough evidence to convict him on a murder charge.  According to American Murder:  Criminals, Crime and the Media written by Mike May and published in 2008, Alfred’s MO was effectively simple.  He’d marry and honeymoon at a distant hotel where his new wife was not known.  “He’d lace a drink with sedatives powerful enough to knock out the bride but not kill her.  A doctor would be summoned and told she was suffering ‘another heart attack.’  Soon thereafter [Alfred] would kill her with a stronger dose.  The doctor would list heart failure as the cause of death.  The grief-stricken widower would have the woman’s body cremated and then move on to his next target.”

Instead of murder, Alfred was arrested in December 1945 and tried on nine charges of fraud growing out of the estate of Delora Krebs Cline.  He was surprised at the amount of evidence presented against him.  Members of the jury took only two hours to find him guilty of all charges.

The judge sentenced Alfred to 14 years in prison on each count, the sentences to run consecutively for a total of 126 years.  In 1946, he was sent to Folsom, a state prison in California established in 1880 and long known for its harsh conditions.  Until air holes were drilled into cell doors in the 1940s, inmates spent most of their time in dark, stone cells measuring 4 by 8 feet with eye slots.  During the course of his incarceration, Alfred studied religion.

Two years after his incarceration, Alfred died suddenly of a heart attack on August 5, 1948.  He died without revealing any of the details of his crimes.  It is believed that he killed at least eight women and an evangelist, Rev. Ernest Jones.   Alice Carpenter’s date and place death remain a mystery.  Although she has a tombstone in Rose Hill, her final resting place is not known.

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Blog post by Randi Richardson

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