Erle Stanley Gardner

The Court of Last Resort

Edgar Award Winner: True stories of miscarriages of justice, legal battles, and landmark reversals, by the creator of Perry Mason.
In 1945, Erle Stanley Gardner, noted attorney and author of the popular Perry Mason mysteries, was contacted by an overwhelmed California public defender who believed his doomed client was innocent. William Marvin Lindley had been convicted of the rape and murder of a young girl along the banks of the Yuba River, and was awaiting execution at San Quentin. After reviewing the case, Gardner agreed to help—it seemed the fate of the “Red-Headed Killer” hinged on the testimony of a colorblind witness.
Gardner’s intervention sparked the Court of Last Resort. The Innocence Project of its day, this ambitious and ultimately successful undertaking was devoted to investigating, reviewing, and reversing wrongful convictions owing to poor legal representation, prosecutorial abuses, biased police activity, bench corruption, unreliable witnesses, and careless forensic-evidence testimony. The crimes: rape, murder, kidnapping, and manslaughter. The prisoners: underprivileged and vulnerable men wrongly convicted and condemned to life sentences or death row with only one hope—the devotion of Erle Stanley Gardner and the Court of Last Resort.
Featuring Gardner’s most damning cases of injustice from across the country, The Court of Last Resort won the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime. Originating as a monthly column in Argosy magazine, it was produced as a dramatized court TV show for NBC.
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  • zorianje citiralaпре 3 године
    The man was released from custody.

    So Dr. Snyder suggested, “If he’s so co-operative, ask him if he’d object to having another polygraph test. Tell him that Keeler’s out here and that it’s advisable to clear the matter up.”

    So the police got in touch with the individual, who assented.

    That test was a remarkable demonstration of Keeler’s powers. Aided, of course, by the graph shown on the sensitive machine, it wasn’t long until Keeler knew definitely just about all there was to know about this man’s temperament and reactions.

    Questions, it will be remembered, are so phrased that the subject is expected to answer them by either a straight “yes” or “no.” Qualifications or explanations, if any, are to come after the test is concluded.

    So, after Keeler felt he knew what had actually happened, he suddenly swung into a new line of questioning.

    “Did you burn your wife’s body?” he asked.


    “Did you submerge your wife’s body in water?”


    “Did you bury your wife’s body?”


    It was a cold, rainy day. Wind was whipping sheeted rain against the windows of the office where the test was being conducted.

    Keeler went on quietly, “Did you bury your wife’s body near the house?”


    “Did you bury your wife’s body far away from the house?”


    “Did you bury your wife’s body in the basement of the house?”


    “Did you bury your wife’s body in a shallow grave?”


    “Did you bury your wife’s body in a deep grave?”


    By this time the very nature of Keeler’s questions indicated to the suspect that Keeler knew, as he did know, that the wife’s body had been buried. The subject became somewhat apprehensive. Gradually the self-control which had enabled him to pass other polygraph tests without betraying himself began to break.

    Abruptly Keeler pushed the machine away from him, looked at the man sympathetically, and said, “Your wife must be awful cold and lonely out there in that shallow grave in the flower garden. Why don’t we go dig her up and get it over with?”

    The subject ripped off the apparatus, jumped to his feet and said, “Come on, let’s do it.”

    So the police, the subject, Dr. Snyder, Raymond Schindler and Leonarde Keeler went out to the flower garden.

    Standing there in the cold, driving rain, the man indicated the spot they should dig. They dug down and uncovered the wife’s body.

    I think that is a typical illustration of the manner in which Keeler worked. A less skillful man could well have been baffled, but Keeler knew what to say, when to say it and how to say it.
  • zorianje citiralaпре 3 године
    I think it is generally conceded that Keeler was one of the greatest polygraph experts who ever lived, but much of his reputation was founded upon his uncanny ability to understand the mind of the man he was examining, and at just the proper time to say just the right thing that would prompt the man to pour forth his soul in a confession.

    Keeler didn’t do this by any third-degree or by any persistent, continued pounding of questions. Neither did he do it by the type of trickery which is often utilized by police officers in getting a confession from a suspect. He did it by knowing the type of man with whom he was dealing and by having a good idea of how the crime had actually been committed. That last, of course, from reading the subject’s record on the polygraph.

    One interesting illustration of his work comes to mind which I think is worthy of inclusion at this point.

    Some time ago, Raymond Schindler, Dr. LeMoyne Snyder and Leonarde Keeler were due to join me at my ranch shortly after lunch.

    They didn’t show up until the small hours. (This was before my ranch had a telephone and it was impossible to get any word through to me.)

    It seemed that the three had dropped in to pay their respects to an investigator of the metropolitan police force. They sat around for a while, talking shop. Just before they were ready to start for my ranch the investigator started telling them about a case that had baffled the police there for some time.

    A man, it seemed, had reported that his wife had gone back East to visit relatives. Neighbors became suspicious. The police were called in.

    On the surface it was just another one of those things. A man who had murdered his wife and then announced that she had gone away to visit relatives.

    But the police couldn’t find the wife’s body, and they couldn’t trap the man into any admission. They simply couldn’t get a scintilla of evidence. They asked if he would be willing to take a polygraph test. He readily agreed.

    So the police gave him one, and when they had completed it, they knew no more than they did before.

    The man was genial, friendly, co-operative, but all he could say was that his wife had told him she was going to visit relatives. He was terribly sorry that it was causing all this trouble. Probably she had some other man that she liked better and had-gone away with him. It was a regrettable situation all the way around but there was nothing he could do about it.

    And there was nothing the police could do about it. They couldn’t even establish a corpus delicti.
  • zorianje citiralaпре 3 године
    Carefully conducted experiments show that it is rather difficult to make a positive identification, particularly where the individual was seen casually.

    I remember at one time when I was attending one of Captain Frances G. Lee’s seminars on homicide investigation at the Harvard Medical School, Dr. Robert Brittain, a brilliant Scotsman, one of the shrewdest medicolegal brains in the profession (at present Lecturer in Forensic Medicine at Leeds University in England) was lecturing to a class of some fifteen state police officers, men who had been chosen for the course because of aptitude and ability.

    Dr. Brittain was commenting on description and identification. Abruptly he ceased his lecture, turned to the assembled group and said, “By the way, how tall am I? Will someone speak up, please?”

    Someone said, “Five foot eight.”

    Dr. Brittain was like an auctioneer. “Anyone here who thinks I’m taller than five foot eight?” he asked.

    There was something in his voice that made it appear the estimate might have been on the short side, so someone promptly said, “Five foot eight and a half,” and then someone went to five foot nine.

    After a while Dr. Brittain said, “Well, who thinks I’m shorter than five foot eight?”

    That immediately drew a customer.

    Then Dr. Brittain went on to the question of his weight and his age. Before he got done he had a series of descriptions which were simply meaningless. Between the extreme estimates there was a margin of difference that represented some fifteen years in age, some twenty pounds in weight and some four inches in height, and it is to be remembered that these descriptions were furnished not by men who were excited because they were being held up, or by men who were getting a fleeting glimpse of an individual in a dim light—they were sitting there looking directly at Dr. Brittain, whose figure was only partially obscured by a table, and they were trained observers, men who made it their business to classify and describe
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